Five Pieces of Blogging Advice I Wish You’d Stop Giving

I don’t know why I bother sometimes.

(“I don’t know why you bother ever.”)

Whenever someone writes a “five blogging secrets” post, I keep thinking, “maybe this is it. Maybe this is the one. Maybe this blog post will have at least one useful blogging tip that I can use.”

But it didn’t. It doesn’t. It never did. It was written, just like every other post on blogging, for the absolute beginner, who, given the constant bombardment of amateur advice, no longer exists in this world. We’ve polluted the Internet so much with useless, remedial blogging advice that it’s gotten into the water, and our children are born knowing the five most important steps to successful blogging.

I’ll admit, I’ve given this advice. Hell, I still give it in talks, depending on my audience and who I’m writing for. But everyone is giving it. I’m seeing it all over the goddamn place, and if I see much more of it, I’m going to scream at someone.

So, please, if not for me, then for the good of the country: stop it. Just stop it. Stop giving the same damn advice over and over and over again. Stop copying and pasting each other’s “five blogging secrets” posts.

These are the five pieces of blogging advice I want you to stop giving.

  1. Write good content: Blah, blah, blah! People say this like it’s The Most Important Advice Ever. It’s stupid, vile, and utterly useless, because everyone a) knows it, and b) thinks they do it. “I think I’ll write completely utter crap,” said no one ever. The problem is, everyone already thinks they write well, and that their work is just as good as everyone else’s. Even the conspiracy theorists who write 10,000 word treatises in a single day think what they’re producing is gold, and they’re surprised the world isn’t beating a path to their door. Telling people to write good content is like telling people to breathe or chew their food when they eat. It may be important to hear for anyone who’s brand new to blogging, but the people who know enough about the Internet to find the blog post where you shared this little piece of dreariness have already seen this more than once.
  2. Grow your social network: Really? I thought having my brother and a couple friends from work following me on a Twitter account I rarely use was a guaranteed step toward social media rock stardom. So you’re saying that the more people who read my stuff, the more success I’ll have? BRILLIANT! Give that man a Pulitzer prize for extreme cleverness! Next week, check out my new wealth creating blog post, “buy low, sell high.”
  3. Find your niche/passion: Okay, this one might not be such a Duh! piece of advice, but I’m tired of it. Anyone who has a barely detectable pulse has heard this one before, so it’s nothing new. Combine this with item #1 — write passionately about your content — and Tony Robbins will personally punch you in the nose.
  4. Erik's Tumblr Feed

    Alright, alright, fine! I have a Tumblr feed. But I have it ironically.

  5. Create value: Value is in the eyes of the beholder. And if you’re giving advice like this, there’s a whooole lot of beholders who are more than a little annoyed with you right now. Everyone perceives value in their own way. While I might think your literary comparison between Dr. Who and Mr. Ferrars from Sense and Sensibility is completely useless, there are plenty of Dr. Who/Jane Austen fans who would disagree with me loudly. No matter what you create, there will always be someone who finds some value in it, somewhere. So as a piece of advice, this is value-less.
  6. Blogging is Dead: Muh-huh. And what are you reading right now? That’s right, a blog. And what’s that place where you share all your photos and pithy little comments about your friends and their quirky hats and ironic bow ties? That’s right, your blog. What’s that? You have a Tumblog, and that’s not a blog? The hell it’s not. That’s exactly what Tumblr is, a blog for people who can’t read more than three sentences without their lips getting tired. One day, when you grow up and move out of your mom’s basement, you’ll start writing longer pieces of content, like a job application at a coffee shop. Until then, stop telling people blogging is dead. If your world view can be summed up in 140 characters and a retro photo filter, that tells me it’s not a world view worth listening to. Stick to bumper stickers on your fixed gear bike.

Just once, I would love to see someone share some useful blogging advice that did not include any variations of these five completely useless tips. While I know many people are still new to blogging, I don’t think anyone would ever knowingly violate these little “gems.” You can stop sharing them, and move on to the next lesson.

What Goes Into Writing a Blog Post?

After yesterday’s post on Suggested Freelance Writing Rates — Midwest Edition, I was asked why it costs so much ($75 – $125) to write a blog post.

