If I am reading a blog about writing tips, I want to know that the author is a good writer, can recommend good resources and links, and has a strong online presence. In other words, that they are credible. It's the same logic as meeting someone new at a social gathering - when people begin to tell us too much information, we get a bit uncomfortable, and suddenly talking about the weather isn't such a bad idea. When meeting new people, or even people I've known for a while - I don't need to know what they had for breakfast, or if they got stuck in traffic, or if they have a headache and are going to bed early - all information revealed more often than not through Twitter and other social networking tools which make it easy to tell one's life story, even if only in 14o characters.
So, how to establish online credibility? Much the same way as you would in person...do what you say you are going to do, and be consistent.
1. Publish with regularity. If you have a blog, don't post one entry one week and 4 entries the next, it will appear inconsistent to your readers and they won't know what to expect from you. Once you establish a schedule, stick to it, and be realistic about it. This is more important that posting for the sake of posting. Similarly, if you have an e-newsletter, establish a schedule that is realistic and stick to it. Monthly is the minimum timeframe in which to communicate with your audience via e-news. Also, be careful not to overcommunicate. Daily e-mail posts are too frequent for most people, and they are typically too short to be of value. It is generally considered best practice to blog at least 3 times a week.
2. Don't change the rules. I recently signed up for a writing tips e-news blast. After a few weeks, the publisher decided that she was suddenly going to charge $6.00 for subscribers to receive this. I immediately unsubscribed, not because of the fee, but because I could find the same information elsewhere for free, and I didn't like that a fee had suddenly been introduced out of nowhere.
3. Double-check your links and resources. There is nothing worse then clicking on a link and finding the page is missing or outdated. Also, it gives the appearance that you the publisher are not paying attention to your own content.
4. Include strong graphics: I receive many excellent blogs and newsletters, but I have to admit that those with good graphics tend to hold my attention better. For one thing, they help break up the text. For another, they can provide insight as to the personality of the publisher. Dosh dosh, for example, always had relevant and thought provoking graphics.
5. Don't multipurpose your subscriber list: Make sure you are sending your subscribers what they are asking for, and if not, you should have a good reason. Also, be careful about personalization in outgoing communications if you don't want a personalized response back. I recently received an e-mail sent to me directly from a colleague who was coming to my area in January and wanted to possibly work with me on a project. I e mailed him back as to what did he have in mind, only to find that this was a blanket e-mail sent to a list of those he knew in the entire western US! He embarrassed himself by admitting it was a group e-mail, and he lost credibility with me in that he should have sent me a direct e mail if he wanted to work with me. In this case, he would have been better off sending an announcement style communication rather than a personalized one.
6. Establish you own domain name: Many people hear of the importance of this, and it goes in one ear and out the other. When you have an extension on your URL that is not your own, it can confused your readers and also doesn't do much for your credibility. Most domain names are easily obtainable, and can be created so as to best reflect your business and purpose. It shows your readers that you are serious, and at the very least, makes it easier for them to remember your site name. On sites such as this one, blogger.com, you can get your own domain name for about$10 a year and only a few set up steps.
7. Proofread and be grammatical: Many writers think that writing online is less formal then in print, and therefore typos and less then grammatical sentences are OK. It is more important then ever when writing online to follow best practices, and to proofread consistently. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and with today's fast paced online environment, you can't afford to make mistakes. I have been surprised at the number of typos I have seen on the posts of well-established bloggers!
Did you recently have on online experience that made you unsubscribe, or feel that the publisher was not credible? Share your story here.