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Blogging lessons from the New York Times’ public editor

When she started her job, Margaret Sullivan, public editor of The New York Times, set herself three goals that can also apply to advisors who blog for their firms:

  1. Put readers first.
  2. Encourage conversation.
  3. Promote transparency and understanding.

The goals need some tweaking for advisors because, as Sullivan explains in “My Turn in Between the Readers and the Writers,” “…the public editor’s job is to serve as an in-house critic as well as the readers’ advocate in matters of journalistic integrity.” To make her goals relevant to advisors, I put my own spin on each of her three rules below.

1. Put readers first.

A blog that focuses only on boosting your firm and its ranking in Google and other search engines won’t do you much good. Readers who aren’t engaged by your content won’t stick around. They’re not likely to become clients either.

Your blog should focus on providing useful information on topics that your clients and prospects care about. Write in plain English so they can understand you.

2. Encourage conversation.

Sullivan starts her section on conversation by saying, “Journalism, these days, is no longer a one-way proposition, with celebrated news organizations handing down the news like Moses with his stone tablets.” Advisors aren’t Moses either. Plus, they can gain from listening to their readers.

Encouraging conversation is a tough one for many advisors. Concerns about compliance spur many advisors to turn off the comment feature on their blogs. But even without allowing comments, you can pose questions that invite people to contact you.

If your blog allows comments, that’s even better. Try to get a conversation going. It’s not just a matter of posing questions. When readers comment, you should show your respect for them by responding. At a minimum, say “Thank you.” It’s even better if you react to some aspect of what each person says.

3. Promote transparency and understanding.

Advisors are used to the idea of transparency of fees and the like. Transparency in a blog might mean taking a more personal approach to some topics. Perhaps you can reveal something about your life that makes your blog post topics important to you.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Turn questions into blog posts

Tired of writing explanations for an audience of one?

Your clients, prospects, or even folks doing Google searches, may contact you with questions. Depending on your relationship and availability, you may respond at some length. This takes time.

Your blog makes it possible for you to get more mileage out of these inquiries. If the question fits your blog’s theme and has reasonably broad appeal, consider turning it into a blog post. You can write it as a simple Q&A, as I did in “Reader question: How can communicators manage difficult portfolio managers?” or a plain blog post.

Should you mention that your new blog post originated in a question from a client, prospect, or reader? Yes, if you want to seem approachable and interested in your blog’s audience.

Another alternative: Add to FAQ

If the question isn’t right for your blog, it may still be worth sharing. Consider adding the question and answer to the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section of your website.

Image courtesy of xedos4 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Blog “out of season” for better value

Bicycling along the Cape Cod Rail Trail on a Veteran’s Day weekend reminded me of the
benefits of traveling in the off-season. Similarly, a blogger who posts about topics when they’re “out of season” can reap benefits.

Rail trails can be uncomfortably crowded during the summer. If I pass pedestrians, I must move quickly so I don’t run into cyclists or other folks coming from the opposite direction. The unpredictable behavior of little kids and dogs is a constant challenge. Contrast this with the serenity of riding off-season with my husband. The path was empty most of the time during our November outing

A blogger’s “out of season” ride

For a financial blogger, the equivalent of the tourist season is writing about taxes in April, college graduations in May, and holiday gifts in December. Sure, those topics are in the news then, but you’ve got lots of competition from other writers, just as I ran into lots of traffic on a popular rail trail on a summer Sunday afternoon.

It’s better to blog about seasonal topics well ahead of time. There are several benefits.

  1. Your readers need to plan ahead to implement your suggestions for April 15 and other important dates.
  2. Reporters seeking story ideas are more likely to use you if they find you early. Print publications have especially long lead times. A monthly magazine may plan its January edition three to six months ahead, with its writers working with a lag.
  3. You can recycle a seasonal blog post as the relevant event approaches. For example, if you publish a Thanksgiving-themed post in September, you can email it to clients in October and pump it out via social media in early November. By the time of Thanksgiving, your blog post will have permeated your target markets.

Have you tried this?

If you’ve tried this, please report on the results you’ve achieved. I’m also interested in your tips on this topic.

Focus your blog post or lose your readers

“I’m trying to frame the hawk,” said my husband pointing

My husband's best shot of the hawk

My husband’s best shot of the hawk

our camera at a spot high above the Cape Cod Rail Trail. He didn’t want a teeny-tiny bird image to get lost in a big landscape. His comment made me think about how bloggers need to do something similar.

A photo in which a hawk is a tiny speck won’t draw the viewer’s eye. Similarly, a blog post that deals in generalities, and fails to get specific, will lose readers.

Hawks and financial bloggers

What might this mean for a financial blogger?

For example, you can’t cover all of international investing—the entire “sky”—in a single blog post. Instead, focus on one “hawk,” such as the role of non-US stocks in a portfolio or how developed-market stocks differ from emerging-market stocks.

Need help finding the hawk in your blog post?

If you have a hard time finding the focus of your blog posts, you’ll benefit from my blogging class for financial advisors, investment and wealth managers, and the professionals who support them. Check out “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Lesson Class for Financial Advisors.”