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What does it take to Succeed?

This guest post is by Tommy Walker of Inside The Mind

We often look outside of ourselves when we ask “What does it take to succeed?”

Surely, others know more about success than you, so following their advice will lead to success.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and while I think it’s true that you have to at some point seek outside mentorship, to really be successful, it comes down to a three things.

Consistency, Practice & Routine.

But first, watch this video.

Now you may wonder what the heck beatboxing has to do with blogging, and on the surface the answer is very little.

But watch this video a little closer.

This is a guy, on a stage, making sounds with his mouth… and people are cheering him on.

Technically, you could beatbox. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have a mouth and you make sounds with it.

But what this guy has done that you haven’t is practiced. Constantly.

How many hours years do you think he’s spent in the mirror practicing his patterns.

When he’s got nothing to do, what do you think he does?

The same as you might stare at tabloids in the grocery line, or playing a song in your head, he’s probably making beats under his breath.

I don’t know if this guy won the competition but I know he was good enough to compete.

And I know the only way he could compete was by practicing his skill more than anyone who didn’t take the stage, or make this far in the competition.

And I know that he’s got the same tools as you. What sets him apart is his willingness to practice, consistently, on a routine.   

…something to think about next time you sit down to write.

Tommy Walker is an online marketing strategist and the host of Inside The Mind and The Mindfire Chats, fresh and entertaining shows that aim to shake up online and content marketing.

A Key to Building a Sustainable Online Personal Brand

Recently I was part of a panel to launch a new book by Trevor Young called ‘Micro Domination‘.

In the book Trevor identifies a number of what he calls ‘Micro Mavens‘ – including people like Chris Brogan, Jonathan Fields, Marie Forleo, Chris Guillebeau, Trey Ratcliff, Pamela Slim, Gary Vaynerchuk (and he generously includes me too) and goes onto describe their characteristics and how they’ve built businesses around their personal brands.

The book is a good read – particularly for those starting out and wanting to get their head around the idea of building an online personal brand.

As I read through the list of Micro Mavens that Trevor identified it struck me that he’s actually put together a group of people who have a number of very common traits (many of which he outlines in the book).

The Power of Being Constructive

The most obvious trait to me is that the above group of people are a very ‘constructive’ group of individuals.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had both online and face to face meetings with most of the above group and many others listed in the book and in each case I’ve interacted with them I’ve been struct by how positive they are as people.

There’s a certain uplifting vibe about each of them in meeting them but when you look at what they’ve built online over the years you can see the trait again and again.

Day in and day out they use their time to build something that is useful for their networks, readers and followers.

  • The books and blogs that they’ve written have been positive and full of constructive advice.
  • Their tweets are largely positive and the communities that they form are largely positive and constructive too.
  • When they speak at conferences their messages almost always contain inspirational and useful ideas.

While from time to time they probably all have had a rant or have complained about something and they all are quite capable of bringing critical thought to what they write about…

  • They spend a lot more time constructing than being destructive.
  • They build more than they tear down.
  • They focus more upon the positives than the negatives.
  • They focus their energy upon helping those who interact with them to have positive outcomes

My suspicion is that this ‘constructive’ approach is probably a large part of their success over many years.

Destructive Personal Branding

This may all seem quite obvious – however as I pondered the group of people Trevor has written about I found my mind going back through the years to another group of people who took quite a different approach.

Many of those that came to mind rose to prominence in their niches quite quickly through using a more ‘destructive’ tactic.

They often burst onto the scene in their niches in a flurry of controversy, snark and personal attack – tactics that do often cause a stir and get the person behind them lots of attention very quickly.

The problem with this negative or destructive approach is that it is much more difficult to sustain over the long term for a couple of reasons:

Firstly for most people it is particularly draining to be constantly being negative. Controversy, snark and attack doesn’t really bring anyone life and isn’t something most of us can do on a day by day basis without it taking a personal toll.

Secondly creating a brand on the build of a more destructive approach makes it difficult to build a business model around it. While it is possible to build a following with such tactics I find it difficult to think of too many ways to build a profitable long term business on that. What advertiser would want to associate their brand with it? What product could you create that people would want to buy with such negativity?

In the long run these ‘destructive’ online personalities tend to attract others like them and something of a cesspool of negativity emerges around them.

Build Something Positive!

Building something ‘constructive’ is probably not the quickest way to build an online profile but what I find is that it is the key to building a more long term and sustainable online brand.

The rise to prominence may be a little slower but in time what you build is much better. In fact in my observation of the people mentioned above (and many many others) is that in time real momentum can grow when you’ve built something positive over time.

The accumulation of generously helping people over years and years can have a massive return in a business sense but on a personal level it is much more life giving back to you too!

The key lesson to me is to think about how you can build something that gives hope, that solves problems and that genuinely and generously serves others.

I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on this. I’m sure there are a few examples of ‘negative’ brands that have managed to succeed despite their approach and I’m happy to hear about them but I’d also love to hear other positive examples and hear about your experience of this.

The Only Real Way to Learn About Blogging

… is to start a blog and use it.

Start

The barriers to entry into blogging are low – you can start a blog in minutes using a tool like WordPress.com.

In setting it up and hitting publish on your first blog post you’ll learn so much. In your first week of blogging you’ll develop skills and habits that could change your life.

Your first post won’t be perfect but it’ll be a step closer to perfect than never publishing one!

The only real way to learn about blogging is to start one!

