Scott Lowe, a highly respected technical blogger, wrote a really good, short piece on “Blogging for the Right Reasons.” His sentiments echoed my own when people asked me about providing advice for job seekers when it came to blogging. Like Scott, I believe that if you are blogging solely to get hired, you are blogging for all the wrong reasons. I say this despite the seemingly contradictory fact that I recently got hired in no small part due to my blogging.
Heresy? Hypocritical? Biting the hand that feeds me? No, because the blogging was the end result of a well-planned strategy that could have very well not worked at all. This is especially true if you factor in the law of Unintended Consequences. If you’re curious at all I’ll share at the bottom of this post what happened and how blogging worked (and nearly didn’t) for me.
Why Blogging is Part of M-A-M™
I get nervous when people come up to me and ask me how to blog in order to find a job. Talk about putting the cart before the horse! They honestly believe that simply by having a blog, someone will read what they write, see that they’re brilliant, and hire them on the spot.
This is a very real, and very dangerous mindset.
If you’re not familiar with the M-A-M™ concept, the sequence is Message – Audience – Medium. Blogging is the Medium part, which means it should happen only after the Message and Audience are both clearly identified.
Blogging is a long term commitment. That means that if you don’t have the message down (what you want to say) and the audience identified (to whom you are talking), there is no possible way you can write article after article, month after month and maintain any semblance of quality.
And if you write crap, people won’t come back.
Why Blogging is Attractive
I’m speaking primarily from a job-seeking perspective, here, but I believe the principal reasons are applicable to those who wish to blog even if they are employed.
Bear with me for a moment.
People who get “in transition” (a.k.a unemployed) have had more than just income ripped out from under them. Most people – men in particular – tend to identify their self-worth and self-esteem with their jobs. It’s difficult to realize how much of our self-perception is wrapped up in our careers when we lose our jobs.
Some people have a very real sense of loss of identity in these cases. They’re used to being the expert in the field, used to being the “go-to guy,” the one with the answers. More importantly, they’re used to getting respect – not just from their peers but also from themselves – because of their position. When they lose their position, they feel like they don’t necessarily deserve the respect any more, even from themselves.
It’s sad, but very real.
Some people will turn to blogging because they seek to recapture that lost respect. They see blogging as a way to pontificate on subjects that they’re familiar with, or comfortable with, all the while failing to realize that blogging is a very different medium than face-to-face.
In other words, as Scott points out, it’s not for the right reasons.
Blogging for the Right Reasons
Okay, so if you shouldn’t blog in order to find a job, or to gain self-respect, or to become popular, or to get noticed to win awards, you will fail. If you’re blogging to “collect” people, as in, pump up your Twitter followers, well, that’s just pathetic.
So what are the right reasons? Well, first of all, you’ve got to have something to say.
Sounds obvious, but I’m constantly amazed at people who have no experience writing anything for public consumption, not even Facebook status updates, wanting to get started in blogging. What happens is that people focus so much on the venues for communication that they fail to understand social media at all.
Second, you have to be useful. What can you provide, what insight can you give, that isn’t available from more popular (and also free!) resources?
Also, you have to be passionate. When you blog, generally speaking, you have to do it because you feel like you have all this emotion bottled up inside you about a particular subject and it’s got to get out somehow. Speaking personally, the posts that I’ve written with the most passionate are also, not surprisingly and not coincidentally, the two most popular articles on my site.
How to Do Blogging
You can’t simply treat this as all-things-being-equal.
It’s not enough to be an “expert.” You need to be a researcher as well. You need to back up what you say with sources and evidence – just because you “say so” isn’t good enough.
You need to be consistent. This means having what we called in academia a “program of study,” which means that there is a conceptual progression from article to article. It also means that you need to be timely in updates.
You need to be patient. Scott points out that he was blogging for 3 years before he got any “real” traffic. As for me, I’ve been blogging only for about 7 months (as of this writing) and for me a really good day is 100 views of my entire site.
You need to do work. Writing takes a lot of time. It takes time to research evidence to back up your assertions. It takes time to provide links to external sources so your readers can continue finding out more information should they choose to do so.
