Blogs and social media are, in some respects, part of the same family; social media can be viewed as ‘micro-blogging’ and blogs can be viewed under the umbrella of ‘social media’. But, like the Mustelid family in the animal kingdom, it would be unwise to treat an otter as though it was merely a ‘water ferret’. Acknowledging and respecting their differences is the first step towards a harmonious relationship. So here’s my in-depth answers to a few FAQs…
Is there one set of guidelines you can recommend for posting on blogs & social media?
No, nay, never. The most important thing about both blogging and social media is that they are constantly evolving. One of the reasons I’m writing this here post is because I realised some of the tips I’d recommended on posts here a few years ago, were already a little out-dated.
One of the main tips of old was to keep blogs short and sweet. I’m beginning to feel this is the wrong way of looking at it. The better perception is to say – be economic with your words, but say as much as needs to be said. Yes, internet attention spans are short. But the information superhighway – as it was known in days of yore – is full of short snappy blogs on topics (such as this one) that are really just regurgitated information. They offer nothing new, they just recycle the 2nd hand experience of other people writing on the same topic. There’s a great post on 99U about The Creative World’s Bullshit Industrial Complex which I urge you to read. A good blog, even a good social media post, needs to offer a new angle. If you’re a content creator, you need to create content, not hot air.
“Be economic with your words, but say as much as needs to be said.”
One of the great things that Twitter teaches you (alongside any kind of assignment/story with a word count) is to be economical with words. Write something, then go back over it and work out which bits are surplus. You will be a better writer for it.
I’m not much of a writer, should I bother with a blog?
Blogs don’t have to be 90% written content. Mainly blog platforms, such as Tumblr, are designed with more visual content in mind and You Tube is full of vlogs (video blogs). The thing about both blogs and social media are that they exist to create a narrative and engage an audience. Whether you’re doing this with images, words, video, emoji, or a combination of everything, is up to you and the story you want to tell. Blogs can make fabulous visual sketchbooks. The main thing about starting a blog or similar is having regular content, especially if it’s related to your business.
How regularly should I post on the blog?
There are various theories out there on how regular is regular. I wouldn’t worry about this so long as you establish a rhythm that works for you. And it’s not the end of the world if you have a little hiatus. It will affect your SEO, but more on that later. The most important thing is to have engaging content. What is defined as ‘engaging’ depends on your audience. There are hundreds of blogs out there that I consider to be insipid and boring, and yet many of these have a huge following. This is because I’m not their target audience. But if you’re just writing a blog because you think you should and you read that it was essential to promote your creative projects, then this will come across. If you’re bored with it, your audience most certainly is. The other thing about engaging content is that it has a double meaning, there’s engagement in terms of actual response (likes, shares, conversations) and there’s engagement in terms of giving people something to think about. If you concentrate too much on the former you will often lose the latter.
“The other thing about engaging content is that it has a double meaning, there’s engagement in terms of actual response (likes, shares, conversations) and there’s engagement in terms of giving people something to think about. If you concentrate too much on the former you will often lose the latter.”
How much should I worry about grammar and punctuation?
As with many of these questions, it depends somewhat on your audience. If you suspect that a good portion of them care about such things, then you need to also. I often write blogs for writers, many of whom are notorious pedants about such things, which has worried me at times because I don’t think my education was the greatest. I recently discovered the Grammarly app and use the simple free version on my laptop so it automatically checks everything I post and email.
One thing to keep in mind about blogging and social media though is that it’s meant to be quick and dirty. Brevity and conveying the moment are more important than the correct use of the word ‘whom’. This is not an essay or a think piece in the New York Times, it’s something you want to post quickly and regularly.
Do I have to use click-bait titles?
Titles and lead-ins are important. Titles benefit from being accurate and comprehensive, lead-ins need to do just that: lead you into the article and make you curious. When I first started blogging I was fond of giving things obscure, creative titles. I was trying to be intriguing, but the fact is that we have short attention spans on the internet and clicking through to an article without knowing what it is about can feel like a frustrating waste of time.
Your SEO also benefits from a relevant title. So a good general rule of thumb that I use these days is to make the title informative and the lead-in intriguing. Click-bait titles and lead-ins have been used very effectively by the likes of Buzzfeed and Upworthy, they manipulate what is known as ‘the curiosity gap’. But, they are quickly becoming passe and pastiched and are less likely to work for a discerning audience. Again, it all depends on your audience. You don’t have to advertise everything with ‘This blog will literally blow your mind!’ but that said, don’t ignore the concept of the curiosity gap. It’s a narrative tool that existed long before the internet.
Why are lists so popular on the internet?
This is something I’ve been thinking about recently. As with clickbait titles, it can be annoying when so many blogs and articles on the internet are top ten lists and the like. But they work, my theories for this are as follows.
People like to know roughly how long the blog is in advance. Going back to short attention spans, have you ever started reading something on the internet only to realise it goes on forever? A list gives us a certainty that we’re not entering infinity.
They’re easy to skim read and cyber surfers love to skim read. See how this blog is broken into a list of questions so readers can skim through and only read the most relevant bits if they want to? Not like you, dear attentive reader, I know I can trust you to chew every word.
