There’s one thing for sure as a blogger. You are not alone. As I publish this blog post, some 3.8 million other writers are also publishing theirs. That’s a huge amount of traffic that you need to cut through if your voice is going to be heard.
Successful blogging is dependent on a number of factors. There’s all the usual stuff around knowing your audience and having a set of key messages.
And then there is knowing what type of blogger you want to be.
For example, are you a Sigrun ‘here’s something useful for you to apply in your business strategy’ Gudjonsdottir-type blogger? Or are you more of a ‘Owen ‘this is what I think about this’ Jones-type blogger?
Here at Slack Communications, we’ve identified five core types of blog, which we think are the foundations for all other blogs. A bit like how there are only seven story plots in the world, and all other stories are a variation of those.
So, what are the five and how can you use them in your content strategy?
When blogging first began in the late 1990s, the first style of blog to appear was the online diary, where people used this online journal to share their experiences, feelings and innermost thoughts with others.
This style of blog is still used today. Some write about their daily lives, others will focus on a hobby, others will focus on a cause or something they are passionate about. Whatever the topic, they are an opportunity to put the most compelling stories a person has lived into words. As the title suggests, you can put a lot of personality into this type of writing, which is great for building a personal brand.
The key to success with all blogs is to be interesting and to add value, but this is particularly pertinent in the case of the personal spotlight blog. No one is going to care about what you had for breakfast – unless it is a humorous account of what went wrong that will have them chuckling over their own bowl of cornflakes. Or it has the potential to impact on what they will have for breakfast – will your personal experiences change their perspectives of what they are eating, for example, as a food or health/fitness blog might.
Sometimes it can be enough that you’re being open about your experiences (of cancer, mental health issues, the stress of moving house, etc) as this can provide reassurance to others that they’re not alone in feeling as they do.
But ideally there needs to be a narrative, be that some sort of struggle, something that’s a bit different/odd/out of the ordinary, or an opportunity for shared learning (this happened to me this morning and this is what happened as a result). Otherwise it’s just boring.
You also need to be consistent in keeping the ‘journal of your life’ updated otherwise people are going to lose interest very quickly. The only exception to this is if you use ‘personal spotlights’ in frequently to supplement your other blog posts.
For example, a business blog that usually focuses on the educator-style posts (see point 3 below) might occasionally throw in a Personal Spotlight blog that showcases one of their employees or presents a day in the life of the CEO. These can help humanise a brand and make it seem more approachable.
Who has done this well?
We’d point to Julie Creffield who built a plus-size running movement off the back of her blog, The Fat Girl’s Guide to Running and is now a transformational life coach, international speaker and author.
The case study
Similar to the personal spotlight as it’s focused very much on real-life experiences, the case study blog is an opportunity for an organisation to share the stories of the people it works with. The focus of the case study will obviously depend on the type of organisation yours is, but the core basics of the blog will remain the same:
- What was the challenge you/your customer was experiencing?
- How did you overcome/help your customer overcome these challenges?
- What was the end result? How did it change your life/business?
- What did you discover along the way that others can learn from?
This type of blog is a fantastic way to celebrate and share your successes.
However, it is also very useful if you want to build your reputation as someone who really knows their stuff, because you’ve already tried and tested (and most likely failed at some point) different strategies, services and products – and are now generously sharing your experiences with others. Admitting failure shows you’re human; sharing your learnings from that will help gain you respect and a following.
And, in addition to the piece being useful for your audience (giving them a reason to spend their time reading it), the analysis and writing process will help you gain new insights into your own business which you can then apply elsewhere.
The challenge with this type of blog, of course, is that to be interesting and useful, you possibly will need to share strategies that could help your competitors; and you also need to comfortable chronicling your failures as well as your successes.
Oh, and if you’re going to be referencing a client or another person/organisation – make sure you get their permission before publication.
Which to read?
There are lots of case study-style blogs out there, particularly within the charity sector. One of our fave’s is MSF UK’s “stories”, which provide a great balance of practical information about how they’re making a difference, combined with nuggets of detail that make it interesting.
These are blogs that offer readers something practical that they can apply either to their working practice or their day-to-day life.
Usually, they simplify complex concepts and deconstruct them into smaller, actionable steps.
Always, they speak directly to particular information needs or pain points that a reader might be experiencing.
They don’t give all the answers but help point the individual in the right direction, often with links to where they can find out more.
These cover themes such as:
- How to…
- Listicles, such as ‘five ways to…’
- Check lists: top ten reasons why…
- General information on a particular subject (this blog itself is a prime example)
These are the most common type of blog for a content marketing campaign. In part, this is down to the fact they are relatively easy to write – particularly if someone really knows their subject. But they are also popular with content marketers because they get lots of traction, in both hits and shares, both of which are sought after currency.
Educator-style blogs worth reading? Well, it would be remiss if we didn’t mention our own blog which is packed with useful articles aimed at helping our clients and colleagues be even better communicators, but we also like Benjamin Hardy for productivity and leadership tips, and LifeHacker for how to do everything better.
From the likes of Katie Hopkins and Rod Liddle, both well known for their outspoken commentary of current affairs, to political journalists giving their views on the latest developments from Westminster, to industry leaders giving their perspective on a particular business challenge, the internet is littered with opinion.
Opinion pieces achieve two key purposes: they build the brand of the individual holding the view in question, and they help set the tone and atmosphere of whatever channel has published it, be it a newspaper or company website. In turn, this contributes to reader loyalty – or not, depending on whether or not the reader agrees with the writer.
And there lies the rub. Because opinion pieces demand that the writer takes a strong stand on an issue, they can be polarizing. Which means that the writer needs to firmly believe in what they are saying, and will stand with this view, even if it attracts criticism.
Indeed, there are many people who deliberately write controversial comments for precisely this reason. The more criticism it attracts, the more widely the piece is shared and the more well-known the writer becomes.
Which is really the most important point to make about an opinion piece, and that is that the writer simply cannot play it safe, otherwise the piece will fail as an op ed and instead be a rather boring and bland article that no one wants to read.
The opinion blogs worth reading will vary depending on, well, your opinion on particular topics, and of course, the sectors you work in and are interested in. Depending on your role, you may need to keep your eye on what’s being said within the pages of particular newspapers, regardless of whether or not you agree with their stance or not.
So named by our associate Jon Bernstein for obvious reasons, these blogs comprise a collection of other articles from around the web. Examples might include a round-up of top news stories from your industry; or a collection of new products that you admire (or indeed the opposite). For e.g. here’s 3 articles on ‘How to lead’ that we like and think you should read.
You might wonder why people would bother with such a blog, given that all they do is send readers off in a new and different directions, away from your own website.
However, they are useful in building your reputation within a particular niche, or as an expert on a particular topic. And given that they are relatively quick and easy to pull together, can provide a nice easy option for when you’ve got no time but a gaping hole to fill on your website.
Want to know more about how to blog?
Our new writing workshop is designed to help you raise your profile and enhance your reputation through the use of carefully chosen and placed words. Covering the role and use of blogs and other forms of content, it will teach you the fundamentals of storytelling and leave you with enhanced writing skills, a content plan to use within your wider communications strategy, and an article that is ready to be published.
The first course runs from 5 to 30 November and includes four hours of training via video conferencing, a PDF workbook, practical exercises, one-to-one consultation with me, and membership of a Facebook Group for on-going support. There are just 12 places available. The introductory price is just £250. You can find out more here or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Further dates will be announced in 2019.