Meet the blogger, read the blog: five top tips to help readers get to know you

Often, when going through blogs – as I do for example when looking at entries in the PR Friendly Index – I want to know more about the bloggers. I find it interesting to see what they do for a living, what they’re trying to achieve with the blog, and what sort of content to expect, as it all helps me decide whether or not to subscribe.

But hardly any of them include this. Some don’t even have category/tag lists/clouds so it’s pretty much impossible to figure out what they’re about without spending a long time monitoring them or ploughing through their archives.

If I want to subscribe, these shortcomings could put me off. I liken it to the work of a PR exec trying to gather information for a campaign, or indeed a journalist looking for material for an article. Make it as easy as possible for people to get the information they need, and they’ll buy into what you have to sell. Be a lion, not a mouse (actually it’s a hamster in the photo).

So, here’s my top five list of things to include in your blog to make prospective subscribers’ lives easier:

1. Tell people about yourself. Blogging is about the content, sure, but it’s also about the bloggers. It’s sometimes nice to see whether someone’s a freshfaced PR student or grizzled greyhair. I used to dislike photos but I’ve softened on that stance, not least because everyone seems to want to include one now (and I managed to include my photo without it being, well, a real photo). Photos help give your blog a face, in the most literal sense of the word (except for mine). Also tell people about other social media sites you occupy. For example, if you’re trying to promote your business, LinkedIn will be invaluable, and it never hurts to extend your Twitter or del.icio.us networks. You never know, people might actually be interested.

2. Make it easy for people to communicate with you. They can do this through posts, but sometimes people just want to talk ‘off the record’. Don’t post your email address if you don’t want to be grabbed by the spambots (which by all accounts can be quite painful). Some blogging platforms such as WordPress let readers use a form to do this, which doesn’t involve divulging your address unless you want to. There are other ways around this too, for example using an image of your email address rather than text, or inserting random characters into it. And you don’t have to divulge your phone number, but if you’re smart and really want to talk to people you can set yourself up with Skype.

3. Give an overview of your content, ideally through a category/tag list/cloud. Most blog platforms include this so if you have the option to display it, do. It’s the single best way to give someone a virtually instant overview of what your blog is about. I’ve seen blogs recently that don’t have this and I find it incredibly frustrating. If I can see the last five posts, and three of them look interesting, is this representative of the rest of the blogger’s output? Without this overview, I do not know, and I don’t really want to dig around too long to find out. If your blog platform doesn’t have this – and it was only in the past year that WordPress introduced automated tag clouds – or you just want something different then take a look at third-party solutions that might do it for you.

4. Say who you are writing for. Make no mistake, blogging is writing (which is in part why I started blogging in the first place, to hone my copywriting skills). Without considering your target audience, you’ll be lucky if you get it right consistently. This is particularly important if you’re contemplating a blog that talks about a speciality, such as this one (which, by the way, is about PR and social media!). Are you writing for professionals or amateurs? Enthusiasts or beginners? If you tell people this, you help them decide whether your blog is for them. If it is, great: you’re on the way to building a quality audience of genuinely interested subscribers.

5. Outline what you are trying to achieve with the blog. Do you just want to tell people about stuff, or entertain them along the way? Are you a Reithian BBC with the mandate to educate, inform and entertain, a Men & Motors channel fixated on nuts and bolts, or somewhere in between? Do you want to stir things up or go with the flow? More importantly, are you trying to drum up interest in something you have to sell, for example expertise in psychometrics or, heaven forfend, PR? It’s important. Above and beyond what you’re going to write about, your objectives tell people how you’re going to express it.

I’m never shy of currying favour with top bloggers so I’ll point you to Neville Hobson for the best example I’ve come across of how to do this properly. He tells us on his home page who he is, with a link to more information. He gives loads of details under the Contact link off the home page. He has tags a-plenty – so many in fact that I suspect a tag cloud would be inappropriate, more likely forming some sort of highly gravitational and destructive tag nebula. And he kills two birds with one stone on his services page, in that he sells his services while at the same time describing the people he’s trying to reach.

Quite apart from being pretty well known through his consultancy work and podcast, his blog tells you exactly what you need to know. Oh, what am I saying – just copy Neville and you’ll be fine. And, I just noticed, he has a funky HP Print It button at the top left which is well worth playing with.

And if anyone points out that I don’t actually have all of this on my own blog, then well done. I’m working on it!

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