How to be a top political blogger

I was pleased and more than a little surprised to discover this blog among the Total Politics top green blogs for 2010, at number 14. The ranking, which is controversial because it’s presided over by a leading Conservative blogger, is based on the votes of 2,200 self-selected people, but I’m not sure what the question was.

According to Adrian’s foraging (congratulations Adrian for being 8th), according to Wikio Flesh is number 20. Wikio’s ranking is based on the number and weight of links to a blog (other than that the methodology is uncertain, but I have to thank Barkingside21, Weggis, and Bob, and (less, because they’re not listed by Wikio) Mod and Kellie (whom I’ve just submitted to Wikio and who will inevitably nudge me down, selfless creature I am). Update: also submitted The Poor Mouth – and how could I miss out Gordon’s GreenFeed?

But to get things in perspective, my blog has taken a tumble in the grand scheme of things. It’s been a while since the stats got above 3000 readers per month. Its Wikio ranking (general category – I’m not registered there as a political blog) of 724 in November 2009 has fallen to 1398 in August 2010. The pool is bigger and higher quality, for a start. Also work has been more demanding and I’ve also been getting out more, with a consequent drastic decline in the number of posts. Back in the bad old days when my trade union took a piss all over my sleep patterns I was writing 38 posts in a month. This year I haven’t posted 38 in 8 months. And ultimately, I’m too laid back about the ranking to change my behaviour. Long may this harmless self-indulgence endure, because in my case it’s a barometer of security.

But if my frustration and worry develop a sense of potential, and these things become acute enough to engender ambition, I know what I could do to improve my ranking. I’d need to become a political actor as well as member of the chatterati, and use the web-based medium to its fullest extent. Here’s how I’d do it (update: n.b. here’s how I mostly don’t do it):

  • Link frequently to fellow bloggers. Ambitious bloggers treat links as a currency. Unlike the snooty established media, bloggers are likely to link back.
  • Addition: in linking, attend to connections between your readers. Aim to be a node not a hub, so your network remains if you stop blogging tomorrow; act as a sort of socio-political glue.
  • Don’t just write for, or link to, people whose views you share. The most vulnerable ideas are the ones which are taken for granted and left unchallenged.
  • Filter blog i.e. select purposefully from the web and link to the most important things you’ve seen, organised into themes. As well as providing a public service, filter blogging is an acceptable (uningratiating) way to link copiously to fellow bloggers, as mentioned above. It is also more personal than it might at first appear, giving insights into your interests. It’s also a good use of your time. Filter blogging contrasts with original writing; it’s the equivalent of listening – particularly if you provide some contextualisation. Promoting listening on the Web is a good thing to do.
  • Use links as bait – they are a discreet and genteel way to ask a fellow blogger to read your post. Their clicks enhance your ranking. So as well as linking to them, click on your own links to them so that your visit appears in their stats.
  • Never stop posting – if taking a holiday, schedule posts while away.
  • Comment at other places and make the most of your adventures by directing your readers to the online discussions in which you’ve participated.
  • Acknowledge your commenters and treat each contribution as something permanent. Refer to them as works in their own right.
  • Attempt to start conversations.
  • Maintain concern for the events you write about; don’t abandon them as if they were old stories. A long attention span is an article of responsible journalism, and also related to listening. (It’s the most important thing I lack.)

The most open-eyed example I know of these practices is Bob From Brockley. I’m not sure to what extent he’s participating in this rankings game, but he is definitely nurturing a politics on the left and growing a readership is a necessary part of that. More power to him.

To continue:

