Before launching further into the Blogging for Beginners series I would like to take a step back from some of the practicalities of setting up a new blog and ask potential bloggers a question…
Is a Blog the Right type of Web Site for you?
While I’m a big fan of blogging as a way to get content online - I’ve seen it built up by some bloggers over the years as being the ultimate way of having a web presence.
In my opinion this is just not true.
While Blogs are great (in my experience) they are not the ultimate type of website. They do not have all of the answers and they do not suit every application or situation.
It may be that after analysing your needs, personality, hopes, experiences and style that you find blogging does fit well for your purposes - but it may also be other web applications fit better with where you’re at. Don’t just rush into blogging and expect the world.
There are probably other people who are much better at selling you some of the other types of web applications out there (look into wikis, static websites, forums etc) so I’ll leave you to do your own research - but here is a list of 23 questions (written in no particular order except that it is the order they came out of my head in) that you might want to ponder before leaping into blogging. I’ve put a few brief comments next to each to get you going.
Please note that these questions are in essence a list of qualities of successful bloggers that I’ve come across over the last few years. If you don’t have some of these qualities it’s not the end of your blogging dreams. The list is idealistic and the questions are there to help potential bloggers enter into blogging with open eyes and making good decisions about whether a blog is right for them. It also might help potential bloggers to think about what type of blog they might start and what type of skills they might need to develop:
Without further ado - here’s my 23 questions:
Do you enjoy writing? - Blogs are predominantly a written medium. If you do not enjoy writing then the chances are you might not enjoy blogging.
What’s your Message? - While there are many applications for blogging, underlying most (if not all) of them is the aim of communicating some sort of message. Do you need/want to communicate something? Do you have a message? Starting a blog just because you want one might be fun, but it might also be a waste of time.
Are you a good communicator? - I don’t believe that only good communicators should have blogs - (they can be a tool for people learning communication skills to improve) but it can be an advantage to have some basic communication skills.
Are you better at writing or speaking? - Most communicators have a preference (or at least have better skills in one form or another). If speaking is more your thing you might want to consider Podcasting or even a Video based web site.
Do you want to be the central voice on your website? - While blogs are good at building community - they generally feature one person (or a smaller group of people) as the central voices in a conversation. Other people have to respond to the voice of others. If you’re after something where anyone can start a conversation then a Forum might be a better medium.
Are you a self starter? - Starting a blog takes a little initiative. While blog software these days makes it simple to start them, they don’t run themselves and take a motivated person to both getting them off the ground.
Are you disciplined? - Similarly blogs require regular attention over time. While daily posting is not essential, it’s probably a good level to aim for. Will you be able to motivate yourself to write something new every day?
Do you have time? - Linked to the need for regular updates is the fact that this takes time. Do you have enough time in your schedule to write daily? Not only that do you have time to moderate comments, respond to reader questions, read other bloggers posts, network with other bloggers etc?
Are you thick skinned? - If you start a blog, the chances are that it will be found and that others will write about you or some aspect of what you’re doing. This is great when the comments of others are positive and in agreement with you - but it’s not much fun when you’re critiqued (sometimes fairly and sometimes not). Do you have the ability to take criticism well?
Are you willing to be in the public spotlight? - Blogging is a public act. Every day you put yourself into the gaze of others. People will analyze your words and lifestyle. Some will want to know more about you and some might even recognize you in public (it’s happened to me a few times). While few bloggers (if any) are ‘celebrities’ - putting yourself ‘out there’ every day is a strange thing to live with and can have it’s consequences. Keep in mind that once you write something online it is very difficult to get it removed. You might be able to delete your blog but archives services (and other bloggers) pick up a lot of what you write and so you could be living in the public splotlight for a lot longer than you’re a blogger.
Do you have any technical ability? - If this were a requirement of blogging I’d have never gotten far, but it is an advantage to have the ability to learn and work on a technical level. You’ll be working on a computer with web based software and at times you’ll need to ‘tweak’ your blog. Knowing how to do it yourself can be very handy. If you’re not this type of person, you might want to make friends with someone who is.
