One of my twitter pals, Scott Smith (@smith5987), asked me how I got started writing a blog. It turns out that Scott is also interested in writing a blog but hasn’t yet gotten over that “start-up” hump. And all of us who write blogs know what that’s like!!
Scott’s question got me to thinking about when I got started and what I’ve learned in the 6+ months since then. I started tweeting back to Scott, but geez, I can’t fit it all into those 140 characters! So I thought I’d share my top 5 tips for starting an education blog. Here we go….
1. Whittle down your blog identity. Most of us have a bunch of different interests, which is great for life, but less great for a blog. My blog is primarily about effective, data-based instruction. The specific posts are related to that in some way, whether it be learner behavior, particular ed tech hardware products, apps, instructional design strategies or professional development. Sometimes I’ll write an oddball post (like this one!) that isn’t straight down the middle for me, but by and large, readers have a reasonable idea of what my blog is “about” and what they’ll find here.
2. Don’t be afraid to ruffle some feathers. Though it’s not clear who first said it, we all have heard the saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” And it’s as true for blogs as anything else. Blogs are, by their very nature, op/ed pages. And the most engaging and interesting blogs are those that have a strong perspective. I have found, through the course of my blogging, that the most-read posts are those that are the most “controversial,” in that I take positions that I know will have many opponents. That isn’t to say that you should be controversial for the sake of being controversial. If you want people to read you then you still need to be authentic and civil. But don’t be afraid of a little controversy. That’s a big part of what makes this fun and gives us all the opportunity to engage with each other…and hopefully learn!
3. Keep a running list of topics. This is an uber-practical tip. Pretty much every social media marketing expert who you read will tell you that if you want to build a regular readership on your blog then you need to blog on a regular schedule. I try to blog twice each week. Before you start a blog you think, “Twice a week? I can handle that…I have WAY more opinions and reactions to things than two per week!! How hard can that be??” Well, I’ll tell you the answer: HARD. Sure, we all have tons of opinions and reactions, but how many of them warrant an entire blog post? And a post that anyone wants to read? Ah, there’s the rub. So what I try to do (and I’m not as disciplined about it as I need to be) is keep a running list of possible blog topics. I read a story or hear something on the news or even chat about something to a friend that has some post potential? I just jot it down. Not every topic that goes on the list makes it to the blog, but when I need to write and need some inspiration, I can go to the list. It’s basically filling the funnel.
4. Utilize others’ blogs. Other people’s blogs are good for a number of reasons. They give you good ideas for topics, you can respond to what other people say with your own post (this has worked really well for me in starting a dialogue) and you can leave comments on others blogs and include your URL. Other bloggers are trying to generate traffic for their site just like you’re trying to generate it for yours, so this is a good way to collaborate in that effort. Even if you don’t agree with that other blogger. ESPECIALLY if you don’t agree with that blogger. Dueling blog posts generate a lot more interest than do blog posts that agree, so use that. The other thing that I do is occasionally reblog others’ posts that I really like. Not only do I not have to think about and generate a post that day, but I also get to share my readers with another blogger who I like. One example of this, right in this post, is the image I used. It’s from another blog, written by Ellie Lowell, and hopefully some of you will visit her blog because you saw this cool image. Win-win!
5. Just jump in. I waffled for a long time before starting my blog. I intended to start in January, but didn’t actually start until March. I had my whole site set up and tinkered with it for weeks before turning it “on” for the public to see. On some level I knew that it would never be perfect enough for me to feel “ready.” So finally I just did it. I just wrote that first post and made the blog visible. I was nervous. But I experienced huge relief just getting that over and done with. Once it was out there I was able to move on to the problem of continuing the blog, not just starting it! (Which, of course, is the much bigger challenge.)
So thanks for the question that got this all started, Scott! Other education bloggers, what can you recommend to Scott and me? What are your tips and tricks that have worked well for you? And how do you keep yourself going when inspiration is lean?
You can follow Scott Smith on twitter @smith5987. Scott is a high school principal and self-described avid Arkansas Razorbacks fan.