How to use personas in blogging

Mannequins

Putting a face on your readers with personas can improve your blog and content marketing efforts. (Source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/499007)

Many marketers use personas to help them better understand their customers and design products and marketing campaigns that will be attractive to those customers. You can use them to improve your blog or other content marketing efforts — podcasts, videos, white papers and so forth.

What is a persona?

A persona is a fictional character used to better understand the desires, goals and motivations of some set of potential customers.

If you’re running a blog about weight loss, you might use personas to understand the differences between a 19-year-old woman and a 47-year-old man when it comes to losing weight. Chances are they have different motivations, different values and different circumstances in their day-to-day lives. Rather than treating those two sets of customers the same, personas allow you to clearly fix in your mind how each group is distinctive and will likely seek different information as they explore weight loss solutions.

Properly constructed personas are built off extensive research, which could include interviews, spending time with people in their day-to-day lives and collecting statistics about a target group of customers. If you have the resources for that sort of research, then you have a huge advantage compared to your competitors. But even if you don’t, you can still use personas to rough out some basic ideas about different audiences.

You can still consider all the people you know in real life who are representative of potential readers. That can help you define personas based on interactions and communication you’ve had with real people.

Also note that you can have multiple personas for a single brand, product or service. Different groups of people may purchase the same product for different reasons. Effective marketing communications will still take into account the needs, aspirations and values of these different personas in creating an overall marketing plan.

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Why you (or others) should make time for social media

Train

Don't miss the train on social media. (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1106949)

Have you heard these lines?

“There’s so much noise and clutter out there, it seems as though social media hasn’t really matured enough to be a useful tool.”

“Social media’s fine for some industries, but not ours.”

“I just don’t have time for social media.”

Or perhaps the line is some variation on one these. There are still plenty of professionals out there who don’t think social media is that important. If you’re trying to convince someone who says these kinds of things, here are five arguments to help you.

1. Isn’t networking important to you? I would imagine there are very, very few professionals in any field who would say networking with others in their field isn’t important to them. Explain to them that social media sites are a tool to network online, and that you can network more efficiently and with more people through social media than you can with traditional methods. That doesn’t mean you should completely abandon phone calls, luncheon meetings and industry events, but social media can be a powerful tool for your professional advancement.

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How to strengthen your relationships

Handshake

Have you reached out and touched people in your network lately? (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/616726)

In social media it’s easy to get caught up in mechanical ideas of what building and maintaining relationships is about. Are you pinging your network regularly? Are you sharing content, creating value? Are you thanking people? In marketing, we start quantifying these things: How many tweets, how many retweets, how many followers or subscribers or fans?

And that’s fine. Except that it’s all just a way of dancing around the real issue: relationships.

I got an email last week from an old acquaintance (which I haven’t returned yet — sorry Jamie, I will). We’re connected via LinkedIn and she wrote to tell me what was going on with her life and to ask what was going on with mine. She said that she was trying to do a better job this year of connecting with her network. Good for her.

All of us should steal that idea and do the same. It’s not numbers of friends, followers or subscribers that are ultimately important, it’s relationships. That’s why it’s called social media, and that’s where its power lies.

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How to budget time for social media

Hour glass

You have limited time - use it wisely when it comes to social media. (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1068015)

One of the challenges of social media is how to manage the amount of time that you could put into these activities. How much time, and how exactly you spend that time, will end up being a little different for everyone depending on your goals and strategy.

Here’s a framework to help you budget your time. This is especially helpful for personal branding and networking activities, where it’s harder (or seems harder) to just carve hours out of your workday for these activities.

Content creation

Do you blog? Do you write articles or white papers or create presentations that you share on Slideshare? What about podcasting? Creating original content can help you establish a brand and demonstrate your expertise and knowledge. It’s a very powerful strategy, and if you choose to use it you’ll want to set aside some time to focus on it.

  1. How much content do you want to produce each week or month?
  2. How much time do you need to devote to produce that content? How many hours is that each week and each day, on average?
  3. When will you put in that time? During your lunch hour? In the early mornings or late at night? On the weekends? Decide when and put it on your calendar.

In my case I’m probably averaging about 10 hours a week on blogging right now. You don’t have to spend that much time, but consistency is important.

Listening and reading

It’s important to keep up with what’s going on in your industry — reading blogs, articles and books, listening to podcasts, and generally keeping up with new ideas and conversation. How much time you spend on this will vary depending on your industry and goals.

Accountants need to keep up with the latest tax law changes. Doctors have to try to plough through stacks of medical journals. I try to keep up with the flood of books on social media that are being published and the many, many blogs on the subject. Since it’s so easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information available, it’s a good idea to decide how much time you want to spend on this.

  1. What do you need to keep up with? Books, blogs, professional journals, other sources?
  2. How many hours per week will you devote to this?
  3. When will you keep up with these? At night before you go to sleep? Can you listen to podcasts and audiobooks on your iPod on the way to work?
  4. Do you have a system to bring the most relevant content to your attention? Google alerts? RSS feeds? Some of the tips in this post on finding and sharing great content can help.

Conversation

Of course, social media isn’t very social if you’re not talking. That could include sharing content you find, responding to others in a variety of social media channels (including commenting on blogs), and even reaching out to people via email to connect offline. It also is the tool that allows you to turn mere online connections into actual relationships (whether they’re weak or strong).

1. What social media channels are most important for you? Twitter, Facebook, a specialized social media network on Ning or a forum devoted to your industry?

2. How much time will you spend on these channels? An hour a day? Three hours a week?

3. When will you spend that time? In short 15-minute bursts throughout the day? In a longer, more concentrated period a few times each week?

More tips

All of us have a limited time and energy, but the vast world of social media can suck up an enormous amount of that if we’re not careful. So here are some tips to manage that.

Focus. You probably have limited time, at best a few hours a days, to devote to this. So concentrated on the 20 percent of tools/sites/strategies that are going to yield 80 percent of your results. For me, these days, that means Twitter, writing blog posts and reading blog posts and books get most of my attention.

Be realistic. Don’t sketch out a plan that calls for 30 hours a week (almost a full-time job) of work on this, and then find out a month into it that’s it’s just too much. It’s better to start out with very modest ambitions. As you become more fluent with the tools, you’ll be able to increase your productivity by becoming more efficient and integrating these tools into your life.

Consider the rest of your life. If you’re going through a really busy period at work, going on vacation or caring for a sick family member, some of these actvities may temporarily take a back seat. That’s OK. Don’t burn yourself out or disregard other priorities just for the sake of keeping up with some ideal social media time budget.

Got ideas or questions on how to budget your time for social media? Please share them in the comments below.

How to figure out your blog’s USP

Tulips for sale

It takes more than beauty to stand out. (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/942854)

There are a lot of blogs out there. You’ve got to wonder — what makes your’s different? Why should anybody read it? If you don’t know the answer to that question, then your readers may have trouble figuring it out as well.

You need a USP — a unique selling proposition. Marketers develop USPs all the time for products and services. The USP helps define precise why a potential customer would choose that product or service over all the others. If you can define the USP for your blog, you’ll do a better job of persuading more people to read it and getting more people to subscribe or give you their email addresses.

Developing a USP is tough, but here are some questions to consider to get you thinking about it.

Your market

The first thing to do is to consider the market that you’re in.

What’s your market niche, topic or industry? What subject area are you focusing on? If you’re not focusing on a particular topic or theme (or at least restricting yourself to handful) it’s going to be a lot harder to define what value your blog delivers to some particular group of people.

What are others in your niche doing? Reading lots of other blogs in your niche and figuring out what they’re doing can be a bit depressing. The first time you do this, you might come to the conclusion that other bloggers are already doing everything that could be done. There may be folks writing about breaking news in your niche, some providing tutorials for beginners, others providing strategic guidance for advance practitioners. But keep looking and thinking. What’s not being done?

You

Once you’ve got a good grip on your market, it’s time to think about you (or, in the case of a company or organizational blog, your organization). You need to figure out what makes you unique, as that will probably figure into your USP.

What experiences — jobs, education, hobbies, attitude, values, experiences, nationality, skills, etc. — are you bringing to your blog? Imagine a group of new bloggers writing about fitness and weight loss. One’s a doctor, and knows how to find and cite the latest scientific evidence. Another is a fire fighter, and can talk about the challenges of eating right and exercising while working a stressful job. And another is a devout Christian, and can write about how fitness, nutrition and weight loss fit in with spiritual values and practices. Different backgrounds, and, I’m sure, different blogs.

