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Why Great Writing May Not Be Enough To Win Blog Readers

The genesis of the tweet below (and this blogpost) was a realization late last night that I am my own enemy to growing my blog. Bailey WorkPlay has existed since 2004 in various incarnations. To date it contains nearly 500 posts, some of which have been featured on AllTop, The Social Customer, and The Customer Collective. Over the past few months, I was getting more and more angry about my relatively low readership and lack of general awareness.

I kept brooding that after eight years it still shouldn’t be this hard to build and keep an audience. This thinking was exacerbated lately by having a handful of people tell me – based on reading this blog – that writing is one of my key strengths. Well, if it’s one of my strengths, then why the hell don’t I have more readers?

But all of that angst ignored the fact that the problem is not “out there.” The problem – and responsibility for solving it – lies solely with me.

Here’s the question that is now driving my actions: Am I prepared and committed to doing the work of building an audience and growing my awareness as someone with expertise in marketing, branding, and customer experience?

If the answer is “Yes” then that means I need to commit to a few things if I want to win more blog readers:

  1. Post more frequently. Probably at least once per week, preferably 2x if at all possible. I can’t blame others for not being consistent readers if I’m not posting great content consistently.
  2. Improve my titles and other copywriting techniques. I’m wagering the single biggest reason why I don’t get many clicks is because I give throwaway titles to my writings. I’m opening myself to learning from smart practitioners such as Mack Collier and the folks over at Copyblogger.
  3. Bring even more “me” into each post. Tell more stories. Open the kimono just a bit more. I’d like to thank this post from Entrepreneur and this one from Amber Mac at Fast Company for the inspiration here.

But enough about me…what about you? Are you satisfied with your reach and influence as a blogger? Take it further. Is there another area in your life where things are just not where you want them to be? If so, stop looking for answers or blaming others out there. Look inside, instead.

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June Blog Blitz Begins Tomorrow

Hello. My name is Chris and I’m a crappy blogger. I don’t mean to be…I’ve just lost my ability to blog on a regular basis. It’s a problem I’ve struggled with over the past few years.

But I hate wallowing in my own bullshit so I’m going to try to do something about it. Tomorrow is Day 1 of my June Blog Blitz. I’m producing a blogpost each day to give myself a kick in the rear, to get over this idiotic fear of publishing nonperfection. I’m also challenging myself to put a little more of ‘me’ in my writings, revealing more about myself in the process.

I started blogging in 2004 because I had something to say about the working world. I still have a lot to say; a lot of hard gained experience to share; a lot of new ideas about marketing, customers, and organizations to explore. But I’ve been holding back and that needs to end now.

Honestly, I have no idea how this will turn out but I do know this: I’m entering a land of shadows and gremlins where my dark fears lie in wait. I’m going to need encouragement and support if I’m going to exit the other side in ballsy badass blogging form.

I’m hoping you’ll come along with me on my quest. C’mon…it’s time to get started.

photo credit: sleepyneko (via Flickr)

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Nuance is Dead

Yesterday, during danah boyd’s keynote presentation for SXSWi, she made a comment to which I had to stop myself from jumping up amidst a packed room and shouting, “Amen! Testify, sister!” Her comment consisted of three words printed on a slide deck:

Nuance amidst extremes

It was in reference to quotes and soundbites from folks who have argued that “Privacy is Dead.” In the continuum of extremes, nothing is more polarizing than declaring something dead or evil.

I fear we’re becoming much too accustomed to being at those edges, our interests numbed by a media obsessed with getting people to yell at one another instead of actually listening and having cogent arguments. We’re living in a culture where nuance is getting set aside like a quaint antique writing desk, a reminder of another time.

Why? Because being salacious and provocative gets attention, gets click-thrus, gets retweeted and Dugg and shared virally. It means we really don’t have to take the time to think about instances where our reasoning falls apart. It means we get to stick with our safe, comfortable ways of thinking and doing.

Does this scare the hell out of anyone else?

