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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

12 Things I Know About Blogging

Posted on August 8, 2011 at 2:30 PM

According to The Wiki, “An expert (also called cognoscente) is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain. An expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study.

And, truthfully, there aren’t many areas where I would consider myself an “expert” – or the far cooler sounding “cognoscente." And believe me when I say this; this definitely isn’t because of any sense of modesty. If I think I know more about something than you, I will let you know. With a quickness. Pointing out shortcomings in others is pretty much one of my prime directives. Inn fact, if you could see into my brain after a particularly beautiful "Burn!" you would see the two hemispheres chest bumping and high-fiving one another. It’s just that I recognize that there are a lot – a WHOLE lot – of people out there that know more about things than I do.

Now, I might-would consider myself an expert in the field of Home Theater. After doing this for 15 years, I would like to think that I’ve accumulated enough knowledge to be considered as such. I can definitely discuss the theories of design, the different technologies involved, the history and evolution of modern-day systems, the real-world differences of 7 and 9 channel speaker positioning, the wiring and connection and configuration and programming, etc. And most of it without having to refer to any notes scrawled onto my palm. But even with ALL that I know, I realize that there are many people out in the big, big world that would take my knowledge, roll it up into a Zig Zag, and then smoke it, carelessly tapping the Sciacca knowledge ashes into the wind.

I definitely would NOT have considered myself an expert in the field of blogging. I started this as a whim and have just kind of stuck with it. And if sheer just-sticking-with-it-ness makes you an expert, then brother, count me in. I cannot NOT quit with the best of them! (My experience taking the golfing Playing Ability Test taught me that. (Foreshadowing: That's a little Sciacca promo right there...) I’d say “if nothing else” but it also taught me a whole new world of creative and collaborative swearing I heretofore could only have wondered at.) What I know about social media and networking and Website construction and driving traffic and ad-sense and all that other mumbo-jumbo could be expressed in a poem by Gary Coleman. “Willis. Oh, Willis. What art you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”

But earlier this year I was asked to be a panelist at this year’s CEDIA Expo for a Social Networking discussion. I was to represent the field of Blog. And even though I told them I don’t really know how to “leverage popular social media platforms to grow your business,” they assured me that I was a welcome member on the panel. And since being a panelist came with a social cocktail kind of welcome mixer, I figured, “Hey, free drinks. I’m in!”

Then last night I got a really flattering Tweet mention from someone who – at least in my narrow Twitter world view experience – seems to be an actual Social Media expert, cum ninja, cum Jedi, Johnny Mota. (Sadly, his last name was misspelled by CEDIA and he is not the several-percentage-points cooler named “Johnny Moto.” I’m not sure how this will affect his Fatality finishing move ability or Flawless Victory Klout ranking, but I’ll keep you posted.") Here’s the Tweet:

So, Johnny – and all you other wanna be bloggers out there – I thought I’d give you some things that I’ve learned about being a successful – some would say cognoscente – blogger.

1.    Be regular.

To keep people coming back on a regular basis, you MUST give people something new to come back for; meaning you MUST put up new content on a regular basis. If you’re doing it on your own, that might only mean a single post a day – especially if they are lengthy like mine tend to be, and you are also holding down a regular day job and then another full-on writing gig. But make sure that when people come back, there is something new for them to read. People are creatures of habit; if they are used to visiting your site and finding something new, chances are they’ll keep coming back. If they come back 3, 4, 5 days in a row and there is nothing new, you’re probably going to lose them.

2.    Be disciplined.

Part of being regular is forcing yourself to sit down and do the work. Daily. I actually love writing, and it is generally a welcome escape from the rest of the day. Other times I don’t much feel like it; I might be in a pissy mood, I might have too much other stuff going on or I might not have some killer idea waiting to get out. Either way, I try and carve out some time each day to get that post done. And, I can assure you, the more you write, the easier it gets.

