What are you saying?

I’m a big proponent of writing what you want to write. As a blogger who is somewhat obsessed with optimization and statistics, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of trying to write for the audience, putting out what I think people want to read, but I do what I can to quell this internal pressure and Ryan occasionally hits me with a reality check that sets me straight. Instead, I try to worry less about you all (sorry, but it’s true) and focus more on what interests me. If I’m not enjoying myself, what I write will be crap, so no one would want to read it anyways.

That being said, I can sometimes be a bit paradoxical when examining other people’s blogs. Though I whole-heartedly believe that people should write what they want, do what they enjoy, and generally not bother listening to blowhards like me, I look at some blogs and think, “Why?”

My confusion arises primarily out of cognitive dissonance, where I expect one thing but am seeing another, like if you found a parrot that wears an eye-patch yet speaks fluent and beautiful Italian. As a more on-topic example, I usually experience this confusion when I find a professional (in any field) who has started a blog. They generally dip their toes into social networking sites, getting a Facebook account and probably posting updates to Twitter. Since they’re a bona fide professional in their field, I expect them to love what they do and to express that, subsequently seeking out others who share their love. Instead, all of these messages they’re posting are usually just self-promotion as the professional monologues about whatever it is they’re doing and then says, “Look! Look at how awesome I am!”

The problem is that a lot of professionals in a wide variety of fields have approached social media and networking tools as just another type of hammer they can slip into their rusty tool belt, not realizing that this is something else entirely. Rather than joining a conversation about a subject they enjoy, these bloggers are usually just trying to get their numbers higher, secure more readers, and do whatever they can to claw their way to a bit of legitimacy. I feel like they view the web as just a digital newspaper: We post it, and people will read it because we posted it.

What I’m getting at is that while you should do what you want, maybe you should take a long, hard look at what you want and make sure what you’re doing meets those goals. If you’re a professional, someone who loves what they do, but all you do on your blog is talk about what you did… you’re not communicating that love to me. I’d think that you’d instead be more interested in connecting with other people who love what you do and having new conversations on the subject, collaborating on new discussions rather than continually referencing old work. When I see a professional who just points at their own site and isn’t carrying on a conversation, I tune them out. They aren’t communicating that love to me, and if they don’t love what they do (enough to invest in actually networking and conversing with others), then whatever they’re doing is probably crap and not worth my attention.

What are you saying with your Twitter messages, your Facebook status, your blog entries and YouTube videos? Are you creating new things to share, joining new conversations, and investing in what you love and other people? Or are you just saying, “Look! Look at me!”?

Signs that you’re doing it wrong:

  • You don’t reply to comments on your blog, Twitter, et. al.
  • You only update your blog every few months (which, while not necessarily bad, makes me wonder why you bother to have a blog… maybe a newsletter would work better?)
  • Conversely, you update multiple times a day/week with links to articles you’ve read (skimmed… or read the title of), but no analysis or original thought
  • You follow a billion people on Twitter and don’t read any of them
  • You spend a lot of time thinking, “What would people like to read?”
  • You don’t strive for original thought, instead electing to copy/paste or just repeat what others have already written (For instance, I might recommend that instead of, “New version of Ubuntu is out with these features: [copy/paste],” you shoot for, “I installed the new version of Ubuntu and liked X and Y but am not sure about Z because of [original thought].”)
  • You don’t read any other blogs

Please understand that this isn’t all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be. And there are always exceptions to these rules (such as popular and incredibly busy authors who don’t have time to reply to the thousands of messages they receive each day). But I think we can all remember a time when we looked at someone’s blog and just thought, “Why? What is the point of this?”

If the blogger is enjoying themselves, fine. I’d call that good. But if this is just a job for them and they’re just out to get their readership higher, chances are it’s not going to work. You’ve got to get the love first, and then the money will follow. If all you’re trying to do is get money though, you’ll never get any love, and your selfish motivation is going to come through in your interactions (or lack thereof) with people to the extent that they’ll just ignore you.

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