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14 Tips to Becoming a Better Writer

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As the owner of a blog there are several issues bloggers have to deal with. One of the biggest challenges is learning how to write quality content.

Below I will give you 14 tips to becoming a better blogger.

1. Write with a goal.

Every time you sit down to write you need to have a goal in mind. Maybe the article is supposed to educate, inform, or trigger thought. Knowing your direction will make the article flow more easily. People all over the internet write different types of articles for different reasons. For example, if you are looking to get on the big popular blog sites, you don’t want to write short articles that carry no meaning. The alternative is writing long informative 800-1,000 word articles that actually deliver quality information on your topic.

2. Do your research.

The better you know the topic, the easier it will be to write about it. By knowing your topic, you can cut down on the time it takes to create informative articles your readers will enjoy. Follow a general blogging rule; the topics you choose should be ones in which you are an expert. If you don’t consider yourself an expert, become one.

3. Just write.

The more you write, the better you will get at it. Don’t just focus on personal topics, but challenge yourself to research and write on topics you don’t know. Write on anything and everything, and your overall writing skills will improve, not to mention your typing speed. Both things will help you reduce writing time in the long term.

4. Write with your readers in mind.

Instead of writing with the idea of making money, write about what interests your readers. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • What is the reason my readers are reading my article?
  • Am I addressing their needs and concerns?
  • Why would anyone read what I have to say?

If you can get into the mind of your reader and what they are seeking from you and your writing, you’ll be able to address their needs and write something that they will enjoy and keep coming back for.

5. Backlinks.

If you are writing for the purpose of back linking remember to include your keywords. Now with back linking I am going to say the main goal is still the same and that’s to attract your readers, remember traffic is the key to getting ranked in Google. As Google recommends, create your content for your readers, not just to improve your ranking in Google. If all you’re trying to do is rank in Google you will fail.

6. Learn to use crafty titles.

Titles are one of the most important parts of the article and a big part of the writing battle. It doesn’t matter how informative or well written your article is, if the title doesn’t catch the readers and make them want to open the article then all your blogging is pointless. With that being said, spend some time on your blog post title. Next, focus on making it reader friendly and interesting.

7. Write with passion.

If you are bored by your topic, chances are your writing is going to not only show it but bore your readers as well. If you love your topic then your readers will be able to pull the passion right off the content you write. The more passion they feel on the topic, the more interested they become in what you’re blogging about. Not to mention, you my gain them as a daily reader.

8. Forget the Grammar.

Stopping to do spell check and grammar is a killer on time when you are first writing. When you constantly stop to edit your post, most likely your post will die with it. Instead, focus on getting the thoughts and ideas down, and then go back and do the spelling and grammar checks. You’ll find your mind thinks and writes much quicker by using this method.

9. Quality.

There will forever be the debate over quality and quantity. The truth is good quality will automatically give you quantity. If you are always providing good quality then people will check out your work on a regular basis. The more publishers that take notice of your work, the more targeted traffic you will be getting.

10. Turn off word count.

Don’t worry about how many words your post has in it. Sure, don’t have your posts be 100 words each, try and keep it above 300 words but whatever. This is the best way to ensure that your articles are quality and not fluff. Watching word count makes you want to add extra wording that does not need to be there and it keeps you from concentrating on your content.

11. Read. Read. Read.

Reading is a way to open you up to the world and what it has to offer. It also gives you knowledge that can be used in your writing. Some people don’t believe this but it can help with your grammar and vocabulary all of these are things that can lead to quality content.

12. Check the competition then do it better.

Find out what your competition is doing and try and do it better. By knowing what kind of content you are trying to compete with, you can improve your own skills and marketing mindset.

13. Use your target audience language.

If you are writing for highly educated people, your writing should reflect that. If you are targeting parents, write from the mindset of a parent. You get the picture. Now what this means; you have to know who your target audience is and what they need. Figure this out and it will be a gold mine to you.

14. Understand that writing is a skill.

It is said that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. If that is the case then you need to spend lots of time practicing. You also have to realize writing is not for everyone. If writing is not your thing then you should consider outsourcing the work to others. There are tons of people that love to write content. Check out Blogging.org, it’s a great resource for finding quality writers at cheaper prices.

I hope these tips will help you improve your content writing skills. These tips are not going to help unless you actually start writing and putting them into practice. Once you do this it will become second nature.

If you already use these tips or have others feel free to share them.

Gawker has a Content Problem, Not a Comment Problem

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Over the past month, the Gawker family of sites has introduced a brand new way to comment. Called Kinja (previously called Powwow and not to be confused with their 2004 commenting system also called Kinja), this commenting system highlights the comments where conversation is happening, rather than the most recent comments.

It’s an interesting concept. With this system, commenters are encouraged to join existing conversations where people are already talking about the topic, rather than starting new threads. It’s like taking comment nesting to a new level. Kinja is more like a forum under each blog post than a commenting system. In fact, internally, they’ve banished the word comment, imposing a $5 fine whenever someone uses it.

