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January 2011

How to Be a Fly on the Wall: Three Ways to Find Out What Your Readers Really Think

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Given the name of this post, I wanted to have a picture of a fly. But ew, close up pictures of flies are nasty. Butterfly instead!

I think it is part of the human experience to wonder what other people think about us. For bloggers, keeping a finger on the pulse of  your readers is important if you’re trying to make money or increase your readership. If you get few comments, however, it is hard to know what people really think about you. Even if your community is vocal, its often the most violently upset or emotionally moved that comment, so you may only be seeing the extremes.

Figuring out what your readers really think about you and your blog is essential to community management, though. You can only best serve your readers if you know what they like and dislike. Here are some ways that I’ve found you can be a fly on the wall and get a bit of honest information about what your readers are thinking:

1. Set up a Google Alert for your name.

People mention other people all the time, but just because someone talks about you doesn’t mean that they link back to your site. Or, they could link to your homepage, so you don’t get the ping, but they don’t send a ton of traffic your way, so you don’t notice a spike and figure out where it’s coming from either. Google Alerts isn’t a perfect method, but it will help you see where people are mentioning you. Often, if they aren’t talking about you on your site, such as they would in the comments section of a post, they speak more freely about their thoughts about you be prepared for both positive and negative comments!

Also, avoid telling people that you found out something they said because you were googling yourself. It still sounds creepy, even if we all do it.

2. Check out what Twitter lists you’re on.

One of my favorite things to do is to see how other people have me categorized on Twitter. You’ll likely see a ton of people listing you according to your niche (such as on a list called “food bloggers” or “writers”), but you’ll be amazed with just how creative people can get with list names – and those names are telling. Are people calling you a teacher or guru or expert? That’s an awesome sign. Are people constantly listing you as something you’re not? You might be giving off the wrong impression. For example, it would be awesome to be on a list called “blogging authorities” if you blog about blogging. Not so awesome to be on that same list if you talk more about social media than you do about blogging tips. And if lots of people have you listed as someone who blogs about blogging, but your site is mainly about pets or dating or fashion or gardening or whatever? Well, perhaps you should reevaluate the links you’re sharing on Twitter and your tweets, because you might not be reaching the right audience.

As of right now, here are some of my favorite names for lists I’m on: “keepers” (D’awwwww), “too-legit-2-quit” (word.), “geeky-girls-like-me” (sad, but true), “boobbrigade” (love it), “midnight-snack” (no idea…but I’ll take it.)

3. When you comment somewhere, subscribe to follow-ups.

People are often more vocal about your opinions when it isn’t on your site, and if you don’t have a ton of traffic, leaving comments on others’ sites is a great way to get some feedback about your ideas (as long as you’re actually adding to the conversation in a relevant way, not just spamming a popular site because you want attention). But often, we leave passionate comments and forget to actually check if there were any responses! Don’t be afraid to subscribe to follow-up comments on websites if you say something passionate. Worried about getting too many emails? Bookmark the site. I keep a bookmark folder of the last ten places I left comments. When I comment somewhere new, I bump the oldest one so the list always stays manageable, and at the end of the day, I check over these posts to see if I got any responses.

Ok, those are my best three tricks for finding out what people really think of you and your blog so you can better manage your own community – what are your best tricks?

New Community Website Aims at ‘Exploring Social Media’

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Jason Falls officially announced the launch of Exploring Social Media today, a community website to serve the needs of the mainstream person or business that wants to know digital marketing, online communications, and social media better.

Their content is for all levels – including an entry-level How To Set Up Your Twitter Account and an advanced Developing Social Media Strategies. The site currently has approximately 50 lessons and they’re adding more weekly.

Jason says:

The gap between the echo chamber us social media and technology enthusiasts live in and real business owners and people I would consider “mainstream” is vast. Technologies and platforms we operate in our sleep are incredibly intimidating to many. Sure, we can spout out the broadband penetration and X-percent of all adults are on a social network stats all we want. But for the vast majority … let me say that again … THE VAST MAJORITY of people in this world, the Internet is little more than email, a couple websites and a whole lot of frustration.

