You’ve got your domain, you’ve installed your theme, you’ve endlessly tweaked your logo, colors, fonts and sidebar. You’re ready to do this. You spend eight hours over four days to write your first post. The second one comes a little faster – 7.5 hours over three days. It doesn’t matter. You’re on to the third post and it’s official… you’re a blogger.
So now what? How do you start reaching people?
First, About Confidence
Right now you’re finding your voice and you might not feel confident enough to start putting yourself out there. I have a simple solution. Instead of trying to be good, try to be useful.
Being useful is an easier task, it shifts your writing from self-expression and navel gazing outwards to seeing others, recognizing a need and bringing it to them.
It also makes it feel easier to self-promote. You can and will change the tone of your blog over time, but in the beginning, taking a helpful approach will give you the confidence to put yourself out there more.
How being a new blogger feels: “Here read my writing about my thoughts about my life! OMG WAIT NO, DON’T READ IT ACK!”
How being helpful feels: “Here, I put together a pdf list of resources that might help, let me know if you have questions!”
What Kinds of Things Do People Share?
To get readers, you need the viral nature of the internet to work in your favor. Right now, it’s not. Your voice is being drowned out by endless stream of content. People are not seeing what you’re writing. It can be challenging to swim past the break, and a lot of bloggers get stuck in the churn, their latest post barely getting air before being whisked away by the latest wave.
Depressing! But only if you’re stuck. Once you swim past the break, you can ride those waves. The power and awesome ability to reach thousands of total strangers just because you wrote a post is not to be underestimated. In order to do that though you have to get people to share what you write. It’s as simple as that.
How to bust past the break: aim for shareable content. There are four main categories that reliably shared: news, things that make them have big feelings, funny stuff and helpful things. Inform, feel, laugh, help. I’m a big fan of being helpful, but let’s talk about all four.
To inform, first write something newsy. Options:
-Break news (this is hard)
-Take a piece of news and explain what it means from a practical perspective. Look at Vox.com for examples of “explainer” articles.
-Tie together a news story with the emerging reactions on social media. Look at Mashable.com for frequent examples of making a story out of the Twitter response.
Hopefully you’re writing this piece within hours of the major news story breaking. Post your links on Twitter and Facebook with hashtags for the topic. Pin the post to your profile and jump into conversations on Twitter frequently until the story dies down. If you’re witty, timely and relevant, you can get tens of thousands of views to your Twitter account within hours. If you have a pinned post related to what you’re tweeting about, then it will drive traffic to your blog.
Are you better at big emotions? Writing a moving essay. Pitch the essay (send an email to the editor through their submission guidelines and describe the topic you’re writing about) and try to get it placed somewhere.
When the article comes out, send it to all your friends and family. Post that article on Facebook. Personal essays published on a third-party site are going to have a larger reach and you’ll benefit from being lightly edited. If you’re good a this, you can reach a much bigger audience and quickly get readers. Don’t forget to keep blogging on your own site! (By the way, this is the method most authors use to promote their books. Not everyone can write essays, but if you can, this works well enough to get people on best seller lists.)
Hilarious posts are quick to go viral, but how do you get people to find them to begin with? All of the comedy writers out there are on Twitter and joking it up with every latest controversy. The trending topics will be your bread and butter, and it doesn’t hurt to interact with celebrities or to roast the president every time he tweets. The key is to be first and funny. (Jokes three days later don’t get traction). Set up alerts on your phone so you get a notification when controversal people tweet. Follow the trends. Keep writing, sharing and posting. People who want that humor in their life will follow. Unlike personal essays, I don’t recommend publishing elsewhere as viral humor posts don’t seem to lead to blog subscribers. It’s best to keep it on your site and use Twitter to reach out.
Being helpful is awesome. It’s one of the easiest ways to reach more people because if you put something together, like a guide, how-to or checklist, and especially if you compile it into a pdf. People want this information. The more specific, the better. If you’re writing about travel, you don’t want to write “how to travel” as your helpful post – it’s got to be specific, for example, “Here’s the new rules for Americans traveling to Cuba.”
Other trick? Being a resource isn’t always being the expert. Sometimes it’s just about being helpful and compiling information for the community. If you are writing about gluten-free recipes, you can chip in by compiling a lists of information you and the community would find extremely useful. Maybe it’s meta data like brands of soy sauce that are gluten-free, or round-ups like 18 alternatives to bread.
How to promote? This is perfect for Pinterest (depending on the topic, but a quick search will show you what else is out there), some hashtags on Twitter (test to see), and sometimes Instagram (post a link to it in your profile, and tell your followers about it in the caption of your latest image).
Your first 100 subscribers are hard-earned. In the process you’re going to learn so much about blogging – how to tell a story, how to write clearly and with purpose and how to connect with your audience. There’s no shortcut to those lessons, but understanding how to shape your efforts will get you there faster. You’ve got this.