Well, I'm on Easter break this week, so I've had time to get out to the Orange County Tea Party and to blog all about it, among other things. However, my term papers are due next week, so blogging will be lighter in the next few weeks! (And not only that: My wife's a sweetie who lets me blog more than I should!)
I also received a general question from Lance Burri about building blog traffic. Lance was basically wondering about the best way to get hits, from other bloggers, from Glenn Reynolds, or what? I don't know for sure, but I thought this might be a good time to take stock and throw out some thoughts and suggestions from my own experience blogging this last year-and-a-half since I launched American Power, as my second blog, in October 2007.
Mainly, I'm just going to add a couple of points in response to two recent blog posts on how to be a successful blogger and conservative writer online: Robert Stacy McCain's, "How to Get a Million Hits on Your Blog in Less Than a Year," and John Hawkins', "How to Become a Full Time Conservative Blogger/Columnist."
Regular readers may have read Stacy's essay previously, as I've been applying a number of the "rules" he lays out therein, especially the "Rule 5" hottness method combined with massive "Rule 2" reach-around blogging. It's been a lot of fun, and it's going to continue. But there are limits, and that's why folks who are serious about being a successful blogger should also look over John's piece's carefully. He notes, for example:
Let me ... be very honest about something else: this is an over-saturated field. There is an abundance of talented, conservative writers out there competing for eyeballs and most of the successful people in this business aren't interested in helping them along. Moreover, the famous people that are interested in helping out fledgling conservative writers have so many people competing for their attention, that it's difficult to get them to help you.That's strikes me as a pretty fair point, and actually political science research indicates that there's a tremendous "gatekeeper" effect to the blogoshpere, since by nature of "network" effects and hierarchies of prestige, blogging newcomers find tremendously high barriers to entry to a successful (and possibly materially lucrative) blogging career (for more on this, see "Blogging Politics: Network Effects and the Hierarchy of Success").
All of this gatekeeping can be extremely frustrating for those trying to break into the conservative blogosphere AND hoping to make an impact. And to be clear, in my experience, people who blog are hungry for exposure, so those who quit or just scale down operations have probably realized the limits of opportunity available to them.
But John notes a couple of interesting points at the essay, especially the notion that "it's not what you know, it's who you know ..."
Now, obviously, folks need to know something significant about politics to blog successfully, but other than just plugging away and getting noticed at Memeorandum or Google, it nice to have people higher up the network hierarchy helping you gain attention and opportunities. Over this last six months I owe a great deal of thanks to Rick Moran of Right Wing Nut House. Rick's the Chicago editor at Pajamas Media, and I've published about an article a month since last October, and it's been both a lot of fun, as well as a chance to build some credibility as a top blogger.
And I say that with modesty. Actually, I still pretty much think of myself as a "9th tier" blogger, toiling away in obscurity, to whom no one pays attention. People like that just like to write, and a few hits every day and a comment or two is life-affirming. 9th tier blogging gets old, though, especially since most people crave recognition, as I mentioned above. So bloggers have to find a way to get noticed, and there's quite a bit folks can do on that score, so there's no need for discouragement as long as someone is willing to work hard.
So let me offer my own list of suggestions, adding a little perspective to what both Stacy and John have done already:
1) COMMITMENT: Don't kid yourself that you're going to become the next Michelle Malkin after publishing a couple of week's worth of Blogspot essays; and don't expect to make a fortune anytime soon. I've been blogging for three years, and I still average less than 1000 hits a day. I get thousands of visitors on some days, but that's often because Michelle or Glenn Reynolds has thrown traffic my way. It takes a long time to get noticed, and that's often after you've networked and made connections. My sense is that someone who works hard and puts out consistently good content will develop a readership. Some of those reading will have connections and will promote your blog. So, perseverance and output have to be first in order of importance to the successful blogging life. For some perspective on this, notice how Ann Althouse blogs. Blogging is her life and passion, and her means of communication and expression. She's now marrying a man she met through blogging. She's interesting and she's made a commmunity. Althouse is an outstanding model of success for up and coming bloggers.
2) BLOGGERS AND MASS MEDIA: In the beginning, the blogs I read were those of prominent people, academics like Daniel Drezner or media personalities like Virginia Postrel. Folks like this have written books and built name recognition prior to becoming popular bloggers. That kind of experience provides credibility and exposure. But prior establishment in the media's not available for everyone. I can't stand the views of Markos Moultisas, but he's a good example of someone who started a blog, Daily Kos, and who became successful and branched out into other media. Kos is a now television news talking head, and while Daily Kos' popularity has declined after the blog achieved most it set out to do with the election of Barack Obama, Moulitsas himself is going to be around for awhile. He's written two books and he's a regular on Sunday talk shows and in print media like Newsweek. No matter what you think of the guy, he's had success blogging that's worth emulation. Thus, many blogging neophytes might think of blogging as entree into a career in more traditional media. For example, check out my friend Doug at Political Pistachio. Doug started blogging because he wanted to be a published writer. He had the sense the blogging would get him productive and get his work into circulation. Now Doug's developed a popular Blog Talk Radio program, and he's been interviewing some of the most important conservatives working today. He has dreams to win a gig as an AM radio star one day. Doug's example provides a sense of synergy that comes with blogging, but he's also an example of someone with a passion who's turned blogging and radio into his life's work. That's what it takes to build a repuation and success.
