This post and podcast episode comes from my talk at Social Media Day Houston on How to Brand Your Writing Voice across Social Media Platforms!
What comes to mind when you hear this word? Even though I know it means more, I always THINK of visual logos and colors and the way a brand shows itself visually.
Branding is more the entire message, the packing of the message, the ideals and beliefs, and overall a comprehensive picture of the person, company, or brand. It's bigger. But visuals stick with us because we SEE them, which is one of the reasons we think of branding as a visual. (If you didn't think of visuals, please let me know in the comments what YOU think of!)
But because branding is all-encompassing, that means that your writing is a part of that. More specifically your writing VOICE.
Since not everyone has had the extensive tour of English departments that I have, I will give you a definition of voice. Essentially, the writing voice is the narrator or writer's point of view and writing style. The voice is the part of writing infused with personality. It distinguishes on writer from another and makes that writer unique. It gives the writer POWER.
Though you may not talk or think so much about voice, you KNOW it. Voice is often what draws us to a certain writer.
You know voice when you read it. You are drawn toward certain kinds of voices and repelled from others. This is why developing your own writing voice is so important!
I know. I know. I should call this blog the Why Blog because I talk about this all. the. time. But the reality is that you need to know this. And then you need to make sure it is still the same. You need to KNOW it. Because everything else flows from your WHY. Are you writing to bring in a full time income and keep your rent paid? Are you creating a side business that you hope will be a full business? Are you doing this as passion project and don't care if you make money? Are you doing what you do to help others? To entertain? To teach?
Your why is probably going to be a combination of a few things, but you need to think about this and know this. (For go deep on this, you need to check out my Foundation Series mini course!)
Who is your target audience? You need to speak the language of your people. You need to know your current audience and your target audience. (Don't worry! I have resources on developing an ideal reader profile and on figuring out who your current audience is.) When you know your audience, you know how to speak to them. You know what will attract them and what will repel your non-ideal readers.
How would you like your readers to describe you? Think of the adjectives you wish that people would use when they talk about you. Are you funny? Quirky? Authoritative? Goofy? Wise? Kind? Generous? Outgoing? Snarky? This is a huge part of knowing your voice.
Not all voices are easy. Your writing voice should be natural enough that you can work at it, but it's not work EVERY TIME. Which is to say that it is something you are able to write. You may want people to describe you as funny, but ARE you? Ask a friend. Do people laugh through your blog posts? Can you convey humor through words? Your writing voice should be consistent, even though it will have nuances through social media platforms. I can be funny in a tweet, but not laugh-out-loud funny. I'm witty, but not a comedian. Know what you can sustain and choose to hone in on a voice that feels easy and natural to you.
Once you have answered those questions, you need to work on creating your persona. This is another one of those English-major terms. A persona is the role or character adapted by an author or character. In the context of the business world, persona pre-dated avatar as the way you described your ideal readers.
But the kind of persona I mean is the persona of YOU, not your customer. Essentially, you will be creating a role for yourself that you will embody online. If this sounds weird, the reality is you already HAVE a persona.
When you filter out certain things from your public life, that's part of creating a persona. When you share particular pieces of content and not others, that's part of your persona. When you frame something in one way and not another, that's part of persona.
Once you have a good idea of who your persona is (remember: I mean YOU), you can more easily navigate what to share and how to share it. Your persona will help you understand the content and the way you introduce a certain post to share. It will help you know when to shut up and when to speak. It may even help you respond better to comments from readers.
For more nitty gritty tips on honing your writing voice, the best thing you can do is practice. Try writing with that persona in the forefront of your mind. It might even be easier for you to write as that "character" than just YOU. It gives you a little distance because it IS you, but an edited and filtered version of you.
Speak Your Words.
You can also SPEAK. The spoken word does not work when literally translated into the written word (ever read a transcription? BO-RING), but when you read aloud, this can help you hear how your words sound. (It's also a great way to find mistakes.) Read your words aloud. Let that help you edit. It will give you more of a voice and reveal places where your written word sounds boring or doesn't have any personality.
