Monday, 30 July 2012

Creating a content plan will help keep your blog on track

It's a sad fact that the majority of blogs are abandoned within three months. Yikes!

The good news is that there is one small step you can take which will help keep you going even when you have a bad case of 'bloggers block' or just can't decide what to post.  The answer is to create a content plan.

Your content plan can take whatever form you like, but it must have a physical presence - it's no good having it in your head! You may be most comfortable sketching it out long hand, using a calendar template or an Excel spreadsheet, even making a collage ... whatever works for you. But it has to go on your wall somewhere you will see it.

Design Milk's editorial calendar

First up - think like a magazine editor. Perhaps your blog will have some regular features. You will see an editorial calendar on many successful blogs. For example, Design Milk has monthly features such as 'Deconstruction' and 'Where I Work.' Each post under that topic follows the same format or type of content. On her blog Bright, Bold and Beautiful, Laura Tevey has a regular 'Best of the Week' roundup. What kind of regular features might you have on your blog? They could be weekly or monthly.

Next, think about the types of blog post you plan to produce. Think about the medium (predominantly text, photos, video, or a balance of these), length, subject matter and type of post. In 'Blogging for Creatives' I suggest 12 blog post types that work, from Opinion Piece and Interview to Story, Controversy and List posts.

Then decide how frequently you are going to post. Be realistic, but also bear in mind that if you post less often than once a week you may find it takes a long time to generate an active, interested audience.

Put this information on a matrix, with (say) dates in the left hand column and days of the week across the top. Put in the names of your regular features, like 'Blog Buddy Showcase' or 'Behind the Scene Tuesday'. On other days you plan to post, put in the names of some blog post types like 'Opinion Piece' or 'List post'.

How does that look? Now, try to add some specifics to some of the plan entries. Blog Buddy Showcase - who do you have a mind for the first one? Behind the Scenes - what project have you been working on where you might share aspects of the process? Hopefully, more subjects and ideas will suggest themselves as you go along. Make a note of them all, however sketchy, even if it's in a separate column, 'ideas' or whatever.

Now you have the bones of your blog for the next two or three months. Each time you go through the process, it should get easier. Be careful not to overwrite anything, as it useful at-a-glance to see what you've already blogged about on a specific topic. Great content can also be recycled, reworked or repositioned.

With a content plan you should also find it easier to write blog posts in advance. Once the creative juices start flowing you will find it's quick and effective to do two or three posts at once, scheduling or saving them for later.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Featured Blogger: Dan Blank

I think I first came across Dan Blank on Twitter. I've certainly enjoyed his weekly email newsletters over the years, with their nice blend of latest blog post, news round up and a couple of fun photos. One of the regular features is 'Owen of the week' - a photo of what Dan's young son has been up to - a charming note, but also a bold relationship-building technique that many would steer clear of in the name of privacy.  It's noticeably different to most email newsletters in that it feels like a concentrated dose of Dan: great business insight and information sharing, with a big dollop of openness and humanity thrown in. And well written, which comes as no surprise when you find out that Dan's background is in publishing, and his business We Grow Media helps writers and publishers to build and manage their online presence.

Dan Blank's blog at We Grow Media
The blog is a section on Dan's main website where he posts regularly on topical media issues of relevance to writers, explores new ideas and ways of doing things and offers insights into his own experiments. For example, he posted recently about his return to podcasting, explaining his reasons and how he went about it in detail right down to the equipment selection.

Dan Blank's YouTube Channel

Dan has also recently started video blogging (sometimes called 'vlogging') and has used video and audio in various ways on his blog.

There is a simple honesty and understatedness about Dan's approach that I love. In being both generous and genuine, an absolute expert in his field but also curious to learn and develop, he is someone who most definitely walks the social talk. Do take a look at his blog - and sign up for that email newsletter, it's a gem.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Why you need to nurture your social presence

Last month I talked a bit about complementing your blog with a Facebook page, and some of the basics of setting one up.

I'm reluctant to talk about 'promoting your blog via social media' because I think that is a somewhat limiting mindset. Social media isn't 'just another marketing channel' as we hear so often. 

It's better to think of your social presence as being a part of your 'brand', whether that brand is your blog, your business or you yourself. Social tools enable us to expand our networks of contacts, listen to and learn from others, communicate one-to-one with people and allow people to get to know what your brand stands for. And yes, build our profile and audience.

What people (and organisations) don't always understand is that this happens if, and only if, you have something to offer that people find interesting, useful or entertaining, so much so that they share it with others in their networks. By approaching social as a promotional tool, it's tempting to post nothing but promotional, one-way messages and hope that they will magically get passed around the internet. Short term promotions and offers have their place, but they are just that - short term and unlikely to build you a rich, sustainable social presence.

