Monday, 13 April 2015

Learned about blogging

Time to pause and reflect on blogging, taking stock, looking to refresh?  Time to consider what’s been learned about blogging.
Never underestimate your reach
Sometimes the most unexpected blog can really take off, or even a post within a mediocre blog.  I recently blogged about UKIP and their views on cyclists (click for post) and this led to finding Mum Juice who had already gone viral in breaking the same story.  Reading her relatively young blog Mum Juice commented that she had 77,000 hits in a short period of time, simply because of her own post.
In this blog, I once did a “filler” post where I took a swipe at the drivers of black Range Rovers and this has turned out to be my most popular post to date in quickly hitting well over 22,000 page views.  Following closely behind is a more serious post which I did on giving up smoking, also scoring 22,000 hits but over a longer period of time.  No doubt other bloggers have had similar experiences with far more hits and have perhaps been seriously viral.
I am not sure whether to be amazed at these figures or not.  To think how any of us, all ordinary people, can set up a blog and then have an audience across the world.  Isn’t that amazing?
Bloggers need a strategy
When I started my first blog, I didn’t really have a strategy at all and I have since learned every blogger needs to be clear about this.  The need to be sure about WHY you are blogging is important and equally important is to stick to that.  Without a strategy a blog can become meaningless and without direction.
Therefore I believe it is important to pause every now and then to make sure the blog is still on track and ticking the right boxes.  For me, this blog is about running, staying healthy, eating well on my journey through life, giving mostly personal reflections on things.  The hit rate and my income from that is secondary.
Other bloggers will have a different purpose and these are all equally valid.  Examples can include being a resource for other like-minded people, to campaign or raise awareness, to market something, to amuse, to generate an income, to record a “project” i.e. my training and journey to XXXX event.
It is also important to be clear on how much time you will be required to invest and how often you’re prepared to write a post.  On this I could do much better, I know I am erratic.  Likewise it is important to know what style you’re adopting.  Is a blog going to be funny, heartening, encouraging, informative etc.  Again, be clear about this.
Don’t be afraid to “be yourself”
With so much identify theft taking place these days, it’s easy to understand how people can become paranoid about their place on the web, hiding behind some kind of anonymous avatar.  Speaking honestly I remember being cautious myself.
The blogs from other people I enjoy the most are those who write personally and not distantly.  By that I mean they are honestly sharing something about themselves, rather than hiding behind some virtual wall so the reader has no idea who they really are.
This leads me to comment on the advantages of being more personal in a blog.  I have enjoyed, far more, the interaction with readers when they leave comments and email me directly on a more human basis, rather than those pointless bland comments which are only a level above spam.
So, if a blog writer is being honest and open, why shouldn’t their readers behave in a like-minded way?  It all adds to the richness of interactions between people who might be on different sides of the world and will probably never meet face-to-face.
Google Blogger, WordPress
This has been a steep learning curve for me.  Like many amateur bloggers, the first foray into this fascinating world is through Google’s Blogger platform (and used for this very blog).  Some people knock Google for being so global, intrusive and universal, while this might be true they have done us all a favour by being able to blog easily.
Conversely I have had arguments from people saying the ease in which almost anyone can get on-line and blog has lowered the quality of the web’s content.  It is true there’s a lot of garbage around but the most important thing is the freedom people have in being able to enjoy free speech.  Their audience maybe small, perhaps deliberately restricted to a small family group, or it might potentially be world-wide.
Back to my learning curve.  Google’s Blogger is absolutely fine for a number of reasons – it’s free of charge, relatively easy to do and you can still be quite creative with different formats, colours and templates.  For another blog I have gone down the domain buying, hosting and figuring out WordPress.  
Being accountable
Being accountable has been an unexpected aspect of blogging for me.  When I write, I am accountable for what I say and I do take this seriously.  I say this for a couple of reasons:
  • If I say “I am a runner, or a cyclist, or a Christian, or a father” I have to live up to that.  In practice this is more than simply minding my Ps and Qs; it is about living up to these things.  An armchair runner is not really a runner, therefore blogging about running also makes me get my running shoes on when I don’t really feel like it.
  • If I talk about a product, I know that can have an effect on the reputation of the brand, or the supplier.  So when I say I like or dislike something, I have to do this in a defensible way.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with me but I must be able to stand my ground as well.
To be grateful for free speech
I am thankful I live in the UK and have the privilege of enjoying free speech.  I do not have to “look over my shoulder” or live in any kind of fear.  We do not live in a land where people disappear for saying the wrong things or having a different ideology or religious faith.
However we cannot take this for granted and I can see there are many threats to this, even in Europe and the UK.  These threats can come from the increasing pressure to live in a secular world, or to appease terrorism or be annoyingly politically correct.
Therefore I do value being able to sit here at home typing this, with no fear at all.  I am here in our house, April 2015, in an armchair by the sitting room window.   I can press the publish button and know within seconds this post can be picked up almost anywhere in the world.  Marvellous.  Free speech.  Such a precious thing.

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