A comment revolution is perhaps exactly what the world of blogging needs. But is Gawker the one to lead it?

Why Gawker’s Comment System is Different

Gawker isn’t the only company playing with the concept of a new commenting system for blogs. Comments have been evolving for several years. When I started blogging in 2006, most blogs didn’t even have nested comments, which is a pretty standard feature these days. Now, there are several commenting plugins you can install, including Disqus and LiveFyre.

What Gawker is doing is different. Why? Because it has to be.

Gawker’s new commenting system gives the house keys to the readers, so to speak, as Kat Stoeffel notes in the post linked above. They’re invited to create the content, not just respond to it, and staff writers hoping to keep their jobs have to take part in these conversations. Comments are arranged using a “secret algorithm,” which I’m guessing is easy for the Gawker staff to manipulate, and conversations can be controlled by those who start them – you now have the power to “dismiss” any reply you don’t like.

Gawker’s commenting system has to be different, has to be formatted in a way that gives both users and staff members more control, due to the choices they make with their content.

I’m a big believer that you get what you give. Trolls can – and do – attack online no matter how thoughtful your content might be, but if we stop demanding more of ourselves and instead cater to trolls, the problem is going to be rampant, as it is on Gawker’s family of sites. When you’re little more than an online tabloid and gossip mill, you can’t be surprised when you need a more closely controlled commenting system.

What is “Good” Content?

I don’t think all Gawker writers are bad, nor do I think that everything they post is without merit. But let’s take a look at what’s on these sites right now. The very first thing that comes up for me? Scorned Wife of Director That Kristen Stewart Humped Takes Sadness to Social Media Outlets

Seriously? “Director that Kristen Stewart Humped”? There wasn’t a better way to say that, especially in conjunction with a story about his wife, who had no part in the indiscretion and is likely going through one of the worst events in her life right now?

It’s not just the headline though. The entire article is full of conjecture rather than fact. Worse, it is full of misleading statements. For example, the post ends with:

Ross’ latest dig at The Huntsman starlett? An instagram photo of a less-than-pristine looking Snow White with the caption: “Not so pretty or so pure afterall …..” Burn.”

If you actually click on the link to read the story, however, you learn that this was “an Instagram photo from the user “libertyross” (which may or may not actually be Ross, who is the director’s wife).”

As a long time gamer and previous writer in the video game industry, I’ve seen similar problems with Kotaku, another site in the Gawker family. Headlines are often misleading and rumors are presented as fact. Furthormore, writers on all of Gawker’s sites seem trained in the art of getting a rise out of people. I believe the term spin doctors might apply here; perhaps they aspire to careers in politics. At the very least, Gawker’s writers seem to understand the rhetoric required in blog posts to elicit emotion.

This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but rhetorical power in the wrong hands leads to…well…posts about the wife of a man Kristen Stewart is “humping.” It’s almost like readers are being trained to be trolls.

Good content is not only that which seeks a neutral stance. Controversy, when done correctly, can be extremely effective. But quality has to come before the spin. Reporting is still important, and fewer and fewer bloggers are retaining this skill. When a large “media” company like Gawker doesn’t value quality, it hurts the entire industry because they’re sending the message, “This is okay. This is what blogging is about.”

It’s Time for Better Commenting

It is, in fact, time for the blogging industry to embrace new ways of thinking about comments. Kinja might be the start of that, but there are still some problems. Peter Stern of the Columbia Journalism Review writes,

“The goal is to erase the traditional distinctions between writers, editors, readers, subject, and sources,” Denton told CJR in a Gchat. At the same time, he insisted, “our goal is to help our writers each achieve greater influence and reach with the same amount of work.” So which is it—does Denton want to empower writers or replace them?

But the future of commenting is here, and we can’t just ignore it completely. We don’t have to embrace it, but as bloggers, we can work to understand it and improve it. Says community management and social media strategist Natalie Rodic Marsan from Broken Open Media,

This is the natural progression of comments, and in fact, I’m thrilled to see that the thinking around blog comments is catching up to the AI-driven, algorithmic social web as we know it. I’d say this is the first step in what will be an even more customized approach to how each viewer can interact with a post and ensuing comments. While sites like Mashable, HuffPo, and now even LinkedIn are encouraging us to customize the news and updates we receive, as well as the other readers/members we want to follow, the natural progression is for these choices we make to also affect the comments we see on any given post (especially posts with upwards of hundreds of comments).

As Gawker continues to tweak Kinja in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how readers react. Gawker’s content issues pose a huge problem to us, though – can we really understand the value (or lack of value) with a system like Kinja when readers are trained to be trolls?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this with a comment below. And yes, we still call them comments here on the NMX/BlogWorld blog!

 

12 Rut-Busting Productivity Tips [Infographic]

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As content creators, I think we all sometimes struggle with productivity. It’s easy to fall into a rut and feel uninspired, perhaps even totally burned out. It happens to everyone, no matter how prolific you are online.

