Getting into this online stuff: Part I - Blogging as the Industry Cocktail Party

I find myself talking to a lot of people about why I blog, why they should blog, what a blog is, what it isn't, etc...  I'll be doing that a lot more this spring as I'm teaching an undergraduate class at Fordham on the professional uses of blogging, social networks, and using discovery tools.  So, I decided to write a series of posts outlining the basics of participating in what's going on online right now...  from the why to the how. 

Most of the regular readers here already get this stuff, but this is the kind of post you give to your friend who doesn't blog, or to your boss who doesn't understand why your company should be blogging, or people who still have 1 LinkedIn contact or who don't use RSS.  This first post is for all the people I encounter who don't get blogging.   In future posts, I'll cover other important tools, like RSS, del.icio.us, and LinkedIn.

The word blog has been so overused that people are sort of immune to it now, thinking they know what blogging is all about and whether or not it is for them.  Here's the best way I can describe blogging "slightly professionally" to someone who doesn't get it.  When I say that, I mean that I blog about what I do because I'm passionate about it and want to connect with others in my field.  I don't do it as part of my job or specifically to pitch and sell products.

It's like a big industry cocktail party with an open bar.

1) So, first off, no matter what industry you're in, you can always fill a cocktail party given an open bar.  There are millions of blogs out there, so chances are, even if you're a clam shucker, there's a clam shucking blog out there for you.

2) Everyone is a little buzzed...a little loose.  That means they're feeling comfortable enough not to put on a front and willing to say something provocative every once in a while.  Plus, bloggers are usually  open to chatting it up with just about anyone.  No wallflowers here.

3) You can try to talk to everyone, but you won't remember any of the conversations or the people...best to find a handful of people you actually like connecting with and give them a little more time.  Start out reading a handful of blogs, giving thought to what they have to say, and commenting before you drink from the firehose.

4) Listen, don't wait to talk.  People focus too much about what they're going to say in their blog, but if everyone went into this party itching to get something said, it would probably be a pretty obnoxious, self centered crowd.  Try actually being interested in what the other person has to say first.

5) The conversation will stray.  Just because you're at an industry party doesn't mean that all you talk about is your job.  These are all people with interests, hobbies, passions...making for a unusually well rounded crowd.  So, if you're going to chat internet marketing with someone, you'll probably enjoy it more with the guy who also rockclimbs like you do.  And, chances are, in a crowd of web marketers, that person exists.

6)  Why would all these people be interested in what you have to say?  Well, they wouldn't, but that's not really the way you approach a cocktail party is it?  I hope not.  You don't stick your head up and shout over the crowd...you try to circulate among the crowd and sometimes the conversation sticks and sometimes it doesn't.  That's a good thing, though.  You only want the people sticking around who share interests.  You don't want bunch of people who feel obligated to read your blog but never have any useful response because they have no idea what you're writing about.  You don't need to talk to, and its almost impossible to talk to, 100 people at once at a cocktail party, and the best conversations are usually between two or three people.  Don't worry about your traffic.

7) If you don't like sharing your personal life, I'm sure that's not going to be a problem.  If you want to write about all your bad first dates, that's fine, but that's not the kind of blogging we're talking about.  Similarly, that's more the kind of conversation you might have at the after party, not in front of this industry party with your boss, your best client, and potential next client.

8)  Meet people that are going to help you enjoy the party, not people who you think you need to meet.  First off, the industry notables are going to get mobbed at a party like this, and they definitely do in the blog world.  Second, they're often not the most interesting people to talk to.  Don't you just get kind of sick of the way people fawn over the who's who?  Treat everyone like a who.

9)  Like a cocktail party, what you do outside of the blogging is a lot more meaningful than within the blog.  Some people are a lot better at working a party than they are at their actual job.  At the same time, though, I think you're a little bit limited in how well you can work a party if you aren't passionate about what you do, work hard to stay on top of your industry, etc.  That's going to show through at a cocktail party, and a blog.  People who "mail in" their jobs also tend to be boring bloggers and worse party guests.

10) And finally, following up after the cocktail party is how true networking comes to fruition.  Being a blogger who doesn't respond and interact with their audience is like a person who takes a lot of business cards and never gets in touch with people afterward... it is sort of a waste of everyone's time.