The Value of Blogging

by Dan Blank on February 16, 2010

Something odd happened this week, a single blog post absolutely floored me – that’s how good it was. Now, I read a lot of blogs, and doing so is pretty much the first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing before I go to sleep. But this blog post really stood out:

Top 100 Children’s Novels (#100-91)

It was written by Betsy Bird, whose Fuse #8 blog appears on School Library Journal. Here are some stats on this blog post:

  • Nearly 8,000 words
  • 51 images
  • 11 videos
  • 60 links
  • 69 comments
  • 15 ReTweets on Twitter

What’s more, this is just part 1 of a 19 part series. The thing that amazed me was not the quantity, but the QUALITY – How it served its intended audience in a fun and unique way, involving them in the process.

So I want to cover this from a few angles:

  • What Betsy is doing right in terms of serving her readers.
  • Her process to create this blog.
  • The value it has given her.

Why This Blog is Incredible, and How Yours Can Be Too

Last year Betsy ran a series of articles based on a poll: Top 100 Picture Books. She picked a slow time of the year in terms of news, polled her readers, and then shared the poll results across a series of blog posts (covering 5-10 books at a time), counting down to the best picture book.

The Top 100 Children’s Novels follows a similar pattern with some tweaks to the rules and timing. I had a chat with Betsy, and below are the lessons I feel other bloggers can take away from her efforts:

  • Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
    Betsy borrowed the idea of doing a poll and series of posts like this from another blogger. She credits him, and her efforts don’t take away any value from his blog.

    I often find that some of the best ideas a blogger can leverage already exist in a different market. Look around at blogs outside of your field, find out what engages people, and see if you can transfer that strategy to your blog and your market.

  • Involve Your Community
    The Top 100 Children’s Novel posts are based entirely on a poll of Betsy’s readers. She didn’t dictate what she thought the best books were or even create a blue ribbon committee to choose. She simply asked her readers and reported what they said.

  • Be Flexible
    An undertaking like this is complex. Betsy had to come up with rules, and the entire run of the series will take more than two months. Some unexpected issues came up, such as whether or not kids should be allowed to vote. Betsy had to create new rules while the program was in progress and inform her audience.

    Likewise, after she announced the poll, a reader came up with a stronger title for it. So Betsy simply changed it and moved on. The lesson is to work out as many details as you can prior to launch, but be aware that you may need to iterate further once live. There are things you learn in the wild that you can’t always plan for.

  • Embrace New Ways to Connect With Readers
    Betsy was a late convert to Twitter, but credits this service with the early success of the Top 100 Children’s Novels blog series. She said it was incredible to see her updates on the poll be ReTweeted and then track clicks via Bit.ly.

  • Create Habits in Your Audience
    The series will cover nearly 20 blog posts, meaning every weekday you check her blog in February and parts of March, you will learn about five more books leading up to the number one position. What this does is build habits in your readers, and makes your blog a familiar friend who is always there when you check in each morning. It’s a ton of work to do that (as you will learn in the next section), but it is a very powerful driver of growth and engagement.
  • Grow Your Audience
    She said that a series like this brings in a lot of new readers to her blog and further engages those who are already regular visitors. I speak to a lot of folks both within and outside of media, many of whom feel that they already reach most of the people they need to, and serve them about as well as anyone can. Betsy on the other hand, is always looking for ways to improve her blog and reach more people. This year, she had twice the amount of people participate in her poll, and her traffic numbers for February are already incredibly strong.

What it Takes to Create a Blog of This Caliber

Let’s talk about finding the resources – the TIME – to create a blog like this. Betsy blogs 7 days a week, and yet, she has a full time job as a librarian in New York City. Betsy describes her blog this way:

"It’s a second job."

There’s really no sugar-coating that. Let’s look at some of the elements included in the post I linked to up top. She covered 10 books in the post, and for each one, included the following:

  • Book descriptions
  • Background details on the author
  • Excerpts of reviews from notable sources
  • Book covers (and a history of them)
  • Videos
  • Quotes from reader ratings
  • Her own commentary
  • Information on awards the book has won
  • Poll tabulation information
  • Links to relevant sources

And this is just one blog entry from 19 in the series, and just one blog entry out of seven that she will post this week.

So how does she manage her blog? This is her schedule five days a week:

  • 9am-5pm (sometimes 10am-6pm): Work at her library.
  • Between 5pm-8pm: Dinner.
  • 8pm-midnight (sometimes 1am): Blog.

That’s four hours a day of blogging, five nights a week. Then, on her two days off, she devotes a considerable amount of time to blogging as well.

The Real Value of Blogging

So clearly, Betsy puts in a huge commitment to her blog. Why would anyone do that? Well, this blog has provided value to her far beyond counting page views or collecting a paycheck. I asked her what the benefits of blogging were for her, and this is what she said:

"Blogging has given me everything I’ve ever wanted."

What does Betsy want? Well, here are some of the things the blog has given her:

  • A book deal for a non-fiction book which was published last year: Children’s Literature Gems
  • Two book deals for children’s picture books that she has partnered with an illustrator on. These came about from a blog post where she promoted the illustrator, and one thing lead to another, she is co-authoring two books with him!
  • A book deal for a non-fiction book she is writing with two other children’s literature bloggers.
  • She was on the Newbery Award Committee (very prestigious award for books that puts those foil seals on books)
  • She runs a Children’s Literary Cafe out of her library, and gets to book famous guest speakers.
  • It’s a second income. Yes, Betsy is a paid blogger.
  • She LOVES books, she loves libraries, she loves the people she is serving through her blog. The personal fulfillment is incredible.

All of these things came about because of the blog – because the blog pushed her to create and share; because the blog served her readers in incredible ways; because the blog allowed her connect with people and create something meaningful together.

People often ask me how to measure the ROI of social media or blogs – how to justify the effort. Betsy is an amazing example of why it’s important to blog and participate in social media. The value is often not in the direct revenue that it brings, but a mixture of two things:

  • Ancillary opportunities through connections.
  • Personal fulfillment of creating something special.

And both of these things are inherently about helping others.

What I admire most about Betsy’s blog is the passion, the fun, the oddness that embodies her love of and admiration for books. The places books take us – the ways they have shaped our lives, and the way that they link one generation to the next. When I read Betsy’s blog, I want to go and read a book. All the Kindle/iPad debates in the world have never given me that feeling!

I profiled Betsy last year as well, still a good read: How to Become a Superstar Blogger.

Follow me on Twitter: @DanBlank.

Previous post:

Next post: