Three c’s of the social web part 1: content

@Kevin | Social

As I have grown as a social web user I have formed an attitude on how to use the social web and applied it to my personal and professional life. My daily actions on the web are dictated by the Three C’s: content, communication, and consistency. Over time I have developed these Three C’s by happenstance, experimentation, and examining how others use the social web. Developing and learning these three pillars of my philosophy wasn’t built out of reading authors that write about the social web, but by people that were doing, building, and creating. Seeing how they used the web as entertainers and bloggers taught me how to get the most out of it.

However, while I built my style and philosophy in I didn’t realize that people that were active in the world of new media and the social web thought the same way. When examining my theories, how I came about them, and how they tie into actual theory people can get a better understanding of how to apply them for their own personal use.

The first pillar of my daily action on the web is content. When examining content there are multiple things that fall under the umbrella. Focused content, how it is presented, and having a voice that people want to hear all make up my philosophy on content. While there has been a growing shift away from content to community, I still believe that content is king. Even if you have a network or community based around a common interest with other people it falls flat unless there is content there for people to gravitate around.

If you examine most social networking sites, there are always strong features that people gravitate around. With Facebook groups are dominate because of the wealth of content that is created in them; people add posts, links, videos, and other media to create content within that group. While some people would be quick to point out the groups feature is community based, without the content the group wouldn’t exist. On MySpace music was originally one of the key components of content and it has evolved into so much more including video sharing, picture sharing and blogging. Smaller social networking sites developed around niche interests ranging from sports teams to cooking still have places that are content rich. I argue without content there can be no social community on the web. People need something to rally around.

Content has been the single biggest plank in my philosophy of how I approach the social web. When I began to blog on MySpace and I had a small following of about thirty people, I learned that the more I wrote the more people would spread the word about my writing. Basically, writing more equaled a larger audience for my work. When I examined other successful bloggers on the social networking website one of the common threads between all of them was the amount they were putting out, they were writing multiple times per week. I decided that I needed to focus on putting out more content.

However more content for the sake of content wasn’t necessarily in my best interest, people expect tailored content. I learned this the hard way when I began to post more and would write things that weren’t necessarily what people were coming to read me for. One day if I was writing my musings on the latest pop harlot to not wear underwear and then followed it up with a longer piece on my thoughts on our current foreign policy in regards to North Korea, I would lose a significant number of subscribers. People wanted to read me for a certain reason and they wanted content tailored to what they expected. When I look past the MySpace blogging community and began to look at blogging as a whole, I noticed the most successful blogs all had a narrow focus, they wrote for a niche.

Problogger.net author Darren Rowse, is considered the authority on professional blogging.

He stated that he tried to have a wide ranging approach at first but discovered it didn’t work, “My blog had four main themes and different readers resonated differently with each one. A few readers shared my diverse interests in all four areas, but most came to my blog to read about one of the (or at the most a couple of) topics. A number of regular loyal readers became disillusioned with my eclectic approach to blogging and gave up coming.”

Rowse preaches about writing to a tightly honed niche, which is something I had to discover the hard way. I decided on a personal level to stick to comedy, because it allowed me to cover and talk about a wide variety of subjects. Also people knew in the end what they were coming for, and what to expect from me.

As I progressed with writing, another lesson I learned was how important the structure of the content was. First of all people didn’t care about the mechanics of the writing as much as they cared about the voice. While my grammar and spelling wasn’t always perfect I very rarely would get called out on it; I was never told that it was hard to read or that people were annoyed by it. If I caught something after I posted it and made a note of it, people would usually respond that they weren’t coming to read my postings for my grammar. As I examined other bloggers, especially ones that there putting out large amounts of content they would have typos and make errors. Tucker Max one of the most popular comedy bloggers enters and exits passive voice often, he is aware of it and doesn’t care, neither does his readers. Max is keenly aware that he is developing his own style:

I know, I know. The whole concept of tense in speech has always given me problems. In undergrad and law school, I never really took any creative writing or English courses; it was pretty much all econ, law, history, etc, so some of the basic things that most writers get right, I fail. Of course I could learn tenses, but I have never really made an effort to get it right for a reason: I want to write in my own voice, regardless of whether or not it is “correct” grammar or not. By switching tenses, I write the way I speak, and by alternating between past and present I put the reader into the story, instead of just recounting it.

The only time he would run into detractors or people that would point out his mistakes was when he ran into someone that wanted to argue about the content of his blog. They would use the grammar mistakes as a plank in their attack on him. However it didn’t slow him down in his growth or success. It was his voice that made him successful not necessarily the writing itself; it was what he was saying that people were coming to see.

Beyond grammar though, the actual look of the presentation mattered greatly. In my early blogs when I wrote a lot of content people wouldn’t respond very well. Not because of the length per say but the way it was displayed, it was just full of endless text. I learned as a blogger that pictures, highlighted words, bullet points, and other tricks to give the eye a break are really important. At first I thought it was an insult to my writing to need to have pictures included in my text, and I avoided it. When I saw people use pictures to compliment their writing and give an overall professional layout to their posts I began to change my mind.

As I tried it and experimented with it, I soon learned that my longer posts would be read more by breaking things up using various tricks. Keeping your mind on your layout is vital to a blogger and their success, “Images enhance posts in any number of ways including by giving posts a visual point of interest, grabbing attention (great for making your RSS feed readers stop and read), drawing people’s eye down a post beyond the first few lines, illustrating examples, giving your blog a more personal touch, engaging the emotions and senses of readers and giving posts more authority.”

Examining what you are producing brings into play the types of content you are creating for your audience, how it is presented, the layout, and the voice. All of these things are extremely important on the social web. People want to read and view things that they find interesting, enjoy how it is presented, and that is specific to what they want. When you think about what you are creating all of these points need to be considered. However, I think this gets lost on a lot of bloggers and people starting out on the social web, they have a hard time adapting their content away from paper to the screen.

Tomorrow: Part 2

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