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The Secrets of Successful Blogging

This is a blog about how to be a successful blogger. Does that mean I’m a big time successful blogger? No. I’m the Director or Interactive Services at Austin & Williams, and my job is to help our clients succeed in their internet ventures. That means ensuring they have the tools and the information they need to be successful, and in today’s world blogging is a required skill. In that regard, this blog is on target.

For some real insight into the blogging world we consulted a couple of experts who actively write and maintain successful blogs. We’ll be exploring the cases of Judith Klein, the Foodista, and Don Povia, the creator of HuggingHaroldReynolds. Judith writes about food and restaurants in the Astoria district of New York City, and Don runs a popular sports blog.

We asked both bloggers to answer a series of questions about their motivations, experiences and methods. Their answers are summarized below:

What first made you decide you had an interest in blogging?

Judith:
I have a passion for food and originally wanted to start my own web site with another friend who loves food too. Together, we started reviewing about 30+ restaurants in Astoria. She backed out of the project in the end and I still had my content written, so I decided to launch it in a blog format instead of a traditional website. It’s worked out great and has evolved into what it is today.

Don:
Really, it started with an interest in writing and opining about sports. It’s a cheap, easy and convenient way of reaching thousands of people instantaneously.

What is the topic about which you blog and why did you choose this particular subject?

Judith:
The topic of my blog is food and that’s the number one thing that I’m passionate about. I love to explore
different ethnic restaurants in my neighborhood of Astoria and I love to taste indigenous foods. I also love to cook and experiment with different foods. Often, I test recipes on my husband. It’s a lot of fun.

Don:
I have two primary blogs, and a handful of smaller “project” ones. HuggingHaroldReynolds.com (HHR) is a general sports blog. It started really as an extension of the conversations a handful of friends would have offline or in fantasy message boards. Soon, people outside of our circle actually started reading it, and it has continued to grow. The BlogsWithBalls.com blog is an extension of the Blogs with Balls Sports and New Media Conferences and focuses on evolving trends in sports media, specifically online media. There was a distinct void in a perspective from actual content producers (bloggers, themselves).

In addition to your blog, what other forms of digital media do you use to attract followers and which have you found to be the most successful?

Judith:
I have a fan page on Facebook as well as a Twitter page. I also do freelance food articles for queens.about.com as well as for LIC Courier Magazine so my web site has gotten press through that. Additionally, I also co-promote with other food blogs/web sites in the neighborhood (e.g. Joey in Astoria, My Inflammatory Writ, Eatery Row, The Food Bank of New York, and others).

Don:
I cohost a weekly podcast, and I’ve found that my Facebook and Twitter pages have been most valuable for me, because I understand them the best and have been able to leverage them. Many of my peers have found tremendous success by effectively using sites like Reddit, StumbleUpon and Digg. We also utilize Ballhype.com, Vimeo and Flickr, among other sites. What these forms all do is provide a vehicle to deliver your content to audiences in places where they already congregate and interact, rather than having to rely on them to regularly come to your site.

What forms of nondigital media, if any, have you found are also helpful in attracting followers?

Judith:
Food events are good to get the word out, and I often find myself giving out a lot of business cards at them. I’ve judged a couple of them too and that helps me get exposure. Another good way is to just weave it into conversation organically—e.g. you’re at a dinner party and you start talking about food. People in general are fascinated by food and when they find out that I have a food blog that’s pretty popular, they get interested, ask a lot of questions and then ask for my business card. It’s really cool!

Don:
Networking events are invaluable. I’ve also spoken at colleges and universities. Because of the success of the Blogs With Balls events and the reputation we’ve developed from it, I also converse frequently with print, television and radio sports outlets about their positioning online and also sports media in general.

How do you track and quantify your following?

Judith:
Through Google Adsense and through Statcounter.com.

Don:
SiteMeter, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools.

How do you motivate your followers to send links and forward your blogs to others?

Judith:
After each post, I promote content on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I do that a couple of times per day. I don’t ask others to pass information around, that just happens organically. I don’t want to force my content on to others—if they love it, they take it upon themselves to pass it on and that’s worked quite well for me.

Don:
By creating quality and consistent content. Also, by helping promote others when they do the same. When you help others, they tend to return the favor.

What has been your best blogging experience?

Judith:
There are so many, but generally it’s when I have an amazing meal somewhere and I can’t wait to share it with everyone through a review. I go into detail about each dish that I eat, so I could walk the reader through my entire eating experience. It seems that they really appreciate it, and I’ve even found that they order the same thing that I do sometimes. For example, when I went to Akti Greek restaurant in Astoria, the owner told me that based on my review, two tables of separate diners ordered exactly what I did, after reading my post. He was so puzzled by this that he asked if they knew each other because they ordered the exact same thing. They said, “No, but we read about it on the Foodista, and that’s what she recommended.” That was really gratifying and rewarding to hear.

Don:
Creating something with friends from scratch seeing it grow and succeed. Meeting the blog’s namesake (former MLB player and MLB network host, Harold Reynolds) and having him recognize me with “Oh, so you’re the Hugging guy.”

What had been you worst blogging experience?

Judith:
When I slammed a local restaurant for falsely advertising a nonexisting Valentine’s Day special. My husband and I went there to check it out, and they acted like I was crazy—there was no special. I wrote about it, of course, because I was angry, and it got picked up by NY Magazine’s GrubStreet blog. A week or so after that, I got a VERY angry email from the restaurant’s owner calling me every bad name under the sun. It got ugly. You have to have thick skin to be a blogger.

Don:
Putting a ton of time and effort into building the aforementioned “something” can be frustrating. It’s become more than a hobby and is real work.