In this inforgraphic by Noomii, you’ll learn some great steps you can take to get content production back on track. Noomii writes, “Getting out of a rut can be a challenge unless you implement some realistic strategies to help put you on the right path.” Check out these 12 tips:

12 rut busting tips

What’s your best tip for getting out of a rut and starting to create content again? Leave a comment below!

This infographic is brought to you by Noomii, an online directory of business, life, and career coaches. You can find a life coach in Boston as well as thousands of other cities around the world.

Does Your Blog Just Tell People What They Want to Hear? A Honest Look at Social Success

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Oh, the ripples a single blog post can make. It’s been a long time since a post about social media got people as worked up as Cathryn Sloane’s “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25” at NextGen Journal. I’ve read dozens of blog post responses to her, and as of writing this post, there are 482 comments on her post itself.

In reading the responses, there are a lot of very thoughtful points being made. At the same time, there’s something about this whole discussion that is making me cringe a little. It’s highlighting a very important and oft-ignored problem in op-ed blogging: the tendency to overvalue the popularity of our own posts when they haven’t truly added any value. As I continue to read blog posts about age and social media, it’s making me more and more uncomfortable.

Cathryn’s post struck a nerve with a lot of people, but the vast majority of commenters were older social media managers (and other older people working in the social media space, regardless of official title). Understandable, since those were the people she was attacking with her post. And the vast majority of people who wrote rebuttal posts were also older social media managers. Again, understandable given her attack.

But what I’ve seen most of the time (read: not all of the time) are defensive rebuttal posts that are simple masquerading as a “discussion” or “conversation” on the topic when they aren’t really adding anything to the debate at all. I have to ask myself, what do these posts accomplish other than perhaps making the blogger feel good about him/herself?

To me, a discussion or conversation about the topic is all about debate and, more importantly, learning. I actually think that’s where Cathryn’s post was extremely successful. Regardless of your opinion of the piece, what she published was an opinion about something that she felt needed to be addressed. She supported her opinion with a few reasons and put it out there for the world to read. Whether or not she did a good job or has a valid opinion is a moot point. She was, in her blog post, seeking to make a difference, to change your way of thinking, to highlight an injustice she thinks is a problem in this industry.

Did the rebuttal blog posts do the same? Or did they just say, “NUH UH!” and get liked and tweeted by the same hundred or so people who’ve been liking and tweeting all rebuttal posts and comments?

In other words, did your post make a difference, or did it just tell your community what they wanted to hear? Did you actually add to the conversation with new ideas or did you just defend yourself by calling someone wrong? Did you seek new ways of looking at the topic or did you just rant?

Take a good hard look at how successful you are on social media. If you say, “HITLER IS BAD!” it’s not hard to get your audience to agree with you. But what does that prove? Did you teach your readers anything? Did you really start a conversation? This applies to every controversial topic, not just the wildfire that caught online about age and social media this past week.

An example: Let’s say I write a post about how automated DMs are bad. Of course the vast majority of the NMX/BlogWorld community is going to agree with me, and if I write a passionate, well-written post, it’s likely going to get a lot of social shares. But so what? All I’m doing is preaching to the choir. I’m not bringing new people to church. Putting the popular opinion into a blog post doesn’t alone make you a good blogger or good at social media.

That’s not to say that you have to be controversial when you blog about something, but I do think it is important to be honest about your social media success. Before you smugly say that Cathryn knows nothing about social media, perhaps take a good hard look at how often her post has been shared, how many true discussions it has created, and how many people have admitted that she does have some valid points that they hadn’t considered before.

Are you achieving the same things with your op-ed posts or are you simply telling people what they want to hear and patting yourself on the back when people like it?

16 Brilliant Bloggers Talk About Controversy

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Brilliant Bloggers is a bi-weekly series here at NMX where we look at the best posts from around the web all surrounding a specific topic. Every other week, we’ll feature three of the most brilliant bloggers out there, along with a huge list of more resources where you can learn about the topic. You can see more Brilliant Blogger posts or learn how to submit your link for an upcoming edition here.

This Week’s Topic: Writing Controversial Posts

Earlier this month, I posted “The Art of Constructive Controversy on Your Blog” here on the NMX blog. Controversial blog posts are a great way to boost your traffic numbers, but at the same time, they can invite not-so-good attention to your blog as well.

Today, I wanted to expend on the post I wrote by giving you links to other brilliant bloggers who have also published advice on how to deal with controversial topics on your blog.

Brilliant Blogger of the Week:

How to Write a Controversial Blog Post with No Regrets by Rachel Held Evans

Writing a controversial blog post can be like opening a can of worms. It’s great to post your opinion on a topic, but it can also bring the wrath of trolls upon you. You also risk alienating members of your community or even writing a post you later regret. How can you avoid this? Rachel Held Evans has a ton of great tips you should check out.

After reading the entire post, you can also find Rachel on Twitter at @rachelheldevans.

