What The Funny Pages Taught Me About Blogging 2

A man is talking to a doctor about his mother's condition.  The doctor explains that she'll need a lot of rest, and asks if he's indisposed during the day.  He says he writes a blog, and the doctor says No, I mean do you work?

 For at least five generations, the women in my family have married young. I am my mother’s firstborn, she is my grandmother’s, and she is the firstborn of my great grandmother. This means my mother is 51, my grandmother is 70, and my great grandmother (bless her stars) is 91 this year.

Suffice to say, it’ll be a good long while before anyone in my family takes my age seriously. On the bright side, one benefit of being the toddler of the family at age 33  is that, to this day, my grandmother still saves me the comics pages from her newspapers. I pick up a stack every time I visit.

Decades of reading the comics has taught me this: creating a successful comic strip is just as much an art as sculpting a good blog post. In fact, blogs and comics share many common goals, including:

  • Generating content that entertains and engages the reader
  • Building a loyal fan base
  • Catering to an audience with a short attention span
  • Competing with industry peers for the same space
  • Driving home a message to the readers
  • Promoting something (think: selling comic books, plush toys, etc)

Unlike blogging, however, cartooning has been around far longer, and is a much more mature industry. As members of a still-developing genre, it’s worth it for us to examine the “masters”, and learn their solutions for the problems we struggle with every day.

Lesson 1: Own Your Niche

A white person looking innocent and running in workout clothes in the snow.  Two bundled black kids watching him run by.  One says to the other, with a look of confusion and disgust, White People.

Pick the right niche, and you’ll be successful even if your content isn’t any good (think: Marmaduke and The Amazing Spider Man). Most of the best and brightest in the cartooning have adhered to this law for decades.

For example:

Comic Niche
Beetle Bailey Soldier Humor
The Lockhorns Marriage Humor
Ctrl Alt Del Gaming (Video and RPG) Humor

Can an office worker be married and like video games? Absolutely. But office workers, for example, know other office workers – and they’re more likely to share the content if they have an easy, ready audience to share it with.

The niche should be specific enough that you’re not competing against enormous brands, but narrow enough that you can still capture a respectable audience. Don’t be afraid to carve out a home in a large, competitive space – some niches have a lot more room for newcomers than others (or, in the case of cute cats, an infinite amount of space).

Each of the examples below tap into a big audience (travel, nursing, and photography) but have established their place within it quite nicely:

Blog Niche
Go Big Or Go Home Large-Scale Tourist Attractions
The Nerdy Nurse Nursing Technology
New York Daily Photo Blog New York City Photography

A blog that does not choose a niche can be confusing to a reader — and because they don’t know what’s coming next, they’ll have no compelling reason to return.

Examples of blogs that (I feel) fail to do this:

Grimm is at the door, with it open, and is calling to mother goose to ask if they accepted an exchange student.  Archie is smiling and waving at the door with a suitcase.

Giving shout outs to other blogs, and even inviting guest bloggers, is a great way to establish yourself in your space.

A Side Note: Blogs are social. Own that! Don’t be afraid to give a shout out to bloggers in similar but non-competing niches and/or industries. Callouts show that you’re active in your industry, and it strokes the egos of the people being referenced. You’ll be rewarded with a broader social network online, free linkbacks, and a stronger professional network for your business.

For example, if you’re a Realtor, you could  add a quote from the blog of a home inspector you’ve worked with. If your blog is about local news, do a “Top Tweets Recap”, featuring the best of the twitterverse, about a local event.

Lesson 2: Choose A Specific Audience

Adults say the lamest things - panel one, a lady asking a teenager Have you thought about where you're going to college with the meter above on LAME.  Second panel, she's asking What's your zombie contingency plan, and he's smiling.  The meter is now on Less Lame.

A neutral tone may be politically correct, but it won’t engage your audience.

Cartoonists know that not everyone is going to read their content, so they don’t try to cater to everyone. Cartoonists such as Aaron McGruder of The Boondocks or Bil Keane of The Family Circus have established their readership loyalty by embracing the fact that they’re not out to please ’em all. Instead, they’ve figured out who WILL enjoy their type of humor, and eye-rollers and offendees be damned.