Jason further says that while the content is intended for everyone outside the echo chamber, there will be a fair amount of content and interaction there which may appeal to you, too.

The introductory price to join the community is $25 per month and includes:

  • Unlimited, personal access to industry experts and influencers

  • Deep and enriching, how-to content
  • Free access to monthly webinars with industry thought leaders
  • Exclusive discounts for events, merchandise and more

It definitely sounds like an interesting initiative. Will you be joining?

Do you have news to share, a social media tip, or exclusive scoop on a new website launch? Send us your information and/or press release to be considered!

Are You a Brilliant Blogger?

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I’m happy to announce an exciting new feature here at the BlogWorld blog, and I hope that you all will get involved! In December, we presented the 12 Days of Blogging, a daily round-up of link love for some of the best bloggers from around the world. Each day, there as a different topic covered, and you all helped us create an awesome resource. We want to keep that love going! So, starting this week, we’ll be featuring even more awesome bloggers as part of the Brillian Blogger series.

Here’s how it will work:

Every Thursdays, we’ll do a round-up of posts surrounding a specific topic about blogging. You’re welcome to submit relevant posts to us up until Wednesday at noon EST. We’ll pick our three favorites to be featured, and everyone else will be listed as bonus resources. It’s like a blog carnival on crack.

Posts don’t have to be written the week that submissions are accepted – they can be weeks, months, or even years old, as long as they are still relevant! You can also use these topics as inspiration to write a post so you have something awesome to submit. Bring your a game, and you could be a featured Brilliant Blogger!

Here’s the upcoming schedule:

  • February 3 – Running a Contest or Giveaway
  • February 10 – WordPress versus Other Platforms
  • February 17 – Blogrolls and Link Love
  • February 24 – Klout and Improving Your Score
  • March 3 – Commenting on Other Blogs
  • March 10 – StumbleUpon

Submit Your Link:

Right now, submissions are open for February 3’s Brilliant Bloggers – Running a Contest or Giveaway. To submit one of your posts, head to our Blog Carnival page and send me your link! Just click the big orange button at the upper right and fill in the blanks.

Remember, submit only links to posts that fit this week’s theme.

We’d love to hear from you whether or you are a brand new blogger or an old pro who has been around for years – we all have something to learn from one another!

The Bravery Behind Blogging

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This past Friday, I was moved to write about the happenings in Egypt and the ways in which social media brings situations like this to a larger stage in a post that I called Social Media’s Role in the Egyptian Protests. Someone left a comment that has been stuck in my mind for two days now: Can Aka noted that my post was “very brave.”

At first, the notion that something, anything, I wrote being brave seemed strange to me. I certainly didn’t feel brave writing it. I felt like I was trying to do something good, to spread a message of hope to my readers, but brave implies that I was afraid, that it took courage for me to write the post. And it didn’t.

But maybe I’m being naive. Maybe blogging is brave. Maybe we should all be afraid, at least a little.

The Right to Blog

In Egypt, the Internet has been shut off. As far as I can tell, the people still do not have access, and it was fairly easy for the government to do. When their access started to be limited, late last week, and then slowly it disappeared altogether, I saw a lot of people on Twitter and Facebook talking about how they are thankful they live in a country where something like that could never happen.

Couldn’t it?

Those of us in America are especially vocal about our freedom of speech rights, and while I think the law pretty clearly allows us that freedom on a blog, does the law require the government to ensure that we have access to the Internet or to any specific site? I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t answer that, but it sounds like the ability to own and run a blog is more of a privilege than a right.