Do you take yourself too Seriously? - One of the characteristic I think bloggers should have is a sense of humor - particularly when it comes to looking at themselves. While there are plenty of examples of bloggers who do take themselves too seriously, most successful bloggers seem to have the ability to laugh at themselves also.
Do you have a blend of humility and Ego? - Coupled with a sense of humor should be humility. While bigheadedness abounds in the blogosphere it’s often the humble blogger who ends up on top. Having said this having a healthy ego and view of your own worth as a person is also a good characteristic to have as there is an element of ’self promotion’ that comes into blogging at times. Getting this balance right is not always easy - but it’s worth working on.
Are you willing to learn? - I like to look at blogging as a journey where everyone knows something but nobody knows everything. This is the case on any topic you want to blog about and the best bloggers are willing to share what they know but seek out and promote what others know also. In this way everyone learns - even the ‘experts’.
Do you enjoy reading? - Being good at writing is very helpful - but so is the ability to read what others are writing. If I were to video tape myself over a day of blogging I suspect I’d find that I spend more time reading each day than writing. For every post I write I would read at least three.
Are you an organized person? - While I’m sure many bloggers are completely chaotic and unorganized - there comes a point in most serious blogger’s lives when they have to get at least a little organized. With incoming emails, following lots of feeds, writing perhaps on multiple topics/blogs and moderating comments all going on at once (plus more) it’s pretty easy for time to slip away without getting much done.
Are you a Social person? - There are many styles of blogging but when it comes down to it most bloggers have some sort of a desire to connect with readers. Some bloggers keep readers at an arms length (they might switch off comments and rarely respond to emails) but it’s probably an advantage to actually engage your readers in someway. If you don’t like people then this might be challenging. Another related question might be ‘are you an approachable person?’
Do you enjoy ‘virtual relationships?’ - Some of the most social people I know are terrible when it comes to online interactions. They just don’t ‘get’ it and are much better face to face than via email, instant messaging or in a forum or comments thread. Being comfortable with speaking to and working with people you’ve never met before is an advantage if you’re a blogger. Connected to this - it’s also important to be what I call ‘virtually intuitive’. One of the dangers of relating to people online is that all can not be as it seems. Developing the ability to work out whether others are who they say they are and of good character is probably a skill to develop.
Are you a creative person? - Once again this is not a ‘must’ - just an advantage. The web is a cluttered place and being able to develop content and community that stands out from the rest and that surprises readers is a big plus.
Do you have Stick-ability? - While some blogs are overnight successes, most are not. In fact many (most) blogs are never as successful as their owners would like. A long term approach is one of the basic pieces of advice that I’d give most bloggers.
Are you Consistent? - One of the common reasons that I see bloggers getting into trouble with their readers or other bloggers is that they change the way they approach their blogging midstream. Bloggers that are constantly changing the topic of their blogs, or who increase their expectations on readers suddenly, or who change the ‘voice’ that their blog is written in can end up losing the respect of their readers. While no one likes a boring blog - people do like to know what to expect to some extent.
Are you honest and transparent? - If you answer no to this one then you can expect to eventually be found out. While in real life it can be reasonably easy to keep secrets or be two faced - the blogosphere has a culture of people keeping an eye upon each other and digging where you don’t want them to dig. While you’ll want to develop boundaries around what you do and don’t blog about, you will need to be willing to disclose conflicts of interest and be willing to be held accountable for the things that you say.
Are you willing to work hard? - The level that you need to work on a blog will be dependant upon your goals and objectives for it - but if you have goals of being the next big thing then you’ll be guaranteed of a lot of hard work. Of course this is the case with any thing in life and not just blogs.
I’m sure there are plenty of other questions worth asking before deciding on whether a blog is right for you (feel free to suggest more below) but these are what comes to mind for me. In reading them back they almost read like a job interview for prospective bloggers!
Keep in mind that I’m coming from a background of blogging as a job and this will be reflected in my advice. As a result the above list might be more aimed at your serious blogger who is getting into blogging either as an entrepreneurial activity or with some sort of business application.