Blogging is a great way to spread health messages. Blogs are easy to find by web searching, they’re accessible and people are more likely to read them than pamphlets and textbooks. It’s easier for them to pass the message onto others, too. But how do you get people to read your blog and keep coming back to it? Your blog should be interesting and it only needs to be long enough and frequent enough to capture and keep your audience’s attention. Then, hopefully, they’ll share it with their friends. Some formats seem to have a particular attraction for people and one of the most popular is the list. So, here are 5 ways that you can attract readers and keep them interested.
- Easy reading isn’t like easy listening (it won’t do your head in).
Keeping the language plain and easy to read will help readers of all levels – kids as well as adults – to get into your blog. Good bloggers make what they write look easy to read, as well. It’s well presented on the page. The font is simple and the size is good – so you don’t have to strain to read it. Remember, people are busy. Most people will just skim the blog, so the “take home” has to be easy to pick up:
- Keep your language simple and fresh. Good grammar is important, but not at the expense of clarity.
- Write short sentences and paragraphs. Only make one point in each sentence, if possible.
- Make it easy to scan your blog page, with headers, bold text and changes in font size.
- Only repeat things for emphasis, to drive home a point. Try not to repeat the small things. People will get bored.
- Serious messages don’t have to be dry
Make your blog entertaining – try humour, but don’t try too hard. Just being entertaining could be enough to get your blog noticed, shared and even listed in Top 10 sites like Computer World’s Top 10 Blogs. Some blogs are simply entertaining with little or no factual content, like Dan Lyons’ Fake Steve Jobs blog. Dan Lyons’ blog is only mildly informative, but takes the top spot for its entertainment value. Others are more satirical. Two of my favourites are sardonic blogs by different NHS managers, who lampoon the senior management and politicians, who make their jobs so difficult. Check them out (and apologies for the British sensibilities): (might need a password for this one) NHS Networks Editor’s Blog and Roy Lilley’s Blog
It’s clear that these bloggers are sometimes just taking the…, I mean, it’s a massive …, they’re somewhat tongue-in-cheek. With a public health blog, though, you’ll probably want to strike the balance between keeping readers entertained and being taken seriously. You don’t want people to ignore your excellent, evidence-based, well thought out health advice, because you told one too many jokes. But don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself with humour, like The Body Coach’s videos of healthy eating recipes – Lean in 15. However, he keeps it straight on the regular blog. That way, readers know they can trust his expertise and take his messages seriously – http://www.thebodycoach.co.uk/blog.asp
On the other hand, Sarah Boseley’s global health blog for the Guardian has a serious tone, but is really informative: http://www.theguardian.com/society/sarah-boseley-global-health. Tell a story, like Sarah does – it helps readers to follow what you’re saying and feel connected to it. They’ll be more likely to follow you and share what you’ve written, if it strikes a chord with them.
- If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then…. why not use a lol-cat on your blog?
If you put pictures on your blog it will get more traffic. But does it matter what the pictures are of? Some health blogs and websites include pictures of people with the condition or anatomical drawings to illustrate their points. These help readers understand the text and also compare how they look to the pictures. If you want to see what smoking does to the outside of you, have a look at the pictures on WebMD – Ways Smoking Affects Looks
But pictures that don’t directly relate to the story you’re telling can still be useful. They liven up the page and draw people in.
How about this to illustrate a story about haemorrhoids?
This cat sure looks uncomfortable!
Or this little fellow to show the ageing effects of smoking?
Wrinkles and sagging skin – says it all.
- A problem shared, is a double the trouble; a blog shared is a lot of readers.
If your blog is interesting, informative and entertaining readers will want to share it with their friends and other networks. Make it easy for your readers to share your posts at the click of a mouse.
Add buttons linking to email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., whichever social media your audience is most engaged with. Share this page:
Invite the readers to contribute to your blog. Heather Mansfield says, in her book Social Media for Social Good, “It’s hard to take a blog that doesn’t allow comments seriously.” I see where she’s coming from, but I beg to differ. Roy Lilley’s blog doesn’t take comments directly, but a lot of people take it quite seriously (reading between the satire, that is). Having said that, allowing readers to make comments can extend the life of your story and boost its audience. Being able to join the discussion helps readers feel connected to the story and boosts their motivation for taking action.
- Always have at least 5 things in your list.
Looking through a number of blogs and websites, I’ve noticed that 5, 7 and 10 seem to be the magic numbers. It’s never “The three things you need to know about syphilis” or “Two ways to lose weight”. Occasionally, there’ll be the one thing you need to know, but it usually turns out to be a whole strategy or a massive oversimplification. Mind you, 5, 7 or 10 things is probably oversimplifying things, but in a more engaging and less obvious way. 5, 7 or 10 things implies that you’ve really looked into this and given careful consideration to what you really need and what you can let go of. Only one suggests that you haven’t thought about it properly and considered all the angles. Too many (i.e. more than 10) means you’re indecisive. So, get the number right and your readers will be convinced not only of your expertise, but also your careful consideration of what they really need to know.
Mansfield, H. (2012). Social Media for Social Good, A how-to guide for nonprofits. New York: McGraw Hill.