The Consequences of Our Words

This goes deeper than government control, however. In North America and Europe, it may seem unfathomable to think that the government can just shut own blogs willy nilly. But that doesn’t mean that everyone will like what we have to say. Rhetoric can be a dangerous thing, and I think as bloggers, we’re really vocal without understanding the power of our words sometimes. Think about all of the talk surrounding Gabrielle Giffords being shot, and media outlets examining the role that politicians and journalists have played in the current political atmosphere of hate. We may not be journalists, at least not in the traditional sense, but we do have readers who follow our advice.

Let me ask you this – what would happen if one of the more popular bloggers out there, someone with hundreds of thousands or even millions of fans, snapped and wrote a piece slamming another blogger? Would that blogger get virtually attacked by fans? Yes, it is safe to say that people would react to support their blogging idol.

What if the first blogger said in his/her post that the other blogger deserved to die? Would someone pick up a gun?

That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? I would like to think the answer is no, but I just don’t know. I don’t know that someone with strong supporters doesn’t have that kind of fan, that slightly “off” person who thinks that violence is one way to solve a problem. I don’t know.

And the problem is that we are extremely outspoken to the point of exaggeration sometimes. If you ever watched Keith Olbermann’s show on MSNBC (before he left earlier this month), you know whtat he did this feature called “The Worst People in the World.” Were these really the worst people out there? Not really. He featured some dumbass jerks, but it was just a catchy title to a news segment. I could very well write something that I call “The Worst Bloggers on the Internet” that would essentially do the same thing. But what if a fan took it to heart? Words are powerful.

For Every Fan…

If you’re an opinionated blogger, you aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. For every fan you have, you might have someone who reads your blog and disagrees with what you say or even grows to dislike you. It doesn’t take another blogging slamming you to find enemies.

And it’s dangerous, even more dangerous than it has been for media personalities or celebrities in the past, because on the Internet, people often forget to act human.

I once saw a conversation about video games turn extremely ugly. Ok, I’ve seen it more than once, but one time in particular, I saw someone ranting about a review score that they didn’t like in a way that really scared me. They called for the blogger to not only be fired, but to, in his words, “burn.” People think they can say these things because it’s just the Internet, there’s this screen of anonymity. We wouldn’t normally say these things to a person’s face, no matter how strongly we disagreed.

And that negativity builds like a virtual snowball. The comments on this review got out of control and, eventually, were shut down.

But what about that blogger? What about the person behind the post, the person who was just speaking his mind?  After receiving such hateful comments, I bet he thought twice before using Foursquare to check in anywhere. I would have. Occasionally, comments spill over, cross a line. It goes from being a valid debate to being negativity with no point to being…scary. And you don’t know those commenters. You don’t know what they are capable of doing.

I’m not trying to scare anyone with this post, to say that I think we should not be opinionated, or even to endorse being more careful with posting personal information online. I don’t know that there is any neat wrap-up point to this post. I don’t know that I have any kind of solution, or that a solution even exists. I guess, I just hope that if you are a blogger, you keep what I’ve said here in the back of your mind as you write every post, and continue being brave (and responsible) with every word.

Who Would You Like to Hear Speak at BlogWorld ’11?

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As we get ready to announce dates for BlogWorld ’11, we’re also working on opening for speaker proposals and reaching out the speakers who we would most like to see this year. But it’s not always about us choosing speakers, we also love to receive recommendations from our attendees.

Yesterday I asked on Twitter who you would most like to speak at BlogWorld and the few folks who answered recommended themselves. When the time comes, we hope they’ll all submit proposals to speak with us. We’d also like to know who you would most like to hear speak, besides you. Who would make you come in from hallway networking or browsing exhibits? Which speakers do you find enlightening, engaging and entertaining?

We’re asking for your speaker wish list or dream team. Don’t be afraid to suggest someone no one has heard of, or who is a celebrity. We’ll take all recommendations into consideration.

Who would you most like to hear speak at BlogWorld?

Discuss in the comments!

30 Days to a Better Blog

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full-circle

Welcome to the 30 Days to a Better Blog series. This originally started as a New Years Resolution, with 30 days to whip your blog into better shape. Now it’s reorganized to give you better structure and you can implement it whenever, and however, you’d like.

