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Blogs that work...and spread

Written by Josh Bernoff | on May 17, 2016 at 8:30 AM

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Blogging is writing with a dual purpose. Effective blog posts both educate the reader and benefit the writers -- or the writer’s organization. Let’s take a look at how to do that well.

What you’ll read here comes not just from my study of blogging over the years, but from personal experience. A little over a year ago, I started a blog about clear business writing. It’s racked up 1.3 million views since then, and has helped me accomplish my personal goals of generating influence and, soon, selling books about the topic.

If you’re a community manager, you can use effective blog posts to recruit and communicate with both current and potential community members – and all of these principles apply.

The two qualities of a successful blog

Any blog that’s not just a hobby has to have two qualities to be effective:

  1. It must be useful or interesting, so it will spread.
  2. It must advance your goals, or the goals of your business.

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Both are necessary.

It’s easy to write a blog that’s interesting, but doesn’t advance your organization. Just post naked pictures of Kim Kardashian or other sorts of viral trash. Traffic alone is not the objective; your blog must carry a payload of persuasion and education about your organization.

Conversely, if you post self-promotional stuff about how great you and your products or services are, nobody’s going to read it. Unless your organization is Apple, Harley-Davidson, or a movie company, nobody cares enough about your products to follow a blog like this.

There’s one way to accomplish both goals: use your knowledge to help potential customers or community members. The learning you share will help your post to spread, and the people who see it will feel positively about you and your organization.

As you may know, this familiar technique is called content marketing. Here’s one definition, from the Content Marketing Institute:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

That's what you're after.

Content strategy for bloggers

What do you know that will help (and attract) community members or customers?

You and your organization are experts. You know about diabetes education, or business-to-business marketing, or fantasy sports. Your knowledge will attract the customers or community participants you’re seeking.

One post won’t do it. You need consistent traffic. So start planning a series of posts about the things your customers care about. For me, that was posts about effective writing in business settings – everything from avoiding passive voice to writing effective emails.

For you, the series of posts might cover topics like:

  • Steps for setting up a small business
  • Seasonal priorities for golf-course owners
  • Programming language trends for cloud coders

If you’re planning a serious blog effort, you’ll want to cue up four or five of these posts. Then you’ll be ready to launch them and attract attention over a period of weeks or months.

Posts that spread

It’s not enough to be useful. You also need ways to help your post to spread. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Focus on titles and first sentences. Blog posts either hook you in the first few sentences, or they fail. So spend extra effort on a descriptive title and sentences that explain just what readers will be getting. These are the same elements that appear in Google searches, so they need to be persuasive.
  • Include a sharable graphic. Posts with graphics get more visibility when people share them on Twitter or Facebook. And the graphics themselves will spread, if they’re interesting enough. So a graphical summary of your main points makes posts spread more effectively.
  • Don’t settle for a series of paragraphs. Subheads, bullets, numbered lists, tables, quotes, and links all liven up a post and make it easier to scan, especially on a cramped phone screen.
  • Repost in popular places. In addition to your own site, you can post content on Medium or LinkedIn – or, if you form the relationships, on sites like Huffington Post or Forbes.
  • Promote on email, communities, and social media. To launch the post, reach out to the readers who are already your friends. Use Twitter and Facebook, your email list, or your community to prime the pump.
  • Jump on the news. If you’ve got an opinion about something happening now – presidential politics, merger announcements, anything that generates news – then seize the opportunity to write about it. Topical content spreads. Don’t wait – if it’s new news today, it’s old news in 48 hours.
  • Optimize for search. You’re probably aware of search engine optimization – gaming the words in your post to rank higher on search engines. It’s worth the effort to include searchable words like diabetes or Python in your title, opening sentences, and subheads. But don’t distort your readability or meaning to please search engines. It does you no good if people find your post in a search, then reach it and find it incomprehensible.

How this worked for me

Here’s how I took advantage of these tips to build my business. I wrote a bunch of posts about clear writing in early 2015. At the urging of a friend, I summarized them in a post about ten top writing tips and the psychology behind them. I followed a lot of the suggestions above – the post was structured in ten short sections, had a catchy title (the psychology was a twist that a lot of people found interesting), and included a graphic summarizing the tips. I launched it with posts on Facebook and Twitter.

That post has generated over 500,000 views so far. People are still sharing it on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter a year later. They share and print out the graphic. And because of all the traffic, it’s the number two result on a Google search on writing tips. As a result, several hundred people a day visit my blog, where I’m gaining subscribers and sharing information about my writing book.

You can’t necessarily expect success like that, but it’s worth a shot to line up a set of posts to reach your own target users. If you’ve got something useful to share, you’ve got a good chance of attracting them to your site and your community.

Josh Bernoff is the author of the upcoming book Writing Without Bullshit.

Topics: Communications, Engagement, Marketing

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