Impossible that @ChrisBrogan and I are BOTH right, so don’t listen to either of us

chrisbrogan.com — Learn How Human Business Works – Beyond Social MediaChris Brogan, prolific social media how-to author, blogger, and $22,000/day consultant, recently wrote a post describing his “Simple Blogging Formula” in under 1000 words.

In case you needed proof of the efficacy of this formula, know that the post was re-tweeted 700 times and Chris currently enjoys an RSS readership north of 57,000.

Thing is though, I do almost the opposite of his formula. Such as (like, the Iraq, and, such as):

  • Chris: “I try to blog almost every day … first, and foremost, my assumption is that frequency matters.”
    Me: I post once a week, occasionally twice, sometimes less.
  • Chris: “Decide what the post should do for you: [list of possible goals]  I start each post with a plan of what I want it to do.”
    Me: I try to convey something I find interesting and useful, something I didn’t know before my own successes and failures. I have no other “purpose;” rarely is there a call to action. I hope folks will share posts they like and subscribe if they want more, but even that doesn’t have a defined goal.
  • Chris: “I start with a headline … I then find a picture on Flickr … [then I write it]”
    Me: Posts start with a concept, but rarely is my headline still correct by the end of the writing. Pictures or cartoons come last of all, designed to reinforce and enhance the writing rather than define the subject of the content.
  • Chris: “I make sure that post is brief, unless I want bookmarks, and then I make it much longer.”
    Me: My posts are like Fight Club bouts: They go on as long as they have to. And my natural style is to write longer articles. (Read: I like to hear myself bloviate; Or: I’m not good enough to be pithy; Or if you’re feeling generous: I have a lot to say.)

You could point out that I have a paltry 17,000 RSS subscribers instead of his magnificent 57,000 and that this post will be probably be re-tweeted a measly 100 times instead of 700, therefore Chris wins. But aren’t my numbers impressive enough to be called a “success?” Both formulas appear to work.

So who’s right? And how do you pick which formula to copy for yourself?

It’s logical to select Chris’s formula, particularly since it’s nearly identical to that professed by the other power-house how-to blogging sites like Problogger (133,000 subscribers) and Copyblogger (129,000 subscribers). Who could argue with such empirical success? Not me.

And yet, of those hundreds of thousands of adherents, how many enjoy similar levels of RSS devotion and Twitter-powered adulation?  Or even an order of magnitude less like me? Almost none. So is it truly a formula, as in “formula for success?” I don’t think so.

Besides, for every successful site following the “frequent, brief, goal-oriented” formula, there’s another — like mine — that is the opposite (“infrequent, lengthy, purposeless”) with plenty of success as well. But that doesn’t make my style a formula either.

In fact, the only conclusion you can draw is that, like building a startup worth millions, creating a popular blog cannot be accomplished by following a formula. Or rather, there isn’t a single formula which produces success, or even dramatically increases your chance at success over other so-called formulas. (Formulae?)

So instead of following rules about post length, post frequency, writing style, whether bullets points and choppy sentences are good or evil, whether it’s OK to curse, or how many link-sharing icons you promote, none of which seem to actually correlate with the success of a blog, I suggest you ask yourself this:

What easiest for me?

If you don’t have more than 200 words to say, don’t fluff it up. If you love spinning out protracted sentences sewn loosely together with armies of semicolons, do it. If you have a visceral need to provide three specific examples immediately following an a sweeping generalization marked by a large, red font, follow your rhythm.

After all, one thing successful blogs do have in common is that the writing matches the personality and quirks of the author. So embrace your quirks!

When you reinforce your natural behavior instead of cramming yourself into someone else’s box, you’ll automatically write better, write more, communicate better, and be happier doing it. It maximizes your ability to create something awesome.

Indeed, there’s one thing Chris mentions almost as an aside which is echoed in all blogging advice you get anywhere, including from me:

“If you’re not creating great stuff, then people move on.”

I would add:

If you’re not creating great stuff, people won’t subscribe in the first place, and they won’t re-tweet you or otherwise spread your links, and anyway, what are you doing?

As I’ve detailed at length, I believe content + luck = blogging success. Everything else is style. Everything else you can take or leave. Everything else you should mold to your own abilities and preferences and goals.

Less time reading advice, more time doing!

(Except reading my advice, of course! Remember, my ego is inexorably tied to the re-tweet and RSS count. Don’t think for a minute I’m being sarcastic either…)

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, Chris says I need a call to action.  OK, subscribe, then re-tweet, then leave a comment about how this is idiotic or wise or obvious or clarifying or …

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  • http://www.xponentsoftware.com Bill Conniff

    “like building a startup worth millions, creating a popular blog cannot be accomplished by following a formula. ”

    The corollary to this is that marketing books, startup boot camps, startup coaches, startup academies, startup help forums and the like may be interesting, but have very limited effectiveness -one must find their own way to a successful startup.