15 Years Blogging And Still Learning

A Guest Post by Chris Brogan from Human Business Works

I started my first blog back in 1998, when it was called journaling. It was on some Geocities site whose name I no longer remember. From there, I moved to Tripod, and then to Blogger, a quick side-step into another platform or two, and then WordPress. Along the way, it went from being a place to share my fiction, and then my self-improvement efforts, and there were a lot of other iterations, too.

Maybe more of interest to you: it took me 8 years to get my first 100 subscribers, and I can say without a doubt that blogging was what made me most every dollar I earned from 2006 until present, in one way or another. It also landed me a New York Times Bestselling Book. Want to hear more?

My First Biggest Discovery

In the beginning, I wrote for myself. I wrote about myself, too. And I gave my opinions on this or that. Guess who cared? Only me.

My first big discovery was to be helpful. The more I could create material that was useful to others, the more it would be rewarded by people visiting more, interacting more, and checking in more often to see if I had anything more to help with.

That same process of learning how to be helpful led to my course, Blog Topics: The Master Class, which was a much more structured and premium version of what I had accumulated for skills. In fact, learning how to help gave me the idea to create courses that would add value to professionals in lots of different subject areas. Which, of course, led to even more success.

How To Get More Readers

The predominant advice out there is to guest post (like I’m doing now!) and that’s not wrong. But what I’ve come to learn is this: the more you interact with people on their sites and where they are, the more people will flow back to interact with you. Not the “big names.” Connect with the up and comers. That’s part one. The second part is that you have to practice the “B Strategy.”

  • Be Helpful (already told you that).
  • Be Human
  • Be Interesting
  • Be Everywhere

The sketch is this: most blog posts I’m sent to read end up being boring, too short, not especially helpful, and feel like they were written as a chore. Does that sound like the way to attract readers? I think not.

Build the Newsletter Subscriber List Early

I’ll tell you the most surprising (and depressing) revelation of all my years of blogging. Though my blog has attracted a lot of opportunities, if I intend to sell something, my blog isn’t actually very effective. My beloved newsletter has only about 29,000 subscribers on it. Compare that to my 200K unique monthly visits. Now, get this: I get 10x more sales activity (by volume, not %) from my newsletter. So, 10x less people get my newsletter, and I sell 10x more there than via my blog.

If I could go back and change one thing early, it would be to create a valuable newsletter earlier. Get mine to see what I do to make it valuable.

The Best Part of Blogging

When I met Darren Rowse for the first time, it was in the presence of Brian Clark (Copyblogger) at the first BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas. It felt like magic, because the three of us had been writing successful blogs for a little while. Both Darren and Brian were more successful than me (still are), but we had very different approaches. Here’s the list of what I love most about blogging:

  • It lets me build business my way.
  • It empowered me to meet smart people.
  • It lets me help others in a scalable way.
  • It affords me a place to earn leads based on my thoughts.
  • It enables a campfire around which a community can gather.

I won’t be closing down my blog any time soon, even if it’s supposedly dead. Again.

Some Lessons For You

Here’s some advice on the way out the door:

  • Never write super long posts like this one.
  • Never write self-referential posts like this one.
  • Don’t approach guest posting as an opportunity to stuff your links into someone else’s blog, like I did.
  • Don’t lecture people on what to do like I am doing.

Oh, and break the “rules.” Do whatever serves your community best. That’s what got me this far (15 years and counting), and that’s what will get me to my next level. See you there?

Chris Brogan is the president and CEO of Human Business Works, a publishing and media company providing courses, books, and live education to professionals like you. He wishes he were Darren Rowse.

4 Key Stats to Monitor the Health of Your Blog

As a blogger spare time can be pretty hard to come by. Your focus, as it should be, is about creating great content and engaging with your community — leaving little capacity for the ‘other’ things that need to be done. Add the fact that a lot of us prefer to leave the numbers and bean counting to the accountants and statisticians, it’s no surprise that a lot of the bloggers I speak with have little or no idea about the statistical health of their blog.

Personally, I’ve always been a bit of a numbers guy. As the son of a maths teacher its been built into how I think. But I even as a bit of a number nerd, I don’t immerse myself in statistically breaking down all the facts and figures of a blog unless I have to. I instead identify key metrics that I measure and track over time allowing me to have  indicators that tell me if I need to dig any deeper or not.

If they’re all pointing in the right direction, it allows me  to focus on the fun things knowing everything is in good health.

You might have slightly different indicators on your own blog buy here’s my go to 4 measures I use for all the blogs I’m involved with:

1. Traffic

I’m looking here simply at unique visitors, visitors and page views. You can track and easily access the stats using Google Analytics. If all three are pointing in the right direction (increasing) then things are good. If traffic is dropping or even flat then it’s something I need to focus on.

2. Costs

The barriers to entry for blogging are extremely low, a couple of bucks and you’re up and going. However as your blog grows, costs can blow out pretty quickly. Keeping track of what you’re spending on your blog (hosting, premium services, stock images) will ensure that you can keep it under control. One cost I always measure that most don’t is my own time. I keep track of my hours and allocate a real hourly rate, as though I was a paid employee. Your investment in yourself can be pretty scary when you start tracking it.

3. Revenue

Even with small revenue it’s important to make sure it’s pointing in the right direction — increasing. I like to split revenue down into each stream of income. Affiliate, product sales, advertising and ensure that success in one area is not overshadowing poor performance in another.

4. Subscribers

Subscribers are a collection of your email subscribers, your social media following, your RSS subscribers or anyone that has connected to you in some way. Like revenue, I like to track each of these subscriber channels independently.

