Last night I spoke with fellow journalists and writers at the Fort Worth SPJ sponsored event: Blogging for Journalists 101. Lots of interesting questions and comments. As promised, I have compiled some basic information for journalists looking to get started blogging, those looking to improve their reach and those looking to make money as a blogger.
Before we go any further, I want to be clear that I am speaking to journalist bloggers. Not ranters, not untrained writers, not those who are being compensated by companies with money or free gifts and who do not disclose this to their readers. Not PR people who blog for companies. I hate being lumped in with bloggers with social media skills and a vague ability to write who somehow consider themselves journalists. They are not journalists. As a journalist blogger, I am accountable for what I say, I don’t get to hide behind a Twitter handle, I do not accept gifts of any kind without disclosure, nor do I accept paid posts. My posts are factual, informative and my opinion. I have studied as a journalists, worked as a journalists, taught journalism and understand the importance of accountability.
Four Things to Consider Before You Start Blogging
1) What are you going to write about and do you have enough to say about the topic? Many successful bloggers are niche bloggers: they write about nightlife, real estate, their child’s struggle with autism etc. Can you do this three years from now and still have something new to say? And check out your competition. What are they doing right or wrong?
2) Who is your audience? Other moms, what age range, what socioeconomic level, what education level? This is important information potential advertisers will want to know and this information will help you be effective in narrowing down your subject matter and really reaching the audience you need to, not just your mom. And remember, your audience is fickle. They will think you are great for a month and move on to the next great blogger. Build trust with them, keep them coming back by being consistent, honest and a trusted source. For example, I know food bloggers who are compensated by restaurants (which they don’t disclose), who then write a rave review (shocking!) and readers later visit and are appalled. How could anyone blog and say this place was great? Don’t be that blogger.
3) What are you hoping to gain from blogging? People blog for different reasons. For many it is an open diary. For others it is a place to share their passion for fashion or food. For some it is a way to make extra money. For others it is a release. If you are struggling at home with a child, writing about it and hearing from others moms may be cathartic. If you know what you want to gain from blogging, you will have an easier time meeting your own expectations. Later, you can develop goals such as reaching 5,000 readers a moth or having 1,000 Twitter followers.
4) What is your realistic time commitment for blogging? I started my blog in 2009 and posted daily for a year. That could not happen today as my freelance writing career has taken off and I now have a one year old son. If you work full time at a newspaper, have a family, chores, laundry etc., you will likely turn into a fizzle blogger. You start out committed at first and fizzle to blogging once every three months. Pace yourself. Blogging once a week is fine. Commit to one blog posted every Monday for example. With blogging sites such as Word Press, you can delay the time your post publishes (when it appears on your blog). So if you write Thursday night, still set your publication date for Monday morning. If you have three great things that happen in one week, still delay the posts over three weeks so in those too-busy-to-blog moments you have material to share with readers.
Length: Shorter is better, pictures are a must, linking out gives your readers more sources and you credibility. Links or sources such as Scribd, which allow you to post documents on your blog, let readers decide for themselves if your analysis is true. If a link can say it quicker, post it. In general, 250 is short 1,000 too long. But the purpose is to cover the topic. I can’t keep to those lengths in this blog post but I am compensating with pictures, links etc. to keep a readers attention.
Comments: Require all comments to be reviewed. I get automatic notifications via email and can approve on my phone. Post a comment if it adds to the conversation or if you need to make a correction. Again, you want to build trust with your readers and it says something if they will take the time to read and comment.
Liability: You are responsible for what you say. I know one prominent blogger in Dallas who was named in a lawsuit. You are liable if your family says they don’t appreciate what you said and they disinvite you to Thanksgiving. You are liable to people you blog about. You have a free voice but you do risk unintentionally offending people. You must decide if what you blog about is worth it.
