Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Blogging the Write Way: The Company You Keep

If you have been blogging for any amount of time, you are familiar with the blogging networks. Basically social networking sites for bloggers, the most popular include BlogCatalog and MyBlogLog, though there are many more of varying quality.

Unlike most social networks (which invariably follow the MySpace format and formula), blogging communities vary dramatically in appearance, though they offer the same (extremely useful) tools. Also unlike general social networks, most require paid memberships to unleash their full power. Luckily, their prices are reasonable, even though what they offer is not much more than what you get for free.

MyBlogLog, for example, costs only $3.00/month, but the only real benefit is that you can see your stats in "real time." While I currently subscribe, if you are pressed for money, you could safely join for one month every 2-3 months just to get an idea of your performance; after all, you can see your top ten stats from the day before for free and get the rest of the picture from Google Analytics. We'll cover tools and statistics in another entry, but for the most part, this is what you're paying for when you subscribe to any of the blogging networks.

This post is not about the networks or how to use them; this post is about choosing your contacts in these communities.

For the most part, if you blog about comic books, why would you have a contact who blogs about shoeing horses? Unless you personally know the blogger or he is a regular reader, all you are doing is giving him free promotion. While there's nothing wrong with that, when you have a list of 123097234 contacts - only 10 of which actually read your blog (which means only ONE actually contributes to it) or have anything to do with your subject - you are not only giving visitors the wrong impression, you are minimizing your real colleagues' chances of being seen by others!

Visitors to your profile are likely interested in finding out who your contacts are because they want to know who you read, which blogs you enjoy, and - basically - the company you keep. They hope to find other blogs similar to yours, or at least quality blogs on other topics they might be interested in. If you blog about comics and sequential art, they expect to find other blogs and bloggers related to the same. While they are not going to be turned-off by a few non-related contacts, literally thousands of contacts with absolutely no relation to your blog or subject matter screams SPAM! Not only does this lessen your authority as a blogger, it devalues your blogs!

But how do you know which ones to add and which to ignore?

Just as with other social networks, there are some key clues:
  1. A personal note is always telling - especially if that personal note reads as spam.
  2. Always check out the profile. If it is spam or the blogger has 23427346 contacts, ignore it.
  3. If you are still unclear, take a moment to read the blogger's blogs. If they are splogs, completely unrelated to your own blogs, or just poorly-written, ignore the invitation.
  4. Check out some of their other contacts - you really can tell a lot about a blogger by the company he keeps (at least when it comes to these networks)!
  5. See how many contacts the blogger has made recently; a sudden run of contact-cultivating could mean the blogger specifically set aside the time to do just that, or it means he is just adding anyone who will accept his invitation.
  6. Is the profile current? Are the blogs regularly maintained? If not, don't bother.
The success of these networks has led to the requisite bullshit automaton programs and other spam and spam-generators, so be sure to run through the checklist above if you have any suspicions. Again, there is really no benefit to adding contacts except making contacts, so don't feel pressured to add someone just because they sent you an invite.

Having more contacts does not improve your standing in any blogging network - in fact, it can lessen it! Visitors note every, little detail about your profile, even when they don't consciously try to. Too many contacts or too many unrelated blogs/bloggers leads the visitor to think you are just trying to get some free promotion and that turns people off. At best, they'll just think you're a blog-whore - at worst, they'll think you're a splogger; either way, they certainly will not be interested in whatever you're offering!

Cull a list of quality contacts - contacts who run related blogs and sites (or at least have quality blogs and content), who don't have too many contacts, and who are active in the community. Further, make sure your contacts know these guidelines and follow them. While it is every blogger's personal decision as to how they run their business and are seen and considered by others, if they choose to go about it the wrong way, you are better off excluding them from your list. Visitors might not necessarily think less of you because of the company you keep, but spammers will definitely snatch your name from your unscrupulous contact's list and add you to their own lists (of names to spam!).

Showing up on 12389263456 members' profiles does not help promote your blog when you are only one of 23489756 other contacts listed! In fact, it leads visitors to think you are a splogger. While blogging networks are a great opportunity to meet other bloggers and promote your self and your blogs, they must be handled as carefully and professionally as all the other aspects of your business.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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