Tools, Tricks & Technology:

Full Circle Make your blog better simply by using the most up-to-date software, analyzing your statistics, checking out your competition, and using the tools right at your fingertips.

Layout:

Let’s face it, blog layouts change frequently. The standard “categories on the right sidebar” has gotten very stale and now there are ways to make your blog stand out.

Content:

A better blog needs better content. Learn how to find your voice, create an editorial calendar, and make your posts SEO friendly.

Pages:

Posts aren’t the only thing that your readers see. Learn what pages are imperative to having a better blog.

Distribution & Marketing:

Now that you have great content, it’s time to learn how to distribute and market your posts.

Community:

With a better blog comes a better sense of community. Learn how to engage with your readers and reach out to the bigger blog community at large.

Note: You’ll notice there are only 29 links. That’s because day 30 is to pick a time, sometime later this year, to come back and do this all again! Help keep your blog from getting stale and nondescript.

Why Your Blog About Blogging Sucks

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I’m not sure there will ever be a way to measure this, but of all the blogs in the world, I wonder how many of them are about blogging and social media. It seems like everyone is blogging about blogging, in part because some of the people making the most money in this industry blog in this niche, so there are definite role models who have proven that it is possible to make money with this type of blog. There’s nothing wrong with blogging about blogging. What do you think I’m doing here at the BlogWorld blog, after all?

The problem is that nine out of every ten blogs about blogging I visit…suck. Hard.

If you are passionate about blogging and new media, I definitely don’t want to deter you from writing about these topics. You can be very successful in this niche. But there’s a reason why such a high percentage of bloggers aren’t successful. Here are the reason, in my opinion of course, why so many blogs about blogging suck:

1. You aren’t saying anything new.

What are you saying on your blog that hasn’t been said on one of the major blogs about blogging that already exists? There’s only so much to say about blogging and new media, so there will certainly be some overlap, but when’s the last time you had an original thought? When is the last time you questioned a major “rule” or made your own rules? When’s the last time you expressed an opinion that isn’t the same thing everyone else is saying? What’s the last time you wrote something more than just common knowledge?

Your blog about blogging bores me to tears.

Yes, you need posts for beginners, but keep in mind that most of the readers who are going to blogs about blogging have blogs of their own and read other major blogs about blogging, such as Problogger.If you just rewrite what’s already been said on other blogs, you aren’t going to find much success.

2. You are boring.

It doesn’t matter how smart you are about blogging. If you are a boring writer, I’m probably not going to be a regular reader. If I want to learn about writing great headlines, I might come to your blog to read a post you wrote about it, but if you don’t captivate me with an interesting post, I probably won’t subscribe. I guess the question you have to ask is this: is it better to help lots of one-time readers or is it better to have loyal readers? Obviously, when you have a strong personality, you aren’t going to appeal to everyone, but if you’re boring, you aren’t really going to appeal to anyone.

3. Your blog has too many guest posts.

Bloggers who blog about blogging tend to do a lot of guest posting. There’s nothing wrong with that – I love a good guest post, and I love to see guest posts on other blogs. But when’s the last time you wrote a post? I know that not everyone will agree with me on this point, but I stop reading blogs if there written more by guest posters than by the blogger him/herself. Part of the problem is that when you accept so many guest posts, most of them probably aren’t perfect for your blog. That doesn’t mean that they are low-quality by any means, but not every well-written post is right for every blog. Does it not only fit your blog in terms of subject matter but also in terms of style? If not, are your readers really benefiting from the post?

4. You’re an “expert” with no credibility.

If you blog about blogging, I want to know what credentials you have to give me advice. How long have you been blogging? Do you make a full time living this way? Do your tactics work? If your first attempt at blogging is to run a blog about blogging…why should I listen to you? Because you’ve read every post on Problogger and can regurgitate Darren’s advice in your own words? Credibility doesn’t have to mean that you’ve been blogging for decades or made a million dollars as a blogger. It could mean that you’re a critical thinker who tests his or her theories. It could mean that you do interviews with others who are experts in the field. It could mean a lot of things – but there has to be some kind of credibility for me to want to read your blog.

