My greatest blogging hits (and misses)

by Tom Albrighton 26 March 2012 Digital and social

Do you blog? If you do, you’ll know what a funny old game it can be. Not so much the writing itself – although that certainly raises issues – but the reception that the writing gets.

There are many reasons to blog. First and perhaps foremost, there’s the need to unburden yourself. Then there’s the professional imperative to show everyone how clever you are. But there’s also a third motivation: the naked, yearning hunger for approval from your peers.

Two out of three ain’t bad, but you do feel a bit bereft if your post gets a tepid reaction. Trouble is, in my experience, it’s almost impossible to write a popular post by sheer force of will – or, indeed, identify one once it’s written. Three years into my blogging career, I’m no closer to knowing which posts will soar and which will sink.

Those with no understanding of pop music often claim that ‘anyone’ can write a chart hit. True, a journeyman can turn out a serviceable melody with technique alone. But creating a truly expressive, genuinely popular song is something else.

In blogging terms, I’m probably more Paul Hardcastle than Paul McCartney. But I’ve still had a few power plays in among the potboilers. Here they are, along with the experimental B-sides that only my staunchest fans still listen to.

The hits…

  • Why I hate networking. I wrote this fast and furiously after attending an actual networking event. But it was so acerbic that I left it in my drafts for nearly a year, and, even then, asked my Twitter followers if I should publish it. The answer was a resounding ‘yes’ – and the mob was right. The post drew 23 comments within a few hours, and still gets responses today.
  • How to define your brand’s tone of voice. This is the sort of ‘slow burner’ post I’m always encouraging clients to aim for: a non-timebound, first-principles guide that can sit there forever, getting shared and maturing like a fine wine. Of course, I had no idea it would be such a keeper when I wrote it – in fact, I thought it was pretty weak.
  • Engagement smells fishy. The exact opposite of the tone of voice piece, this was a quickfire bandwagon post capitalising on someone else’s 15 minutes of fame. But I think I had something worth adding to the pot, and a high-profile tweeter (@indiaknight) agreed, giving it a major traffic boost and taking it over 250 tweets.
  • An honest ‘about us’ page. This was another one I thought was far too bitter to score. Turns out I’d sorely misjudged the cynicism of my audience, who loved it. I like using parody to make a serious point, but it’s hard to think of subjects that will work.
  • Wackywriting and the cult of Innocent. Probably the best post I’ve ever written, taking into account both style and substance. Music critic Dorian Lynskey quoted it in his own post on the same subject, and that post drew a response from Dan Germain, Head of Creative at Innocent. I don’t think I’ll ever get closer to the stars than that.
  • Why crowdsourcing is rubbish. This used a specific (bad) example of crowdsourcing as the starting point for an analysis of why it doesn’t work. It got picked up and Tweeted by Creative Review, and the resulting traffic torrent swept away my web server like a paper boat. Using thematic cross-heads (summarising the argument instead of commenting on it) helped guide the reader through a relatively long and closely argued post.
  • Brummie slang of my youth. A great example of long-tail ‘sniping’. Refreshing my knowledge of this subject, I was amazed to find there was no online compendium of Birmingham slang terms – just a couple of forum pages. Mine ranked pretty high from the outset and now ranks #1 (above Wikipedia!) for ‘brummie slang’, mainly thanks to Facebook likes I think.

…and the misses

  • Why marketing is evil. Discussions about the morals of marketing on Twitter left me with an itch I just had to scratch. Marshalling my arguments took months of revision, and I was so pleased with the result that I invested in a licensed image from artist James Marsh, who I’ve always admired. A few people liked it, but it didn’t set the world on fire. Maybe, bizarrely, people didn’t want to read over 2000 words explaining why their profession was morally bankrupt?
  • Twitter, transience and truthfulness. An attempt to bring a Buddhist perspective to social media, and a good example of why it doesn’t pay to get too far outside your home territory – people won’t Tweet it if they can’t relate. Reading this title over my shoulder, my partner made a two-handed gesture as though stimulating a monstrous phallus. It was hard to take that as a compliment.
  • Google indexes the human mind. I worked on this April Fool for ages, convinced I had a viral rocket in my pocket. I’m really not sure why, since ‘Apple/Google invents implausible something’ pieces are two-a-penny on April 1. Surely I can’t be less funny than I think I am?
  • On pronouncing ‘Quinoa’. Following (I feel) in the footsteps of Noël Coward, Hilaire Belloc and Ogden Nash, this delightful squib came out of a Twitter poll on the correct pronunciation (result: about 50/50). I was intrigued to see if a four-line post could actually succeed. The answer, as you’ve no doubt already guessed, is no.
  • How times change. A long piece contrasting life today with life in the 80s. Obviously restricted in appeal to those who can remember that era. A few liked it, but it was probably too long and self-indulgent to hit home. Also, titles are very important, and try as I might I just couldn’t think of a good one for this.
  • Agents of conformity. Another flog at the dead ‘marketing is evil’ horse, this time predicated on a clip from a 1988 John Carpenter film. How could it fail? I had an idea I could build quick-n-easy posts around videos, but soon realised it was a short cut to total unpopularity.

But the top turkey is undoubtedly a post I’ve deleted since publication. It escalated an argument originating on Twitter, leading to disaster for the other party and deep regret for me. All I can say is think before you publish – as Benjamin Franklin said, ‘whatever is begun in anger ends in shame’.