5 Ways Copying Politicians Can Grow Your Blog

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.

John Corcoran is an attorney, former Clinton White House Writer, and blogger at SmartBusinessRevolution.com, where he writes about how to use political strategies and tactics in business. You can download his free ebook, “10 Ways to Use Secret Political Strategies and Tactics to Grow Your Business.”

46 thoughts on “5 Ways Copying Politicians Can Grow Your Blog”

  1. Wow! Well put John.
    Now that was some piece of article which was really interesting to read.
    You are right, Newbies on the Blogosphere are like Wanna Be Politicians and you got it mate.
    Feeling like starting from the top and reading it again.

    Now allow me to share it :)


  2. I need to comment more often, but I always love your “epic shit” that you write. A lot of these ideas can be easily implemented within any blogging strategy. The only thing that bloggers like us have above politicians, is that we ARE transparent and aren’t afraid to tell the truth. LOL

    Thanks for the great read.

    1. Hey Nathan: I think there are some politicians who are transparent, to the extent possible. But you’re right, a lot aren’t. Those politicians who are not transparent and who have something to hide, usually aren’t in office for very long because these things have a way of coming to the surface.

  3. I had never thought of it before this but you are right – we are like politicians with a cause (not just a goal of re-election) we really believe in. I am fairly new at blogging and found your post helpful on several fronts. Thanks. And when are you running for office?

    1. Hey Lori: Glad you found it helpful! I checked out your site and I can see a lot of parallels with the work you do promoting Africa and animal conservation. You definitely are on a mission to promote a cause, which is a good thing.

      As for running for office – I’m mostly retired from politics now! I just pontificate from the cheap seats.

  4. I should add a “PS” here that I actually love Derek Halpern and it was a cheap joke at his expense above. Derek actually treats his subscribers really well, though he does make fun of some of them (deservedly) from time to time. : )

  5. ya, quiet effective politician tactics which we can use in blogging for building engagement reader

    1. Wow, I’m surprised you are a newbie. It looks quite impressive. If I have any recommendation, it would be to be clear about what you want to communicate to a casual visitor. I couldn’t tell at first if the site was for a nonprofit, an individual’s personal site, an informational blog, or a travel website. But I think it’s very good and informative.

  6. Meeting people every day and creating one fan at a time. For those of us who just start, building connections is the best way to grow a website. I made a website about health that did well for a while, but the engagement sucked. Two reasons: I hated writing about health and I didn’t connect with visitors
    Now that I’ve started another site, I’m totally digging it. Even if I only have 10 visitors/day, I’m meeting amazing people with big dreams.

    1. Hey Alex – yes, I agree. Creating one fan at a time is the name of the game. What is the name of your new site? I’d like to check it out. You have a very cute baby girl. I have a 2 1/2 yr old son at home myself. He’s a lot of fun/work/exhausting.

  7. You are a terrific writer, John! Your stories attached to every point make it very engaging to read. Especially about Andrew Warner.

    I wonder how long does it take you to create a blog post like this one?

    1. Thank you, Ekaterina! That’s very kind of you. I didn’t track the amount of time I spent on this, but I’m sure it was north of 3-4 hours. Maybe 6-8. I kind of lose track of time when I’m writing, which isn’t a good thing. I also benefit from putting a piece of writing down for a few days, letting the ideas germinate, and then coming back to it.

      I am checking out your “10 First Steps to Developing a Mindset for Growth and Ease” tutorial right now. Looks like a cool resource. Mindset is such a huge piece of the entrepreneurship puzzle.

    2. Thanks! I find it helpful too to give a written piece some time to rest – I always come back with new ideas and fresh mind.

      Please, let me know later what you think about the tutorial. Does it satisfy your initual expections?

  8. You hit the nail on the head. I am all of those things and know I need to focus. What I have learned if anything from all the how to be a better blogger blogs out there is that a simple focus works best. But, in my case I do lead tours, write stories, provide info and do non profit work, all in Africa so it makes it difficult to only present one side. Thanks so much for getting back to me. I wasn’t really expecting a reply. :)

    1. Hey Lori: I feel the same way sometimes. I’m a lawyer and business coach, writer, blogger, podcaster… it can feel kind of disjointed. My advice to you would be to get feedback from others and to pay for it if you have to. I’ve had multiple people give me feedback on my blog, and it’s still a work in progress.

  9. John a really great post. I really knew nothing about the blogging arena until a few years ago when I introduced to use it for my offline business. I think a lot of people expect instant success once they start blogging and don’t realise it is like anything constant work in progress. I truly believe that if you are providing great valuable content for your target audience engagement will come in time. All the best regards Kim :)

    1. Hi Kim! (And hello any other Kiwis reading : )

      That’s absolutely true. It takes a commitment and some patience. Although you always see some people who become instant successes, the more likely scenario is that it will take time to build an audience.

