Guest post by Jennifer Gresham
Imagine a blogger’s dream come true: you have a horde of engaged, enthusiastic readers, your posts regularly garner hundreds of responses, and everyone wants to talk to you. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? That’s what Justin Hall thought too – until it actually happened.
Hall started blogging in 1994 and was dubbed by New York Times Magazine “the founding father of personal blogging.” He was the youngest person to brief the Rand Think Tank, he was invited to speak at the Sundance Film Festival and South by Southwest. Then, by his own admission, he had a bit of a breakdown in 2005. If you want to know what happens when blogging takes over your life, watch his last vlog, which he titled Dark Night. I’ll warn you, it’s disturbing.
Most small businesses know you have to develop a strategy for success that’s scalable. What works when your blog is small may not work well when it gets big. The scalability problem most bloggers worry about is the capability of their servers, but it’s how they spend their time that should be at the forefront of their strategy. To make sure you aren’t the latest victim of blogger burnout, take heed of these 6 potential pitfalls, and the strategies you can implement to navigate blogging success:
1. When social networking becomes a social nightmare. When your blog is small, you need to spend a fair amount of time promoting posts through social networking in order to get page views. But blog promotion through social networking can easily eat up as much time as you’ll give it. Between online forums, Twitter, Facebook and email, you may not feel like you have enough energy to actually write.
When success really hits you can probably cut back on the blog promotion, but untangling yourself from the networks you’ve established may not be so easy. For example, Gary Vaynerchuk, who has over 850,000 followers on Twitter alone, left a message on his Twitter page warning followers he doesn’t respond to direct messages.
The solution: Make a note of the purpose of joining each network and the value it provides. Make a prioritized list, so when you have to cut back, you know just where to start (and the impact it will have on you and your blog). And make sure some of the networks you keep just bring you joy. Remember Jack Nicholson’s line in The Shining about “all work and no play”?
2. When guest posting is the only posting you’re doing. In a recent interview, Leo Babauta described his meteoric rise to blog fame by using the strategy of guest posting. He was able to develop a writing schedule that allowed him to write 3-5 guest posts per week while posting every day on his own blog, working full time, and taking care of his six children.
But as Jon Morrow, Associate Editor at Copyblogger, will tell you: most of us aren’t Leo Babauta. Some bloggers focus so hard on guest posts they end up neglecting their own blog. This is counter-productive.
The solution: Try Morrow’s more reasonable guest blogging schedule, laid out in his article The Three-Step Guide to Getting More Traffic by Writing Less.
3. You’re reading, but not responding. One of the biggest complaints of big blogs is the authors no longer respond to comments. But you can see why: with posts garnering anywhere from 40 to 80 responses or more, you could spend all your time just answering the mail.
So how do you decide which posts to answer, if any? Some bloggers respond by simply turning off the comment feature (like Seth Godin), but I think there’s a better solution that still allows you to engage with your readers.
The solution: The key is to focus and there are two ways to do it. You can spend your time answering really thoughtful comments that made you see the blog topic differently. Or you can focus on your regular readers, those thoughtful people who come back again and again to encourage you. There ought to be some reward for that.
4. You’re paranoid about privacy. Of all the issues you deal with as a blogger, privacy is the one you should think about first, because it’s so hard to go back. While it’s not impossible to change your strategy, it is virtually impossible to go back in time on the web. You also have to balance sharing personal details and taking potshots from nasty netizens, which is sadly par for the course as you become popular.
There’s no right answer here. Many people will tell you to keep your personal details to yourself, but in many ways, blogging is all about the personal. Moreover, you’ll be hard pressed to earn loyal followers without revealing something of yourself. But a story that may seem perfectly acceptable at a cocktail party with friends (small blog) might feel really weird at a packed auditorium (big blog).
The solution: Write every post as if you’re addressing a large audience that not only includes your mother, but the rest of your friends and family as well. Beware of sharing personal details about those around you without their prior permission. You might gain followers, but lose friends.
5. Your real life is suffering. Lisa Romeo, a freelance writer and blogger, is going through a personal crisis. As she said in a recent post, “when my father was dying and I was worried that my writing output was declining [writer Richard Hoffman] advised me Life first, writing second.”
The solution: Even if you aren’t experiencing a personal crisis, it’s important to maintain a “real life.” In order to be an effective writer, you need to have experiences to write about. Think of time spent away from the computer as feeding the muse. Where else are those endearing anecdotes supposed to come from? And when life really calls to you, like the death of a loved one or a crisis at work, don’t worry for a second about taking a blogging break.
6. You’ve lost sight of why you started blogging in the first place. Many start a blog because they love writing or connecting with new people. But ironically, as your blog grows, you spend less and less time doing the very things you enjoy, as Gina Trapani describes in her farewell post at Lifehacker.
The solution: Even if your blog is an extension or the primary source of your business, the key is to stay focused on the imporant, not the urgent, to take a line from Trapani. Don’t let success dictate how you spend your time. Otherwise, the platform you built for opportunity can become more of a pirate’s plank.
Of course, even the best strategies can fail. Despite your best efforts, you may succumb to blogger burnout anyway. What most people don’t tell you when you start is that it’s a pretty demanding job. The good news? Justin Hall is doing just fine. He got married, he landed a job that makes him happy, and he’s even blogging again. And if he can find his way out of a dark night, then we all can. The hope is we can prevent ourselves from going there at all.
What are your strategies for preventing blogger burnout?
Jennifer Gresham is a scientist by training and an optimist at heart. She provides uplifting, practical advice on how to get the life you want at her blog Everyday Bright.