Writing Clarity: Why Blogs are Still Useful


Bezos email 2004

“PowerPoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas.” Clarity is really hard to pull off by bullet points. I've long believed that decks are the visual effects of a conversation or keynote: you make the case by talking. It's effective, but not very efficient in productivity terms. Writing is the most efficient medium for shaping an argument and communicating it.

I forgot where I got the quote above, it had something to do with Jeff Bezos' culture of narrative clarity instituted by the memo. Amazon's senior team does the exact opposite of what many executive teams do: they start their meetings reading six-page memos. The first 30 minutes are for absorbing information written in narrative format.

Why use narrative? Because by describing what's happening, it can reveal causal links between things. What was before, what happened, what we did/didn't do/should do, to get what we want.

 

Better understanding through writing

While you could muddle your way through a PowerPoint deck, it becomes much harder to fudge a structured memo. You either make the argument, or you don't. You might not be writing a thesis, but a well-written memo improves your odds of getting the point across.

The best way to figure out if you understand something is to try to explain it to someone else. The best method for learning what you're thinking is to write it down. You get better with writing when you practice. The more you write, the better your writing. This is the main reason, why I started a blog, but not the only one:

  • I wanted to develop a habit of writing every day
  • My work experience in different industries gave me a vantage point on general trends
  • I was curious about experimenting with formats
  • My goal was to develop my voice, distinct from writing for brands and companies
  • I'm a voracious readerbooks, research, and articlesand wanted to try my hand at continuing the conversation
  • My client work often leads to observations and insights worth sharing
  • Emerging technology and human behavior have been a source of endless fascination and inspiration
  • I could set aside time to blog

This blog has opened up a new world of opportunity for me. It's been a place where I could try out new ideas, teach myself new subjects, and put the spare thinking and examples that could not find a home in my day job. For many years, I was working a full time corporate job and blogging at night.

Rationally-speaking, it didn't make sense to spend the time. But fast forward 14 years and I can see the compound effects of my investment in countless ways: from sharpening my understanding of issues, to building strong connections with leaders and peers, to generating leads for work that I love.

 

Why blogs are still useful

Blogs are evolving, but they have a place in the online ecosystem. When well written and with a point to make, they're what websites would be if you flipped them: rapid, coherent, integrated publishing that people can pull and build on.

There's an immediacy to blogs that is not quite news (unless you write a news blog) and is not quite as intimate as a newsletter. They're that middle ground between a polished website, and a gated communitya point of consistent contact with your audience.

Any form of creative endeavor is hard work. Writing, making videos, building a presence in social media: they all require consistent effort. In a company setting, you'll want to have a plan and an editor, or someone who chases subject matter experts and contributors and makes sure the blog keeps going and is coherent.

Blogs allow you to:

  • Provide topical and relevant information and resources regularly, become an appointment
  • Receive feedback from your readers and engage them in discussion that are relevant to them
  • Distribute your content more widely thanks to Google and the larger business community online

They allow your readers and customers to:

  • Receive regular updates from you when and if they want them
  • Share the resources and tips you provide with their network
  • Find you through search thanks to keywords and tags that describe their problem

 

Making it work for you

12 years ago, I spoke at an event and wrote down what I shared in a post. Why start a blog and 25 ways to make it work was the most linked to, shared, and bookmarked article at Conversation Agent for months. Some of the technical information is a bit dated, but the strategy parts are still applicable.

Eventually, blogging in companies evolved into content strategy or what I call marketing that makes business sense. At 3,381 articles, most of my traffic is evenly split between organic search and direct links via feed or email subscriptions.

Beyond determining if a blog is worth it for you and your business, key elements of my advice to make it work include:

  • Setting a goal. What would make it worth it for you? Number of leads? Leading up to a product launch? Creating demand for a new service? See for example how Rand Fishkin built an 18,000 email waiting list:# he talked about the problem, educating his audience on the flaws of the existing system. Bear in mind that it took him two years to do that.
  • Choosing a cadence. How frequently will you be able to post? An average article may take two hours to write, more if you need to run it by legal and have other layers of approvals. Depending on how many people you can involve, posting at least once a week allows you to create a regular appointment with readers.
  • Creating an editorial mission. This will keep you focused on the boundaries of what you will write about. Constraints are good for creativity and for establishing your beat, so to speak. My work evolved, but I've been writing about the relationship between tech and human behavior since 2006. 
  • Making a plan. Even when you have plenty of data and stories to draw from, it's really hard to come up with posts on the spot. That's why you want to plan your content ahead. There's a cadence to the company: leverage any special events, research reports, success stories, market developments and company announcements by incorporating them in your plan. It will make it easier to keep your appointment with readers.
  • Sticking with it. Blogging will help you develop your voice and establish yourself. Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution is a good example of community building and using the comments as fuel for posts. Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture is a great example of using a blog to put a company on the map. Many members of his team have blogs, too. Their sources are part of their work. Clinical neurologist Steven Novella has been debunking myths in science at NeuroLogica. Good communication can start with you.

You can find more examples of media sources in my letter. There's much more in my original post. My point is that you can use a blog to experiment with ideas, float early concepts to gather feedback frequently to iterate your product or service, and find the people who are looking for what you provide. That's marketing that makes business sense.

For years, blogging was my sanity check outside the corporate bubble. Then it became a useful tool for agency clients. Even though I never explicitly turned it into a lead engine for my consulting, it's done the heavy lifting as the “proof of work” with peers and leaders in search of advice.

A blog instills a certain kind of rigor in your thinking with enough freedom to be yourself—these are hard to combine in other forms of writing. With writing, you develop a great sense of the interconnectedness of ideas and narrative flow. And you get to keep going, refining your ideas and making them better over time.

+

This is my work. I'm a cultural lens for reading the world. I do the work so that your work becomes easier, richer, and more satisfying. Durability comes from having a cultural link.

, , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *