3 Simple questions before you write your next blog post

It was only a couple of years ago that every slide presentation wielded by self-proclaimed social media gurus hailed “content is king”. This later changed to “curation is king”. Today the industry seems to have settled for ‘Ahh! Quick! Post it, post it!’ and most social media sites have been left with a desecrated mountain of link-baits, posts that are just lists of resources or observations, and rehashed content from years gone by.

The secret to standing out in all this noise is to plan:

  • Who do you want to speak to?
  • What you are going to say?
  • And why?

These possibly overly simplistic questions are the main reasons behind why blogs survive, and why others fail. For example, you could be a tourist board who is attempting to lure travellers to a destination; this is your audience. Therefore you may want to write about a tourist attraction, tips for living on a budget or how to spend 3 days in ‘blah’; this is your content. The final point is often the least followed, it is the reason why you are blogging. Do you want to generate higher social media numbers, sell more services or products, and refer traffic to an external link? This is your why. Remember it, this is your measure of success.

Going about this process means really getting to grips with what your blog is about. It may just be a personal project designed to give you satisfaction. If that is the case, enjoy! However, if you are a business or a determined individual, then your reasons may be far reaching. Think about where you would like your blog to be in a year’s time, do you want to make money from your blog, receive products to review, make yourself an internet celebrity? There are no boundaries, choose your direction and run. Blogging is a flexible platform that will allow you to succeed as a small online business, a large multinational or perky individual.

You just need to plan the purpose of your blog (which is another subject altogether) and develop a content publishing process that works for you.

Struggling to write? 5 pieces of advice

My thoughts have been rather constipated of late, which has negatively affected the quality of my writing. An especially painful inconvenience as my professional role largely depends on copywriting for clients. No matter what I do, thoughts refuse to flow. Out of sheer frustration I left the office one day to purchase cigarettes, a very old writing habit of mine whilst at University. Thankfully sense prevailed – I shan’t be trying that again.

When I am stuck for words, I usually find the five below steps a suitable laxative.

Get out
The overwhelming sense of frustration at staring at a blank page can be mesmerising for any writer. The page stares back, echoing the emptiness of your own thoughts and continually loops in your mind. When this happens get out; leave the office or your home. Go for a walk, get a coffee, do something that is away from the screen. If you don’t have a fixed deadline to meet be patient and wait for those words to emerge after a day or two.

Brain dump
If you know the subject you are going to write about then instead of drafting an article straightaway, instead just ‘brain dump’ all of your ideas onto a piece of paper. This can be in one spewed mess or mind mapped as a diagram. It often helps if you can read the ideas in your head, rather than just have them as thoughts. Brain dumping is a useful part of the planning process.

Plan, obviously
Everyone who is a serious writer plans, as anything of complexity takes a degree of planning to organise in a coherent way. Research the subject you are going to write about through reading newspapers, books, magazines and the internet. Make notes, use your brain dumped ideas and timeline how your article will appear on the page.

Speak to a colleague, friend or family
Sometimes it helps to run an idea past somebody else. Two brains are better than one, and everybody thinks differently. By getting advice from somebody you trust you may gain an additional perspective on a story, allowing you to get writing. I personally find this a powerful motivator to getting an article written – it will also intellectually invigorate you to challenge your own ideas.

Alcohol! Caffeine! Nicotine! Sugar!
I’m not going to judge you… everyone has their own medicine. Just don’t binge regularly, okay?   

3 Blogs I Love (and you will love too)

Each day I read a variety of different blogs and the three listed below are my favourites. We should all take the below authors as examples to improve our own blogging and spend time appreciating the work they produce. Perhaps follow their blogs online and leave them a comment.

 

Nightmare Pixel
Kyle Mullan tells stories designed to provoke, push social boundaries and to enchant readers down a path few dare to tread. It is unclear whether the stories he tells are based from personal experiences, even metaphors for aspects of life many of us choose to ignore. A “gonzo-journalistic style” surrounds his writings. Kyle Mullan is an accurate amalgamation of Charles Bukowski, Chuck Palahniuk and George Orwell – I love the result. He has recently started telling his stories on YouTube.

 

Mostly Harmless – the good news blog
Nobody can ignore the theme of negativity which underlines our top news stories. Ben Hamilton’s newly started “Mostly Harmless” blog reveals to readers the hidden agendas behind news stories to show the world isn’t that bad. Coupled with the usual flare of a columnist Ben Hamilton observes the wider context of stories to gain transparency which assists readers to understand the real meaning of a news item. Support this blog project, it has only just begun.

