Wednesday, January 12, 2011

11 Things You Should Know About Blogging

Since I promoted it earlier this week, I figure I should participate in at least some parts of the Edublogs 30 Days to Kick Start Your Blogging Challenge. One of the first "advanced" challenges is to write a post on 10 Things You Should Know About Blogging. In keeping with my theme over the last two weeks, I've added an eleventh item to my list. Although some of these tips apply to blogging with students, these tips are geared toward blogging as personal/ professional growth activity.

1. Remember you're writing for an audience. You'll sometimes hear people say that they "blog for themselves" which may be true, but they're publishing on the web so they must be hoping that at least one other person will read and respond to their writing. So write for yourself, but remember if it's on the web someone will eventually read it and form an impression (perhaps short-lived or perhaps long-lasting) of you based on what you publish.

2. Identify a niche for your blog and write for that niche. Following up on #1, if you want to just post random thoughts from day-to-day, go for it, but bear in mind that unless you live a super-interesting superhero life, people probably aren't going to check your blog to find out that you ate squash on Monday and on Wednesday you took your dog to the vet.

What is a niche and why is it important to identify one? You might be thinking that "education" is a niche, but it's not. A niche is something like "K-12 School Leadership" or "Technology in the Elementary School Classroom." Identifying a niche does two things for you. A niche helps visitors quickly identify what your blog is about. A niche also helps you identify topics for your writing. And that can be very helpful for combatting writer's block.

3. Read other blogs, but don't copy another blog. Reading other blogs will give you a sense of what other people are saying about the same topics you're interested in. Comment on those blogs and if one of those blogs provides you with inspiration for your own posts, that's a bonus for you (just be sure to give attribution and link properly, more on that later). When I say "don't copy another blog" I'm talking about copying and pasting posts, that's obviously wrong, I'm talking about copying another blogger's style. It can be tempting to look at a popular blogger and try to copy that person's style thinking that you too will acquire all the blog-o-spere fame and fortune (spoiler alert: there isn't a fortune) that person has. We all have our own voice and style. It might take you a little while to find your blogging voice, but it's there. (BTW, my style is to misuse punctuation and occasionally leave out important operator words).

4. Post consistently. You don't have to post five things a day to build an audience. In fact, you don't even have to post everyday, but you do need to post consistently. Chris Guillebeau has built a huge audience by posting three times a week on a regular schedule. In addition to posting on a regular schedule, post with your own consistent voice (see #3 above).

5. Write original material. It's fine to quote other people and or to post other people's presentations, but in doing so make sure you're adding value to that work (also make sure you link to them, see #6 below). Adding value can be writing a commentary about a video and how that video influenced your thinking. Adding value could also be a critical commentary designed to spark conversation. Simply copying and pasting another person's blog posts without adding value, even if you link to that person, is not only bad etiquette, it can be a violation of copyright. Seasoned bloggers generally don't take too kindly to having their materials lifted and they usually find out about it quickly through their Google Alerts (see #7 below about Google Alerts).

6. Link to other bloggers. If you read a post on someone else's blog that inspired the post you're currently writing, link to that person. If you're quoting someone, make sure you link to that person. And if you use someone else's slideshow, video, or audio make sure you link to that person (I forgot to do this once and was very embarrassed). Linking to others is not only the right thing to do, it can also be the way to get on another blogger's radar for the right reasons as opposed to the wrong reason of having copied their posts . If you link to another blogger, he or she may see your post even if they're not a regular reader of your blog. Down the road that blogger may link back to you.

7. Set up Google Alerts. Google Alerts are great for tracking your name, your blog, or anything else you're interested in. For example, one of the Google Alerts I have set up is to track "Free Technology for Teachers." Anytime that phrase is published online, I'm alerted in my RSS reader. It's a great way to find out what people are saying about you and it's a way to find out if someone is plagiarizing your posts. (Learn how to set-up Google Alerts in this guide). (Learn what to do if someone plagiarizes your work).

8. Network. Get on Twitter, Linked In, FaceBook, Classroom 2.0, and other networks and contribute to conversations there. (Read this post for ideas about finding other teachers on Twitter). If you're making good, insightful, or helpful contributions to conversations, people will be more inclined to check out your blog. Don't be afraid to self-promote, but do so tactfully. (As Chris Brogan says, don't be that guy).

9. Choose a nice blog design. There is an almost limitless amount of blog design templates and themes to pick from. It can be fun to experiment with them, but don't change it too frequently. If you're constantly changing themes you're sending a message that there's something about your blog that you don't like. And if you don't like it, why would a visitor like it? That said, it's okay to change your blog design from time to time (I've done it three times in three years). And one design tip from a non-designer, white body font on an all black background can be hard on the eyes for extended reading.

10. Don't stress-out over fluctuations in statistics. Watching the statistics of your blog can be stressful if you worry about every fluctuation. The statistics do give you some nice feedback about things like the type of post that appeal to your readers, but don't obsess over daily fluctuations. Instead look at weekly or monthly statistics to see if your audience is growing. Think of it this way; the more readers you have, the more people you will have stop reading.

11. You've got to keep on blogging. Building a blog audience takes time. During my Saturday morning appearance on Classroom 2.0 Live I mentioned that if you're serious about building a blog audience you have to keep on writing even if only your mother, father, wife, husband, or dog is reading your posts. As mentioned in #1 above, if you're publishing on the web, someone will come across your writing. You want that first stranger who visits your blog to read your writing, so make sure they have plenty to read. If they like what they're reading, they just might pass your blog along to one of their friends, and their friends pass it along to their friends, and.... before too long you'll have an audience to write for. That's when it gets really fun.

What about that blog-o-sphere fame and fortune you mentioned?
If you'd like to try your hand at making some money from your blog, there are much more qualified folks than me to advise you on that. I recommend reading what these experts, Pro Blogger, Chris BroganGary Vaynerchuk, and Chris Guillebeau have to say on those matters.