“It’s 350 – 450 words. How hard can it be?”

Actually, that depends. It depends on what you’re writing. If you’re writing a personal blog entry about the hamburger you enjoyed at lunch with your besties, that’s not hard at all. Takes you 15 minutes tops. But I have yet to meet anyone to hire me to ghost write their personal blog entries.

Writing corporate blog posts is a different matter. The actual wordsmithing — spinning out 350 – 450 words — is pretty straightforward. Yes, you’re paying for the writer’s expertise and skills (remember, this is a trained professional who has dedicated himself or herself to the written word), but there are other factors that go into corporate blogging. Here’s the basic process that most professional bloggers follow:

  • Regular research of the client’s industry. We have to know as much as we can about your industry, reading related blogs, trade journals, and news articles.
  • Interview the client. For Pro Blog Service, I interview our clients about that month’s blog posts, record the interviews, and we write the posts based on that.
  • The writing. This is the act of putting the words into a word processing document.
  • The editing. Any writer will tell you that the editing process is just as crucial as the actual writing. As first draft writers, most of us vary from horrible to passable. There are very, very few people who can write a great first draft. So the editing is just as difficult as putting down the actual words.
  • Publishing to the blog. This includes adding photos, any outbound links, using tools for SEO like WordPress SEO and Schemas. This is the other place people have problems, because they don’t have the time to dink around with finding photos, creating links, etc.
  • Promoting each blog post. You can’t just throw up a blog post and let it sit. You have to promote it to your social networks. And you have to grow those networks. A full-service professional blogger will also include that in their offerings, helping you grow your network so you can reach a bigger and more target audience

Blogging is much, much more than just spinning out the actual words, although that’s certainly the most important part of it. Without the research, the editing, and the promotion, you’re just writing in a diary about whatever randomly pops into your head.

If you’re thinking about blogging, more power to you! Please do. It’s an important part of social media marketing. But just remember that it takes about 1 – 2 hours worth of work to come up with a single blog post. That’s why you either need to hire it done, or allow for that much time in your schedule.

In future posts, I’ll be talking about what makes a good writer, and why, even though we all learned how to write in school, those skills are not enough to make an effective writer.

Ten Steps to Blogging Every Day

I’m always amazed — and irritated — at my colleagues who are blogging every day. I’ve tried that. I did it for a whole year once on my humor blog. By month four, I was regretting my choice. By month seven, I hated my blog. And by month 10, I longed for the sweet, sweet release of a sledgehammer to my monitor.

But I stuck it out. I made it the whole 12 months. And I saw a great increase in traffic. So much so that it is now about 80% less than what it once was, now that I’m publishing once a week. But I gained enough regular readers that publishing day (Friday) is the same level it was when I was doing the daily thing. That is, my regulars keep showing up and they keep reading. They just don’t keep coming back every day.

Tired marathon runner

Yeah, you'll feel like this around the 9th month

But if you want to blog on a daily basis, here are the 10 steps I took to make sure I made it all 365 days. (And remember, “daily” means “every day,” including Sundays. Be sure to take that into account.)

  1. Write certain evergreen posts that can be used anytime. Plug those in when you just can’t write that day from sickness, vacation, other plans.
  2. Write all posts the day before. That gives you an extra 24 hours cushion for that time you missed a post.
  3. Be prepared to use videos and photos. YouTube is a veritable cornucopia of blogging topics. Do a quick search, embed the video (when it’s permitted of course), write a few sentences of commentary, and voila!
    • Do the same thing with photos.
    • Depending on your blog platform, you may be able to email your posts in. Snap an interesting picture with your smartphone, attach it to an email, tap in a few sentences, and email it to your blog. You can always go back in later and expand it and clean it up, but at least you have the beginnings of the post.
    • (Note: Most blog platforms publish the emailed content as soon as you send it, so that won’t work to save ideas for later. Use Evernote for that.)
  4. Carry around a notebook and write down ideas as you get them. Nothing is worse than an escaped idea. And if you can start sketching out notes at the same time, do it. Even go so far as to make an outline. Think about the outline on your way to and from work. Then, when you sit down at your computer, the thing is already written. You just need to type it out.
  5. Go for brevity. Remember, a blog post is not a 750 word column. A post can be 400, 300, even 200 words. You don’t want to make a regular habit of writing short pithy 100 word posts, but you can slip them in once in a while.
  6. Break up longer posts. Got a top 10 list of something? Turn it into two top fives. A couple months later, take each item from that top 10 list and expand on it for an additional post.
  7. Set a regularly scheduled topic for certain days of the week. For example, on my humor blog Sundays were always videos, Wednesdays were always reprints of old humor columns.
  8. Find other outlets in your industry that are about your chosen topic. Pull from them for inspiration. Since I wrote about some of the stuff that stupid people did, I got a lot of inspiration and ideas from Fark.com. (And let me just say, the British Town Councils are ripe for the picking for a satirical humorist.)
  9. Schedule your blogging time. Make it the same time every day. If you don’t, you’ll have to…
  10. …get up earlier or stay up later. This is like pro athlete training. You have to do it every day and you have to make sacrifices. That means missing sleep on one end of the day or the other, especially if you were screwing around and didn’t get it done when you should have. A few days like this, and you’ll learn to stay on schedule.