5. You don’t put in the time.

Blogging is a lot of hard work, especially at the beginning as you’re working to build your readership. Before you start blogging, make sure you have the time to put into making it great. I see a lot of blogs about blogging that give advice they don’t follow themselves. If you’re going to write about the need to promote your posts on Twitter, promote your posts on Twitter. If you’re going to write about the need for great design functionality, make sure you have great design functionality. If you’re going to talk about maintaining a posting schedule, maintain a posting schedule. In short, if you’re going to teach me how to best run a blog, you better be taking your own advice!

Do you blog about blogging? What sets you apart? Have you read blogs about blogging that suck? What makes them suck, in your opinion?

30 Days to a Better Blog: Be Flexible

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812680_windy_palms

30 Days to a Better Blog: Be Flexible

I’m a pretty rigid person. I can easily get set in my ways and start to think my way is the best way. And when someone questions me, I tend to go on the defensive.

But I’m learning. I’m learning that critiques and questions and differences of opinion are good things. They help me grow and reach and learn. I’m learning to be flexible.

The same goes for blogging. Technology is going to change. Blogging platforms are going to change. Your audience is going to change (to an extent). And your content and blogging habits may need to change with it.

The goal here (and throughout the year) is to be flexible. When someone questions your blog posts, your blog content, or your way of thinking – don’t go on the defensive. Take a step back and analyze their points. You don’t have to accept everyone’s criticism, but it never hurts to evaluate their thoughts and respond. And criticism and controversy on a blog can be a good thing :) Make it an effort to stay on top of the latest trends, news, and technology. You may need to launch a mobile version of your blog soon, and that could impact your design and content structure. It’s okay! Be flexible.

Being flexible doesn’t mean bending to the point that you break. It means shifting when you need to, growing when you need to, and always acknowledging that you can improve. Do you consider yourself to be flexible?

Image Source: SXC

Social Media’s Role in the Egyptian Protests

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Sometimes, I have to turn off the news.

Reporters around the world are talking about how social media played a role in initially organizing the Egyptian protests. Twitter and Facebook certainly gave people a voice, allowed the public to organically organize without a clear leader or any kind of secondary agenda. There are Muslim groups jumping on the bandwagon now, but I do not believe that they should get credit for this – this was truly organized by the people.

The Internet has since been silenced in Egypt, with the government first limiting access to social media sites and then essentially flipping the switch, shutting down the Internet completely. One reporter for MSNBC who is actually in Cairo right now has said that it doesn’t matter anymore. What started as isolated protests organized online has become a country-wide protest. If you want to join the crowd, all you have to do is go outside and find a group of protesters.

What is happening in Egypt right now certainly isn’t the first time that a world event has moved me to tears. I feel small and helpless, watching protesters who are younger than me fight for what they believe is right and not being able to do anything to help them. I feel ashamed that I have trouble wrapping my head around what is going on, that I’m not a more savvy about what is going on in the world today and what has happened historically in other countries. I feel worried that our government won’t make good decisions because maybe there are no good options to choose. I feel sad that people are resorting to violence, and that innocent people who wanted a peaceful protest are getting hurt.

Sometimes, I just feel overwhelmed and I have to turn off the news.

Yet, I can’t. Social media has made it impossible to bury our heads in the sand, impossible to turn away when things get uncomfortable.

And that’s what people aren’t talking about right now. Certainly, the role social media has played in organizing protesters is important, but what about the rest of us? For us, social media is playing a much different role.

Social media has become a way for us to connect, to keep this issue at the forefront of our day, to talk about what is happening. Social media makes it impossible to just shut off the rest of the world and focus on our own lives. Social media reminds us that our problems are small and our reach is far. When we feel like we can’t do anything, as is the case for many of us right now in regards to the unrest in Egypt, social media gives us a voice. And an ear.