But I don’t think we’re entirely lost, yet. It’s one reason why I continue to love blogs. Writers can propose a viewpoint and then allow for others to join the dialogue in a very public space. Online communities can function in a similar way. Thriving communities know how to help its members to share feelings and rationales, absorb the points made by others, and consider new perspectives. The point is to help people generate new viewpoints rather than get mired in their own stale ways of looking at the world.

Rather than accepting a lot of other “me too” comments, let’s encourage more diverse points of view. As bloggers, we need to challenge the thinking of our readers, reply to their comments, encourage them to keep thinking more deeply about issues.

I’m continuously hopeful of our ability to grasp “nuance amidst extremes.” But we have to keep listening to each other, keep talking, and most important of all, keep respecting the viewpoints of others we come into contact with.

PS. Yes, the irony of this post’s title isn’t lost on me 🙂

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My Blogging Quandary…I Need Your Help

Here’s the challenge that is weighing rather heavily on me as we enter the new year. As a blogger, I just don’t feel I can keep up with two primary professional blogs and a business blog for BaileyHill Media (let alone trying to continually grow BaileyHill Media’s business). I now realize that what I once loved to do has become an arduous chore and I don’t like it. So while there’s no perfect solution I’m trying to figure out what will allow me to sustain my passion for blogging ideas, my desire for further building a community here, and my commitment to helping our growing stable of clients at BaileyHill Media.

My chief challenge is that my interests don’t fall into one particular niche. I might talk about employee engagement issues one day, online community development another day, and finish the week with thoughts on creativity. I see these somewhat eclectic interests as a personal strength but understand they can also be a detriment to generating salient content that folks want to read. If you subscribe to read more about improving organizational leadership, you may not care at all about how to build a better Facebook community. And I really don’t want to be hamstrung into only writing about one thing…that wouldn’t be authentic to who I am.

I need your help and would love to get your feedback on what I’m considering as my next step.

The option I’m heavily considering right now is to consolidate Alchemy of Soulful Work and Gravit8 Interactivity into a single online presence (likely to be located at chrisbaileyworks.com) that would serve all niches. It would be focused on me and the somewhat disparate interests I have: future of work, organizational development, management and leadership, social business, business anthropology, online communities, social media and web communication, etc., etc. In many ways, I can see the overlap…but here’s what I really want to know: would you still subscribe and read my writing? As much as I sometimes try to pretend it doesn’t matter, I do need you as a reader and commenter. Your thoughtful feedback to my posts are part of the dialogue that I value.

So, there’s the question that I want to pose to you. If you’re a reader of Alchemy, would you mind reading more of the things I write about at Gravit8; and it’s the same question if you’re a reader of Gravit8. Or would you prefer and advise that I continue to keep the niches separate and find ways to maintain a writing regimen that emphasizes both of these blogs?

For this post – perhaps more than almost any other that I’ve written in a while – I do need your comments and advice. Thanks so much.

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Want to See More Interesting Blogs? Let's Nurture Smart Writers

A few weeks ago, Mack Collier asked the question of whether your blog is losing its identity. To a great extent, Mack’s post was about the increasing degree of homogeneity in blog content. His perception is that most blogs are going the route of How-Tos, Echo Posts, and Top 10 Lists. It’s an interesting observation considering that most folks will say that its these types of blogposts that get the most visibility and attention.

The post also provoked a slightly different reaction with me. Below is the comment I left with some subtle updates:

Mack, here’s the problem and it’s one that I believe affects all media, both new and old. Do people really want to read original and fresh ideas? Or do they want to read overly-provocative posts from familiar and famous sources? For old media examples, we see hyper-provocative personalities on TV and print get all the attention as well as find run-of-the-mill sitcoms and stagnant dramas remain on-air year after year. This is while smart voices and excellent programming struggles to gain visibility and survive.

If we’re really serious about wanting more innovative and interesting ideas from our blogs, we not only have to write them…we have to nurture them in others. It starts with stepping out of our comfort zones and reading new blog sources. If someone writes really great stuff but it goes unnoticed, it’s very likely that they’ll stop writing altogether or submit to the more formulaic blog writing ideas that seem to attract the most eyeballs.

