If printed prose is still the domain of millionaire authors and poets, blogging is the democratisation of the discipline. A potential audience of millions (if your blog should go viral) is there for the taking. By way of inspiration, The Huffington Post attracts 110m visitors per month.
While fame and riches stalk the finest writers on the planet, for the vast majority of us simply being given an open platform and the ability to publish our ideas is reward enough.
But take heed dear reader, that this isn’t a repository for an idle Tuesday afternoon rant. Ernest Hemmingway once said, “the first draft of anything is sh*t.” It’s a point we should all have ringing in our ears. No one (and we mean no one) sat down and simply churned out some prose worthy of thousands of likes and adoration on the first bash. It takes time, re-writes and, sometimes, not writing anything down at all.
If you take one point away with you from reading this guide it’s; write fast and without fear, but edit slowly and without mercy!
Whether it’s Ingenuity, LinkedIn, a
personal blog, Facebook or one of the other hundreds of ways of
self-publishing, there remains a central premise that is sometimes forgotten
when chasing likes and shares: give the audience something good*.
I’ve put an asterisk next to good as we now enter the murky world of audiences and what defines ‘good’? I, for instance, like abandoned London Underground stations and find it fascinating to read all about the design of prewar…yawn, sorry wrong crowd. But you see my point. If you’re writing something, first start with the audience. Is the subject/content broad enough to pull in a variety of readers? Or is it delivering what a specific group wants and needs in spades? Perhaps that Down Street station was famously used in wartime by the Railway Executive Committee in 1939…aaand I’ve lost you again.
The following points should help not just in blog writing but in your everyday writing at work and online.
The key points for writing a brilliant blog
- Start with a single, brilliant idea.
Your big idea is something that can be returned to time and time again in the blog. Everything links back to it, e.g. we are cleverer than the competition; our customers trust us more than the competition; we are the market leader. Don’t be afraid to define who ‘we’ are at Siemens and be proud of that. Great blogs and editorials position themselves so that they reaffirm what their key audience already believes. While a blog won’t change beliefs, it will reaffirm them. People don’t read them to have their worldviews altered. They come along either to nod or to swear. Evoking either reaction is a must. Just look at what happens if you ever slag-off a Tesla online. The community mobilises and it’s like you’ve insulted one of their children.
- Your audience is more important than you.
The true measure of effective content is how many people talk about it, share it, promote it on their social feeds. It’s not what you say that matters but what people hear/feel. The audience will always read a piece of editorial in completely different ways, whether that reaffirms their life view or antagonises it. What will they get from reading your blog?
- Keep it short.
“I’m sorry I wrote a long blog. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.” Mark Twain wasn’t talking about blogs but rather a letter, however the principle applies.
- An opening paragraph needs to grab you by the ears and demand you read on.
– Ask a question
– Use an amazing fact
– Set a puzzle/riddle
– Tell a story that shocks/surprises/delights.
Bill Gates once released a swarm of live mosquitoes into an unsuspecting audience at a TED conference in 2009. That was his opening gambit on a talk about malaria (the insects were not infectious), but the audience was shocked, nervous, excited…engaged. While you won’t be releasing live insects onto your audience, what will get them to stick with your blog? How will that opening paragraph hook them?
Remember that when you go fishing, you bait the line with what the fish want to eat, not what you like.
- Use unifying language.
No jargon, no acronyms, no Latin and absolutely no assumed knowledge. We can have a habit here at Siemens to assume that everyone knows everything about everyone. Some folk don’t know the names of the people on the next floor so explain and define all that needs explaining and defining. Your audience will thank you for this.
- Use your own voice.
This is important. A blog can have strange asides, instances of speaking conventions and starting sentences with conjunctions like ‘so’ or ‘well’. Read your blog out loud and decide if that’s truly your voice? Automated grammar assistants can be a blessing and a curse so read aloud and then get someone else to read it.
- Humanise your story wherever possible.
First-person recollections are crucial. It humanises the speaker and allows the audience to build rapport. Talk about your failures, fears and worries. Facebook has taught us that only good things are worth sharing but the most engaging content is when someone lets a reader into relatable scenarios, e.g. none of us like filling our car with fossilised dinosaur bones – or does gas really still have a place in a carbon-conscious world? It’s ok to show this fallibility and in fact it makes the blog far more readable. When Thomas Edison uttered his famous lightbulb quote, wouldn’t you love to know some of the stories from the 10,000 failed attempts? How he felt? How on attempt number 7,347 he fell to his knees in his lab and considered becoming a coal miner/magician/shopkeeper?
- Make it memorable (or at least part of it).
It must become an anecdote for someone reading it. When you got home, what did you tell your partner about your day? Make sure that’s your story.
- Use Google Trends.
Are people talking about electric vehicles? Meghan Markle? Boris’ latest blunder? It’s a free tool and can quickly give you a hook to build your opening paragraph around.
- It needs a killer headline.
David Ogilvy said that five times more people read the headline as the body copy. Make sure it’s something good and don’t forget to ask the comms team for help. A fresh set of eyes can cut right through the meat and get to the bone.
- You don’t need to tow the corporate line.
Ingenuity isn’t about getting stuck into meaty Siemens topics. While your audience would appreciate ‘something’ half interesting, you don’t have to talk about the latest Siprotec substation field devices, equipped with the latest DIGSI 5 engineering tool. There are plenty of channels for the ‘does what it says on the tin’ approach so don’t think this is a staid channel for staid content. But then again, no banana bread recipes or pictures of your cat, thanks.
- Don’t worry if you can’t spell, type or craft a nice sentence.
That’s why the comms team is here. Pencils have rubbers. Microsoft Word has a spellchecker. All you need is an idea and a wheelbarrow-full of passion. I can’t stress this enough. A passionate person talking about a slightly tedious subject will win every time. As Aristotle told us, the strongest rhetorical device is emotion. Wield it with pride.
Time to start typing…
Your audience is a nest of hungry chicks waiting for
something that makes them sound more interesting/cleverer/well-read. If it’s
accessible, heartfelt, interesting and funny in places, well – we may just have
the next Joanne K Rowling out there in Siemensland.
Some useful reading material
- Winning Minds by Simon Lancaster
- Illuminate by Nancy Duarte
- First You Write a Sentence by Joe Moran
- Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs
- Anything and everything…the backs of shampoo bottles, transcripts of great speeches you’ve heard, articles, blogs, old love letters, and most importantly…bad material, as sometimes reading pulp fiction can open your eyes to what’s great!