Your daily blogging goal will not succeed unless and until you commit to doing it. I don’t mean, “yeah, it sounds like a good idea,” but then it’s broken like a New Year’s resolution, by late morning on the second day. I mean, you absolutely say you’re going to do it, come hell or high water. (And then the theme to Rocky starts playing, and you find yourself dancing around at the top of your courthouse steps with a bunch of computer nerds yelling and cheering around you.)

When I made that commitment, it meant a lot of bleary-eyed posts that were written at 1:30 am and had to be polished up the following morning. It meant a lot of scrambling around to find new post ideas, and rehashing a lot of old topics. And sometimes it meant putting up some less-than-worthy posts and ideas just so I could keep going.

All in all, I’m glad I did it. I had a sense of accomplishment when I was done. It got me noticed by a lot of people, and got my name out to some new people. And I find myself being drawn back to it. This blog post marks the third business day in a row that I’ve written something on this particular blog, after being sporadic from time to time.

Will I keep it up? I don’t know. Do I have enough to say that I can keep up the momentum? Definitely. Do I have the time? That’s a tough one. I have clients to take care of.

I do know that I’m skipping weekends.

Photo credit: Kit Oates (Flickr)

Four Ways You Can Earn Money as a Blogger

So you’ve been blogging for several years, or at least several months, and you want to start seeing a little cash for your efforts. I was recently talking about making money with blogs on a blogging forum, and shared this answer. I thought it was worth expanding on and resharing here, since it’s a question I’m frequently asked when I give talks about blogging.

1) Sell ads.

Put a Google AdWords feed on your blog. As you write content, Google will examine your content and put up ads that seems to fit what you’ve written. Then, as people show up to read what you’ve written — presumably because they’re interested in the topic — they’re more likely to click an ad, because they’re interested in a product or service about that topic.Spray painted dollar sign on street

Upside: Very passive. You don’t have to do anything extra to your blog. Set the code, and then you’re done. Just get traffic and hope they click. However, you’re always in readership gain mode, which you should already be doing. But if you’re depending on this for your income, you need to focus on getting readers more frequently.

Downside:It feels a little slimy, if you don’t want to commercialize your site. It turns your blog into a billboard. And depending on the kind of blog you have, it may not work, or it may just clash with the theme and topic of your blog. If your blog is for your business, ads will probably not work. And why would you want to damage your credibility for the sake of a few bucks in Google Ad revenue?

2) Become an affiliate marketer.

This is where you open, say, an Amazon affiliate account and link to a few books that you really enjoy. When someone clicks a link that you provide (with your affiliate account embedded in the link), you make a little money if that person orders the book. The more people who buy your affiliate product, the more money you make. You could even become a book and product reviewer. Whenever you link to that book or product, you embed your affiliate link and see if you can get people to buy the product based on your review.

You can be one of two kinds of AMs — the sell everything everywhere kind, or the kind who wins a really big audience of loyal followers who will buy anything you suggest. The former kind are usually messing around with every type of affiliate product they can find, the latter are in constant network growth mode (see #1).

Upside: Better return than ad sales. Decent rate of return, especially as you load more products onto your affiliate site and get a bigger audience.

