Monday, February 11, 2013

Educational Blogging Is About "Earning Your Readers' Attention"

"Content may rule, but your online content must be the right sort of content: Customer-focused. Authentic. Compelling. Entertaining. Surprising. Valuable. Interesting. In other words, you must earn the attention of people." Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman in Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business

Educators blog for a number of  reasons. Self-reflection, conversation, and sharing ideas are just three of those reasons. Ultimately a decision to blog is a commitment to engage your readers with content. Deciding on what that content should look like is an important consideration for education bloggers too, not just businesses, and Handley and Chapman's advice has some application to educators trying to find content for their blogs. They point out, your content "must be the right sort of content." To be the right content, your content must:
  • Focus on your readers and readers' needs. If you have blogged for any length of time determining this is rather simple. Those posts that get a great deal of page views versus those that don't are an excellent clue to the kinds of content your readers want. For example, readers of this blog are often looking for information regarding iPad apps, because two of the blog posts that have received the most traffic were about iPad apps for educators. Another indicator are comments readers leave behind. Those posts that receive the most comments are also an indicator of what blog readers are interested in. Oftentimes, I also have readers leave comments that lead to ideas for information they are seeking. Of course, if your goal is to simply journal and reflect, then focusing on the needs of your readers isn't necessary. But, if your goals include gaining readership and engaging others, then you must focus on your readers' needs and wants, which means giving them the kind of content they are looking for.
  • Be authentic. Being truthful, honest, and open with your readers is important.For example, I simply do not blog about things that I have not read, nor do I blog about web tools or software apps I have not personally tried. I receive numerous emails requesting reviews for new web tools and reviews for books, but I have not yet written reviews of products I have not tried myself nor books I have not read. This is my commitment to authenticity. My blog content must be extension of my own life and practice as an educator. This means I post from the perspective of my own experience. Being authentic in blogging also means opening up to your readers about your own experiences and thoughts as well as opinions. But if you want to engage readers authentically, you can't deceive them by promoting products you haven't  used yourself, nor can you promote books you haven't read. Finally, being authentic means leaving a bit of yourself in your blog posts too and being vulnerable.
  • Be informative. Handley and Chapman talk about making your content entertaining. Educational blogs can be entertaining, but in my experience, most educators are looking for information: they are looking for ideas and content that will help them in their educational practice. By being informative, you provide readers with timely, useful information that they can either taken back to their schools or school districts immediately, or you give them something to really think about that they share with other educators, thereby sparking a conversation. Being informative means giving your readers the kinds of information that they can use.
  • Be interesting. It has been pointed out quite often that web content readers are very selfish, especially those who read blogs. If readers are not engaged rather quickly, they lose interest and move on. In my experience, if I do not engage readers quickly, I notice that those blog posts get very few page views. Often, those posts that I perceive as well-written, thoughtful, and engaging, sometimes are the very ones that few read. I have learned to reign-in the English and literature teacher in me in order to engage readers, who aren't usually looking for literary finesse, but who are looking for content they can use. Being interesting means writing about topics of interest to readers, and giving them information they find interesting and useful.
Handley and Chapman offer some very interesting advice to those who would engage in not just blogging, but in providing any kind of web content for others to consume. Content is important. In the end, we have no choice but do what Handley and Chapman suggest: "we have to earn the attention of people," and that is done by providing them with the kinds of content they are looking for. That maxim is true for those who are educational bloggers too.

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