Vita Sackville-West knew a thing or two about gardening. This is part of
her garden at Sissingshurst Castle in Kent. Photo by kevt747.
The benefits of building an online social presence are mainly long term and slow to accumulate. It's like planting and nurturing a garden. Anyone can go buy a bunch of bedding plants in flower, plant them in any patch of ground and have a lovely display for as long as the flowers last. But a gardener would take into consideration the soil type, orientation of the land, drainage, climate, shape and size of plants, flowering period, positioning and a hundred other things. A gardener would know (or learn) about watering, weeding, pruning, pest control and so on.

Your aim is to build a sustainable social presence and become a trusted member of your social networks. Once you're in this position you will worry a lot less about short-term attention grabbing and attach less importance to stats such as likes, followers and visits. Trust me!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Finding & subscribing to other blogs

Do you regularly visit other blogs? Reading (and preferably commenting, but only when you have a genuine comment) is an important aspect of connecting your own blog with the blogosphere.

The kinds of blogs you should seek out are:

  1. industry peers/competitors (if you are blogging for fun then you probably won't see others as competitors, but even if you blog for business you may still view competitors as potential collaborators or blogging buddies. And if not, you still want to keep tabs on them, don't you?)
  2. related blogs (where the content complements yours - not just the obvious, think laterally here)
  3. mentor blogs (for example, more experienced bloggers who are generous about sharing their learnings, acknowledged experts or just bloggers you admire)
  4. anything that catches your eye or that looks interesting!

Finding blogs
Do searches on Google as well as Google blogsearch and also try some of the specialist blog communities such as FoodBlogs, Technorati, or BlogCatalog.
Once you find two or three great blogs, check out their blog rolls for ideas of blogs they follow.

Keeping up with blogs
The great thing about blogs is that (unlike a normal website) you can subscribe to them, meaning whenever they are updated you receive an alert. This is much more convenient than bookmarking, which relies on you remembering to return to a website. With website, you go to them, but with blogs, they come to you.

First of all you need an account with a feed reader or aggregator. A simple option is to add feeds to your email client, such as Outlook or Macmail. This way, any new blog posts from those blogs you subscribe to will appear alongside your email. If your email client doesn't offer this, then you'll need to use a dedicated feed reader such as Google Reader or Bloglines.

This is what my Google Reader looks like
I have a Google Reader account, although I confess I use Feedly, which is a kind of user-friendly magazine-style feed reader which is actually powered by Google Reader. Feedly provides a handy bookmarklet which you just click on when you find a blog you want to subscribe too. It also presents everything in such a way that it's easy to skim through for new posts and read the summaries.

Feedly's user-friendly format and subscription 'bookmarklet'
make it a popular tool
Once you have a neat way of subscribing to and keeping up with blogs, it's just a question of checking your feed reader once a day for anything new and exciting.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Featured blogger: Jaime Derringer

Design Milk is one of the stars of the blogosphere. Owner Jaime Derringer is an expert on design trends and contributes to a multitude of design blogs as well as running both Design Milk and its sister blog, Dog Milk

There are so many things I like about this blog, even aside from the cool content. The logo is understated but unpretentious (check out the subtle difference between the main logo and that of Dog Milk...) the social buttons are clear and the design overall - as you might expect - is clean and uncluttered, even though there are plenty of eyecatching things going on in the sidebar in particular. Lots of other things worth emulating - I'll be using Design Milk as an example in future 'tips' posts.

From the Design Milk blog sidebar - visual links to popular posts

When I approached Jaime about contributing to my book she was incredibly forthcoming and supportive. Among the many tips she offered, I loved this one:

"Running a successful blog is hard work. Don't let anyone tell you that it's easy or that you can make tons of money by doing practically nothing. In the early days, I spent my nights and weekends working on the blog while also working full-time. It took three years of doing that before I was able to quit my day job and feel secure. I still work more now than I did at my day job but the reward is that I'm doing something that I love."

The hard work has paid off - Design Milk has grown into a fully fledged online magazine with a team of writers and editors on the look out for the very best in design, interiors, art and style.

By the way, Dog Milk is great fun - although as a cat lover my eye was drawn to a rather nifty milk-carton shaped 'house' by Moissue - for cats or small dogs! 

Sister site to Design Milk - Dog Milk!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Talk at London Writers' Cafe

I had a lovely time at the London Writers' Cafe meetup on Monday evening. The invitation to speak to the group came from Lisa Goll, who found me through Twitter. Lisa wanted someone to come and talk to writers about blogging - why it's worth doing, how to get started, how to maintain and promote it.

It was a mixed group of authors (published and unpublished), commercial and creative writers, and there were plenty of interesting questions, many about issues surrounding privacy (whether to separate your blogging voice from your private life) and how to connect with the blogosphere. The answers aren't always black and white - more often 'it depends' or 'it's whatever you feel happiest with' are my best advice. We looked at a few examples of successful writer-bloggers including Scott Pack's Me and My Big Mouth and Sara Crowley's A Salted.

