The ultimate blogging smack-down: Schaefer versus Mitch Joel

A few weeks ago Mitch Joel, blogger and founder of Twist Image, aggressively disagreed with me on my blog post Why it’s Ridiculous to Argue About Ghost Blogging.

He was so pumped up about this topic that he challenged me to a duel. So I practiced my very best Mitch Joel “blue steel” sexy-glare (above) and accepted.

Mitch just posted our rambunctious discussion on his Six Pixels of Separation podcast. This turned out to be an absolutely fascinating debate and a lot of fun. Check it out to see what happens when we lock horns on the subject of ghost blogging and social media philosophy in general.

Mitch says ghost blogging is fundamentally wrong and that this is force-fitting old thinking into a new media. My perspective is, get over it — it’s already happening and it’s an important way to give voice to an executive’s passion and ideas.

We also delve into subjects like:  Is social media changing corporate culture or does corporate culture determine social strategy?

Come along for a wild ride by listening here.

And if you don’t follow Mitch’s excellent blog, you’re really missing out. He’s a solid business consultant and an important voice on the social web.

Can you answer the most painful question in marketing?

The other night I was having a beer with a friend who is a beginner blogger. He was lamenting that he was not attracting many new readers or comments.

I let him go on for awhile but finally had to hit him with the most painful question in all of blogging … marketing… perhaps in all of business:

“What makes you special?”

A confused and strained look came across his face. In fact he looked a little green.

This simple question is so very excruciating to confront!

Yet, if you don’t address it, answer it, and burn that response into your soul,  it’s probable that your blog, and your business, will just languish in mediocrity forever!  If you can’t explain how you differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack, if you are not offering something truly unique and interesting, why WOULD anybody ever read or comment on your blog … or buy your product?

The world doesn’t need more posts about the “Five biggest mistakes on Twitter.”  However the world does need more of YOU.  I mean really, really, really you.

So I challenged my friend to dig deep into his heart and tell me why he wanted to master the social web and blogging.  He paused … thought … and then unleashed a passionate story about his family, his wife and his determination to overcome some pretty serious personal pain to urgently re-invent himself as a social media marketer.

I simply responded, “Write that.”

Within a few minutes we were mapping out his own voice about a journey on the social web that could only be uniquely — and dramatically — his. If he follows through, he will have a blockbuster of a blog.

So what about {grow}?  What make this blog special?  I would describe the soul of {grow} as the unique combination of:

  • Global community of bold, smart professionals who attack issues, not people.
  • Entertaining, and sometimes humorous, presentations of topics that are not part of the social media echo chamber
  • Original commentary built on a unique blend of personal work and life experiences
  • An authentic desire to support and nurture the people of the community

I believe this is the brand promise of {grow}.

It didn’t happen overnight.  It took me awhile to find my footing just as my friend will take some time to find his voice, too.  So be patient, but look inside of you — not at what Chris Brogan is up to — to find the soul of your blog.

Can you answer the question?  Do you think of your blog as having a brand promise?  Have you found your unique voice?

Illustration: “Man carrying Question marks” by Saul Steinberg

The Douchebag Manifesto

You probably know by now that I like to shake it up with something light-hearted on Fridays but I think today’s video sends {grow} into an entirely new orbit.  A new Twitter friend, Jennifer Kane, gave this speech last year at Ignite Minneapolis. It’s one of the few videos I have seen recently that literally made me laugh loud enough to be heard across the street.  It was too funny and creative not to share with y’all.  Fasten your seat belt.

Warning – There’s strong language in this video.  Make sure the sound is not turned up if there are children around.

P.S. Sally — You won’t like this.

The Anatomy of a Blog Post

I frequently receive questions about how I blog.  Where do I get the ideas?  How long does it take?  Where do I come up with the graphics?

The process I went through to create my previous post on “content engineering” was pretty typical so I thought I would dissect it as a way to illustrate a few set-by-step tips that might help you with your own blogging efforts.  Let’s start from the beginning …

Four weeks before publishing

While doing research for a content marketing project, it occurred to me that much of what is taking place today is not necessarily “marketing,” but “engineering” content to produce a certain business result. This term stuck in my head and I thought this observation could be a potential blog topic.  I went into WordPress and simply created that headline — “content engineering” — and a few sentences to remember what I meant by that.  Key point: Write down a lot of ideas as they come to you. For me, about a fourth of them turn into posts.