I also like using Twitter as an editor. No, I do NOT put whole posts through it. But there are times when I take a quote I like of mine and plug it into one of the click to tweet plugins so it's shareable on Twitter. Usually? They are too long. Which makes me pare down and often my writing is better. Not everything should be shorter, but when you are very conscious of your words, it helps you choose them with more intention.
I hope that this post is helpful it developing your writing voice and keeping it consistent. In the podcast episode I say more about how this looks on different platforms and I think I'll put that in a second post because we are almost at 1200 words. My persona is long-winded, y'all. (And sometimes says "y'all.")
We are in part three of Finding Your Perfect Audience! Catch up by reading the first post on how to identify your purpose and then the second on how to create your ideal reader profile.
When you are trying to grow your audience, a hugely important step is to know how to identify your current audience. You may have created a fantastic and detailed reader profile and know how to reach those readers, but what about the audience you already have? Unless you are starting from scratch, you already have an audience. And sometimes your current audience doesn't match up with your ideal.
Even if you don't LOVE analytics and number crunching (I don't), you can fall in love with analytics (I did). The great thing is that you can use free analytics for your blog and also your social media sites that give you great info that you can use to your benefit.
Site Analytics - You should be using Google Analytics on your site, not trusting the Jetpack stats on Wordpress or the stats in Blogger. They included extra bot traffic that isn't actually REAL. This may mean you have less numbers than you thought, but you'd rather get an accurate picture.
To install Google Analytics, you can read this helpful post from Hubspot. I would NOT recommend the plugin on Wordpress, only because more plugins mean slower site and you can do without. I use Genesis, so utilize the Simple Hooks plugin that works with Genesis. It basically has these nice blank spaces you can paste code in that will add it to your CSS without you crashing your blog or doing weird stuff. (Also, if you have a super low--under 10%--bounce rate, you probably have GA installed twice. Here's how to figure that out.)
If you're like me and Google Analytics makes you totally nuts, then you should consider using Dashboard Junkie. You can easily download a new dashboard right into GA that cuts out some of the things that might stress you out and highlights the things you care about. I have two that aren't available anymore, but the Gender Insights dashboard might be really helpful for considering audience. The Personal Blog dashboard also has a lot of the information you might want to see. These dashboards give GA some focus and help you see only what you really want to see.
Social Analytics - Just about every social media platform has analytics you can use. (For Pinterest, make sure you have a business account! Read more on setting this up on my post at Jane Friedman's blog.) Twitter has analytics. Your Facebook page has insights. If you want to use something like Iconosquare with Instagram, you can get a better idea of how Insta is working for you.
Use GA to see where your traffic comes from and then focus on the analytics for that social site to see what is working there. How are people engaging on Facebook? What pins are people repinning on Pinterest? If you find that people are engaging more with content that is NOT yours on those social sites, that can help you see the kind of content you SHOULD be creating for your readers.
Surveys can be invaluable. Whether you use Survey Monkey, Google Forms, or Typeform (my fave because it's so purty), ask your readers who they are and what they want from you. Some people offer a prize, so that each person who responds gets an entry. This may get you more responses, but if you don't offer something, you're more likely to get people who are passionate.
This deep-dive from Ramsay of Blog Tyrant has some really great suggestions for surveys and out of the box ways to ask people. Pat Flynn interview Ryan Levesque, the author of Ask, all about HOW you should ask. I've actually read his book Ask (*affiliate link!)and it has some great specific strategies if you want to go all in with surveys.
I do this at least once a year with my people one both blogs. Sometimes I'll do mini surveys. It's a great way to find out what your readers want and also the language they use to describe their problems and their wants. This is something great to use when you're writing your About page and sales copy when you create products or books.
