As any content creator knows, creating and maintaining a successful, engaging blog is a huge challenge. Bloggers are constantly plagued by the question: “How do I attract more readers and keep them coming back?” The answer to this question may lie in a two thousand year old text on military strategy — The Art of War, by the ancient military general Sun Tzu.
Sun Tzu and the Art of Strategic Blogging
Most people are familiar with Sun Tzu and his principles of deception and strategy. Many leaders, from Napoleon to Patton to top CEO’s in the country, use his wisdom to create successful empires. However, what most people don’t know is that these same principles lend great insights into how to create and maintain a successful blog. These principles make up what I call “strategic blogging.” I list them as follows:
- Follow your Way. For Sun Tzu, a strong general inspires his troops by leading them towards a single mission or vision — a spiritual goal that makes the fighting and hardships they must endure meaningful. This vision is what Sun Tzu calls “the Way.” Likewise, as a strategic blogger, you too must have a unique vision for your blog. What is it specifically that you want to accomplish with your readers? Do you want to inspire them? Educate them? Change their thinking or lifestyle? Whatever your vision is, the Way of your blog should always be geared towards helping readers create a better life for themselves.
- Know your audience and yourself. Sun Tzu writes: “Know your enemy and yourself and victory will be certain.” As a strategic blogger, you need to know who your audience is, what their needs are, and how you can best serve them. Are you writing for artists? Other bloggers? Entrepreneurs? Marketers? What information are they specifically looking for? What writing style are you strongest at (informative, personal, funny, reflective, etc.)? Find your natural style, find topics that your readers will be interested in, and go blog. Simple, yet direct.
- Avoid the strong, attack the weak. Sun Tzu says: “Just as the flow of water avoids high ground and rushes to the lowest point, so on the path to victory avoid the enemyâs strong points and strike where he is weak.” As a blogger, your content should be directed at hitting the audience where they are weakest — their uncertainty. In other words, it’s pointless to try to make someone aware of something that he or she already accepts as true — just as it’s equally pointless to try to convince someone of something he or she is dead against. Your best bet is to focus your message on what your audience is uncertain or neutral about.
For example, let’s say you’re an environmentalist blogger and you want to blog about different ways and reasons for going green. While most people agree that going green is good for the environment, they aren’t willing to disrupt their lives in order to do so. So providing information from the standpoint of how going green will “save” the environment will most likely not be effective. Instead, you must strike where people are weak: their self-interest. Most people know that going green is good, but what they don’t know is how going green will benefit them. Fortunately, going green is more a matter not of what you do, but of what you don’t do, or stop doing. The focus of the blog, then, could be showing people ways in which eliminating pollution-creating behavior (e.g. using the car, running the electricity, etc.) actually saves them money. This fulfills your goal of educating people while giving your audience a clear, strong benefit.
- Use deception. Let’s face it: your goals and your audience’s goals, at some point, diverge. Your audience wants to be either educated or entertained. You want more subscribers (or e-book sales, or speaking opportunities, etc.). Thus, in order to achieve your goals, you have to practice deception. As Sun Tzu tells us, “Deception is the Way of warfare.” Deception doesn’t mean “lying.” As a blogger, you should always be honest with your followers. This is how you build trust, rapport, and long-term relationships. Deception simply means hiding your objectives in such a way that you lure your target to help you achieve them.
For example, in the content marketing world, we use the 80/20 rule when it comes to providing content vs. selling: you should do 80% content, 20% selling. This means that only after you have provided valuable content should you provide a message concerning how your audience, by subscribing/purchasing/contacting, can better be helped. At the end of relevant posts, you should include a italicized message stating how you can help your audience further: “Want to know better ways to save money by going green? Purchase my new e-book…” Remember, though: only sell if you’ve provided valuable content. Your content is what is going to lure your audience — not your selling.
While these principles are by no means the end-all, be-all of strategic blogging, if you follow them consistently, I promise you will achieve incredible results. Now go out and establish your blogging empire!