  • John

    Your posts have more substance than Chris Brogan’s. I don’t think he could succeed with your approach, though you might succeed with his approach.

  • http://www.therisetothetop.com David Siteman Garland

    Jason – Good stuff. I think the key here, from experience as well, is there isn’t one way to have success blogging. It depends on your business model, personal strengths, goals, etc.

    As you mentioned, if it is personality-filled, useful and at least somewhat consistent (of course the more consistent the better) and you are freakin’ patient…there is a greater chance for success.

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  • Brooks Moses

    I’m (as a not-at-all-successful blogger) going to suggest a couple of things.

    Consistency matters. Or, at least, I conjecture this from the successful blogs that I read, and the less-successful blogs that I stop reading. If you’re a person who usually writes short posts, long complicated posts are less likely to appeal to your core readers, and vice versa. If your readers expect posts every weekday, an unexplained break for a couple of weeks is confusing. Don’t bounce around topics; pick a focus, and focus on it. I like knowing approximately what I’m going to get into when I pick a blog to read.

    I agree that frequency matters — but not as intensely as Chris is conjecturing. I expect his “almost every day” is about right for some people who don’t use RSS feeds; it’s a lot easier to remember to check a blog for posts if checking is an everyday thing, and back when I was reading that way, the long-interval ones that I read regularly (rather than once a month or so) were only the best of the best. On the other hand, with RSS feeds, that’s not so critical — but I think that at least once every couple of weeks is a minimum to have a sort of sense of continuity as a blog.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan…

    Mileage varies. That’s why there are hundreds of types of cars when they basically do the same thing: get us around.

    I love your thoughts and I like how you do it. : ) You’re one smart bear.

  • http://www.jemstep.com Kevin Cimring

    Hi Jason

    Great post, which illuminates your inimitable style, humor and wit whilst conveying some great ideas. Good stuff!

    Thanks
    Kevin

  • http://www.matal.com/blog Dror

    Number of followers is just one metric. There’s the quality of the follower, but also their view of the blog.

    Here’s an interesting data point. While I have both you and Seth Godin, in my RSS feed, I rarely read Seth, but almost always read or at least glance at your posts. Why don’t I read Seth’s posts when I actually like his writing? There’s just too much of it. Like Chris, he writes every day, and when I glance at my news reader and I see one article for Jason and eight for Seth, I figure I have time for the single article and I’ll get to the rest later.

  • http://www.denisbaranov.com Denis Baranov

    Jason, what Brogan does is “survivor bias”: if I do this and it works for me perfectly then you must imitate me and you’ll be successful, too.

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  • http://www.ribbonfarm.com Venkat

    I am definitely in your camp. Probably beyond. I average 1500-2000 words a post. I post once a week and am currently at 2300 odd subscribers.

    But there’s more than “find a style that works for you” going on here. Churchill once said, “when the experts disagree, the common man had best hold his peace.” Except that there are no real “experts” in social media and we’re all amateurs of varying degrees of success, with different metrics.

    That said, long-form/slow tempo types and short-form/quick tempo types can be considered, respectively, upstream and downstream swimmers. The Web today favors the ultra short form, high-concept bullet list format.

    The problem is that every idea has a natural size, and I think it is actually a BAD thing that the Net is so strongly biased one way. If TV managed to reduce WW II to a 90 second overview, the Web is managing to reduce the entire politics of a country like Iran down to tweet size. Not good.

    So I personally consider myself part of the resistance, dedicated to bringing balance back to the Force :)

    Venkat

  • http://thecontentbuffet.com John White

    Who gives a damn? Tell us about business. That’s your strong suite.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      You don’t think this applies to business advice too?

    • http://mikeschinkel.com Mike Schinkel

      Hi @John White:

      Feeling entitled, are we?

      -Mike

      • http://thecontentbuffet.com John White

        Jason, Mike: Not feeling entitled.

        It’s not that I’m unaccustomed to seeing you get your dander up over VCs, entrepreneurs and other sorts; I’m just surprised to see you get it (your dander) up over Chris Brogan. It just seems off-topic of you to post on posting, since so much of your content is about business.

        I, anyway, was able to see a big difference between this post and your usual content.

        • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

          I understand! And appreciate the feedback.

