Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: Get Serious By Relaxing

image courtesy Creative Commons

This month we’ve focused on sharpening blogging habits for the new year. There’s been a lot of good discussion, and if you haven’t been with us until this point, please check out the other posts in this series:

Part 1 –  Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: 4 Ways To Define Your Audience

Part 2 –  Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: 7 Keys To Blogging On A Consistent Basis

Part 3 –  Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: 14 Actions To Take To Amplify Your Blog’s Voice

Part 4 –  Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: The Golden Rule For Bloggers

Here’s a confession: I’m kind of a serious person. I have a hard time going with the flow. Kicking back is not natural for me. I have to work hard to find the positive and the humor in life. It’s part life experience, part medical condition, and part DNA. I used to think I was just organized, hard-working, good at list-making, focused. I am all those things, but sometimes those are code words for anxious, sweating the small stuff and too serious.

Here’s an example. Artist Daughter had a friend visit. We decided to order pizza. We discussed all the menu options, then I called in my order. When I got off the phone, Artist Daughter chuckled. I asked her why. “That’s the calmest pizza order I’ve ever heard you give, Mom.” That was a pivotal moment of realization that I take life much too seriously.

Blog Habit #5: Relax

If you’re blogging as a hobby you can probably skip this post. If you’re blogging because you want to make your voice heard on a specific subject,  you’re a writer and you’re building that all important social media platform or you have a product or idea and you’re trying to reach the masses, you may have some issues with taking yourself and your blog too seriously.

Wait a minute, Kristin, you’ve been telling us all month how to do all this stuff to make our blogs awesome, magnificent islands of intelligent communication in a noisy sea of internet flotsam, and now you’re saying don’t take it seriously?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take our passion or career seriously, but sometimes we can get so consumed with doing what everyone says we should do to be successful we are not enjoying the journey. Here are 4 diagnoses you may be too serious about your blogging, and a possible cure for each.

Diagnosis: Lawbreaker Phobia – If you’re spending the majority of your blogging time trying to implement every ‘rule’ that you hear mentioned on any expert blogs and you’re afraid if you don’t follow all the rules your little blog will shrivel into oblivion, you need to relax. It’s helpful to learn techniques for better blogging, but don’t become enslaved by them.

Cure: Don’t be afraid to break the ‘rules’. You have the opportunity to give your blog your unique signature, and the creative aspect makes it fun.

"They're more like guidelines than actual rules..."

Diagnosis: Blank Screen Syndrome – Your agent/boss/mentor/critique group said you needed to start building that ‘social media platform’ so you jumped into blogging with both feet, ready to conquer. You made it past the newbie hump and stuck with it, but now the spectre of trying to come up with blog post ideas and content day after day or week after week has become a teeth-pulling, stressful burden. It’s not just a few down days, you know it’s infecting your entire attitude. Get ready, I’m going to wave my magic wand.

Cure: Maybe blogging is not for you. AND THAT”S OKAY. Deep breaths, see that wasn’t so bad. If blogging is not something you enjoy, you aren’t going to stick with it over the long haul. Try microblogging instead. You can still build relationships and a following with Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, where there’s less time investment and writing involved. Movements.org  covers the basics of microblogging on How To Microblog.

"Just click your heels together and say 'It's okay to microblog'."

Diagnosis: Blog Hot Mess Fever – You’ve been blogging for a while. You were enjoying yourself, getting good feedback. But somewhere along the way you lost your focus. You got enamored with widgets and crammed them everywhere on your blog. You started posting on unrelated subjects. Your feedback went down. Months have gone by in between posts. The passion that got you blogging in the first place seems to have dissipated.

Cure: Maybe you should consider a reboot. Start from scratch? After all that work? Sometimes the energy we get from starting something new gives us the motivation to continue. Jeff Goins gives some good advice with When To Quit Your Blog and Start A New One.

"You think I should start over?"

Diagnosis: Personality Flu – You’re knocking it out of the park with informative posts. Good design. Bullet points. Good links. Well-researched. But something’s missing. Somehow you’re not connecting with your readers. There’s not a lot of interaction on your blog.

Cure: Loosen up and have some fun. Look for the humor in your subject. Share a funny anecdote once in a while. Relax and be yourself. When your personality shines through your blog, it will help you nurture reader relationships and make blogging fun. Claire Legrand says “Forget the stress, forget the expectations, the daily slog through statistics. It’s okay to be yourself, it’s okay to blog yourself.”