What are you really good at? What are the things that you do that people in your life tell you you’re good at? Do any of those apply or relate in any way to your niche? (And if they don’t, do you need to reconsider your niche?) How can you bring that skill to bear on your blog? How can that skill be reflected in the content you create?

What fascinates you? A big part of a successful blog is passion and energy. Bring that to the table, and your writing will shine a little brighter, your posting schedule will be more frequent and the quality of your content will be higher. How can you incorporate what really fascinates you into your blog?

Your USP

Answer all those questions above (and maybe a few more that might occur to you along the way) and you might start to get a clearer idea of what your USP is. Here are a few more thoughts to help you crystallize your USP.

Can you combine two (or more) different elements (perhaps two parts of your background) to create a unique new persona? How about a Buddhist MBA productivity blogger, for example? Though someone probably has that one already tied up.

Is there a certain type of content not being provided (or not provided well) in  your niche? Interviews, tutorials, data analysis? What’s not being done that you could do?

Can you bring a particular style or attitude to your blog? If all the other blogs in your niche are sincere and heartfelt, bring some humor to the niche.

Is it unique and will it sell? Finally, once you start to get an idea of what your USP could be, ask yourself: Is it unique and will it sell? You want to be honest with yourself here, though not so hard on yourself that you give up. But if your USP is not unique or it won’t sell, then you don’t have a USP. Back to the drawing board.

Have you successfully created a USP for your blog? If so, how did you go through the process? What tips do you have? Please share them in the comments below.

Changing my approach to Facebook

Note: As I’ve mentioned previously, I challenged myself to write 30 posts in 30 days. I’ve not been as consistent with my blogging as I would have liked, so I’ve got to get a lot of blog posts published in the last couple of days. So, you’ll see several more posts than normal in the next couple of days. On Feb. 17, I’ll return to a normal schedule of three to five times per week. Please bear with me. Thanks!

Last year, I wrote a post called Why I’m becoming more promiscuous online, which explained my personal approach to social media and networking. Re-reading that, my philosophy and approach to social media hasn’t changed much, but I am making a tweak to it. I’m going to close off my personal Facebook account to people I don’t have some sort of real relationship with. Later this week, I’ll start unfriending people who I don’t know in real life or haven’t had some sort of interaction with. Here’s why.

Lately, I’ve started getting more and more friend invitations on Facebook from people I just don’t know. In some cases, they are friends with someone else I know, so there’s a chance I could run into them in my day-to-day life. In some cases, we don’t have any friends in common. I think some of them come from this blog. I’ve had my Facebook link posted prominently (the icon over on the right) for a while, in the last few weeks readership here has gone up dramatically. Some of those new readers have asked to connect on Facebook (and in some cases, I have).

But something else has happened in the last few months, also. My personal interactions and communications — information about my kids, my family and my connections to them — has increased. More relatives have connected with me online, and a lot of my Facebook activity has become more personal. I’m not feeling as comfortable about having that open to anyone who comes along. So with Facebook I’m altering my “promiscuous” approach and becoming more conservative.

The new MarkTzk.com fan page on Facebook

Still, I know a lot of people I might encounter online will still be interested in opportunities to interact on Facebook. So I’ve set up a Facebook fan page for that. The Facebook icon over in the right-hand column of this blog already points to it. I’m afraid there’s not much there yet, but I’ll start to gradually populate it with content over time, and I hope it becomes another place where we can talk about the topics and issues that this blog covers. I also plan to treat it as a kind of laboratory for experiments with Facebook marketing and Facebook fan page customization.

My LinkedIn and Twitter accounts will remain very open, so I’d still love to connect with you there. And if you know me from someplace other than this blog, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll remain friends on Facebook. See you at the fan page.

Dear email marketers – why don’t you love me anymore?