How I’m tracking.

Some of the metrics, in particular revenue, I’ll track daily. Most I’ll update and review once a month. It’s all done in a very simple spreadsheet, but most important of all it’s tracked over time allowing for comparison of the result. It takes less than an hour in total per month to do.

What I’m looking for.

When I’m looking through these 4 key metrics, I’m using them as traffic light indicators. If traffic is up, green light & onwards we go, if it’s flat, amber light & something to worry about if the trend continues, if it’s down, red light — time to dig a little deeper so as to understand why.

If everything is green, well you’re just awesome and I’m envious, but for the rest of us using key indicators, you can be confident that the little extra time you have, is spent where it’s most needed.

For those that do – I’d love to hear how you’re measuring the health of your own blog.

7 Strategies for Growing Community on Your Blog

This week on ProBlogger we’ve been looking at the topic of building community on a blog. We started by identifying 9 benefits and 3 costs of community on a blog and then looked at 5 stages of building community on a blog. Today I want to dig deeper into some specific things to DO to build community on your blog.

Across a Crowd

1. Write in a Conversational Voice

This tip fits into the ‘it’s not rocket science’ category of blogging tips (as do many blog tips) – however as simple as it sounds I regularly see bloggers falling into the trap of talking ‘AT’ readers rather than blogging in a conversational voice.

The art of good conversation is as much as being ‘interested’ as it is about being ‘interesting’. Good conversationalists ask questions, pause to allow others to speak and listen to others when they are speaking.

ships, night, passing and all that...

Good bloggers similarly often write in a more conversational way and in doing so invite readers to respond.

Every bloggers needs to find their own style and voice but I’ve found a number of things have been helpful in writing more ‘conversationally’:

I write like I speak

y best blog posts often start out as me writing an email to a reader answering a question. Alternatively I will often imagine I’m talking to someone as I’m writing – which leads to a post written in a more personal way.

I tell stories

I don’t do this in every post but I find that when I weave some kind of personal angle into a post that it seems to draw readers into recounting their own stories. The story need not be long or highly personal story – it could simply be sharing how you did something in your business (you’ll see me do this below when I talk about how on dPS we added a Flickr Group to dPS as an intermediate step on the way to starting a forum).

I use personal language

When you talk to another person it is common to use words like ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’. Conversely when you write in a theoretical language these words often disappear. Check out the top 20 posts on ProBlogger in 2012 and notice that over 50% of the most read posts this year had personal words in their titles.

Share Opinions

One of the most powerful ways to get some kind of a reaction from readers is to share you opinion. Doing so will automatically trigger your readers to think about their own opinions and whether they agree with you – and more often than not you’ll find at least a few of them will let you know if they do! Tread a little carefully here – opinion pieces can cause debate and depending on the tone of your writing and the topic can lead to heated conversation!

2. Invite Interaction

Part of writing in a conversational tone is to invite others to participate in the conversation. While some of your readers will comment without any kind of interaction you’ll be surprised how many more will interact with you with a simple call to do so!

Individual Protection

Inviting your readers to interact with you can include numerous things such as:

  • asking readers to comment (and not just at the end of posts… you can signal right at the beginning that you’re interested in other people’s thoughts on a topic (as I did several paragraphs above).
  • asking specific questions – I find the more specific your questions are the better better responses you get (i.e. instead of ending a post with a general ‘what do you think?’ guide your readers with a more specific question about your topic or give them some alternatives or examples to help them make that first comment.
  • write posts that are purely questions – one of the best ways to get responses is simply to write a post that is little more than the question itself. These ‘discussion’ posts can be gold (for example recently to wrap up a week of content on the topic of Pinterest we finished the series with a discussion post on the topic.
  • Setting a Challenge – on dPS we do a weekly themed challenge for readers to go away and take a photo on a theme and then to come back and share what they did (here’s an example of one we did on the theme of ‘Nature’). This not only gets a good number of comments – it gets readers DOING something quite involved which is a sign of real reader engagement. Another recent example would be our recent Group Writing Project here on ProBlogger.
  • Polls – perhaps the simplest method of getting a first time reader out of passivity and doing a little something is to run a poll on your blog. Having them simply choose from a couple of multiple choice options and clicking ‘vote’ may not seem like much but it signals to your readers that you’re interested in their opinion or experience and takes them a tiny step down the road to engagement and community. The other thing you can do with polls is once they’ve voted ask them to tell you why they voted as they did. For example on dPS we asked readers if they’d ever taken a photography class and then at the end of the post invited them to tell us what class it was and how they found it. 161 people added a comment. While this was a small % of those who’ve voted in the poll it was a higher number of comments than an average post on the site.
  • Tell Readers about the Community - while we’re talking about polls, the other thing I’ve found useful is to not only run a poll but to post the final results of a poll too. For example in this post we shared how many of our dPS readers are looking to buy a new camera. In doing this readers see where they fit in to the diverse membership of your community and you remind them that they participated. The other good thing about showing results is that you signal to your whole readership that others are engaging with you. In that example above we mentioned that 28,000 people responded to the poll – great social proof!
  • Invite Interactions OFF your blog – community does not just need to happen ON your blog for it to be worthwhile. In fact some of the best community discussions I’ve seen among my readers have happened on our dPS Facebook page or on my personal Google+ page. People are trained by these social networks to interact – so it can be a great place to begin conversations and relationships that may lead to ongoing community.