Read Claire’s entire post ‘It’s Okay To Blog Yourself’.

Take your blog to the next level by relaxing. You’re going to do great. Seriously.

Question: What’s the funniest/silliest/snarkiest post you ever made on your blog? Let’s start off the week with a laugh and leave a link in the comments.

Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: The Golden Rule For Bloggers

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you receive but by the seeds that you plant." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Thanks so much for all the feedback for our blogging habits series featured this month. I hope we are all giving little tweaks to our blogging vision to make what we do with our blogs the best ever for 2012. If this is your first time popping in, here’s the series line-up so you can get on the same page:

Part 1 – Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: 4 Ways To Define Your Audience

Part 2 – Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: 7 Keys To Blogging On A Consistent Basis

Part 3 – Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: 14 Actions To Take To Amplify Your Blog’s Voice

There’s a local health foods store I frequent to buy my vitamins. It’s a little mom-pop operation. Actually a mom-daughter-niece operation where ‘everybody knows your name’. One day I noticed a blurb in their newspaper ad about the store’s blog. I checked it out. It was a ‘just-beginning-to-bud-and-dying-from-the-frost-of-being-unread’ blog. Only one post made a couple months earlier with no comments on it. The post was well-written and happened to mention a new natural face soap the store had begun carrying. It’s a wonderful goat’s milk soap made locally that up until that time had only been sold during the farmer’s market season.

Excited to be able to get my beloved soap in the winter, I ran by the health foods store to snatch up all the bars I could. When I paid for my purchase, I shared my excitement with the owner and thanked her for posting about it in her blog. Her mouth kind of fell open, then she smiled and said, “I didn’t know anyone was reading it. I guess I’m going to have to put some more things on there.” She didn’t think anyone was reading or getting value out of her blog until someone told her.

Blog Habit #4: Encourage Other Bloggers

Whether you call it sowing seeds, karma, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, or good vibrations, when you take the time to encourage others it will pay big dividends in your personal attitude as well as your blogging mojo.

Sometimes we’re so caught up in building our own blog, we forget it really does ‘take a village’ to create a strong blog presence. Readers are the lifeblood of a blog, and a large portion of readers are fellow bloggers. If you happen to have a niche blog, bloggers in that niche are even more important to help you gain a readership by spreading the news about your blog in that niche community.

Interaction in social media usually comes in the form of participating in the community conversation in some way. Sounds simple enough, right? So why aren’t readers naturally interacting on blogs? Why do we have to ‘work’ for their involvement?

A 2006 study by Jakob Nielsen cites that 90% of online community users are lurkers who never contribute or interact, 9% contribute a little and only 1% are vocally active. This is a fact of life that many ministries and non-profit groups have always dealt with. The 20/80 rule, as in, 20% of the same volunteers do 80% of the volunteer work. While we’re not going to make a major societal impact, we can put a tiny dent in whether people stand on the sidelines of our blog or become more interactive by modeling interactive encouragement to others.

How can you be an encouragement to other bloggers without draining your already precious social media time? Here are a few simple ways:

  • Make a comment on someone else’s blog.

Did you enjoy a post you read? Learn something? Completely disagree? Stumbled on the post during a search? Take the time to make a comment to let the blogger know. You don’t have to write a dissertation, but you can also do better than ‘Great post!’ One sentence can make the difference to a writer who’s feeling like their words are floating into the internet ether without notice.

  • Click a social media sharing button.

Are you skimming blogs while on your coffee break or between toddler duties at home? Don’t have time to think about and write out a comment? It only takes a second to click a ‘like’ button on WordPress blogs and about the same amount of time to click a Google 1+, Facebook, Twitter, or social bookmarking button like StumbleUpon or Reddit and you’ve done double duty by letting the blogger know their post has not only been read but shared with others.

  • Tweet or retweet blog links on Twitter.

Become known for showcasing valuable information by taking the time to tweet and retweet post links on Twitter. Folks will appreciate it and be more likely to check out your blog posts when you tweet your own links.

  • Make a Pinterest board for your favorite blog posts.

Once you are on Pinterest, it’s easy to add a photo from one of your favorite blog posts with a simple click of the  ‘Pin it!’ button. The ‘pin’ will link back to the blog to help get more traffic to your fellow bloggers’ sites.

  • Have a blog round-up or showcase.

