Tom Johnson talks blogging

February’s program was a first for the STC RMC. Rather than a speaker presenting in front of a live studio audience at the Tivoli, we had a Webinar with technical writer named Tom Johnson from Utah.

If the name sounds familiar, perhaps you have come across his blog www.idratherbewriting.com. Johnson has a full-time job writing for a non-profit organization in Utah, but he said his blog introduced a whole new side to his professional career that he couldn’t imagine giving up.

Tom’s presentation was “Blogging for Technical Communicators,” and he outlined his presentation with 10 topics. The following is what I got from each:

  1. The blog as an Expected Format
  2. Everybody’s doing it, so should you. Readers are expecting dynamic, interactive formats as part of their normal online experience — not just on blogs. Help formats will soon match blog formats.

  3. Why bother to blog?
  4. Blogging takes time, so why do it? The reason is there no more fluid and current way to communicate with colleagues and customer than with a blog. Good corporate blogs tend to take best parts of Help and Marketing, while throwing out the stuff nobody likes. This is harder than it sounds. Marketing can easily creep into blogs about products. Tom said the four key words to remember when blogging (about anything) are story, voice transparency and honesty. Lose one, and you’ve lost why people read blogs.

  5. Search Engine Optimization: The #1 Perceived Value of blogging
  6. Perhaps the most valued commercial real estate in the world is the first page of any Google search results query. You have to work and write hard to get there, but it can be done. Tom said to remember the basics, such as mentioning key words in your blog early and often. Also, have a good About page on your blog. Too many bloggers neglect this at their peril.

  7. The Most Difficult Part of blogging: Generating Content Regularly
  8. Blogs can’t thrive when they are updated intermittently. You need to blog at least 3 times a week to have any influence. If you only blog once a month, it’s hard to get a steady stream of ideas. This can be hard when you don’t think you have anything to say, but writing is the key to writing more. Tom quoted Erasmus, “The desire to write grows from writing.”

  9. How Your Audience Consumes Blog Information
  10. You are not just blogging to people surfing the Web at their computer. They could be getting an e-mail update that you posted, a RSS feed or a Twitter alert. Become familiar with all the ways people are getting information.

  11. Key Elements of blog Appeal: Story, Voice, Transparency, Honesty
  12. Go back to point 2. Blogging is worth your time because people will read it, but it has to be unlike anything they can get anywhere else. Don’t bog down your post with just a rehash of a press release or garble it up with shop talk no one can understand. Find your voice.

  13. Making the 652 Posts Findable on Your blog
  14. Just archiving your posts will do nothing more than show you blog a lot. Categorize your entries so people can reference them later. Good blogs entries can answer the same question many times.

  15. Comments and What to Do With Them
  16. Comments are actually one of the best parts of a blog. It’s immediate feedback and a great way to build community. It’s natural to want to delete feedback that is critical of your posts. You can delete comments, but Tom doesn’t recommend it (unless the comments are spam, obviously). Think of critical comments as instructive in some way. Readers will also be suspicious of authors who delete too many comments.

  17. What Happens to You When You blog
  18. Good things happen when you blog. When you write a blog, people assume you are an expert. Tom has been a tech writer for five years but his blog has an authoritative tone and a lot of resources. You get invited to speak at conventions and people seek your advice. This can only help your career.

  19. Questions Everyone Asks About WordPress
  20. One of the main questions Tom gets is whether or not he can survive on the ad revenue he gets from his blog. Not a chance, he said. Even bloggers who get many more readers than Tom can make only a couple hundred dollars a month.

    The blog pays for itself in other ways, refer to point 9. Additionally, your blog can be a vehicle for marketing your consulting services or other products.

Naturally, when I got home, I poked around his Web site a bit more. There is a lot of good stuff there. Check it out.

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