There have been many interesting discussions in recent months that are related, in some way at least, to this question. Whether it’s the journalist vs blogger debate, or the controversy over press trips and the value of the content that results, the subject sparks strong opinions on all sides.
I did read one sentiment that stuck in my mind although I can’t recall who wrote it (speak up and take credit and I’ll add your link), and it’s hard to disagree with this as a principle. It is this: if you’re going to add something to the mass of content that’s already filling the online world, make it something that is of value to your readers. Good advice I reckon. So let’s probe this a little deeper. What gives a blog post (or any online content for that matter) that necessary value? Here are a few of my suggestions.
1. Tell a story. Yes, it’s my favourite subject, but a simple point to remember that makes any post come to life. We are all storytellers, and we all love to read a good story. Think about the great speakers from history or your favourite lecturers, and they’ll almost certainly be connected by one trait: their effective use of stories to paint a vivid picture of what they want you to take away. The blog should be the perfect medium for a good story. A typical post only takes a couple of minutes to read and you can even add a few photos to illustrate the message. A good post will put the reader in that place and time, and for that short time make them relive your experiences as if they were there.
2. Be original. It can be very hard to come up with an original topic, but it’s not so hard to add your own angle to a well worn subject. Thousands of people write about a day out in Paris, and describing a trip to the Eiffel Tower is not original. Your experiences of talking to an old lady on the Metro who invited you into her home and showed off her photo collections from her younger years as a showgirl at the Moulin Rouge will make one hell of a story. It’s certainly harder to create original material without straying off the beaten track.
3. Challenge commonly held beliefs. I am often far more drawn to a headline that makes me uncomfortable than one with which I instantly agree. Seeing a title of a post about ‘Why I hate the British’ will immediately draw me in, and I’ll want to know what bad experiences this person has had in my home country. A headline of ‘Thai meal for $1’ on the other hand, will not grab my attention.
4. Make it relevant. ‘A walking trip around Lima’ will be relevant to those who live in Lima, have just been there or are planning a Peruvian trip. To others, this story might have limited appeal. The post could however describe what made that walk around Lima so special, the sounds, the smells, the reactions of others and why it’s so different from a walk around London. That way it will start to draw in those people who might never intend to visit the city, but who are captivated by the quality of the story.
5. Provoke a discussion. Sometimes the strength of a blog post is not in the author’s words, but in the discussion that follows. If the sign of a good blog post is that it touches its audience in some way, what better evidence of this than in a string of comments that agree or disagree with the author. If I see a post has 10+ comments, I’ll be more inclined to find out what it was that motivated others to add their opinions.
6. Give useful information. Many blog posts focus on giving tips rather than telling stories. This can be very useful if the reader is planning a trip to that place. But even in a factual post, the message sticks in the mind so much easier when there is a story attached to it. Karen Bryan’s post about a stay in a York hotel is an example of this. I still remember the name of the hotel instantly, and it’s purely down to the way Karen shared her adventures using words and video.
I remember attending a presentation some years ago on ‘How to deliver a great presentation’. I left the room thinking the speaker had been ok, but not great. But I did take one message out of that session. He said that as a speaker you should have one aim when preparing your presentation to any audience: that they leave the room having changed their thoughts in some way. Maybe they’ll be more accepting of a situation of which they had been intolerant; maybe they’ll feel inspired to change their habits or behaviours or challenge their fears; maybe they’ll enroll in a public speaking course. As long as there’s a way in which you’ve made one change, however small, then you have served a valuable role. Surely that same rule applies to blogging?