Regular invitations to your readership to interact will gradually draw more and more of your readers out of passivity and into an interaction with you. Even a small first step towards community could lead to a passive reader becoming super engaged which as we’ve seen previously can have many positive benefits.

Further Reading:

3. Consider a Dedicated Community Area

Blogs have community built into them to some degree by allowing comments to be made on any post. Many blogging tools now not only allow comments but allow threaded comments which enhance the experience and allow mini-conversations to happen in an easy to follow way.

However if there may come a time on your blog where you want to give readers the ability to not only respond to what you or your writers have to say – but also to start threads of new conversation.

To do this you’ll want to consider some kind of dedicated community area.

There are a number of ways to do this. On dPS I first did this by starting a ‘Flickr Group‘ where I invited readers to share photos and start conversations. dPS being a photography site and Flickr being full of photographers this not only gave our readers a place to interact but also helped us to find new readers.

For dPS the Flickr group also gave our readers a taste of community and whet their appetite for it to the point that they began to ask if I would consider starting an actual forum area – something I did (see the dPS Photography Forum here) after I saw that there was enough demand to kick it off with enough active members.

Blog to foum

A forum comes with its own advantages and challenges.

In short forums benefits are:

  • Increasing Reader Engagement
  • Builds User Generated Content
  • Increases Page Views per Visit
  • Appeals to different types of readers

However the challenges of forums include:

  • The challenge of moderation (they can take a lot of work and are often targets of spammers)
  • The challenge of having enough critical mass to make the forum active enough to be attractive
  • The technical challenges – as with most self hosted blogging platforms forum platforms need maintenance and upgrades and can be a challenge to manage.

Further Reading on Forums: check out 10 Mistakes that Will KILL a Forum (or blog) and 6 Tips on Adding a Forum to your Blog.

Other options for community areas on a blog include setting up off site community areas such as:

Of course with all of these options you’re really at the mercy of other companies who have control over the hosting and upkeep of your community. You also lose some control over features etc.

Add to the conversation: If you’ve had experience with other types of community areas on your blog (or other people’s) I’d love to hear about them in comments below.

4. Use Interactive and Accessible Mediums

While we’re talking about using different types of social media lets touch on a range of other tools that you can use to help build community on and around your blog.

A number of years ago I experimented over with using Ustream to connect with my readers. I set up a ProBlogger channel and on a fairly regular but impulsive basis used to jump onto it to do Q&A sessions with readers.

It has been a year since I ran a Ustream chat but the times I did it I got a lot of positive feedback from readers as it allowed them to not only interact with me by asking questions but allowed them to see and hear my responses live.

Today there are a number of other such options available to you – perhaps the most popular of which is what Google+ offers with their hangouts.

I’ve not run a hangout myself yet (there are only so many hours in the day) but have attended many as a viewer and think that they’d be a great way to give readers a more engaging experience of you – particularly now that they can be live streamed and synced with your Youtube channel.

One of the best people I’ve seen doing hangouts is Trey Ratcliff who is brilliant at it!

The other option on this front is to experiment with running webinars – something I’ve done more and more over the last year.

Webinars

I use GoToWebinar (to which I am an affiliate) to run ProBlogger webinars and while mine have only been me talking to slides or me interviewing guests (audio only) I’ve had more positive feedback about our webinars than I have about most other things I’ve done in the past couple of years here on ProBlogger.

GotoWebinar have also just introduced Video conferencing also for 100-attendee webinars (soon to be adding it for larger plans too) so that those attending can see you live.

5. Run Projects and Challenges

I’m often asked what the ‘tipping point’ for ProBlogger was – the moment that the blog really took off. There were a number of these but one was the first time I ran the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (31DBBB) challenge.

31 Days to Build a Better Blog is today our best selling eBook but it didn’t start out that way. It actually began as a series of blog posts that I put together over a month in 2005.

The idea started as a joke with a fried but was one that wouldn’t go away and so on the spur of the moment in the early hours of a night when I couldn’t sleep I posted that we were going to run this challenge where I’d give readers a little teaching/theory on an aspect of blogging every day for 31 days and would also give them a challenge to complete that related to the challenge.

I didn’t really expect it to take off too much but the next morning I awoke to a lot of comments on that post and people emailing to say that they were excited. The following 31 days not only saw increased traffic on the blog but readers engaging in a deeper way than they had before.

I ran 31DBBB over the next two years again and each time we saw readers becoming more and more engaged with the site.

What I realised through these projects is that giving people a common task to work on over a period of time gives them a shared experience that draws them closer together.

Since 2005 there have been many such projects run around the blogosphere. In fact inspired by 31DBBB Nester from Nesting place runs an annual ’31 Days of Change’ project on her blog in which bloggers are invited to run a ’31 Days’ series on their blogs.

Last year Nester saw over 1200 bloggers run 31 Days Challenges over the month of October (just a few pictured below)! That project is growing every year and I suspect it is because bloggers who join are discovering the power of running such a project on their blog.

There are many other challenges you can run. Check out FatMumSlim’s Photo a Day Instagram challenge for example which is participated in by many thousands of people. Similarly Fox in Flats runs a Style Dare a Day challenge that is always popular.

Add to the conversation: If you’ve run a challenge like this – please tell us about it in the comments below so we can learn about it!

6. Real Life Events

One of the most powerful ways of building community with your readers is to actually meet them – face to face.

I know this is full of all kinds of logistical challenges but IF you can meet your readers – take the opportunity because face to face interactions and a real life shared experience certainly seems to speed up the building of community.