Some people enjoy writing a post highlighting a weekly round-up of quality blog post links. This has the double benefit of helping others while you get readers who show up just for your great lists!  It doesn’t have to be a long list. Here are some examples:

Read The 12 Best Blogs You May (Almost) Have Never Heard Of

Read Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing’s ‘This Week For Writers

  • Ask someone to write a guest post for your blog.

Be discriminating about this, but if you see a quality blogger who hasn’t built a large readership yet and may need encouragement, nothing helps like a request for their writing skills! You have the mutual benefit of being exposed to the other blogger’s readership.

  • Stay positive in your online interaction.

If something someone says on their blog rubs you the wrong way, think twice before you rattle off that rant that accuses them of being a no-talent hack. Some people support getting as controversial as you can to stir up buzz so people will come check out your blog.

That’s also what they do with reality shows, Jerry Springer and 24/7 news channels. Think about it.

When you are posting something negative, ask yourself these questions: Is this negativity really necessary? Can I make my point without tearing another person down? Of course, life is not a box of fuzzy kittens (if only!) and stuff happens and we like to talk about it. It’s fine to disagree, but be cautious about being disagreeable and attacking others’ personally. It’s bad karma and may come back to haunt you.

  • Answer the question posed in a blog post.

If the specific post asks a question, try to answer it. If you go on and on about your mother’s cat or some other rabbit trail, the blog writer may be frustrated thinking their post/question was poorly written or unclear. That can be discouraging. Answer the question, even if it’s “I don’t know” then tell everyone about your mother’s cat.

If you read a lot of blogs  it’s usually not possible to devote time to commenting on every one. However, you can give yourself a goal. For example: ‘I’ll comment on 3 blogs per day’, or’ I’ll ‘like’ 5 blogs today’, or ‘I’ll write one thoughtful comment per week’. Again, don’t overload yourself with added pressures. But you need to look at encouraging others as an investment. Interacting and sharing in the blogging community not only gives out good vibes, it teaches you to step out of yourself. When you do that, the seeds you plant will come back as a good harvest.

Question: What makes you want to take the time to comment on a blog post?

Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: 14 Actions to Take to Amplify Your Blog’s Voice

What are you doing to amplify your blog’s voice?

Today is part 3 in this month’s series on sharpening your blogging habits. Have you been following along? If not, you can catch up here:

Part 1- Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: 4 Ways To Define Your Audience

Part 2- Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: 7 Keys to Blogging on a Consistent Basis

I love a summer day when I can open the windows. Especially at dusk I enjoy the sounds:  the squeals of children playing, the rustle of leaves in the warm breeze or the orchestra of crickets. I can sit on my patio and listen to some smooth jazz as it drifts out the window from my sound system. Sometimes I’ll hear the exotic music of my Colombian neighbors as they enjoy the songs of their homeland. Once in a while the idyllic twilight is invaded by a passionate music lover driving through the neighborhood. The militant beat of mega woofers infiltrates the area until the offending car drives out of earshot. My ears readjust and go back to partaking of the sounds of the season.

Blog Habit #3: Broadcast Your Blog Post

If you are new to blogging, you may have the ‘Field of Dreams’ mindset I used to have: if you write it, they will come. You’ve crafted a wonderful blog post and now readers will line up to read your genius. Considering there are 200,000,000+ active blogs in the blogosphere, you need to give your blog baby a little help in letting your audience find you. Broadcasting your blog post on social media sets the stage for more interaction. The more people who know that your blog exists and that you offer valuable content means the more people who will potentially read and comment on your blog. Successful use of social media for broadcasting is two-fold: 1) making proper use of the social media tools available and 2) avoiding the mistake of becoming irritating noise that is filling social media today like the aforementioned car.

14 Actions To Amplify Your Blog’s Voice

The list of broadcast methods I’ve compiled are only some of the actions we can take to amplify our blog voice. Start with ones you are familiar with and establish a broadcast habit. After you are broadcasting with one or two consistently you can experiment with some of the other suggestions and expand your repertoire.

