What's your burning question about blogging?
It's my pleasure to introduce you to Shannon Lowe and Melanie Nelson, the authors of the just-published TypePad for Dummies [affiliate link]. What better way to learn about why and how this book came about than to have a blog-based interview on a TypePad blog!
On April 7, 2010, you are welcome to post your blogging and TypePad questions for Shannon and Melanie. You can ask any questions, their expertise is not limited to the TypePad platform. Be sure to read the entire interview...there's a gift for you at the end of the post! And don't forget...post your blogging questions in the comments section below.
Without further ado, here's my interview...1. What inspired you to write TypePad for Dummies and what is the primary take-away you want readers to get?
When Wiley approached us to write the book, we were excited because, although TypePad has an extensive help section (called the Knowledge Base), we knew there was an opportunity to give readers a little something extra, like advice on blog etiquette, using Google Analytics, and basic mistakes to avoid as a new blogger. TypePad is an excellent platform for bloggers who want to have more control over their blog than Blogger allows, but not quite the responsibility of a WordPress.org blog. TypePad allows you to customize your blog without doing any actual coding yourself (though that's an option too).
2. The book is really a very detailed tutorial. How long did it take you and what were the challenges you faced while writing the book?
We were really lucky to be working together. Melanie's a technical writer and thinks in bulleted lists so the instructions were second nature to her. Shannon's gift is to soften Melanie's terse instructions and make them interesting and fun to read. We started writing the book in July and everything went to print in December, then hit bookstores in February.
Writing the book was challenging at times, as all worthwhile projects are. The biggest challenge we faced was that TypePad was literally changing the software as we were documenting it. There were several times we had to re-write whole chapters to correspond with the new features. Of course, it was worth it because this was the first significant upgrade to the TypePad software.
3. How long have each of you been blogging, what do you blog about and do you use TypePad? ;-)
Shannon: I write at Rocks In My Dryer (www.rocksinmydryer.net), a lighthearted personal blog mostly about parenting. I’ve been at it for nearly five years (most of that time on TypePad—I’m a big fan!). I’ve actually scaled back a bit at my own blog for the time being to work on some other projects. I’ve also written regularly for other group blogs, including Parenting.com and BlogHer.com.
Melanie: I've been working with online media since 1995. I started blogging in 1998, stopped, then started again in 2004. I currently own BloggingBasics101.com and write a weekly column on Tech/Web at BlogHer.com. Blogging Basics 101 is housed on WordPress, but I've blogged on all of the major platforms (Blogger, TypePad, and WordPress) at some point or another. I ended up on WordPress simply because I like to get into my code and mess things up to see if I can fix it. Which is why I think TypePad is such a good option for some bloggers: not everyone wants to mess things up and TypePad lets you tweak things (like customizing your design) without having to deal with the core platform code.
4. What role do you see for blogging in the near and long term? Is blogging dead or does it still have a place in social marketing?
Melanie: Don't they tell us that blogging is dead at least once a year? Blogging isn't dead, but it is evolving. It's certainly more marketing-centric. Even bloggers who started just so they could have a voice have begun promoting products, selling their own products (like a book, ahem), or working with companies to advertise. Those aren't bad things, but as bloggers, we need to be aware of expectations -- those of readers, the companies we work with, and our own. It's a good idea to have your rules and guidelines in place and know where you want to steer your blog.
In the long-term blogs won't be stand-alone any more. They are already becoming a single component of a larger social marketing strategy for companies. I think we may see social media merging more effectively in the coming years. For example, with more people customizing their Facebook fan pages, more and more companies will begin to integrate their blogs with those pages (not just pulling in the feed as you can do today, but actually blogging and interacting more fully).
Shannon: I don’t think blogging is dead, but I think it’s radically changing. Even just a few short years ago, only a fraction of the blogs existed which exist today—this means, of course, that competition for readership is up drastically. I once heard someone wonder aloud if we were all so busy writing blogs that we’d stopped reading them, and thus losing the slower-paced feel of community that existed in blogging’s earlier days. It’s a valid point, but I think today’s bloggers will adapt to the new way of things. I think the stiffer competition will force bloggers to focus even more on producing excellent content that is ethically sound and valuable to the community at large—and that’s a good thing!
5. What are your recommendations for how to make blogging profitable?
Well, we discuss this at length in the book, but the harsh reality is that making an entire living solely as a blogger is a rare phenomenon. It can certainly be a nice secondary income, but I’d recommend that a new blogger keep realistic expectations. I think most of the people making substantial income on blogging are those who use their blogs as one “leg” of a larger platform—i.e., a showcase for their work they’re doing elsewhere.
I do think blogging is an excellent tool for a small-business owner, in particular, to give customers a behind-the-scenes and upfront look at their product/business. In that sense, I think blogging can be very profitable—when you consider the minimal expense involved in blogging, that’s some pretty cheap advertising!6. What's your take on the personal vs. professional on a blog? How much is too much when it comes to sharing personal information when you're using a blog for business?
This is ultimately a matter of personal conscience, of course—each blogger has to make a decision based on what works for him or her, taking into consideration the type of business they have and their own personal set of privacy boundaries. It would probably be wise to consider what type of business you’re running. Many craft bloggers, for example, who are running a successful online shop of their products, host blogs that are very personal and conversational in tone.
I think that works well, since their product itself is personal and artistic in nature. For a different kind of business, that kind of back-and-forth between personal and professional might not be as natural. At the end of the day, I think the best idea is to be consistent. If you’re a professional blogger who occasionally (but consistently) interjects personal tidbits, your readers will expect it and find it less likely to be out of place.
Bottom line? It’s your blog, and you have to live with the content/tone/amount of work required. If you’re comfortable with it, your readers are much more likely to be!
7. What is your #1 tip (one from each of you) for a professional who is just getting started with a blog for their business?
Melanie: Invest in a good design. The face of your blog matters and that first impression will determine whether your visitor sees your professionalism or a fly-by-night company who's trying out blogging to see if it works. If I'm looking at your company, I want to see someone who is embracing online technology, not treating it like a fad.
Shannon: I think it’s healthy to have a set of guidelines and boundaries in place, keeping in mind, of course, that these will evolve as you grow as a blogger. For example, sit down and think through how you’ll handle some particular blogging issues: will you reply to every e-mail and comment? How much time will you spend on this weekly? Will you host product reviews? Will you accept advertising in your sidebar? Will you delete anonymous or attacking comments? Thinking through this ahead of time (even if you change your mind later) will help you define your work, and it might preserve a little sanity for you!
About the Authors:
Melanie Nelson has a master's degree in technical writing and has been working with online media since 1995. Her web site, BloggingBasics101.com, is a top resource for beginning and intermediate bloggers and is listed as one of the Top 10 Blogs on Blogging by Blogs.com and as one of the 100 Top Freelance Blogs. She is a technology contributing editor at BlogHer.com and she has taught beginning blogging classes at conferences such as BlogHer, Blissdom, and I_Blog.
Shannon Lowe has been a TypePad blogger since 2006, writing the award-winning parenting blog Rocks In My Dryer. She is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in books and magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Parenting, Chicken Soup for the New Mom's Soul and The Social Cause Diet. She has been a guest speaker at several blogging conferences, including BlogHer, Blissdom and SheSpeaks. In February of 2008, she and a team of U.S. bloggers traveled to Uganda with Compassion International to live-blog their child advocacy work.