Even More Brilliant Advice:

  1. The 3 Hidden Benefits of a Controversial Guest Post by Eugene Farber (@EugeneFarber)
  2. 5 Rules for Effective Controversial Blog Posts by Althaf Ahmed
  3. Avoid controversial topics like politics and religion in your marketing by David Meerman Scott (@DMScott)
  4. Bloggers – Is It Wise to be “Controversial?” by Amanda DiSilvestro (@ADiSilvestro)
  5. Creating Controversy May Be Beneficial For Your Blog by Maikol Akintonde (@maikolakintonde)
  6. Controversial Blog Posts: Good or Bad for Business? by Jessica Bates
  7. Courting Controversy: Should Your B2B Content Touch Hot Topics? by Matthew McKenzie
  8. Helpful Tips for Writing About Controversial Topics by Zac Johnson (@moneyreign )
  9. How Not to Suck at Controversial Blogging by Bob Meinke (@bobmeinke)
  10. How To Restrain From Creating Controversy While Blogging On Controversial Issues? by Amanda Kidd
  11. How to Tackle Controversial Topics in Blogging by Jennifer Brown Banks (@Jenpens2)
  12. The Indignation Industry, or the Art of Blogging Controversies by Timothy Dalrymple (@TimDalrymple_)
  13. Is Using Controversial Content Killing Your Brand? by Directory Maximizer
  14. Why Controversy is Good for Your Blog and Inbound Marketing by Chris Stone
  15. Why I Don’t Write Deliberately Controversial Posts by Katie Tietje (@ModernAMama)

Did I miss your post or a post by someone you know about controversial posts? Unintentional! Help me out by leaving a comment below with the link.

Next Brilliant Blogger Topic: Podcasting Gear

I’d love to include a link to your post in our next installment– and if you head to the Brilliant Bloggers Schedule, you can see even more upcoming posts. We all have something to learn from one another, so please don’t be shy! Head to the schedule today to learn how to submit your post so I won’t miss it.

Why You Should Embrace Sponsored Posts on Your Blog

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The phrase sponsored post still leaves a dirty taste in the mouths of many bloggers. Companies are still learning how to work with bloggers, so you might still get a ton of lame offers, ranging from press releases to requests for free promotion for a product or service that has nothing to do with your niche.

But if you swear off sponsored posts altogether, you could be missing out on awesome content for your blog – not to mention a source of income.

The Negative Connotation of “Sponsored”

If you poll your readers, asking, “Would you like to see more sponsored posts on my blog?” I have a feeling that 100% would say, “No way!” But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have sponsored posts. There’s this negative connotation with the word sponsored. People read that word and think crap that has no relevance to me that the blogger published because they were paid.

Stereotypes happen for a reason. Many bloggers do publish crap that has no relevance to their readers simply for the cash, and that’s a problem for three reasons:

  1. Your readers aren’t getting high-quality content.
  2. The sponsor isn’t getting any bang for their buck since readers aren’t clicking their links.
  3. Companies everywhere see this continue to think this is what bloggers want.

There’s a bit of a revolution with sponsored content happening right now, though. Companies are beginning to realize point number two – that they aren’t getting any benefits from the money they’re spending on on sponsored posts. But it’s up to us bloggers to take it a step farther and educate companies on what we really want. That way, the word sponsored won’t make readers shudder anymore.

A Three-Point Rating System

Whenever I’m pitched by a company, I use a three-point rating system to determine whether or not it is a good fit for our blog.

  1. Is the topic relevant and interesting to my readers?
  2. Am I being compensated for my work?
  3. Will the content be unique for my website or is everyone in the niche posting it right now?

So, for example, let’s say that XYZ company sends me a press release about a celebrity chef for my food blog. They offer to send me to his restaurant for a free meal and pay me for the post. Is the topic relevant and interesting? Yes. Am I being compensated? Yes. Is the content unique? Well, it’s a press release, so probably not.

Let’s say that a start-up offers me access to their new social media monitoring product and payment to post a review of it on my fashion blog. In this case, I’m being compensated and since it’s my own review, it would be unique. But will readers of a fashion blog want to know about a social media monitoring tool? Probably not.

Now let’s say that a third company, 123 Travels-R-Us contacts me to write about their new hotel deals site for my travel blog. They offer to send me a unique post about how to save money booking tickets online, which links back to their site. However, they do not offer any kind of compensation for publishing the post.

So I should say no to all three of these offers, right?

Get the Sponsored Content You Really Want

The answer is no: No, I (or any blogger) should not just say no to the above three offers. As bloggers, when we get good but slightly “off” pitches like these, we have the chance to educate companies about their content marketing strategy and get awesome content for our blogs – all while getting paid!

If a company satisfies none of the point on my three-point system, it’s probably not a good fit and working with them will likely be a huge headache. But if they satisfy one or, better yet, two of the points, we can probably work together. They just need a good teacher!

Respond to the email, not in an attacking way, but in an understanding way. They have a job to do – promote their own company. So tell them exactly how they can better make that happen on your blog.

