Expert: Liz Strauss, Successful-Blog.com
#21 of 30
About the Expert
Liz Strauss is owner and author of Successful Blog and Liz Strauss, sites devoted to thinking, writing and ideas on business and blogging. In addition to these, she maintains a personal blog, Letting me be . . . random wondering and philosophy, a site for stories that relight memories and for the way it inspires readers to join her as she wonders about crayons, idiosyncracies, and things that don’t fit. Prior to becoming a full-time blogger, Liz spent more than 20 years in print, software and online publishing. Her expertise extends from product development and marketing into business-startups and long-term strategic planning. Today, Liz is a writer, career coach, and strategic planner with a focus on corporate blogging and strategic marketing. Chitika was delighted to get an interview with Liz and we’re excited to bring you her thoughts on blogging, writing with passion and tips on interacting with and engaging readers.
Chitika: You have 20 years of experience in print, online publishing, and you’ve worked for various companies, out of all the career paths you could have chosen, why did you pick blogging to showcase your writing talent?
Liz: Why not? Blogging is wonderful. I have this blog post that I’m using for my presentation and it’s called “Why Every Blogger Is An Entrepreneur” and why every blogger is a business person whether they monetize or not. Because blogging is publishing. There is a reason that button is called “Publish” not “Go”, “Send” or any other number of words it could say. It really is publishing. I started blogging because I wanted to leave education publishing and not stay a product person. I was standing in an education publishing conference talking to a friend of mine who is the vice president of a very good educational publisher. He asked why are you blogging? And I said, “There are three product jobs in this whole industry that are left and I don’t want any of them. I have all this marketing experience and I don’t want to be in product job anymore. But if I handed you my resume, you would tell me I’m a product person.” He said “I think you’re right.” So my response was, “Now I have a 1600-page resume on the Internet that says I am a marketing person. So, that’s what my blog does for me.”
Chitika: Your blog encourages such a warm relationship with your readers and you really know how to get them glued to your site. Since cyberspace can be such a difficult medium to communicate in, what is your secret to keeping them coming back for more?
Liz: When I changed the blog design, it was really important to me how my blog was designed. If you can see behind me in my picture, the blinds were closed, and I thought to myself, I would like to open the blinds so that the outside would show, this would give the impression that you were “inside” my house, giving a very warm, personal feeling. There is also is a harbor behind me outside that I wanted to show but it didn’t work. So I chose a picture of the stars, but it has the same effect of making users feel like they are inside. One of the things I did before I settled on the blog design, I went around and looked at other blog designs and I thought I wanted one of those AJAX designs with a lot of white, and I love those. But when I went to the comments, I felt like I was in a truck stop at 4am, and the last thing you want to do when you are in a truck stop, is give a person comment. Right now at the top of my blog post there’s a header in handwriting, I decided to do this because I wanted to climb down from the podium and talk more personally instead of like a teacher. I put the handwritten headings there as a reminder to myself and as a visual reminder to my readers that I am going to say what I am thinking. So they would think of this as more of a conversation.
Chitika: How do you go about consistently maintaining such a personal tone in your posts?
Liz: When you write a blog, you have to be yourself. You can’t write a blog and try to be Darren Rowse, and Darren can’t write your blog either. You have to know who you are. Bring yourself into what your passion is. It may take some time to sort that out the same way it takes time to find out who you are. I don’t walk in a straight line, but I do have enough consistency that readers know that if they come to my blog on Friday, they will know that it will be something to take them into the weekend. If they come on Friday afternoon they will find the SOB Cafe. And if they come on a Saturday they’ll find the successful blogs of the week and it will be the blogging questions because a little bit of structure is good for the both of us and makes life easier. There’s a pattern to what I do that kind of keeps me going. If I send you to the world’s biggest mall to buy a white shirt, you will be stunned, because there are so many different choices. But if you put a few rules on it, it makes it a lot easier. So I do put a hand full of rules on every day just to make it easier to breathe.
Chitika: After reading your blog, I noticed one of your posts from August 2006 where you talked about “10 Reasons Readers Don’t Leave Comments”. You have 167 comments on that post! Should bloggers worry if they receive comments or not? How should they go about handling getting readers to participate in their blog?
Liz: Getting comments is a real art form and it has a lot to do with forming a relationship with your readers. Your first comment in your blog is the most important. The one who posts the first comment is the brave one, being the second to comment is easy. I put up a post the other night, the entire post was simply a question, and it was, “What are you afraid of?” and the one who put in the first comment, I believe the reason he wrote the comment was to get the conversation going, because his comment was “what are you waiting for?” After that followed about 42 comments, but I believe that if he hadn’t put in that first comment, there may have been none. I am really sensitive to what the atmosphere is on my blog. My sense will be like, “oh gee it’s been about 3 days since someone has been here, and that happened last year around this time, and I knew something was little bit off. I wrote a post called, ‘An open thought, take the keys’.” It was Sunday afternoon, it pointed to someone who had made a comment, a good reader, a good friend, and he told me that the reason he sometimes won’t leave a comment on my blog is because “I was such a beautiful writer” the only thing he really had to say was “wow that’s great.” In that post I asked questions about what I did wrong and right — if I tied up my stories too tight, and after that I got comments telling me, “no your articles are great.” So I asked “What am I doing wrong?” and a good friend of mine, wrote me 5 bullet points, which kind of broke the ice for others to add more bullet points. Eventually it came down to “leave a little room for us to talk, don’t play the whole blog post out” and “gave us a point to give out.” They just came right out and told me what I was doing wrong in 42 comments. Basically get down off the pedestal and start talking to us. That changed a whole lot about the blog, I stopped being an instructor and started being a member of the community.
Chitika: I found something unique about your posts; sometimes you share your personal life with your readers. When do you draw the line between becoming too personal?
Liz: That’s interesting. I don’t tell anything that would actually embarrass my husband, I don’t use actual names, the stories that I tell are stories that I would share with anyone. And if anything they are at my expense. They are stories of human life, usually.
Chitika: You are such a great writer, are you planning on publishing your own book?
Liz: Well no, since I came from publishing, I have contributed to many books.. I am just having so much fun blogging, my thoughts and exploring the conversation and having real conversations on the blog. I’ve turned my blog into such an event in which sometimes, there is no blog post but its just conversations. Why write a book?
Chitika: If you were to give one tip to the average blogger who wants to be at your level, what would that be?
Liz: Be yourself. That’s really got to be it. Know who you are, add value to who you are. Because the internet has no eraser. If you put too much out there, or the wrong stuff out there, you’ll be handing it to your grandchildren, or your future self, and its always better not to. The more you feel like you want to run, you should walk.