This week was Thanksgiving in the United States, and I know this time of year has a general theme of “thankfulness” around the world, since the holidays are fast approaching.
Side note: what the heck? Wasn’t it just July? Where has 2013 gone? Anyone else feel like it’s been a blur?
I want to write a bit about thankfulness as a blogger today, and I hope you’ll indulge me by reading…because I think a lot of people get it kind of wrong. Or at least not 100% right.
Around the holidays, from about mid-November to the beginning of January, I see a lot of bloggers thanking their readers for visiting, sharing, being part of the community. They say thank you to sponsors. They say thank you to readers who have turned into customers by making a purchase or donation. They say thank you to email subscribers and social followers.
All of these are wonderful targets of thankfulness. I don’t want to take away from how important it is to say thank you.
Only, I have to wonder, why don’t we say it during the entire year? And more importantly, why don’t we show our thankfulness year-round.
Being thankful has somehow become a feeling reserved for this time of year, when the calendar says it’s time to suddenly grow some warm fuzzies and tell people that we appreciate them.
Instead, I’d like to propose that we spend the year saying thank you. And the very best way I personally know how to do that is to pay it forward.
Think about the days when you first started to blog. Think about all of the friends who supported you, the readers who gave you a chance, and the new fans who took a moment to tell their friends. Think about your mentors, the people who spent their time teaching you and helping you succeed. Think about the people who said YES to being interviewed by you, even though you were just starting out. Think about the moments when you wanted to quit, but someone said NO! and their support helped you find the strength to endure. Think of all the brains you picked.
Often, I see bloggers turn up their noses at anyone who wants to “pick their brains.” It really, really bugs me when people rant about how they hate when people ask to “pick their brains.” I get it. I really do. Our time is limited, and we have to put food on the table.
But are you telling me that you really don’t have time to help out someone new by answering a question via email? You really can’t go to lunch with someone so they can get some advice to help them struggle through those first years of blogging? You really are so busy that you can only read the blogs in your feed reader already, rather than supporting someone new with a comment of encouragement, even though that comment isn’t going to bring any value to you?
Have you forgotten those who helped you? What if they would have instead turned their noses up at you? Would you still be where you are today?
You don’t have to give people hours of your time for free to show the world you are a thankful person. The thing is…most people won’t ask for it. If you’re too busy to have lunch, people understand and are happy for just 10 minutes over coffee. If you can’t answer an email in detail, people understand and are happy for just generalized comments. If you don’t have time for a Skype call, people understand are are happy that you just send them some favorite links where they can research some answers to their questions.
There aren’t enough hours in the day, especially as your blog grows in popularity. But you can try. You can get outside of your comfort zone circle of online friends and show others that you have a thankful spirit.
Help people. Let me say that again: HELP PEOPLE. And then remind them to pay it forward. Remind them to help people too, someday when they are rich and famous, as a way of saying thank you.
Put good out into the world and good will come back to you. Give it a try. I promise that this isn’t some kind of hippy-dippy belief system where if you really believe in something it comes true. It’s just a general way of living, with gratitude in your heart. If you can do that, you’ll be surprised at the new and amazing opportunities that come your way.
Nov 26, 2013 General Blogging
Really. If you are doing any of the following things, STOPPIT! Every blogger out there needs to seriously stop…
…letting others’ styles influence your own because you have blog envy.
I get it. So-and-so has an awesome blog. And you want to be awesome too. Only, don’t change yourself because you think you have to. The truth is, you’re probably already awesome or at least on the road to awesomeness. You have one thing that the other blogger doesn’t have: YOU. Your voice and style, your experiences, your unique way of connecting with readers…those are all things that you need to celebrate on your blog, not squash.
Find inspiration for others, but keep yourself in check. If you start becoming too much like another blogger, you lose the only advantage you have! Always remember that the way you do things might be different, but is part of the reason why people will come to your blog.
…apologizing for time away.
We all need a break from blogging from time to time. When you come back, you don’t have to write a long, drawn-out post about where you were and how sorry you are that you let your fans down with no new content. Unless “where you are” has some kind of relation to why people read your blog, just get on with things already. Spending time reading your explanations and excuses is boring and only stands in the way of what I really want from you – NEW CONTENT. I promise you, we weren’t in agony while you were gone. It’s just a blog. Life goes on without you.
…teaching things you don’t know.
If you don’t make a substantial income from your blog, stop giving me advice on how to become a six-figure blogger. Go out there and DO IT, then relate the information back to me. Otherwise, how do you know the advice you’re giving is good? Don’t worry; there’s still plenty for you to blog about. Take me on the journey where you learn how to make money blogging (or whatever skill you want to eventually teach others) or interview people whodo know what they’re doing.
…rehashing posts from other blogs.