 

Social Web Thing
Ben Cotton works for the Edelman Digital PR team and his blog has become a useful resource for PR students and practitioners alike. Whether you need to know about 2012 PR Graduate Schemes or you want to know his observations of the PR industry, he offers it all. Indeed his blog has become so useful that he has been nominated in the highly acclaimed and cheekily titled CRAPPs awards – his blog deserves your vote.

What I have learnt after 6 years of Blogging

I’m 21 years old yet I have been blogging in various forms over the last 6 years. Before 2005 I had no idea how blogging would have shaped my life. Now 6 years on I reminisce on what I have learnt and if I would have changed anything.

Comments are Gold and Dust
It is much easier to forget positive feedback than the negative. Negative comments build like dust and unless you brush them away it is easy to let them blind your path. Treasure your positive comments and either forget or grow from the negative. Either way comments are good, it shows you are making a difference.

Your learning will speed up – LOTS!
Once I started blogging alongside my PR course at University I realised writing posts was acting as a form of revision. Every student should be aware of the world around them and blogging accelerates that process.

Be Brief
Most of us scan read when browsing the internet. Dwell times are reduced and so it is necessary for blogs to be brief. Sometimes people on Twitter will RT a post just based on the title! Shorter posts generally are more successful, in my experience the larger ones are more entertaining to write.

Old Posts are always Cringe worthy
To this very day I cannot stand reviewing old blog posts. Somewhere on my computer I have a list of posts which I wrote in 2006 and I am glad to say I have progressed a lot since then. The latest post is always one to keep in mind but be careful what you write, the posts you wrote six years ago may still be Google-able. (Nothing is truly deleted on the internet)

Your Audience is two-way
Don’t think that blogging will provide you international fame. Equally don’t think that an audience will just flock to you. Building an audience takes time (this blog’s audience is certainly niche) and requires you to make the effort to interact with other blogs. Even being listed effectively in search engines requires a lot of work. Perhaps in the next year I will become more popular than Darren Rowse?

Blogging won’t make you Rich
We have all heard the stories of people who manage to blog full-time and make a living from it but they really are exceptions. Through sponsored posts and advertising over the course of the year I have probably earned enough money to purchase a Nintendo 3DS. Compare that with the amount of time it takes to keep the blog running; it wouldn’t be worth it.

Publish Frequently
To maintain an active blog it is important to publish frequently. Quantity keeps search engines happy and causes people to regularly visit for more information. Don’t forget quality though – miss that and you won’t be doing your reputation any favours.

Research for Dissertation

Research Begins...

With the hustle of contracted work it is rare that I find myself in a delightfully sunny garden with little weight upon my shoulders. Yet as I sit here now wearing my *oh so wondrously cool* sunglasses I have taken the chance to begin considering the first stages of my dissertation. Once back at University in September one of my main tasks will be to write my Public Relations dissertation which needs to be in the region of 10,000 words.

Who cares about word counts really? Hitting 10,000 words is easy – give a keyboard to a monkey and with enough dedication those letters will flow, although perhaps not in conventional word structures. Words do not scare me, content does.

The content has to be right and even though this Public Relations dissertation probably doesn’t mean much in terms of academic contribution at BA level, I feel like I need to impress myself. Constantly I spot something in business which I would have done alternatively.

Whilst others swim in a certain direction I often ponder about what it would be like swimming against the current, the current train of thought, the current idea which is so widely established. With so many thoughts running through my mind, actually being given the chance to write a dissertation is an opportunity to shine.

Like most keen writers I often dream of having a book published and writing an academic dissertation isn’t that different. I admire many scientific writers who leap into theory and shape it into something understandable and human. If I could put the same twist on communication theory then that would be an achievement.

Yet after all of this writing I may be over thinking things. The main purpose of this dissertation is to achieve the grade I need in order to find a job.

There is nothing like the present. After chewing through some dissertation ideas online a thoughtful librarian at Microsoft UK HQ offered to assist with research. Today I have drawn up a list of contacts who I will ask to interview this summer ahead of the dissertation and ultimately I hope to have the basic structure of my dissertation this weekend.