  • “Dear Company XYZ, I would love to promote your chef to my readers, as I feel they’d be very interested in visiting his new restaurant. Instead of posting a press release, though, I think you’ll get more interest if I can do a unique interview with him about his food. If that sounds good to you, let’s work out the details.”
  • “Dear Start-Up, Your new social media monitoring tool looks great, but unfortunately most of my readers are fashionistas who wouldn’t be interested in this topic. However, I am willing to review it as a guest post for such-and-such blog about social media. Does this interest you?”
  • “Dear 123 Travels-R-Us, I checked out your new site and it looks fantastic! I’d love to promote this to my readers. Attached, you’ll find my rates for sponsored posts, and I also have package deals if you’re interested in sidebar or newsletter advertising as well. If you’re interested, I’m happy to talk to you more about my traffic numbers and audience demographic.”

In all three of these cases, the company might not be interested or they might not respond, but you’re sending a clear message:

  • Bloggers want unique, quality content.
  • Bloggers want relevant content.
  • Bloggers want to be paid fairly.

When you can satisfy all three points, you’ll not only be paid for your work, but your readers will enjoy the post you’ve published. Sponsored doesn’t have to be such a dirty word if the details of the sponsorship are very carefully worked out. The vast majority of readers don’t care in the least that you were paid to write something (as long as you’re honest about that, of course); they only care that what you write is something they want to read.

Creating Content that Sings: Three Questions Every Blogger, Podcaster, and Web Series Producer Should Ask

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La-la-la-la-la. Are you warmed up? Don’t worry; my advice to you isn’t to record yourself singing for your fans. If you’re anything like me, doing that isn’t going to help your traffic! You can let your content sing, though. As you’re creating your blog posts, podcasts, or videos, ask yourself the following three questions:

Does My Content Have Rhythm?

Songs only sound pleasant if the rhythm makes sense. That’s why when you hear a cover of a song you love and the band is playing it too fast or too slow, it sounds weird. If you’re content can’t keep the beat, it’s going to sound equally weird.

What does having rhythm mean?

It means that your content flows. If you’re a podcaster or producing videos of any sort, it means you don’t have a lot of “ums”or awkward silences. If you’re a blogger, it means that your sentences flow well and that you have an interesting style of writing. It also means that your post is well-formatted for an online reader.

Typically, rhythm isn’t something you notice until it is “off.” Luckily, it’s pretty easy to fix rhythm with some editing. You just have to avoid being lazy. If you say to yourself, “This blog post/podcast/video is good enough,” it probably isn’t. Don’t settle for good enough, because your readers certainly won’t. Make a second, third, and sometimes even fourth (or more) pass through your content to ensure the rhythm is perfect.

Is My Content Hitting the Low Notes?

I once dated a bass player, and what he and any other bass player out there will tell you is that they’re the most under-appreciated member of a band…but you’ll really miss them if they leave. And they’re right. The low notes in a song give it that driving, well-rounded sound. Without, you’re left with a song that sounds flat. Low notes give music layers.

In terms of online content, “low notes” are the organization of your content. Content organization is definitely under-appreciated, but without it, your message will ultimately fall flat.

When I write a blog post, I usually create a short outline first. I start every post with an intro, split the body of my post into three or more subheadings and close the post with a final thought and call to action. Many podcasters do something similar – they open the same way every week, have segments, and then close things out. And of course, if you’re a web series producer, you probably have a storyboard for every episode.

Your content might not be quite as structured in your approach, and that’s okay. Not every blogger starts with an outline, for example. What is important is that you do introduce some organization so your message makes sense to the audience.

Otherwise, people will leave with one question in their mind: “What was the point of that?”

People need to be told why they should care and what they should do. If your content jumps around from one topic to the next without good organization of your points, it can be confusing and even irritating.

I like to think of my content as a super-micro-mini book with super-micro-mini chapters. When you close one chapter, you might refer back to it later, but you don’t continue to add more information about that topic. The chapters are self-contained for the most part, and they’re arranged in a way that makes sense to the reader. Your goal should be to make your message as clear as possible to your audience members. It’s much easier to keep their attention to the end that way.

Is My Content Hitting the High Notes?

Lastly, no great content is complete without some high notes. High notes are those little “extra somethings” that set you apart from others in your niche. It might be humor. It might be a shocking or profound statement. It might be a clever turn of the phrase. You don’t need high notes all the time. That would be piercing, and you definitely don’t want to figuratively cause your audience to cover their ears. No, you just need a sprinkling of high notes – enough to keep things interesting. Here are some examples of high notes:

In a recent post by Daniel Clark called, “7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Podcasting,” at one point, Daniel writes, “There are days… oh, there are days… when the last thing you want to do is fire up the microphone and start talking. ” Slipping in that little phrase, “oh, there are days…” adds a little humor to the post and gives it a personal touch.

The Bloggess’ post “The Man Deserves a Damn Medal,” illustrates the opposite – a high note by departing from humor. Her entire post, like most on her blog, is about her hilarious antics with her husband. But near the end of this post, after writing about how she surprised him by renting a sloth and kangaroo for their anniversary (yes, really), she posts a picture of her daughter laughing and gasping and writes, “Then we called Hailey over and she freaked out in the best possible way and screamed, ‘THERE IS A KANGAROO IN OUR LIVING ROOM’ and Victor and I both laughed at her glee and it was awesome. And it was everything a 16th wedding anniversary should be. At least in this house.” The touching love for their daughter that binds them is definitely a high note hidden in a hilarious post.

