I’ve been blogging for a few years now. My odyssey began when I started a fine art website for my oil paintings and cartoons. I added a blog to my website to muse about the creative arts.
Not long after I started my website, I read Michael Hyatt’s book “Platform- Get Noticed in a Noisy World.” Hyatt’s book taught me that in order to get one’s work seen, you have to have an online platform.
That means a website, blog, email newsletter and social media outposts. So, I dove in. Despite a busy work life as a police chief, I moonlighted as a blogger.
My blog musings got the attention of an on-line art and marketing site. They reached out and invited me to be a regular, contributing writer. I was flatteredand signed on.
Before long, a year skipped by. The art and marketing site had a large readership, and my weekly posts attracted subscribers to my website newsletter.
For a newbie blogger, nothing is more exciting than new subscribers.
My early audience was largely made up of fellow artists and creatives. It’s easier to grow an audience if you have a clearly identified niche. Mine was the creative arts.
As a novice blogger, I was uninitiated in the ways of SEO, copywriting, and the finer points of online marketing. I just wanted to write about art and the things in life that I felt were important.
The funny thing about writing is that the more you do it, the more you can surprise yourself. In my case, I discovered that I enjoyed writing and had a flair for poignancy and storytelling.
My readership grew and I received many heartfelt emails from folks who were moved by one post or another.
There was an important ingredient in my writing that readers gravitated to. I didn’t recognize what it was.
Until I started losing readers.
Things that are likable
Cartoonist and blogger Matthew Inman created the hugely successful website The Oatmeal. In one of his posts he offered some social media advice for how to get more “likes.”
His advice holds equal value for bloggers trying to grow an audience. Here’s a snippet of what he wrote:
“Put your energy into things that are likeable. Not into some douchey social media strategy. Instead, create things that are hilarious, sad, beautiful, interesting, inspiring, or simply awesome.”
Unwittingly, I had started changing my writing style. It was just before I started losing readers. I hired a copywriting expert to teach me about headlines, subheadings and how to write online.
I paid closer attention to successful bloggers. I flew to Tennessee for a three day workshop on blogging.
I learned a lot about lead magnets, analytics, tagwords, guest posting and more. I tried to emulate the successful bloggers.
I discovered the wonderful, free photos on Unsplash.com and started using them instead of my paintings and cartoons in blog posts. I crafted clever blog post titles.
Somewhere along the way, I started to write these infernal listicle articles. Superficial, self-help posts with numerous tips on how to do stuff. I was aping other bloggers. Worse, the content I threw out there wasn’t even me.
I think the lowest point was when I added a pop-up to my website. All the research says they work. Which surprises me, because I hate pop-ups. Does anyone like popups? I doubt it.
All the marketing stuff I was doing, from listicles and multiple email magnets to popups and giveaways, turned my readers off.
I had forgotten my niche (the creative arts) and lost my voice.
Lessons from Calvin & Hobbes
Calvin & Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson gave a commencement speech at his alma mater, Kenyon College. He told the graduates that there’s no such thing as an overnight success. Then he said:
“You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself thatbring you happiness outside of success or failure. The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along. It’s a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you’ll probably take a few.”
I came to realize that I neglected the “resources in myself” that brought me happiness. Namely, my artwork. Painting and cartooning. Also, my affinity for poignancy and humor.
What’s the point of growing an audience and trying to make a living online if the content you’re producing isn’t you?
Look around the Internet and you’ll see tons of similarity. People offering free eBooks, email signups and courses. Listicles, advice and testimonials.
In the end, there’s one thing that separates the wheat from the chaff. It’s one of the most important things to look for in a blog post or website.
What is this all important ingredient?
Many of the things I learned about blogging have been useful. There’s no question that compelling headlines draw readers in. A quality freebie like a decent eBook can attract subscribers. But it’s authenticity that will keep them interested in your work.
It was authenticity that initially grew my readership. But then I wavered under the spell of all those website gurus and marketing experts.
So, I’ve been working on my authenticity more. I started to draw my own cartoon artwork, instead of relying on stock photos.
I’m trying to focus more on my own voice, instead of the style and approach that others have.
Unashamedly the real you
Recently, one of my long time readers paid me the courtesy of sharing some constructive criticism. He emailed to say that he wasn’t reading me much anymore.
The reason? I changed my email newsletters and was posting too frequently. I used to send out my entire blog post in my emails. But then, I shortened them to a brief lead in, with a link to the site where the original post appears.
I started doing that to improve click through rates and drive traffic to my website or Medium profile.
It had nothing to do with my artwork or what I wanted to say in my articles. Just another example of how the influence of marketing and best practices can get in the way of authenticity.
Thankfully, I had an astute reader who was kind enough to bring it up. He said that he didn’t want to follow a link to “some website.” Some other place, with more information or people trying to sell him something.
All he wanted was to read my article. To connect with me.
He added that his life is busy. Too much information and social media inundation. He said I was becoming more a part of the “overload” than the “inspiration.”
Hard to read, but invaluable to know.
The website Coffeewithsummer.com has this to say about authenticity:
“One of the most important qualities that social media users should carry over from their real life relationships to their online community is authenticity. Authenticity is what everyone craves, whether they admit it or not. Authenticity is vulnerability. Authenticity is being raw and real. Authenticity is about the struggles in life. Authenticity is about the joys and celebrations in life. Authenticity is all about being honest and true, and unashamedly the real you.”
So, I’m making some changes. I’m going to send my readers the complete blog post in my email newsletters. Cartoons and all. But more importantly, I’mgoing to look away from what everyone else is doing, and reconnect to what I’m about.
How about you? Are you creating authentic work, or have you strayed a bit? Have you tried to emulate others at the expense of your authenticity?
It’s understandable. We all want to be successful, grow an audience and create work we can be proud of.
But we owe it to our readers to remain faithful to our own voices. We owe it to our audience to share who we really are. We owe it to them to be authentic.
We owe it to ourselves, too.
(Originally published here).
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