This post is by John Corcoran. We love this post from John because after working in the White House and going on to practice law he now takes what he’s learned from those experiences and applies them to blogging. In this post he’ll show you how thinking like a politician can help you grow your blog. Take it away John.
Before I fell in love with blogging, my one true love was politics.
While all my friends from college were going to work for dot-coms, I dove head first into government and political jobs.
I was the kind of dork that would get up early on Sunday mornings to watch Meet the Press.
I was hooked on The West Wing. (Now it’s Veep and House of Cards.)
Like so many others, I eventually got sick of being low man on the totem pole in various political jobs and figured law school would give me the boost I needed. As if career advancement was as simple as adding letters after your name and taking on six figures of debt.
Then I discovered blogging. And I was smitten.
There was so much to love. The immediacy of the feedback. The supportive, collaborative nature of the blogosphere. The ease with which you can express yourself creatively across different media – from audio to video to text.
But I didn’t appreciate the true roots of what attracted me so much to blogging until I started thinking about the similarities between politics and blogging.
That’s when I realized that every successful blogger is a politician. Think about it. A-list bloggers find success because a community of like-minded individuals care about what they have to say.
Successful bloggers serve their constituents, going above and beyond to keep them happy.
They never take a single subscriber for granted (OK, maybe everyone except Derek Halpern). And they realize they will only remain in “office” as long as they continue to have the support of the people. It turns out there’s a lot even brand new bloggers can learn from politicians.
New Bloggers Are Like Wannabe Politicians
Every new blog is like a political campaign at its early stages.
At first, hardly anyone shows up. The candidate is inexperienced and it shows. They make a few big gaffes but hardly anyone was paying attention anyways. Some give up.
Then, a lightbulb goes off. The candidate realizes you don’t get elected by catering to the elites. You get elected by building a happy and engaged community – one person at at time. That’s when things really take off.
It turns out the recipe for successful blogging is not a secret, and it wasn’t cooked up in a lab somewhere by Brian Clark, Chris Brogan and Darren Rowse (although sometimes I think it really was). It’s a formula that’s been followed for centuries.
Regardless of your politics, aspiring bloggers can actually learn a lot from studying really successful politicians and political strategies. Here are five examples of ways bloggers can improve their craft from politicians:
1. The Message Matters
One of the biggest reasons political candidates don’t get elected is they are too bland. They work so hard to avoid alienating any one voter, they end up not standing for anything.
Take Barack Obama, for example. No matter what side of the aisle you stand on, you can probably appreciate the power of his message in the historic 2008 election.
In early 2007, he was a little known first term Senator from Illinois with a funny name.
Then he decided to launch an improbable campaign for The White House. At first, he was like a dot-com that no Venture Capital firm or angel investor wanted to touch.
It turned out he had a key distinction from all of the rest of the Democratic candidates – he was the only candidate that was against the Iraq war before it started.
That distinction was huge. It gave his campaign an enormous advantage which attracted volunteers, donors and staff willing to work for low pay and long hours.
Think about how similar this is to what makes compelling blog content. One of the key themes Corbett has long been known for advocating here at Think Traffic is Write Epic Shit.
As Corbett has put it, “don’t be afraid to say what everyone else is thinking but not saying.”
Epic Shit is not boring. Epic Shit takes a stand. Epic Shit stands out from the masses by being different and grabbing your attention.
Most of Obama’s competitors had supported the War in Iraq initially, but later came to oppose it as the tide of public opinion turned.
Obama spoke his mind, taking a tough position which attracted both support and ridicule. It got attention. His position on the Iraq War was Epic Shit. The message fired up supporters, and fueled his campaign.
2. Promote, Cultivate and Nurture a Sense of Community
Savvy political campaigns know that they get a lot more out of their volunteers and supporters if they foster a sense of community.
Campaigns get their supporters together frequently in person or over conference calls, or increasingly, through online communities. These campaigns know if supporters connect with one another, they will be more connected to the campaign itself.
Similarly, savvy bloggers foster community from day one, encouraging active comment threads, setting up separate Facebook groups, and organizing meetups at conferences.
I know I actively return to certain blogs not just because I like the blogger, but because I like the members of the community. As much as I like Chase, Corbett and Caleb, Think Traffic wouldn’t be Think Traffic without the community.
3. Apply the Personal Touch (i.e. Kiss Some Babies)
Why are politicians known for kissing babies? Because it works.
If a candidate for office has treated your precious little infant well, or perhaps taken a picture holding your baby, you immediately want that person to succeed because (1) it’s a nice gesture and (2) because you want your kid to have a picture with a powerful and important person.
Politicians kiss babies because they appreciate the power of the personal touch.
A few weeks ago, I got a phone call, out of the blue, from Andrew Warner of Mixergy, who I had gotten to know recently after interviewing him for my podcast. He wanted some advice and we chatted for a few minutes, batting around ideas.
After that call, Andrew sent me a handwritten note thanking me for talking to him. He actually later sent me a postcard as well – thanking me for mentioning him in an article. I don’t think I’ve received a postcard in years. It made a huge impression on me.
Just like a Senator or a Governor, Andrew recognized the power of the personal touch from a handwritten note. I have no doubt Andrew built Mixergy into the thriving community it is by sending probably thousands of notes just like me. I also know whenever Andrew runs out of entrepreneurs to interview, his campaign will be waiting.
4. Engage Shared Values (i.e. Salute Your Flag)
The only thing more cliché than politicians kissing babies is politicians saluting American flags.
Most politicians can’t seem to pass a flag without saluting it.
But there’s more than just a symbolic reason for this; there’s a psychological one as well.
Politicians salute the American flag because the gesture indicates shared values.
Bloggers who get this concept do a great job of identifying their shared values which they and their community subscribe to, and always focus on promoting those shared values.
Take, for example, the thriving community over at Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income blog. Pat and his community have a host of shared values – including transparency and openness, automation, productivity, and, as he says, “working hard now so you can reap the benefits later.”
Pat is running a Niche Site Duel 2.0 series right now that wraps in many of those shared values. Running the NSD 2.0 series is kind of like saluting the flag – it reminds Pat’s readers of their shared values. It reinforces the bonds of the community. (It’s also damn entertaining.)
5. Always Remember Who Got You Elected
Incumbent politicians get re-elected by overwhelming margins. But when they screw up, they screw up royally.
Trust me. I worked for one. It’s not fun being on the losing end, and I can tell you incumbents lose when they:
- Don’t respect the voters who put them in power in the first place
- Lose interest and run away to South America with a mistress
Truly successful bloggers remember their supporters. They continue to nurture their community of readers, viewers and listeners even after they have become successful.
Why? Because successful bloggers know that without the community, there is no power, there is no nothing.
Are you taking a stand on controversial issues?
Are you writing War-in-Iraq level Epic Shit? Are you doing everything you can to nurture a community?
Are you applying the personal touch and saluting your community’s flag, whatever flag your community stands for?
What’s one or two ways you can put these ideas to work for your blog this week? Let us know in the comments below.