I don’t care if you cover the same information that can be found on other blogs if you do so in a unique or interesting way. What bother me is the boring information that I can find anywhere. If I google the title of your blog post and seven thousand pages of relevant search results come up, you’re doing it wrong. Give me a new perspective.
If you don’t have a new perspective, sit on the idea. The world will not end if your blog has fewer posts this week because you want to mull over a topic. I’ll take quality posts over quantity any day!
…being so secretive and closed.
I want to know you. I want to know your hopes and dreams and fears. I want to share in your successes and pat you on the back when you have failures.
I don’t want to read posts from “admin” or feel like I’m getting my information from a robot.
Yes, privacy is important and you might like to keep details about yourself under wraps. But give me something. Make your about page easy to find, fill it with information, and connect with me on social networks. Become friends with your fans (at least in their minds) by sharing!
What are you biggest blogger pet peeves that you wish people would stop doing? Leave a comment!
Sep 20, 2013 Social Media and Promotion
I’ve hit a new low.
Today, as I was drying off after getting a shower, I wiped my face with a spider.
It’s that time of year. There’s a chill in the air, and in anticipating for Halloween, our little eight-legged friends are in abundance. My verbal warnings to stay out of my house often go unheeded, to the point that I’m actually wondering if there’s some kind of mass spider conspiracy to try to give me a heart attack by showing up in unexpected places.
I’ve never like spiders. When I was five, I was playing outside, and I walked by the side of our house. There was a big mama spider hanging in in her web there and I swear it HISSED at me. Ever since then, I’ve been afraid. But I do realize that spiders are a necessary evil. So as long as they stay outside on the porch and in the yard where they belong, I leave them alone. It’s when they come into my house that I have a problem.
Especially when they hang on my bath towels.
I’m as blind as a bat, so I didn’t see the little guy chilling there. I just picked up the towel and proceeded to wipe my face. And felt something moving. And looked down, squinted, and SCREAMED.
To be fair, the spider was probably equally alarmed.
I threw the towel across the room where it fell, spider and all, into the shower stall. After scrambling to put on my glasses, I made quick work of the little fella. He met a watery demise and was washed down the drain pretty quickly.
Now, I tell you all this not because I want you to envision me naked, wet, and screaming like a little girl (though you’re welcome for putting that picture into your head), but rather because I think it illustrates a really awesome point: Don’t go where you’re not wanted.
Every day, I see bloggers trying to be everywhere. The fact of the matter is, however, that some blogs are just meant for Pinterest while others succeed on Twitter and still others are best on Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn. You can promote you blog on bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon and Reddit, in “tribe” communities like Triberr, and on forums. If you have an hour of free time to spend promoting your latest post, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of different tasks you could do to reach new readers.
Stop banging your head against the wall trying to find success on a network just because someone else find success there. Try it out…but if the community doesn’t respond to your content, move on to find another way to spend your time.
If you’re a spider, you don’t belong in my house!
Instead, start actually analyzing your traffic, bounce rate, and conversion. Find out where your readers are coming from most often. Find out which traffic sources lead to the most engaged readers. Focus on building your blogging brand in those communities, at least at first.
Yes, you can branch out and try new things. And you should. You have to test other promotion methods. But if you give a new community a try and a month later, it’s not really taking off, maybe that’s not the best way to spend your time.
Build your web on the porch. You’ll catch way more flies that way.
That moment someone tells you a parent is sick…
Your hearts begins to flutter, beating faster than you think is possible. Your stomach sinks and you have to fight the urge to vomit. You feel like you should cry, but you instead feel numb. Oh, the tears will come, after the panic sets in, but for a moment, you’re floating, trying to process the bad news.
At least, that’s what that moment was like for me.
When I was in college, my dad, in his mid-forties at the time, had a massive heart attack. He technically died twice in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. It all happened so fast. One day he had the flu and the next he was gripping his heart and trying not to pass out from the pain. I was the only one home when it happened, and there wasn’t time to do anything other than react. I remember as the paramedics were wheeling him out on a stretcher, I grabbed his shoes and a pair of socks. For some reason, I just thought he would need those in the hospital because he wasn’t wearing any.
They put several stents in the blood vessels leading into and out of his heart to prevent it from happening again. He changed his diet drastically and lost a ton of weight. He regained strength. Everything was fine.
Then, this past fall, I got the call again. My father was being admitted to the hospital with chest pains. The doctors think he is on the verge of another heart attack.
This time, I was 350 miles away. I sat there in stunned silence, my own heart pounding to hard I thought that I was going to have a heart attack too.
You’re never prepared for a moment like that. It comes out of the blue and sucker punches you in the gut. We all like to think that are family members are safe and healthy at all times, but that is not the case.
I tell you this because that moment, that blur where we hold our breaths and try to comprehend something, is important. We take deep breaths, ask a lot of questions, and attempt to understand as many details about the situation as possible.
