If you're thinking about taking on a blogging gig, Rick Vanover has some pointers and a look at what you can expect.
Blogging has become a hugely popular trend, thanks to its relevance to readers and its independence. But there are some inner workings of being a blogger that not everyone realizes. Here are some things I've learned during my tenure as a professional blogger.
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1: New FTC regulations are important
In October 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) declared that bloggers can be in scope for guidelines that govern endorsement and testimonials in advertising. These new rules take effect December 1, 2009, and require that bloggers disclose whether they receive any gifts or compensation in return for blogging about a product. Virtual Private Counsel Priya Marwah Doornbos of PMDLegal.com helped me interpret these new regulations as they pertain to blogging.
It turns out to be quite simple: The FTC is responding to the growth of social media, such as blogs. The new regulations provide specific guidelines for what types of blogs are considered endorsements. This is important because if they are considered endorsements, they may be subject to advertising laws. The goal is to protect consumers from advertising that is false, misleading, or deceptive. More than anything, bloggers are called to walk the line in what they write. In the spirit of these regulations, I'll disclose the following:Disclosure — PMDLegal provided me with a free interpretation of the new FTC regulations for my blogging activity.
2: Not all bloggers are neutral
Frequently, bloggers will write almost exclusively about a particular product or technology. This may be because they work for the company building the product. It doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't credible; it just means that they have a vested interest in evangelizing a product, technology, or solution. If these blogs are on company Web sites, they are even less neutral. However, they can contain some of the best information on current IT topics. Some good examples are the TechNet blogs and the VMTN blog.
3: Bloggers can be paid
Bloggers who post material on commercial sites, such as TechRepublic, About.com, and other online communities, can earn money for their content. This money can be quite good depending on a number of factors. It isn't always clear to the audience whether a site or bloggers on a site are paid, but it doesn't necessarily matter. Money exchange to bloggers from respected commercial sites is administered with proper accounting and IRS rules. This includes W-9 and 1099-Misc tax forms. This is important not only for the the new FTC regulations, but also to consider that many people blog as a side job.
4: Freebies may be involved
This is where the neutrality of a blogger can sometimes be blurred. Technology bloggers are frequently invited to try demo versions of software or hardware, and those goods may be theirs to keep for free. The new regulations are important here as well; this exchange should be freely disclosed to readers by bloggers. As a blogger, I frequently use evaluation products for software. This allows me to have access to fully functional products as if I were a potential customer, which is my target audience when I blog.
5: Bloggers are not free technical support
If a reader has a question or comment about what a blogger is writing, it's fine to reach out to that blogger. But this can only go so far. It's amazing some of the questions that can come in response to something you've blogged about. Someone once responded to something I wrote on VMware ESXi with a totally unrelated issue. By using email, Twitter, and a brief phone call, we knocked the issue out. It feels nice being the hero, but you may not always be able to provide that kind of delivery.
Most bloggers write to a certain audience, so there will always be something overlooked. This is one of my biggest blogging challenges. In the course of writing about technology topics, there will always be a different perspective that isn't covered. A good example is someone writing about the challenges of upgrading to Windows Server 2008 R2 but not discussing any considerations about the applications. That is a frequent theme of the feedback I get in writing Windows Server tips in the Servers and Storage blog.
6: Blogging is not as easy as it looks
Sure, anyone can jump in and start to write for a Web site or launch a personal blog - but providing consistently fresh content is difficult! Truth be told, this is an easy business to get into. There are plenty of free blog sites where you can start up your own content, such as Blogger.com. Establishing your credentials and developing your blogging skills through free services or your own Web site is a great way to craft an online identity that may be attractive to a commercial site if you are interested in making money with blogging.
The biggest challenge is regularly coming up with new content. The best bloggers are the ones who write to people much like themselves, describing the things they are dealing with everyday. This can be in technology, cooking, how to be a stay-at-home parent, or anything else under the sun. Especially if you jump to commercial blogging, you have to be ready to deliver consistent material that is relevant to the readers.
7: Bloggers need to have tough skin
Blogging is fun, but the comments can be harsh. When you write to an audience, or a segment of an audience, someone will likely disagree or be happy to point out any shortcomings of your posts. Usually, comments are polite and respectful, but inappropriate comments occur too frequently. You need to be able to accept commentary from all sides and to face up to the critics. This can be tough at first, especially when you write something in opposition to popular belief. A good example is a negative blog about a piece of software everyone loves. When you have the courage to go against the grain with your critiques, backlash can be substantial.
8: Moderated comments are a good thing
Allowing users to post comments is a great way to engage the greater blogging community to freely communicate ideas. Some sites are configured with delayed comment functionality that gets viewed before it is presented on the site. Other sites may have full-time moderators who engage in real-time patrol of comment activity. In fact, TechRepublic's Tammy Cavadias moderates the busy forum space on this site.
We've all heard of defaced Web sites or have seen bots go through and comment on public sites. Removing or screening for this type of material is like picking litter up from your yard. The same is true for inappropriate commentary; these would be the people you would ask to leave the party.
9: Gauging blogger quality is hard
Bloggers can shield their identity somewhat with the use of screen names, or with obscure identities for personal blogs. So a certain amount of common sense needs to be applied to see whether a blog is posted by a qualified person. Generally, the best gauge is the Web site where you get the material. In my blogging, I always try to include a short bio that explains my relevance to the topic I am writing about. Such a blurb gives a snapshot of the blogger to the reader to convey credibility.
10: Tell it like it is
More than anything else, blogging is an opportunity to lay out the facts and your true opinion for the topic at hand. For factual matters, you have a certain burden to do more than just link to authoritative sources. Conveying the facts is cemented with real-world experience that backs it up, regardless of whether the angle is good or bad. Further, bloggers have an opportunity to engage in discussion with readers to bring all perspectives forward and lay everything on the table to facilitate an open exchange. This exchange is the crux of blogging and that should remain the focus.
Would you like to blog for TechRepublic? Send an email to Toni Bowers, head blogs editor, and let her know your areas of interest and expertise.
Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.