Things I am Good at Part 3: The Internet
Part of me is scared to write this post. I think it’s the part of me that sat in a college class and listened to a “real journalist” tell us that if we wanted to get a job we needed to be a little bit paranoid. But the Internet (hack, gag, blogging, but I prefer to use the all encompassing term “The Internet”) is different. There is no such thing as exclusivity, and the only security you have is to do it better than everyone else. If you’re like that old media part of me, you might wonder, why I would want to share my keys to perceived success? The short answer is: it’s not as easy as it sounds. I have seen tons of people try, and fail, at the Internet, because it’s actually hard. It takes an insane amount of self motivation, a serious competitive spirit, a very good self image, and a ton of time. If you feel like you may be lacking in any of the above areas, don’t even bother.
The principles I am about to lay out are obviously inspired by my work in media, but really it’s the same for a brand or anyone using “The Internet” as a tool. Chances are you are starting to realize it may actually be important in the future and the changing scope of the world, and here’s a secret, that’s part of the reason I am writing this. It’s kind of important to address things people are interested in and seeking out on your website. So here are 7 basics to think about.
1. Have a thick skin
This is literally the number one, most important part of doing anything creative on the Internet. If you are doing it well, you are putting yourself out there in a vulnerable manner. Perhaps expressing opinions that not everyone is going to agree with. And unlike the safety net of a printed magazine/newspaper/book, where some one has to be REALLY motivated to complain by including, and not limited to, writing a letter/email or making a phone call, on the Internet all they have to do is press comment. So people will say some nasty things about you. You will have to come up with a coping mechanism for this. For me, it’s laughing at them and their usual absurdity, for others it’s self assurance and the belief, “at least they are reading.” Finally a third method is to realize that most hate comments are from trolls who actually don’t care and are just trying to make themselves feel better. Sometimes a comment will hit too close to home, and it’s easy to get bummed (it happens to the best of us) but just remember, if you let it stop you, they win.
2. Set deadlines for yourself
One of the biggest differences between the online world and the print one is there are no tangible deadlines. Anyone who’s worked for a magazine/newspaper knows you live and die by deadlines. But if something isn’t finished on time for the web, no big whoop. Put it up when it is. However, this can be a constant downward spiral, eventually leading to the end of your site all together. One of the best tricks I’ve found for self-inflicted deadlines is specific content for specific days. Obviously I am not the first or only one to realize this, as most successful feature-style sites you’ll visit boast branded daily content. This serves the previously stated purposes of a deadline, and it also works well for generating traffic. There is a reason TV stations have been putting shows on at the same time, and the same night each week for so long. It works for people. It gets in their heads and gives them some needed structure as well. So implementing it in your website is a no brainer. I’ve also found it helps immensely as far as “coming up with ideas” is concerned as well. One word of caution about the daily branded content though: If every day is basically the same thing with a different name, you aren’t doing it right.
3. Give credit where credit is due
The Internet is all about collaboration and interaction. I know people who claim to never read other blogs because they don’t want to be too “inspired” by someone else’s thoughts. I definitely can appreciate this, and I think to an extent my number one concern when deciding what to post and what to say is what’s inside my head. But on the off chance that I do find something somewhere else and get an idea from someone, I always link back. Always. Not only is it good for your SEO, but it helps build relationships that are invaluable with other “bloggers.”
4. Give a fuck
The biggest problem with many major media sites is they are trying to do too much. I don’t mean, posting too much stuff, but rather producing print, tv, and who knows what all else to make up for the “economy” (or just because that’s what they do.) So historically the attitude is that web content is secondary. While most media outlets now realize the value of their online presence, they are still trying to sell a magazine, (that’s actually another issue all together.) What I am trying to say here is everything you post on the internet directly reflects on you. A lot of people tend to have a lackadaisical attitude about things because “it’s only blogging” but blogging has gotten me to where I am today (I do this for a living.) And yes, I have put some questionable stuff up, but the nice thing about the Internet is it’s a learning process and you can test things and get almost immediate results. If something doesn’t work once, you don’t have to do it again.
5. Transparency is key
Sometimes on the Internet you will make mistakes. You will post something you shouldn’t have, or something that is just stupid. But the biggest and most regrettable mistake I’ve made is pulling something down. I’d like to say it’s only happened once, but no, I’ve made it again and again and again. All of the linked posts were removed for different specific reasons, but the gist was someone’s feelings got hurt. After some thought, or time, they went back up. It’s never my goal to hurt people, and as long as you are not being malicious in your post, the rule I find is good to abide by is this: Never remove anything unless it’s factually untrue. The fact that you can actually and quickly fix your blunders is one of my favorite things about the Internet. But if for some reason you do decide to remove a post, a good solution is to do another post explaining why. While 90% of people would probably never notice it’s gone, I feel like it adds a level of legitimacy to own up to your mistakes. And that legitimacy is what can set you apart in an overly crowded market.
6. Update, update, update
Not every post is going to be a groundbreaking piece of journalism. Sometimes something quick is fine. As long as you are balancing your site with regular, quality pieces, the smaller stuff is good too. If you want to gain and retain traffic, you honestly need to update your site daily, if not more.
7. Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to do it
If you know anything about me, then you can probably figure out the “it” in question is social media. This is honestly a separate post topic (one that I don’t really want to write), but I just wanted to touch on it here. People all to often get so overwhelmed with social media that it hurts more than helps. Twitter, facebook, stumbleupon, digg etc etc etc. There are so many social networking outlets that it’s a full time job just to keep them all up to date. In my opinion, you are better off concentrating on your site, using only the social tools you find the most effective and using them well, than trying to do a half-assed job at everything. The fact is, if you are doing good stuff, other people will do the work on social media for you. That’s the whole magic of it.
Phew, I think that’s at least the tip of the iceberg. So now, let the interaction begin! Because being honest, the measure of the success of this post is how many views it gets. And the more comments, the more views, so please weigh in.