Heart

Your unthinking emails could wash away my affection for you. (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1089948)

Dear Email Marketers,

I have to admit, in the beginning I was really infatuated with you. You had a cool web site with lots of great content. You had obviously spent a lot of time developing it, and it seemed like you were going to be pumping out more great content in the future. All you wanted was my email address. I wasn’t sure, but then there was that special offer: the enticing free ebook, discounts, special offers just for me. So I took the plunge and signed up for your email list. What the heck, I figured, you seem legitimate, and legitimate email marketers would honor a future unsubscribe request. And if that didn’t work, I could always mark you as spam.

At first it was good. You sent me updates, new content, emails that were genuinely useful and interesting. But over time, your ardor seemed to fade. The emails got shorter, the copy less engaging and less interesting. It seemed like, more and more, all you wanted me to do was click on that link and go read a sales page, watch an over-the-top promotional video or buy something else with my 15% off coupon (which isn’t so special when you’re sending me one every week). The interesting, engaging content that had attracted me at first? It was no longer there.

And then it got worse. I started getting these really short emails – “Hey, Mark, you’ve got to check out this link.” No explanation, no detail, nothing. Too often the link led to just another sales page.

Then there was the “Whoops, I made a mistake in yesterday’s email and sent the wrong link. Here’s the right one.” Yeah, right – that’s just another come on.

Or worst of all, the “keep this a secret.” Even though I know you’re sending the same email to many other people. C’mon, we both know there’s no secret. Do you really think that old copy writing trick fools anyone?

And about those subject lines carefully crafted to look as though they come from a friend. Sometimes they start with a “RE:” at the beginning to make it seem as though you’re replying to something I sent, or they have proper nouns spelled with lowercase letters to make it seem more casual. Do people really fall for that? Listen, as soon as I saw your email address, I knew you were a marketer, not a close personal friend.

That’s not all. Sometimes you sent me these emails that had nothing but images in them. Don’t you realize my email programs automatically block those images? I couldn’t even guess what you might be sending me without hitting that download images button. I admit, I’m in a hurry and I’ve got a lot of other email to get through, so sometimes I don’t bother. The email was never read.

And those emails from the upscale office supply company whose products I love? Lately, those have seen really cluttered. Too many pictures of too many products. What are you trying to sell me? The pens, the purses, the new line of notebooks? Don’t you know that most of what I’ve bought from you, and most of what I’m interested in, are the notebooks and paper? Why are you distracting me with all those things I’m not interested in?

What’s wrong, email marketer. Don’t you care about me anymore? Why aren’t you making an effort.

What, you don’t know how? OK, then, I’ll tell you what I really want:

1. Interesting, useful content — right in your email. Sure, I’m not always going to click through to your web site, though I know that’s what you really want, but at least I’ll continue to pay attention to your emails, and maybe click through another time.

2. Offers that are actually related to my interests. You already know them, don’t you? After all, I’ve bought things from you before, and you got my email address during those transactions. Please don’t make me go hunting through your promotional emails for what I really want.

3. Honesty. Drop the “I made a mistake” and “Let’s keep it between us.” I know you’re trying to sell me something (which I’m OK with, if it’s a quality product that I’m interested in). But I hate the deceptive writing intended to somehow manipulate me into doing what you want.

4. Regular emails, but not too frequent. I’m busy, I get a lot of email, and sending me something everyday is just too much unless you’re providing great content.

5. Uniqueness. When you send me the same thing every time, the same discount or coupon, it just looks like you’re not trying. And quite frankly, it’s boring. Why don’t you mix it up a bit and come up with some new ideas? That would get my attention.

I unsubscribed from some emails today — I wasn’t getting anything from them. But maybe that won’t happen to you. I want what I once got — engaging, relevant content. Maybe you’ll make some changes before it’s too late.

Sincerely,

Mark the Customer

p.s. Dear reader — What do email marketers need to do better to woo you? Leave your ideas in the comments.

Five tips for better tweeting

Twitter headerOf all the social networks I’m a part of, Twitter is probably the one that gets most of my attention right now. I arrange meetings and phone calls through it, meet new people and reconnect with old friends, have fielded new business requests and reached out to journalists and other influencers. It is truly a powerful tool.

After sending more than 2,300 tweets, here are five tips that I think are likely to make your Twitter experience better for you and for the people following you.

1. Shout out. If you’re sharing someone’s blog post, take an extra minute to find the writer’s Twitter ID and then give that person credit in your tweet. The writer will appreciate knowing that you’re sharing his or her post, and you may get an opportunity to start a conversation with someone new.

