If I am reading a blog about writing tips, I want to know that the author is a good writer, can recommend valuable 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 140 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. Establish a Publishing Schedule and Stick To It. 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. It is generally considered best practice to blog at least 3 times a week. 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.
2. Don't change the rules out of nowhere. 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 to subscribers. I immediately unsubscribed, I didn't like that a fee had suddenly been introduced out of nowhere, and I had gotten used to this particular information being offered for free. I would have preferred that the publisher had introduced an entirely new product or publication and charged a fee up front for that. I would have been much more likely to buy in.
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 There is nothing worse then clicking on a link and finding the page is missing or outdated.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 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. 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. I'm surprised at how many notable bloggers do not bother to brand their URL. 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 follow the rules of grammar/punctuation: I know this may sound like no fun, but sometimes it seems like just because writers find themselves in the blogosphere, they can suddenly make up all kind of writing rules. Many writers think that writing online is less formal then in print, and therefore typos and less then grammatical sentences are OK. While I'm all for being creative and have even made up a few words myself from time to time, such as "social media-ist," that's not the same as being careless about punctuation. 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, and particularly the misuse of "it's" versus "its." Yipes.
8. Use a strong and distinctive headshot for your social media profiles and any online activity you have, including avatars that appear with your blog posts, author photos that might accompany articles or guest blog posts, etc. It's important to stick with one photo as much as possible so you can keep your brand consistent, and so that viewers feel they can trust contacting you, friending you, and buying from you. What do I mean by a strong headshot? The quality should be clear and not blurred, you should look approachable, and your photo should reflect your true self -- whether that be more on the corporate side or even the funky side. Avoid busy backgrounds and keep your dress simple.
Did I miss anything? What tips have you found useful in establishing credibility with your audiences?