I first experimented with this in the early days of my first blog when I didn’t have a heap of readers but when I posted that I would be in London on a holiday and asked readers if they wanted to meet up for a drink. I had 3 people show up for a beer – not a large crowd but the first time I’d met readers face to face.

Now almost any time I’m in a new city I’ll try to tweet/post out a time and place to have a meet up. Sometimes we get a good turnout and other times it is small – but every time it gives me an amazing opportunity to meet readers and build relationships with them (and for them to meet one another).

The other way I put myself out there to meet readers was to attend events that I thought my readers might be attending. In the early days for me this was about buying a ticket for popular events just like everyone else but in time it meant accepting speaking invitations when they came for the events I knew my readers were attending.

Over the last 4 years I’ve of course had opportunity to not only attend other people’s events but to run my own ProBlogger Training Events here in Australia. This started relatively small with a hastily arranged 100 person event but each year it has grown – to the point that our September Gold Coast event sold 200 Early bird tickets in a couple of hours.

The added bonus of our real life event is that a virtual event runs alongside it both in the selling of virtual tickets but also through the hashtag for the event. While not all ProBlogger readers are able to get to Australia in person the event hashtag last year saw a lot of readers engaging with one another and the ProBlogger brand and created a real buzz.

What I notice after running an event or meeting people face to face is that in the days and weeks after we meet in person I’m much more likely to see that person engaging with me on social media and on the blog. It’s one of the fastest ways to build deeper engagement.

The perfect example of someone who has run hundreds of real life events around the world is Chris Guillebeau who when launching his books has done meetups in every state in the US and for his recent book every continent around the globe. I was fortunate to go with him to one of these events in Melbourne and was amazed at the enthusiasm his readers turned out to the event with – it’s no wonder Chris has had such a massive impact upon so many.

7. Put Your Readers in the Spotlight

Newsign

Way back in 2006 I wrote a very short post encouraging bloggers to ‘Make Your Readers Famous‘.

At the time it was a bit of a throw away idea and not something I’d pondered too much but in the last 7 years it has been something that I’ve seen the power of many times.

The idea is simple – put your readers in the limelight on your blog. Most blogs keep the blogger on the stage with the microphone and the readers inn the audience – but what would happen if you allowed your readers onto the stage?

The answer to that question is that readers will take real ownership over your blog and become a lot more loyal to it if you allow them opportunity to share the limelight.

Most bloggers use their blogs to build their own profile – but when you use your blog to help your readers to build their profile and achieve their own goals something special can happen.

Here are a few ways that you can make your reader famous that I’ve previous published (updated for 2013):

  • Promote a comment to a Post – sometimes readers make incredibly insightful and wise observations and tips in the comments of your blog. While they will be read by a handful of people in the comment thread – why not pull it out and use it as the basis for one of your post – highlighting the wisdom in it and the person who made the comment.
  • Write a Post about a Reader’s Blog – visit the blogs of those leaving comments on your blog and pick one that you resonate and that is relevant to your readers. Write a link post linking to that blog highlighting the best posts and what you like about it.
  • Send Your Readers to Comment on Someone Else’s Blog – write a post that links to someone else’s great blog post and instead of asking your readers what they think about it on your own blog ask them to head over and comment on it on the other person’s blog. Shutting down the comments in your own post and saying that you’ve left a comment on their blog already can help make this more effective.
  • Give Readers an Opportunity to Promote Themselves – run a project or write a post that gives readers an opportunity to promote themselves in some way. For example on dPS I wrote a post asking readers – do you have a photoblog?‘ As I wrote the post I thought I’d add a line inviting readers to share a link to their photoblogs. I didn’t think much of it until the next morning when I woke up to 250 comments on the post and a whole heap of emails thanking me for giving readers the opportunity to highlight their work.
  • Run a Reader Poll and Highlight Answers in a followup post – have a post one weekend where you pose a question to your readers. Then in the week that follows do a followup post where you add some of your own thoughts on the question and pull out some of the best comments left by readers. Alternatively you could survey your twitter followers on a topic relevant to your blog and then highlight their responses as a blog post (example of this).
  • Invite Guest Posts – often ‘guest posting’ is talked about solely as a way to get free content for your blog. While this is nice – one of the things I love about it most is that it puts the microphone in the hand of someone else and lets someone who would normally be constrained by the comments section have a little more power and influence on the direction of your community for a moment in time. This can have a real impact upon the person doing the post – but also upon your readership as they see someone like themselves featured on your blog.
  • Invite your Readers to Promote their Social Networks – a fun project I ran here on ProBlogger a number of years ago was to have a ‘social media love in‘ where I invited readers to share their social media accounts with us here on the blog. Readers left comments sharing their Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, StumbleUpon (and more) accounts and we compiled all the submissions (over 700) into lists so readers could all follow one another. It was a massive amount of work but helped our readers grow their profiles.

There are many more ways to put your readers into the spotlight and help them out with their own online projects and goals. Please let us know below how you’ve done this type of thing on your own blog!

The 5 Stages of Building a Culture of Community on a Blog [Case Study]

Yesterday we looked at some of the benefits and costs of building community on a blog – today I’d like to move onto some of the ‘how to’ by examining the stages of building community that I went through on Digital Photography School.

Build a CULTURE of Community – Not Just Engagement

Let me start by repeating the advice I gave yesterday that building community and reader interaction on a blog takes time. It won’t happen over night but develops day by day.

It is also something that YOU need to take the lead in as a blogger.

