Building A Better Blog: When the Water Runs Dry

Growing up in the county it was not uncommon for homes to utilize wells as oppose to the city waterlines.  It wasn’t like you see on old movies where we had some random stone fixture in the middle of the field with a rope and bucket attached where we went to gather water.  Our well was ran by an electric pump and contained inside a small garage-like structure.  I never really thought much about it unless the power went out. When that happened we had no water in our house meaning nothing to filter for a cold beverage, nothing to wash our hands with, nothing to wash clothes with and nothing to flush with.  It was only a temporary inconvenience that was easily resolved when the power was restored.  The idea of your main source of life running dry can be frightening in real life, but what about the figurative drying up of ideas?  For a blogger this can be sudden death.

Recently a fellow blogger shared her distress on a blogger support group forum that she had ran out of ideas:

y’all. seriously struggling to find things to write about. :-/

My heart ached for my sis as I know how horrible that must feel. Writing is my outlet, my escape and my comforter. I do this because I love it and because it is therapeutic for me. I have a passion for natural hair and I love to write so its a natural marriage.  But I also like to help others, which is why I have been writing this bloggers series in hope that I may be able to provide some sort of guidance to others.

So here is my advice for my natural hair bloggers with a case of writer’s block:

  • Write about topics you see discussed on twitter, fb, or message boards.  You may feel like you are beating a dead horse or re-stating the obvious but trust me someone out there will appreciate it.
  • Gift ideas.  I love DIY projects: making my own soaps, bath salts, hair moisturizers, accessories, earrings, necklaces, scarves, whatever interests you.
  • Pet peeves.  Everyone likes a little Oscar the Grouch post every now and then.
  • Hairstyles you love or ones you’d like to try including failed attempts.
  • Reload an old post and update it with new information or expanded knowledge.
  • Do a vs. battle of your favorite products
  • Or a shopping challenge where if you only had $20 to spend at a store what would you buy

Just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.  But if your well is running a little low, by all means take a break.  Don’t leave your readers hanging without content.  Ask fellow bloggers to submit content (new or old) to fill in the gap.  By all means do whatever it takes to keep your water from running dry.

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Building A Better Blog: Dealing With Negative Comments

It is bound to happen.  When you express yourself in a public platform you will run into your share of naysayers.  Those who disagree with you, your position, or the topic and while it is nice to want to have an engaging professional discourse in this modern day of “keyboard gangsters” things can get nasty.  Here are a few tips on how to deal with negative blog comments.

You Are In Control.  There are different settings available that you can use to determine how someone can comment on your blog.  I do not advise you simply leave your blog open for anyone to comment.  At a minimum you can make sure that they supply an email address to comment.  Or at maximum you can set it so you have to approve all new comments.  You want people to comment on your blog and to engage in discussion, but you want to make sure it is an environment well people feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions without being attacked by others.  I moderate comments left by newbies, but once they are a frequent poster they are available to comment without approval.  I require that everyone leave an email address to comment that way I am able to address the person privately if there is an issue.  I use the WordPress app on my phone to frequently monitor pending comments to keep the discussion going.

Toughen Up.  You have to realize that everyone is not going to like what you say.  Just because someone disagrees with you does not mean that they do not like you.  You do not need to defend yourself against an opposing opinion, less you come off as combative.  Remember opinions are like elbows, everyone has them.  If there is a topic in which you do not want to endure negative comments you can disable commenting for that post only while leaving it open for other posts.

Maintain Your Integrity.  I use a general rule of thumb for negative comments: If the commenter was respectful,  refrained from profanity or personal attacks and left a valid email address I will approve their comment.  Most of the time these “keyboard gangsters” use fake email addresses, these comments are not approved.  Other times they like to bring up off topic discussion which is fine, but they chose to attack another commenter or the person in the post, these comments are not approved.  But there are still those who disagree with me completely but they express their opinion respectfully and use their real email, these I always approve.  Why? Because I want people to express varying viewpoints that myself or my readers may have not considered.

Remember just because someone questions you does not mean they are attacking you.  But by all means if you feel you are being cyber bullied by a keyboard gangster use their IP address to permanently block them from your page.  Have you encountered negative comments? How do you deal with it?

Building A Better Blog: Stating the Facts

It is easy for a blogger to be hailed as a “guru” among other naturals.  When a person appears to have the knowledge, background, resources and fabulous hair others want to consult with them to get their hair to that state.  But there is a difference between disseminating information and giving good advice.  A reader must use their own thoughts and intuition to determine if there is quality information being given and how to apply it to their own hair.