Downside: Affiliate marketing can be hard work, and often requires you to take on several products with several websites if you want to make a lot of money (if you want to be the first kind), or work your ass off to become a rockstar with thousands and thousands of groupies. You may also open yourself up to spam tactics if you want to be one of the big-dollar affiliate marketers.

3) Become a product or service reviewer.

I need to preface this by saying you should never, ever charge a company to review their product. That’s not ethical. You’re a citizen journalist, you have a media outlet. If you charge money, then you’re writing an advertisement, not a review. However, you are completely free to accept a product or service in exchange for reviewing it.

Let’s say you’re a parenting blogger, and you want to start reviewing products. You could review baby products, toddler toys, and children’s books. Or you could take a techy turn, and review technology products and services that might be of interest to other parenting bloggers (i.e. video cameras, blog platforms, blogging conferences), which in turn helps you become a better blogger and reach an even bigger audience.

Or you could become a family blogger, which opens up other avenues, like trying out new family-friendly restaurants or vacation spots. (I do some travel blogging for my state’s office of tourism, so I get to take some trips around Indiana once in a while, but my stories always have a family angle.)

Upside: Free stuff!

Downside: No money. You do this to earn perks and benefits that you might not otherwise get, which can stretch your family’s budget, but this is a tough way to earn a living. On the upside, it could lead to other opportunities later on. I know someone who started writing a travel blog, and is now a professional travel writer who gets flown to far-off locales and gets paid to describe his experience. You also have to disclose any kinds of financial gifts or payments you received, according to the FTC’s blogging rules.

4) Become a freelancer.

Professional Blog Service is a corporate blogging services company. We write regular blog posts for corporate clients who want to have a corporate web presence. We’re ghost writers, basically. And even though our company is an agency, I know several freelancers who are ghost bloggers on their own, without being an “official” agency. We’ve even (gladly, willingly) helped a couple of our freelancers get started and become our competition.

Good writers can earn anywhere from $500 – $1,000 per month for a single client. Get 4 – 5 clients, and you’re earning a decent salary. You can work from anywhere, work your own hours, and get to hone your writing skills constantly.

Upside: This is going to be the best, most consistent way you’re going to make money as a blogger. You’re not building readership and are not in reader generation mode. You just write. However, it’s a real job with real responsibilities and work hours. You don’t get to take a “I don’t feel like doing anything today” day.

Downside:It’s hard work. It’s also not on your own blog. No one will ever know what you’re doing, because you’re a ghost, and you’re supposed to keep your involvement quiet. You will also do a lot of writing, which can cause burnout. There are days I’m so tired of writing that I slam my laptop lid down a little harder than necessary and just sit in front of the TV. And if you love writing, you may start to not love it if you’re not careful.

Bloggers, how do you make money doing what you do? Are you a full-time blogger? Or are you just earning a little extra cash on the side? Any methods or ideas you’d be willing to share? And newbie bloggers, are there any questions you have?

Photo credit: Leo Reynolds (Flickr)

U.S. Court Declares Bloggers Second Class Citizens, Not Part of Media

Update: Judge Marco A. Hernandez has since clarified his ruling on this matter, and stated that his ruling was only meant to apply to Crystal Cox, and not all bloggers. Read my latest blog post for the rest of the story.

A U.S. district court just ruled that bloggers — at least bloggers in Oregon — are not part of the media, and therefore, not protected by Oregon’s media shield laws.

As a citizen journalist, this scares the bejeezus out of me. If you’re a blogger of any kind, it should worry you too.

I’ve been clamoring for years that bloggers are citizen journalists. That is, we should be entitled to the same First Amendment protections, the same access, and the same considerations that newspaper, TV, and radio reporters get. At the same time, it means that bloggers need to act like journalists: with great power comes great responsibility, etcetera, etcetera.Handcuffs

But a U.S. District Court judge in Portland, Oregon just set us back to pre-1990 days when he ruled against Crystal Cox, a blogger, after she was sued by Obsidian Finance Group for defamation over blog posts that criticized the firm and co-founder Kevin Padrick. The judge also awarded Padrick $2.5 million.