Be the community you want to have‘ is advice I regularly teach at our live ProBlogger Training Event because what I’ve found is that readers often take a bloggers lead when it comes to engagement.

If YOU are obviously engaged with your content, passionate about helping your readers, interested in who they are, writing in an inviting way and willing to interact with others then you’ll be on the right track to developing a culture on your blog where interaction is normal.

Note: I really want to emphasise this idea of building a ‘culture‘ of community on your blog. This goes way beyond using certain ‘techniques‘ to get comments or engagement.

Engagement is great – but the most successful bloggers I”ve come across go beyond that to build something deeper with their readers whereby readers not only interact but have a deeper sense of belonging, ownership and where they embody and live out the values of the blog with one another.

The Stages of Building Community on a Blog

Stage 1: You

In the early days of your blog community generally looks like this:

Problogger Stages of Community1

Yep – just you.

Maybe if you’re lucky you have a partner, or a parent, or a friend who drops by once in a while – but it’s largely you. This is totally fine and normal. I remember my first 10 or so blog posts going up to the deafening roar of silence – I couldn’t even get my wife to read them!

In those very early days you can still write in an engaging way – but probably more important than lots of reader engagement is you writing engaging and compelling content so that when people do arrive they’ve got something to read.

This is also an important time to get your mindset right. Identify what type of community you want to have. What values do you want it to have? What are the boundaries of acceptable behaviour? The clearer YOU are on what you want to achieve the better position you’ll be in to start building and modelling it to your readers (remember – YOU have to BE the community you want to have).

Hopefully – with a little time and you putting yourself out there you’ll begin to find a few readers for your blog.

Side Note: ‘Finding Readers’ of course is a topic for another series but a key component is putting yourself out there into the places your potential readers are already gathering. I cover this (and a lot more on the topic of Finding Readers in this free webinar). It is probably the most comprehensive thing I’ve produced on the topic of finding readers for a blog to this point.

Stage 2: Readers Engaging with You

After a few readers begin to arrive on your blog here’s what community looks like:

Problogger Stages of Community2

At this stage YOU are still the centre of your community and all interactions revolve around you. Your readers tell YOU what they think of your posts, they email YOU with questions and YOU need to take the initiative a lot.

In my own early days of blogging I used to email every person who left a comment on my blog to thank them for their comment and to let them know I left a comment responding to theirs. This had a BIG impact – in fact I know of a couple of readers who still read ProBlogger today who read my first blog because I emailed them in that way.

This is really where your ‘culture of community and engagement’ needs to find its foundations. If you look after the small group of readers you have really really well – in time you’ll find they’ll start to ‘catch’ what you’re on about and do it themselves.

Stage 3: Readers Engaging with One Another

What often happens next is pretty cool. It looks like this!

Problogger Stages of Community 3

This is like when you have a party where you invite lots of friends who didn’t previously know you – and your friends start to hit it off with each other.

It’s actually something that I know some bloggers struggle with a little because suddenly readers start showing up on a blog to not only talk with you – but to interact with other readers.

It can be a little disconcerting to see this happen (and to see some readers run off with each other to start interacting on social media or their own blogs) but it is actually where real ‘community’ starts to happen on a blog.

When you start see readers interacting on a deeper level with one another you have a much deeper level of community engagement than you did when YOU were the central point of contact for everyone.

Stage 4: Community Evangelists

The next stage doesn’t always happen – but when it does you know you’re onto something pretty exciting!

Problogger Stages of Community 4

In this stage you begin to see engaged readers begin to evangelise your blog for you. They’ve found something that they’re so engaged with and find so useful to them that they can’t help but bring others in.

I saw this at Digital Photography School when we started a forum for the blog. I noticed a small group of readers who had been reading since the start of the site and who’d been starting to get to know each other began a thread in the forum about asking how they could help to grow the forum.

They’d found dPS to be a useful site for them but realised it’d be more useful with more members. That began a competition within this small group to see who could recruit the most new members to the site. They did it purely for bragging rights and because they wanted the community to grow!

I promoted this small group to be the forums first moderators!

Stage 5: Engagement

The final stage is a mess…. but at the same time music to most community managers ears.

Problogger Stages of Community 5

YOU as the blogger are still there but relationships and interactions go on above, below and around you. In fact some days you may even wonder if anyone would notice if you disappeared (although they will).

How to Build Community on a Blog

I’m sure not every blog develops in the above 5 steps exactly – but it is how I’ve seen emerge a couple of times now on my blogs.

Tomorrow we’re going to get a little more practical on the topic of building community on a blog by really drilling into some specific tactics on how to do it! Update: see that post at 7 Strategies for Growing Community on Your Blog.

Subscribe below to be notified of the links to future posts in this series.

I’m not Technical Enough to Blog [Misconceptions New Bloggers Have #4]

A couple of years ago I wrote a series of posts here on ProBlogger that looked at ‘Misconceptions New Bloggers have’. We covered:

Today I’d like to add another misconception – that you have to be technical to be a successful blogger!

I wonder how many potentially great bloggers have been put off starting a blog because they perceived blogging to be a technical task?

My Story

I think back to my own first forays into building a web presence – way back before I started my first blog – and remember having that feeling myself.

I remember back in the late nineties coming across a website that was written by another Aussie guy who had put together a collection of quotes and jokes. It wasn’t a blog as such but I was attracted to what he was doing and I emailed him to ask him how he did it and whether it was easy enough to set up something similar.

His reply claimed it was easy – but then went on to describe a process that went way above my head. It involved a lot of coding – there were no templates, few tools and within reading the first few paragraphs of his email I knew I’d never have a website.

