Creating Your Online Persona, Part II: Getting Started in Blogging

by Brandon Giles (republished from his personal blog)

Most of us have read at least a limited number of blogs, regardless of how busy you are.  If you are like me you probably enjoy using blogs to obtain a diverse set of opinions, better educate yourself about a given industry or topic and simply read about things you find interesting.  The challenge is that even after I had read countless blogs I was no less intimidated to start blogging myself.  Rather than jump in with both feet and make countless rookie mistakes I decided to first learn more about what constitutes good blogging.  I am confident I will still make many mistakes along the way, but I chalk that up to the learning process.  To obtain insight I scoured the internet to find out what thought leaders were saying about blogging, spoke with my friends and classmates that blog frequently and then interviewed entrepreneurs and VC’s for their advice.
Blog Location
If you took to heart my first post in this three part series, you have already gone out and purchased your own domain,, or something similar.  Remember, the internet becomes more user friendly by the day.  Therefore, if you have a common name, try to snag it before someone else does.  They will not only own the desired domain but also could use it to pollute your SEO.  Think college senior week photos or the rhetoric of Michael Moore.  If you do not have the cash to lease your domain or are not interested in doing so, not to worry as there are free blogging options.  The top four web-based free sites are Tumblr, Blogger Posterous and WordPress.  Pick the site that you feel most comfortable using.  Here is a good overview of the strengths of these blogging platforms by Jason Fitzpatrick on Lifehacker.  One simple difference is that both Posterous and Tumblr have tailored their products around micro-blogging and easy compatibility with other forms of media such as videos, pictures and links.  Meanwhile, Blogger and WordPress are more traditional, full length blog platforms. 
Normally you are required to choose from a number of hosting providers and pay a monthly fee (~$4-10) to host your domain.  However, my friend Shiyan Koh pointed out that for purposes of setting up a blog, the major hosting providers will do the hosting for free.  You simply go to the domain registry (ex. GoDaddy) and change where the Domain Name Systems (“DNS”) servers are pointing.  A DNS can be thought of as a phonebook of the internet.  Thus, you are aligning your phone number (the IP address) with your personal phone (your personal website).  Here are the links to the blog specific instructions for DNS set-up.  Tumblr - Blogger - Posterous - WordPress.  Once you have pointed the domain name servers to the correct host, it will take up to 72 hours for the update to take place.  At that time you can access your blog website, complete set-up and then design the layout of your site. 
Once your blog site has been set up you will also want to fill out a short bio about yourself and post a picture.  Also, be sure to link your blog to your Facebook and Twitter profiles.  In the future, the blog will automatically push links to Facebook and Twitter every time you publish a new blog post.  This not only saves time but builds your blog readership quickly by tapping into existing professional and social networks that exist on these other platforms. 
Getting Started
This is the tough part at which time most newbie bloggers suffer from writers block.  My initial feeling was that I needed to have some great, groundbreaking and compelling material to make my first blog post a splash.  However, after scouring the net, experienced bloggers point out that it takes time and credibility to build a following.  Therefore, it is best to start small and within your comfort zone.  As your comfort level increases you can then branch out.  An easy starting point is to blog about your industry or another topic that you are passionate about.  Blogging about either of these areas will allow you to continue the conversation past the original blog post because you will have a deep knowledge base and enjoy writing on such topics.  Because I love all things fitness related, worked in financial services and am passionate about search-funds, these are my easy entry points.  That said, if your intent is to project your professional persona, be sure to balance your blog post’s in that direction. 
In addition, if you are currently in school, especially a top graduate program you are sitting on a fertile ground of blogging topics.  New market trends and developing industries, presentations and interaction with leading CEO’s and entrepreneurs and the opinions of classmates all make great material for your blog.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you are sharing the obvious or that your audience is already aware of the topic.  I have found that I have become desensitized to the depth and quality of experiences I am afforded at HBS.  Having the opportunity to hear from VC Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, entrepreneur Brian Scudamore of 1-800-Got-Junk or COO Cheryl Sandberg of Facebook are very interesting events that people will love to hear about.  I know that I would benefit from exposure to this content after graduating in May.  So go ahead, use this material to make your start.  These same topics are also great material for interesting tweets. 
Simple, be real. Don’t pretend to be something that you are not.  People will easily see through it and you will lose credibility.  Entrepreneur and blogger Mark Suster says it perfectly in his recent blog on why startups need to blog. 
Don’t try to sound too smart or too funny.  Just be yourself.  People will see who you are in your words.  If you try to make everything too perfect you’ll never hit publish.  If you try to sound too intelligent you’ll likely be boring as shit.  Most blogs are.  I hate reading blow hards who try to sound like they’re smarter than the rest of us. Be open and transparent.  Get inside your reader’s minds.  Try to think about what they would want to know from you.  In fact, ask them!

Don’t be offensive – it’s never worth it to offend great masses of people.  But that doesn’t mean sitting on the fence.  I have a point of view and I’m sure sometimes it rankles.  But I try to be respectful about it.  Sitting on the fence on all issues is also pretty boring.  And don’t blog drunk.  Or at least don’t hit publish ;-) Mostly, have fun.  If you can’t do that you won’t last very long.

Building an Audience
You can’t expect a Field of Dreams affect, “if you build it, they will come”.   The first step is to create the auto-update feeds through Twitter and Facebook mentioned above.  Then, place a link to the blog in your email signature and on your LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook profiles.  In addition, tell your family, friends and colleagues about what you are doing and ask them nicely to check it out. 
Consistency is a key to building a successful and sustainable blog.  Most new bloggers get super excited about blogging, write three or four expansive blogs in the first two weeks, realize the time commitment and then take three months off before writing their next post.  There is a high likelihood that in this three month break you will lose a good percentage of your audience and will have to start the process over again.  Therefore, instead of writing one long blog, break it up into two or three micro-blogs.  This makes it both easier for your audience to read a shorter blog and saves material for a more consistent publishing.  The major blogging sites now allow you to write multiple blogs at once and then specify a future publish date.  For example, because next week will be very busy for me as I finish my projects and papers I have already written the third blog in this series.  It will provide my readers reading even though I will be up to my eyeballs in other work.  Lastly, think strategically about the time of day in which you publish your blog posts.  For example, if you publish late at night there is a good chance that so many other Facebook and Twitter posts will accumulate that people will not notice your latest post.  However, if you post during the middle of the morning (9am) or mid afternoon (2pm), people are more likely to see the update and check out your posting.  You should also use this same strategy for sending emails to increase response rates. 
Thoughts?  Coming soon is the third post in the series analyzing blogging best practices. 


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