Now, let’s all do something positive and introduce great AND NEW writings to our own readers.

I honestly believe that if you carry influence in the online space, you have an obligation to use your voice to not just lift up familiar folks you know, but perhaps more importantly, give visibility to smart and talented folks who are less known. This goes triple for A-listers, some of which are better than others in this regard.

So for 2010, let’s make it a point to share visibility with other smart folks who need more attention to their ideas. And I’ll start…here are a just few who I’m excited to see more of their work:

Kelly Stonebock (@kellyopoly): kellystonebock.wordpress.com
A.J. Bingham (@ajbingham): readaj.com
Roxanne McHenry (@roxannemchenry): roxannemchenry.com

What will you do to help bring visibility to smart folks you know?

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How Not to Be a Social Media Jackal

Yesterday, Matt Singley (@mattsingley) asked a simple, but rather provocative question via Twitter:

What ensued was an interesting mini-conversation about how to successfully and effectively engage with a competitor’s customers through social media.

The set-up
Let’s say you work for Company Y in Matt’s scenario and have a social media/online monitoring program that watches not only for mentions of your company’s name but your competitors’ names, as well (and if you don’t already have such a program in place, I happen to know a very good agency that can help you).  In the course of your monitoring, you discover that Company X has screwed up and now has some royally discontented customers. What do you do?

Your first instinct may be to jump on this golden opportunity quickly so you can grab some new customers…and I’m going to suggest you squelch this instinct. By being overzealous in your online efforts, you can actually do more harm to your company’s online reputation than good. Don’t be the jackal eagerly waiting to pick off the discontented carcasses of your competitors’ customers.

What should you do, instead?
First, listen, do a little legwork, understand. Find out what happened. In our online world, it’s not that hard to uncover what’s going on when a competitor screws up. Do not – REPEAT, DO NOT – wade into any tweetstream or blogpost until you figure out what’s going on. Failing to grasp an initial understanding of how the customer feels will only make you appear insincere and predatory.

Second, be a human being. Sorry if that seems overly simplistic and obvious, but its astounding how often we forget that long-term sales relationships starts with treating customers like humans with respect. After gaining an understanding of the situation, practice some empathy. Ask yourself, “If I was this individual, would I want someone to start aggressively hawking their wares under my nose right now? Or would I prefer someone to treat me better than I’ve just been treated by Company X?” A little empathy goes a long ways.

What might this look like? Here is a fresh scenario from Twitter:
A customer becomes irritated with a rival’s product or service. Here’s an example from @Dotpage who is calling out @logitech’s slow driver updates:

Let’s say you work for Altec Lansing and uncover a tweet like this. Now maybe no one – including your own company – has drivers ready for Snow Leopard, but here’s a prime opportunity for you to approach a competitor’s disgruntled customer. A course of action might be to research the social media chatter coming from Twitter (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=+to%3Alogitech) where you’ll find this issue is significant source of irritation among Logitech’s customers. Then, your first @ reply should be to note the problems faced by the individual – in this case, a lack of updated drivers. Perhaps send a tweet such as “Sorry to hear about the problems you’re having with speaker drivers…it sucks to not be able to hear sounds from your Mac.” Resist the urge to openly sell your product on first tweet. Remember, your aim is to build a long-term relationship not make a quick sale.

Not everyone you send @ replies are going to respond and that’s okay. For those individuals who do reply, here’s the opportunity to guide your competitor’s customer toward your own products and services. Ask what they want from a product, what drives them crazy, what a company can do to improve their experience. You now have a personal, one-to-one conversation with a buyer that can turn them into a raving fan. People become passionate about purchasing from other people, particularly those who genuinely want the best for them. This interaction can be a catalyst for introducing a customer to your own products and services without the need for even making an open sales call.

After you’ve made contact with the individual on Twitter, then follow them. Don’t make following the first course of action – this is the type of behavior that bots employ and again can be seen as an overly aggressive predatory tactic that will turn off the potential prospect.

Third, make sure every single person in your company is working from the same playbook. This is where breaking down silos and cross-functional planning cannot be under-emphasized. If just one person from your company leaps in like a jackal, then there’s a better-than-average chance your company’s image will be tarnished along with that of Company X.

