There’s a lot of reasons to blog, present, and build a brand – get a better job, change careers, raise your billable rate – but what if you just want to be known by name amongst the community?
I was chatting with a blogger about how to be successful, and the first step was defining what success meant to him. One of his goals was to be recognized when he walked into a conference – but he didn’t want to “be famous for being famous,” like a Kardashian kind of thing.
I know some of you are going to cringe, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and let’s think through how to accomplish that with the minimum amount of effort required. (I don’t even think it’s wrong to want to be the Kardashians of the SQL Server community, but I’ll save a recipe for that as another blog post.)
Understanding Your Available Time
Sit down with a weekly calendar and literally block out time for:
- Your job
- Spouse and family
- Unwinding (TV, games, drinking, betting on horses)
- Learning (reading blogs, RSS, Stack Exchange)
- And finally, writing/sharing/marketing
I’ve actually done this with a real calendar, and my times for writing here at are 6AM-7AM weekdays, 6AM-8AM weekends. That gives me 9 hours per week as an absolute max – but that’s only a max. Some days I sleep in, and I miss my Ozar.me time, and I’m fine with that – but I can’t take time out of other categories to make up for it. I’ve got priorities between these categories, and personal writing/sharing/marketing is at the very bottom of the list.
If you’re young and single, you might move that priority higher, or take things out of other categories. The point here is to get a real, honest answer about the number of hours per week you’re going to be able to put into getting Internet Famous.
And that’s usually a reality check. If you’ve only got 4-8 hours per week to do this, and you expect to manage a blog and write original content for it, you’re not going to be putting out one solid post per week, and you’re just not going to be Internet Famous for technical knowledge. You can indeed take the Kardashian approach (seriously, it’s not a bad one) in 4-8 hours per week, and I’ll talk about that in another post.
Understand Your Target Audience Options
Let’s put SQL Server users into four levels – the specifics don’t matter, but I’m just trying to polish the difference between juniors and seniors:
Level 1: people who know what SQL Server is, and rely on it every day to get their job done. They may have even been working with it for years. However, they’ve spent less than a couple hundred hours in SQL Server Management Studio or PowerShell managing the plumbing of SQL Server. They get data in and out of the database, but for the most part, their SQL Server just takes care of itself.
Level 2: people who have spent 200-1,000 hours managing SQL Server, getting their hands dirty with the plumbing. It may not be their primary job, though – think about a sysadmin in a company with hundreds of servers, and a few of them happen to be important SQL Servers.
Level 3: people who have spent thousands of hours managing SQL Server, and have mentored other people (be it junior DBAs via private in-company training or the public via blogging/presenting) on how to do these tasks.
Level 4: Microsoft Certified Masters, or what we call un-certified Masters – people who have Master-level experience, but just never got the chance to pass the test.
There’s more Level 1 people than Level 4.
A lot more.
And if you want to be Internet Famous in 8-16 hours per week of work, you can’t afford to target multiple audiences. Hell, you probably can’t even target just Level 4 by itself because of the way they learn.
Understand How Your Audience Learns
Most Level 1 and 2 people are reactive. They stumble upon a problem, hit Google, and read the first good-looking result. Some Level 1 & 2 folks will catch the bug and start proactively learning, but it’s the exception rather than the rule – they’re just trying to get by.
Most Level 3 and 4 people take the time to proactively learn in their spare time. They read blogs and books, watch videos, and attend conferences. They follow people as much as they follow topics.
The great news is that if you want to reach Level 1 and 2 people, you just need to rank well in Google for the topics you choose. (More on choosing topics in a minute.) They’ll see you pop up in their search results a few times, and if your web site is constructed right (start with the book ProBlogger), they’ll subscribe to you and see you as a trusted partner.
On the other hand, if you want to become “Internet Famous” in the Level 3 & 4 audience, you’re going to have to teach them something they don’t already know, and you’re going to have to surface in their circles. Most proactive learners don’t seek out new blogs to follow, and when they use search engines, they tend to stick with results from sites they already know.
Getting “Internet Famous” in the Level 3 & 4 audience means competing with consultants and evangelists who can already spend 24-32 hours per week doing R&D, and in the case of evangelists, get paid to share their knowledge about it. The audience can only follow so many personalities, so getting them to pay attention to you takes a crazy amount of unpaid work.