I had no technical background, I’d not long even been on the web and my personality didn’t really lend itself to the detail that I saw as being needed to set up a website.

Fast forward 4-5 years to 2002 and when I came across my first blog and wondered if I too could start one I remember feeling again that perhaps it would be beyond me. I didn’t let the feeling stop me this time though and began to investigate.

What I found was a surprise – tools now existed to get a site up and running in minutes.

With my limited experience (at that time I used the web to do occasional emails (hotmail) and to research essays (search engines) and to do IRC chat) I was able to get a blog up and running and to post my first post within an hour or so. I even made an attempt at designing my own template/theme (it was ugly but I managed).

I had a steep learning curve – back in 2002 the tools were somewhat primitive and I still needed to learn some HTML code because there were no What You See Is What You Get options. You had to write your posts in html and to get comments working on your blog you had to use an external script (I guess we’d call it a plugin these days).

Today the tools at our finger tips are amazing. Creating a blog takes seconds, updating themes are relatively simple (if you want to use a default theme or a premium one – a bit harder if you want to do it yourself), posting to blogs is as simple as writing an email or creating a word document and there are literally hundreds of thousands of plugins around to help you customise your blog with not a lot more than a few clicks.

There are still technical things to learn about if you want to take your blog up a notch (hosting/servers, custom themes etc) but in the scheme of things the tools now exist to create blog with little or no technical background.

The other things I’d say on this topic are:

  • there are technical things to learn – but you don’t need to know them all at once. When you’re first starting out you might want to keep it simple and set your blog up on a WordPress.com blog – a few clicks and you’re on the go. In time you might feel this blogging thing is something you want to get more serious about and want to transition to your own domain and hosting – but by then you’ll have a lot more skills at your fingertips. Take your time and suck up as many skills and as much knowledge as you can as you blog.
  • together we know it all – I realised pretty early on that even where my knowledge fell short that there were others around willing to help. I still remember in my first week or so of blogging wondering how to make text bold in my posts – I was embarressed but summonsed the courage to ask another kind and generous blogger. She not only helped me with that basic request but over the years became a good friend. We even ended up doing some blogs together. I quickly found that there are people around willing to give advice and share their knowledge. Some will do it for free just to help out, others you might like to barter services with and there are heaps of people around willing to do short term paid work for you to help set up aspects of your blog.
  • outsourcing – on that note – if your budget allows and as your blog grows it is worth considering whether outsourcing some of the more technical aspects of blogging might be right for you. While I’ve learned a lot over the years I’m still not really a technical guy – particularly when it comes to hosting blogs the size that mine have grown to. As a result I’ve out sourced some technical aspects of my blogging – particularly the hosting of my sites and some development work.

As Important (if not MORE Important) as the Technicalities…

Lastly – there are much more important things in blogging than the technical aspects when it comes to having success.

Yes you want to have a blog that loads correctly and that isn’t crashing all the time – but in my mind the things that are as important for success include:

  • Having an understanding of your readers – knowing their needs etc
  • Being able to create content that is compelling, useful and meeting the needs of your readers
  • Being able to engage with readers and build community on your blog
  • Having the ability to draw readers to your blog

None of these things are easy – but similarly to what I said above about the technicalities – you don’t have to know it all from day one. Skills develop over time as you need to know things but also the more you experiment.

I’d love to hear your thoughts:

  • What advice would you give bloggers feeling overwhelmed by the technical side of blogging?
  • What technical aspects of blogging do/have you struggled the most?

Want a More Productive Week? Clean Your Darn Desk!

Has anyone seen that phone number for my interview? I know I printed out a good-looking blog layout but I can’t seem to find it. I know I have that blog idea somewhere in this mess; was it written on a napkin? It’s referenced in a newspaper clipping, but which one? Where’s the thumbdrive I just had?

If you have had any of these thoughts, I’ll bet you have a desk or work area that might need a little bit of improvement. When this becomes an everyday occurrence you may just need a complete makeover … or even a bulldozer.

A messy desk

Image by indi.ca, licensed under Creative Commons

Even though you have organized folders on your computer (well, maybe semi-organized), your desktop or work area tends to gather the detritus of a blogger’s creative life: scraps of paper, napkins, envelopes and just about anything else you can possibly use as an idea collector. Advertisements and articles ripped out of airline magazines and the ever-present jumble of newspaper clippings add to your desk’s adornment.

Soon, your blogging career will be spent with 10% idea collecting, 10% writing and 80% searching your desktop for what you just saw a minute ago. There is an old saying “A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind.” We have to toss that by the wayside and improve our writing environment.

Preparation

If you prepare properly, you will be successful. First, prepare your mind for a clean and uncluttered work environment. Yes, you can do it. You can really work in a shipshape space.

If you have thought about getting a more ergonomically comfortable workspace and chair, this is the time to do it. Consider all kinds of office furniture: desks, chairs, filing cabinets, small tables (for you coffee or power drinks so they don’t spill on the keyboard, laptop or computer) and lamps for your desired lighting.

Now, let’s delve in!

1. Start fresh

Depending on how messy your workspace is, you might need to set aside a full day to start over. If you don’t have time for that, write twice as hard so you can queue posts to publish while you’re clearing your environmental disaster.

Get some empty boxes that can hold all of your stuff. Set some on your left and make this your trash pile. Line the boxes with large green trash bags so once they are full you can immediately deal with them. Mark one of them “Shred.”

The boxes on your right will be everything that is not trash. Mark the boxes “Office Supplies”, “Immediate Use”, “File” and “Computer Stuff.”

Now comes the hardest part of the job, at least emotionally. Pick up one item at a time and put it in one of the boxes or the trash. If you have to think about it for more than half a second, the Trash or File boxes are the best places for it. Continue, one item at a time.

If you have a group of papers, either staple or clip them together, but don’t waste time looking for the paper clips or stapler; stack the loose papers on top of each other in the appropriate box.

Anything that is computer-related, but not attached to your computer, goes into the Computer Stuff box. USB thumb storage sticks, backup drives, wireless mice and keyboards and anything else not physically attached to your computer goes into this box.

Keep working until there is nothing left. The idea here is to get rid of everything from the work area. What you should have left is a bare work area devoid of everything but your computer or laptop.

If you have drawers, go through these also. Empty everything.

2. Clean

If you have a can of compressed air, lightly dust the keyboards while holding them upside down to get rid of all the debris they have collected. If you are good with computers and screwdrivers, take the cover off your computer and blow out the dust; if not consider having someone qualified clean the insides for you after you finish getting your workplace in order. No time for breaks!

Take a damp (not wet) cloth and wipe everything down to get rid of dirt and dust. Don’t forget the inside of the drawers. If you have drawer organizers, clean those too!

Remember to wipe down the computer and display screens, and clean the screens with a dry cloth that has just a light spraying of glass cleaner on it. Do not spray glass cleaner on your display screens.

3. Organize your computing tools

Look at your power wiring and straighten it out. You may wish to take a quick trip to an office supply or electronics store to get some wire and power management covers. If you have to make multiple outlet strips, pick up one that has enough outlets. Tidy up the printer and other peripheral cables to eliminate tangles.

Next, arrange all the items in the Computer Stuff box in your work area so you can comfortably access them. Leave the USB thumb drives in the box—we will take care of them later.

Make sure you keyboard and mouse are in a position where you can comfortably work. If you use a headset, consider using an adhesive hook attached to the side of your monitor or other convenient place for easy and immediate access.

Now create a place for your USB memory sticks. This can be a cup, plastic box or even a compartment in a desk drawer organizer. The idea is to choose a storage area that can be a permanent place where you keep the memory sticks.

Place your backup storage where you just have to power it up and back up your files. Now, create a schedule to back up your data and stick to it. If you can, automate the procedure. Back up your data files (documents, pictures, etc.) separately rather than as a part of a total system backup.

If you need to use the data on a different computer, you will be able to. If your data is embedded in a system backup, you might be in trouble (depending on your backup software) if you have to restore to a different system or even the same system with a different or replacement CPU.

If you use one or more tablets to keep live feeds running, you may want to consider getting a couple of holders for them. There are some nice gooseneck and movable stands that mount to the back edge of a desk that will position them to be easily seen without being in the way or taking up desktop space.

4. Office supplies

A desktop organizer may be good for storing supplies like pencils, pens, paperclips, rulers and other such items. But it can also be a distraction.

Here is a good rule of thumb: if you do not use an item every day, it shouldn’t be on the desktop. Your work surface is exactly what the word says—a work area, not a storage space. Put that stapler away in a drawer where you can easily grab it, unless you use it every day. Even then, keeping it in the drawer might still be a good idea. Use drawer organizers so everything has its own place.

By keeping your work surface clear of all clutter, you encourage your mind to be more productive and make it easier to concentrate on your main task: blogging.

5. Filing and organizing

Next, attack the box that says File. You should have a file cabinet or a desk drawer that is set up with file folders. There are also plastic and cardboard boxes sized perfectly for files. You needn’t spend lots of money on a top-of-the-line filing cabinet.

Go through the papers and file them one at a time. Use a filing system that makes sense to you and enables you to find what you are looking for in a hurry. Do not file every piece in a different folder; use categories that make it easy for you to remember what information is in what folder.

If you have to think about where to file a particular item, you probably don’t need it.

Do not be afraid to use drawer organizers to sort out odd items. Just make sure the drawers do not become a junk drawer, or you may just have to dump the drawer and start this process all over.

6. Urgent items

Now tackle the Immediate Use box. This should contain a relatively small amount of material. Take each piece and process it. If it contains names, phone numbers, or house or email addresses, enter the information in your smartphone and/or email programs—immediately! Then throw it in the Trash or Shred boxes.

If the item contains an idea, open up a document titled Ideas on your computer and enter the idea. Save the document each time you enter new information so you will not lose any of it.

If you run across a picture, scan it into the computer for your blog and then file the picture away. The same goes for newspaper clippings that you will use immediately.

If you can’t immediately use the item you pick up, file it instead.

Keep working until you have gone through everything and everything is in its place. You should now have a clean and organized work area.

7. Wrap up

Before you congratulate yourself and sit back for the rest of the day admiring your handiwork, finish the rest of your job—the trash.

Take the box or bag marked Shred and run it all through the shredder if you have one. If you do not have a document shredder, look up the location of the nearest paper shredding company.

Gather up the trash bags of trash and dump them in the trash can or dumpster. Take a trip to the shredding place if you need to.

Now you can relax and congratulate yourself on a job well done. You might even be inspired to start writing!

Contributing author Alex Ion is the founder and Editor in Chief of Decoist, an interior design and lifestyle magazine which promises to deliver fresh inspiration to even the pickiest. Follow Alex on Twitter for latest trends, and Decoist if you’re looking for some amazing design ideas.