In “How to Make Your Site the Destination for Your Market” by Chris Garrett, this high note comes as a statistic from Hubspot. He could just tell you how important blogs are, but instead he shows you with some stats. Even better, Chris goes on to punctuate his post with important ideas, which he bold-faces so they stand out. When you read a post like Chris’, it is easy to pick out the high notes.

Break a Leg

What I think is most important about online content creation, however, is that you just do it. A singer can practice her scales all day, but unless she actually gets out there on stage and performs, what does it matter? So care about your rhythm, your low notes, and your high notes, but don’t be so worried that you never perform – publish your content – at all. With each performance, you will improve.

The Art of Constructive Controversy on Your Blog

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Without a doubt, controversy can drive tons of traffic to your blog. I do, however, believe that many if not most bloggers out there are going about this in a destructive way. Controversy is the cholesterol of the blogging world: there are both good and bad forms. Both drive traffic, but if you perfect the art of good controversy – what I like to call constructive controversy – you can reap the benefits beyond a spike in traffic that doesn’t stick and a plethora of emotionally-charged comments on a single post.

What is Constructive Controversy?

Constructive controversy is like constructive criticism; it can sting, but ultimately, the conversation is helpful. You could take a tone that is accusing or snarky if that’s the style you want to use, but you have to do more than pontificate. A constructively controversial post follows these guidelines:

  • Research or real-life examples are given to back up the opinion.
  • The alternate view is considered, not dismissed.
  • The post starts a conversation about the topic – and it’s a conversation that really matters.
  • The opinions in the post are genuine, not manufactured for the sake of a good post.
  • The post attacks ideas, schools of thought, practices and the like – not things people can’t control like gender or race. (I like to call this the no name-calling rule.)

The post “Why 150 Followers Is All You Really Need” from Srini Rao is old, but a good example of constructive controversy. Writing this post, Srini had to have known that some people wouldn’t like it. Most Twitter tips are about how to get more followers. But within the post, he used examples to back up his opinion, and the post was about starting a conversation about why we care so much about quantity and ignore quality.

Another great example is “Are Universities Giving Hall Passes for Hate” (warning: link goes to a post with strong language and is on a NSFW blog, though the post itself is SFW) by Erika Napoletano. In this post, Erica writes strong opinions about an event in the news, and not everyone in the comments section agrees with her. But it’s a post supported by facts and opens a dialogue. On Erika’s own site, Redhead Writing, she often publishes posts in this vein – very opinionated and very snarky, but also a way to get everyone talking about the topic at hand.

Whether or not you agree with the post has nothing to do with whether the post is constructive controversy or not. It’s about the goals of the post, not about the message.

What is Destructive Controversy?

The antithesis of constructive controversy is destructive controversy. As the name implies, this kind of controversy isn’t about creating conversations. It’s about destroying them.

Sometimes, these posts attack people, not for doing bad (or perceived bad) things, but for being female or gay or whatever the hate flavor of the day might be.

Usually, destructive controversy bloggers are the first to cry “free speech!” but often they heavily moderate comments to only include those that agree with the post. It doesn’t matter if a comment was constructive or not. Or, sometimes, these bloggers take the complete opposite approach and don’t moderate comments at all. They stay out of the comments section, just opening it to be a free-for-all between trolls and legitimate commenters.

Destructive controversy is usually really smart. The post is written to play on people’s emotions, fears, and ignorance. The goal is not to start a conversation, but rather to beat people down so the blogger can stand over the pile of bodies triumphant. Bloggers who write destructive controvery blog posts have, in my experiences, low self esteem and the need to stroke their own egos.

In some cases, the controversy is manufactured – the blogger doesn’t actually believe what he/she is saying or at least does not feel very strongly about the subject. It’s all rhetoric to bait people. Destructive controversy usually comes attached to a sensationalist headline. The goal is to get as much traffic as possible, simply for personal gain.

I’m not going to link you to examples of destructive controversy. You know who they are. It’s a fine line that some bloggers walk between constructive and destructive, but we’ve all read posts that were little more than troll comments (for the record, this is a really good post about what a troll is, because a lot of people use the term incorrectly).

The Controversy Tsunami

Of course, I’m advocating that you write posts that are constructive, not destructive. But even if  you choose every word very carefully to be as diplomatic as possible, prepare for the storm that may be heading your way. If you choose instead to take a more accusing or even mean tone (and yes, you can still be constructive this way), prepare for the storm that is definitely heading your way.

A few facts about humans on the Internet:

  • When you voice an opinion, there will always be people who disagree. Some may be nasty about it, so a thick skin is necessary. Beyond that, however, be prepared for the trolls you’re going to attract. These aren’t just people who disagree. These are people who’s purpose is to disrupt the conversation, attack you personally to hurt you, and otherwise be destructive even when your post is constructive.
  • Stupidity breeds stupidity. In other words, once one troll shows up, you can usually expect more. You can also expect commenters to start attacking one another, especially when there’s a troll loose in your comments section.