          Actually my dander isn’t up at all — nothing’s wrong about Chris Brogan! Rather, it was a fun chance to point out that many times the “important thing” in business or blogging or anything isn’t individual rules, so it’s best to do your own thing regardless.

  • http://blog.esimplestudios.com Gabriele Maidecchi

    Loved your post :p
    I too believe there’s no clearly written formula for blogging success, when I write I have a draft of what I want to write about and I go from there, following my stream of thoughts and thinking about the “finalization” later on, following my rhythm and telling what has to be told, be it a short or long post.
    This works for me, of course I don’t have even nearly your amount of subscribers but hey, good things happen to those who can wait I guess.

  • http://www.codeanthem.com Amber Shah

    I also have to write the content first, and then find an appropriate picture and title. That’s because I usually start with some sort of story or narrative in my mind, and the actual post can morph as I’m writing it. Even in the case where I think of a title before starting, I usually have to change it after to make it match the post better.

  • http://mikeschinkel.com Mike Schinkel

    Jason,

    Your insight continues to impress. What I like especially is you are an anti-bandwagon kind-of-guy who looks at what makes sense and why, and not just what everyone else is doing.

    -Mike

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com Mark Essel

    I figured this one out quickly in my first week of blogging. I guess I fall somewhere between you and Chris style wise with daily, purposeless posts that get titled after the fact.

    Finding a formula for successful blogging is like figuring out a creativity algorithm, there’s no such thing. But there are certainly good habits that strengthen the message and writing style of the author.

    I think I have under 200 subscribers, but somehow 80k unique visitors found their way to my blog and read 140k pages in year one (March ’09 to March ’10).

  • http://www.onearmedgraphics.com Robbie

    Can’t remember the source but I saw an article sometime in the past year that said someone studied blogging for their thesis and concluded quantity over quality was all that matters. Fairly depressing results that suggested meaningless drivel was better than carefully constructed content.
    I always thought Twitter was the target market for drivel :)

  • http://austintechgeeks.com Ricardo Sanchez

    I agree that there isn’t a “right” way of blogging. I’ve done both styles, longer posts every week or two, or maybe once a month for my personal/technical blog. And more recently, I am trying the approach of posting daily or at least every other day (sometimes twice a day!) with my not so personal blog. I’ve a lot more visitors on my newest blog where I post often, then again it could be also the content of it and not only the post frequency.
    Thanks for sharing your insights!

  • Å-ron

    I think you write long posts just so you can work in words like “bloviate.”

  • http://jvdveen.blogspot.com Jonathan van de Veen

    Personally I think the first thing to become successful at blogging is to keep it up. If you find yourself doing things you don’t like in your free time, you won’t keep it up and you can be shure your blog is not going to be a success. So first you need to blog in a way that you like.

    Second, I think that being a successful blogger is not about the number of hits or RSS subscribers. That just means you have a popular subject on your hands and you managed to not screw it up. For me being a successful blogger is about having an impact on the readers that you do have. Rewards come in the form of comments (and other bennefits :-)).

    Good post, though. It made an impact on me. :-)

  • Randy

    The point is the content has to be interesting and useful or who cares…you could have lead with that!

  • http://bluecollarradionetwork.com James Dibben

    I’m a busy guy and check my reader once a week. It’s easier to keep up with the ‘once a week’ bloggers. I’ll read 100% of the content. I don’t keep up with the daily guys as well. Maybe read 30% of their stuff.

  • Adam Hazell

    Jason,

    When I started reading this post, I was disappointed because I was hoping to hear some more of your startup gold. But as I read on, it dawned on me that this IS business related.

    Thanks for helping me to see the forest for the trees.

    Adam

  • http://www.iacob.info Liviu

    I like the ideas of
    1. posting whenever one considers they have a great idea worth sharing, not on daily basis.
    2. using as many words one considers they need in order the describe the concept, send the message etc.

  • http://tabbles.net Andrea D’Intino

    Good point with “everything else is style”.

    I’m new in the blogosphere and I believe in “if I had more time I would have written less” (I guess I heard this from @film_girl).I surprised myself being addicted to Seth Godin’s ultra-compact posts – but I love yours too and I believe this is quite normal.

    I 100% agree this applies to business too: getting subscribers is not any different than getting customers/partners/followers/you_name_it.

    Hi 5 for your “out-of-topic” post! :-)

    • http://tabbles.net Andrea D’Intino

      silly me: “If I had more time, I would have written less” is from Mark Twain… :-)

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  • http://www.adamweitz.com Adam Weitz

    It’s like working out. What’s the best workout…the one you actually do. It doesn’t matter what formula you use as long as you continue to blog and do it consistantly.

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