And suddenly, we have loads of perspective that we’ve never had before. We are changed. We determine that we’ve been spending too much time on trivial pursuits. We realize that the grudges we’re holding are dumb and meaningless. We feel our own mortality, weighing us down, and wonder why we have been too lazy to achieve our dreams.
We kick ourselves in the butt.
A sick family member (or our own life-threatening situation) is an extreme case of emotions coming together to motivate us, but I believe that bloggers have the opportunity to elicit this same reaction in people. You content should be so good that people stop and ask themselves, “What the heck am I doing with my life? I need to take this advice NOW.”
Are you motivating people to make changes, even small ones?
For those of you interested in my dad’s story, he ended up having quadruple bypass surgery, which is about as serious as it gets when it comes to matters of the heart. The surgery went well, by he has since had some issues with seizures and had to get an implanted defibrillator, which wouldn’t be a big deal if he hasn’t made a career as a welder. Right now, things are good. Our family has become stronger by going through all of this together. We take it one day at a time and always enjoy the moments we spend together as a family.
Jun 6, 2013 Community
“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!”
Growing up, we had a sign in our kitchen that read, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s the same as the goose-gander message: a woman who is unhappy can make the life of her partner a living hell, so if you’re a man who wants to be happy, step one is pleasing your wife/girlfriend.
Too many bloggers consider themselves the goose in the blogger-reader relationship. In actuality, us bloggers are the gander.
In other words, just because something is good for you doesn’t mean it is good for your readers, and you should always be considering their needs first.
A great example of this is the idea of removing dates from your blog posts, which I recently wrote about on the NMX blog. Time after time, I see bloggers talking about how removing dates has increased their stats. But you know what? It’s annoying. As a reader, I am cranky when I can’t see when a post is written because I don’t know how to tell if the opinions or facts in the post are outdated or not.
Another example? Pop up advertisements. There isn’t a single person out there you likes them. Yet many bloggers use them because the conversion rates are so good.
You are not the goose. You are the gander. Your job is to keep your readers happy, even if the stats tempt you to put into place practices that your readers hate. Long-term, it’s not worth it. Remember, numbers don’t always tell you the full story. For every new click you get because your posts are dateless, what if three-long term readers stop linking to you? What if your pop up ad leads to conversions on an individual level, but those people decide not to share your post because they don’t want to annoy their followers with the ad?
Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Make them happy and you’ll be happy too in the long run.
May 12, 2013 Community
We human beings have a lot of pride.
No one likes to be wrong, especially on the Internet. Yet, the Internet culture is one of ridiculing people, complaining, and ranting. People are unnecessarily snarky and downright mean. Even when negative statements are justified, tact and manners seem to fly out the window when commenting online.
Today, I’d like to propose that we all take time to say “I’m sorry” a little more often, especially to people in our community.
Not “I’m sorry you feel that way,” which really means, “I’m right, but I want to say something that is mildly snarky while still sounding like I take the high road even though I’m fooling nobody.”
Not “I’m sorry you had issues,” which really means, “You’re at fault for this problem. No one else is having issues.”
Not “I’m sorry that I can’t help you,” which really means, “I don’t feel like taking the time or making an effort to help you, even though I feel bad you have a problem.”
Not “I’m sorry, but…” because as my friend Deb Ng has said, “Usually, things that come after a ‘but’ mean that the first half of the statement isn’t true.
I’m not even proposing that you start to take on people’s problems. Not every “I’m sorry” has to come with a solution attached. Sometimes, “I’m sorry” is just that – a notice to the other person that you want to apologize for the issue at hand, and that you’d like their forgiveness. You’ve made a mistake.
Because we’re proud, it can be hard to admit a mistake. I struggle with it every day. I am my father’s daughter; I am a stubborn person. Bull-headed, my mother is fond of saying.
“I’m sorry” can make your community stronger, though. When you acknowledge another person’s feelings of anger or sadness, you give them a gift that we don’t see often enough online. And that’s the real high road. If you can make someone feel better instead of worrying about saving your own face and hiding your mistakes, that’s when you’ve become a real community manager.
Apr 7, 2013 General Blogging
May your past be the sound
Of your feet upon the ground
- Fun, “Carry On”
Despite starting this post with some lyric from a Fun song, I actually want to begin by talking about an awesome Amanda Palmer song called “In My Mind.” In the song, she laments that she thought she would be in a different place in her life by now. She talks about how she thought she’d be more disciplined, never getting hang-overs or losing her wallet. She images being thinner and a better defensive driver. She thinks about the future and how she’ll live a simpler life where she takes time to smell the roses, not like now when she’s so busy.
She thinks about how she’s not the person she wants to be. And then, she realizes that she’s doesn’t really want to be the person she thought she wanted to be…because if she truly did want to be that person, she would be that person. She is exactly the person she wants to be, despite that being different from her initial vision of perfection.
