Getting started as a blogger
A while ago I gave a lunch-time talk to some colleagues on blogging. I’ve brushed up and expanded on some of the ideas I put together for the talk, in case they’re useful to other people too: How do you start out as a blogger and how do you go about writing the blog posts?
I guess the first thing to say is that there are many different ways to start blogging and to write blog posts, and there’s probably a lot of information on the web already. So this post won’t add anything new. On the other hand, sometimes an idea just “clicks” when you see the same information from another person’s point of view. I hope you get something out of these hints.
Decide what to blog about
What do you want to get out of blogging? Are you looking for a large number of hits (i.e. many people visiting your blog), or a devoted community of followers, or a randomly-orbiting group of people interested in the same subject area as you? If you want a huge number of hits, such as to raise advertising revenue, then I guess you’d blog frequently about everything under the sun. My blog is a place to vent my enthusiasm for technical writing, share what I discover day to day and garner knowledge from others. Here are my tips for the sort of blogging I enjoy:
Remember the chocolate! – No blogger succeeds without it. Ah no, wait, that’s a furphy.
Choose a niche – It’s a bit counter-intuitive to limit your blog posts to a certain subject area, but I think this works best if you’re looking to establish yourself as a blogger rather than an anonymous writer on an impersonal web site. You’ll attract a group of followers who know that you’re interested in the same sort of thing as they are, and that they’ll learn something from you and be able to bounce ideas off you.
Choose a subject area you are passionate and knowledgeable about – Otherwise you’ll quickly run out of ideas and enthusiasm. Blogging will become a chore and your posts will sound flat.
Stick to the subject area you’ve chosen – It can be tempting to write about unrelated things, and I think it’s fine to do that now and then. Heh heh, there are a few pages about chocolate and trees in my blog! But far and away the highest percentage of the content should be about the subject area you’ve chosen. That way, people will keep coming back for more. They’ll know what you’re about and where they can come with their own ideas. If you’re brimming with ideas on a totally different subject, start another blog. I have the Travelling Worm. Rhonda Bracey has both the CyberText Newsletter and the sandgroper at At Random.
Find the blogging platform that suits you
There are many places where you can create your blog. When I started out two years ago, I took my time and had a good look around before settling on WordPress. I looked at the style of the various blogging sites and the type of blogs already there. I wanted something that matches my own style and the subject area of my blog.
Try out a couple of sites, play around, and then get serious when you’ve found the spot that suits you. Once you’ve written a number of “real” posts you won’t want to move, because you may lose readers who have come to know you and have subscribed to your blog.
Here are a few options:
- WordPress.com. (That’s here, where ffeathers is.) This is a “hosted” site, which means that your blog is “in the cloud”, running on software and computers that are managed by other people and that are not on your premises. It’s simple to get started and you don’t need to worry about server administration.
- Your own installed version of WordPress. You can download the software from WordPress.org. This gives a great deal of flexibility in adding your own style and extensions to your blog. Tom Johnson runs his blog at I’d Rather Be Writing this way. He often blogs about useful tips and techniques for administering, styling and extending WordPress.
- Blogger. This is a hosted blog site provided by Google. This is where Anindita Basu blogs about Writing Technically and Alan J Porter has the 4J’s Group Blog.
- The Content Wrangler Ning. A number of technical writers have set up profiles here. There’s my page, and Janet Swisher’s, for example. You can have a blog there too.
- Communal blogs like HubPages. From what I can see, this is a slightly different type of blogging, focused more on earning money from blogging rather than creating a community of readers around a particular subject. I’ve included it here because it’s interesting to see the different platforms available.
- A whole bunch of others!
Set up your blog
Choose a name for your blog. Some people like to use a totally practical name, that tells readers immediately what the blog is about. Other people choose something whimsical, that means something to them personally. I chose “ffeathers” because I’m fond of birds, especially parrots, and I like the old usage of double “f”.
Most blogging platforms allow you to choose a subtitle as well, such as “a technical writer’s blog”. You’ll also need a username, sort of like a nickname, that you will use as a byline for each post. It’s often useful if your username is the same as your blog name. For example, my blog title is “ffeathers” and so is my username. You may prefer to use your own name as a username, so that people know immediately who you are.
Go to the blogging platform that you have chosen and click the button to create your blog.
For example, if you like you could try it on WordPress.com right now:
- Go to WordPress.com and click “Sign up now”.
- Enter your chosen username. On WordPress.com, this will also be the name of your blog. For example, if you choose “myname” then your blog will be at “myname.wordpress.com”.
- Enter your chosen password. Then enter the same password again to confirm it.
- Enter your email address.
- Read and agree to their “fascinating terms of service”.
- Click “Next” and follow the prompts to confirm your new blog and log in.
WordPress will create your first “hello world” blog post automatically. You can leave it there, edit it to change its content, or remove it.
Play around with your profile and blog settings
Spend some time getting comfortable with the options that your blogging platform offers. Go to your profile page and upload a photograph or some other image. If you’re using WordPress, go to “My Dashboard” then click “Your Profile” in the “Users” section near bottom left of the screen. Your profile image is called your “Gravatar”.
Take a look at the themes that your blogging platform offers. A theme determines the colours and text styling of your blog. Themes often offer a different layout (such as one, two or three columns) and header images too. On WordPress, the theme selected by each blog is usually displayed in the page footer. My blog is currently using the “Journalist” theme. You can change the theme at any time, without affecting the content of your blog posts.
Write a couple of blog posts
Write a couple of posts right away and publish them for the whole wide world to see. At this point, the great thing is that no-one will know you’re there! For me, it was kind of liberating to know that I’m just a tiny speck on the intertubes.
Publish one or two good articles where you feel that you’ve managed to express yourself and your opinion well or you’ve told people something fresh and new.
Then, when you’re ready….
Make yourself known
At first it’s liberating to know that you can scribble away on your blog without feeling self-conscious. The great thing is that no-one will even know you’re there. But very soon it becomes less cool. The sad fact is that no-one will even know you’re there. 😉
- Comment on other people’s blogs, especially those that cover the same subject area as yours. When you add the comments, make sure you are logged in to your own blog or that you enter your blog’s URL. Sometimes people say you should start commenting on other blogs before you have your own blog. But then you lose the opportunity to link to your own blog. You don’t have a presence or identity, and people probably won’t remember you from one comment to the next.
- Have multiple presences on sites like Twitter, your blog, Technorati, Writer River, Flickr, Ning, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and many more. To get a “presence”, sign up for each service and create a user profile for yourself. Link from each one back to your blog. This raises your profile in search engines and rating sites like Technorati.
At the lunch-time talk, one of my colleagues asked why I blog. It’s a good question, and quite a few people at the session had some good input too. For me, there are a few reasons. One is that blogging gives me a different outlet for my writing. I can write about the topics I choose, rather than the topics necessary for the company. I can choose the style of my writing, add weird, long or funny-sounding words, and express my own character in the blog.
Another big reason is that I enjoy the give and take with readers and other bloggers. It’s awesome when someone drops a comment, expanding on what I’ve written or taking it in a new direction. It’s cool when somebody writes a blog post referring to one of mine. We learn a lot from each other. There’s a bottomless pit of ideas when you share yours with others.
The third reason is that people get to know you. This can lead to invitations to write a guest post on someone else’s blog or even to speak at a conference. That’s even more opportunity to meet other people and swap stories, uh, knowledge.
So, where are the hints on how to actually write a blog post?
That’ll be my next post. 🙂