I feel like Granpa here, talking about the good old days when we wrote what we wanted, from the heart, in the moment ... the hell with rules. That’s why we wrote, so we could write the way we wanted to write not like some damn press release or corporate website.
I started writing in this thing called a ‘blog’ back in 2004. I started a blog in 2003 but never got it, never understand where ‘it’ went when I hit publish, how people found the blog or what to write. 6 months later after all traditional advertising and marketing resources failed or let’s put it in the positive because that’s one of the rules of blogs now, traditional advertising and marketing generated fewer results than if I donated money to the Red Cross. For my donation I at least get a little endorphin rush. But with the donations I made to Google Adwords and Yahoo and MSN and direct mail and event sponsorship I didn’t even get that. And they generated no leads.
So I spent a Day with Seth Godin. He explained the power of a blog to connect directly with the audience, speaking in my voice, writing my way, sharing my thoughts how and when I want to share them about any topic I wanted. That was how to cut through marketing clutter. A unique voice talking in a unique manner about unique topics. So, as CEO of a small company I wrote about business, about life, music, sports, back to business, even politics where the issues were directly related to our business. I never marketed our services or products. And I made stronger connections, deeper connections, more connections. Those conversations turned into lasting relationships that yes translated into revenues, immediate and long-term. But as important it translated into a community of people willing to share ideas and debate.
A few years later I saw reports about writing and reading habits for blogs. Their messaging power was confirmed by these ‘experts’ who prepared the reports and offered tips on how to generate more readers for your blog based on those studies. Based on our research, if you do X or y, you’ll get more readers. They were sincere in their intent and professional in their research. My point is how tips become rules and rules become bureaucracy and bureaucracy well it's never social is it.
List posts were suggested back in 2008-ish. Made sense. We’re all time-starved, so offer a reader a list with three items like tips or reasons or to-do’s or don’t do’s. Some offered 100. I just offered one with twelve. I have a book out with 52 tips. I offer tips or steps to take at the end of posts as a reward for reading my rant.
Overlooked in that tip and rule-making conversation was this: list posts with the highest readership numbers were thoughtful, original, passionate ... useful. Useful means utilitarian and inspirational. Those of mine that generate the most traffic, modest as it is, fit that description ... for others.
Then came the rule that said every post needs photos and images. Pictures engage the whole mind, igniting the endorphins and neurotropins, making people smile and want to share it.
I thought Okay, I’ll get me some cute pictures royalty-free photos and images from iStockPhoto (great resource). As I did, a doubt began to nag me:
How are stock photos, okay fake photos relating to my post, adding value to the reader? How are stock photos aligning with the intent of a blog post written in the personal, authentic, voice of the author, the best ones being written with passion, energy, taking clear stands. Stock photos are great for ... corporate websites, void of life and spontaneity.
That doubt only nagged me because now every post has a photo. Most of them are stock photos with beautiful models bearing happy-crappy smiles. Does the author think we can’t see through this ruse? If so, they should join corporate communications or PR firms stuffing press releases and websites with business buzzwords around more stock photos.
This rule, a photo in every post, makes either a bad writer worse (‘Hey, I can fill a blog post with cliche’s or bored buzzwords and then add a stock photo. And presto! Buzzworthy or at least I followed the rules.) It demeans the strong writer into thinking their content cannot stand alone. It’s insulting to the reader, like we need pictures to keep us entertained.
Then there is the rule about schedules. You need to have a schedule. Every day. Three times a week. And follow it. Like your readers won’t come back if you skip a day. Like your readers won't leave you if you post something just to post.
How about this schedule? Write when you have something YOU want to say, something YOU ... HAVE ... to say. They’ll come back. And read it. And share it.
Yes, I capitalized YOU and HAVE to shout it. It’s impolite but I want to make the point.
Don’t waste our time writing what they say you need to write or when they say you need to write it. Write when you have something YOU want to say, something YOU ... HAVE ... to say. And when you don’t. Listen. Read. Go for a walk. Move away from the digital devices.
Then there’s titling for maximum SEO. That’s the same thing as writing for algorithms and bots not people. I guarantee no one recommends a post for its outstanding manipulation of the latest SEO rules by the formatting of its title.
Now, I’m not going to ask what you think. That’s a violation, I know, of the latest rule that says you need to engage and you need to ask What do you think? or How’s this work for you, etc. And now, every post seems to have that added. A great post then ends on a sour note. I'm not saying this is a great post. But I'm not going to patronize you with this stock phrase.
I have a comments section and I shared my thoughts on a public forum and being here in the US of A where the freedom of speech is often considered worthy of protection so what more do you need? Time, okay. A post worth commenting on. Okay. Well, I did my best. But I didn't hide behind a stock photo.
I find I’m less likely to leave a comment when I see a post like that. It’s usually a list post, written for traffic - not for debate or expression.
Chris Brogan wrote a few weeks ago that there’s more promoting and less sharing. That’s true and sad. It means the brave frontier of social media has been co-opted by the beast it sought to flee: corporate media where it’s all promotion all the time.
I'm going to share three tips on how to take control of your web presence. (Freedom’s just another word for being able to write what you want, when you want, even in a format that contradicts your earlier admonishments.)
Write About What Moves You
If it doesn't move you to write, then don't go through the motions of writing. Don’t regurgitate an idea that’s been spewed over the net by hordes of mewling sites and twitter feeds. Share an idea, a feeling, an emotion that moves you to share it. That’s what we need more of. We need more of you and your feelings.
Write When You Need to Write
If you don’t need to write, don’t. They’re are enough writers paid to write. They work in corporate media, drowning us in their tsunami of empty corporate slogans and press releases saying A is, B is A or oil and water do mix, the beaches are open and safe; c’mon down or collecting our phone records - all of our phone records - is not an invasion of privacy; it’s a sign of interest, love.
Take a Stand for Something in the Life Around You.
Could be Coca-cola in the water fountains as Bobby Silver promised us when he ran for President of our elementary school in 1966. It was brash, bold, irreverent. That was Bobby. We all know it was a joke - the election, his promise; we loved him for promising it, for bringing fresh air into that boring assembly. We knew he’d stand up ... for something. I still remember him.
Your Readers Are Adults. Write for Adults.
We don’t need stock photos of gleaming, shining models, smiling and happy. We need you, your thoughts and ideas and plans and dreams and inspirations and failures and successes ... all shared in your words. We need leaders, communicators, stand-takers, bold enough to be right or wrong. Bold enough to make us laugh, cry, shake our heads, slam our phones down so we can leave a comment even when it’s not requested.
* 6 Billion People.
Somewhere out there is a huge audience for YOU. You need them; they need you. You won’t find each other if you’re hiding behind some else’s writing following someone else’s rules.
My work is done. Well, I've written what moved me to write.