  1. Craft headlines for maximum effect. A well-crafted title draws a reader to check out what you’ve got to say. Short, snappy and on topic are best. If you want to learn to write good headlines, do a Google search on writing good headlines – there is lots of help out there. Let’s start off with some simple tips from the folks at WordPress: Are You Writing Rockin’ Blog Post Titles?
  2. Post a link to your blog with a well-crafted teaser once a day on Facebook and Google+. Multiple status posts all day long with the same ‘advertisement’ can get annoying to those reading it and they will eventually tune it out.
  3. Post a link 3-5x a day spaced throughout the day on Twitter. You can post a few times more on Twitter because its information stream moves faster than Facebook and Google+. Focus on those who might be interested in your blog subject with hashtags. Don’t know what hashtags are? Here’s a great post from social media guru Kristen Lamb to get you on track: Be A Tweep, Not A Tool-How Hashtags Can Win Friends and Influence Enemies (Note how Ms. Lamb rocks her headlines)
  4. Start an email newsletter for your subscribers. You can give a weekly round-up with links or offer exclusive content. Writer Jeff Goins has a good example of a successful blog newsletter. Check out Jeff Goins post How To Get Your Message Heard Without Adding To The Noise
  5. Create a YouTube channel for a change of pace to disseminate your information. Author  K.M. Weiland has been doing this successfully for about two years.
  6. Pin a Pinterest board with photos from your blog posts. Pinterest automatically links them back to your blog so people can follow the trail there.
  7. Join Triberr. Triberr is one of the newer social media platforms especially for bloggers. Jenny Hansen gives us the basics in her post My New Time-Saving Social Media BFF:Triberr
  8. Share posts with social bookmarking. Social bookmarking such as Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit have been around for a while, yet many don’t quite get the benefits to using it. Read Problogger’s post Social Bookmarking – Getting Your Blog Noticed for some do’s and don’ts.
  9. Write a guest post. Guest posting is simply that: writing a post of original content for another blog. You expand your blog’s exposure by guest posting. How do you guest post? Connect with other bloggers in your niche and trade posts or find groups that encourage guest posts among its members. That’s part of the ‘social’ in social networking. Check out Blogger Linkup for a site that offers guest post opportunities.
  10. Create an email signature. You should have a link to your blog in your email and social media signatures, but don’t overdo it. Email signatures that are a mile long with every one of your social media addresses and links to all your book products are one of those irritating noisemakers that people end up tuning out because of overexposure. Be concise and choose your email signature information wisely.
  11. Practice SEO. Search Engine Optimization, or SEO is a process of using keywords that help rank your blog higher in Google and other search engine rankings. I haven’t experimented enough with SEO yet to give a personal opinion but if you’re interested I suggest this short SEO copywriting tutorial from Copyblogger.
  12. Post a link to your site from the comments section on other people’s blogs. This can raise your Google page rank but is walking the edge of blogging etiquette. Make sure the link is pertinent to the comment discussion and look for a blog comment policy to find out if the link is welcome. Multiple links in a blog comment give a spammy appearance and may get you banned from making comments on blogs. Jami Gold addresses this in her post How Tightly Do You Control Your Blog?
  13. Syndication. One of the most popular ways to syndicate your blog is through NetworkedBlogs on Facebook. This can give you more opportunity to find readers in Facebookland.
  14. Treat your blog as a ‘pay it forward’ vehicle. We’ll talk about this in detail in part 4 of this series next Monday.

Practice your consistency tips with broadcasting. Don’t think you have the time to do this? Steal the time you’re spending on unproductive social media (you know you are). You don’t think you spend any extra time doing unproductive activities? You never play Farmville, watch silly kitten trick videos on YouTube or obsessively check your Amazon stats or how many hits you’ve gotten on your blog? Hmm, you’re a stronger person than I, my friend. 🙂

Keep a use-journal for 3 days – literally write down every single social media thing you do and the time it takes to do it. You’ll get aggravated and probably throw it in the trash before the 3 days are up, but you’ll discover you do have the time for social media broadcasting to help increase your blog’s following.

If you’ve been enjoying this series, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this blog. Click the button at the upper right corner of this page.

Question: Which of these broadcast methods work for you? Which ones haven’t? Do you use a method not listed? Tell us about it!

Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: 7 Keys To Blogging On A Consistent Basis

image: Rock Garden, Chandigarh, India, Creative Commons

This is the second post in a series this month on sharpening your blogging habits. If you missed the first post you can catch it here:

Sharpen Your Blogging Habits: 4 Ways To Define Your Audience

I scrapbooked several years ago. When I first discovered scrapbooking, it was a fun, creative outlet. I learned dozens of ways to present a photograph. I always ended up with a story on the page (of course) as well as all the bells and whistles of pre-cut decorations, pop-up shapes, different colored markers, etc. Some awesome scrapbooks developed that we still have fun reminiscing with at holidays.