It may sound far fetched, even sad that I have bothered to focus on the dissertation at this stage. However this is just the way my mind works. I’m not very good at doing nothing, I must always have something happening and if I get all my dissertation research done before University then when I arrive in Cheltenham all I will need to do is write the thing.

If you are already writing a dissertation or thinking about starting one, then I would love to know how you are finding it:

  1. Is it easy?
  2. What is researching like?
  3. How did you come up with your idea?
  4. Is writing a dissertation just about the grade?

 

Social Networks: Personal Data Spending Habits

Wired Magazine made a fantastic point concerning online privacy in their February issue by uniquely constructing front covers containing personal details aimed at some of their readers. Channel 4’s Benjamin Cohen was one of their targets.

 

Funny Facebook Update (Bit Rude!)

Social Networks sit on a foundation of our personal data. Your very essence and life experiences are a currency which Wired Magazine was attempting to expose. Generally we are all too open about our lives online, we are careful with our financial spending habits and so why don’t we pay attention to our personal data spending habits?

Sometimes I think it is a self-obsessive trend; we generally think that people are interested in our lives. Unless you are a celebrity or a popular expert in your field then it is unlikely people will take an active interest in your life. Who really cares if I tweet “Travelling to Microsoft. Looks like a busy day is ahead of me”? I may get a couple of replies which may roughly be, “Yeah, I’m not looking forward to today either” but that would be about it. Yet I have traded my personal data to fuel the social network to carry on.

Social networks are full of useless information like this… except it isn’t useless. Companies will keep an eye on Twitter and monitor what you are saying. That single tweet of mine could have been seen by my manager, fellow employee or client… it provides them a perspective.

Freelance Social Media Consultants always comment to me that when they meet companies the client is always surprised how people are already discussing them or their brand online. Just because the company hadn’t figured out their social media strategy didn’t mean people would wait for their profile to appear before discussing.

What you reveal about yourself online is public (even private profiles – your data is still online) and companies can use this information. Are you comfortable of this? Social Media campaigns aim at the individual, based on a search of your personal data: think before you update.

 

A couple of questions for you (comment below 🙂 ):

  • What do you gain for sharing your personal details?
  • Is updating your details on Social Networks self-obsessive?

 

Make the First Paragraph Count

How does your behaviour change when you’re on the internet? This is a question which has existed in my mind for some time. A tend to agree with @AnneBillson that many people online rarely read past the first paragraph of an article, occasionally I am one of those people. The digital world is high speed, far away from slow paper, it causes our brains to process faster. Generation Y is the speed reading generation.

Readers aren’t always to blame; mostly it is the fault of the blogger. It can be incredibly easy to spew hundreds of words but the activity really is in vain if the average time of a single article view is of 2 seconds.

In fact just writing this far down on this blog post may be pointless. A simple scan of the first paragraph may have already turned many people away. After all, this article doesn’t contain fact of any kind or anything which could be life improving. It is an observation which is beginning to get superfluous (as I have hit the 200 word mark).

Now this sentence is just being optimistic.

This sentence probably won’t even be read…

Make that first paragraph count.

World Book Night 2011

World Book Night 2011 has begun. The event was inspired after the success of World Book Day, an event where thousands of school children in the UK and Ireland receive book tokens. My copy of the book below is one of 40,000 copies of the 25 titles which have been printed for World Book Night 2011. Do the maths and it will reveal that 1,000,000 books are being shared this year between friends, family, colleagues and strangers. Essentially the event sees 20,000 members of the public give away 48 copies of their favourite book.

World Book Night 2011: David Nicholls, One Day

For some World Book Night 2011 has been welcomed with all the joy of meeting their mother-in-law (It has taken me over 2 years to slip a mother-in-law joke into this blog. Too soon?). Controversy surrounds the outcome of this giveaway; will it harm small booksellers and authors or will World Book Night 2011 cause more to find the joy reading?

If I were an author then I would welcome World Book Night 2011. I have spoken with a few authors and none of them have listed money for the reason they write. With the costs of publishing and marketing there is very little money left to the author as profit. Instead the highest reason for writing is the joy of seeing your book on the shop’s shelf or seeing others reading your book. To see 40,000 copies of your book distributed as part of World Book Night 2011 as an author will only raise your profile.

Most the free books I received as a child were bibles or various translations, so I welcome World Book Night 2011 as a change. Once I have finished this book I’ll pass it on and hopefully get my hands on another copy of a World Book Night 2011 branded book. Now move away from your computer and read a book. 🙂