2. Leave enough room for people to RT. I am still surprised by how few people pay attention to this, but it’s important if you want people to RT you. Don’t use 140 characters, aim for 120 or so.

3. Use a Twitter client. I like Hootsuite, and Tweetdeck for a close second, on a computer. On my Blackberry I’m using Ubertwitter. But you can use whatever you like (there are lots of options listed here). Most Twitter clients simply provide a better, richer experience than Twitter by itself does.

4. Be consistent, at least somewhat. Better to show up, at least for a tweet or two, on most days, than to be absent for days or weeks at a time. A little day-to-day consistency goes a long way in building up real relationships online.

5. List yourself in Twitter directories. There are a number of directories, such as Twibes and Twello, and you have a better chance of finding people with similar interests (and being found by them) if you list yourself in these directories. Search Google for Twitter directories or start with the list here.

Have some other tips? Please share your favorite Twitter tricks, tips and tactics in the comments.

How to get people (or at least me) to follow you back on Twitter

I’ve recently been bumping up against the follower limits that hit when you start following 2,000 or more people on Twitter. As I understand it, once you’re following 2,000 or more, Twitter limits the maximum number of people you can follow to the number of people who follow you plus roughly 10 percent. So if you’re following 1,999 people and 1,800 people are following you — no problem. But once you’re following 2,000 people, you can’t follow any more because 1,800 plus 10 percent is equal to 1,980. To follow more, you’ve got to have more people following you. I don’t know if that 10 percent figure is precise, but it seems to be in the right place.

What that has meant is that some folks recently followed me that I couldn’t follow back, at least immediately, until my follower numbers were higher. So I started to work through this barrier by identifying Twitter accounts I could unfollow, freeing up spots for new followers. I also have been looking more selectively at the accounts following me before deciding to follow them or not.

I am basically inclined, out of courtesy and to open up the opportunities for meeting new people and having new interactions, to follow back anyone who follows me (I’m @marktzk on Twitter). But I am not following back everyone. Here are some of the reasons I might not be following you back (and if a lot of people are not following you back, chances are this applies to them, too).

1. You don’t tweet in English. Sorry, I’m monolingual. I’m not proud of it, and I would like someday to gain fluency in a second language, but it’s not happening right now. If I can’t understand what you’re saying, there’s not much point in following you.

2. There are a lot of affiliate links or ads in your tweet stream. I don’t mind you occasionally trying to make a buck through Twitter, but please do it occasionally, not frequently, and do it in a way that seems to fit in organically with whoever you are and whatever you tweet about it.

3. All your tweets are links to news and other web items. Sharing is good. Doing nothing but broadcasting stuff — basically hooking your Twitter account up to an RSS feed — is not so good. I’m looking for interaction and real human beings.

4. All your tweets are about you. Doing nothing but promoting your blog posts or nothing but making random comments about your life is just not that interesting. Those are both fine to include as part of your tweet stream, but I am looking for some evidence that if I follow you we might have a chance to interact at some point.

5. You don’t converse. Based on looking at your tweet stream, you never @reply or have conversations, you don’t retweet and you don’t seem to interact with others. All of your tweets are one way. Increasingly, I look to Twitter for interaction, sharing and at least the possibility of new relationships. In other words, if all I see is the behavior in numbers 2,  3 and 4 above.

6. You haven’t tweeted recently, or you only tweet rarely (once a week or less). Again, in my eyes this makes it less likely that we’ll have a chance to interact, so this is not good.

7. You’re account looks like it was set up to spam people. You don’t have a picture in your profile, there’s no link to someplace (a LinkedIn profile, at least?), or you have few or no tweets yet you’re following a lot of people. This makes you look like a spammer in the making, and I won’t go there.

On the other hand, the following things make more more likely to follow you.

1. You converse with people online. I’m looking for @replys, retweets and the like in your tweet stream. If I see them, no matter what else, I am much more likely to follow you back. Obviously, as you can tell from above, this is a big one for me.

2. You are (or could be) a part of my community offline. That might mean you live close to me (in the same state), or you work in the same industry (PR/marketing) or you have something in common with me that’s apparent in your bio or tweet stream (you’re a writer a or you share an alma mater with me, for example). Also, if I already know you in real life, than there’s a very good chance I’ll follow you.

