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Learning how to blog better

March 9, 2009

Learning about blogging 

Why go on training courses exactly?

One main reason is to get out of the office, to wile away the afternoon writing notes you know you’ll never read again in a room you wouldn’t normally go in and you probably will never go in again.

Thus I’ve shamelessly confessed most of my motivation for going along to the BBC’s Future Now presentation on “Better Blogging” given by Nick Reynolds and Jem Stone.

In truth, I was also there because I knew I had to get some direction on how to blog. I needed to go with an open mind and see what I could pick up. Just being addicted to blogging isn’t anywhere near enough.

You’ve got to be able to knuckle-down, focus and be a bit more grown-up about this malarkey, I kept telling myself as I sidled up to Broadcasting House unwittingly arriving fifty minutes early, certain I was arriving ten minutes late.

Blogging best practice?

I return home six hours later and think about the work I have to catch up on and the ideas about blogging ideas I need to cement in my head. Here’s what I took away with me:

1. Establish your idea in one sentence. When PR people dangle the idea of a story in front of a correspondent’s eyes they need to make sure they’ve conveyed exactly what that story is about in the first line of the email. True, it’s not specifically about blogging, but I couldn’t help thinking I needed to adopt the same approach in my writing.
2. What blogging is good for. It provides an outlet for wasted journalism. Where TV and radio editors may well be the most difficult people to convince to take a story, blogs provide a catch-all area for those stories not picked up. When I find myself in the unlikely setting of a newsroom I shall remind myself of this advice.

3. Need to link to stuff. The more people I link to, the more people will link to me. The more people link to me, the more traffic I get. The more people I link to makes me look live I’ve done loads of research and that I know the marketplace and (most importantly of all) I’ll be able to tailor my writing thus presenting a more informed piece. Yes. I keep forgetting that. I do. Bad Jon.

4. Use your blog to do all sorts of things. Be transparent, respond to the audience use comments to create further blog posting (ie recycle stuff wherever possible), apologise for mistakes, reveal your thoughts, correct errors in the press, respond quickly to complaints and to explain sensitive decisions. Naturally, I don’t make mistakes, I don’t find myself written about in the press and I don’t make sensitive decisions. I’m always revealing myself and to the best of my knowledge I’ve never given anyone any cause to complain because I’m lovely.

5. Make sense of the noise. In other words, do your research, sum up stuff thus providing yourself with plenty of links to pepper your content with. OK. I get that.

6. Keep level-headed. Audience participation is great but don’t let it swamp your sense of creativity or (fundamentally) your self-belief. I have fallen foul of this in the past. I shut down my Yahoo 360 blog because I thought a commenter was getting way too sneery. I set up another blog three months later. I really should have hung on in there instead of abandoning my then favourite platform.

7. Don’t lose your sense of humour.

8. Be regular. Blogs don’t get traffic unless they’re regularly updated. Apparently, Iain Dale blogs 5-10 times day. If Iain Dale can blog 5-10 times a day, I won’t hesitate from doing a spot more. Watch out. You’ll all be sick of me if you’re not already. 

9. Get out there. I do this all the time much to the irritation of most people I know.

10. Pictures and video and audio are good. Use them. Sweet. That’s an easy thing to do.

11. Adopt a personal tone but don’t be personal. Always. I rely on it. I’ve always considered it a weakness but think otherwise now.

12. Be interesting not partisan.  I confess having to do a Google search on my phone to confirm the definition of partisan. I kept thinking of “artisan” and was a little confused. Now I know, I’m happy to confirm I’m not partisan. Modestly, I do consider myself interesting from time to time.  

13. Write concisely.
Blogs shouldn’t be thousands and thousands of words long. Oops. This is fast approaching 1000 words. And anyway .. I really like the sound of my own voice whether it’s written or recorded.

You may not be surprised to learn I didn’t read any of these notes shortly before I started the group exercise (consisting of writing a blog entry on a story about David Beckham’s AC Milan / LA Galaxy thing) and this combined with my team members similarly low-level of interest in the story resulted in a typical irreverent effort yielding little more than a confirmation that I’ll probably only ever write a personal blog.

That said, keen to ensure I take away something from what has been an insightful afternoon spent in the glamorous interior of the BBC’s Council Chamber in Broadcasting House, I offer the following as an example of a blog I’ve recently stumbled on.

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Blog

The Orchestra of The Age of Enlightenment have an incredibly difficult name to say quickly. Tack the word “blog” on the end and it’s even more difficult to say without some kind of hideous tongue-related injury occurring.

However, the OAE’s recently launched WordPress blog ticks all the right boxes for me. It’s about an orchestra which plays music I like listening to and provides some behind-the-scenes stuff you wouldn’t normally associate with an orchestra.

Their latest blog is about a photo shoot they’re doing. It’s quite interesting. More importantly is the tone they’ve adopted for it. Here’s something which most people might consider is an enormously stuffy subject and yet whoever’s decided on the tone has ensured that everything’s written in such a way that every time I read it I want to reach for a pair of slippers, a mug of hot tea and a digestive biscuit. Oh .. and I might add, this recommendation has absolutely nothing with me being linked to from their blog.

So as you see … aside from the fact that this blog post is an astonishing 1090 words, I must have learnt something in the Council Chamber this afternoon.


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