When you start something new, especially if it's something you've not done before, you really have no idea how you will organize around it. One of the most frequently asked questions - and objections raised - to the use of social media is that of time, or rather lack of.
This is a point people raise about blogs in particular and one of the reasons why many blogs tend to languish unattended after 6-8 months. It is also why many have gravitated to micro blogging and discussions on Twitter and FriendFeed.
Consider this -- those networks capture and own your content, and in fact capitalize on your activities. Your content helps them become a destination. Yes, micro interactions are important and can help you increase the number of connections you make exponentially - and much faster than a blog.
However, your own site can help you with:
- establishing your credentials
- re-inventing or energizing ideas
- creating connections
- building a community
In ways that your content dispersed throughout social networks cannot.
With a blog, it's important that you plan for content. In addition to the rainy days and times when you won't be able to post - you may be traveling, or booked solid - you will want to share meaning and purpose with your readers. For a blog to be successful you need to think that content is not just yours.
Before you get started, you should know the following 3 things:
1. Your content will have unintended consequences
In other words - if you do a good job of it and your readers consider it valuable - it will be shared, discussed, potentially quoted, and alas sometimes copied without attribution. We call that scraping in blog terms and there is definitely something you can do about that, but this is not the object of this post.
The best consequence of all will be that people put it to the test and either learn something about themselves, or get results. As life would have it, you may get to hear about the learning, rarely about the results.
Some of the posts you will love the most will get zero comments, while some of the most off the cuffs remarks may get passionate conversations going. Accept that although you're the curator of information at your blog, once the content is out there, it's out of your hands.
2. Your participation is also content
Yes, and in many cases, it's content you give away in the form of comments and conversations in spaces other than your blog. You decide what and where. For example, I tend to answer comments on this blog and comment on other people's blogs. I'm on FriendFeed a little and share remarks and content on Twitter.
Others may use talks, books, and workshops instead of engaging with comments at their blog. A good example is Seth's blog. He may not take comments at his blogs, or participate on Twitter, but I know he connects in other ways - at talks, giving away free eBooks, and in other ways freely.
So while your content will have unintended consequences, you can design your own attitude and involvement with others in the community. That to me is extremely liberating and a tremendous equalizer - whether two people or 2,000 read you, you can engage with those readers.
3. You need to know where you're going
In the beginning you will probably experiment a lot with formats and content ideas. I've observed that in many who started writing a blog at about the same time I did three-to-four years ago. I would wager that every single one of those blogs that is still around today has evolved to a specific direction.
Mapping your objectives early on will give you freedom to figure out how you're getting there. It will also help on those evening when you've had a long enough day behind you and have a hard time writing. Unless you know where you're going, you will not get there - and that can be a very frustrating experience.
Some professionals use their blog as a sort of library of interesting things to think about - an example of that is Herd by Mark Earls. Others use the blog as a companion to the research and thinking they're putting into a book, like Gretchen Rubin with The Happiness Project. For others yet, the blog becomes the focal point from which they solidify a project or line of thinking that becomes a book.
The point is that they are all outcomes and they are all there because there was some effort placed into understanding objectives. It's becoming a bit ridiculous to hear that a blog will be useful for your business to drive customer engagement. You need to want engagement in the first place, the blog can be one of the ways to achieve that if you're engaging in it.
These are some of the less frequently thought-about and more useful things you should know before starting a blog. What would you add from your own experience? Have you been thinking about starting a blog and still on the fence? Does this information help you?
[image by Thomas Hawk]