Most bloggers get their information from 3 sources: books, other bloggers and personal experience.  There are a lot of great books out there on natural hair, I reviewed a bunch of them here on this post.  In these books you can learn about a lot of different methods like Curly Girl (CG), Tightly Curly, finger detangling, etc.  I have learned from all the books I have read and while I do not stick to a particular method I can see how each one is beneficial.  Relying on other bloggers speaks to the beauty of shared experience.  It is not necessary nor is it plausible to try every method, product, tool out there however by consulting with other bloggers you know and trust they can help you to weed out which ones you should look into and which you can overlook.  Lastly their is personal experience and this is where majority of a bloggers information comes from.  You try a product/method/tool and report back how it worked for you.  If you are a good blogger you want to dig into why it worked or didn’t work and how to improve it or make it better.

So you have all this opinion and information but what makes it fact?  The fact that something worked on your hair does not mean that it is repeatable or that it will work on someone else’s hair.  This is why you have to dig down into the why.  A lot of people don’t know or care to dig into why something works and that is okay as long as it is understood that the information given is strictly an opinion.  Be careful of those who present information as fact with no data, research, science or explanation as to why.

Building A Better Blog: Integrity

As a blogger you have now become a public figure of sorts.  With this new “power” comes responsibility (yeah that was a spidey homage) in the form of integrity.  Blogging with integrity means to be honest, ethical and forthcoming in your posts because the reader is putting a level of trust in you and your work.

The first issue of blogging with integrity is the link back aka the ping back (when you were in school this was known as a work cited or bibliography).  If you see an article that sparks an idea to write a blog you should reference the original link to give proper credit.  To take it a step further when mentioning a business or service you should link their website/twitter/fb so that others may further reference.  This is most important part of blogging with integrity as there is nothing worse then seeing someone rip-off your idea without giving you the slightest nod.  I give a lot of link backs and shout-outs but there are times when I do not, like if I am being critical of a practice but do not want to single out a certain person as to cause drama and detract from my original point.  So when I mentioned that long term protective style challenges irritate me, I could have provided a link to my girl and fellow blogger Glamswagger‘s page as she is doing a protective style challenge.  I did not because I was making a general comment and not trying to attack anyone.  Side note: Glamswagger’s hair is awesome so perhaps I might want to look into more protective styling if I want hair like hers.

Another part of blogging with integrity is providing a full-disclosure.  That is when doing a product review you should reveal whether you paid for the product, it was a gift or you received it free from the manufacturer.  Your readers have a right to know where the product originate from so they are allowed to take that in to account.  In general people to tend report more favorably on things they received for free or as gifts versus things they purchased with their own money.  That is not to say that you cannot be honest about a free gift, just that their may be extra sway or influence.  Also when reviewing a product you should support your opinions with sound reasoning.  For example, I am protein sensitive so when I review product that contains protein, like Giovanni Smooth As Silk Conditioner,  I take into account that my hair doesn’t normally behave well with protein.  To simply call the product horrible would be biased, so instead I say that it didn’t work for my hair and I state why.

In the end your blogging integrity will help build your reputation with fellow bloggers, your readers and even product manufacturers.  Your words represent you so choose them wisely.

Building A Better Blog: Connecting With Others

Blogging is all about connecting with people.  Your blog can be a soapbox, a shield or even a sword to express your feelings on a certain topic.  But all of that means nothing if you are not connecting with an audience.  To be a successful blogger you want to attract people to your blog, convince them to return and persuade them to invite others.

Up first is attracting people to your blog.  In order to attract people to your blog you need to network with people in your field and build relationships in person and through social media.  The best way to network with people in your field is to attend events, post in forums, join FB groups and get involved in tweetchats using the appropriate hashtag.  But do not overlook more intimate methods of forging relationships with those who have already “made it” like emailing questions/comments to blog owners or commenting on their posts.  Bloggers like to interact with others so reach out and get connected, this is not a competition.

