Friday, March 07, 2008

Know Your Audience: It's Easier Said Than Done for Bloggers

Last week, after a discussion thread on Blog Catalog about all of the "make money blogging" blogs out there, I wrote something I planned to post here on RockStories. It was a parody of those posts that many of us run across ten times a day on blogs and in forums, titled "I Made $XX Online in January!" and filled with helpful tips on how you could, too. Except that the "XX" was my actual January online income and my helpful tips included things that have helped me earn a living from home, like obtaining an advanced degree from a first-tier school and securing the assistance of a rock star at a critical point in your career development.

Usually I draft my posts right here in blogger and post them immediately, but I had some reservations about whether this one would be recognized for what it was, and so I sent it out to two friends and asked them if the point was clear or if it sounded condescending. Both are mothers with professional backgrounds working in creative fields. One felt strongly that it sounded condesceding and braggy, and that there had to be a better way to make the point. The other said it was funny and not the least bit condescending and I should post it right away.

Naturally, I did nothing. But I did start thinking about an issue that's bigger than whether or not that particular post would be well received: "know your audience" is a standard in the writing profession, but that's not as easy in the blogging world as it is when you're writing for other kinds of publication.

If I'm writing for a parenting magazine, or a humor magazine, or a writing website I have a pretty good idea of who my readers will be. Just as important, they have a pretty good idea of what to expect when they type in that URL or flip open the magazine. And that's true for some bloggers, as well. It's true for bloggers who write within a narrow niche, and for those who have a strong regular readership. But the vast majority of traffic to my blogs comes from search engines, which leaves me with little information about those visitors. And even the regular visitors come, I think, more for something about my writing style or perspective than subject matter--I think that because I have a writing blog, a dog blog, a personal blog, a Catholic blog, a social commentary blog and a search engine humor blog, and a surprising number of those who subscribe to or regularly read one read several (or all) of them.

There are some broad perspectives out there, depending on which blog they started with. Even these two good friends of mine, who know my style and my perspective well, had two very different takes on the same piece. With a little reflection, the reason was obvious: one of them works online and daily encounters the kind of posts I was parodying, so that the format and intent were immediately recognizable to her. The other doesn't frequent the kind of blogs and forums and such where those posts appear.

But what about the rest of the world? I just don't know. I'm certain that if I posted that piece, I'd have readers who thought it was hilarious and dead-on and cheered me on for it. I'm equally sure that I'd have readers who weren't familiar with the format and thought I was bragging about my income and my education and my connections. And I'm suddenly concerned about just how many other topics and approaches and perspectives might trigger exactly this kind of conundrum.


People in the Sun said...

I had a similar post about Pay Per Post (here), and not everyone got it. Some people really thought I was being serious. What can you do. I was really afraid at first that people who did PPP would be offended, but then I thought all the millions of Dollars they're making by selling me cellphone accessories would make up for me offending them.

Joe said...

I have run into the same problem. I call it "the sarcastic email syndrome" - knee jerk reactions caused by the reader not knowing the tone of voice (for lack of a better term)that the author was writing in. They automatically assume the worst, and all heck breaks loose from there

Stella said...

I've thought about this a lot and sometimes there's nothing you can do - someone is going to be offended - no matter what you write about. I'm often astonished at the vehement responses some people get for the most trivial comments. In such cases, I think the person is looking to get offended and let off some steam. It's good that you ask yourself whether someone is going to be offended by your writing - I try to do it as much as possible. And if someone is offended, then try to ask yourself if their response is truly justified.

I once commented on the difference between Jane Austen and the Brontes. Someone responded in a cold, huffy manner that I had been dismissive of the Brontes. (The unspoken implication being that I am a stupid person.) Honestly, I can't say that I had been insulting or dismissive. I expressed my opinion plainly (Brontes are romantics, symbolists, blah blah blah vs. Jane Austen the logical blah blah). But the person was offended all the same and gave me a curt, annoyed reply.

RockStories said...

The responses here are reminding me that on another blog (What's Wrong Around Us?) I recently got an angry comment on my post "outrage" at discovering that the Canadians had some OTHER kind of candy that they called Smarties!

Theblogladies said...

There are many people like myself who are cursed with being the embodiment of the perfect straightman. I've had people go off on the most trivial things. I have truly made an effort to think long and hard about all the possible angles with every post. But even so, sometimes I just don't see it coming. Some readers will just nit pick anything no matter how much thought you've put into it if that is a part of their personality and you hit upon their particular hobbyhhorse.

Blog Lady Dee
Blog Lady Elle