Ah, the irony. Two and a half years ago I was rarely online and didn’t know what a blog was, and here I am sharing blogging tips. But since my learning curve has been steep, especially this last year, I thought I’d pass along some stuff that I wish I’d known earlier. Granted, you may know all of this already, but here goes…
Turns out, blogging is less about speaking one’s mind than it is about listening. Tuning in to other sources –reading articles, posts and online conversations — has been the key to knowing what parents are concerned about and where I might have something helpful to offer.
2. Take a chance, be different
Like all creative endeavors, blogging is about trusting your instincts. Don’t be afraid you’ll write yourself into a corner if you become too specific. Being “niche” is good. In fact, be on the lookout for something you can add to the conversation that’s different from what everyone else is saying. There’s only one you out there, and that is all any of us have to share. The most intriguing blogs have something fresh and distinctive to say. Even if we don’t entirely agree, we read and respect those bloggers.
(This post is an example of me taking a chance, since blogging tips are not what I imagine readers care to hear from me.)
3. You can’t please everyone
Although I’ve tried to raise my children not to be rattled by conflict and disagreement, I admit that I tend to be. This is the area in which I’ve grown the most through blogging. Here’s the perspective I’ve gained: if everyone agrees with you all the time, you’re probably playing it too safe. A blogger’s job is to share his or her unique point of view, experiences and suggestions which aren’t always going to make others say “yeah, yeah, yeah”. This is especially true for parenting bloggers since parenthood, especially in the early years, is a sensitive time in one’s life, and the least confident among us (I was once in this group) are the quickest to feel threatened and go into attack mode (not my style, but I understand the impulse).
When you are attacked by a reader’s comment, understand that it means you’ve probably made that reader rethink or question something that isn’t working for them anyway. Opening up to new ideas can be uncomfortable, even painful. So don’t feel bad or get mad — empathize.
4. Titles matter (almost) as much as your post
I read a couple of “how to blog” posts that mentioned the importance of strong titles and opening paragraphs, but didn’t really believe it. Then, last summer I made a conscious effort to write a few provocative, commercial sounding titles. Big difference. You can still be creative. In fact, it takes real creativity to come up with a pithy title that makes people stop and click, but also engagingly and accurately describes your post.
Now, when I’m conjuring up titles, I ask myself if this would capture my attention while scrolling through hundreds of posts on Facebook or Twitter. There are bloggers I’ll always read regardless of their titles, but to really expand your readership, you have to grab people’s attention, even if they haven’t a clue who you are or hated your last post.
It also helps to get an outside opinion when you’re stumped. My husband (also my tireless, extraordinary editor) has been a godsend, creating successful titles like “Don’t Cramp Your Toddler’s Style” and “The Problem With Cute Kids”.
Also, readers like lists, which are a stretch for me (organization isn’t my strong suit) but their effectiveness is worth the effort.
Case in point, here are my top ten posts of 2011 (out of about 80, total), all written in the latter half of this year. Check out the titles…
- The Case Against Tummy Time: Guest Post by Irene Gutteridge
- The Parenting Magic Word (10 Ways To Use It)
- 5 Reasons Toddlers Don’t Need ‘Redirection’ (And What To Do Instead)
- 7 Reasons To Calm Down About Babies Crying
- Don’t Cramp Your Toddler’s Style – The Power Of Trust
- The Problem With Cute Kids
- The Key To Your Child’s Heart (7 Ways It Works)
- The Secrets Of Infant Learning
- 10 Secrets To Raising Less Stressed Kids
- Would You Let Your Baby Do This?
5. Be authentic
If you want to build a reputation as a blogger, never (ever, ever) sacrifice trust, integrity or authenticity to attract attention. Don’t even think of exaggerating facts or giving false information. The worst offenders create fear, which is especially cruel for parents since we are so prone to worry. Nothing is cheaper or a bigger turn-off in my book than a “made you look” post or title.
6. Facebook and Twitter
Twitter has been a great way to connect with other parenting sites and meet some wonderful ECE professionals, but the vast majority of my blog traffic comes from Facebook. If you don’t have one already, get a Facebook page and use it. In my first year of blogging, I mostly posted my own links. Then I started noticing what successful pages were doing — making their pages into little magazines by sharing articles they liked from other sites. What fun! And this is also a great way to “save” articles that you want to refer and link to in future posts. When I finally learned how to link to not just the articles, but the other pages as well, I began to feel part of a community and my site visits increased substantially.
When in doubt, ask yourself, “What do I have to share that might be helpful to someone?” Read what’s out there and see what comes to mind. Again, it’s about listening…to others and then, ultimately, yourself.
The real ideas don’t come when I’m devouring information. They appear (seemingly by magic) long after I’ve read and digested, in the quiet space when I can to listen to my thoughts. For me, this is when I’m jogging or awake too early in the morning and can’t get back to sleep (a silver lining to that dark cloud).
I also need to get away from the computer periodically, clear my head and forget I ever had a blog. Best to do this before your friends and family feel neglected and resentful (learned this the hard way).
9. Get personal
Share personal stories to illustrate your points whenever possible. The personal touch is what makes the difference between a site you respect and one that you feel a real connection to.
10. Welcome contributions and collaboration
My blog is specifically about Magda Gerber and RIE’s Educaring Approach, which limits possible guest posts, but it makes my day when someone sends me an interesting video, shares a story or their experiences with the practices I write about. I beg them to let me post it. Nothing is more engaging to me than the unique experiences or perspectives of another professional or parent. And my top post for 2011 was Feldenkrais practictioner Irene Gutteridge’s guest post “The Case Against Tummy Time”!
11. Write evergreen
When I began blogging, my husband gave me a fantastic piece of advice: write evergreen posts… and I’ve never looked back. But my husband was right, readers have (looked back). Posts that I put my heart into back when just my friends and family were reading have been discovered in recent months. Three of my top four posts this month were oldies from my first months of blogging: No Bad Kids – Toddler Discipline Without Shame, The Easily Forgotten Gift and You’ll Be Sorry – Children And Apologies. How great is that? I’ve been especially thankful for the time away my evergreen posts have bought me during the busy holiday season.
I still have a lot to learn about blogging, and I’m sure 2012 will bring many more lessons. Maybe this will be the year I finally master something all the blogging experts recommend…the 300 word post (and pigs will fly).
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your ideas!
(Photo, entitled “Look At These Potatoes”, by one of my favorite collaborators Jude Keith Rose)