Picking up where yesterday’s post left off, I want to talk about the blogger’s pattern. This is where Robin’s insights about stock and flow really come into play. I think the most essential rhythmic prowess great bloggers develop is the ability to balance these two types of content.
We often talk about finding a rhythm, as though it’s something that’ll happen to you, or something you’ll discover. Just as often, I tend to think a good, sustainable, audience-rewarding pace truly is developed - planned, practiced and polished. Marathon runners don’t “find” their race-winning strides – they set goals and work towards them.
I think a helpful way to approach that goal-setting is by setting goals and organizing workflow on a daily cycle, a weekly cycle, and for the medium-to-long term. I’ll talk about each of these.
The daily cycle
There are a couple things to keep in mind about planning for the daily rhythm of the blog:
First, you never want to start your day with an empty slate. Knowing that you’ll start off with a daily link roundup every morning is one easy way to get your engine going. It’s also important to augment that with something meaty, ready to polish and post shortly after your computer wakes up. Previously, I shared Ernest Hemingway’s trick of writing some of his best material late in the day and stopping just as he was on a roll. I think it’s a great idea to end each afternoon by completing 90 percent of a post you’ll finish and publish in the morning. I also think it’s smart to head into each week knowing the original, enterprise pieces you intend to publish each day, news permitting.
Second, make sure you’re addressing each of your overlapping communities with something every day. Remember when I wrote about planning content around your audience needs? To continue the example I laid out in that post, let’s say your topic reaches (1) an audience of people employed in relevant industries, (2) a law/policy audience, (3) a scientific/scholarly audience, and (4) a lay audience mostly interested in the cultural impact of the subject. Make sure that each day, you’re offering at least one post of interest to each audience. You’ve got many types of posts you can employ to hit that target. Switch ‘em up.
Lastly, strive to publish an attention-getter at least once a day. This is a post that you think will be spread around your community, original reporting and cogent analysis that will hook in a broader audience, garnering links on Twitter and Facebook and commentary from other sites. We’re actually building content promotion positions for these featured posts into the site. Lists and guides and explainers will be some of your best friends here, as will any scoops you can develop or news you can break. This will tie into your weekly planning (and it will take planning).
The weekly cycle
Set aside some time every week to plan for the following week. This is when you can develop ideas for those attention-getters that will earn you regular exposure to a wider and wider potential crowd. As you plan your banner ideas for each week, think about how to hook different segments of your community. For example, in a typical week, you might plan on developing two featured posts for your business audience, a couple for your law/policy and academic audiences, and another few explainers or analyses or stories that bring in the lay audience.
Of course, the cycles of a particular beat are likely to intersect with your content planning at the weekly level. There are probably regular meetings, briefings, newsletters or document releases that relate to your beat, so you can set up the appropriate live-chats and follow-up posts as necessary.
From week to week, different stories are going to really seize the attention of your crowd, and it’s important to pursue these doggedly and elevate the level of attention you pay them (to whatever degree makes journalistic sense). Sometimes you’ll know when these are coming down the pike (e.g. your legislature is set to vote on a hot-button law). But often, these types of stories are tied to the news – so you can’t necessarily plan for specific stories to take root, but you can be attuned to them when they appear. Make sure to keep them front-and-center for the week, if not longer, altering your weekly content planning if necessary to report new dimensions to the story, write some authoritative explainers and guides, and query your crowd for their insights.
At least once a week, you should be aiming to develop an attention-getter post that can really shine. Don’t neglect your ability to set an agenda and follow up on it. If you think a post is going to make a splash, follow it up early and often with posts that add dimension and enlarge the story. Find ways to relate the story to each of your audiences with different posts.
The medium- to long-term
Your daily and weekly planning for the site will keep it flowing, but what will really make it sing is the arc – the long-term vision that will tell your readers you’re taking them somewhere. You’re not just writing a blog, you’re writing something like a book. It’s important not to lose site of that.
Think about the long-term rhythm of your site. How often are you making a splash on your topic? On a monthly or semi-monthly basis, you should be thinking about how to create the solid, informative, high-level content that will get maximum pickup in your community – your equivalents of the Sunday A1 front-pager. We chose topics for Argo that would be “locally focused, but nationally resonant.” I expect that “national resonance” to be strongest in your long-term planning, where your biggest, most important pieces are conceived and developed.
They say long-form narrative doesn’t work well on the Web, but there are a number of ways to deliver big Web stories that will be popular: comprehensive guides to hot-button issues, deep investigative narratives, analytical pieces that lay out a major trend or idea, crowdsourced packages of the most influential people in the topical domain. The key is to imagine the final packages in advance, then break them down into components you can produce as part of your daily workflow. You recognize this advice: package, repackage, repeat.
Done well, the daily rhythm of your blog feeds your long-term strategy, and your long-term planning drives your daily activity. Invariably, though, you’ll find yourself wrapped up in day-to-day matters, devoting less and less attention to the longer-term stuff. That’s OK. I promise not to let you stray too far from the bigger picture.