In his ruling, the judge wrote:

. . . although defendant is a self-proclaimed “investigative blogger” and defines herself as “media,” the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law.

Seriously? Pamphlets? In other words, if she had slapped together an 8-page booklet at Fedex/Kinko’s, she would have been protected?

Whether this is a problem with the judge not understanding the Internet, or — more likely — Oregon having a media shield law that doesn’t reflect 21st century technology, this may have a chilling effect on bloggers, even in states with media shield laws.

As it stands now, Oregon’s media shield law says:

No person connected with, employed by or engaged in any medium of communication to the public shall be required by … a judicial officer … to disclose, by subpoena or otherwise … [t]he source of any published or unpublished information obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public[.]

Seems comprehensive enough: any medium of communication to the public strikes me as anything from newspapers to TV to radio to the Internet (including blogs). But when someone learned about the Internet from the Ted Stevens’ School of Technology, they may not realize that the Internet is far more evolved than pamphlets.

Compare Oregon’s law to Washington’s media shield law:

Any newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book publisher, news agency, wire service, radio or television station or network, cable or satellite station or network, or audio or audiovisual production company, or any entity that is in the regular business of news gathering and disseminating news or information to the public by any means, including, but not limited to, print, broadcast, photographic, mechanical, internet, or electronic distribution;

(Read more about Washington’s media shield law here.)

Washington at least spells out what they consider to be the media. But any state that has not included “the Internet” in their shield laws may be able to exclude bloggers from the people who should be protected.

In other words, if you are a pamphleteer, you’re protected. If you type something on a typewriter, reproduce it on a mimeograph machine, and staple everything together by hand, you’re protected by the First Amendment. But if you publish the biggest online-only newspaper, and have for the last fifteen years, tough. You’re not protected by media shield laws in Oregon, or several other states.

This will have a chilling effect on your rights as a journalist, as the government can impose sanctions on bloggers and Internet-based writers, simply by declaring they are not part of the protected media.

Photo credit: Tourettte (Flickr)

Philadelphia Violates Bloggers’ First Amendment Rights with Blogger Tax

Bloggers everywhere are in revolt over Philadelphia’s “blog tax” controversy. Philadelphia is requiring all bloggers to pay a $50 per year (or $300 lifetime) license fee.

Needless to say, bloggers have more than a little bit to say about this.

Regardless of whether their blogs make money, they are required to pay this tax — the city would like you to call it a “licensing fee” because tax sounds so. . . tax-y — all because a few bloggers made money from ads.A photo of a guy who has managed to wedge his head up his ass

“There’s often a blurry line when someone’s passion becomes their profession,” said Doug Oliver, a spokesman for the Mayor’s office, entirely missing the point of people who try to find their life’s purpose and make a living at doing what they love.

Their argument is that any business that has profit making potential, whether it’s through ads or any other means, must pay the tax licensing fee, even if you only made $3 from your blog.

At the very least, this is a nuisance and one that will be done away with once Philadelphia realizes how stupid it is. A step above that, it’s a First Amendment violation, and it’s going to take someone like the EFF or ACLU to step in and fight this. And worst, Philadelphia is only going to contribute to the brain drain of their city as smart bloggers leave the city in search of a less taxing locale. (Note to Philadelphia bloggers: come to Indianapolis. We’d be happy to have you.)

Other cities have tried requiring licensing fees for organized protesters and those were defeated in the courts under First Amendment grounds, so hopefully Philadelphia will be soundly spanked and other cities will learn the folly of trying to levy a tax against people who barely make any money doing what they do for their passion.

While one could argue that it’s “only” 50 bucks a year, or $4.17 per month, it’s the principle of the thing. Most bloggers spend hours a week on their hobby, often already paying for domain name registration, site hosting, templates. They buy blogging books and attend blogging conferences. They already pay to pursue their hobby, and now Philadelphia wants to get their grubby little fingers into everyone else’s pie.

What’s next for Mayor Michael Nutter’s office? What passion can they suck the life out of with another tax licensing fee? Maybe artists or athletes or people who grow their own vegetables?

What do you think? Is Philadelphia being unfair, or should they charge a licensing fee to bloggers? What’s the upside? What’s the downside? What’s to keep all of Philadelphia’s bloggers from moving out to the suburbs (or Indianapolis) and thumbing their noses at their hometown?

