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Thursday, January 15, 2009

How To Use Curation To Make Your Blog Better: Lessons From Postsecret

If you talk to most successful bloggers today, they will likely tell you that some part of the formula for their success has been their ability to adapt their blog to what people actually wanted to read and interact with instead of sticking to a closed vision of what their blogs should or could offer. Last night I had the chance to participate in a great event put on by Shashi and his crew from Network Solutions to promote their new online community called LinkTogether. The two speakers were Frank Warren, the founder of Postsecret.com and myself. As I listened to Frank talk about the rise of Postsecret from a local art project in the DC area to one of the top ten blogs on the Internet today - the word curator came to mind to describe how he treats his blog.

Postsecret1 Curation evokes that powerful idea of working on something larger than yourself. Museum staff curate the works of art and historical significance that line their walls. National archives that store the lessons of the world's past are similarly curated. It also applies to what Frank does as he sorts through thousands of heart felt secrets that people send him each week, and chooses a new 20 to post on his blog every Sunday. On the surface, this type of blog is the exact opposite of what most blog consultants would tell you to do. Frank has very little editorial or information about himself. There is hardly any branding on the site, his email address to contact him is hard to find, there is no archive of old content, and he only posts once a week,

Undeniably, for his site, this works. Here are a few counterintuitive lessons I took from Frank about using this curation model to make your blog more successful. I'm hoping to put some of these lessos to work for my blog:

  1. Focus on quality instead of quantity - Frank may be in the enviable position of getting all his content sent to him for free, but his painstaking effort in going through and selecting the best postcards shines through. It makes the fact that he only posts once a week less important.
  2. Put yourself in the background - This is something most bloggers don't do well (including myself). But on Postsecret you won't find big headshots and bios of Frank. The site is about the secrets and anything else is extraneous to his mission. My big lesson from this is that sometimes the best thing you can do is try to leave your ego behind and just focus on creating the best content possible.
  3. Make it harder to find you, but welcome those who do - It's not easy to find Frank's email address, and he likes it that way ... but for those who do and email him, they can expect a warm thoughtful response and for a relationship to start. He often asks people to share more details about their secrets with him, and even has a postcard he will be publishing this weekend that a guy will use to propose to his girlfriend with while they read the site together.
  4. Become what your site needs you to be - This may seem like a bit of zen advice, but much of what Frank talks about accidentally goes in this direction as well ... perhaps the result of his spending the better part of every day carrying around other people's secrets. He shared in the meeting how Postsecret helped change him into a person with a mission and allowed him to become the curator that the site needed. I can see why Hollywood producers are hot to talk to him - it could make a great movie.

If you believe in Frank's mission or want to support the great work that he is doing to bring his message of hope to the world, you can ATTEND HIS SPEAKING TOUR (see video below) which is starting today and will bring him around the country or PURCHASE ONE OF HIS BOOKS. And while you're at it, think about what Frank's lesson of curation could do for your blog. I'll be doing the same thing.

A Trailer for Frank Warren's PostSecret 2009 Event Tour.

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Comments

Rohit:

It's interesting that you focused on the word "curating" for your post on last night's event. I just finished my own post on the event (http://ow.ly/3Im) and that's exactly how I described his voice on Post Secret, too. It's a powerful concept.

I also liked the metaphor he used for himself as a film editor, sorting through individual pieces to arrange them into a cohesive whole. It's another strategy for considering the information for a blog post and how to compile it together.

Great post -- and great to meet you last night! :)

The "curator" philosophy of online management makes a lot of sense. I heard 37 Signals CEO Jason Fried talk about the exact same things few months ago at Web 2.0 as related to product development. You might have a great site, app, product, or even your personal brand... when it comes to feedback and community the job as a curator is actually to say no. In Frank's case, he is saying no internally as he chooses the right postcards for his weekly postsecret blog post. For Jason, its saying no to too many product update requests or changes ideas. Knowing how your product or site or even personal brand needs to grow, having a proper strategy and road map can be the difference between success and failure online.

Great talk last night! Thanks.

Dave Weinberg
@weinberg81

Hi from Ireland! I think this is a really interesting idea. I've just started blogging myself, and it occured to me early on that it seemed a very self-indulgent thing to do if you weren't offering something that others wanted to read...and you might as well get yourself a notebook! Blogging, for me, is about being an essayist, and although people are not paying for it, you have to think about what you are offering for the greater good of your 'community' - whether it be social, professional, or whatever. Very thought-provoking post - thanks!

Thanks for your insights - I couldn't agree more. :)

I think there are more than one strategy that may succeed, and no one formula may be the ultimate.

Rajeev

I find that making things personal works but at the same time sales pitches work for some but not others. I think it has a lot of weight on what are your tactics? Long term product that you want to sell or short term? Things like that.

I cannot agree more, actually I wrote a similar post weeks ago

Edward

Frontier Blog
http://www.hwswworld.com/wp

I look forward every single week to reading Frank's Sunday blog. I love the way the site is set up and his mission is inspiring. I'm just not sure that its a strong strategy for getting your name out there, which is the point of most blogs.

Great ideas, thank you.

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