December 15, 2014 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
Adorning the tubes and wires of the Internet you will find many excellent posts on the importance of knowing your blog’s target audience.
Often these are focused on businesses with a product to sell. That’s not to say they have nothing to offer authors (who, after all, clearly have product), or someone blogging for more personal reasons, as I am. Having been a freshman composition teacher in a previous life, I’ve seen plenty of examples of writing in which the audience is either vaguely defined or nonexistent. I will admit it can get ugly.
All the same, as my first year of weekly blogging comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on what this year has taught me. And in the Spirit of Contrariness (for the Ghost of Christmas Past has not seen fit to visit me), I offer you four excellent reasons to forge ahead without knowing who you have in the crosshairs:
1. You just need to get started.
This is my second blog, and I began it like the first, with no plan for sustained output. Not until this year did I make a promise to myself to blog weekly.
Before that there were several months of trying to plan.
I wanted to do it right this time. So I read up on blogging. The message I kept getting was that the way to provide unique value was to find a niche and a target audience that needed my expertise. The only problem was that none of the things I was interested in writing about were things I considered myself an expert in.
Frankly I had no idea who would want to read what I wrote. I knew some people liked my writing and my storytelling, found it moving, familiar, and occasionally funny. I wanted more readers like that. I knew I needed the discipline of regular, intentional writing. And I knew I didn’t want to hide my work in a drawer.
To begin, begin. – William Wordsworth
And you thought Yoda said that. Nope, it was that august Romantic and Poet Laureate whose poem about daffodils you were forced to memorize in middle school.
Don’t hold it against him. He’s right. If you wait until you figure everything out, you will never post anything.
2. You’ll learn about your audience as you go.
In his online course in blogging at the Loft Literary Center, which I was fortunate enough to take in October, Patrick Ross made some connections between traditional essay writing and blogging. Drawing on the work of Phillip Lopate. Patrick reminded me of what I used to know about the meaning of that French word essayer, to try.
Approach a blog post like an essay writer might, as a dialogue with oneself. The very process of letting others into that dialogue teaches you about who is interested in the things you find worth writing about. Engaging in conversations, on your blog and on those of others that share your interest, teaches you about your audience, about what they find enjoyable, useful, or compelling.
3. You risk losing your voice.
At first, when you are trying to find your voice, you do not want to know too much about what others expect of you. It is more important to know clearly what you expect of you: what you are passionate about writing, why it matters to you. We all want recognition for what we do, but if we pay attention too early to what people think of what we say, it is often too easy to produce more of what wins approval. Even with work you’re not getting paid for, it’s possible to sell out.
4. The metaphor sucks.
Most of us use the phrase “target audience” without thinking much about it. But I suggest for a moment you do. In the crosshairs? Really?
Personally, I don’t want to fire off my posts as if my blog were a lethal weapon. I want my posts to connect with people, to resonate, to solve a problem, to be useful or meaningful in some way. I’m guessing you do too.
To do this we cannot see our audience as a target at all. We must see them as a community, one in which we earn our place. They are hunting for something, as we are. They are not big game.