And maybe that is something we can do, even as we feel helpless watching police cars burn and crowds get bombed with tear gas on the news. We can listen. We can listen to one another and exchange ideas and debate one another respectfully about not only Egypt, but about other important topics as well. Maybe we can’t make the Egyptian government listen to their people, but we can learn from what they are doing wrong and bring those lessons into our own lives. We can all try to be the best people we can possibly be, and encourage others to do the same. We can blog about the issues that are important to us, we can comment when other people blog about topics that move us, and we can share what we’ve learned through social media.

We can’t turn it off so easily anymore. We can’t so easily live in a bubble, concerned only with the events that happen in our own backyards. The Internet has made the world a smaller place, and also a much bigger place. It is up to us to make it a good thing, to use social media to listen.

Let’s make it a good thing.

The Scary Trend of Becoming a Follower

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There are certain bloggers who are “household names” of sorts. At least, among other bloggers. You know them. They’re the most well-respected bloggers out there in terms of giving blogging and new media advice, and they have hundreds of thousands of followers. Every post they write gets dozens of comments and even more tweets and Facebook likes. Many of them are where they are today because they’ve been blogging for over a decade.

And that’s awesome. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting some of these bloggers in person, and I can tell you that they are kind, humble, and interesting people, even away from the computer screen. I’ve never met a blogging “guru” who is an asshole in real life, probably because if you are, you aren’t going to hold guru status for long – your fans are going to stop being fans.

I’m using  the term guru here because it’s fitting for this weird evolution I’m seeing among blogging fans – this tendency to become a follower. I don’t mean follower in the same way you can be a Twitter follower, but rather follower in the same way a philosopher or religious figure would have a follower. In fact, maybe blogging gurus are the modern equivalent to people like Socrates. They have this weird group of followers that will buy anything they sell, applaud after anything they say, and read anything they write. They’ve stopped using their brains.

And that scares me.

I am unashamed to say that I am a fan of certain blogging gurus. I think it is a good thing to have role models in your life, because there are people out there who have a lot to teach us. But what scares me is to see fans turn into disciples. They blindly follow these bloggers they respect and even fight on their behalf when someone says something critical of them.

  • They retweet and like the guru’s links without reading them first, because they just know that they’ll be good.
  • They flock to read any blog post the guru recommends, regardless of topic.
  • They follow the guru’s advice without critically thinking about whether or not it is the right advice for them.
  • They chastise anyone who is not a follower of the guru.
  • They purchase products from the guru, even if they don’t have a use for said product.
  • They review all of the guru’s products in a completely positive manner, even if there are some disadvantages or problems.

Can you see how these things start to get dangerous?

We need to think. There are a hell of a lot of people out there giving great blogging advice, and some of that advice is even contradictory to other great advice. That’s because the blogger assumes that their fans will actually think, not blindly follow them. Maybe we should have to put warnings on out blogs? It’s kind of like the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit. Sure, there was no warning on the cup that the contents were hot, but McDonald’s assumed that people would actually use some common sense and realize that coffee is hot. If you spill it on your crotch, you’re going to get burned. Duh.

So my question for you is this: do you actually think about the blogging advice you read?

It does not matter where you read the advice. It could be written or promoted by the smartest blogger in the world, but not every piece of advice will work for every blogger. What works for *insert name here* will not work for you – at least not in the same way. If there was some kind of formula that worked for everyone, we would all be doing it! Blogging gurus can tell you what they’ve done to be successful, but I guarantee that you cannot do exactly the same thing with your blog and get the same results.

You can take pieces of advice from other bloggers – in fact, I encourage it. There’s a lot out there to learn. But beware becoming a blind follower of anyone. The best bloggers out there have their heroes and teachers, but they are also critical thinkers who are paving paths of their own. After all, don’t you want to be a guru yourself someday? You won’t get there by being someone else’s follower.

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