Are you everywhere, or are you nowhere?
Some bloggers seem to be everywhere â€“ they have active profiles on Facebook and Twitter, they blog, they email, they comment, and they use every new technology and channel as it becomes available.
Other blogs seem to have a much narrower focus â€“ they write their posts, allow you to subscribe via RSS and sometimes email, and stick to what they know.
There is an obvious issue with being everywhere: you get so distracted by one thing after another that you run the risk of never getting much traction with anything.
But thereâ€™s an issue with focusing too narrowly, too.
But isnâ€™t focus a good thing?
Yes, focus is a good thing â€“ but there are two different kinds of focus:
GOOD FOCUS: This is when youâ€™ve identified your customer profiles and youâ€™re diligently sticking to the strategy and tactics that are going to work best for them. Good focus is audience-centric; cutting out distractions to deliver value to your audience.
BAD FOCUS: Bad focus is when you know how to use WordPress, aWeber and Facebook, so everything you do is a combination of WordPress, aWeber and Facebook (these are three random examples â€“ substitute your three favorite technologies instead). Bad focus is blogger-centric – avoiding new things and staying inside your comfort zone.
This post is about bad focus, and how to avoid it. But first, weâ€™ve got to learn how to identify it. This is easier said than done, because we donâ€™t have a conscious thought train going through our minds that says:
â€œIâ€™m afraid to learn new things, so Iâ€™m going to stick with what I know instead.â€
If only it were so easy! But it isnâ€™t â€“ our thought processes usually look more like this:
â€œOkay, so I want to accomplish X. How can I do that using the tools that I have at my disposal?â€
Thatâ€™s an innocent question, and a good one at that â€“ itâ€™s what youâ€™d expect from a resourceful internet entrepreneur who is looking to make the most of his or her resources and abilities.
So while the root cause might be a deep down fear of stepping out of your comfort zone, the practical problem that actually manifests, and needs to be dealt with, is tool theory.
â€œWhen all youâ€™ve got is a hammerâ€¦â€
Tool theory is the tendency to apply what you know to the situation at hand â€“ in other words: â€œWhen all youâ€™ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.â€
When applied in moderation, this is great â€“ it allows you to stretch the boundaries of what you can accomplish without having to learn new skills.
When taken too far, though, it becomes an exercise of fitting square pegs into round holes; it might occasionally work, but often it wonâ€™t. Even when it does, itâ€™s a lot harder than â€“ and not as effective as â€“ just finding a round peg for the round hole.
We see this all the time â€“ for example, with blogs that insist on readers subscribing to updates using only email, or only RSS, or not on Twitter â€“ whatever tool the blogger is comfortable using. The problem is that just because itâ€™s the tool that the blogger is most comfortable with doesnâ€™t mean that itâ€™s most comfortable for the reader. Here are a couple of examples:
- I donâ€™t subscribe to anything via RSS, and there are blogs out there that I would really love to follow, if only they offered an email subscription option.
- Iâ€™m sure some people would love to follow Firepole Marketing on Twitter rather than subscribe to blog updates. We do have a Twitter account (@FirepoleMRKTNG), but we donâ€™t use it very much, and we donâ€™t link to it anywhere on the site (this is something that will change as part of a redesign over the next few months).
Itâ€™s hard for us to see these problems because they all relate to tools that we donâ€™t use, and since we donâ€™t use them it is hard for us to know what we donâ€™t know.
The right tool for the right job?
The first thing that you need to do is take stock of the tools that you have at your disposal, and the jobs that you need to get done.
Since the tools are what tend to constrain our thinking, letâ€™s go the other way, and start by looking at the jobs first. Make a list of all the functionality on your blog â€“ all of the different ways in which readers can engage and interact with you and your content.
Now explain how each piece of functionality is made possible, and honestly explore whether youâ€™ve got the best technology doing the job it was meant to do, or youâ€™ve just hacked a way for the job to get done, even though the tools werenâ€™t really meant for it.
As a reality check, look at some of the blogs that you refer to as examples in your industry, and see how theyâ€™re accomplishing the same task. Is it the same way that you are, or have they got a slicker or more effective solution in place?
Spend a little extra time on those sites, and explore what other ways of interacting with the blog and content are available to readers, that arenâ€™t available on your blog.
Ask yourself â€“ why is that functionality not available on your blog? Is it that your readers donâ€™t want it? If thatâ€™s the case, then great. But if itâ€™s just that you never thought of it, or arenâ€™t sure how to get it done, or wouldnâ€™t use it personally, then think about adding that functionality!
Getting new toolsâ€¦
Odds are that through this process you will reach the conclusion that you need to be adding some new tools to your repertoire â€“ whether it is functionality on your blog, integration on various social media platforms, or just profiles and activity on those platforms.
This is where you run the risk of going off the rails and drowning in technology options, which is why it is so important to do this carefully and deliberately.
Start by determining how active you really need to be on these new technologies â€“ for example, do you need to be engaging with your audience regularly on Twitter, or is it enough for you to tweet your posts as you post them, and give people the option to follow you? Thereâ€™s a big difference between the two â€“ in one case, you need to get really comfortable with Twitter, and in the other you just need to get some automated technology put in place.
Remember that the key factor in determining what you should be doing is your audienceâ€™s preference, not yours! Keeping that in mind, here are three strategies that you can use to learn how to do whatever it is that you need to do:
- Do some quick research. Start with a Google search on the tool or functionality that youâ€™re looking into, and try to get at least a rough grasp on how it works. Most things arenâ€™t that complicated, and youâ€™d be surprised at how far this can take you if you allot 30-60 minutes to the job. Donâ€™t spend more time than that â€“ if after an hour you still havenâ€™t reached a solution, move on to the second strategy.
- Ask people for help. Reach out to your network, and ask if anyone knows how to do what you want to be doing, or how to set it up. If you see someone who seems to be doing it very well, then reach out and ask them for guidance â€“ more often than not, theyâ€™ll be happy to point you in the right direction. They might explain how to do it, and they might just point you to the third strategy.
- Explore automation tools. There are WordPress plug-ins and tools like Tarpipe and many others that allow you to automate a lot of social media cross-integration. In other words, if you just want your blog updates to go out on Facebook and Twitter, then you can do that without having to ever log in to either Facebook or Twitter.
The key, above all, is to find an effective way of allowing your blog to do what your audience wants it to do â€“ while creating minimal headache for you. If you make a solid list of this sort of feature and activity upgrades, and spend an hour a day implementing them for just a week or two, you could seriously improve the user experience that visitors have on your blog.
Over to you â€“ have you faced a challenge of learning a new tool because your audience wanted it, even though you didnâ€™t? Have you resisted doing that? Leave a comment and let me know.