3) DON'T BE SHY ABOUT SELF-PROMOTION: Although I've had the most fun with Stacy's "Rule 5" promotional tool (do some babe blogging), it's actually "Rule 1" that's been even more helpful: You've got to put yourself out into the realm without excessive worry of social niceties. Oh sure, be respectful and polite, but don't be afraid of forwarding your work to people who are essentially strangers. If you're writing on military issues of social welfare policies, shop your posts to people who write and have expertise in those areas. I probably wouldn't have gotten a couple of "Instalanches" had I not sent my posts to Glenn Reynolds. He probably gets hundreds of e-mails a day, but he must have liked something I had found and posted it at his blog. It's momentary attention, but it's confirmation and encouragement. Michelle Malkin likes readers to send her tips and blog posts, and she's really generous in publishing content provided by conservatives in the blogging community. I'm doing that a lot more myself, and I've published guest essays from readers at the blog. I too get e-mails from bloggers or journalists shopping their stuff for American Power, even big name people, so it just ends up as a form of networking. Thus, again, don't be shy about it (Stacy calls it "shameless blogwhoring"!).
4) DO ORIGINAL REPORTING: This last week I had a good amount of success with my posting on the "Orange County Tax Day Tea Party." That post was my first outing as a "photo-blogging" journalist. I've been wanting to do some photo-blogging for a while. Great influences here are Zombie Time and Looking at the Left. I first noticed the tremendous importance of photo-blogging as citizens' journalism during the campaign. Bloggers are going to publish stories and pictures that the left-wing media establishment won't touch. Hence, photo-journalism is not only on the wave of the media future, it's a tremendous opportunity for people to get out into the public realm, to interact and find stories that are in demand. If you're working on an exclusive story, and one with a particular angle, that's bound to generate some attention. Pump up the conservative volume!
5) LOVE WHAT YOU ARE DOING: For me, I'm simply combining my career as a professor of political science, and my love of politics, with blogging. Blogging has become a part of what I do. Frankly, I'm not so much interested in scholarly publishing, although because I maintain professional currency with the literature, I can blog on anything from the most sophisticated academic studies in international relations to the most ordinary stories in the news and popular culture. My enthusiasm comes and goes. Sometimes blogging's an addiction, but sometimes it feels like a chore. That's going to happen, so balancing the online life with all the other responsibilities is challenging. But you can't be successful unless you're willing to elevate the blog to a central place in your personality and being. It's back to my "Rule 1" above. Have commitment, and make it fun and personal. But also have a healthy understanding of the consequences of your work. As John Althouse Cohen put it recently, "Assume that anything you write will be seen by your family or your employer or your prospective employer or anyone. And once you publish it, it will never go away." The best way to approach that advice is to believe in what your write, and take full responsiblity for what you put on the page. Sometimes folks have asked me, "don't you worry about backlash as a conservative academic?" At first I did. For a year I held back my opinions, and I'm positive my blogging was worse for it. Say what you want and be ready to stand and fight for your principles. People will respect you for it, and you'll carve out a niche as someone of honesty, integrity, and true values.
A FINAL NOTE: Take care for your safety and your family's safety as a blogger. In an announcement on his advertising program, Tiger Hawk mentioned the need to maintain his anonymity: "I have made many friends through blogging, and I have no reason to believe that anybody out there would do me harm."
Actually, I do.
If you battle the left, if you expose the secular progressives for the licentious nihilism that they're all about, they'll want to kill you. Look at what happens to any prominent conservative when they make public appearances, like Tom Tancredo at the University of North Carolina last week, and you'll realize that leftists have no concern for your safety nor your rights. As David Horowitz wrote yesterday, "Conservative speakers now have bodyguards when they visit universities."
I watch my back, especially when I'm on my campus, where I'm known publically by name and reputation as a conservative writer and activist. I also don't post personal information about my family online. I've been stalked by those who can't stand what I write, for example, one blogger found my home address by researching property tax records and used that to threaten me and my family. If you speak truth to power, you'll make some enemies, but be not afraid. The brighter your light of moral clarity, the more vicious will be the pushback from the totalitarians on the left. Be true to yourself and put truth and values first and foremost in what you do. I'm confident those who combine diligence with talent can make it as a successful blogger.