How to write blogs people will read? Get your hands – and your snowpants – dirty

This writing blog and my inspiration blog have an amazing following of cool people that I secretly (well, not now) refer to as Cyndi’s Superstars (thank you!). I wrote for two very different kinds of blogs at Michigan Technological University this winter: A Michigan Tech Winter Carnival live blog (this’ll take you to the recap), and our new Unscripted research and science blog.

For all blogs, the most important caveat is blog something of value, or don’t bother. And don’t make it all about you, unless you’re that mercurial of-the-moment personality we’re all breathlessly following or a timeless sage (Dali Lama, the Pope). In the latter category the reason they are so impactful is because they don’t go on and on about themselves.

The live blog increased traffic to the winter carnival website, gelled coverage of the University’s best-known event and bonded our team. Most engagement came from vicarious visitors, including alumni from around the world who couldn’t be there rocking out in front of the snow speakers or eating pickled eggs and deep-fried Snickers.

Tips for a great live blog:

-Be open to what’s happening: cute dogs that lick your face, guys in crab suits that offer to hug you…you can’t plan this stuff.

-But plan plan plan beforehand. Strategy is important, especially with more than one blog shift and a lot of ground to cover. Our blog ran from 5p.m. until after midnight across our campus and communities. We had early and late crews, including a change-up in Mission Control. Transition is vital. The early crew helps the incomers catch the groove.

-Live blog followers won’t stare at a static screen. Something new should appear every couple of minutes. Whenever there was a live-post lull we shared snow statue trivia we’d compiled ahead of time, or bloggers and Mission Control riffed off each other. We also pulled in photos and posts from our Twitter and Instagram accounts.

-Use events or a general concept as a hook until you get your footing. I posted a bookstore promotion and hung out at the karaoke contest until I was comfy enough to switch to roam mode. If something didn’t work out, like when I ran after the Pep Band and got nothing but an inadvertent smack in the face with my iPad lid, there were dozens of other cool things going on that I could post.

-Which leads me to equipment. Laptops and cameras don’t really work for live blogging. There are limits to what you can do with phones after dark. Mission Control monitored image and post quality.

-If you want to see more about Michigan Technological University’s world-famous winter carnival check out our Michigan Tech YouTube channel

Writing for a Science & Research Blog

We give our audience multi-layered, in-depth, richly sourced, deep stories on Unscripted. If they don’t want to read past the 300-word mark, that’s OK. If they do, they’ll find links, photos, video and audio resources that take readers where curiosity leads them. If you’re an accumulator, like me, it’s a dream writing gig. My biggest challenge on this first assignment was TMI. I learned so much I could have written a book.

The research-science blog takeaways:

– Even when you can have space, brevity still matters. Organize, self-edit and reach out for editing help (thanks Allison!)

– I was blessed with a group of researchers excited about what they’re doing and happy to share the details. Even if your interview subjects aren’t that generous, avoid banal generalities by asking questions, and asking again if you have to, until it’s clear. You can’t tell the story otherwise.

– The best blogs aren’t phoned in. Devote time on scene. Fog up your safety glasses. Climb ladders. Put on your big-girl snow pants and deal with a cold morning on the test track.

Working with Content Management Systems

The CMS is the website version of a newspaper dummy or magazine book. It’s all about layout and how to pull the pieces together. Whatever CMS you’re using you’re likely to run into what my mom calls “minor defugalties.” Curly commas, fractions, even hyphenated words, may translate into funky symbols or extra spaces. Some, like this WordPress platform, are fairly intuitive, even for those of us who don’t code. Others have all the (known) bugs subdued with rigid style guides. There will still be surprises. If you don’t have Mission Control gurus doing it for you, plan on spending extra time on the front end figuring out how to make images, headers, sidebars, et al play nice in your CMS.

More blogging tips from the always helpful  Writer’s Digest

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