I liked scrapbooking, but after a while it didn’t seem as fun. It seemed more like work. The scrapbook supplies on the table moved to a shelf, then into a storage tub, then into a closet. That’s the pattern for many of the interests I’ve pursued. Sometimes it becomes hard to stay consistent with something, even if you like it.

Blog Habit #2: Blog On A Consistent Basis

If you are like me, I get very excited by the ‘shiny brand new’ of a project, but once it’s old news, I start to lose interest and if I don’t work at it, I lose the motivation I had for the project in the first place.  This phenomenon is very common in the blogosphere. People decide ‘I’m going to have a blog!’ then after the shiny new wears off, they don’t stick with it.

Some statistics bear this out: There are no specifics on the number of blogs started and then abandoned (sometimes called orphan blogs) but only 20.9% of all blogs that exist are currently active. 66% of all blogs have not been updated for two months since their last post. If we don’t want to become a statistic, we have to learn how to keep our motivation.

Each time you blog you program yourself to do it until it becomes a habit. The satisfaction of posting and getting feedback reinforces your blogging habit. You should blog on a consistent basis because you can only build a loyal readership if you show up.  Even if you have the most interesting and quality blog posts, if you don’t post consistently, you can’t gain a loyal following of readers.

What is consistent?

Although you’ll get lots of different advice for blogging frequency, the answer is the schedule that works for YOU. What everyone else is doing is not necessarily what will work for you. I used to post five times a week, but found it was too much of a commitment. I had a good groove with three days per week for a season. Now I adhere to the philosophy of slow blogging, which really works for me to create good content and not get stressed when things like chronic illness interrupt the schedule. For some one day per week is the ideal frequency. Whatever you choose, stick to it and aim for quality.

7 Keys To Blog Consistently

Key #1 Make a topic list

Check out my posts Make Your Blog Ideas Stick  and How To Use Evernote To Increase Your Blogging Productivity for ways to gather ideas. If you have trouble thinking of topics to write about, revisit your audience definition. Piggyback off other blogs, meaning expand on an idea someone shared on their blog. Make sure you give a link to the original blog. As your teacher used to say ‘No looking over shoulders!’ Blatant plagiarism is a no-no. Heidi Cohen gives some more advice on getting blog topics:

Read 12 Suggestions To Overcome Blank Blog Post Syndrome

Key #2 Use a blog template

This single tip has revolutionized my blogging efficiency which means I’m more likely to have a positive outlook and continue blogging. Work out a structure for how you will write a blog post and use it each time you blog. It will help you stay on topic and be efficient with your writing time. I got this idea from a blog post by Michael Hyatt:

Read Anatomy of An Effective Blog Post

Key #3 Calculate your time commitment by keeping a blog timelog

Time how long it takes you to write a blog post which includes any research, gathering links and images as well as how long it takes to load it into your blog platform. Keep a log for about 3 posts and you can see the average amount of time it takes you to write a blog post. Then…

Key #4 Schedule your blog writing as a separate activity

Once you know about how much time it takes for you to write a quality blog post you can schedule separate time for it. If you are a writer, don’t dump it into your ‘writing’ time because you will have to choose which writing gets the priority. You will more than likely choose the writing that is your main focus or source of income. Your blog will become an afterthought. Give it its own appointment on your business schedule.

Read Roz Morris’ post How I Get Time To Blog As Well As Write

Key # 5 Set up a blog editorial calendar

If you are a ‘pantser’ or spur of the moment person you can always change it, but if you have a basic plan you can fall back on it when you aren’t in an inspired mood. I have a very simple blog editorial calendar. Check out these posts for more inspiration on blog editorial calendars:

Key# 6 Focus on the conversational aspect of blogging

Remember when you defined your audience? Think about that ‘ideal reader’. Your blog is a conversation. You share, your readers share. The person you are talking to is waiting to talk to you. Remembering this will help you push through on the days blogging may feel like drudgery.

Key# 7 Don’t make blogging an option

Don’t give yourself an out, as in ‘I’ll try to write a blog post if… all the universe aligns and a bright light draws me to my computer with an enlightening message for all mankind’. Yeah, not going to happen. Blogging is work for the most part and if you only showed up to work when you felt like it, you wouldn’t last too long on that job. At the same time don’t overdue it and feel chained to your blog. If life happens, it happens. Aim for balance.

Following these 7 keys can give consistency to your blog. When readers see you show up, it translates to a commitment to bringing fresh content, and they will show up as well. Combine that with quality posts and you have the recipe for building a successful blog.

Question: What is your biggest struggle with blogging consistently?