Convincing them to return can be rather tricky.  Now if someone subscribes to your blog they are getting email updates telling them you have added new content but what about those that don’t sub?  Here is where advertising is important.  Writing a blog is not enough you need to shop out your article.  Submit your post as a guest article to another blog, post in chatrooms or message boards, post in FB groups, and post the link on twitter.  When posting use clever wording that would encourage others to click.  This is something one of my fav bloggers Lola does very well, she tweets little teasers, not just the boring ol’ blog title to make it more inviting.  In fact I have clicked the same link several times thinking it was an entirely different post.

all of these tweets are in reference to the same article

Now the last step of persuading your readers to invite others is all about your posts being “share worthy”.  Posts that are typically shared fall into the following categories: solving a problem, expressing a controversial standpoint, providing some form of gossip or touching/moving on a personal level.  Not all blog posts can be glitzy, controversial or soul-stirring, but you have to know when to seize the moment.  All of my most popular posts fall into one of the previous categories for example: my posting on the Type F fiasco I would consider to be a gossip post (this is actually my most popular post of all time) and my posting on the death of my friend Tabasha was touching story that pulled on the heartstrings and connected people.

Networking with others in your field, reaching out to engage your readers and providing solid content all lead to connecting your blog with your desired audience.

Building A Better Blog: Joining the Gang

Oh yes I’m in a gang.  No we don’t have hand signs, secret handshakes or wear certain colors but we are a gang nonetheless.  Earlier this year I decided to turn DCN into a blog.  I started DCN out as a fb page back in July 2010 and would use the Notes section of fb to blog, but it got to a point where that platform would no longer support what I was trying to do.  I spoke to other bloggers about the different blog hosting sites and decided to go with WordPress.

The writing came naturally to me as I previously studied journalism and with my computer science experience I thought the customization would be easy too, but in a strange way it was a little too easy making it difficult.  In my younger days I had a angelfire website and used live journal both which used html and that was simple for me.  Wordpress uses a lot of widgets which make for easy plug and play customization but I did not quite “get it”.  Thankfully for me I have greater blogger friends in  L of The Natural Review and Tracy of BrokeyMcPoverty who were able to provide me with support via emails, calls and text and I got everything set up (thanks ladies!)

My blog has been up for 6 months now and I wanted to further improve my craft by attending one of the many WordCamps that are hosted all over the world.  Word Camp is a meet-up for WordPress bloggers and developers on how to better use WordPress, network with other bloggers/developers and get support in person.  I attended the Louisville Word Camp here in town and it was a great experience.  Though in the first session I was almost ready to cry, as you can tell by my tweet:  lucky for my an angel named Nile Flores smelled my despair and asked if I needed help.  I quite bluntly told her that I felt just plain dumb and did not understand anything that was discussed.  Nile pulled up my blog, gave it a once over and provided me with some great tips.  More importantly she let me know that I was not lost and she was able to explain how I should approach taking my blog to the next level.  As we talked our table was surrounded by 6 other people who felt like I did, but were too afraid to speak up.

Nile, Sayed & Me at Word Camp Louisville

After we broke for lunch the presentations were much better for me. I was able to understand what SEO was and how to apply it, learn about mobile framework, how to find the right plug-ins for my blog and how to properly use them, and I felt like a rock-star in the FB integration session.  Most of all I was given back my confidence that although I am not a developer I run a damn fine blog!  WordCamp was such an awesome experience that further energized me and my dream to become a professional natural hair blogger.  If there is a WordCamp in your area please join the gang and check out the sessions, you will not regret it. For those that are unable to make it, check out these great resources: wpaddict.net, wpbeginner.com, and noodle.mx which offer free help and advice on WP blogging.

Building a Better Blog: More Content

There are lots of natural hair blogs out there, so what separates a mediocre blog from a great blog? Well IMO one of those factors is content.  I have come across several fantastic postings that compel me to want to follow a blog only to discover that the writing is sporadic and greatly lacks content.  And while I understand that bloggers are real people too, as a reader I expect a certain level of content to be present if you decide to start a blog and for that content to be updated regularly.

This leads me to my recent undertaking: the post a day challenge.  The post a day challenge is in preparation for National Novel Writing month which is not something I am interested in but I was anxious to accept this challenge because I have a lot of post ideas quick written as drafts or scribbled down in my notebook that I need to finish.  I am not a writer by trade but I love to write and I think this challenge will help me become a better blogger.  And while I will not be exactly writing a new post everyday I will have a scheduled release of a post everyday.  *God bless the person who created the scheduling function in publisher*

If you are a natural hair or beauty blogger/vlogger/podcaster I encourage you to take part in this challenge.  Leave a comment with your site below and I will be sure to check in on your post.  As for the readers sit back and enjoy all the awesome content that I will be delivering.  Here’s a clue: most of them will be product reviews that I never posted.  If you have any topics or suggestions for posts please leave a comment below with your request and I will try my best to accommodate.