Any thoughts or counterarguments here? What’s worked for you as a disgruntled customer? What’s worked or hasn’t worked for your company in having conversations like these?

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Should You Moderate Your Blog Comments?

At some point, every blogger faces the question of whether or not they should moderate comments. The primary reasons for moderation are rational and simple:

  • Kill spam
  • Control trolls

Worthy reasons for sure. Nobody wants or needs spam and trolls camping out on your site. But do the risks outweigh the benefits gained from comment moderation?

There are three levels of comment moderation:

  1. No Comments/No Moderation. A blog is intended for broadcast purposes only. Few can get away with this. One exception is Seth Godin and I’m not exactly sure I’d consider his site a blog (see below).
  2. Comments/Moderation. A blog has comments, but these comments are moderated by the publisher. It can be hard to tell if your comment is going to get sequestered until after you click Post. If you’ve commented on blogs before, you know what I mean.
  3. Comments/No Moderation. A blog has comments and these comments are posted in real time once you click Post. I’ve made the choice to go this path with comments here and my other blogs (which might reveal a bit of bias).

Let’s put aside the No Comments/No Moderation level since it shouldn’t be part of your game plan if you’re publishing a blog. I would even suggest that any site that doesn’t offer the ability for readers to respond and interact isn’t really a blog. It’s just a broadcast engine.

This leaves the other two levels and the issue of which method to use. If you choose to set up moderation, here are a couple of questions to answer:

  • Is an objective of your blog to inspire interaction among your readers?
  • Can you quickly approve comments so they enter the dialogue stream shortly after posting?
  • …And if not, are you okay with your readers either not bothering to comment in the future or not returning altogether?

I apologize if it seems that I’m setting up this argument a little too much. My experience is that moderation rarely corrects the problems it’s intended to solve. There are several spam-filtering tools available for blog platforms (e.g., WordPress comes with Akismet; Typepad has its own built-in solution). These tools nail the spam comments before they even hit your site. And if you’re concerned about trolls posting inappropriate comments, let’s approach from another angle: what is the probability of true troll behavior (not to be confused with opposing viewpoints) appearing on your blog to the degree that the comment needs to be deleted?

I argue that moderation imposes significant risks to the health of your blog’s community – particularly if your blog is new. When someone leaves a comment on your blog, they want it to post in real time. They want to be part of the dialogue. When you sequester their comment until you get around to approving it, you’ve effectively kicked them out of participating in the community. Worse, most folks don’t know when their comment is going to get approved so they move on…and you’ve potentially lost them as both commenter and reader. If you’re truly worried about trolls, put a solid commenter policy in place letting your readers know what happens to inappropriate messages.

So ask yourself if moderating comments adds or detracts from your blog’s interactive experience. And unless you have good cause to moderate (and yes, there are a few out there), promote an open dialogue in your community.

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Focusing On What We Are Rather Than What We Are Not (My Confession)

Last night, I was paid a visit from my blogging gremlin who goes by the name of “You’ve-Been-Doing-This-For-How-Long-And-You’re-Still-Not-Semifamous” though I prefer call him Boris (as in Boris Badenov). He entered quietly through the back door and whispered very persuasively in my ear about all the things I’m not and all the things that the Alchemy of Soulful Work blog is not and all the things that Bailey WorkPlay is not. This dark little fiend can be extremely effective in sucking the joy and purpose from my work. As you can imagine he’s not a very welcome visitor but always manages to pop up and hang around longer than necessary.

Fortunately, I had some help from my friends on Twitter who helped me crank up the light and usher his black evil soul out the door (thank you tweeps!).

Once Boris and his joy-sucking presence was gone, I went in search of some help to at least address the still-lingering blogging doubts. When I need blog help, one of my favorite sources of inspiration and a good old kick in the pants is Darren Rowse and his Problogger blog. And once again, he came through for me with flying colors with a terrific and well-timed post called What You Say Is What You Are – The Problem of Blogger Inferiority Complex.

