Five lessons I’ve learned from five years of blogging

My blog enters its fifth year of existence in 2013 (birthday e-cards will be gratefully received).

The initial purpose of the blog was to help me get a better understanding of how self-publishing in the era of social media worked. I wanted to know what types of content would get the best responses. I wanted to know what content would fall flat. I wanted to know what it took to crowd-source opinions. And, I wanted to know how I could apply these lessons to the brands and organisations I worked with.

After a decent amount of reflection, I’ve compiled a list of the five most important lessons I’ve learnt about blogging over the last five years, and I thought it would be worthwhile to share them with you.

Lesson one – The purpose of your blog is…

My personal and public blogging purpose was one of education. I wanted my blog to be a useful resource.

Once I established the purpose, I found creating content for it a much easier proposition. If a blog post idea didn’t add value or if it wasn’t helpful, then I wouldn’t write it up.

It is a big reason why I have hardly ever written opinion-style posts. Many bloggers gauge the performance of their blog by the comments they get or the discussions they stimulate. That has never been a purpose for me, I like resource-style blogs and that’s what I wanted to create and maintain.

Lesson two – Turn every day personal frustrations into solutions for your community…

It is incredibly hard to have genuinely original thoughts or content ideas, especially when you blog about media, communications and technology.

A lot of my blog post ideas have been born out of every day frustrations. For example, I might be searching for a how-to post about Facebook ads and find that none of the posts Google serves give me what I need (or that I’d want to consume and share). This also probably means that someone else is having the same issue. So, why not fulfil that common need by creating something we’d all love to stumble across?

The best example of this was a post I wrote called ‘What on earth does a digital strategist do?’ – it featured some great bits from other authors on the subject, plus a few of my thoughts, to (hopefully) answer a very common, but often unanswerable, question.

This, again, comes back to making ‘usefulness’ the backbone of my blog.

Lesson three – Piggyback breaking news but add your own layer to the discussion…

One of the best bits of advice I got early on was to write ‘reaction’ posts (in real-time) to big stories relevant to my niche.

While this isn’t always practical for a hobbyist blogger like me, it is a very powerful way of making your blog more relevant more often.

A good example was when Facebook announced it was acquiring Instagram for one million dollars in April of this year. When the announcement was made, my Twitter feed exploded with tweets about the sale. So, while it was a hot topic and people were hungry for commentary around the news of the sale, I wrote a post called ‘Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram signals the official arrival of the image-powered web’.

This experience taught me that adding additional value to a breaking story was a great way to attract new people to my blog but also give my existing community something else to read and share in addition to the overdose of ‘news-only’ posts circulating at the time.

Lesson four – Blogs don’t become relevant overnight…

If you are thinking of starting a blog, you need to be prepared to endure some very challenging times, especially during the first six months.

When you start out, you may only have a handful of people read your posts. This is often a hard realisation to overcome and it may even lead you to question whether or not it is worth it.

I learnt early on that it takes times to build a community / audience and only consistent content that served a purpose brought people back to my blog on a regular basis.

It also involves a lot of giving, especially in relation to the other blogs in your niche. Reading, commenting on and sharing other people’s posts are just as important, if not more important, than crafting and publishing your own.

Lesson five – If I’m not enjoying my posts, my community won’t either…

Early on I tried to stick to a regular posting schedule but I found that when I forced myself to write something, it was incredibly hard to get excited about what I was producing.

So, it wasn’t a coincidence that the posts I didn’t enjoy writing were the posts that people didn’t enjoy reading!

Everyone has their own style when it comes to publishing content. I tend to find I will post three times in the space of a week and then not post again for the next three weeks. We’re all different, but I’ve learnt that blogging has to be an enjoyable pursuit because it isn’t something that generates financial rewards unless you make it your full-time job.

One more (bonus) lesson

Research stuff, properly.

The posts that have performed the best for me have usually been the result of hours and hours of research. In fact, the actual writing element has been the easiest bit a lot of the time.

When you make research, data and insights the backbone of your posts, you are giving people content they can trust and use. It may seem like an obvious thing, but the more you put into your post research, the better they will perform.

These lessons are definitely not applicable to everyone.

The ones I’ve listed here have helped me shape my blog over the years and made it fun part of my online life.

If you’re a blogger and have any lessons you’d like to share, pop ’em into the comments section below!

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