They can argue with it. Everyone loves to argue on the internet. Charlie Brooker once said, “Internet outrage is the caffeine of the 21st Century”. He wasn’t wrong. A list, say a top ten, gives the audience space to say “Hey, why have you left XXX off this list? It’s the greatest Vin Diesel film of all time!!!” Now you may think you don’t want this kind of response, but actually, it’s difficult to get audiences to engage actively with blogs. And the more they engage, the more likely it is to get seen by others.
All this does not mean you have to blog in lists. But take heed of the reasons why they’re so loved!
How much is too much with social media?
Many moons ago when I was just starting out, I wrote a short blog called Overkill. How much is too much with blogging & social media? I made my feelings on the subject pretty clear here and I stand by most of it. You do need a certain confidence and conviction in what you’re doing when you post on the web. And there will be times/projects when you need to post LOADS (such as during a crowdfunding campaign) and you will feel a bit grubby about it.
But overkill is rife. If you post ‘buy my book/record/time/!’ over and over and over you will be nobody’s friend, except the idiots doing the same thing who don’t read your posts anyway. The same thing applies to all types of journalism, blogging, and general PR – you must create a new angle on the story, people don’t want the same thing shoved down their throat ad infinitum like a foie gras goose.
You also need to place social media into your work in the greater scheme of things. It’s a great weapon, but it is only one arrow in your quiver. Good time management means not letting it take over.
How can I maximise my social media output without it draining my time?
I strongly recommend using a platform which schedules social media posts for you. This makes time management a lot easier and means you don’t have to stop in the middle of what you were doing to post something. Some of these platforms offer a free version (e.g. HootSuite) if you’re only using a couple of accounts on it. I never used to use one and now I’m not sure how I managed without it!
That said, some social media content needs to be ‘in the moment’, especially if you photographing or Instagramming an event while it’s happening.
As with all task management, if you try to do too many things at once, you risk not doing them well. It’s best to plan out your working day in blocks. Rather than checking social media and email constantly, set aside time at points in the day to do so.
The best times to post on social media tend to be first thing, lunchtime, during the afternoon work lull, and when people are leaving work and going home. Get on a bus or train at evening rush hour, everyone is staring at their phone.
Should my business have a social media account on every popular platform?
Social media accounts need time and attention. If you overstretch yourself you risk spreading content too thin. So, it’s best to pick the ones which are most relevant to you and that you think you can make the most of. If you’re promoting events, Facebook is pretty essential, but Twitter continues to dominate as the best all-round platform for business. You expect to talk to strangers on Twitter, so it’s easier to engage a new audience. If you have a lot of visual content Instagram is great, but if you only post photos from time-to-time, these can just be posted straight to other platforms. Linkd In is considered to be very good for business-to-business and for job hunting, but it’s quite dull and corporate, so it depends on what you’re selling and who you’re selling to.
What is SEO and how soon should I worry about it?
Search Engine Optimisation aka can people find you through Google and similar. Yes, you need to consider it and know what it is, but don’t overthink it too quickly. It takes time. And annoyingly the rules change regularly.
Your online presence needs an anchor point. This can be a blog or a website, or the main place that you post content. Everything else needs to lead to this place. This place is the place you want to come up in the Google search. As a freelancer, it may seem a little fruitless to add yourself to the various online portfolio sites out there, but one thing it’s good for is leading everything back to your anchor point. The same with social media accounts.
There are many, ever-changing tips and tricks out there to help with SEO, there is a whole industry built on ‘the knowledge’, but one thing doesn’t seem to change. The search engine (e.g. Google) wants to offer the audience the best, most reliable, most up-to-date content to fit their request. There are many dormant websites out there with out-of-date content. If your blog is up to date, with regular, timely posts, this helps. If other websites, even social media platforms, contain links which lead to this site, this gives it more credibility. But when you’re starting out, this will take time unless you’ve money to blow on an SEO expert giving you a hand. And beware, there are lots of cowboys out there!
How do I maintain interesting content?
Be enterprising. Learn how to tell your story well, human experience is built on narratives. Beg, borrow and steal (without compromising intellectual property law, of course!). Be a reader, be an audience yourself and learn about what works. Not by people telling you ‘what works’ (going back to the creative world’s bullshit industrial complex and those cowboys I mentioned), but by experiencing what works. Why are you still reading this post here? What are you getting out of it? But never imitate without innovating. Find your voice, find the unique set of thoughts and skills you bring to the table.
Where is the balance between personal and professional?
This goes back to finding your voice. It’s like when you take a professional call. You need a ‘phone voice’, even if you’re super stressed. You need to convey a certain level of professionalism, but also to get people on side, you need to be human. You are not just an artistic robot promoting your work. You need to come across as multi-dimensional, but still professional. Don’t post twenty pictures a week of you cat or your children on your work social media page, unless they’re somehow very relevant to your work. But the odd one sure won’t hurt. Don’t post an essay on a professional page oversharing about your health problems, but if you’ve not been active on the internet for a while due to time off for a health problem, there’s nothing wrong with mentioning it. It shows you’re human, it shows the realities of self-employment. In a world of spin doctors, sometimes it’s nice to hear some truth!
The end. Thanks for reading. Remember: Have confidence, be economical, think things through. You will go far.
Kirsty Fox, writer & social entrepreneur