  • Use the social web. Feed to and from other places frequented by your constituents, which these days include Facebook and Twitter.
  • Use the granularity of the web. Syndicate, assume that your feeds will be analysed and feed the entire post, not just a summary.
  • Post early and carefully on events of global interest, before the rest of the media get to them. Be alert on Sundays, high days and holidays.
  • Go out to observe goings-on of interest, and report what you have observed as accurately as possible. Tweet and harvest your tweets. Aggregate other tweets for triangulation with your own account. Reporting is the part of journalism in greatest need of democratisation, where the web has most to offer. One recent illustration is the reportage of the Californian wildfires; as the established media were glued to Beverley Hills, the people beneath their notice in the L.A. suburbs within reach of the flames suddenly woke up to Twitter.
  • Use a three column layout and position your sidebar widgets to communicate your assets: maintain a blogroll; show your blog’s most recent comments above the fold to encourage participation; show a smorgasbord of your most recent posts, publicise your accolades (e.g. Top 25 Green Blog).
  • Help people to read you: write really well; include a search engine; use keywords and categories intuitively if you want to be read as a resource, and consistently if you want to link to yourself as a resource.
  • Politics is about exposure, so blog broadly – in a resourceful rather than populist way. If you have diverse interests and your blog is a journal of your day-to-day endeavours as well as a campaign, Google will bring a diverse readership to stumble upon your other messages. Reviews, recipes, how-to guides, that kind of thing.
  • Title posts intriguingly and with search engines in mind.
  • Do interviews. Important people will consent to be amplified, and their importance will bring you readers. It’s a nice symbiosis. On the other hand, if you obtain the dizzy heights Norm has, you can give right-minded nobodies like me a leg up by interviewing them. Like Bob, Norm is also building on the left.
  • Addition: thinking about Barkingside 21 which is both local and high-ranked, commenting on local government initiatives and local goings-on is a valuable thing to do – not least because politics begins where you live. B21 is good at illustrating the distinction between local and particular.

At this stage I can’t say I’m as relaxed as I thought I was about the contrast between how much I know and how little I’ve enacted. Suddenly it seems like a missed opportunity  to be only ranked the 1398th blog in the land – particularly when there are bastards, arseholes, linguistic disasters and total menaces higher up than me, and hardly any women getting read. After I’ve retired perhaps I could be number one. Maybe I owe it to myself. Hey, maybe I owe it to the whole wide world, like L’Oreal says.

But for now I have some chores to do, the first of which is to go pick slugs off my pepper plants, the second of which is an hour of shorthand, on which I hope to post next. And then just another quick read of the web to confirm that I want to reopen nominations for the green leadership elections.

15 thoughts on “How to be a top political blogger

  1. What do you do with the slugs?

    Political blogging is very difficult, and you do a grand job. Keeping up with it must be very hard. My own blog is just a braindump, with draft posts dating back years describing actual things I actually did, whereas what gets published is dashed-off nostalgic fluff. (This is being remedied to a certain extent).

    Your blog has long been a model for the type of thing I wish I had the energy to keep up. It requires so much back-reading and -thinking!

    I salute and congratulate and miss you, and hope your peppers are delish.

    • Post slugs: not much – if they ramble, I truncate or reduce them. With the garden slugs you’re probably interested in whether I have killed some – I have. Not good. It’s far better to repel from your treasured things – copper coil collars at ground level, and breaking up the trail by hoeing work to an extent – and keep them around in general because they are good for returning nutrients in organic matter back to the soil.

      Thanks for what you said. I have a lot of drafts too, so can identify. And in turn I admire your sparkly writing, particularly the geekery.

    • You do this stuff already! I was simply taking stock (and I have a workshop to run soon and can draw on this list).

      Your blog already feeds – i.e. syndicates (a jargony word I didn’t mean to use) – and it feeds the entire post, though not the tags or categories.

      Granularity – thinking of the web as small pieces loosely joined – an aggregable and differently aggregable web of widgets and generated things (like the front pages of our blogs) which can be taken apart and selected from. You can pull feeds into your sidebars that way (as you do already with your blip). You can microblog in Twitter and show it in your main blog. You can collect other people’s twitter feeds into a single feed along with yours, and show that in your blog. And so on. A defining characteristic of Web 2.0 + is that it’s granular. The implication for political blogging being that you can’t expect people to read all your pieces in context before they form an impression of you, and so each piece needs to reflect you well…

  2. I’ll have a look for it.

    There’s an unusual filmed report on a Taliban unit that I came across here. Their humanity comes across very strongly, because of course they are human, but when you examine what they’re doing and their reasons for doing it, you realise they must be stopped, whether by persuasion or by fighting, or by cutting off resources.

  3. Pingback: Local News (dated) and Regular Reads « The New Centrist

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