Last week millions of people used their voices to elect Barack Obama the first African American president of the United States.
And after months of campaigning and SNL goofing, when it was finally revealed late in the night that what so many of us had hoped would happen, was actually happening, the nation wept. They wept because there was now hope that things would get better, that changes were underway, and that we could all come together to fix the mess we had created. But most importantly, people wept because their voices had been heard, voices that until last Tuesday had perhaps never been heard before.
The power of voice has never been lost on me. It's never been something that I've taken for granted. Living my life with a moderate-to-severe speech disorder, voice is something that I'm reminded of at each and every frustrating syllable. I know how easy it is for your voice to be taken away simply because it's convenient for others. I know what it's like to be silenced. So when the voices that elected Barack Obama were finally heard last Tuesday, I waited for my friends to say their good nights, and then I cried too. Cried for the voices that were finally being heard.To me, that's always been the power of blogging -- giving people a voice. For all its power as a sales tool or a marketing channel or a way to connect with your audience, blogging is about empowering yourself and empowering others. But in order to do that, you need to determine what your voice is. Because if a writer is nothing without their words, a blogger is nothing without their unique voice. And it's up to you to find that voice and to fight for it.
Considerations of Voice
Your voice is created the moment you enter the blogosphere. And that's not something to be taken lightly. The voice you maintain in your blog will set the tone for everything that follows and should be a conscious decision from the very beginning. I'd argue that it's right up there with your subject and blogging platform in degree of importance.
As much as I hate to say it, when thinking about voice, your audience matters. Their perspective matters. You have this blog for a reason. Whether it's to aid in selling a product, to educate others in your industry or to set yourself up as an authority in your niche, you want to make sure that the voice you're using aids in that goal. Otherwise you're just wasting your time.
Here are some initial questions you'll want to ask yourself before deciding on your blog voice.
- Who is your audience: How old are they? Are they male or female? What other sites do they visit? Who do they read?
- What will they respond to: What are they coming to you expecting? Where do their sensitivities lie? What gets them going? What do they believe in? What will they support/speak out against? How much will they let you get away with?
- How do the others in your field use voice: Are the other bloggers in your industry journalistic or opinionated? Do they use humor? How active are their communities?
- How can you set yourself apart: How are you different from your competitors? What role can you serve? Whats missing that you can fill?
Others may disagree with me on this, but once I know the answers to those basic questions, I stop thinking about the audience. I don't want their faces to taint my writing.
Perhaps I'm being a tad narcissistic here, but I've always believed that the reason people read blogs is for the bloggers writing them, not necessarily for the content. I mean let's get real, I write about search engines and SEO for a living. Not exactly earth-shattering information (well, unless your site is banned, of course), however, people read my blog to hear what I have to say. You are what makes your blog different and interesting. And once you recognize that, you'll see there are a whole new set of considerations (and responsibilities) to take into account.Things like:
- Who are you as a blogger?
- What sort of personality are you comfortable creating in your blog?
- Will you try to use humor to convey your message (if yes, double check with someone to make sure you're as funny as you think you are...)?
- How personal are you comfortable getting?
- How much do you want your audience to know about the real you?
Once you have an idea of the direction you want to go in, head out into the blogosphere and start reading to see which writers you relate to and what attracts you. Which blogs match your inner voice? Which bloggers make you pay attention? How do they do it? Taking cues from the experts can often help you to form your own unique style.
Setting Up Your Filters
In a perfect world your blog would be a total reflection of you. In the real world, however, filters must sometimes be implemented to prevent mouthy bloggers like yours truly from walking off a cliff and bankrupting the company they work for. Not that I would ever do that to poor Jim Boykin. [Hi Jim! It's okay. You can trust me, really!]
That said, there is one question that I always have to ask myself when I sit down to write a blog post: How far am I willing to go here?
- If I'm about to criticize Ask.com for killing off their search engine...how far am I willing to go with it?
- If I'm about to call out Jerry Yang for neutering his search engine...how far am I willing to go with it?
- If I'm about to call an entire conference black hat...how far am I willing to go with it?
If you're familiar with my writing at Bruce Clay, Inc. and the new stuff at We Build Pages, you know that I've never been so good with the filtering thing. That means I'm usually willing to go as far as I need to in order to make my point. I do my best to stay away from personal attacks and flame wars, but I won't back down from an unpopular stance. I'll call Jerry Yang a moron if that's what I'm feeling. As MSN Live's Jeremiah Andrick told me Monday night at PubCon, my brutal honesty is part of my charm. I like to think he's right.
Finding The Courage To Bring YOU to Your Blog
Once you know whom you want to be in the blogosphere, you have to start writing and putting yourself out there. And at first, that's going to be incredibly terrifying and just a bit messy. But don't let it scare you.
Lucky for me, I don't remember my first blog post. Unfortunately for me, the Web does. I'll save you the trouble of clicking (and me the embarrassment of you reading it) and summarize: It's cold, it's awkward and it's a journalism student trying to sound like a blogger. It's an Epic Fail that contains absolutely no Lisa. It sucks.
And that's a problem most beginner bloggers will face. When you first start blogging you're going to sound like an uncoordinated and awkward version of yourself. You're going to try too hard to be funny/smart/enlightening/adorable. You're going to spend all of your time writing how you think you're "supposed" to sound instead of sounding like you. Just keep going.
As you keep writing and experimenting, you'll slowly stop sucking and your true voice will reveal itself And once it does, embrace it. Be it. Because once you find your voice, you'll find what's interesting about you and your perspective. You'll be able to attract the people who are interested in hearing exactly what you're writing about in the way that you're writing about it. And that's the blogging sweet spot. The place where you're able to let go of all your blogging fears and inhibitions and just write like no one's reading. It may take some time to get there, but once you do, it's worth it. Because that's when you'll truly be able to use your voice in a way that affects others to the point of tears. And really, isn't that what life's about?
Lisa Barone is Co-Founder and Chief Branding Officer at Outspoken Media, Inc., and Internet marketing company specializing in SEO consulting, online reputation management and other search marketing strategies. She has been an active member in the SEO bloggng community for the past three years and blogs daily on Outspoken's Internet marketing blog, where she uses her voice to talk about all things search, blogging and SEO. Images courtesy of cfishy, hlkljgk, toprankonlinemarketing, BotheredByBees, and TheAlieness GiselaGiardino