The three keys Darren listed are:

It’s that first bullet that really hit close to home for me. It’s built around the question: Are You Focusing More Upon What You’re Not than What You Are as a Blogger? Wow! I’m not sure I was prepared for the truth behind that question but the continuous learner in me recognizes that I’ve allowed myself to get pulled into a way of thinking that is focused more on deficiencies than strengths, failings rather than gifts. If this sounds familiar to you too, don’t worry…we have company (read the comments to both of Darren’s blogposts).

So, let’s figure this one out together. Let’s aim to get reacquainted with our greater self. Let’s commit to creating great work and a life where our passions burn bright. Let’s move forward in the knowledge that we’re never in this alone. Let’s start a dialogue and share what we need to be spectacular in who we are and what we do.

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Three Years Of Blogging And What I’ve Learned Along The Way

Lorelle laid out another post in her series of blogging challenges that happens to coincide with my upcoming three year anniversary of blogging. Her writing challenge is: Blog about the path your blog took to get to now. Here’s the possibly boring and predictable chronology, but I’ll follow it up with some lessons I’ve learned about not only blogging but myself over the past three years.

Timeline
September 2004:
The beginning…I started blogging because I just took the plunge to become a full-time career and leadership coach (back when this blog used to be called imaginactive musings and hosted through Blogger). I wanted a blog as a way to publish ideas as well as use it as a virtual business card and marketing vehicle.
Key post: It’s All Invented…So Have Fun With It

January 2005: When I started drowning after this plunge (the failure to build a viable coaching business is a whole other topic of learning) the blog typically took the form of someone writing about their often painful experiences trying to find work. Sort of blogging as self-therapy. This was about the time I first used The Alchemy of Soulful Work as my blog title.
Key post: The Career Change Blues (And Other Colors): The Beginning

March 2005: It didn’t take long for me to tire of Blogger’s inherent limitations. The blog transitioned to TypePad. Sadly, I lost all my comments from Blogger in the transition. Still trying to find work, though.
Key posts: Hello Typepad… and I Will Be Complacent No Longer

June 2005: I found a job and started to write more about my management and leadership experiences in the non-profit setting. I also started to write about some of the headaches and frustrations with my particular organization which would later get me in a bit of hot water. Oh the things you learn the hard way.
Key posts: Superabsorbant New Director and More On The First Month Of A New Job

June-October 2005: I also attempted to write a companion blog focused on the customer and non-profit association member experience and coined a rather idiotic term custo/member (though, I still can’t figure out a better way to describe these two different groups in the same word…Ben, any help?). I eventually dumped the second blog and integrated it into Alchemy. I now know more about the challenges of keeping more than one blog going.
Key post: The Focus On The Custo/Member

March 2006: With my annual TypePad service coming to a close, I decided to move to a self-hosted solution. I experimented with Joomla and Drupal before choosing WordPress as my blogging platform and baileyworkplay.com as my domain. The whole point was to stake out this online home so that whenever I decide to get my act together and hop back into the coaching/consulting world again I’m fairly well set up to do it.
Key post: A New (New) Beginning With Some More Changes

July-October 2006: I took a hiatus which was necessary due the the big “quickly move everything from Virginia to Texas” decision, but it was extremely hard to rediscover my blogging groove. There were times during this period when I almost closed the door on blogging…thankfully I didn’t.
Key posts: Giddyup Cowboy…We’re Moving To Texas and An Extended Hiatus

April 2007: For some silly reason, I decided to part ways with the blog title The Alchemy of Soulful Work and settled only on Bailey WorkPlay. I’ve recently returned to my senses and reverted back so that Alchemy again is the title of the blog and Bailey WorkPlay is the name of my sidework gig.

July-Today 2007: I think it’s only been in the past couple of months that I’ve gotten playfully serious about my online presence. I’ve challenged myself to be more outwardly focused rather than introspective in my approach to blogging and networking. So far, so good.