You need to proofread. You can’t get caught up in the notion that “well, no one will read this blog at first” and get sloppy. Your blogs represent a body of work, so to speak, and if you link to previous articles (like I’ve done several times in this article), they had better be something that you would want thousands of people to read and have it reflect you properly.
Personally, while I can forgive the occasional misspelling, someone who habitually screws up basic spelling/grammar doesn’t keep my attention, no matter how brilliant their ideas.
How Blogging Helped Me
This is the part of the article that you can feel free to pass if you wish. This is merely anecdotal storytelling about how blogging assisted in me finding employment, and so may or may not be of interest or use to you.
As strange as it may seem, I don’t consider myself a blogger… yet. I have written blogs, but I believe that I don’t meet the consistency threshold that I talked about above. Perhaps if I can maintain an average of a post every other week for about a year I’ll feel qualified, but for the moment it’s a blog-in-progress. 🙂
I realized that there were two things that I had a great deal of passion for: technology and marketing. I worked as a Solution Architect/System Engineer for FCoE, and found that I loved the technology, and had likewise created the M-A-M™ methodology over a decade before and believe in it equally as passionately.
At the time I had a difficult problem. Most people find their new jobs through people that they know, which is why networking is so pivotal, especially when done correctly. The issue with networking for me was that because of the nature of what I do (especially with FCoE-related technology), very few people would be able to understand my needs.
That meant that I would have to spend a great deal of time educating people on the type of niche that I was looking for – and do it repeatedly. That was a great deal of work for a low probability of return.
Spending that much time seemed inefficient, and also put me at risk for falling behind on the technology.
Note: Even as it is, being at Cisco for just one week brought the stark reality of just how far behind I’ve become and how much catching up I have to do. And this is even considering how much research I was doing on my own!
Blogging seemed to be a solution to several of these problems. First, I’d be reaching people who actually understood what I was talking about. This meant that not only would I be able to skip the education phase, but I’d be able to continue researching developments as I’d be able to ‘geek out’ with people who were doing the work.
It also gave me the capability of providing a thorough background as to what kind of knowledge skillset I have. People would have an automatic writing sample to draw from, not to mention understand my ability to communicate as well as reason.
As it turns out, blogging was useful because, when combined with Twitter and the use of hashtags, I was able to reach out and connect with some very heavy hitters in the field, people to whom I would never have otherwise had access.
This, in turn, put pressure on me to provide quality (and accuracy) in what I wrote. It kept me honest, kept me diligent, and kept me focused.
Eventually it began to pay off. Some of the things that I wrote began getting attention, and eventually the links to my articles began finding their way forwarded into inboxes.
During this time I was working other avenues as well. I went to the Ethernet Summit in San Jose and introduced myself to people with whom I had communicated solely via Twitter or via responses to the blog. This face-to-face interaction was the single-most important aspect of blogging, because it meant I was not only a real person, but was willing to contribute to the field in which I was blogging in a very real sense.
Blogging also can be risky. The most popular posts are the ones that are passionate, it’s true, but passion often begets controversy. Job-seekers probably should, in practice, try to keep the controversial to a minimum, because managers don’t often want to hire troublemakers.
When one of my posts written back in March became somewhat viral, there was a very real concern that it might derail the process of being hired – at the time I had gotten a verbal offer but not a written one.
While the intention of my post had been to be informative and entertaining, I was nervous that perhaps the snarkiness of my tone might reach the wrong person and the plug might be pulled on my employment. Fortunately that didn’t happen, and I had nothing to be worried about (crossing fingers!)
Nevertheless, the lesson was that the hard work can pay off, but at the same time it’s possible to shoot yourself in the foot in a very real sense.
The Bottom Line
Blogging can be a very powerful PR tool for people looking for work. But Scott is absolutely correct: you must have a good reason for doing it, because otherwise people will see through your veil to your true motivation, and nobody likes to be manipulated.
As for me, I’ve expanded my own repertoire, both social and technical, and haev met some fantastic (and wicked smaht) people through this process, and I have no intention to stop now that I have gainful employment.
M-A-M™ and Yes, M-A-M™ Copyright 1999-2010 J Michel Metz, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.
You can subscribe to this blog to get notifications of future articles in the column on the right. You can also follow me on Twitter: @jmichelmetz