Why You Should NOT Focus Your Blog Content

Some people think blogs are irrelevant in the age of super simple instant gratification visual type modes of interactive communication. Specifically:

  • Tumblr
  • Pinterest
  • Webstagram
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
However your personal blog is actually more essential than ever – both for work and your personal life – and contrary to the conventional wisdom you should NOT focus it on any one particular thing. Because a serious blog functions like a recruiter, reference, publicist, friend and security tool all at once:
  • Recruiter: Establishes that you are “normal” – i.e. thinking, stable, relatively consistent personality
  • Reference: Tells us what kind of person you are – better than any phony application or profile essay
  • Publicist: Proves that you have the kind of skills you say you have – e.g. nobody can talk about the complexities of code for ten paragraphs unless they actually know something about writing it
  • Friend: As long as you are somewhat artful and avoid the TMI factor, you can confess your fears and insecurities (oh, please be careful about this!) and get a lot of respect in return for your self-confidence. Not to mention camaraderie. (Nothing like a good personal struggle.)
  • Security: This may sound a bit odd or extreme, but forgive me as I am a helicopter mom who has started to work more and more with rootless millenials. And it occurs to me that if you don’t have many personal connections but do write a lot on the web, if anything should ever happen to you and you stop blogging, people will notice and ask about your whereabouts. (More so than in the world of microblogging, because it’s easier to miss someone’s silence amid the noise.)

Now to the question of why you should avoid trying to focus.

Recently I read an apparently popular article to the effect of “Why isn’t anyone reading my blog?” and the author argued that for people to read you, you have to optimize the content by keeping it very narrow. The logic of this argument:

1. Your blog exists to promote your business
2. Your business is based around your personal brand
3. Your personal brand gains credence as you demonstrate a skill base
4. If you write things that distract from your skill base the reader will search for someone more focused
5. The more diffused your blog, the less clear what your brand is and the lower your value.

However, this is a fallacious argument, for all the reasons listed above, in the bullet points. You have to look at your social media story like a Facebook timeline. No matter what you say you specialize in today, people are going to find your entries online going back many years. To believe that you are trustworthy at any point in time, they need to see a consistent story.

Now consider that most people occupy multiple identities at the same time (e.g. myself – wife, mother, blogger, brand thinker, writer, sometime adjunct, communicator, government worker, American, Jewish, female, Gen Xer, geek) as well as over the span of their lifetimes (yeshiva graduate, sociologist, adjunct professor, feminist theorist, marketer, government worker, caregiver, retiree).

That’s quite a lot, right?

If you never talk about anything other than computer code in your blog – there will come a time when you outgrow it. And you need to start a new blog to cover whatever you’re working on now. Which means you will have a break in your timeline that is unclear, unexplained.

For this and for the simple reason that it’s just easier to be yourself, I strongly argue that your blog should be as unfocused as most people normally are. You should write about what interests you at the moment, what you are passionate about. The only limit being the recognition that you are writing in a public space, and that whatever you put out there, lives forever.

I hope this has been helpful, I recognize it’s a bit longer and more wordy than my usual spare style. But it’s an important topic and I wanted to show you the logic of the advice rather than just throw it out there.

On a personal note, I just want to wish good luck to President Obama and the Administration on this historic day. May Inauguration Day be the start of a peaceful and productive four years.

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Profile Photo Jack Gates

Any one-size-fits-all will leave some with ill-fitting results. Some of us are visual and pictures may work best, while others are not and text may be the better choice.

Regardless of vehicle, content is the key to success and value. Sloppy writing or blurry pictures can be ignored if the content is awesome – and vice versa.

Profile Photo Megan

Timely content is key. Be the first to expose a sticky issue and you will attract a large group of very loyal followers. Leverage all social media sites to promote your blog, and be sure it pops up at the top of Google and Bing worldwide searches.

Profile Photo Pam Broviak

I have tended to agree with your advice. The topics I cover on my professional blog vary from government to engineering to general public works to technology and its use in these industries. And within each of those, there are many more subtopics. If I wasn’t able to fully explore all aspects of those subjects, I don’t think the writing would be real – it would seem more contrived like I am selling a product or something. And it would not accurately show all sides of the topic. I have also accepted guest posts related to any of those areas.

But then after six years of blogging, someone visits my site once and then tells me that a certain post doesn’t fit my site. It’s a strange conversation to find yourself in – it’s like someone who just met you telling you the shirt you are wearing doesn’t fit your lifestyle. Anyway, it made me think that people do expect a blog to focus on one thing and are agitated when it does not.

Profile Photo Dannielle Blumenthal

@Pam – Well I guess the question is how you measure success. Were you to look at my blog stats you would laugh as they seem quite meager.

However nobody usually goes to my blog because they’re reading it on GovLoop or somewhere else.

Sometimes I write a blog then post a comment on Facebook or something, which drives traffic to the blog. Here is a screenshot showing that my most popular post of all time (on my site) has absolutely nothing to do with communication. About 4,500 people visited “Pearl Perry Reich doesn’t speak for me.” You won’t care about that blog unless you’re into Jewish ultra-orthodox stuff, but if you care you really care. And I got a few comments on that one too – I never get comments on my blog.