Are you compensated for your blogs in any way, and if so, how?

Judith:
Yes, I get paid through Google Adsense for advertising, and I’ve also gotten a lot of freelance writing work out of it. I get paid per story for those assignments.

Don:
We are in an ad network and get compensated by readership and page views.

If you are compensated for your blogs, are you aware of the new FTC regulations on disclosure of compensation for bloggers and how do you comply with those guidelines?

Judith:
Yes, I’m aware of the guidelines. I’m honest in my blogging and if I get comped for a dinner, I say that “I got invited for a tasting at XYZ restaurant.” I don’t hide it.

Don:
Yes. We already operate in a transparent manner, so there really isn’t much change in how we do things.

What would you say is your secret to success and what advice would you give other hopeful bloggers?

Judith:
I don’t think there’s a secret to success, but what has worked well for me is posting frequent and accurate content. People appreciate the daily input I have about Astoria restaurants and they know that they could count on me for food expertise. I like being considered a food authority in my neighborhood—that’s an honor. I try to be objective in my posts and not slam any particular business unless they have really wronged me. The purpose of my blog is to be informative, not hurtful. Advice for other bloggers would be to post often, check your work (be accurate), include pictures and avoid obscenities or derogatory content.

Don:
Take time and build relationships. No one’s too small or insignificant. Be passionate about your topics. Know what you are looking to accomplish blogging (fame, money, influence) and set realistic goals.

Conclusions

Based on these interviews and conversations with other bloggers, there are some conclusions that can be drawn. If you’re an individual who wants to blog, or a company that wants to maintain a blog, the guidelines are the same. Here are some important factors you should consider and some tips that can help lead to successful blogging:

  • Choose your subject matter well. You should choose a subject that you know a lot about, and one that you are passionate about. To keep your readers interested you’re going to have to know more than they do and provide some insights they don’t already have. They need to gain something from your blog. Love your topic—you’re going to need to write about it again and again, so be sure it’s something about which you can maintain your enthusiasm.
  • Be prolific. To be successful at blogging you’ll need to develop a following of readers, and keep them interested. The only way you’re going to do that is to keep feeding them and give them a reason to come back again and again. That requires that you keep posting new blogs and providing new information.
  • Be visible. You can’t just post a blog on the internet and expect people to find you; you’ll need to use a variety of methods to network and let people who may have an interest in your blog know it’s there. There are many forms of digital and traditional communications you can use for this. Social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube can help give you exposure and introduce you to potential followers. Posting in multiple locations, like Judith who also writes for About.com, can also increase your exposure. Don’t underestimate the power of personal appearances. Attending events with like-minded people can also increase your exposure, and at topic-related events you’ll know that most of those you meet will already have an interest in your subject matter.
  • Be honest. Credibility is key to maintaining your readership base. If your readers believe you have an ulterior motive or are not being honest, they will bolt. If you’re getting paid for your blogs, getting free tickets, samples or other perks, be upfront about it. Your readers don’t expect you to get nothing for your efforts. They just want to know what may influence your writing so they can assess it in context. They just want perspective, and with the FTC’s new disclosure rules, openness and honesty
    is not just good policy, it’s the law.
  • Be strong. Not everyone is going to agree with everything you write. Be prepared to get some negative feedback and don’t let it get to you. Believe in what you write and write what you believe. You’ll be a better writer and a more credible blogger. Write with passion and conviction and be prepared for the knocks. They will come.
  • Get compensation. Find a way be compensated for your blogging. Enthusiasm and good-will can only take you so far before you run out of motivation. It’s hard work to blog, and you deserve to get something for your efforts. Whether it be through ads on your blogs, paid compensation or other perks, a little reward can go a long way to keeping your motivation up.
  • Monitor your blogs. Don’t just throw up your blog up leave it at that; use tools like Site Meter or Google Analytics to monitor your page views. This can provide insight into what’s working and what’s not. Use this information to improve your blogs and better focus on what’s interesting your readers. Seeing your numbers increase can give some real motivation to help keep you writing. Don’t just give information in your blogs, get information from them as well.

If you’re interested in blogging, this would-be blogger says go for it. It can be a rewarding and fulfulling experience, and I highly recommend it. If you’re going to blog, though, do it right. Research your subject matter; cross-reference your materials with links; make your blog something that adds value and quality to the internet. There’s a lot of good stuff on the internet, and a lot of misinformation. Add to the good, not the clutter.

About the Contributing Bloggers

I’d like to express my thanks to those who contributed to this article. I know it took time from your own blogging to help with this blog.

About Judith

Judith’s inspiration for everything culinary comes from her deeply seeded Eastern European roots. Her home country of Slovakia has taught her to appreciate food to the fullest, especially those hearty dumplings! A current resident of Astoria, she’s known in the ‘hood’ as the Foodista, covering Astoria’s restaurants, culinary adventures and even her own recipes through her blog by the same name. Also a contributor to the Joey in Astoria blog, Judith provides a new perspective on Astoria food, scoping out value finds wherever she can. In her spare time, Judith experiments with new recipes—mainly on her husband, Dan. Her favorite restaurants in Astoria are Vesta, Koliba, Ovelia and Akti. Her latest food obsession are dessert trucks.

About Don

Don Povia is Senior Vice President of HHR Media Group, LLC, a public affairs and new-media marketing agency based in New Jersey. He is cofounder of the popular sports blog HuggingHaroldReynolds.com and creator of the Blogs with Balls Sports and New Media Conferences. His ongoing work with companies, brands and consumers in the fields of social and new media, with a focus on sports has enabled him to help these entities bridge the gap between
traditional media and emerging internet and technological trends.

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