This year’s Financial Blogger Conference was the biggest yet: 2,000 attendees, including vendors. (Speaking of which: The FinCon18 box of swag giveaway is up on my personal website until Oct. 15. Some really fun stuff in there.)
Someone on the FinCon Facebook page asked other members to name their favorite takeaway(s) from the conference. Here’s the one that got my attention:
“Stop trying to be clever and serve your audience’s needs.”
That is one solid-gold reminder.
And it’s essential information, whether you’re already a blogger or are thinking of becoming one. In fact, I’d suggest that you say that phrase out loud every day.
Don’t start a blog, or continue the one you already have, without thinking about your audience’s needs. Blogging is not just about cleverness. It’s also about whether that cleverness provides any value.
Why should the audience care?
Maybe your goal is to give solid, actionable advice on a topic that matters: money, parenting, disability, food, travel. Perhaps you want to provide thoughtful essays or funny stories. Could be you’ll serve as a light in the wilderness for readers with chronic illnesses or devastating divorces.
But only if people read you! If you want to be followed, you need to be worth following.
That’s where the “serve your audience’s needs” part comes in. Initially you could pull them in with a funny name or a unique backstory. But once you’ve got them, you need to give them a reason to stay.
Obviously funny/unique sites can be well-written. But if they aren’t, they’ll likely find their reputations dwindling over time. Readers may read you for a while, grow out of/grow bored with your site, and move on.
For readers, finding a blog to stick with for the long haul is like dating: After the novelty wears off, they have to decide whether you actually like this person once he or she stops wearing makeup/removes the toupee.
Let the audience hear you
Don’t get me wrong: Voice definitely matters! A blog without a specific voice quickly turns into a boring drone. Why would a reader stay and be bored when so many other options exist?
But don’t confuse voice with cleverness. Sometimes the two are mutually exclusive. If you’re in love with the sound of your own voice, or interested only in being the snarkiest snarkmeister who ever snarked, how does that help your audience?
I devote an entire chapter of my blogging course to the topic of voice. An excerpt:
“Voice” means being able to hear the writer while I’m reading. I’m talking about the kind of writing that keeps me going until the end of every post and that also makes me bookmark the site.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be Pulitzer-finalist stuff, either – just clearly and compellingly written sentences that deliver the latest on extreme couponing or vegan charcuterie or sleep training.
Your voice is you – loud enough for the rest of us to hear it.
Look around the blogosphere. How many genuine voices do you hear? Too few. I don’t hear a lot of originality – and I don’t think that’s because bloggers aren’t creative. I think it’s because they don’t trust their own voices.
I see blog posts written inverted pyramid style, yearbook style, 9th-grade-English-essay style and hey-girlfriend! style. I see slang that not only sounds forced but will quickly date the piece and maybe embarrass the writer five years from now. (Remember, the Internet is 4-ever.)
I see people who seem to think they’re required to include every single fact they collect. And I see people who seem to think they have to fling attitude to get noticed.
Attitude isn’t voice. Neither is relentless snark, or hip-weltschmertz. Those things can be elements of voice, just as voice is an element of writing. But it’s hard to sustain post after post solely on fey wit or “another sign the apocalypse is upon us” moans. You’d have to be a much better writer than most of us are.
So go ahead and use your voice! Just don’t forget about your audience. Ever.
Keep the audience satisfied
Without audiences, there will be no blogs – or at least, there will be no profitable blogs. While relatively few blogs make serious money (i.e., enough to let the blogger quit that day job), it’s possible to earn enough to pay for site expenses and, with luck, to provide a decent alternate income stream.
Be clever. Absolutely be clever. But use those powers for good, not just to remind yourself how funneeee you are. Specifically: Every time you sit down to write (or stand, if you’re using one of those walking or stand-up desks), make your audience’s needs a priority.
Ask yourself, “Whose life will I change today?” Then do the work that supports that change.
(Note: I’m offering a short-term discount on my Write A Blog People Will Read course. Use the discount code FINCON at my payment platform before 11:59 p.m. Oct. 31 and you’ll get the course for $125. The platform accepts PayPal, credit and debit.)