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Why and How You Should Take Chances With Your Blog

April 11, 2011

First off, I want to thank Paul from One Spoon at a Time for devoting an entire post on his blog to one of my recent posts. Thanks, Paul. I really appreciate it.

There have been a few blog posts here on Blogging Bookshelf that I’ve been a little nervous about publishing. That nervousness usually stems from me not knowing how my readers are going to react to what I’ve posted. The funny thing is that those posts are the ones that end up getting me the most traffic.

So the questions is… Are you willing to take a chance with YOUR blog? Should you?

Here are 3 examples of some of the specific chances I’ve taken on my blog, followed by things you could do on your blog that might help you get past your competitors.

My Girlfriend Writes About How This Blog Harms Our Relationship

A few months ago I published a post written by my (now ex-) girlfriend, Amy. It’s called The Life of a Full Time Blogger’s Girlfriend (and Tips for Significant Others).

In it, Amy talks about how my blogging negatively affected our relationship. I didn’t know how my readers would receive it because it was something very different from posts you usually see on “blogging tips” blogs. Most are extremely impersonal; this one was extremely personal. And more than anything, I was nervous for Amy. I loved the post, but she didn’t think anyone would like it and was afraid that it might “wreck” my blog.

I published the post at around midnight and then went to bed. I didn’t sleep well because I was so concerned about the reaction the post would get and how Amy would feel about it. But when I checked in the morning, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone loved it (and loved Amy), and the post currently has 100+ comments on it. For a while it was one of the top 10 most popular posts on the blog, and it’s still my favorite article here.

Tito Makes Everyone Angry

I have high standards for the guest posts I’ll publish on my blog. I’ve published a whopping 3 of them (Marcus’s, Paul’s, and Tito’s) and have turned down several. The most recent one was entitled Your Comments Suck and I Don’t Want Them: A Manifesto, written by Tito. I admit that the title was my doing was indeed designed to get people’s attention and get them riled up.

And I was nervous about the post for that exact reason. I was concerned that the post would offend people. Even though I didn’t agree with some of the things Tito said and how he said them (and I elaborated on this and gave my opinion in a long comment on the post), I was still responsible for giving Tito a platform.

Did it make people angry? Yes. Did it offend people? Yes. But some people really liked the post. And most, even if they didn’t agree 100% with what Tito said, found the post thought-provoking and interesting. A lot of people had something to say on the subject.

The post was voted for 25 times on Blog Engage and 27 times on Biz Sugar. Worth the risk? Worth taking a chance? You bet it was.

Hitler Finds Out About Blogging and I Get Called a Bigot

This was one of my posts from last week. In it, we see a movie scene with Hitler yelling in German and freaking out, and the subtitles (which I wrote) show that he’s talking about the harsh realities of blogging.

The main reason I was nervous about creating something like this was that I didn’t know if anyone would think my subtitles would be funny. When I first thought of it, I thought it was a good idea. But after spending a couple of hours working on writing and adding the subtitles, I just didn’t know if it was funny anymore.

There was another reason I was nervous: This is a “blogging tips” blog. While the video was blogging-related, it wasn’t really something that would make the viewer a better blogger.

The post was published early Thursday morning and I didn’t even check the post to see how many RTs or YouTube views it got until late afternoon; I was that nervous about seeing how people reacted. But then I looked and saw that the results were overwhelmingly positive. My readers loved it and people on Twitter loved it. Phew, right?

Not so much. I saw one tweet that mentioned something about how they didn’t think Hitler was funny in any context. And then I saw the comments on the BizSugar page. Several people HATED the video and I was called a bigot and an asshole, among other pleasantries. There were something like 13 comments there on BS when I first checked back, each of which was angrily directed toward me.

Oh, and someone on a Jewish news/opinion blog called me an idiot and several other things that I won’t repeat.

So it turns out I was worried about the wrong thing. The thought had never even occurred to me that people would find it offensive. The video makes Hitler look like a bumbling idiot and does not glorify him in any way. Let me just say that my intent was not to cause an uproar or to offend people. I have nothing against Jewish people, and I don’t like Hitler. “Hitler finds out” is a popular and common internet meme. There are thousands of videos on YouTube of the same clip with different subtitles. There’s even a New York Times article about how to create one. There was no malicious intent behind this video, I assure you.

I’ve written a couple thousands words in response to people. I’m not going to go into more. If the video upset you, I’m sorry. Please contact me in a civilized way and we can discuss it.

All that aside, in addition to the mostly very positive feedback that video received, I saw no sudden massive drops in Twitter followers or blog subscribers, showing that the people who felt negatively about the video were definitely in the small minority. The small minority on this issue was, however, very vocal about how it felt. Unfortunately, not a single person has contacted me directly and privately. People have said offensive things back to me because they felt that I had been offensive to them. I didn’t mean to offend; they (not all, but definitely some) did. I’m sorry it happened like this.

Was this one worth the risk? Was it worth taking a chance on this? If I had known beforehand that it would have offended people, I wouldn’t have done it. But it’s done and I’m not removing it. It’s a learning experience that brought me some new subscribers and lost me a few old ones. It will likely continue to bring me more and lose me more in the future. It has brought me more traffic than a usual blog post.

That video is now the most watched video in the Blogging Bookshelf YouTube channel.

How to Take Chances on Your Blog

So you’ve heard my stories. What about you? How can YOU take chances on your blog?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Write about something that doesn’t fit in perfectly with what you normally write about
  • Have someone else write for your blog
  • Take a stance that could cause people to become very divided on the issue
  • Present information through a medium that you don’t normally use
  • Write something that doesn’t add much value but is really entertaining
  • Ask your readers to do something out of the ordinary
  • Play the devil’s advocate

Final Words

Do you HAVE to take chances about the things you post in order to have a successful blog? No. Can it help get you there faster? Yes. Can it backfire and totally alienate some of your readers? Yes.

Use common sense. Don’t make people angry just for the sake of making them angry. But if something you’re passionate about might make a few readers uncomfortable, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I love this quote:

The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.

- Jawaharlal Nehru

Risk taking is something most bloggers don’t do (Marcus wrote a great post not too long ago and listed some bloggers that DO). In the crowded world of the blogosphere, the best way to stand out is to be different. And taking chances is a great way of doing that.

  • Do you take chances or risks with your blog?
  • What risks have you taken with your blog?
  • When does risk taking pay off, and when is it not worth it?
  • Do you think taking risks is necessary in order to have a successful blog?
  • How else can you take a risk or take a chance with your blog?

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