Some super comments from people afterwards both at the event and on Twitter, which I was really pleased about. The London Writers' Cafe is a really vibrant group with regular meetups and lots going on - if you're a writer in the London area it's definitely one to check out.

With Lisa Goll of London Writers' Cafe

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Featured Blogger: Emily Benet

When Emily Benet started working in her mother's chandelier shop, little did she know it would be the kickstart to her writing career. But after having blogged about her experiences, she was approached by Salt Publishing to turn it into a book - and Shop Girl Diaries was published in 2009. 

Emily's blog won the Completely Novel Author Blog Award (published category) at the London Book Fair in 2010 and has received praise from all quarters.

The Shop Girl Diaries blog continues and has developed into a community of writers and readers. Emily candidly documents her experiences and successes as a writer, posts interesting interviews with other authors and even runs the occasional reader competition. 

Emily also gives regular workshops on blogging for authors wanting to flex their blogging muscles - the next one is on London August 18th.

I was very pleased when Emily agreed to contribute a tip to Blogging for Creatives. She has a practical, down to earth approach to blogging and her blog is a perfect showcase for her engaging writing style and sense of fun. And proof that when you start blogging, you never know where it may lead!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Getting out and about to promote your blog

Some crazy chicks at the Hello Blogger event in Brisbane, Australia
(Photo by TRX Photography)
OK so blogging is an online activity but that doesn't mean you can't promote it offline, in fact you really should! Here are a few ways of getting out and about to promote your blog in the 'real' world.

1) Attend events and meetups
Whether it's a conference to do with your area of interest, a local tweet-up or networking meeting, grab your business cards, samples of your work or whatever's appropriate and get along there. You're bound to meet other likeminded souls and with a bit of luck even some other bloggers. Going along to events is also a great way of meeting blogger or social networking friends in real life. Let people know you're going by using the Twitter hashtag ahead of the event, so they know to look out for you. You may even meet potential new guest bloggers or collaborators.

2) Hold blogger get-togethers
Rather like a tweet-up, you could host a meet-up for bloggers in your area. Not only a lovely excuse for a social, but also a co-promotion opportunity:  take photos or video footage, blog about it after the event and tell other attendees who are bound to do the same. Instant exposure to one another's blog audiences!

3) Offer to give talks
If you're happy speaking to groups, why not offer yourself up as a speaker - organisers of coffee mornings, business networking groups and even industry events might well want you to come and talk about your area of expertise, or about your blogging journey - people always like to learn from others what has worked and what hasn't!

4) Make friends with the press
Start local, but no reason not to aim higher! Local press, radio and TV are always looking for good quality news and features, and it's worth finding out the names of your local friendly journalists, giving them a call and (if you can) find out what they would welcome from you. You could even invite them to your next bloggers meetup!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Tech Tip: Using custom typography on your blog

On the web (as opposed to print) it's not that easy to introduce custom typography or unusual fonts.

And yet, attention to typography is an essential part of design for print, and custom fonts can take on a fame of their own, such as the typeface designed in 1916 for the London Underground, known as P22 Johnston.
But introducing a custom or unusual font to the web is risky. Just specifying a particular font doesn't mean it will appear that way on every screen - if the device you're using to read the blog doesn't have that font installed, the browser will substitute a default font such as Arial or Times New Roman. Suddenly, your fancy heading looks a little... flat.

Should you be using custom fonts in the first place? Elaborate fonts can be difficult to read on screen. No-one wants to have to work that hard.

Then there's the question of aesthetics. Does that font really look good as a header for your blog? Or even if it does, by using the same font for menu headings and in the sidebar make the page a little busy or cluttered?

What about the impression you'd like to create - does the font suit the subject matter? Does it say the right things about your blog?

However, a strong custom font can really make your blog stand out and come to be instantly recognisable as your 'brand'.
By using Typekit, the New Yorker is able to
reproduce its iconic print typeface on screen.
If you do decide to use a custom font, one way of doing it is to use a web font. This is a font that is hosted remotely and loaded onto the webpage by the browser, in the same way as photos. What you have is still live text, but it should always display correctly. I say 'always' in the internet sense, which is 'usually but not guaranteed'! Custom fonts don't always display correctly in mobile devices, and even when they do, a slow or interrupted connection can mean all you see is a blank space where the font should be.

Google Web Fonts

Typekit was one of the first web font services, although it's not free. Google Web Fonts is free, and worth checking out. Here is a useful tutorial on how to use Google Web Fonts in Blogger, and if you are using Wordpress this article offers several options on how to use custom fonts.

If you don't feel especially strongly about the font used in the main body of your blog, then go for a classic, safe Sans Serif font like Arial or Verdana. You can make it look quite distinctive on the screen by other means, for example by changing the colour or line height or justifying the text.

If you only want a fancy font for your main header or sidebar headings, then one method is to create them as image files. Just be aware that it can make your blog more image-heavy and less fluid, and from a point of view of being found in web searches it's not quite as good as using 'live text'.