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July 14, 2008

Don’t Be Popular. Be Useful.

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A post over at Copyblogger grabbed my attention this weekend. It was entitled How to Stop Being Invisible and the big answer seems to be to tell people what they want to hear, to agree with popular opinion, and to be the class clown. I know I’ve put on a few pounds recently, but do I look like this? I didn’t think so.

The article explains how your job as a blogger is to capture the attention of your audience. It’s not to teach or educate, but to be in their face and make them look at you. Figure out what they want to hear and then give it to them in a funny way. Sure. While you’re at it, why don’t you try patting their heads and handing out cookies. I’m sorry, but that is NOT a blog I want to read, nor is it a blog I want to write.

I graduated high school eight years ago (holy Jesus). I wasn’t the class clown and I wasn’t in your face. Instead, I was a good student. I was quiet. I was a Varsity athlete and active in a lot of my school organizations. Basically, I was a happy and healthy contributing member of my school. And I think that’s fairly reflective of the type of blogger I’ve become.

In the blogosphere, I’m not whizzing past people trying to break the story in my hunt for popularity. I’m quiet at first. I take in the information, let it sit in my head, and then I respond only when I have something interesting to say. When I have an opinion that I think is valuable or when I think I can add to the conversation with my words. I’m not antisocial. I’m active in the blogosphere and in social networks. I help promote the works of others, without shoving my own in your face. I’m not trying to make you look at me, and I don’t think that makes me invisible.

Copyblogger says to be visible, don’t worry about teaching people, just write what they want to hear. I’m not sure that’s great advice. I think being like everyone else and telling people what they want to hear is exactly how you become invisible. And I think teaching and knowledge is the reason a lot of people read blogs. Sure, we all want to be entertained and to laugh, but if you don’t have something to back all of that up, you’re nothing more than a punch line. I have no interest in that.

If you want your blog to stop being invisible, start making it a Must Read. Don’t aim for popularity. Being popular means nothing. Instead, focus on bringing your readers somewhere they can’t get to on their own. Teach them to do something or to feel something they didn’t know before. Make your content remarkable. Share something with them that they can’t get anywhere else. And the thing they can’t get from anywhere other than your blog is you. That’s what you have to give them. That’s what makes your blog visible to the masses and it’s what sets you a part as a blogger. [And, it should be said, as a brand or business. Don't stop with just your blog.--Susan]

Take a stand. Even if it’s unpopular. Take a look at the popular bloggers in the SEO space. They’re people who aren’t afraid to go on the record and say what needs to be said, even if they know it’s going to bring them a firestorm. They’re not the folks in your face all the time, they’re the ones who think first and respond later. That’s the kind of blogger that’s visible in a crowded space.

The author talks about being valuable to reader and I think that goes without saying. Of course you have to be valuable. I wonder how much value there really is in being the class clown. Eight years out of high school I take a look at my peers who clowned their way around and it doesn’t seem like they’ve gotten too far. They’re still living in the same town, doing the same things and altogether invisible to the rest of the world. You should want more than that, both for your blog and yourself.





11 responses to “Don’t Be Popular. Be Useful.”

  1. Matthew Tennison writes:

    A great example of this concept is Robert Scoble. At one point I started following his online activity because he is cutting-edge with technology and interviews. He has access to stuff and people and places many of us are far from reaching ourselves.

    But then he changed a bit. He started twittering and doing friendfeed more than blogging. He changed from bringing us content, so passing along others’ content via Google Reader. He follows thousands on Twitter so he can report a tsunami before the traditional news media. He shifted from being useful to being a content aggregator. In doing so, he became less useful to me, and I no longer follow him.

    Sure, lots of people still do follow him, but to me his feeds are just noise. I still have his blog in my reader, but there is no way I have him in my Twitter stream.

    let’s stop worshipping numbers and fleeting popularity, and actually be useful to the world. Let’s start taking 30 minutes to write a blog post instead of 30 seconds to twitter. Let’s take a few minutes to craft a thoughtful response to a blog post, instead of a 10-second desperately-trying-to-get-visitors “great post!” comment.

    Thanks for the thoughts Lisa :)

  2. Todd Mintz writes:

    I think you might have taken the humor part of the Copyblogger post a bit too literally. In fact, your style of writing combined with your visibility in the industry (and visibility of your employer) makes you an excellent example of what the post is trying to illustrate. You are giving the people what they want to hear (search information mixed with commentary) and you have become quite popular in the industry even if that wasn’t a goal of yours.

  3. Stephen Ward writes:

    I don’t necessarily think Jonathan at Copyblogger was saying that being a class clown is the only way to get your blog noticed; it’s just one of the more effective ways. It’s a tactic like any other, and it has its place. That being said, I’m in the same camp as you, Lisa. Don’t be so concerned with attracting attention. Write valuable, well-thought-out content and let the rest of the world notice you on its own time. When it does, your words will actually mean something.

  4. Search Engine Optimization Journal writes:

    Stephen Ward took the words right out of our mouths. Never write anything you don’t believe in or something that isn’t you – what’s the point for getting recognized for something that isn’t genuine?

  5. pat writes:

    You aren’t a squishy sheep?

  6. Elmer Cagape writes:

    I’d rather be useful than popular. But it won’t hurt to be both.

  7. Brian Clark writes:

    I think you took Jon a little too literally, Lisa. He’s not saying don’t teach; in fact, his main point is that people have to find value in what you offer, which is another word for useful information.

    For example, you’re much more of a class clown in your writing style than I am, and I’m much more of a teacher. So maybe you shouldn’t use “copyblogger” throughout your article, and instead attribute directly to Jon Morrow, the author?

    Or I can call you Bruce Clay, if you like. :-)

  8. seobro writes:

    The more useful you are, the more people will link to your content. The class clown is not a reliable source of information. You look to authority figurers for facts, not some bozo!

  9. Internet Marketing Joy writes:

    I agree with you..being useful is more important than being popular..^^ maybe you will be popular for a few days or months but if you started to become useful you can go a long way..^^

  10. Bloggeries writes:

    What ever happened to JUST BEING YOURSELF?
    There will be people who are class clowns or total shut ins. Be yourself be authentic but don’t start letting your core business drop aside to hit refresh on replies.
    It’s about something I know very little of “Balance”. I’m trying to figure out the proper time to spend in different places but there is no universal recommendation.
    That being said for the most part if you’re doing SM for traffic why bother. If you’re doing it to build relationships and let people know you exist that’s a different story.

  11. Igor The Troll writes:

    Lisa, I should not agree, it is not my style! lol

    But you did say it the right way, “What is it about!”



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