So be prepared. It’s like a tidal wave – if you’ve written an interesting post that goes viral, you might see hundreds of comments in the span of an hour or two. If you lose control, it’s hard to regain it. Controversial posts are not posts you want to schedule to go live while you’re on vacation.

Controversy online, when done well, can lead to really interesting new ideas about topics that often divide people. It’s an art, though, to do controversy the right way, an art that I’m perhaps still learning myself. What’s important is not that you master this art before you publish controversial posts, though, but that you realize you’re a student. Aim to be constructive when you’re controversial, and you’ll be adding value to the entire online community and solidifying yourself as someone with a blog worth reading, not just dumping sludge on the Internet and basking in short-lived, negative glory.

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Voice versus Style: What’s the Difference and Why Should Bloggers Care?

Author:

When speaking about the art of writing, the words voice and style get throw around, often incorrectly. Whether you know the difference or not, we often don’t give much thought about these abstract concepts, allowing them to just happen naturally. But as a blogger should you care?

Nope. You shouldn’t care. The end. Quickest post ever.

Just kidding.

Of course you should care! If you care about the art of writing, if you care about producing the best content for your readers, and if you care about growing as a blogger, you should also care about understanding voice and style.

So let’s talk about them.

You Gotta Have Style

Don’t worry; even if you wear socks with sandals, you have style in your writing. We all have style. And, when speaking about writing and using the words style and voice interchangeably, most people really mean style. As a blogger, you should constantly be thinking about and working on your style.

Style is, simply, how you write. Do you use long, flowery sentences? Are you to the point? Is your writing formal? More casual? All of these things contribute to your style. Your style can – and probably will – change based on what you’re writing. For example, when I’m writing a post here on the New Media Expo blog, I use a more casual voice than I’ve used when writing press releases for clients in the past.

Certainly, some stylistic quirks will stick with you no matter where or what you’re writing. It’s the way your words naturally flow. You can turn off that facet and alter your writing style, though doing so probably won’t feel comfortable or correct, especially on a blog. It’s not a good idea. To grow as a writer, you need to constantly be thinking about your natural writing style and how you can improve. But that doesn’t mean you have to try to force yourself into another style.

Using myself as an example, something I do often in my writing is start sentences with and and but. In fact, I just did it in the previous paragraph. It’s one of those key signatures in my writing, and it’s something consistent across all of my blogs. I can shut it off (like I might if I’m writing a press release), but it feels unnatural.

I am, however, using the knowledge that this is a stylistic signature of mine to improve my writing. I used to use it a lot more, simply because I was unaware I was doing it. It might be a useful sentence structure, but when overused, it makes a post choppy. So, I’ve been trying to improve by reconsidering how I form sentences.

Style does evolve overtime, especially if you’re diligent about improving as a writer. What’s important is that you think about style when writing so you give your readers the best post possible. Give some thought to how you can best serve your audience while still conveying the message you want to convey.

Finding Your Inner Voice

Voice is a little trickier to put your finger on than style. I’m unashamed to say that I’ve used this term incorrectly in the past and I’m still working on clearly understanding both the concept and how I reflect my voice in my writing.

The clearest way I can describe voice is this: it is your soul, your perspective, your worldview. Voice is not the way you put words together, but rather the special sauce that makes your readers fall in love with you. As a blogger, few readers will fall in love with you because they like the way you use semicolons. Readers can certainly appreciate your writing style, but what they’ll fall in love with is your voice.

I’ll use one of my favorite bloggers, Jenny Lawson, as an example. Jenny is best-known for her blog The Bloggess, where she writes about her life dealing with motherhood, depression, marriage, pets, and daily shenanigans that are almost guaranteed to crack you up. On The Bloggess, Jenny has a funny, pithy writing style often peppered with colorful language and inner-monologue sentences that only escape being run-ons by technicality. I absolutely love her writing style.

But her voice? I love that even more. Jenny’s writing voice reflects that she is humble, barely allowing herself to believe that she has so many fans. She approaches situations from the point of view from someone who deals with anxiety and depression. Often, her posts reflect how she grew up: in a close-knit family from a rural area of Texas, which resonates with me because I’m from a very rural area myself. Her opinions, her background, her experiences in life, the type of person she is – these things all affect her writing. Readers become fans of Jenny because she’s funny, but lots of people are funny. They fall in love with her not because of her wit, but because her writing voice is so strong and it’s easy to relate to her.

Have you ever read someone’s blog, met them in real life, and said (or just thought), “I know this is the first time we’re meeting, but I feel like I know you!”? Have you ever felt defensive or protective when someone attacks a blogger you like? Have you ever cried or felt otherwise emotionally charged when reading a blog post? That sense that someone you’ve never met is your best friend and really understands you is due to writing voice, not style.

