In this, my first blog post of 2015, I want to talk about blogging and offer some tips for those new to blogging in the Tableau or Alteryx community.
Last year I wrote 40 blog posts, spread across this site and The Information Lab blog. I covered a range of subjects, from simple visualisations through to explainers of specific functionality, e.g. Tableau permissions, I also wrote a few opinion / commentary pieces. I’ve also just started a new site to host my more specific “BI and the Business User” blog posts. All this adds up to a lot of words, and I’ve learnt a lot, so here’s some of my top tips for blogging in the Tableau or Alteryx space.
(image by Alex Martinez – click for details / licence)
Do it for the love of it This is the single most important tip, if you read no further please take this in. If you don’t feel it – don’t post it.
Don’t start blogging for any reason other than because you enjoy it. Blogging because you want to be the next Tableau Zen Master or the next Alteryx ACE, because you want to change careers, or even because you want to impress that hot girl you saw at TCC isn’t going to work in anything but the short term. You’ll soon lose your fizzle, the time between posts will get longer and sooner rather than later you’ll stop. Unless you are very, very single minded then I guarantee this will happen, and you’ll be disappointed with yourself for trying.
Likewise with a given post; don’t post to get views or retweets, or likes, just post what interests you, the rest will come as a result of that.
Blogging shouldn’t be a chore, you’re choosing to spend your spare time doing it after all, if it’s a chore go and do do something else – you owe yourself that.
Don’t Set Targets Targets will be unhelpful when you start blogging, and may cause you to feel undue pressure to post to meet the targets you’ve set. How do you know you will have enough time to post, say once a week, before you’ve tried? Believe me it’s harder than it sounds.
Instead of setting targets then just post when you have time (or when you have made time), and keep a backlog of subjects to ensure you make the most of that time.
Keep a notebook for subjects A virtual or physical notebook can really help record all those ideas you have for blogs. Those tips you come across in the course of a day in your work, or in a conversation with a colleague or twitter friend, need quickly recording so they don’t get lost. Sometimes a series will pop out naturally from this backlog, and you can string together a set of posts, other times you’ll find yourself with a spare 30 minutes and be able to pick a short subject and get a draft done there and then. Unless you record your ideas then those opportunities can go begging.
I currently have about 20 ideas stored away, some will never get written, some I plan to write about next week, others will probably be written by others before I find time. Before I started recording them I’d find I’d sit down to write a blog and wonder what to write about.
Think carefully about where the time will come from I estimate that on average I probably spend a day in total on each of my blogs, some have taken significantly more, others much less but roughly it’s probably a day. From the inception of an idea, to building a viz or module, through tidying and making it public, and then writing the actual text for the blog (not to mention proof-reading and editing) there’s a lot of work. So for me that’s about 40 posts x 8 hours = 320 hours of work over the last year – that’s about 6 hours a week.
I’m fortunate that I also blog for work and so some of those hours can happen in my working day, but more often than not even the “work” blogs are done in my personal time (after all I enjoy it). Therefore you have to find time in your week to fit in those hours – for me that’s on trains or in hotels, or while my wife is out in the evenings. Everyone is different but try and think about where your time will come from; I know some people blog in their lunch hours, others on their daily commute, I imagine others are doing it off the side of their desks at work. Regardless of where you find the time then be sure to acknowledge it needs to be spent, there’s no shortcut.
If that time is coming out of your family time then I’d also recommend you speak to your partner and explain your motivation – if you’re partner isn’t from the community they’re unlikely to understand why you’re spending time away from them to write a blog post.
Get social You’re going to need readers from somewhere. “Build it and they will come” doesn’t work if no-one can find it. So do some signposting. Get a twitter account and start posting links to your own posts, as well as other blogs you read – that way other’s won’t think twice about retweeting your content.. Don’t be afraid to share several posts through the day either, individual tweets can quickly get lost and you need to cater for different timezones. Google+, Linked In and Facebook are also great ways to connect and share your posts.
You don’t need a niche, but it helps For the last year I’ve blogged about anything and everything, whether I have expertise or not I’ve felt I can still offer something by sharing my thoughts. This approach has worked for me, but after 40 posts in the last year I’ve started feeling that a bit more specialism might help me focus, I’ve noticed other bloggers that the same approach too, moving from general to specialist over time.
Having a “specialism” (not necessarily one you’re expert in, more just a specific subject) helps you find your space in the community. Consider your likes and passions, look at what other’s post and look for gaps. Finding that specialism can help you stand out and give your readers a reason to seek you out on specific subject areas.
Craft blog posts around any community themes Your posts will get extra attention if you use current affairs, or post around the specific themes in the community, e.g. if it’s Tableau Politics Month then a Viz and post around politics is clearly going to get more publicity from the Tableau Public team.
Use your page stats All blogging platforms will give you information on your views and most popular posts, so use that information. What worked well, what didn’t. Be critical and analyse the posts – make sure you learn something.
Did you share your post on twitter on a particular day / time? Did you get a retweet from a specific person? Did your subject tie in with a given theme? Is it a particularly useful tip you wrote about? Whatever the stats tell you worked then do more of it! Likewise if something didn’t get many views then use it as a learning experience, or simply ask other bloggers – they’ll be more than happy to offer hints and tips and some friendly critique.
Revel in the rewards If you followed my first tip, and you’re doing it for the love of it, then that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy all those views, retweets and feedback you’ll get. The communities we blog in are some of the greatest around, and all content is welcomed, from beginners to the experienced and you’re sure to get some shares and feedback.
For me this is the lifeblood of the whole experience, those retweets and mentions help justify what I enjoy, and give me motivation to keep writing about the things I enjoy the most.
Enjoy it! Walk to your local coffee shop, grab a wedge of cake; head to the local pub and grab a beer; or head to your office with a glass of wine. Whatever works for you. However I cannot stress enough that blogging shouldn’t be a chore.
What motivates you to blog? What works for you? Do you have a schedule, or like me do you blog when you find time? I’d love to hear your thoughts.