3.    Be original.

It seems like a lot of blogs just re-generate other content. But, if I’m going to read someone else’s content, I’ll just go to their blog and read the original, thanks. I see this the most in the AV blog world with press releases. Let me be blunt: Reposting a press release does NOT make you a blogger. Period. Now, I get a ton of press releases. And they are generally dry and matter-of-fact and soulless, which is fine, because a press release is just an information dump. I don’t need to know – or really CARE to know – what the writer had for breakfast or watched on TV the night before. But what I don’t want is to go to another Website – or blog – and just find that same release regurgitated. And adding a new sentence at the beginning -- no matter how snarky you think it it -- or some clever phrase before the jump or some cute illo is not the originality I’m talking about. Unless you are trying to be a Gizmodo or an Engadget or something where people come to get a ton of varied and rehashed info all in one place, keep the reposting to a bare minimum. In fact, error on the safe side and don’t do it at all. Now this isn't to say that you can't be inspired by some other post or cite it or reference it or link to it or whatever. Just, give me a new fresh take on it as seen through your lens.

4.    Write well.

I realize that this might be akin to just telling someone, “Play better golf!” or “Do better calculus!” or "Be more awesome!" or something. And I imagine that writing well is a bit of a gift/skill akin to being a good artist. I will NEVER be able to draw something that rises above the level of partially fleshed out stick figure. It’s just not in me. And I’m guessing that there are some people that will just never grasp the concept of developing proper sentence structure, the way to use to, too and two, when to work in a semi-colon, the correct use of its and it’s and the ever elusive Harvard comma. But that’s OK. A little spell and grammar check can go a long way. Also, when in doubt, avoid using LOL or OMG or !!!!!!!!!!!! or emoticons or anything else that a 16-year old girl might text to her friends.

5.    Have a personality.

People that meet me in person say that I write just the way I talk. And I think that is probably pretty accurate. If you read my blog, you will get a REALLY good idea what my personality is like and what it is like to hang around me. (Sometimes sweet and fiberey like sucking on sugarcane. Others, tangy and bitter like licking a battery dipped in lemon juice. With the occasional memory flashback or lewd entendre thrown in.) Whatever your personality, it should come across in your writing. Editorial types call it “having a voice” and when I’m reading your stuff, I’d like that to come through loud and clear. I commented on this to another actual journalist writer a while back. After spending several days side-by-side her, chatting and really getting to know her personality I was excited to read her blog. But after reading I told her that it made me feel, well, um, dumb. (Unlike the actual real, human person who made me feel special and writerly and awesome.) Her writing was so high-brow and literary and complicated and “Look how smart and big wordsy I am!” that what I felt was completely lost was her actual voice. In short, it was nothing at all like the snarky and fun and clever and glassesey *actual* person. So, my comment to her was, “Be you, just more glasseser.” And that’s what I’d say to anyone trying to write. Find your true voice. Put some soul into what you write and put something real on the page.

6.    Be honest.

Fake people are lame. If you’re being fake, people are going to see through the façade and are going to be turned off by it. And since you’re trying to develop a following, turning people off should generally be frowned on. (Unless you're Charlie Sheen, then apparently it gets you 1MM followers in like an hour. I guess the world loves an epic meltdown, as long as it's an honest one.) Now, that doesn’t mean not having an opinion or even having opinions that might be controversial. My writing *frequently* embarrasses my wife. (She couldn’t even finish the post I did on handicap parking. I think she got about two paragraphs in, said, “You’re awful” and then handed me the computer back.) But what you see is how I feel. Ask me again in a year and I'll give you the same opinion. Don’t be a hater or a fan-boi just because it’s the popular thing to do. "Yeah! Netflix sucks! They raised their rates! Lame!" That may be true, and it may be what you think, but it isn't real and it doesn't tell me anything about why YOU think it sucks or is lame. Be mad, be happy, be angry, be aloof, be whatever, just be real and be you; own it, and be honest about it.

