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The basics of blogging in west central Minnesota

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Over the last decade, blogging has taken off in

popularity. These days, it seems like everyone from politicians to high school students have a blog.

It's easy to see why so many have started blogging: It allows people all over the world to make their voices heard. It holds the possibility of reaching hundreds or even thousands of people who take a genuine interest in what you have to say.

But what about the basics? What is a blog and what are the advantages to blogging? Here are answers to commonly asked questions about blogging and tips on how to use the digital tool most effectively.

What is a blog?

A blog (short for "web log") is a series of posts on a website that offers insight into the author's life or opinions. Typically written in first person, blogs take on a more conversational tone and reflect the author's personality. Some people compare their blogs to "online diaries," although not all blogs detail the author's personal life.

Many blogs weigh in on current events and popular topics. They will often include links to other blogs or news articles that either support or lend more information on the discussion. Some of the most popular blogs touch on family, travel, food and health. However, blogs can be written on any topic, no matter how obscure. Chances are that someone else will be interested in that topic as well.

In addition to individual blogs, many businesses and organizations use blogs to connect with their consumers and those they serve. Large companies, such as Verizon, Delta Airlines and Wells Fargo, use blogs as an opportunity to better inform their consumers about the products they offer. They also serve to "humanize" the company and put a face to formerly faceless corporations.

For those who don't have the time, resources or knowledge to build a blog from scratch, there are many blog hosting websites that offer standard templates and tools to design a blog. Two of the more commonly used blog hosting sites are Blogger and Wordpress. With built-in features and easy-to-use formats, these sites allow users to create custom blogs without having to know about website design.

Why should I start a blog?

The benefits to blogging are endless. In a world that's becoming increasingly connected due to technology and social media, many people find that blogging connects them to a larger community of people who share their interests.

As a blogger, you have the unique opportunity to engage with people around the world who have the same passion as you. Blogging gives you a voice in that online community and a place to make your thoughts and opinions heard.

As you blog and build up a community of followers, you'll likely find that other people are blogging on your topic, too. If you choose to follow their blogs, you will likely learn new things or see your topic from a different point of view.

If you're part of a business or organization, a blog can be an excellent tool in drawing more attention to your service or mission and encouraging others to invest themselves in what you do. Blogging is integral to any social media strategy and allows companies to reach their consumers in a more direct, personal way.

Last -- but most importantly -- blogging is fun. It's a new and different way to share your thoughts with the added potential of reaching people that you wouldn't know or meet outside of the blogosphere. When done well, blogging can be a rewarding activity that brings about new confidence in yourself and how you fit into your world.

Tips for beginning bloggers

When it comes to blogging, there are no rules. What works for one person may not work for another. In general, though, there are a few key points to keep in mind when you first start a blog.

Write about what you know. People who have a passion for a particular topic will find it much easier to write on that topic than something they don't really care about. It also helps to narrow the focus of your blog. For example, instead of trying to write about sports, you could center a blog entirely on Minnesota teams or even on one team.

Post often and consistently. Blogs that are updated frequently and at the same time every week generally have higher traffic than bloggers who post infrequently. If you don't feel you have the time to commit to blogging right away but would still like to try it, shoot for updating once a week on a specific day. You may find that once you start, you enjoy doing it and make time to update more often.

Ask questions and encourage reader input. Blogs that actively include their readers and spur comments and additional discussion are usually the most highly trafficked blogs. It helps to end your blog post by asking what your readers think about what you wrote. You can also use polls to get a sense of your readers' opinions on a subject.

Cross-promote your blog. If you don't have them already, create a Facebook and Twitter account and use them to post links to your new blog posts. You can also use these social networking sites to join discussions about your blog topic and learn from others who are also interested in that topic. At the same time, make sure you promote your social networking accounts on your blog. Set up an automatic Twitter feed and have a clear link to your Facebook page prominently displayed on your blog.

Have fun! Blogging isn't meant to be a chore. If you don't enjoy doing it, then something isn't right. Refocus your efforts and see if you can make it fun again. The best bloggers are the ones who come across as sincere and passionate about their topics.

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

(320) 214-4308