      Even if you’re relatively new to blogging, it looks like you’ve got a good handle on it from your Web Mastery Academy blog, which looks good.

  10. Hi John,

    Great post. I had never thought about it this way before. I can now see the similarities, especially how a lot of blogs have a message and we are all trying to form a community around this message.

  11. Hey John,

    This is really interesting piece to read the comparison of a blogger with a Politician.

    The best thing that I like about the Politician that they have a clear mindset about the power of community that some of we bloggers often ignore to pay importance to. Even during my early blogging days when I was blogging on Free platform, me too was suffering from the same issue of ignoring the power of community and getting involve in the community considering that I only need to concentrate on content and rest all will be taken care of by Search Engines, but I was wrong.

    Yes, it is true that Search Engine will take care of every one’s content, still we blogger must engage our self actively in building up community to get loyal supporters for us, who cares about what we speak.

    So, we should prepare our mind like a Politician to get the best from our community.

    Thanks John for such a nice comparison and suggestion.

    1. Thanks, Amit. It sounds like you really extracted the key points from the post. I agree on your point about being active – you have to build your loyal supporters, one at a time.

  12. If I ever get to the point were politicians become my benchmark for ‘doing it right’ you have my permission to f***ing shoot me!

    1. Well I guess this piece wouldn’t be complete without one easy punchline comment like this. Dave, I suggest you read over the piece again – there’s a lot that can be learned from politicians. Of course, not all politicians are created equal – there are good and bad politicians, just like there are good and bad companies and good and bad people. The point is to borrow what works from the effective political leaders, and apply it to cultivating a community of your own.

    2. Guess it’s just a cultural thing John.

      UK politics is so embedded in sleaze, dishonesty and lies it just wouldn’t be my first point of reference for establishing a model for people to emulate. However, I’m sure it’s different in the US.

      On a lighter note. Is it a prerequisite that the term ‘Epic Shit’ has to be included in a guest post before landing a gig on ThinkTraffic? :)

    3. Actually, yes, it’s right in the guest post guidelines – must include reference to “Epic Shit.” : )

      You wouldn’t be the first person to hold politicians in low regard. However, take a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. In that book, he uses the spread of syphilis in inner city Baltimore as a metaphor for the sudden business success of the Hush Puppies shoe brand, which came back from the dead and suddenly became popular again. It’s a wonderful book, but if the spread of sexually transmitted disease can be used as a metaphor for business, then I suggest using political strategies as a metaphor for business is not that much of a stretch.

  13. Great job John

    Have you seen the old House of Cards? I think Ian Richardson did a fantastic job.

    Having said that, I can relate to the way you presented your info. It makes perfect sense.

    Here are a few things that I should action on:

    1. Take a stand. Don’t be afraid to be a bit controversial. I’m Canadian and this seems hard for some reason.
    2. Build a bigger community. I think it would be more appropriate to say build the right community for me.
    3. Be a bit more personal. So yeah my name is spelt with two “i” not an L. That is particularly annoying.
    4. Shared values. I think I am sharing value with the wrong people. aka not farmers as much and more small biz type people. Gotta fix that.
    5. Remember who got you elected. Know your roots.

    Anyways, I think that was more for me than a comment. Sorry about that.

    Again, great post.

    1. Iain:

      I love your niche. What a cool idea. Of course, I live in Marin county where CSAs are very popular and there are a lot of small family farms, particularly in west Marin. But the local food movement has been growing in recent years so I think you’re on to a good thing.

  14. The first question I’ve is, “are politicians honest?” I enjoyed reading your post and taking notes especially when you say “kiss some babies” because I’ve seen “them” do it a couple of times and I think it works.

    You truly know what you’re talking about and I appreciate it.

  15. Excellent post John,
    I really learned a lot in this post, you did a great job with your comparison between a Blogger and a politician; i guess a lot of lessons can still be learnt form politicians.
    Thanks for the share!
    BTW, I will be mentioning this post in my link roundup this friday (tomorrow)

  16. Lovely Post, and got to say the headline is spot on. Loved the analogy and comparism between politicians and bloggers.

    Was about to comment on your statement on Derek Halpern but i did see you later give additional pointers on that, i do love his post on social triggers.

    And i total agree with the concept of this post, putting a face to your blog and building an audience around your blog is really pretty amazing. I just started learning about that of recent, it’s one of the many reasons that led my to this post.

    Thanks for sharing, could you check out my blog though and let me know of anything i could improve on.

  17. launching a new site… Love Think Traffic and this article was very informative!! Thank you. I feel like I do all that you mention but it was quite by accident. You have made me realize the importance of continuing to do what I am already doing. I may have disregarded some of it.

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