Crossposting: Most bloggers want readers. If you want to build readership, you need to crosspost, linkout, tag correctly so search engines will pull your blog to the top. For instance, this blog will automatically be pulled to both the Facebook fan page I set up for the blog and the Twitter account I set up for the blog. This saves me time from having to do it myself and reaches more people. Because of Facebook‘s new timeline format, often your posts are buried. So repost! You can use HootSuite to publish later or Networked Blogs or do it manually. So if I publish now, I can use HootSuite to publish five hours from now to catch readers who weren’t online earlier. I also have a sociable bar at the bottom of each post which allows readers to retweet, Digg etc. my blog. And when I write a piece for the Dallas Morning News, which includes my blog address in the tagline, they post it on their Facebook and Twitter feeds and I do the same thing. So my one piece is posted four different times in a day and reaches thousands!
Sharing posts: I do have agreements with other blogs to share my content. I do not mind doing this provided they ask my permission and credit me. They always do. This does not always get me the traffic I want–as they read my post on someone’s website–but it does give me the branding and name recognition I need. Also, because I freelance and use material from my blog, I am very careful to make sure any print published work looks and sounds different from the blog.
When should I post a blog? In general, after 10 a.m and before 4 p.m., people read blogs at work. But get a tracker on your blog. You can do this for free using Google Analytics or I prefer webstat.com. You can track your traffic, which posts were the most read, when they were read, who read them (I can see the IP addresses) and what time. This will help you to determine the best time to publish. Again, you don’t have to sit at your computer and push publish at that time. You can set the time of your blog to publish whenever you want it to without you having to be at the computer. Love this perk.
Can you really make money blogging? The short answer is yes. But there are different ways to do this and too many websites and books to name. Just search for blogging and money. You can get ads on your blog for which you are compensated by clicks or page views. Once you have established yourself, companies will inquire. If you blog about a product or interest such as fashion, you will gain interest from those specific advertisers. But as a journalist can you see yourself being funded by Chevrolet? Will this be a conflict of interest to you? I don’t mind advertising for local business or for events such as festivals. But I am a voice blogger. That is to say, I use my blog as a platform to sell my writing voice. I refer editors to my blog. I tell people about my blog. I have and still do get freelance work because people read the blog, like it, and it is a great online portfolio. This is a real asset to journalists. We have an advantage over non-professional writers. This is my platform to showcase my social media skills, give a potential freelance client and idea of my writing voice, my political leanings, my professionalism. This is important. Also, there are bloggers who have been approached to write books because they have established themselves as an authority. Hungry Girl started as a food blog and now she has her own Food Network show! So don’t limit yourself to those quick flashy ads. The pay is minimal and I’ve made far more using my blog as a platform for my freelance work.
Building your readership: I am a huge self promoter. When I started blogging, I made business cards, sent out press releases (because as journalists we know how to do that and who to send them to) and I actively reached out to local websites and editors. I contacted KRLD and was featured several times on segments with the morning show hosts. If I post something interesting, I let others know. I also use Twitter and Facebook and have found both to be great for promoting the blog. My blog is my PR machine. I have had editors who can’t remember my name but who do remember Chick Talk Dallas. That’s great! Don’t be shy. If you are writing about love in the country, email every country radio station in your area. Email your local magazine editor and pitch a column or story idea. They may not accept it but they will hear about you and may contact you later. Also, if you use Twitter, I actively search for terms and look to see who I can tweet to. For instance, if I write about SMU, I will search for SMU people on Twitter and send them a link to my blog. They may retweet it, they may click on the link and, hopefully, they will become a follower. Don’t forget to be consistent in your posting, your credibility and your voice.This builds sustained readership over time.
Nuts and Bolts: Establish your blog name. Short and catchy and easy to find is best. Choose something that captures the essence of your blog. Choose CountryLoving instead of lifeanddatinginthecountry. If you look at my Twitter account, my Twitter name is ChickTalkDallas but my name is listed in the about portion. It is hard for people to spell my name and harder still for them to have to link my name to the blog. For many journalists, using your own name is a good idea. To blog you need a domain name (something.com), a server company (that will support the site online) and blogging platform to get started. The site Networksolutions.com is a great resource. They are specifically tailored to WordPress and can get you set up easily within a few minutes with a domain name, stat counter and blog space. WordPress is the best. Networksolutions is reliable and makes getting set up easy. And WordPress is user friendly and allows you to tailor and edit the way your site looks.