Six Secrets to Automating Your Social Media Communication

How can you make your social media communication easier? Are there any tips or tricks to use to reduce some of the heavy lifting you have to do just to get your messages out to the public?

Since I do social media communication, for myself and for clients, I use several shortcuts to automate a lot of what I do. Rather than posting a blog, and then posting the headline and URL to Twitter, then over at Facebook, and again at LinkedIn, I try to do it in one step. Or rather than uploading photos and videos to Flickr, Picasa, and YouTube, and then uploading them to a blog post to share them, I’m able to do it all at once.

I wrote this for Martin Earley, who is the new Inn-Bedded Resorter at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. I was one of five finalists, and got to meet Martin during our stay there. I think he was a great choice, and I know he’ll have a good time. But he also has to report what he’s doing via social media, which can be difficult if you’re trying to post content to both your site and a work site, so I offered him some tips to make his work easier. As I started writing them out, I decided it would be just as easy to put it into a blog post.

Here are a few of the tricks and tools I use to make my life a whole lot easier:

  1. Bit.ly: We’ll start with this ubiquitous URL shortener, because it will figure into nearly everything we do. Set up a bit.ly account, and then put your API key somewhere easy to find. (It can be a pain to go back to bit.ly to find it each time you need it.) Learn how to use it, and figure out their analytics section.
  2. TwitterFeed.com: Twitterfeed will visit your blog once every 30 minutes – 24 hours to see if you have anything new. Once you have a new blog post up, Twitterfeed will scoop up your headline and the URL, shorten it with bit.ly (see? We’re using it already), and then send it out to your Twitter feed and Facebook status updates.
  3. Ping.fm:You can expand TwitterFeed’s reach by sending your feed to Ping.fm, instead of Twitter. Not only can you send your new blog posts to Twitter and Facebook, but to MySpace, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, and even your Ning networks. Plus you can go to Ping.fm and directly post medium-length messages to Blogger, WordPress, and TypePad.WARNING! Do NOT set up Ping.fm to post something TO your blog if you already set up a Twitterfeed-Ping combination FROM your blog. This will create an infinite loop, which will tear a hole in the space-time continuum. This could be bad.
  4. Posterous.com:I’ve been playing with Posterous for a few months now, and really like it. It’s an email submission blog platform. Basically, you email your blog posts to your Posterous account, and it will post it for you. Your subject line is the headline, the email message is the body copy, and any photos you attach will be placed within the message. Then, you can notify your networks, just like Ping.fm, including populating your other blogs with your Posterous content, and even using bit.ly to shorten your URLs.Now, I know Blogger and WordPress both do this, but Posterous does something that the others won’t do: if you upload photos, Posterous will also send them to your Flickr and/or Picasa accounts. Upload a video, and Posterous will send it to your YouTube account.

    So, if you take some photos on your cell phone, attach them to an email, and send them to Posterous, you can send them to any special photo accounts, as well as populate your other blog feeds, which are then sent out to your Twitter, Facebook, etc.

  5. ScribeFire: This is a great blog editor that you use directly inside Firefox. Instead of going to your blog and logging in, you can open it up in Firefox, write your post, and hit upload. Rather than using a web-based interface, you can use an interface right on your computer. Both ScribeFire and Posterous are great if you have a slow Internet connection. (MacJournal is another program I’ve tried. There are Windows-based programs that do this as well.)
  6. TweetDeck: I use TweetDeck on my laptop for my Twitter communication. And when that’s all it did, it was awesome. But now TweetDeck is even awesomer, because whenever I send out a tweet, I can also send it as both a Facebook and LinkedIn update. I can also schedule tweets to take place at odd times — 1:53, 10:27 — instead of the every-5-minute intervals HootSuite limits you to. And best of all, it uses bit.ly as its default URL shortener. I can even pop a URL into TweetDeck, shorten it, and then cut it to use somewhere else. But the URL still gets pushed over to bit.y’s website where it gets included in the analytics.

While I don’t recommend automating everything you do in social media, like message creating, it’s at least a great way to lighten your load and make your life easier.

Photo credit: genewolf (Flickr)