Many of the greatest books ever written were not actually released as books.
Readers did not line up at the Victorian-era equivalent of Barnes and Noble for the midnight launch of Great Expectations, Madame Bovary, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Anna Karenina. These influential works were released as serials in newspapers or periodicals. Separated into sections, they were revealed one bit at a time. Readers eagerly awaited the next installment to see what happened to Pip or Emma Bovary.
Meanwhile the publishers happily sold more publications over the course of many months because people were engaged with the story. The audience came back to read more.
A question landed in my inbox last week about personal posts and blogs: “I’m a pretty private person and I want to keep my business very professional. However, I’ve read a lot of advice stating that you must write personal blog posts to build relationships with clients and future clients. I’m really, really uncomfortable with this. What’s your reaction to this and what advice do you have for keeping things professional, but also being personable (and still maintaining your boundaries)?”
I’d encourage you to see your blog not as a place where you have to unveil your private thoughts for all to see, but rather as an old-fashioned serial.
Release one teensy story at a time, introduce a few “characters,” and people will come back to read more about the ongoing adventure. When you start to tell a story – any story – people naturally want to hear how things turn out.
Many popular photography blogs excel at this. Not because the authors treat their blog like a tell-all reality TV show, but because we recognize and care about the “characters” in their stories. Jasmine Star said once that she’s an extremely private person, and only reveals very small parts of herself online. Yet she has placed “characters” (herself, her husband JD, Polo, her parents) on her blog and allowed us to hear short, interesting stories about them. And so, we start to adore Polo and enjoy sharing a laugh about something funny that happened over a Thanksgiving dinner. We start to care about them, and are interested in updates because we regularly get to share bits of emotion ‘behind the scenes’ with them. Of course, there are other key ingredients that make her blog engaging and popular (humor, humility, talent, good writing, generosity in sharing information, etc), but part of its continual draw is that she’s slowly weaving a story. And we want to know what happens.
When I use the word “characters,” I don’t mean that the people are make-believe or false.
A character just has a few recognizable traits and a goal (large or small) – and this makes us want to hear what happens next. We don’t necessarily need to know what the character ate for breakfast to be interested in them. You, the author, get to control what information is shared.
When I say “stories” I don’t mean that it has to be one continuous story. My personal posts are more like a series of anecdotes. But because they generally center around a few of my traits (obsessed with libraries and bookstores, traveling, and throwing over-the-top dinner parties) and my goals (create beautiful images, get to know people and places better), the unrelated anecdotes are unified into one big unfolding story. There’s more to me than being a bookworm who likes traveling and pretty place settings, but those are the features I choose to show online.
And let’s keep this in perspective – your blog posts shouldn’t be *all* about you. Personal posts are a connection thread that run between sessions, sneak peeks, tips, events, and other information. They lend a relatable, non-corporate voice to all that “stuff,” and help readers see the human face and goal behind all of it.
Personal connections discourage senseless price-comparison shopping and people who “just need someone with a nice camera.” You’re more likely to attract people who want YOU to create their images if they feel like they know and trust you.
It’s a good start to have an “about me” page on a website, but that is static information.
Like a book, people read it once, and probably won’t come back. And we want potential clients to come back.
Nothing creates an emotional connection faster than the sharing of emotion. And it doesn’t have to be deep, serious, heavy emotion! So sure, you can have a bio that says “My name is ___, I have a husband and two kids and a goldfish named Sparky.” The bio alone makes you go “hmm, cool,” and move on. But what if you paired that bio with a blog post about the time the kids decided to take Sparky up to the treehouse and you stopped them just in time before they sloshed all the water out of poor Sparky’s bowl? The stories would make someone laugh, muse about the antics of children, recall their own childhood escapades. This sharing and relating of emotions creates a connection through the screen. This is where relationships with potential clients are formed.
Your blog can be a written illustration of your bio. Whatever the bio shares, make it come to life!
The only real “MUST” in business is taxes. You can get away with doing or not doing all kinds of things.
In fact, there’s nothing that says you even have to have a blog at all! If you do have one, I’d encourage you to ask yourself: What is its purpose? The answer determines what you will want to write about.
One purpose of my photography blog is to communicate my style and what a photography experience with me will be like. I can’t communicate that all in one novel-like lump. If I did, no one would read it. So I have to do it over time. Which means I need people to keep coming back to the blog, faithfully. Which means I need to create a relationship with them. And sharing stories, joined together by a central character, happens to be an exceptionally easy way to create a relationship and get people to come back.
Sure, there are many ways to build relationships, but since I only have a few seconds from the time someone lands on my page before they decide if they’ll stay or leave, I might as well get them to stay using one of the oldest tricks in the publishing book: Incrementally-released but immediately-engaging stories.
If it’s good enough for Dickens, it’s good enough for me.
If you’re not comfortable sharing something, don’t share it.
There are lots of successful small businesses that keep things strictly professional. If you want to follow suit, I suggest studying their blogs and see what they do to build relationships and keep people coming back.
No one can really tell you “blog about this, don’t blog about this.” It depends entirely on your story and the “characters” in it. Remember – all a compelling character needs is a few recognizable traits and a goal. Everything else is gravy. Use common sense (like avoiding being whiny and overly negative, which tends to be repetitive and therefore boring), but the details of your character(s) are entirely up to you.
I will say that, like all things, blogging personal stories gets easier with practice. If you want to share something about yourself without revealing too much, try going on a walk with your camera and just describe in rich detail what you saw while taking photos. Find an image from a vacation and describe what it’s like to visit that place. (In a way, “road trips” are a character on my blog just as much as I am.) These things will tell your audience something about yourself without you having to dish a lot of personal detail.
It should be easy to start by simply putting the reader in a different place and showing them what you see.
That’s what photography is about anyway, isn’t it?