This post, “5 Reasons Why Facebook Will Beat Google+ Easily,” was Tweeted 245 times. I don’t have the stats anymore but as I recall it was viewed about 2,500. (The site where it was hosted has since been transferred to Social Media Today.) It also got a few comments. Someone called me a Ph.D. idiot or something. Great!

So Megan’s point was well-taken – talk about things that are timely and leverage them across different media. You write the blog once and it literally can go everywhere – Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, as well as the various sites where you may choose to post your RSS feeds.

One of my most popular posts on GovLoop was “I hate meetings and they stink,” which a German company reprinted somewhere, which got 11 comments and which still makes me laugh.

Notice that none of these examples are about branding.

I also don’t work as a professional brand consultant.

All of the above is what drives my point. All of us are multifaceted. Like you say that’s what makes the writing real, when we do it.

My favorite blogger is Penelope Trunk. She gives career advice. Mixed with talk about her personal life, homeschooling, and Asperger’s. Tonight she wrote about trying to forget her own child abuse. I have never read a blogger so talented that I actually subscribe to not only the posts, but the comments as well.

Penelope is a human being with skills that I trust and believe in. If she were to give a seminar, I’d pay for it. If she had a TV show, I’d watch it. It’s the definition of a true personal brand – an actual person who adds value to whatever she does.

So this was quite wordy but I do feel very passionately about it. Because we spend our work lives fitting into the boxes that other people have constructed, doing work that fulfills their needs. Our personal lives are often about this as well. But a blog is a space where you can be you, you should be you, and ultimately being you is what puts you into the box where you belong at that precise moment.

So I wouldn’t worry if people say “what happened to the widgets you always write about,” because that is not what matters. What matters is that at any given moment in time you’ve been true to sharing something of value to yourself and others. And eventually if you keep it up, the fact that you’re committed to giving something back to the community is what makes people remember you enough to want you around.

What do you think…does that make any sense?

Profile Photo Pam Broviak

@Dannielle – I agree that the blogs I read the most are the ones where people are human. And my experience has been similar to yours in that the most popular post was the one touching on a more human or social aspect than a technical one. For me, the freedom to write in this manner is what distinguishes a blog from other formats of communication. And I figure that’s why there are comments – to allow the topic to be explored even further from many sides.

Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

Dannielle – Good post. Solid advice for a personal blogger. How about for a government agency? Would you say the same theory holds true? To me, it seems like an agency needs to focus on their mission. While that can encompass a lot of activities, I wouldn’t think an agency would want to get too far afield…

Profile Photo Dannielle Blumenthal

This is my own personal opinion:

Certainly a government blog should advance the mission.

But at the same time, certainly it should speak in the voice of a person because that’s the point of a blog. Otherwise we are dealing with a press release.

People are quirky. That’s why we want to read what they write.

So when you infuse a government blog with quirky, it’s engaging.

There are a few ways to do this, at least:

1) Team-written government blog where each blogger has a distinct personality. Like the TSA’s “Blogger Bob.”

2) Official leadership blog where the leader opines. But THE LEADER MUST WRITE IT. Or speak it into voicemail.

3) Empower employees to blog on their own about what it’s like to work at the agency – not on the official blog necessarily but in their personal social media. The Coast Guard Public Affairs Manual is a great resource if you’re interested in this approach. (http://www.uscg.mil/directives/cim/5000-5999/cim_5728_2d.pdf)

See excerpt:

<<Benefits. Blogging by members of the Coast Guard can have three benefits to the
a. Blogging can raise the visibility of the Coast Guard;
b. Blogging can contribute to greater public understanding of our missions, and;
c. Blogging can give the public an “inside look” at the men and women that
comprise our service.>>

Of course letting employees actually make decisions for themselves about how to be brand ambassadors through blogging is risky. But great communication involves risk necessarily.

Analogous situation, from previous job. I remember after 9/11 there was this big debate about whether every single container should be inspected before coming into the United States, to make sure there were no weapons of mass destruction in them. Sounded good theoretically (just like saying nothing sounds theoretically good to some officials) but in practice it literally shuts commerce down.

Profile Photo Megan

One very easy and low cost way to get pagevies up is to use Facebook ads for a month or so. I did that for a month to penetrate the Middle East with my blog. The FB ads can provide targeted marketing to individual cities, states, countries, demographics, etc. They are not within my budget for sustained marketing, but they are good for short term penetration.

Profile Photo Dick Davies

We are in violent agreement except for one point. Don’t ever apologize for “wordy” as the more you write, the more I read, luxuriously! Good that you are concerned as the writer, as the reader, I am grateful. You’ve been known to take on big, important ideas.

Also, people get knowledge from my posts I didn’t put in there. A lot of the comments I get I don’t fully understand. Blog communication involves more than the writer.

Profile Photo Megan

I love watching how a blog post evolves over time. I reserve the right to edit any of them at any time. They are definitely not written in a linear fashion. The other secret is that very little content on my blog is completely original. I generally take information from a wide range of sources and present it in a novel or clarifying way, with links back to the original content. Multimedia is key, and youtubes and images help to tell a story in a more engaging way than text.

Profile Photo Ami Wazlawik

My blog used to be pretty focused, but I’ve started expanding on the subject matter and adding more personal stuff to it recently. The most fun, for me, is looking at older blog posts and realizing how much I’ve improved as a writer/blogger and how experimenting with different ideas and seeing what feels best is a good way to go.