I can picture the scene, and you probably can too.  You head down to the local coffee shop at a non-peak time.  After minimal wait, you tote your hot coffee and cool laptop to a quiet corner of the shop near a sunny window.  Then, seated, you interlace your fingers, invert your arms, and push out in the universal gesture of, “alright,  I’m turning over a new, productive leaf!”

And you start writing your first blog post.

Or, you start the mechanics, at least.  You fire up your laptop, sip your coffee, and open up your WordPress admin screen.  Posts->Add New.  So far, so good.  But the huge and empty “Post Title” text box stares mutely at you while you stare back.  What should you call this thing?  What should you write about?

Believe me, I get it.  Here at Hit Subscribe, we help tech tools companies with their blogging efforts.  And I’ve written for my own blog and for others—probably more than 1,000 posts in all.  And yet, I still understand the terrifying feeling of “Wow, I could write about anything!  Ugh, I could write about…anything.”

The Journaling Trap

At this point, you do something perfectly natural.  Scrambling for a subject, you turn to narrating your existence.

Writing my first blog post today!  Starting on a new journey and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic (no, that sounds dumb) excited!  (Wait, too many exclamation points? Whatever.)  I’m writing this from a coffee shop, which makes me think of a philosophy I have…

The rush of new productivity overwhelming your doubts, you finish the post.  Thoughts of Rome taking more than a day to build echo through your mind the whole way.  And while that’s fair enough (and true enough), you’re probably wasting your time with this post and many others that you’ll write in the early going.

I say probably because you might be starting a blog purely to journal into a vacuum.  People certainly do that with blogs, and they did it long before that with diaries.  That can be therapeutic and interesting for self-reflection.  If that’s your mission, then feel free to disregard the rest of this post.

But if you’re starting your blog to market yourself in some regard, as an individual or as a company, you’re wasting your time.  You’re falling into the journaling trap.

What, Really, Is a Blog?

Over the coming months, we’ll go into a lot more detail on this subject.  But for now, suffice it to say, a blog is, at its core, a loss leader.  You write posts that have some value to people (if only a penny for your thoughts), and then you give them away for free.

Why do you do that?  Because it’s part of a broader strategy called content marketing.  The idea is simple enough.  You deliver a lot of free value to an audience without really asking for anything in return, at least initially.  You just want to build trust.  And you do that so that, eventually, when you might have something to sell that matches your readers’ needs, they’re receptive to your pitch (or, dare I say, even enthusiastic—it honestly happens and is immortalized by the meme, “Shut up and take my money.”)

Take us, at Hit Subscribe.  We’re going to write a lot of posts aimed at helping software developers and software tools companies get better at blogging.  Those are entirely free to you, and we earnestly hope you enjoy them.  What are we after with this?  Only that, at some point down the line, when you think to yourself, “I want more content than I can write, and I’m willing to pay,” you think of us.  That’s it.

Your Blog Is About Your Readers

Your blog is free value that you offer to prospective readers.  It’s your chance to earn their trust, delight them, and shift their attitude toward you to “Shut up and take my money.”

And, do you think you’re going to do that by announcing to them that this is your first post?  Do you think they’ll respond to you embarking on a new journey with “Shut up and take my money?”  Of course not!  It offers them nothing.

Each post you write should have a mission, and that mission should be reader-centric.  Borrowing from the book Book Yourself Solid, I like to say that each post should have a “who and do what” mission.  When you write it, you want [person X] to do [Y action].  It doesn’t need to be glamorous.  It could just be, “I want new tech bloggers to read this post and bookmark my site.”

Any post you write with a mission helps your broader purpose and business.  Any rudderless post without a mission just wastes your time.

So let’s take a look at some of the posts that bloggers write, but they shouldn’t.

1.  This is My First Post! (Or 100th or whatever)

Imagine yourself stumbling across this post from some random company.  Maybe you’ve never heard of them before, or maybe you have.  Either way, when you see this post title, do you click it?  I can’t imagine you do.

In the first place, the title alone captures the point: ah, MiscCo has made its first post—no need to click.  And in the second place, it’s not even remotely interesting.  We like to think that we (companies or individuals) have fans that want to see our every move.  And while that might eventually develop, it’s much rarer than you think, and even your most ardent fans will probably not care all that much about something this mundane.

2.  We Just Hired Joe Smith!

Companies do this all the time.  But don’t do this to your readers.  The only readers that will care about this are Joe and his parents, and neither one of them likely profiles as a reader you care about attracting.  Joe will already read your blog since he works for you.  His parents?  They’ll probably print out the post, put it on the fridge, and never visit your site again.

No other reader cares about this at all.  Again, imagine yourself stumbling across this on LinkedIn.  Would you think, “Wow, company I don’t care much about hired person I don’t know.  Sweet—let’s read more about that!”  That’s how everyone but Joe and his parents will react to this post.  People inside of your company probably won’t even care.