Understand What Your Audience Does
Think of job descriptions as a similar pyramid. There’s a gazillion developers, less accidental DBAs, less production DBAs. Look around your office to get a feel for the mix, and for every third party app you use, think about all their developers. It’s not that the people at the top of the pyramid are somehow better – they’re not, and I have a world of respect for good developers because that job is WAY harder than database administration. My point is that there’s much fewer career-oriented production DBAs.
Pick your audience’s job and their level, and then get to know a few real-life examples. Think about your own personal network, and make a list of people who match that profile. Take them out to lunch and talk to them about how many hours a week they do various tasks, what tasks are the most challenging, and which ones they hate the most.
Understand Their Pain and The Easiest Solution
Pick exactly one task that:
- Is done by the largest audience possible
- Ideally, is challenging for Level 1 & 2 people
- Preferably, that they do very often or consumes a lot of time when they do it, or that they avoid doing it altogether because it’s painful
- And that they might Google for a solution instead of just struggle through it
Solve it clearly and elegantly.
The solution could be:
- A clear, visual blog post explaining how to perform the task better, like iFixIt’s guides on hard drive replacement
- A YouTube video demonstrating the solution, like Scott Hanselman’s Windows 8 instructional video
- A web site or tool that does the task for them, like StatisticsParser.com
- A script like sp_Blitz®
Given your available time, make a project plan to get to your minimum viable product as described in The Lean Startup, and put the hammer down.
If along the way, you realize that becoming Internet Famous for technical work isn’t going to work out for you, that’s okay. There’s the Kardashian approach, and I’ll talk about that next. (Seriously, stop making that face.)
Great post. I can’t wait to see the “Kardashian” version. I’ve found over the last few years one of my favorite ways to “find” a post topic seems to fit in with the 1/2 level posts you were talking about.
1) Someone comes up to me with a question
This might be a good topic
2) I’ve heard the question before
This is probably a good topic
3) I’ve heard this question so often I’m getting sick of it.
Write this one right away so I can point people to my post for a detailed description of the answer I have to give over and over again.
No 3 is where probably half of my blog posts came from.
Absolutely! I like checking StackExchange for these kinds of questions too – if a question is highly voted, it needs more good Internet resources.
I didn’t think about using forums for content generation. Picking a question and writing a blog post how to fix that issue is a genius idea.
Charles – thanks sir!
I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for the pointer to the ProBlogger book.
I’ve been a blogger for a few years and I never paid any attention to internet stats, visitors and I am not always very good at reading the comments either. The blog started out as an aide-memoire for me since I have great research skills but ‘too many things to remember’ so my memory isn’t always great. I was surprised that other people started reading it, and I now use it as a bit of both; things I’ve learned along the way, an ‘Evernote’ of stuff I might need when I’m onsite and can’t access Evernote itself heh heh, and as a way of disseminating presentations and stuff other folks might find useful. Basically, I break stuff so others don’t have to, and then I write about it.
I have realised that people were actually reading it and I need to serve the audience better. I then have started to realise that I need to get a grip on the amateur ‘blog when I feel like it’ attitude because I am rubbish at getting around to it, and I need to try to make it something better and do better.
So your blog came along at the right time and thanks for the advice. I’m a slow burner so it won’t happen overnight but thanks for the pointer. Hopefully I will do a better job of it in the future. I’m not worried about the numbers particularly, more about the quality and making it worthwhile of folks’ attention in the first place.
Jen – thanks! Glad I could help.
Yeah, that blogging evolution mirrors my own. I was just writing to write initially, because I enjoy writing, and then it ended up gradually becoming A Real Responsibility, heh. The technique that helped me most to build momentum was to simply quit hitting Publish – schedule every blog post weeks in advance, and then it becomes easier to keep the queue full: http://www.brentozar.com/archive/2009/08/building-your-blogging-momentum/
Here at Ozar.me, I decided to go with a scheduled post every Tuesday. Sometimes news breaks and I cover it here as it happens, but even then I try to schedule it for the next morning so I can wake up with a fresh eye on what’s about to go live.
John Gruber’s advice on blogging for the right audience helped too. I forget his exact words, but he basically said he blogs for himself – he imagines a reader who shares the exact same interests and style. If it turns out that there’s a bunch of people who share those same interests, great, but that’s not really his concern.
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I can’t believe they omitted probably the funniest Norm joke
“What are you up to, Norm?”
“My ideal weight if I was eleven feet tall!”
If you want people to know who you are, you have to do something noteworthy.
It could be scandalous, or a big achievement, but their should be some element of controversy. Slow and steady pragmatism raises few heads, unfortunately.