I want to save more money…but I want to go on vacation more.
I want to lose ten pounds…but I want that piece of cake more.
I want to grow my blog…but I want to spend my free time with my family more.
Here’s the kicker, though: it’s okay to realize that your goals can be trumped by other stuff, as long as you’re moving forward in your life. It’s okay to love yourself even if you’re not perfection.
Goals change over the course of your life, and that’s okay, because it’s not important to reach goals that aren’t what you really want, even though you may have previously wanted said goal. This is where the Fun song comes in. What is important is that the “past is the sound of your feet upon the ground.” If you want to see changes in your life, you have to get out there and make those changes happen.
Always be moving forward, despite not achieving your previous idea of perfection. You are exactly the person you want to be. The work you put into life dictates what you get out of life.
Mar 12, 2013 General Blogging
Most birds have a variety of songs they sing. Some, like a mockingbird, will mimic the birds around them, and even copy human whistles. Others stick to singing the songs of their own species, learning several varieties. The Brown Thrasher, for example, will learn hundreds or even thousands of songs over the course of its life.
But the Indigo Bunting only sings one song.
This bird makes it count, though. Indigo Buntings sing a very complex song, comprised of six to eight notes instead of just two or three, and combined in different patterns to create a masterpiece.
When this bird is young, it creates this song, singing notes different from its father. Each bird pulls inspiration from its neighbors to create something unique. There is no one song of the species like you’ll find with other types of birds. Indigo Buntings in one neighborhood will sound different from Indigo Buntings in another neighborhood.
And none of them will sound exactly like their fathers.
You don’t need to sing a thousand songs to be desirable, and you don’t need to repeat the successful patterns of others to be brilliant. Look inside to find your one song, and learn to sing your one song very well.
In case you’re wondering, facts about the Indigo Bunting and other songbirds can be found here.
Image credit: Dan Pancamo
Mar 8, 2013 General Blogging
It really bugs me when people say jerk things while hiding behind “freedom of speech.”
Because there’s something about freedom of speech that we’re all ignoring. It’s there in the corner of our eye, but we choose to look away. We will ourselves to forget, and we live our lives content with the fact that we don’t remember something very important.*
What we’re all choosing not to look in the eye is that freedom of speech isn’t a fact of life. We aren’t born with it, like skin or hair, and it isn’t guaranteed for any human. It can be taken away, and no one really has to give it back to you. Someone can’t change the fact that you breath (without killing you at least), but someone can censor you. Pretty easily, actually.
If you live in the United States or another Westernized country, chances are that your freedom of speech is protected by law. But laws can be changed. Freedom of speech is not a law of nature, like gravity. Human beings created law because we like order. Our laws are not a fact of life, and they only exist when those in power allow them to exist.
And that’s why it bothers me when people use their freedom of speech to be hateful, cruel, or ignorant. We’re incredibly lucky to have the ability to speak our minds, and it’s a freedom we might not have forever.
Words are extremely powerful. How will you use yours? Will you use yours to be an ass on some forum you like to troll? Or will you use yours to make a difference, even a small one, in the world?
*If you get all the Doctor Who references at the beginning of this post, we’re bff. This post is not about DW, but sometimes I just can’t resist.
Feb 15, 2013 Blog Content
There’s this oft-touted blogging rule that your content doesn’t have to be great. It just has to be okay.
It has to be passable. It has to be good enough to teach the reader something. It has to be clean. But it doesn’t have to be fantastic. Because if you spend your time worrying about perfection and pushing yourself to write incredible content, you’ll waste time. Instead of writing one amazing post, you could write 10, 20, maybe even 50 “just okay” posts.
And that’s what people want: more content. They don’t care about being wowed. They care about walking away with a kernel of a concept or a brief set of directions, and you need to give them this content as often as possible. Plus, if you get hung up on writing the perfect post, you’ll never post anything. Or so proponents of this rule would have you believe.
Well, I think the “just okay” rule sucks.
While it’s true that a post doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect to be worthy of reading, you should be shooting for greatness, not mediocrity.
“The world doesn’t need any more mediocrity or hedged bets.” – Anne Rice
Write a keyword-rich post about Topic X might end up driving a lot of traffic to your website. But if ten other websites have already written about Topic X and you’re basically just regurgitating information in an SEO’d way, rather than adding anything valuable to the conversation, you’re just cluttering the Internet.
This isn’t just about cluttering the Internet, though. It’s also about pumping out posts that aren’t fully developed. Is the post you’re publishing the best it can absolutely be? If not, why are you hitting that publish button?
Publish your best content. Some posts are going to be better than others, but you should always strive to push yourself toward greatness. Don’t settle for “just okay,” because you’re setting yourself on a slippery slope. Be awesome in the truest sense of the word. Your readers deserve it.