12 September 2007

Blogging 101: What's Your Theme?

Themes establish expectations. Think of them as a costume party or a movie genre. You can play within the theme, but deviate from it too much and your audience will go elsewhere for the flavor they're seeking.

Switching Themes Can Kill Reader Base
Bob Dylan notoriously spit in the face of his loyal fans on a frequent basis. After the media screamed his accolades for his talent as a folk artist, he switched to electric guitar wailing. After he gained electric guitar fans he switched again, each time leaving his fans shaking their heads and feeling betrayed. Historically, we can look back and view his constant shift a bit more objectively and recognize it as experimentation. But from a marketing standpoint, Bob committed a major sin.

Switching Themes Can Increase Reader Base
Think Woody Allen. His over-the-top anxiety-ridden love stories grew stale, with the same plot devices and characterization becoming cliche. So, he moved into the realm of detective mysteries. His lifetime fan base enjoyed his first foree into the detective genre, but when he repeated it, they turned their backs to him. As a result, he began to take on the role of supporting actor and put his personality into someone else. Did you see "Scoop"? Note how well the gorgeous Scarlett Johannson pulled off Woody's characterization in his new detective theme, and note how many new fans he gathered in the process of switching themes.

Themes Can Be Broad or Specific
When deciding on a theme for your blog, you must first ask yourself the following questions:
  1. What is my purpose in creating a blog? Is it to simply journal my daily life or woes? Is it to share guerrilla marketing techniques? Is it to sell crochet patterns for doll house wares?
  2. How focused do I want my blog? In the example of guerrilla marketing techniques, you could simply let a news feed pore in stories from around the globe, or you could dial it in to focus on guerrilla marketing your latest comic book. The news feed will most likely attract many more readers, but will they leave your blog satisfied and with knowledge they can directly apply to their own guerrilla marketing efforts?
  3. How much flexibility do I want in my blog? Do you want to force yourself to write about something specific? In the creation of my WebRing blog, I decided that this would present the perfect opportunity to discipline my online writing into helpful tutorials on writing blogs. There's not a whole lot of room for flexibility in that. But in regards to my rogue writing blog, I can write about anything that fancies me that day...from poetry to political commentary to discourse on teaching poetry to kids.
Once you've delved into the questions above, you're ready to decide on a theme. But, what do you do with that theme outside of letting it guide your writing and thereby your readership?

Play with your theme and turn it into the title of your blog. The title of my WebRing blogs, for instance, is "Blogging 101." The title sets up an expectation that this blog will provide instruction on blogging, much like a school course. Clever titles can get you in trouble if they're not specifically tied into your theme, but don't be afraid to explore and be inventive with it.

Choosing a theme for your blog not only sets up expectations for your future reader base, it also helps guide your writing. Choosing a theme keeps you from having to stare at, as Hemingway calls it, the "White Bull" each day.

Next: Original Content Rules the Day

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