I cut my blogging teeth on learning how to write a really good how-to post: 5 Ways to Do This, 8 Tricks for Doing That. It was all about giving my readers something they can walk away with that second, something to apply that will make their business better. My goal? To supply the answers to problems people were wondering about (or googling).
I still write a fair number of how-to posts—because they work. And if you’ve read this blog, you know that Bob shares a good number of how-to posts and loves his lists. And it works for him.
As my friend and the editor of my book, Victoria Mixon, said a while back:
I started posting numbered lists and wow. My stats doubled the first day. And they kept rising after that. Who would have guessed? People love lists.
I think that’s because how-to posts are actionable. Safe. When I am stuck for a topic, I can usually pull one or two out of my how-to bag.
But the problem is, everyone is writing how-to and list posts.
On any day, I open my Twitter stream to see: 9 Sales Apps to Help Small Businesses Sell Better; 4 Tips for Connecting with Anyone; 8 Business Podcasts Recommended by Experts.
On the web, we have more distractions, more noise than ever. I find myself constantly looking for ways to dive deep and then pop up, spurting novel, unexpected ideas that are different enough to be worth my readers’ valuable time and attention.
The changing face of blogging
I read a post quite some time ago on Mitch Joel’s blog, Six Pixels of Separation, that made a lot of sense to me. He called it “the end of easy” and said, in part:
It was bound to happen. We were heading for a place where ‘top ten’ and ‘how to’ blog posts may become redundant or rudimentary…to a place where those who were never going to stick it out with blogging for the long haul are busy on Twitter and Facebook, where they can share without the burden of having a passion for writing. So, in the end, maybe what’s new for blogging is a place where real bloggers step in and create a new type of copy for the world to consume.
I love what Mitch said here.
A new type of copy for the world to consume.
He is giving bloggers the freedom to experiment, to try on new voices to see what their audience connects with.
Online content brought alive: teaching through story
I believe that bloggers with opinions and stories to tell will lead us to the next generation of blogging. Not only are stories all around us, but they have important things to teach us. And they connect with others through their universal truths.
I think that the next generation of blogging is already moving people past how do I solve this problem to what are the things that connect us : as readers, as business owners, as bloggers.
Stories humanize us.
They touch the heart and the head.
For instance, if I were writing a post on how business owners who practice perseverance in the face of adversity succeed more often, I might report on famous CEO’s who have managed to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Or I could tell my Cowboy Macaroni story.
Because we’ve all (well, most of us) had hard times when we were starting out, whether as a business or in our personal life. But the way we handle those challenges and how we bounce back often decides our fate. My story:
“I was a 20-something single parent, a newly minted teacher with a pittance of a salary. One day in her first week of first grade, my six -year-old daughter brought a bunch of important-looking papers home from school. When, upon reading them, I found out that she qualified for free hot lunch, I was mortified.
I knew as a teacher how she would be treated. In those days, the free lunchers were separated out, put in a line of their own, with a color-coded ticket. Everyone knew who the poor kids were. In a fierce display of misplaced pride, I refused to complete the registration form.
In the last week before my monthly paychecks, I would scour the floor of the car and the back side of couch cushions for coins for gas and kitchen staples.
At the end of one particularly rough month, the well was bone dry. When my wide-eyed daughter asked, “What’s for dinner, Mom?”, I panicked. A quick inventory showed a quart of milk, a half package of elbow macaroni, a bottle of ketchup and some chili powder.
I searched my brain for an answer. Anything.
“Tonight, we’re having…Cowboy Macaroni!” I said.
I boiled the macaroni, strained the water, added ketchup and chili powder, and stirred until heated.
It became her favorite dinner.
She is a grown woman now but still looks back fondly on that experience. “Remember when you used to make me Cowboy Macaroni?” she said. One day, I couldn’t resist and I told her the whole story.
She had no idea.”
Stories are living examples of the concepts in your content.
If you have a marketing blog, as I did at the time, an event as mundane as an unplanned stop at a grocery store can turn into fodder for a blog post about how to build customer loyalty.
If you just watch and listen as you go about your everyday business, you will find ideas, new stories you can tell on your blog to teach and reinforce a concept.
Stories connect us.
If I were writing a blog post on how a sense of humor will get you through just about anything your life—or business—throws you, I might tell the story of how I showed up for my final divorce hearing in a witch’s costume.
“The hearing for my final divorce decree was scheduled for the afternoon of October 31. Yes, Halloween. It was one of the two days in the entire school year when my first graders would be an excited mass, a surging wave of gap-toothed monsters and goblins high on too much sugar.
I dreaded this day.
It was traditional for all the teachers to dress up, too, and this year I had decided to be a witch. After the party, I planned to change out of my costume quickly and be on my way to the courthouse, but the parent of one of my students had other ideas and I was stuck on the office phone until I barely had time to grab my keys and run.
My lawyer had forewarned me that this judge puts up with no nonsense and would cancel the hearing if the clients or attorneys didn’t show up on time.
I made it with not a second to spare. I ran into the courtroom and sat down next to my attorney, amid shocked silence. The judge looked at me in consternation.
Not missing a beat, I said, ‘Your honor, I just want to say that I hope you don’t believe everything my husband has said about me.’
The courtroom erupted in laughter.
I’m quite sure he never forgot that case.”
A sense of humor can get you through many other things besides a divorce hearing. And that was the point of the story. It could be the lead-in to a post about how humor can turn a situation around and save the day.
An audio version of this post: