Flickr Creative Commons image by Sukanto_Debnath
“The greatest fertilizer is the shadow of the gardener.”
I’ve been a passionate gardener for many years. I heard that quote a long time ago, and it’s the mantra I live by for my garden. The more attention I put into it, the better results I get. It’s not a question of hovering–the seeds germinate and the plants develop at their own pace. But daily attention lets me capture small problems before they get big, notice my successes so I can create more of them, and create the right environment for my garden to flourish.
Can you sense a metaphor coming on? (Gardening is one of those great uber-metaphors–it works for everything.) The same daily attention that lets my garden flourish also helps my Web presence to grow organically.
(OK, metaphor veering into bad pun territory, sorry.)
Start with the soil
You won’t be able to grow anything more interesting than dandelions if you don’t understand your soil. Know (and fix) its deficiencies whenever you can. Understand what it’s going to grow well and what it will probably never be able to support.
To translate this to your Web presence, your “soil” is probably your understanding of your market. This doesn’t have to be commercial–your market could be your customers, your nonprofit donors, your church, your PTA–whoever it is that you want to influence and create a relationship with.
Notice that it’s your understanding of those folks that matters. You need to know what they want, what they worry about, what they value. If you don’t have that, any other work you do will be hit-or-miss, with more misses than hits.
That said, there’s not a gardener worth his salt who will wait until the soil is perfect before he starts planting. Soil is never perfect, and neither is understanding. Know when to get them to “good enough” to get started, and then keep amending.
Remember, too, that different soil is good for different plants. If you have alkaline clay and brutal sun, like we do here in most of Colorado, your desire for rhododendrons is going to be a painful and labor-intensive one. Try and communicate with folks you already have a feeling for. I’m never going to excel at the mass market or the ultra technical. That’s completely fine. I can reach millions of people with the messages that come most naturally to me.
Don’t plant a monocrop
Creating different Web points of contact is like planting different plants. There are dozens if not hundreds of options now. Blogs, e-newsletters, static Web pages, Squidoo lenses, HubPages, ezine articles, Gather articles, Facebook, Tumblelogs. Create a nice assortment to get the cross-pollination you need.
Remember not to create more sites or touchpoints than you can take care of. Each little content corner you create should be visited regularly, spruced up as needed, tested for broken links, and generally given some love and attention.
Different content types have different needs. Once your ezine (or Gather, or any of the other similar sites) article is written and published, you need to check it for errors that were introduced in the process, and then it will pretty much live on its own. You might check it every six months or so for broken links, but that should do it. On the other hand, to stay effective, you need to keep feeding your favorite article sites with new content, to build and maintain a reputation as a worthy authority on your subject.
(On that subject, I don’t recommend submitting the same article to multiple sites. Google discounts duplicated content. You can write dozens of articles on the same subject—just develop new examples and new metaphors. You can borrow the gardening analogy any time you like.)
Squidoo lenses do best with a fertilize-and-prune every couple of weeks. Add a content module, consider removing one that’s not performing, or update some of your links with fresher, more exciting stuff.
Contributing to social sites like Facebook or forums depends on developing trust with your friends–you probably want to check in at least once or twice a day. Twitter, of course, practically begs for a dozen-times-a-day updates.
And opinions differ about how often you should post on your blog, but once a week is probably the minimum, and most successful bloggers post at least once daily.
Always have a flat of seedlings to plant
I got this particular method from Ed Dale over at Thirty Day Challenge: create Google News, Google Blogs, and Technorati watches on the subjects you like to write about. Subscribe to all of these in an RSS reader. When an interesting story comes up, clip the most relevant points into a product like Backpack or Google Notes. I like to create a text file with 3-5 possible points I want to cover, and any juicy quotes or connections.
You’re a lot less likely to get shut down by writer’s block if you have plenty of irresistible idea seeds just waiting to be grown into solid content. Dale uses these to create tiny articles–just a few paragraphs–but the idea works just as well if you’re long-winded like I am.
For another source of ideas to develop, make a habit of tucking a few blank 3×5 cards into every book you read, whether for work or for pleasure. Copy down quotes (and identify them as such with very clear quote marks and a page number–you don’t want to become an accidental plagiarist). Scribble ideas, especially any connection you can make to something else. Every day, take your 3×5 cards for the day and transcribe them into your online tool. Paper is magnificent, but bytes win this one hands down.
And always credit the book where you originally found the idea–it’s just good manners, and it enhances your credibility. No one expects you, especially in the 21st century, to grow all your own ideas from the ground up.
Darren Rowse’s nice video post on how blogging is like growing a lawn.