I had the pleasure of attending the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) conference held in New York over the weekend. The conference, for writers at every level of their career, featured more than 70 sessions covering a variety of topics, such as how to score a big book deal, how to break into women’s magazines, how to write white papers, and more. I was able to attend several of the sessions, and will recap them here over the next few days.
Producing an engaging and successful blog means coming up with new ideas while staying energized, but how do you find inspiration, and generate creative and fresh ideas, time and time again?
This session, “Beating Blog Burnout,” provided helpful, concrete advice on how to spot trends that will increase your blog traffic, how to generate ideas, and how an editorial calendar and style guide can help you avoid blog burnout.
- Moderator Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist, award-winning journalist, author, spokesperson, professor at the NYU School of Medicine and blogger. She produces The Friendship Blog; is a regular blog contributor to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, Third Age and Her Campus; and is author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend.”
- Susan Getgood, is vice president of sales and marketing for BlogHer, a women’s community and media company that receives more than 23 million unique visitors per month. She also is author of “Professional Blogging for Dummies” and co-founded the ethics initiative, Blog with Integrity.
- Myrna Blyth is an editorial consultant for Third Age, the largest website for baby-boomer women. Previously, she was editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal; founding editor-in-chief and former publishing director of More; editor-in-chief of BettyConfidential.com, which won MIN’s Editorial Excellence award in 2010; and author of “Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness – and Liberalism – to the Women of America,” a New York Times best-seller, and “How to Raise an American.”
Following are some highlights from their presentations:
Blogging became popular in 1994, and what started as very personal sites has morphed into larger sites like Huffington Post, where individuals blog under the banner of one website. Levine said she loves the editorial freedom of blogging: “You are free to write what you want to write about.”
It also helps her develop a relationship with her readers and keep on top of the topics that are hot. Through analytics, she can find out where her readers are coming from, which helps her understand her audience better and ultimately helps her with her brand identity.
The first step to beating blog burnout? “Make sure you’re writing the blog you really want to write,” said Getgood. “Think about what you’re doing that meets your objective and the needs of your audience, whether one or 1 million. Are these the stories you really want to be telling? If not, shift it. When I have trouble writing, I find it’s because I’m not writing what I want to write about.”
CREATING YOUR BLOG
Getgood detailed nine steps for creating your blog:
1. Identify objectives
2. Find your niche
3. Create your editorial mission
4. Design and develop the blog
5. Identify and train your bloggers
6. Build and maintain your blogroll
7. Create your blog policies
8. Write the blog
9. Promote the blog
The first three steps apply directly to burnout:
Identify objectives: What do you want to achieve with your blog? Who is your audience? What will you share that only you can provide to your readers? “You have to have a clear picture of where you’re going.”
Find your niche: Who are your competitors? What do they do well and not so well? Do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of yourself and your competitors. “Doing that upfront will help you during the noncreative moments, because you’re created a framework for everything you do.”
Create an editorial mission: “Your blog ‘charter’ or editorial mission is the most important, most critical element,” said Getgood. It’s the reason why the blog exists. Write it out as a mission statement. How frequently will you post? Will you allow comments?
“If you do the hard work upfront,” she added,” it’ll be easier down the road. There’s too much competition now. If you want to grab the readers, you have to think of it as a business, even if you don’t want to monetize the blog.”
Getgood also shared some possible sources of inspiration for bloggers:
Editorial calendars: “If you want to be serious about your blog, you have to have an editorial calendar,” said Getgood.
Your editorial calendar should have two parts: a framework (what kind of content you’ll be posting: recipes, op-eds, travel stories, etc.) and a schedule of posts (how often you will post; when you will write the posts; whether you need photos, visuals, etc.).
“Be your own editor,” she added. “It will give you the structure you need.”
Archives, blogrolls and comments: Do roundups of your favorite posts, whether yours or from your favorite colleagues. Re-read comments – are there any you never addressed or that you can use for a post? Check out what leaders in your field are writing – can you offer another perspective? Line up guest writers – they will return the favor.
Your social networks: What are people on Facebook and Twitter writing about?
Keeping up with trends is also a good way to come up with ideas for posts. Getgood shared her tips for spotting trends:
- Read, read, and read some more. Write about what you’ve read in books, newspapers, magazines.
- Keep a notebook of ideas. You can use social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Diigo to tag posts you might want to write about down the line.
- Subscribe to newsletters in your area of interest.
- Keep an eye on market research about your topic.
- Listen to your friends – they may know something you don’t.
- Predict, and don’t be afraid to be wrong.
If you’re still stuck, “go surfing,” advises Getgood. Go to Google, type in a keyword and press “I’m feeling lucky.” You never know what you’ll find out.
If your blog is about your hobby, spend an hour actually doing it, rather than writing about it. You can also move to a “different window” – go to another place in the house. “It can often be the easiest way to get unstuck,” said Getgood.
Above all, stay focused on your objectives. “Stay on the path to writing what you want to write,” said Getgood. “It’s OK if your objectives change, but do it deliberately.”
And if you do change them, make sure to do the first three steps (identify objectives, find your niche, create your editorial mission) all over again.
MONETIZATION & SYNDICATION
“The truth is, blogging is very difficult,” said Blyth. “It’s really a job.”
And while blogging has been good for writers, it has not been good for professional writers. “The amount of money that has been spent for good writing has gone down and down and down,” said Blyth. “What the Web really needs is journalism – real journalism. That’s what moves around the Web.”
Blyth also talked about the benefits of monetizing blogs. “I don’t understand why bloggers don’t try to write for a large website more than individually,” she said. “If you can blog for a larger site like Third Age, you get more views. If any of you write on health, relationships, celebrity, beauty, style, personal experiences of boomers, it makes more sense to come to me, because we pay – a little bit.”
“Getting paid to write is a dream,” said Getgood, “and there are a lot of ways to monetize a blog.”
One way is syndication. With BlogHer, you can register your blog at no charge. BlogHer’s editors troll the community and look for syndication opportunities and paid blogs. If the editors like a post, they will publish it on BlogHer and link to your original post.
When you’re writing your blog, think about syndication and look for other ways to monetize: advertising, consulting, speaking, book deals.
RISING TO THE TOP
When asked to share top tips for making your blog rise to the top of the heap, the panelists offered the following suggestions:
Getgood: “The most important part of the blog is the title and the first two sentences.” Use Google Ad tools to understand what keywords the advertisers are using. Also, be active in other social networks. Talk about what you’re writing on Facebook and Twitter.
Blyth: Be more direct. If you write an article about carpet cleaning, for instance, don’t title it, “Out, Out, Damn Spot.” While that’s creative, a title like “How to Clean Your Carpet” will get better results because of search engines. “You have to think about keywords.”
And don’t forget your friends. “Pay it forward,” suggests Getgood. “Write about other people and link to other people. They’ll do the same for you and you’ll both get hits.”