3. You have retweeted or #FF’d me. Hey, I’m a sucker for flattery and attention, just like anybody else. So long as it doesn’t look you’re doing this purely for spammy reasons, I’m much more inclined to follow you if you do this. It’s just plain old reciprocity, one of the fundamental drivers of human social behavior.

4. You’ve replied to something I tweeted. Even if I wasn’t following you, you replied to something I tweeted. Maybe to comment on it, add something helpful or just say ‘thanks for tweeting that link.’ Whatever the case, this kind of personal communication lets me know that you’re into Twitter as a conversation platform, and that there’s a good possibility we’ll be able to interact.

I don’t have hard and fast rules about who I follow or don’t follow. But these are the factors, positive and minus, that usually go into my decision. How do you decide who to follow on Twitter? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

12 things to do when you don’t feel like blogging

Cat

Don't resort to cat blogging. (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1244985)

This is another one of my occasional posts on what to do when you don’t feel like blogging.

1. Update your bio/about page. If you’ve been doing this for any length of time, chances are it’s out of date. You should also make sure that you’re including everything there that’s going to help reinforce your brand and (if it’s a personal blog) establish your authority and expertise.

2. Develop a list of non-content tweaks to improve your blog. Chances are, you’ve got a widget or a plug-in you’ve been meaning to add to your blog, or a design tweak that you haven’t gotten around to. If you’re not going to create new content (the most important thing you can do), then figure out what else you could do to improve your blog.

3. Make one (or more) of your list of non-content improvements. If you already have a list of potential blog improvements, or you’ve made one, now is the time to start implementing those. Decide which is most important, and implement that.

4. Add more social media sites to your Ping.fm account. Ping.fm is a cool service that allows you to send updates to all sorts of social media, chat and social bookmarking sites at once. That makes it easy, when you publish a new post, to spread it to all sorts of networks. You still have to sign up for individual accounts at these sites, but Ping.fm automates the process of posting to some or all of them at once. Hint: You can also tie Ping.fm into your Hootsuite account, so Hootsuite updates it — if that makes sense for you.

5. Create a notebook with all the important records related to your blog. If you’re not keeping track of all your passwords, business records and other information related to your blogging and social media activity, it’s easy to find yourself hitting that “I’ve forgotten my password” link too often. I use 3×5 cards in a little plastic box (about $2 from an office supply store) to keep track of this information.

6. Brainstorm ideas for the next time you do blog. Sometimes taking the pressure off yourself of actually writing a full blog post can be freeing, and you may find new ideas flowing.

7. Leave smart, relevant comments on other blog posts. If you’re like me, you’re already blogging, keeping up with social media networks and digesting a torrent of incoming email, RSS feeds, ebooks and paper books. Commenting is something you probably don’t do as often as you should. Blogs with CommentLuv installed or that use Do Follow links can be particularly helpful for SEO purposes.

8. Check out other blogs in your niche, and figure out how to get a guest post on one of them. Guest posting can boost your search engine visibility, bring you new readers and give more credibility to your reputation and brand. Step one is to figure out where you’d like to guest post.

9. Look at your blog with a browser you don’t normally use and fix any design problems that show up. If you habitually use one browser (I recommend Firefox), you might be surprised what it looks like in Internet Explorer (various versions), Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome or the Opera browser (all of these, except Internet Explorer, come in versions for both Mac and Windows machines). You might also want to consider making your site better for mobile browsers. Here’s a set of WordPress plug-ins to help you do that.

10. Do something totally different to get inspired. Exercise, visit a museum, play with your children or read a thriller. Sometimes your brain needs a rest or a change of direction.

11. Proofread old posts. You’d be surprised at how many grammar and spelling errors could be hiding in old posts. Go read some of that older content and fix any mistakes. After the Deadline is a WordPress plugin (there’s also a Firefox add-on version) to help you find and correct those errors.

12. Blog anyway. If you’ve committed to posting regularly, don’t let your feelings (which are probably temporary) dictate your actions. If you’re feeling blocked, read my post on eight ways to overcome writer’s block.

What do you do when you just don’t feel like blogging? Leave your tips in the comments.