Learning
Lesson #1: Be prepared to take the long road
Blogging is not a “If I build it, they will come” type of thing. When I started, it took roughly three months to get my first comment (I’m still very appreciative, Curt). It came just when I needed to hear it and was just the type of encouragement that told me that I was on the right track. Then along came Rosa and an introduction to her growing Ho’ohana Community a couple of months after that. What would have happened if I ditched the whole thing after a couple of months of no comments and practically no readers? Even now, I go through stretches where comments are on the thin side. Fact is that blogging is a journey with several waypoints rather than one final destination.

Lesson #2: Don’t be a blogging shut-in…get out of your own house
Simply put, find like-minded souls and introduce yourself. Write meaningful comments that speak to what the fellow blogger actually has written. Send a personal email if you feel that’s appropriate. Join a multi-writer blog. Get hooked up in one or several of the many social networks out there like Facebook, LinkedIn, Shelfari, Twitter, etc. The important thing that I’m learning is that, while it does take some courage, don’t let shyness get in the way of connecting with others and building some dynamic relationships. I’ve come to realize that blogging is not so much an individual activity, it’s a community activity. Great blogging is knowing how to build relationships with fellow bloggers and readers.

Lesson #3: Know why you’re blogging right now
The times when I’ve struggled most are when I lost sight of my purpose for blogging. For me purpose and passion are intricately linked. I’m like an actor constantly asking the director, “So what’s my motivation?” My purpose can change, but it doesn’t happen that often or dramatically. I blog because I feel I have something unique to add to this world, a different way of viewing work and organizational life. So when you blog, what’s your purpose and motivation? Write it down and keep it in a cozy safe place so that when you get to a place where you lose sight of why you put yourself out there for all the world to see you can have a reminder.

Lesson #4: Don’t force the muse to appear, coax her out patiently
Blogging burn-out is unavoidable. Even if you love writing, there will be times in your life when it bumps against other things. For a three month period in 2006, I pretty much put this blog on ice while I settled into my new home in Texas. When I tried to come back after the hiatus, it was hell to get back into the swing of writing. It was as if I forgot how to put together words and sentences in a sensible way. It was almost painful at times. It was only when I consciously decided to be gentle on myself and not go back to blogging full force that I was able to ease myself out of the come-back funk.

Lesson #5: Mind the gaps
This is partly based on an assumption, but I’m finding that the more posts I write the more readers I get. Here’s the reason why: Have you ever found a blog through another link or Google search which looked promising but found the posting frequency to be infrequent? Or the last post was written a couple of months ago? What did you do? Did you subscribe or did you pass? If you’re like me, you tend to pass on since there’s little sense in tracking a blog that may not be maintained. What I’m trying to do now is not be such a damned perfectionist and simply write. Some of my posts I recognize as instant gold while some are merely okay. I’m not suggesting that you aim for quantity over quality…just be more comfortable with not aiming for perfection with each blog post.

Lesson #6: Evolve
This final lesson is be open to new ideas, techniques, and tools. Be open to learning something new. Even though I’ve been blogging for three years (which most people say is rather long in the blogging world), I’m by no means an expert at this. There are experts out there who haven’t even started blogging. If you’re one of these folks, think about what you might add to the world through your writing. If you feel you’re not a great writer, try your hand at podcasting. The beauty of this time in history is that there’s always something new around the next corner. Just keep your eyes, mind, and soul open to the possibilities that are always in front of you.

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Coming Back To Life

Yep, I’m returning from a long, but much needed hiatus and feeling all the better for it. It’s amazing what a little change in scenery can do. In our case, we exchanged the go-go-go hyperdrive environment of Washington DC for the (relatively) laidback pace of Austin TX. Sometimes our body, soul, and mind just needs a fresh start.

So, here I am…new work, new home, new commitment to living completely. All that includes a renewed sense of purpose for Bailey WorkPlay and The Alchemy of Soulful Work starting with a site redesign. If you’re reading from Bloglines or another rss reader, come and take a look (c’mon, click here…I didn’t do all that work for nothing). In addition to what’s already there, I’ll be adding in some cool functionality that should add to the reading experience.

Friends and readers, sorry I’ve been gone for so long…it’s good to be back. Again, we all take this journey together. Let’s be the heroes and heroines of our adventures.

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