The only reason to do this is if you think the employee perk aspect of this (basking in the glow of recognition) outweighs the cost of boring your readers.

3.  We Achieved 1,000 Unique Paying Users/Got Featured in X Magazine/Earned a Round of Funding!

Pride makes you want to shout your accomplishments from the rooftops.  I remember achieving things in my blogging career: a million visitors, hitting the top of Hacker News, etc.  Writing a blog post about that is tempting since it means a lot to you and you worked hard for it.

But again, your readers just don’t care.  They might warmly think, “Oh, nice going.” Or they may wonder if you’re getting too big for good customer service.  Either way, the “what’s in it for me” angle gives them nothing more than a passing, idle thought.

(One exception is that you may want this post on your blog for the purposes of referencing it in other marketing assets.  But it’ll still bore your readers, and you might be better off doing this as a landing page.)

4.  Our Mission is X, Our Values are Y, or Our Philosophy is Z

Many of these posts you should avoid combine the spotlight effect with the natural tendency to journal.  We think people are much more interested in us than they are. And once we convince ourselves of this, we want to give the people what they want.

But it’s exceedingly unlikely that anyone really cares about your mission, values, and company culture unless they’re prospective employees.  (So if you’re using your blog as a recruitment tool, these posts get a little less wasteful.)

People reserve their raving fan status for the Apples of the world.  And there’s a subtle, interesting point in that.  Even as people are fans of a company like Apple, there’s still something in it for them.  They want to learn about Apple because being an Apple (for instance) fanboy or fangirl comes with certain status.  They’re signaling.

So unless your company is so cool and so well known that being able to recite its mission and values to random people over beers will impress, skip posts like these.  And probably skip them anyway.

Ugh, So We’re Not Supposed to Talk about Ourselves at All?

No, don’t worry.  You can talk about yourself.  In fact, you can do that plenty, and you can even talk about all of the things above.  Just talk about them carefully.

Want to announce your first post?  Do it as an aside in a post that will actually interest your readers.  (For instance, this is actually Hit Subscribe’s first post, but your interest in that fact won’t last beyond this sentence.)  Readers might like to know that—just not dragged out for an entire post.

But more importantly, you can and should talk about your company.  You should just do it in a way that answers the reader’s “what’s in it for me.”  Here are some examples.

  • “Announcing Feature X.”  You’ve released a new feature. Of course people care about that—they have a new feature to use.
  • “What We Learned from Our Last Release.”  A little weak, but reader value proposition is still there.  You learned something and can teach me.  (A better title would be “What You Can Learn from Our Mistakes” or something.)
  • “Why We Don’t Use Popular Tech X.”  Provocative title! Readers will want to see what’s up and maybe learn something.  Or maybe just argue.  But they’ll be interested.
  • “We’re Hiring!”  If your users are also your potential employees, then this is the rare announcement type of post they’ll care about.  Obviously, something is in it for them.

But Big Boy Company X Doesn’t Heed Your Advice!

If you go looking around the internet, you’ll find companies that don’t heed this advice.  For instance, here’s a GitHub post announcing that they hired someone.  And GitHub seems to be surviving.

I’d say two things to that.  First, your blog isn’t, obviously, the sole determining factor of company success. Also, a single post doesn’t determine a blog’s success.  But in the case of that GitHub post, did you finish reading it?  Did it make you want to read more of their posts?

The second consideration is both more subtle and far more important.  This article, about the rise of empty marketing-speak, raises an incredibly important point.  The author quotes a company’s ostensible value proposition.

Meltwater: See how you can use media intelligence to inform strategy, connect with your audience, and measure success.

He goes on to talk about how large companies started this empty marketing speak, and about how smaller, more startup-y companies have copied them.  Mimic success, right?  But then he talks about how large companies, selling customized offerings and consulting have different goals with their sites.

Large companies are well known, and they want to get you on the phone to discuss (and upsell) their offerings.  Startups are unknown and want you to pay $29.99 per month for a SaaS.

The upshot?  Large companies should have meaningless marketing phrases, driving prospects to make phone calls.  Small companies should tell you what they do in plain language, driving prospects to stick around and purchase through the site.

So it goes with your blog.  You’re not GitHub, and mimicking its blogging strategy will not make you GitHub.

Always Think of Your Readers and You’ll Do Fine

This is a lot of advice, but I can summarize it pretty easily for you.  Make sure that, as you write each post, you imagine a reader.  And don’t imagine the generic reader. Imagine a fairly specific person.  Then ask yourself what’s in it for that person.  What do you want them to take away?  What do you want them to do after reading the post?

I have that with this post, for instance.  I want you, a new or prospective tech blogger (company or individual) to think, “Wow, this was helpful. I’m going to bookmark this site or add them to my RSS reader.”  And I based that on the value proposition of “this post will help you avoid writing blog posts that don’t benefit you.”

So by all means, head down to the coffee shop, stretch your arms, and set about becoming a new blogger.  But as you do it, keep your reader in mind, and don’t make your blog post about you.