More Blogging Tips: Cooking with Gas

Yesterday I covered four great lessons we can learn about blogging from watching the movie "Julie and Julia." I promised you a total of 11. So what can you do to make your blog memorable, besides being passionate about your subject, having a goal, being reliable and finding your niche? Keep reading.

Just in case you haven’t seen the movie, "Julie and Julia" told two true stories, the first one about how Julia Child became a chef and wrote her classic cookbook, and the second one about Julie Powell, who one day undertook the task of cooking her way through the entire book in just a year, and blogging about it. She went from nothing to having publishers (and Hollywood) knocking on her door.

Following all these tips might not make you rich and famous, but it should help you improve your blog, increase your readership, and maybe even grow your bottom line. But let me pick up from where I left off.

Track your visitors

Julie’s first comment was from her mother, but we all got excited right along with her when one day she exulted that she’d received 65 comments, and none of them from people she knew. She eventually became the proud owner of one of Salon’s most popular blogs.

By tracking your visitors, you can see whether you’re on the right track. Is your readership increasing or decreasing? How popular was a particular entry? Should you write more on the same subject? Tracking your visitors gives you valuable feedback; it can help you figure out what changes you need to make.

Be proactive in responding to comments

We don’t see this in the movie, but who can doubt that Julie not only read every comment to her blog, but jumped in and responded? Blogging is essentially interactive; readers want to know that authors read their comments, and often ask questions to which they expect to see a response.

In a sense, they’re entitled to one. Think about it. If someone put the effort into reading a blog entry, thought about it, and posted a perceptive comment or asked a good question, that’s work of a sort, and deserves a reward in kind.

Interaction encourages interaction. If you respond to comments, you’ll get more comments. More people will visit, read, and comment on your blog when they know you’re actively involved. Just look at Matt Cutts’s blog to see this in action.

In the movie we saw Julie end a few of her early posts wondering if her readers were out there. That’s a little extreme, and not recommended if you write a company blog, or any kind of blog  that you want to look professional. But there are ways to entice your readers to respond to what you’ve written without begging.

Try  summarizing an entry in which you relate your opinion of something, and then adding “What do you think?” with a suggestion to leave a comment. You’ll no doubt find other ways to encourage comments that work particularly well with your blog’s topic.

Be persistent in achieving your goal

Julie came close to giving up once or twice, but to judge from the movie, she never threw in the towel completely. Early on, her own mother didn’t understand why she was doing it, but she kept it up anyway. Persistence pays; in Julie’s case, it paid off quite literally.

Whether or not you’ve revealed your actual goal to your readers, you should be persistent in achieving it. This might mean changing your tactics based on the feedback you get. It might mean thinking outside the box and doing things you’ve never done before (like killing a lobster, or holding contests on your site).

In an extreme case, it might mean changing your goal, if your original goal turns out not to be realistic. But that shouldn’t be your first instinct. If you took a look at your goal originally and outlined a path to achieving it that seemed reasonable at the time, stick with it unless you later found out that your first analysis was completely unreasonable.

Remember, some goals simply take a long time to achieve. As one example, it’s taken me 17 months to lose 47 pounds, and I have another 5 pounds to go before I achieve my goal. I plateaued twice for so long that it was tempting to give up, but I persisted with what I was doing and made it this far. You can bet I’m not giving up. If your goal is reasonable, or even requires you to stretch a little, you shouldn’t either.

Reward yourself when you achieve your goal

In the movie, Julie went to a special exhibit on Julia Child when she finished cooking her way through the cookbook. This isn’t just a good thing for blogging; it’s a good rule for life in general. Reaching a major goal deserves a celebration. In fact, it can help to set smaller “landmark” goals along the way and treat yourself with smaller rewards, to keep your enthusiasm up.

These rewards should be things you enjoy, and that are appropriate to the goal you’re trying to achieve. If you’re trying to lose weight, you wouldn’t reward yourself with a hot fudge sundae when you’ve lost 10 pounds – but you might celebrate with a pleasant walk in a colorful park you haven’t been to in a while.

Match the size of the reward to the size of the goal achieved. Reaching your goal weight deserves a new wardrobe if you can afford it (you’ll need to buy one anyway, but you can at least make the shopping trip fun). And yes, blog about getting your reward; if your readers have been following your struggles this far, they deserve to celebrate with you!

Don’t expect to achieve everything all at once

Julie didn’t start her cookbook odyssey by trying to debone an entire bird; she saved that for last. She didn’t start with bisecting lobsters or creating aspics either. She started with pan-broiled steak, whole boiled artichokes with lemon butter, and rice. As she said in her blog, it was easy.

Do the easy stuff first, and then build up to the harder things. You’ll be more willing to stick with what you’re doing when you have regular successes under your belt. Just don’t stick permanently with the easy stuff or you’ll get bored – and so will your readership.

Let me expand on this point. You need to develop a voice. You need to be personal, but not too personal, especially if you’re writing for a company blog. You need to consider the image you want to project, and stick with it as long as it works. Julie actually used a fair bit of profanity in her blog; she could get away with that, because it was a personal blog. One could even argue that it was expected, since she was trying to do something fairly challenging, and one of the stereotypes of New Yorkers is that they’re rather loose with blue language.

But that doesn’t mean she let it all hang out. In the movie, we see Julie have a fight with her husband; he walks out in a huff, and tells her that she’d better not blog about the fight. In that night’s entry, she starts to write about it – and then stops herself, highlights the sentence, and hits the “delete” key.

The fight wasn’t something that made sense to include in the blog. Yes, the Julie/Julia Project was a personal blog, but it was really about the cooking, and talking about the fight would have revealed way too much.

Remember, once you hit “publish,” it’s all over the Internet; complete strangers can read it. So give some serious thought to what your entry will look like to people who know nothing else about you, and might not even have read previous entries. If you’re doing your job right, you will get exactly that kind of reader every week. Will they stick around to read previous entries? Will they become regulars? Or will they shrug and move on? The answers to these questions will depend very much on the kind of image you project.

What I’ve said so far about being human may seem contradictory. “Be personal, but not too personal”? Readers will try to picture the person behind the words. Give them enough pieces to get the skeleton of a picture, and they’ll complete the rest of it themselves.

For example, when a novel writer describes a restaurant scene in a book, he may mention, for instance, grimy red-checked tablecloths, but he doesn’t have to mention the shaky table legs; you, the reader, have been in greasy spoons before, and can conjure an entire image of the place from just a few short sentences of little details. You mentally fill in the rest.

Your blog readers will do the same for you, if you give them the right details. You don’t need to look perfect, but you should be honest, sincere, and serious about achieving your goal (though not so serious that you don’t have any fun with it). In short, as I said, you should be human. Blog readers are people, just like you, and relate to humans, not faceless companies. So give them something to relate to. Good luck!

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