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My name's Joel Kelly and I live in Halifax, NS.

I'm a 20something guy doing digital and social media strategy for a Halifax-based marketing agency.

I'm a vegan nerd and marketing asshole.

You should follow me on Twitter.

Contact me about whatever (like, say, your marketing questions) at

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The keys to a storytelling blog

To get people to care about your blog they have to not care at all about your "blog." And they shouldn't. Just words on a page, after all. They need to care about things much more interesting than that.

Those things are:

The story. The content. The offer.

I'm going to run through what each of these pieces mean, specifically, and hopefully provide a few examples that make sense.

I'm not certain this is perfect. And this mostly applies to blogs that have a key person or character behind them.

The Story
The story is the overall narrative of your blog. It's the lens through which your readers view your work and share it with others.

Is your blog about limiting your net carbon impact on the planet? Then the story is your journey, your struggle, your experiences. Conflicts, crises, resolutions, successes, and so on.

Is your blog personal, talking about what happens in your daily life? Then you are the story. What's happened to you before, what's going on right now, and how that affects what you do and write about.

It's like a novel. The individual pages are the content (see below), and they build upon or draw from the story (what's happened before, what you know about the characters, etc.), but the two are somehow separate pieces of the same book.

The story of your blog is, well, the "point." What do you care about and why are you writing in the first place?

The Content
Each post (or podcast episode, or vlog, or whatever) either builds upon or draws from the story. It fuels the greater conversation about your blog.

This is the stuff you write everyday, that you control. Ideally, each of these contain their own stories that play off of the grander story of the blog.

When someone reads a post, or shares it, or talks about it, or feels something because of it, it's all done through the lens of the greater story. The posts themselves are the content, the story is the context, and they combine to fuel the conversation and help sell the offers.

The Offer
This is the Why Should Anyone Give a Shit? part. When someone reads your blog, what do they get out of it? What can they get out of it? Are you literally selling something they might want to purchase? Or are you teaching them something valuable?

In the case of the No Impact Man, maybe you're just making them feel like they're better people for caring. That's pretty huge by itself.

You can have more than one offer, or sell, too. Hugh, for instance, sells marketing knowledge, keys to creativity, and he literally sells stuff. They all offer you, the reader, something big in return for caring about the blog.

The Combination
So it's in figuring out all these parts and having them work together smoothly that leads to an interesting formula for producing something worth caring about. This sort of combination is what fuels interesting conversations. Gets people talking about your blog, and you, and why anyone should care.

I think.

So if you've got the drive to write, or are tasked with maintaining a blog for your company, you might want to try working out what each of these pieces will be for you, and see what happens.


J-Money's The story is Jelisa's life. We know she's kind of broke, loves running, and has had plenty of hilarious dating misadventures. And she's trying to get more professional writing work. The content are her posts about what goes on in her life. If she talks about running, or writing, it builds upon what we already know about how she feels about those. The offer is that her posts are hilarious, they give you something to chuckle at. And you can hire her to write for you if you want.

Hugh Macleod's
: The story is Hugh living in Alpine, Texas, doing some futile marketing and making awesome artwork after having been a traditional ad man for 10 years. The content are his cartoons and marketing insights (often the same thing). The offer is learning about marketing, inspiration, what you can buy from him (plus many more things). Story -- A, well, vegan dad who wants his family to be healthy and eat great food. He's got a few boys and a brand new vegan daughter, and he wants to share the cool food he makes for them with other vegans. Content -- Amazing recipes. They're usually fairly simple because we know from the overall story that he's a busy guy. Offer -- Great recipes that you can try yourself. And you get to learn that no matter how busy you might be, you can always find time to eat right and cook great food.

Jesse Thorn's Story -- Jesse Thorn, 28, is living his dream of hosting a public radio show (and podcasts), despite the odds (it doesn't really make him much money). He struggles, he finds success, and you're on the journey with him of living his dream. Content -- The episodes and blog posts themselves. The things he creates and controls. Each episode of his show or podcasts are framed by the fact that he's young, fairly broke, but having a huge amount of fun interviewing his heroes and hanging out with his friends. Offers -- His shows are hilarious and informative, he asks for donations to support his work, and you feel like you're part of an exclusive club of awesome.

So what do you think?


new_punishment said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lisa said...

I get blogs. If it weren't for RSS and iGoogle, I wouldn't have learned 2/3 of what I now use to function each day. That said, I am new to actually blogging and have been struggling with how to format what I want to share with my readers.

My first post? Hated it. Still hate it. Why? Because it's not me. I'm fairly ironic, I crack myself up, am genuine, and I know what I know; none of this is reflected in my first post. Because I was too busy "trying" to offer value.