I have never done this, but have heard many people recommend getting on the phone with your people. Send them a link to sign up for a Skype or phone call using something like Calendly (what I use for my podcast episodes). You can't do this with everyone, but maybe try to talk to a few people a month. (This IS something I plan to do this year, so get excited!)
If you do get on the phone with people, do a lot of listening. Let there be awkward pauses. This allows you the chance to really hear things. Record it so you can go back and don't have to take extensive notes, but can just listen in the moment. (Ecamm Call Recorder is what I use to record Skype calls on Mac and Pamela is a great Skype recorder for PC.)
If getting on the phone gives you the heebie jeebies, you can also chat with people in your Facebook groups, do something like Blab, where people can comment in or even join you on screen to talk in more of a group setting. You could also ask in an email for people to reply if they are interested in a longer conversation and you can talk via email. Find a way that feels comfortable to you. Ask. Listen. Get to know your peeps.
You may discover as you learn more about your current audience that they don't match up with the ideal reader profile you created. This is common, so if it's you, don't freak out. It often happens if you aren't blogging intentionally from the beginning or if you pivot, changing your why and the purpose of your blog. It can also happen because sometimes we don't see ourselves and our message clearly. You may need to get an extra set of impartial eyes to read your blog and see if your intentions and your why are lining up with your content and strategy. (Pssst- I offer this service! And it's one of the things I think I'm best at! Check out brand audit service HERE.)
If you find a mismatch, don't worry about it. You have options with pros and cons.
Option 1- Forget the Current Readers & Write for Your Ideal
This seems a little cold, but there might be instances in which you want to move on. If you are completely changing your theme or purpose but don't want to start a new blog, writing for your ideal audience will drive out the current audience members that are NOT your ideal.
Option 2 - Slowly Transition Your Current Readers into Your Ideal
If option one seems to hasty and inconsiderate, option two might work for you. You can be more gentle and gradual with reaching new audiences without completely ignoring or alienating your current readers. Consider posting once a week with the content you are writing for your ideal readers. Slowly build up to a bigger shift over time that would allow you to convert or change some of your current readers to be more of your ideal readers, or at least more interested in the content you are creating that is geared toward that ideal reader profile.
Option 3 - Write for Your Current Readers & Let Them BE Your Ideal
In some cases you may want to throw out your ideal reader profile. (Don't forget the free printable guide to creating your ideal profile!) If you have a large current audience hungry for what you are already creating, then you may want to consider these readers your ideal and rewrite the ideal profile including what you know about your ACTUAL readers.
Option 4 - Start a New Blog
This is what I did when continued surveys of my readers at my KirstenOliphant.com blog said they did not care about writing or blogging posts. I still really wanted to write them, so starting a new blog with a more narrow focus made sense. If you don't want to change your current readers and also don't want to stop writing the content that they aren't interested in, consider starting a new blog.
Now it's time for you to go and DO THINGS. Find out about your audience. See how they line up with your ideal and figure out what you're doing to do if they don't! Join us in the Facebook group for more conversation!
When you take some time to think about your target reader, you are being intentional, which is ALWAYS a good thing. Without intention, you don’t have strategy.
Will this be perfect? NO.
I sometimes get a little eye-roll-y when people talk about their perfect reader named Molly, the one with three kids, a husband who works a corporate job, and who loves to buy her clothes at White House/Black Market.
This drives me crazy because I know my own audience pretty well. At least, a good portion of them. They email me back and talk about their lives. They hang out in my Facebook group and share what they are working on and struggling with.
I still don’t know where most of them shop. And if you asked me where I like to shop, I would say that I LOVE White House/Black Market, but I can AFFORD Ross.
People are complicated. Your audience will not be one-dimensional.
If it helps you to name your ideal reader and think of that person when you write, great. If that brings clarity and cohesion to your work, power to you! Do what works. But more often, I think that completing a workbook like this and thinking about your target audience is more about YOU.
