By Darin L. Hammond
Revised and updated 8/22/2012
Ashley Blume, a novice blogger, asks a question on my LinkedIn network this morning, and she embodies what I have spent a lot of time considering and researching. She asked, "What is everyone's thoughts on blogging? Is it a waste of time? Or is it the new way to get noticed?" Joel D Canfield, a successful writer and blogger, was helpful in his response.
I am left thinking of the important followup question - What is your motive in writing? To Ashley and other prospective bloggers, if you can answer this, the other issues fall into place and are relatively easy.
The top nine questions to help you decide to blog or not to blog:
1. Why do I want to blog? The all important question that gets to the heart of motivation. If you want to blog for money or fame, you have no need to proceed with blogging. While blogging is fulfilling and can yield publicity, and perhaps money--down the road--it is a long uphill battle that you have to be committed to for years, not weeks or months. Fame and fortune will not be sufficient motivation in most cases. Certainly not for me.
I mean that you have to be willing to put all numbers aside (unless you are blogging about math) in order to pursue your passion and fulfillment in writing, communicating, and discovering new knowledge. This does it for me. I will, of course, write the great American novel someday, but I have learned more in several weeks of blogging than a full semester in some of my college courses. You might find your motivation here.
2. Do I have a topic that is fascinating, interesting and shareable? You must pick a subject or two (whatever you can keep up with in writing) and focus, develop, explore, and penetrate it deeply.
At the same time, it must be a sellable topic, one that will catch the interest of others. This means you must either find such a topic or be a really crafty writer, one who makes a less than flashy subject into something dazzling. You may have to sacrifice your ideal theme for a near match. Find topics and genres that are trending across the web by doing a little research.
3. Can I commit to writing frequently? The answer is "yes," you can, but will you? This is my nemesis as I procrastinate. However, blogging requires daily posts, or close to it, to maintain the interest of followers. I find that the commitment to write daily has bound me, and I stick to it. Trust me, I will write here for a long time to come.
If you will only write every other week or month, don't bother, unless the writing itself is fulfillment enough for you. I find it much easier to write when I select prompts that I am passionate about because I feel a need to share. Knowledge is social in nature, and sharing makes it more fulfilling and complete.
4. What will I do to avoid writer's block? I don't know your answer because it is personal, but there is plenty of advise on the internet if you Google search "writer's block." For me, the answer is caffeine, sugar, research, and siestas--in that order. I also find the Purdue Owl website an invaluable tool for all kinds of writing advice to guide me through tough moments.
5. Am I willing to spend the time to promote the blog? No, the blog entries will not be read at all if you do not use social media and connections as resources to pitch it to readers. Google +, Twitter, and Facebook are essentials, but there are lots of other means. Several sites I looked at reminded me about MySpace, the fact that it exists and people still use it. Not the best medium, but use all of your resources.
6. What mediums will I use to get followers? The four biggies that I just mentioned are the most useful, but some methods I have found recently include: StumbleUpon, Digg, Pinterest (link images), Youtube (create your own videos), Tumblr, Delicious, and LinkedIn. With this last one, you can also promote your career.
This is by no means a complete list. There are so many burgeoning social media platforms with startups, all free for the most part. Booksie, for example, is one of the tremendous resources available to authors. Be bold and innovative. Always keep in mind that your purpose is to bring writers to your page and keep them long-term.
7. Can I commit to following and commenting on the blogs of others? You absolutely must do this. Not only does it raise your exposure, bloggers are also your most dedicated readers. You'll find that as you read and follow the blogs of others, they will follow you back.
Be selective and spend time on those blogs that are in your topic area or something you would like to learn about. Explore areas that interest you, but dabbling in blogs isn't enough. You have to comment, question, praise, quote, and really interact. Be sure to always share your blog link with fellow bloggers, and share links to their pages when it's appropriate. The community helps and cares for its own.
8. How will I go about researching? For me this is easy, because I love to read and research. This may present a challenge for you, depending on your reading inclinations, but reluctance is one thing you can certainly overcome. In blogging, there usually isn't a need for print research, and Google is the magic tool for making discovery happen.
Notice how these questions link together. Blog following and communicating through social media are methods of researching and promoting. Use the blogs of others as source material, but be sure to credit them and avoid smooching it at all costs. Crediting others is a way of drawing them into your blog.
9. What blog service should I use? I saved the easiest question for last. I use Weebly and love it, but the surveys say that WordPress (Canfield plugs this and has awesome tutorials) is number one for features, usability and aesthetics. Also, price is a factor for additional features which are essential. Wordpress is cheap--free or $5.00 per month for the goodies. Second is a service I was not familiar with - TypePad, Squarespace and Blogger are third and fourth.
One that I have recently become familiar with is Zoho Sites, which has awesome drag and drop features, free websites, and is part of the Google Apps Marketplace. Because of such smooth integration with Google, if I were to start over, Zoho Sites would be my number one pick.