Starting a blog has never been easier. Sites such as WordPress, Tumblr and Blogger have made it much more accessible, in fact, it seems like everyone is having a go and sharing their two cents. And why not? In addition to being a fantastic form of self expression, blogging offers an array of opportunities to anyone looking to take that first step on their chosen career path. It allows you to showcase your knowledge, passion and personality to the field you aspire to work within. However, it is not as simple as picking up your pen and starting to write.
Blogging is a reciprocal process: people won’t listen to what you have to say until you listen to what they have to say.
The Secret to a Successful Blog
Amongst regular bloggers you are likely to find people talking about ‘engagement’. This may seem a little off topic as you might expect the way to a successful blog would be to create lots and lots of great writing (this of course does help!) However, unless you have a community of people who are interested in and want to interact with your work, it can easily get lost in the massive ocean of content already floating around the internet. This is why engagement is crucial.
The first step towards engagement is to listen. If you develop knowledge about people and ideas within a community, it will be much easier to become part of it. Immersing yourself in reading other blogs offers some excellent, additional benefits too. Firstly, it is a great way for you to expand your knowledge and learn more about the field you are interested in. It also allows you to keep up to date with the latest theories and breaking news. And finally, it’s a brilliant way to begin thinking about your writing style; blogging can be very different to writing essays for school or university.
Find Your Community
The internet houses a phenomenal amount of data, so working out how to identify key people in your subject area can be a daunting prospect. Don’t panic though, as in life, whichever career path you have chosen will inevitably have an existing clique of influencers waiting for you to join them. All you need to do is find your target group and you have found your way in.
NB. The following process takes time and effort so I would recommend copying the URLs of sites you would like to follow into a spreadsheet as you find them. Trust me, this will make the next step infinitely easier for you.
Use What (Or Who) You Know
A great place to start is to have a think about any existing contacts you have. Who do you know that works in that field? Look them up on the internet, it’s highly probable that they will have a presence there too. You can also get them to recommend people they think are of value. Take this a step further; have you read any books, newspaper articles or academic journals you have enjoyed? Keep notes of author names and look them up too.
Search Blog Aggregator Sites
There is a growing presence of blog or news aggregator sites across the internet. These are a great place to find people as they are simply databases of popular blogs handily divided into different subject areas. I use Alltop on a daily basis, it displays new posts in an easy to scroll through format and the higher rated (i.e. popular sites which get the most traffic) are always featured at the top. Another site to try is PopURLs, or there are more specialised sites like Elbo.ws for Music or Technabob for Gadgets.
Browse High Traffic Sites
High traffic sites are always worth a look. See who’s getting published on Mashable, Huffington Post, Wired and Creative Boom. These sites are so well known that everyone wants to get published on them. If one of these sites picks up their content it means that it should be good quality and they are likely to be an influential player in their industry. These sites are fairly general and cover a diverse area of interests. It is also worth thinking about any sites you may already use on a day to day basis which are relevant to your subject area, as they are likely to have more genre specific content.
Don’t Forget Google
Finally, don’t underestimate how useful a Google search can be. Typing something as simple as: “Top YOUR SUBJECT AREA Blogs” eg. “Top Journalism Blogs” should bring up a selection of curated lists (the speech marks are important). Curated lists are brilliant because someone else has already put in the effort for you so you can work through their top picks methodically to see if you agree.
This process will inevitably lead you to a lot of content. However, don’t feel overwhelmed; you will not have time to follow everyone and everything and you don’t need to. When deciding if someone makes the cut I would consider a couple of things. Primarily, I would suggest that you choose people whose writing you enjoy. If you are going to regularly read a blog you need to find their work work interesting and entertaining or it is easy to grow bored. Another tip is to check if they are well thought of within the industry. A good measure of influence is how much interaction they receive: are people commenting on their posts? Are they getting lots of social shares?
Now that you have discovered plenty of blogs you would like to read, you might be wondering “how on earth do I visit that many sites every day?” The solution is the RSS feed. This stands for Really Simple Syndication and it allows you to pull the feed from a variety of sources into one single blog reader, kind of like your own personal newspaper. There are numerous platforms you can use to do this, some examples include: myYahoo; Newsgator and myAOL. As a diehard Google fan (although I am still reserving judgement on Google+) I use iGoogle because it works well and I like the ease and consistency of keeping everything within one brand.
If you don’t have an account with Google you will need to set one up first.
Set Up A Personalised News Feed (EDIT: iGoogle is no longer – unhappy face)
Go to iGoogle and sign in. You will be taken to your homepage and you can add news feeds here if you wish. I prefer, however, to set up additional pages to keep track of my news. You can add multiple pages if you need to keep track of sub-genres. Do this by selecting ‘Add a tab’ and inserting a title:
The next step is to add the news feeds you have found onto your relevant pages. There are two ways to do this. Many blogs will have some type of feed burner which will do it for you automatically. If this is the case click the RSS symbol on their blog which will look something like this (look for the curved white stripes) –>
In this case, all you need to do then is make sure you are in the correct tab you would like the news to be delivered too, select the Google button and the feed will be automatically added.
Some websites, however, require a more manual approach. If you select the RSS button and it takes you to a page like below, you will need to add the feed yourself.
Go back to iGoogle and select the tab you want the feed to lead into. Click the ‘Add Gadgets’ button:
Finally, this will take you onto another page which allows you to manually add feeds. Simply copy and paste the URL from the website into the below box and it will start pulling through your news.
The Next Step: Commenting
You should now have plenty of reading to get your head around! I would recommend spending about a month or so focused on regularly reading posts. However eager you are to start blogging at this stage you shouldn’t have published anything yet: the next step is interaction. Spend some time making people aware of who you are. Every blog you read will have a section at the bottom for you to leave comments. This is an ideal platform for getting to know people as most bloggers will always try to respond to comments that add value. Ask questions, try to be insightful, tell them when you like something and why you do. I’ve developed numerous relationships this way and it is also a great way to exchange emails or social media handles. I love it when people share their opinion about what I’ve written, so please comment on this post!
- Start listening to other writers before you start your own journey into blogging.
- Find relevant, influential people in the topic area you are interested in.
- Create your own news feed and keep track of your chosen blogging community.
- Begin to engage with the community you have found by leaving comments and asking questions about their writing.
This post is part of the Personal Branding Series, helping you develop a successful online presence.
Top image supplied by B Rosen