As any content marketer knows, the blogging world is no longer run by teenagers on Tumblr writing about their high school dramas (okay, fine, I admit that I was one of those teenagers). Today, it’s become a lucrative industry that has turned brands into storytellers, storytellers into thought leaders, and writers into multimillion dollar CEOs.

So, we have to ask ourselves, how? But, what does it really take to successfully climb the blogging totem pole? Turns out, it goes far beyond just “hard work and dedication”, which is what many often assume. Here are the four most defining factors to look at:

Self-awareness

Every major blogger in 2016 has a keen awareness of their goals, target audiences, brand voice and purpose. Without it, they’re completely lost and struggle to maintain a sense of identity within their niche. They’re also conscious of their own personal strengths, weaknesses, insecurities and pleasures, which allow them to stay, focused on their goals and avoid distractions that could steer them away from their work’s purpose.

The ultimate example of self-awareness is Gary Vaynerchuk, a man who lives and breathes self-reflection and honesty. Gary is so aware of who he is as a businessman, a blogger, a parent and a thought leader that he has dominated the content marketing industry with his transparent rhetoric and charismatic presence. Ultimately, Gary is completely aware of what he’s bad at and leaves it at the door. Ain’t nobody got time for weaknesses; once you identify them and have a deep understanding of who you are, go all in on your strengths and channel them to grow your blog.

Feel like you could use some self-reflection to get back on track? Check out this awesome run through by The Social Media Freelancer to learn how you can look yourself in the mirror and make a game plan.

Reading

Blogging is never a one way street (it was, it would be called a “book”). Instead, it’s an opportunity to learn from community members, discuss and debate various topics, ask pressing questions and build meaningful relationships.

For bloggers, it’s especially crucial to know what others are talking about within your industry, what people’s concerns are and what gets them excited. Without it, you’re going into your writing process a bit blindsided.

Following other bloggers and joining already existing conversations is crucial to providing the most well-rounded, valuable content for your readers, and offering insights that are unique to your brand voice and sentiment.

If you’re looking for a place to start, check out Renoun, which will allow you to find every major thought leader, article, and publication within your niche so that you can see which topics are trending and how the community feels about them.

Emotional intelligence

The most well-known bloggers go beyond their own self-awareness; they know how to connect with their audience on an emotional level that instills a deep sense of trust, loyalty, and often times, friendship. By keenly understanding their audience and their psychographic analyses, bloggers offer content that speaks directly to their insecurities, personalities, pleasures and fears.

Without being able to connect with their audience on a personal level, bloggers often struggle to create these relationships and form an actively engaged online community.

A great example of a blogger who wins at emotional intelligence is Daniel DiPiazza, the Founder of Rich20Something. Daniel, the voice of the quickly growing freelancer community, has dominated the freelancing dialogue by offering both practical and emotional insights to help young people get out of their 9-5 jobs and start their own successful businesses. No, this isn’t one of those “get rich fast” internet scams – his content is legit and speaks directly to his audience’s needs and concerns.

Authenticity

In order to be a legit blogger today, you have to keep it real. No fluff, no lying, no hiding; just authentic, open and transparent content. The biggest bloggers feel all the feels and they aren’t afraid to show it, which allows their audience to connect with them in a more natural way. Think about it: if a co-worker confided in you that they had just gone through a really painful breakup and you were going through something similar, you’re more likely to feel closer to that person, right? It’s not rocket science, just basic relationship building.

Bloggers who are open about their feelings, insecurities, excitements, and lives are more relatable and liked by their audiences. It’s not easy, but it is essential. A brilliant blogger and friend of mine, Shayna, recently wrote a piece about her anxiety and its crippling impact on her work as a marketing freelancer. Beautifully written and deeply touching, this piece allowed her viewers to see her authentic self through her raw and vulnerable voice.

Design awareness

This might seem like a “no duh”, but it fascinates me to see how many bloggers are unaware of their contents’ presentation. Two words, people: WHITE SPACE. With the demanding nature of attention in 2016 (smartphones, computers, apps, social platforms, etc.), readers have very little time to read your content, so make it easy for them. Allow plenty of white space choose legible fonts and select a color palette that aligns with your brand. Presentation matters for everything from initial traffic to retention, to brand awareness to community advocacy. And no, you don’t have to be a graphic designer or an artist to figure it out.

A great example of this is Lauryn Evarts’ blog, The Skinny Confidential. A lifestyle blog for young women, Lauryn is hyper aware of her image selections, photo edits, blog design, and content structure. It speaks perfectly to her brand and flows beautifully with its messages.
Ultimately, all of these aspects and efforts need to be followed by patience. Patience is the key word here. Just like any other entrepreneurial path, success, traffic and profits take a time to build, and you need to keep going even when progress is nowhere in sight. So keep listening, keep engaging, keep helping and keep storytelling. Whatever you do, just don’t stop.

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