It is more about finding out the kinds of need that you meet with your blog, your writing, or your business. Your ideal reader is the person who NEEDS what you OFFER.
Do your best to imagine that one person who needs what you have. Think about their ins and outs and their finances and marital status and what shows they watch and what makes them click on a particular headline. This can be a very helpful exercise.
But then remember as you write that your audience may have some commonalities and some similar backgrounds and interests. They are diverse. They are not all named Molly.
Defining your target audience is a great tool for you! But the more you actually connect with your readers in a personal way through emails or Facebook groups or comments on a Facebook page, the more you will be able to write with those particular people in mind.
It doesn’t mean you will try to please them all, but you might think about how you word something because there are four REALLY dedicated dudes that follow your 90% female readership. Consider your target audience and write for them as WELL as the audience you know IS actually reading.
This is the first in a series of posts on Finding Your Perfect Audience! For more conversations and resources on FYPA, join the Create If Writing Facebook group!
When I first started blogging eight years ago, I had a simple goal: to share updates on my pregnancy with friends and family who lived in other states. I did not edit or plan posts, but wrote what I wanted, when I wanted. People weren’t using social media to promote blogs back then, so my workflow was as simple as write a post, publish the post.
Though I had just received my MFA in Fiction and was hard at work on a manuscript at the time, I did not see any correlation between what I considered my “real” novel writing and my “fun” blog writing.
A few years later my blog grew to reach ten thousand readers a month and I realized I had missed something really important. My blog writing differed from my book writing, but the two were linked. If an agent or publisher cared enough to look (for they were just starting to ask about platform at that time), I wouldn't want them to read my off-the-cuff, unedited blog.
To be honest? I didn't consider my blog WRITING. And I did not consider who was reading. I wrote for ME. And if people showed up, great.
As I moved toward using my blog as a platform to build readers, I had to think about my goals and also my readers. What did I want to accomplish? Who were my readers?
Choosing clear long-term goals and thinking about my audience made my blog a much better read. It also meant being more purposeful about connecting to the right people.
In this series of posts I want to help you save all the time I wasted not being intentional. The goal is to walk you through steps to create intentional blog content that targets the right kinds of readers.
The first step in this process is to know your goals. It all starts with your WHY.
When you think of your long-term goals, you want to identify the reason you are blogging and what purpose you want your blog to serve. Keep your audience in mind, but this step is primarily about YOU.
Do you blog to build an author platform? Do you blog to bring in revenue? Do you blog because you love it? Do you blog because someone said you had to? Do you blog to discuss the process of writing your book? Do you blog to have a creative outlet?
If you plan to publish books, it’s important to know which comes first—the book or the blog. Do you blog in order to support your first love of writing books? Or do your books stem from the blog?
These distinctions matter. Identifying your goals will impact the kind of content you write and also the kind of audience you will build.
Identify your primary goal. You will likely have secondary goals (and maybe even tertiary) as well, but make sure that you know the order. The more specific you make your goals, the better you will be able to follow the next steps and make decisions related to your blog.
In ninth grade I thought I was pretty hot stuff in my honors English class. Until I got an F on my The Old Man and the Sea paper. My mother, furious, called a conference with the teacher. “It’s simple,” my teacher explained, “the assignment was to write on a theme in the book. This paper is a plot summary.” In that moment I realized I had no idea what theme meant.
Plot tells what something is about. The Old Man and the Sea is about a man on a boat trying to catch one large fish. In the case of your blog, the topics, the niche, and the general content categories are like the plot of a novel. The plot of your blog might be defined as a food blog sharing original recipes and restaurant reviews.
Theme, on the other hand, is about what something means. A book may have many themes, but there is also usually one central meaning tying the events together. Theme on a blog shows the perspective of the writer and carries an implicit message through each post. The theme of the food blog mentioned above might be Healthy Living Through Healthy Eating. Think how different that same food blog would read if the theme was Eat, Drink, & Be Merry for Tomorrow We Die. Same content, different lens.