Two weeks before publishing

I usually carve out a few quiet hours on Sunday afternoons to review the ideas that I’ve captured and write a few posts.  The content engineering topic caught my eye and I decided to do some additional research and riff on that topic.  Once I started writing, I had the framework for a post in about 15 minutes. Key point: Create quiet time and JUST WRITE.  Don’t spend a lot of time trying to be perfect right off the bat. Editing and refining can come later.

Three days before publishing

I saw a post by Lee Odden that crystallized my idea that content engineering could be a contributing factor to a lot of blog posts sounding alike.  Adding the quote and beginning to refine the original post took about another 30 minutes. Now, you might think that seeing Lee’s post while I was working on this ideas was pure luck, but I don’t think so because:   Key point: To be an effective blogger, you have to be an active reader too.

Two days before publishing

Now I was sure I had an interesting post but there was a problem. Half-way through the original post it became humorous. I had started riffing on what it would be like if I slid keywords like <send me money> into my posts. I thought it was funny but it didn’t fit any more.  So I took out the buzz saw and cut the article length by half — might be a stand-alone post some day?  Key point: Have the courage to edit your post to make it succinct and relevant. Don’t write to show off. Write to make it a great experience for your reader.

One day before publishing

I shoot for one well-written “pillar post” per week and I decided this would be the one so I got serious about editing and making the post interesting and fun to read.  I spent another 15 minutes finalizing the post. I was still not happy about the way the post started out but after several attempts, had to decide it was “good enough!” Key point: If you strive for perfection, you will probably never publish a single post.

Four hours before “publish”

I always do the illustration and headline last. I think both are important to the reader experience and I try to come up with something catchy without spending too much time on it.

My original headline was “Is content engineering killing blogging — or saving it?”  Then I read Danny Brown’s article about how he is tired of everybody writing about the “death” of this or that. Crap. So I challenged myself to do better and the final headline was “Should you write your blog or engineer it?”

Sometimes the idea for a graphic is easy but I was really stuck this time.  I try to come up with something fanciful, something to make my readers think or smile, but nothing was coming to me. How do you illustrate “content engineering?”  Then the blueprint image came to me. I found a generic blueprint picture and added my own words on top of it — I do this all in Powerpoint — crude, yes, but simple and speedy. If I can’t conjure an imaginative graphic in less than 10 minutes, I just use a piece of clip art of some kind.

Key point: Don’t overlook the importance of headlines and illustrations to make the post more interesting.

PUBLISH

When I finally published, I had invested about 1.5 hours in the post.  Still not totally happy with it, but if you’re going to have balance in your life you can’t keep second-guessing and editing forever.

The time and day I publish is somewhat determined by my work schedule. I don’t like publishing before a day I have a lot of meetings because then I won’t have an appropriate amount of time to respond to comments. On some posts, hosting the resulting dialogue takes more time that it took to write the original post. But that’s what it’s all about, right?

It was also shortly before I published that I had the idea for this post so I cranked out most of this in a few minutes while I had the thought fresh in my mind.

COMMENTS

The best part of the blog is the community commentary. I feel very honored and humbled that people take the time to comment on something I’ve written so I try to acknowledge as many comments as I can. Key point:  Celebrate the people in your community and their comments.

Jeremy Victor is a respected marketer and he pointed out in a very direct way that my opening paragraph implied a generalization about content marketing that I did not intend. I knew there was something about that opening paragraph that I didn’t like!  I frequently admit I’m wrong on the blog and this was one of those times to eat humble pie.  I admitted that my writing was unclear and corrected the problem. Key point: Offer humility to your community. They’re smarter than you are.

Lee Odden also dropped by to comment. This was a nice surprise and I was delighted that this respected authority took time to contribute for the first time on {grow}.  Some unexpected fireworks erupted when we could not see eye-to-eye. Unfortunately his comments and tweets degraded into personal barbs.   This presents a difficult situation but it’s probably going to happen to every blogger at some point. If you put yourself out there, you’re not going to connect with every person, every time, even in a community of well-intentioned professionals.  It’s a part of human diversity and the challenge of trying to communicate only though the written word.  Key point: Don’t be thrown off-center by criticism. It’s a sign that you took risks. Take the high rode, stay positive.

Ironically, I did not expect this post to be especially controversial. The idea seemed straight-forward to me.  In hindsight the tone of the post was probably a little smarmy. Perhaps my point got lost behind the smarm. Key point: Learn from your mistakes and keep on plugging. Your next post will be better for it!

Thanks for hanging in there through what turned out to be one of my longer posts. Can you connect with any of this?  What works for you?

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