7.    Be careful.

If you are going to mix personal and business, be careful how much you mix them and how much about your business – especially the negative – you are willing to share. Even though I see the analytics and KNOW that people are out there reading my stuff, sometimes you forget that people are ACTUALLY out there READING YOUR STUFF. This is especially true if you are going to name someone. Like actually use their real name. I wrote something awhile back that I thought was funny. It was from information that I gathered on Google. I figured it was in the public domain and fair game and I could do a little humorous embellishment and put it up. Except the person did not at ALL find it funny. In fact, they were totally pissed. I got a call within minutes of it being posted telling me how I’d totally overstepped my bounds and that they didn’t appreciate it at all and that they didn’t like having their personal information posted, and what gave me the right, etc. I had another miniature heart attack moment when a certain commenter – OK, it was Darryl Wilkinson – happened to have the same initials of a customer that I had just written this lengthy rant about not paying his bill. DW put up this comment, and minutes later I coincidentally got a call from the DW customer I’d ranted about. Another time a manufacturer felt that one of my "funny" posts *really* stabbed in the back. When you start naming names, remember that there are real people with real feelings out there on the other end and the definition of "funny" has a way of changing the second the joke is about you.

8.    Look for ways to promote.

Look, you can have the bestest, funniest, wittiest, intellectualiest, most damn inspirational/change your life blog in the whole wide world, but if no one reads it, what good is it? Without any readers, you don't have a blog; you have a diary. You’ve got to create a groundswell of traffic and that is going to mean some promotion on your part. Some of my biggest traffic days have come from third party sources. If I read something on another site that talks about something that I’ve written an interesting post on, I’ll leave a comment with a link to my site. If I write something about a manufacturer, I’ll email their PR team about the post. I might create a Linked In discussion group about something I think will be a hot-button post. I pitch to other editors and CEDIA about relevant items. Now with @SciaccaTweets, I can Twitter out blog love. Even better is when you can get a third party endorsement from someone else. It’s one thing if I tell you how great I am; it’s something else if you hear about my greatness from someone else you know, trust and respect. Of course, this assumes that you are, indeed, great. (See item #4 about being more awesome.) At the same time, show a little respect and don’t be a pitch-whore. No one likes to feel like the only reason you ever talk to them is when you want to pitch them something.

9.    Interact with your readers.

For the most part, people like to feel welcomed and appreciated. (At least that’s what Dana tries to drum into the emotional void of my soul.)  I read every single comment on my blog. (Granted, that often takes about 30 seconds of the day with the few comments I get, but still.) I also try and follow-up with each comment if applicable. Beyond that I try to send out a monthly e-mail blast to my site members telling them of new content. A personal little e-mail with links to what I feel is the best of the past month. By creating some kind of two-way relationship, you will (hopefully) develop readers that are more vested, in thus more likely to continue returning and going forth and preaching the word of your awesomeness.

10.    Know when to edit.

I’m sure that story about how you didn’t get your pants down quickly enough at the construction site toilet IS hilarious, but there are only so many of the graphic details that I actually want to read about. (That is unless it happened to Darryl W, in which case I want to bathe and luxuriate in every lurid and embarrassing detail.) Ditto your EVERY single waking thought and action. I realize that I’m probably a big offender here; even my parents think that many of my posts are too LOOOONG. But I feel that they all go somewhere or have a point to them. It might take 5 paragraphs before that point becomes clear, but if you stick with it long enough, there WILL be one. And if that prize inside of the Lucky Charms cereal you had for breakfast – with your special bowl, and the milk that was two days expired and that spoon that had the weird chip in it – is germane to something major that happened in your day or your story, then tell me about it. Otherwise, you can probably go ahead and leave it out.

11.    Always be on the lookout for fresh ideas.

It might be a song on the radio, a commercial on TV, the look on someone’s face, or a snippet of an overheard conversation – “Nothing that comes out of your butt ever looks good,” which, while likely true, has yet to inspire any bloggery on my end; feel free to run with it if it helps you – might be the thing that gives you a great idea for the day. Be ready to accept that flash of inspiration and run with it.

12.    Write for you.

While I love people to read my stuff – and I do, I REALLY do – ultimately since this is a non-paying gig, you’ve got to do it because you enjoy it. If you don’t dig it and you're only doing it because you think there is going to be some career payoff down the road, then you’re never gonna stick with it. This means that you have to put up stuff that entertains you. I’ve written about my daughter’s drawings, scotch and beer I sampled, movies I’ve watched, songs I love, road trips we’ve taken, memories from childhood, etc. And while I’m sure that not every reader has loved every post, if you’re clever and interesting, you can get a readership to follow you on your strange journey. But if you don’t even enjoy it yourself first and foremost, don’t even bother.

Categories: August 2011, On Writing