This is my 500th blog post at JeffRossBlog.com. What started as an experiment related to PhD studies I was pursuing in April 2011 has gradually morphed into something very meaningful for me and hopefully of occasional value to others. I want to devote this post to reflections on the journey, a few lessons learned along the way, and where we might go from here.
The original content focus of this blog was related to social learning, especially via social media. That was the presumed direction of my PhD dissertation. However, upon deciding to cease my PhD pursuit in the summer of 2011, the focus of the blog then opened up a little more to include some other lessons from life and business. That continues to be the case today where the posts range from business practices to life lessons to book reviews and matters of faith. I know that violates one of the main principles of successful blogging, i.e., being very focused on your content, but that’s advice I will continue to violate as I write about things that are important to me, regardless of subject matter. Readers can read what interests them and ignore the rest.
The blog name “Next Practices” came into being because I do not think it is good enough to gather up the current so-called best practices of what companies are doing and then continue to do those things indefinitely. If we are to make progress and move from where we are to where we ought to be, then we need to constantly be thinking about next practices – not best practices. What will we need to be doing three years, five years, ten years from now to really make a difference?
When I consider what I’ve learned about blogging in these first 500 posts, the following lessons come to mind:
- Set and keep a regular schedule of writing. Too many blogs fail because people think they want to blog, have one or two ideas they want to post about, get it started, but then quickly abandon the idea. Failure to post for one week easily slides into two weeks, and then a month, and then longer until the blog is a graveyard of months-old content that no reader has a reason to come back to. What got me regular as a blogger was the leap year of 2012 when I committed to a daily lesson learned post for each of the 366 days. That was a serious challenge, but I did it, and it was one of the most satisfying writing experiences of my life with benefits far beyond the writing itself. It helped me think and reflect daily, and the self-discipline imposed was tremendously worthwhile. You don’t need to set a goal of blogging daily (although I encourage bloggers to do that for at least one year for the experience), but you do need to set a goal that reflects regularity. My goal for 2013 is to post on average every other day. I’m already pondering what I do in this regard for 2014, but haven’t yet decided. For those of you thinking about blogging, I’m confident in saying that once a month is too infrequent for readers, so I would suggest at least weekly and maybe more for most situations.
- Keep most of your posts within a certain word length range. For example, for my 2012 leap year daily lessons, I made sure that each of the 366 posts contained no more than 366 words. The word length limit forced me to be concise, to cut out the rambling fluff I would otherwise be prone to writing, and helped me be a better writer. Most of my posts tend to be under 1000 words – some way under that – but I rarely have one that approaches 2000. People will walk away from a page of text that is a lot longer than what they imagined when clicking the link to it. They may scan it for subheadings and bullets like these, but many will likely be turned off by too many words. This post of over 1300 words is more than many will take the time to fully read.
- Promote your blog via other means. People will not know about or come to your blog just because you create it. Use other channels like your social media networks – personal and professional – to promote the content. I promote nearly every post I write on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and my company’s internal social network. Also, get familiar with search engine optimization and invest whatever time you think you can in helping your blog rise closer to the top in those search results.
- Engage in conversation with readers via comments. Blogging is not a very conversational medium. Many hope it becomes that, but it is largely writers pontificating and others reading, with a very small minority ever chiming in via comments. I really would like more comments on my posts, but even I fail to remember to end the posts with a question or invitation to comment as I should to encourage that dialogue. Other social media channels lend themselves to conversation better than do blogs.
- It’s your blog, so do what you want with it, regardless of the response from others. This comes back to the broad range of topics I cover here, both personal and professional. I could maintain different blogs to separate out the content, remaining focused on each for particular subjects, but I’m just one person doing this for fun and to hopefully leave a legacy of some good advice down the road. I put it all in one blog for the same reason I quit keeping up two Twitter accounts last year – one personal and one professional – and that is because there is only one of me. I’m a mixture of all the topics you see here. Life isn’t neatly separated, or at least it shouldn’t be. I don’t separate work from life. It’s all intermingled in who I am, in what I do day and night, and in how my mind operates throughout the day. I know there is risk in turning some people off who only want certain kinds of content, but I’ll take that risk.
- Set a goal for readership. Following last year’s daily posts, and after noticing that I had just over 10,000 views on the blog in 2012, I decided to set a goal of doubling that to 20,000 views this year. That means I have to promote each post via appropriate channels as well as grow a following along the way. Since I’ll pass the 20,000 view mark by sometime in September at the current pace, the effort seems to be paying off. I am deeply grateful to all who spend any time reading and interacting with what I write. You don’t have to be here and I know that.
- The practice of writing regularly is priceless. Doing so helps me get my thoughts together. It helps me think through subjects of interest. It forces me to do some research I might not otherwise do. It helps me reflect on my days and look at life’s experiences from the standpoint of “What can I learn from this?” It helps hold me accountable when I write about goals and then report on them. The icing on the cake comes when someone tells me that something I wrote has made an impact on them. It just doesn’t get any better for a writer than that.
After 500 blog posts, I guess it’s OK to finally say that I’m a blogger. It still feels a little weird to say that, especially when there are less than 100 people a day who read what I write. Still, I’ll make the claim now that there is a decent body of work under my belt. I’ll continue to add to it. I’ll switch it up a bit for 2014 as I need to keep things fresh for me and for the readers. I hope you’ll continue to read and comment.