(image by the Bilerco Project)
Much has been said about the decline of blogging, and why now is a great time to start creating content. The latter arguments are sound. Now that the rush to play with the latest shiny object is over and marketing folks have moved to social networks, good writers will find it easier to rise above competitors. But the dynamics have changed. Building a successful blog in 2006 depended on building a loyal readership via RSS. In 2011, RSS usage has dramatically declined with many people receiving their news from friends in social networks online or via email.
How does one write a great, well-read blog in the post RSS era? Here are some tips to build on past ones about blogging:
1. Honor Your Community
Because content dissemination requires word of mouth, an organization or blogger has to be an active, participating member of a community. This means more than just dropping links on a feed. It means giving back to the community, reading their content, remarking on the things that matter to others, too. Strength of community is essential to a blog’s health.
If you don’t have a community, consider cutting one post on your site, and guest posting once a week on other blogs and mastheads to develop a following. Start circulating your name (and social network locations) using more established and read media.
Further, your content needs to serve intended readers, too, and be seen as interesting to the larger collective. Quid pro quo. If you want to be read, make sure the content has something to offer people as opposed to marketing messages. Use an editorial mission to keep content on target.
2. Write Great Headlines and Positions
In the past, headline writing mattered, but without significant RSS traffic, the need for catchy titles increases exponentially. Without a punchy headline that attracts people immediately, posts die in the water. Your content has to work immediately. It has to resonate though the clutter on Twitter, Facebook, groups, usenets, emails, etc., and compel people to click through. If a headline can’t grab someone in ten words or less, go back to the drawing board.
Similarly, content should provoke thought. Write a strong first paragraph that states a thesis promptly. Use the rest of the post to prove or disprove the thesis. If you don’t have anything to say, why will people come back or check your blog out if there’s nothing to add value to their lives or to talk about? It’s better to say something and have vigorous discourse, then to be safe. Unremarkable blogs are easier to find on the Internet than not; they’re easy to ignore, too.
3. Value Quality Over Quantity
In the past with a large RSS readership base, it was important to publish regularly. It’s still important to publish with an expected frequency, but it’s more important to write great content.
Because RSS matters less, posting doesn’t depend on someone opening their reader every morning to find new content. Instead, content is disseminated by a community that either checks a blog periodically, or sees the post via referral online whenever they check in. That means the life span of a post as “new” can be as long as two days. Focus on your best ideas and invest in writing and editing them well to ensure maximum value.
4. Reward Loyalty
When people comment or link to your blog, it means more now. These are loyal readers who care enough to say something (instead of tweeting it), who care enough to link (as opposed to hacking ideas), and who share a similar content interest. They are self identifying as important members of the community.
Your job is to reward their interest and reciprocate. Read their post, thank them, and comment. Reply to their comments, even the negative ones that don’t necessarily jive with your thesis. Who knows? Maybe they are right in the end. If you see them on your social networks, take interest in them.
What you don’t want to do is ignore them. Their time is just as valuable as yours (sorry, dear A-Lister, we are all busy). Developing a loyal readership today means being active in conversation. Call it being a good host. After all, when you blog isn’t hosting a good conversation one of the primary goals?
5. Market Your Content
Understand that there are time swings where more people are online than not. First thing in the morning East Coast time is always good. Mid-day slots 11-12 and 2-3 EST have both coasts online, with a likelier frequency of being at computing devices. End of day East Coast time is also good for catching both coasts.
Some days are better than others. Sundays are better than Saturdays. Monday mornings, most people are in meetings. Many people take Fridays off periodically.
When you publish content online to notify your readers, especially if you are not publishing every day, try doing it a couple of times with different intros. People migrate to content via word of mouth as opposed to opening a reader, and most people aren’t online all day. Second and third waves of readers can be created.
But don’t over promote (for example, by asking people to retweet your post). If all you do is drop links to your blog, well, your community will become very tired quickly. Again, it’s important to be a part of a group of people as opposed to talking at them.
Also, be sure to offer RSS readers an easy way to subscribe. Though readers are dying, some people still want to receive content this way. Don’t deny them the opportunity!
Related material: Blogging Primer, Blog Last, Headline Writing Drives Traffic