I am very happy with my second post. It sounds like me (the genuine part of me). It builds on who I am, so that if we meet, you won't be surprised by the 40 year old Pirate Queen standing in front of you. I share a real story with content that is reflective of a facet of my personality and offers the reader the value of a true life experience with social media that can be applied to anyone's life. Unless they are a schmuck and only out for #1, then, not so much.

Looking back (ooooo, a whole 2 weeks), I had it right in my head to begin with, but second guessed myself with my first post. I made the process too hard. Your post makes me believe I'm back on the right track. I'll be myself, and tell my story with relevant, real content that shows how social media affects relationships every day. What's more valuable than real life experience?

Very helpful post - thank you!

Joel Kelly said...

Lisa: That's awesome. So glad you found my post helpful, and I'll definitely be reading your blog :)

Joel Kelly said...

I was asked to remove the first comment, btw :) Just so no one thinks I actually moderate my comments.

kathryn said...

new punishment- preemptive? possibly. but if you're trying to convince a client, company, corporation etc. that blogging is a successful tool as part of a winning marketing strategy it becomes important. It helps to think about how and if the audience will respond to the message you're trying to convey within that content.

Lisa - YARRR. I'm going to your blog now.

Thanks Joel for outlining something I'm learning about and helping me explain it to others. There's great value in that and it's appreciated.

Joel Kelly said...

Kathryn: Glad you liked the post! Happy to hear some people found it useful :)

Anne said...

Very helpful post. I am enjoying your blog - It is like taking a course in blogging at no charge - thank you. I am currently rethinking my current blog and trying to define "my story"

Kimberly said...

Great post on one element of blogging. I like the idea of a blog being like a novel. If you can't commit to posting something that adds value to the online experience, I think you have to ask yourself why you're doing it in the first place. A blog by nature seeks interaction with readers so in a way it's more like a "living" novel in that it's constantly evolving and being shaped.

That being said, it can take a long time for a person to find a voice (as Lisa writes above). Treating your blog like a larger work, rather than just individual pieces, with the elements you describe is one way of focusing and developing that voice.

Joel Kelly said...

Anne: Why thank you! So glad you like it :)

Kimberly: Precisely, Kimberly. Approaching each post, even your first, as a piece of a larger whole can be very helpful.

Michelle said...

As they say...everybody's got a story to tell. Working on getting my stories out there yet stay relevant and entertaining. It's a learning experience but a fun one at that.

aliceinparis said...

Really enjoyed this! Made me think about what my "story" is. Still trying to figure it out:)
Cheers, Shelagh

Joel Kelly said...

Michelle: Very true.

Alice: :) Still working on mine too

Hollis Bartlett said...

Great post. I'm not happy with my own blog posts, I like how you made me think to step back and look at the big picture. I think I've got the story and the offer part, it's the content that's lacking. Stuff to think about.

Joel Kelly said...

Thanks Hollis! Great site, by the way. said...

Thanks Joel.

I'm working on starting a new blog right now. For at least a month I've had the site actually up but couldn't start to write any content at all and couldn't figure out why. Started a few draft posts but they just didn't work.
Thanks to your post I've been thinking about my story and I think once I have that set I'll be able make the posts work.

Joel Kelly said...

OurValley: Excellent, happy to help!

Melanie said...

Very helpful post. I had a lot of fun with my first blog (about 5 years ago now), and had a great readership. It was honest, it was funny, and it was mostly anonymous. Until I posted a snide comment about a local "celeb" one day and he emailed me the next day to ask why I didn't like him. Threw me for a loop, and I began to feel more guarded in my writing, and I eventually abandoned the blog.

Started another one a couple years ago, and it was very personal and introspective. Not much of an offering for anyone else but me. So I abandoned that one too.

Thinking about starting another one, and this post is very helpful. Once I have the story, the content and the offering somewhat figured out - I may dive back into blogging.

Joel Kelly said...

Melanie: It's certainly no fun feeling like you need to be on guard. But if you're writing anything interesting, you can be guaranteed *somebody's* going to have a problem with it. Usually a good sign you're writing good stuff :)

Hope the new blog works out!

Moon Over Martinborough said...

This is a great post, and has me really thinking about my own storytelling blog.

I suppose my story is wrapped up in my tag line - 'An expat American city boy lands on 20 acres and an olive grove in New Zealand.'

My content is a weekly episode about life here on our property. My partner and I moved out here not knowing a thing, and we're still pretty clueless.

My offer is, well, humor, insight into rural life, and hopefully a little bit of 'if he can do that crazy stupid thing he loves, then I can do mine.' I figure the more people we see doing the thing they love, the better off we all are.

Anyway, thanks for getting me thinking about what I'm doing in new ways. Much appreciated.