Sometimes the theme is subtle and sometimes it becomes the phrase you put on your business cards. For my lifestyle blog (which has nothing to do with the process of writing) my tagline is “An eclectic celebration of chaos.” I have four kids and blog about everything from parenting to food to faith. Life is crazy, but my theme through the blog is to celebrate that everyday craziness.
When you think of the theme of your blog, keep your goal in mind. If your goal is to create an author platform for your true crime novel, you probably don’t want the theme of your blog be Encouragement for Daily Living. Even if are a positive person, that theme is disconnected from your goal and would be jarring to potential readers.
I’m not saying you can’t have that kind of blog, but if your end goal is to support your true crime novels, you should perhaps consider two blogs. The one whose goal is to support your crime novels should be something relevant to an audience who wants to read true crime. Perhaps the theme of this blog would be True Stories Are Worse Than Fiction.
Here are some questions to answer as you move toward finding your WHY:
You may not think a crisis will happen to you. Crisis is such a BIG word that it can seem like one of those things that happen to OTHER people. Not us. But in this post (and podcast episode) I want to talk about the kinds of challenges we can face and how to handle an online crisis when it comes your way. Because it WILL come your way if it hasn't already. The one thing I know is that you want to be prepared before a crisis hits.
Before we talk about the details of how to handle an online crisis, let's create some umbrellas for what kind of crises you might face and how you may respond.
Raise your hand if your blog has ever crashed at an inopportune time. (Or if you've ever been personally victimized by Regina George.) If it hasn't happened to you, it will. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. I deleted a whole blog once. I feel you when you have big tech issues, you need to have someone on call that can help. Whether that's the customer support for your blog or platform (note: the free Mailchimp plan does NOT come with any customer support) or a friend who can get in and fix your code, this is a place where knowing smart people comes in handy.
You can do this one of two ways: by making a mistake or by choosing a stance on a controversial issue. You cannot always avoid the first one. Last night I sent a text to my sister-in-law and with one slip of a vowel, "duck face" became something much less savory. (Though for the record, I don't support duck face either.) You might send an inappropriate tweet or choose a hashtag that (in context) may have serious implications. (Ex: When DiGiornio Pizza chose a hashtag intended to reference staying home for frozen pizza that was widely used in regards to domestic violence.) It happens. It might happen to you.
You may also choose a stance or to post on a topic that invites a firestorm all on its own. This is when you need to really pick your battles. Do you REALLY want to take on that hot button issue? What if you get the traffic you're trying for and everyone HATES what you said? You need to decide if that's an area you really want to stand for or a hill you want to die on. If you choose a controversial topic, be ready for the attention, positive or negative.
You may have a real life situation that pulls you away from the internet at an inopportune time or in such a way that you need to post, but can't. For me, this happened in one of my births when I wasn't able to communicate personally with people in my life OR in my public blog world. It's a great idea to always have a person you trust know the passwords or be an admin on your blog or accounts in case you need to communicate something and cannot actually do so.
Be Aware. Have alerts set up and check in daily with your accounts to make sure if you are being attacked or if you have a tech issue, you KNOW about it. Down Notifier is a great way to know if your site is down, by the way. This is how I knew it was time to move out of my BlueHost hosting, though I had been happy with them for three years.
Consider Your General Response. Do you respond to negative comment? Do you delete negativity? Some blogs have a general no-negative-comments policy that they overtly state. Then they delete anything that doesn't add to the atmosphere they want to cultivate. Make your choice before you ever get a comment from haters.
Consider the Specific Situation. You may want to respond in some cases and delete in others. You may want to respond with humor or with sincere apology alone. General responses will give you a framework and then with each specific instance, you should consider the context.
Have Friends on Call. Know some tech wizards and other great people to help with tech issues or who can read over your response tweets or emails before you send out a response. Make sure someone you trust (and that has some blog or social media knowledge) has access to your accounts.