Consider these comics:

Comic Target Audience
Doonesbury Politically minded democrats
The Family Circus Members of churchgoing families who find children amusing
XKCD People who find joy in learning and discovery

Bringing your persona your blog, sharing your professional opinions, and infusing it with a distinct sense of style will connect with your readers and make them come back for more. Moreover, it’ll increase the chances of your post being shared, and make a more memorable impact on your readers when they’re considering where to bring their business.

Do This:

  • Engage your readers on an emotional level
  • Bring in personal anecdotes, humor, etc.
  • Use a tone that’s offbeat, different, or unexpected
  • Talk trends, current events, and things your audience likes
  • Provoke them into responding in the comments

These blogs are doing it right:

Blog Target Audience
Classy And Sassy Single, dating women
Young House Love Married couples who have purchased their first home
Geeky Explorers People who live in an RV

Examples of blogs that, in my opinion, do not speak to a specific audience:

The catch here is that unlike a cartoonist, a blogger will also need to target an audience that’s likely to bring profit to your website. If you’re an owner of a local restaurant and your blog focus entirely on recipes, you can expect a large readership from a general internet audience, but not a particularly large local audience of people who are driving distance of your business.

Rather than sell raincoats in the desert, that restaurant owner should focus on local news and events, in the hopes that people living nearby will search for and find that relevant post, and then go on to find they enjoy the blog.

Caution: Yes, ask for business. But don’t ask too often, and don’t lose your readership by talking too much about yourself. The best bloggers follow the 80/20 rule – giving (at least) 80% of their content directly to their readers in the form of promotion-free, quality material. The final 20% is your “take” – where you write about yourself , tout your company’s accomplishments, ask for the reader’s business, etc.

Lesson 3: Make It Visual

Calvin goes to eat food that looks like a big green glob of goo.  Suddenly it bursts to life, quoting Shakespeare and singing songs.  Calvin is alarmed, then confused, then thoughtful.  Then his mother comes to collect his empty plate, commenting that he ate it fast.  He looks miserable, and asks that she never make that again.

Calvin And Hobbes was always a text-heavy comic. However, creator Bill Watterson was usually savvy enough to break up his long text blocks with a visual pause, as shown here in the last row of panels.

There are few things as unappeling to a web browser than that moment when they come face to face with long, featureless blocks of text. Cartoonists know better than most that readers need a visual break from all that reading. Otherwise, the content may be great, but at first blush, it just looks like a lot of work.

Examples:

While I understand that large-tongued dogs and yellow zigzag shirts aren’t exactly on your blog itinerary, there’s still a lot that you can do to add a visual element or two to your post:

Photos, Videos & Images:

With very few exceptions (psychologists, for example), you should easily be able to incorporate your own photos into your post. Restaurant owners can post food porn along with their recipes, illustrators and artists can post scans of their sketches (or videos of them drawing), fashionistas can post pictures of the newest styles, and so on.

If your topic is more abstract, a visual element is still possible. If you’re a writer, for example, post images of things that have inspired you, or show a scan of a vehemently edited page of your recent writings. Someone who works in SEO or web design can post screen captures of websites they’re referencing. A psychologist could find relevant videos to embed, or could incorporate infographics into their posts (just be sure to credit and link to the source).

If all else fails, visit istockphoto.com and buy a stock image to use. But only if all else fails.  And not all the time.

Text Formatting:

The visual impact of your text also weighs heavily on its readability. Your reader will appreciate your content most if they can skin through it and read only what they’re interested in. Help them do this with the following:

  • A young reporter leaning against a water cooler and clutching his heart as if swooning.  He thinks to  himself The modern political reporter pauses to reflect on the exhaustive depth of his political analysis.Subheadings
  • Bulleted lists
  • Tables
  • Callouts in colored boxes
  • Quotes
  • Image captions

Additionally, vary your paragraph length, using both longer and shorter ones. This takes out the “marathon” feel of your post, and gives the readers both meat and little tidbits to work with.

These people are doing it right:

Questions? If you’re working for yourself, or you have a small business, this blog is for you! If you have any foillowup questions at all, or would like to request a new topic entirely, ask me in the comments below, and I’ll be glad to help you out!

2 thoughts on “What The Funny Pages Taught Me About Blogging

  1. Reply Julie May 10,2013 7:06 pm

    Brilliant as usual, and great examples of what does and doesn’t work. Love it!

  2. Reply Maria May 10,2013 9:04 pm

    You made some good points. I shared this with some friends who are trying to grow their blog audiences.

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