Your writing voice does not change. It is who you are. You shouldn’t “work on” your voice as much as you should work on letting it shine through in your writing.

I hope this helps clear up the difference between writing voice and writing style. Sometimes, as bloggers, we can get wrapped up in perfecting the information we’re conveying, but thinking about your posts from an artistic sense is important too. Don’t just put your head down and write. Be thoughtful about how you are presenting your message to readers and what you can do to improve your style and more clearly reflect your voice.

How to Schedule Posts Effectively

Author:

Today is July 4, which means it’s a holiday in the United States. Every year, Americans across the country set off fireworks, grill burgers, and enjoy time with friends and family to celebrate our nation’s holiday. So, while you’re seeing this new post from me, I’m not actually here. I’m out enjoying the day, probably in the pool with my sister.

Yep, this post was scheduled.

Whenever anything in the world of new media is automated in any way, people get the heebie-jeebies. Yet, scheduling posts usually gets a free pass. In fact, some of the same people who rant about auto-DMs and scheduled tweets give pre-writing and scheduling posts and big thumbs up.

And I agree with them. I schedule a lot of the posts here on the NMX blog, actually, as well as on my own blogs. That said, there’s a good way to schedule posts and a bad way to schedule posts. Many bloggers out there are not scheduling posts effectively.

Maintaining the Broader Schedule

First and foremost, when it comes to post scheduling, you need to be thinking about your content in a much broader way. Scheduling a post because you’ll be away from your computer is fine, but how does this fit into your overall editorial calendar?

If your answer to that question is, “I don’t have an editorial calendar,” you might want to rethink your blogging activities a bit.

No, having an editorial calendar doesn’t mean you have to write or even come up with post ideas in advance. But what it does allow you to do is:

  1. Make sure your content is spread out evenly, rather than being bunched up over the course of a few days (and then nothing for a long period of time)
  2. Make sure you are writing about a variety of topics in your niche, rather than covering the same topic too often and ignoring other topics

The visual representation of your posts on a calendar helps you understand blogging habits you might have never noticed otherwise, and you can more easily see gaps that need to be filled. here on the NMX blog, we use a plugin to maintain the editorial calendar, but even a simple note in your day planner (digital or paper) can help.

Scheduling Fluff

After getting an editorial calendar set up, you still have the task of scheduling posts when you’re going to be away from the computer. Most bloggers are already doing this, and one of the most common mistakes I see is scheduling “fluff.”

In the world of freelance writing, a “fluffy” piece is written with as many words as possible just to make wordcount. You care less about the content and the language and more about just getting something written. A lot of bloggers post this kind of fluff on their blog when they’re going to be away just to have something posted.

A huge picture of an America flag with the words “Happy 4th of July” is a good example fluff. Yet I’m sure that blogs across the Internet are auto-posting that as we speak (if they haven’t already). Before posting anything, ask yourself:

  • What does my reader gain from this post?
  • Would I post this content on a day I was actually here or is it only “good enough” because I’m scheduling it?
  • Does the post enhance my community in any way?
  • Will readers feel compelled to comment?
  • Am I proud of this post?

Do not kid yourself and say, “But I wanted to wish my readers a happy fourth of July!” If that’s the case, do it with a personal message on your blog in a post about what the holiday means to you. Or do it at the beginning of a post that is similar to what you would publish any other day of the year. Or skip posting and simply Tweet your message. When you schedule something half-assed, all it says is, “I don’t really care about my blog because I’m off having fun.” If you’re a photo blog, go ahead a post a picture of a flag. If you normally write long in-depth pieces analyzing the news in your niche, save me the pity post and just enjoy the day.

Stay on Top of Your Scheduling

Just because you schedule something doesn’t mean you can forget all about it. This can lead to disaster. For example, let’s say that you schedule a post about Twitter while you’re away on vacation. Before it goes live, there’s a major announcement that Twitter has been sold to Facebook! While every other blog is covering this major story, your post about “How Twitter is Better Than Facebook” goes live, making you look silly in the process.

Forgetting about your scheduled posts can even be downright offensive. For example, if you schedule a post that quotes or analyzes someone famous and that person dies the morning before it goes live, you can seem insensitive or tacky.

Mistakes happen. You shouldn’t avoid scheduling a post simply because some kind of disaster or change could happen. But if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time, keep track of what will be going up when and check in occasionally. If something is published at an inopportune time, you want to be around to take it down as soon as you can, rather than letting snarky comments about it build over the course of days or even weeks.

If you can, it also helps to have someone you trust watch out for your blog. That way, they can log in and take down any poorly-scheduled post or deal with other problems while you’re gone.

Don’t Fear the Schedule Button

Scheduling can be quite liberating, so despite the rest of this post, I hope you aren’t afraid of that scheduling button. You just have to be thoughtful about how you use it and responsible about maintaining your blog even if you have scheduled posts ready to be published when you’re not around.

As for me, I’m happily splashing around right now and thanking the blogging gods that scheduling is possible. It’s a great tool as long as you use it wisely. Happy 4th, everyone!

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