Writer, Brand Thyself: Blogging Pt. 2 – Content & Networking

It’s said that the best way to learn something is to explain it to someone else. And that’s certainly true of this post series for me. In an attempt to present as many options as I can for using blogs and other social networking tools, I’ve been trying out new tools and methods for keeping everything organized and up-to-date. My own habits are becoming more streamlined because of it (or not, in some cases, on purpose).

As always, please remember that these are only my opinions, and won’t work for everyone or with everyone’s schedule. Take what you like, and ignore the rest.

Content

Blog readers tend to prefer topics one at a time. So my advice is to stick with writing. You can sprinkle the occasional “slice-of-life” in, but try to keep the blog focused most of the time. I’ve tried it both ways– focused definitely works better.

Your audience will grow from the type of content you post. Write about writing, and you’ll attract writers. Write something people can read (flash, short stories, poetry, etc) or about the latest book you’re submitting, and you’ll attract readers. Save the day-to-day snippets for other media where they are more suited (we’ll get there, I promise). I’m also of the opinion that querying details (requests, rejections, etc) should be kept off the blog. Agents, editors and other publishing professionals don’t need to see how many times your work has been rejected, or how bitter you are at having gotten the last form letter, or whatever.Professionals don’t advertise their failures

Last weekI asked what readers thought was the minimum number of times a blog should be updated per week. Only one person guessed, and she guessed once per day.

My answer: Once per week.

Obviously more is better, but more than once per day is too much, in my opinion and honestly, every day is probably too much for most readers. Two to three times a week is probably optimal for most people (and easy enough to keep up with). I schedule my content so that readers looking for specific topics can know that I’ll be talking to *them* on certain days…and can schedule their blog-reading time accordingly. I also try to keep my posts at no more than 800 – 1k words. When people know what to expect from your blog and when, it’s a great way to foster efficient…

Networking

Once you have a blog, it’s time to get out there and meet other bloggers.The best way to do that is to…read blogs. Simple, right? It is the most time consuming part of networking though (in my opinion). There are many ways to do this efficiently – you just need to play around with different methods until you find something that works.

I recommend that you get comfortable with using “feeds”. A feed is just a file of your latest post (or posts) without all the blog “wrapping”around it. Think of it as choosing the “text” version of a newsletter rather than the html version. When someone “subscribes” to your site either using a reader or email, this is what they’re getting. And it’s the first thing you should do when you stumble over a blog you find interesting enough to visit more than once – subscribe to the feed. I find it’s more efficient than using bookmarks and visiting each blog if you follow a lot of blogs, like I do.

Many blogs offer the Google friend connect widget – you “follow” a site, and you can either view the feed in your blogger dashboard, or in Google reader(it goes there automatically). The “Networked Blogs” widget pulls blog feeds into your Facebook page so they show up on your home page, and there are many, many other feed readers you can use (I’ve been playing with Bloglines recently). All blogs should have a subscribe button of some sort (including yours!). If you subscribe to a feed using youre mail address, you’ll be emailed whenever that blog has a new post. I haven’t played much with that, as I have enough email coming into my various accounts.

Feed readers are fabulous in that you can scroll through the day’s posts quickly all in one spot. What I’ve been doing is scrolling through, marking “keep as unread” for the entries that look interesting or that I want to comment on, and then marking the rest “read”. Then when I have time I go back through the posts left on the main page, and read/visit as I have time. As a webdesigner/developer, I missed seeing the blog layouts though. So my“regular reads” are all listed on my blogroll, and I check those daily as I have time. I have them listed by the last post (using the feed –it’s a blogger widget), so I know the blogs at the top have recent updates. I visit each one as they come to the top of the list. It’s not nearly as efficient as using a feed reader, but I like the experience.All blogs start out in my feed reader…when I find myself visiting and commenting regularly, they get moved to the blogroll (and vice versa).

I don’t do reciprocal follows or comments. If I comment on a blog, it’s because that particular post interested me. If I follow a blog, it’s because I’m interested in the content – not because the blog owner followed or visited me. I do visit the blogs of first-time commenters here, just to see if I might be interested in following, and I read the comments in posts I like on other blogs to find other people to connect with (even if I’m not commenting there myself). I follow links from other blog posts, and from other social networks and find many blogs that way. I try to make a few new connections each week to people I’m genuinely interested in…but in doing so, I’m getting my name out there. And by providing content that I hope is interesting and/or entertaining, I’m “branding” myself by my blog when someone clicks on my profile to see “who I am” after that initial contact. 

How do you organize your blog reading/commenting? Do you use feed readers, or do you have some other method of keeping track? Do you make a conscious effort to connect with other bloggers? 

Next week: Blog reading, writing and networking tip sheet.