Turn Your Catblog Into a Content Engine

First off, I think this idea is worth thousands! Maybe not millions, but thousands. I’ll give it away to you for free. FREE! If you promise to do one thing: link to this from your blog. Link to this post, and you can have this idea I think will be worth plenty to whoever executes it well. Link address: http://chrisbrogan.blogspot.com/2006/04/turn-your-catblog-into-content-engine.html

Are you a blogger of some kind or another? Give this some SERIOUS thought. Are you blogging for your own entertainment value, or do you want to grow an audience who’s interested in what you’re talking about? If you’re trying to build an audience and you’re hoping to deliver more and more quality content to them, here’s my take on how to turn your Catblog into a Content Engine.

We’ll start with some basics, and then I’ll get to some “how to” ideas.

What’s the Focus?

If you want to grow an audience, it’s pretty hard to do so by shifting your focus all the time. One day you’re talking about digital cameras, and the next, you’re asking if everyone saw the latest episode of “Lost.” This doesn’t sit well with the average audience. They want to know what they’re getting when they show up. Sure, there are blogs that work like a variety show. Heck, BoingBoing is the #1 blog out there, and they don’t stick to a tight focus. But if you can get their numbers, you don’t need my advice.

Focus means sticking to a general theme, but it doesn’t mean you should get too narrow that you blog yourself into a corner. It’s great to cover the digital devices space or gadgets, but a blog focused solely on the Apple iPod is a short term play, where you might get some good hits for a few months, but how long can you keep up a passionate and frequent stream of posts about your iPod?

Try to understand the focus of your blog, and refine the posts that go there to the area you choose.

Who’s Your Audience

This is tricky, as feedback isn’t always easy to come by. For the most part, I believe our audience is ourselves. Who are you? Are you a 36-year-old technology worker who is creative, who reads all the time, and who is interested in thinking about things in ways different than the average bear? Hell, you are ME.

I define my audience as: people who are interested in self-improvement, and who like to read thought-provoking articles.

Now, it’s not like I know for sure 100%. I have a few dozen folks who write me either frequently or otherwise, but that’s a small sample compared to the 85 subscribers to my RSS feed and the 240 unique hits a day I’m getting.

The point is, you have to really consider who would want to read your content and WHY. As much as you want it to be about your incredibly witty take on life and your conversational style, it’s also a bit about themselves. So, what are you writing that has traction with them? What’s giving them a sense of resonance with what you’re doing?

How Far Will You Go?

When I lost 65 pounds, a common thing my heavier friends would do is ask me, “How’d you lose all that weight?” I’d say, “The old fashioned way: I eat well, I watch my portions, I exercise, and I run.” Oh, they’d say. That’s easy for you to do. That’s a lot of work.

Yeah, no kidding.

If you want to grow an audience, you have to work hard at it. People aren’t necessarily going to keep their eye on your site when you head off for a two week vacation to “I don’t feel like posting” land. You’ve got to make the effort to keep new, fresh content rolling out of your blog, and you’ve got to be willing to commit to putting up new material reguarly. If not, don’t expect an audience to wait.

When Leon decided to take a vacation, he put Lifehack.org in the hands of a few writers he thought would keep up the quality content his site is known for delivering. Can you imagine this for a moment? This is a blog. He wanted to go on vacation, but knew that the web, the blogosphere, wouldn’t really wait a few weeks for him to come back. And so, he planned. He got content onto his site while he gets a chance to rest his toes or whatever it is he’s doing.

Are you ready to think about it like that?

How To

Here’s the brainstorm part of the post. A lot of this has come to me via conversations I’ve had with some really great folks. Some of my ideas make perfect sense to them, and in a few cases, I have every expectation that they’re going to race off and become thousandaires. Let’s see if it resonates with you.

Go Journalist

Are you drawing web comics and getting the same four or five poeple to comment on how they like it, or that it’s funny, and that’s it? Why not turn your blog into a showcase of all the other web comic folks you regularly read? Especially– and here’s a recurring trick– folks with just a trickle of traffic like you. Get in touch with these creators and see if you can interview them. Get permission to post examples of their work on your site. Build your blog into a great place to go to find the lesser-known edges of the web.

Ditto if you’re into weight loss. As much as people want to congratulate you on your recent 2 pound loss, how much MORE value would your success bring if you augmented it with pieces covering the food industry (via surfing news stories and adding your commentary), and also by interviewing other weight loss bloggers for their success secrets?

The seed here is this: how can you turn your little niche into a strong representation of lots of the other smaller sites, such that the result is greater than the sum of its parts?

Throw Media at Them

If you’re writing about office productivity, snap some photos of cubicle hell. Make it more interesting: become an anthropologist and take GOOD photos of the stuff people decorate their cubes with. Post a daily snap from another cube. Branch out from your office. Go to other places. Follow this incredible collection of posts (which later will make you lots as a coffee table book – think Post Secret).

Are you writing about small businesses in rural America? Get out there with your camera, and your videocamera, and your whatever, and throw some pictures and graphics around these articles. When you read a magazine, you don’t just read a pile of typewritten pages. There are graphics, drawings, pictures, color. Try to do the same with your blog. Make the images interesting.

Gather All Ye Rosebuds

You are reaching a small audience today. How many? (By the way, get some kind of a stat counter to know this. Without numbers, it’s hard to see the improvement, right?) How will you get more? One way is to band together.

Reach out to other bloggers who are like you: writing great stuff but not necessarily loaded with readers. See if you want to band your content together at a single site, and then focus all your energies at that one target. Similar to watching television, we much prefer a lineup to a stand-alone show that will thereafter force us to reach for the remote again. Right?

Putting the best content under a single banner is a great way to build the strength of whatever content you’re trying to produce.

Give The Audience Something to Do

In these modern times, the audience is a participant. How is American Idol KILLING all the other shows put against it? (Grammys, Olympics, more). One hint is that they involve the audience. You vote. You decide who wins. There are PLOTS on the internet to derail the show by banding together voters to knock off the show’s favorites.

Amazon lets you rate books. Netflix. Blogs have this power, too. Not just Digg, where the interaction is just as literal as American Idol, but sites like Lifehacker involve their readers by giving them software to go check out, and videos and how-to guides to teach them new kills. D*I*YPlanner.com has templates for you to download, and further, they encourage you to make your own and upload them. They are screaming out, “Come share! Participate!”

Blogs can do this in lots of ways. One is, if you write your blog so that it’s not just about YOU, there’s a chance something you are writing about will resonate with your readers. Sure, it’s great to give them experiences from your life to illustrate, but try to focus the lens back on them when you can.

Get readers to do guest posts. Invite your audience to share their best pieces. Put together sites where you collaborate. Look at Illustration Friday. I go there religiously to contribute, even if that takes the form of just adding a link to a big long list of people posting drawings on their various blogs. I bet THEY have great traffic.

How can you make it more interactive for your audience?

Re-purpose Your Content

I listen to and watch a lot of podcasts and videocasts. There’s a new element in town, though, and it bugs me: big content providers are slapping together their old material and calling it a podcast or a vidcast. Marketers are in the game pimping their movies and calling their marketing materials podcasts or vidcasts. But really, they’re doing a clever thing. They’re using content they’ve already produced in more than one way, and that means more value for the effort.

How does this apply to you and your blog?

Say you’ve written 200 really decent posts. You’re proud of the work. Why not dump all that into a word processing software like Writely or Writeboard and cook them into a free eBook to give to your audience? How about taking your web comic and burning the “Best of” onto a CD for distribution? Can you make tee shirts?

You want a quick podcast idea? Take the best of your content and read it into a microphone. Edit out the “ums” and “ahhhs” and you might have yet another product to put in front of that audience.

Sponsors, Promotions and More

Once you’ve started gathering steam, it’s important to roll that snowball into something bigger still. Get even larger content providers to ally with you. Find even better ways to add bang to your content. And if you’re in it for money, start showing your stats around to advertisers. See what your now-4000 readers is worth to someone.

Promote your blog. Use it like you would a company name. When you look to people for interviews, ask to interview them for Fake Movie Critic, and not “for my blog.” If someone asks, it’s okay to say you’re a blogger. If they’re not into that, it’s not your problem. PLENTY of big time mainstream folks are treating blogs with nearly as much respect as they give mainstream media.

(By the way, interviews RULE as a way to get new readers, and as a way to get to know someone new. I met a guy who’s influenced the hell out of me ever since interviewing him a few weeks back.)

Get your blog name into your email signature. Oh, and before I forget, domains are only about $6 US from 1and1.com, if you use them as a forwarding site. If you want to up the credibility of your blog even just a tiny notch, you can front-end your site with a good name. (Believe me, if I could do this over again, I wouldn’t have led with my own name. I’m happy now, but I’ll need to re-brand eventually.)

Get a Flickr account and a Frappr map and meet folks through LinkedIn. Use all these SOCIAL applications to start spreading your brand around. Leave relevant comments on blogs you like, and sign them with your site name.

Above All Else, Passion

If you’re blogging to get rich, you might want to reconsider. There are plenty of success stories, but there are mountains of people just phoning it in out there. You will do okay, but you won’t necessarily blow the world apart with your fresh new voice if all you’re doing is trying to get clickthroughs.

People LOVE passion, even if it’s for something they’re not entirely into. You’ve had that experience, right? Someone is just NUTS about something, and you find yourself smiling and nodding along, even though you are SO outside your territory. That’s what the best posts can be like on a blog. Hopefully, you get a sense of my passion in all the posts I share with you. Do that with your own effort. Share your passion outward.

That’s all I have for now. If you like this post, please feel free to blog about it, share snippets and quotes, and go right out and implement the idea. The link to this article is: http://chrisbrogan.blogspot.com/2006/04/turn-your-catblog-into-content-engine.html

And thanks. You make this all worth it.

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