There are three things you can take for granted when you run a highly opinionated blog.
Criticism, haters and trolls.
The first in that list, criticism, is perhaps the hardest to swallow.
I believe one of the reasons why so many blogs die is because their owners find it tough to deal with the raft of criticism when their writing reaches a wider audience.
When you stick your neck on the line and make your opinions heard, it can take a while for the first criticism to appear. Many times, bloggers will get used to a small crowd of praise and positivity towards their posts. Followers congregate much sooner than haters, and it’s only when a brand verges on the realms of notability that the haters are likely to come out of the woodwork. It’s at this point that many bloggers, in my opinion, get trigger-shy.
They realise that with a growing readership, there are so many more toes to stamp on than there were before. The provocative, truthful and energizing posts get thrown out of the window, replaced by non-offensive and fence-sitting gibberish. They are less keen to offend, or risk a great backlash. They would rather satisfy every eyeball to the point where their voice becomes weak and mixed, or they will abandon the blog altogether.
It’s a great shame. Some of my favourite bloggers, through no coincidence, attract more than their fair share of haters and trolls.
Haters and trolls are irritating. But they are not the end of the world. What really can frustrate is the justified criticism. There are two forms of justified criticism: a difference in opinions, which is unavoidable and not a bad thing. Or a hole in your argument, usually the result of lazy posting or ill-considered comments.
A few months ago I wrote a supercharged negative review of Rich Dad Poor Dad. I wrote it in about 40 minutes after devouring the book in all of its gory mediocrity. Now I’ll admit, I got carried away with some of my criticism. But I wasn’t expecting it to reach the Top 5 on Hacker News and send thousands upon thousands of Rich Dad junkies my way.
In retrospect, I have now adopted a ‘no post goes live on the day of writing‘ policy. The cooling off period allows me to read the post with fresh eyes and detect any unnecessary exaggeration, or to add extra reasoning where needed. I believe I was also guilty of ‘small blogger syndrome’.
I wrote the post expecting it to appeal to my usual motley crew of readers, which it did, but I got lazy – and perhaps defeatist – in not considering what would happen if the post actually ventured outside my usual readership. The result was tens of thousands of new readers either loving or hating (depending on their take on the book) my preaching to the choir.
That lesson has taught me a lot about best practices for those running highly opinionated blogs.
Firstly, keep your usual readership in mind, but don’t fall in to the trap of preaching to the choir. Always aim to challenge and win over new readers. Avoid simply ‘phoning in’ posts. A lot of bloggers never venture beyond cult hit status because they’re too paralyzed with fear to overcome the criticism they might receive from existing readers for growing as a brand.
This can backfire spectacularly if your writing becomes so niched-in that your arguments are dripping with in-group bias. The outside reader sees only a very closed mind, even if your followers love you.
Secondly, if you are going to make a controversial statement, prepare to be challenged by those who stumble upon your views with their own fully fleshed arguments to the contrary. In essence, prepare for criticism before it arrives. You can’t slag off people, concepts and arguments and expect your blog to be a widespread success without very sound reasoning to back up your points.
Nothing intimidates haters and trolls like a confident voice in charge of his views and muse.
Objectively, however, criticism and mixed opinions are unavoidable. If you get lazy with your argument, and that argument goes viral to be seen and rebuked by thousands of readers – many ruffled by your obnoxious 24 year old entrepreneur posturing – you’ve only got yourself to blame. A cooling off period is essential.
Re-read your work and play Devil’s Advocate. What are the weak points? What statements are poorly backed up? It’s easy to miss these vital factors when you hit the Publish button while your cheeks are still flushed with writer’s venom.
I’m slowly learning that the best time to publish new material is when I’m in a neutral mood. Not angry, not sad, not overwhelmed with joy (psst, last spotted in 1997). Tilted emotions typically lead to skewed views on the world. You will attract rightful criticism, and rightful criticism is always the most demoralizing to your work if not learnt from rapidly.
It’s fine to write material when you’re in those moods. But when you are the editor of your own content, it’s important to separate the ego from the neutral observer. You can’t do this by publishing 5 minutes after writing.
And what about those haters and trolls? They can surely only be a good thing. They are the evidence that your brand is sticking, and moving in the right direction. The best way to deal with such urchins is to carry on as you were. Embrace the disagreements, and those occasionally hateful voices. At least it means you’re being heard.
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