If you are going to go down the path of blogging for profit or for notoriety you need to have a well developed sense of what your market is interested in when you set out to write. Copying others isn’t likely a winning strategy, but identifying what you like, what you can provide and what you want to do are all essential. Then you need to think about the reader. You know the mantra — know your audience. It is certainly helpful to write what interests you because, in my view, that which you are interested in and passionate about makes for great reading, but it is also important to give readers what they want otherwise you won’t build an audience, or you will lose the audience you do have.
I think it is fair to say that the majority of what I write on the pages of IPWatchdog.com is op-ed journalism, but that is certainly not all I write. In my time writing op-ed articles, which dates back to 2004 when I started writing for Patent World, I believe I have found a formula that works. My formula may not work for you (more on that later), but what I try and do when I write an op-ed article is to not only convey my opinions, but I try and quickly bring the reader up to speed on the factual background of what I am going to comment on, give some analysis and then liberally apply my opinion. Not as if it is salt and/or pepper, but more like marinara sauce, which in my opinion you just can’t get enough of on spaghetti, whether decorated by Meatballs or Chicken Parmesan.
While I do typically write op-ed articles, I also write more-or-less straight news articles, particularly when I am reporting on events, such as I did when I wrote about the Bilski oral arguments at the US Supreme Court, the $11.4 billion patent infringement lawsuit against eBay or David Kappos’ speech at the Center for American Progress. These all had a lot of interest, but at times live reporting doesn’t generate as much interest, such as when I wrote about the presentation of USPTO Officials at IPO. This is not to suggest that it isn’t a good idea to do things that interest you and which you think are important, but it is worth keeping an eye on what is popular, what generates a lot of comments and whether a longer term buzz is generated by what you write.
But lets face facts. Given the cable news era in which we live few people seem to want to read straight news any more. News is everywhere and it seems that most any more like to consume their news with a fair amount of opinion and analysis. Perhaps the public is becoming more like judges who want to hear the best pitch from at least two different sides in order to form their opinions. More likely, most are more interested in reading to agree with what they already believe, or to reinforce that they think you are a moron for the beliefs you have.
I’m not suggesting that anyone editorially cave or follow an entertainment agenda at the expense of writing things that matter to you, to your industry or to the world, but like I used to explain to the musicians I would consult with, if no one knows who you are then what you hope to accomplish by staying true to the music and being an artist will be lost. I used to get sick and tired of hearing “U2 sold out!” I even started early on engaging in conversations with musicians about whether they thought U2 had sold out, and if they did then I didn’t want to work with them. U2 is one of the most successful bands of all time, and perhaps they created a more commercial friendly sound for some of their biggest selling albums, but this also brought them fame, fortune and a loyal audience willing and eager to partake in the true artistry they clung to early in their career. It also gave them a platform to do real good in the world and now they can do whatever artistically moves them. U2 didn’t sell out, they understood that you simply cannot accomplish what you are hoping and dreaming to accomplish without an audience.
Figuring out what your audience is interested in and what to do requires trial, error and an interest in consuming the type of information that you want your audience to consume from you. You need to be a critic of your own work and a critic of the competition, and you need to keenly understand what you have to offer, which is hopefully something missing in the field, industry or niche where you will go.
For example, when I read news from the AP or Reuters I am always dissatisfied. I find it greatly preferable to obtain some analysis and opinion weaved in with news because it allows me to better determine whether it makes sense to me, whether I agree, exactly where my agreement or disagreement lies and it also informs me of the bias of the person presenting the information (because we all have biases). I find this useful and helpful to me, so I try and provide that when I write.
I also find is extraordinarily useful to find an article with links to the information discussed. There is nothing more mind numbingly frustrating when you read a popular press article about a particular litigation matter than finding no useful information about the particulars of the case, or where to find more. The next time there is a big case or decision from a court other than the United States Supreme Court do your own survey and see how difficult it is to find out which court was involved. It amazes me that reporters don’t mention the name of the Judge, they don’t mention the court issuing the decision and they just about never provide a link to the decision they are ostensibly trying to analyze. I know full well that the odds they have gotten the story incorrect asymptotically approach 100%, so I never rely on an interpretation of a case until I have actually reviewed the case myself. Now I might not be perfect, we all make mistakes sometimes, but following this approach and not getting washed over the cliff like lemmings will save you from piling on and making an embarrassing mistake simply because everyone is parroting the first inaccurate report.
Sometimes I do tell stories by ranting, which I find works well when I am either preaching to the choir or riling up the natives. Other times I apply my opinion through a form of critical analysis. Whatever you do, and you don’t have to have but one approach or style, you need to remember that you have to walk before you can run. Start somewhere you are comfortable and work out from there. This is particularly critical when you are tempted to make promises to your audience about posting everyday, or on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Life and business sometimes get in the way. You definitely need to keep things fresh, and quality original content is key, but I firmly believe over-promising is a big mistake. Can you imagine how frustrating it can be if your favorite author promised an article or book at a certain time and you were looking forward to it and then it didn’t come and there was no explanation?
What? Favorite author? Many probably think blogging is going to my head. Not really. I don’t know where I am anyone’s favorite author or patent pundit, but I do practice what I preach. I tell inventors all the time that they need to treat their invention as if it is the million dollar invention because if they don’t by the time the realize it was it will be to late to do any of the things required to adequately protect and monetize the invention. You never set out in business to fail, and you don’t set out in your personal life to fail either. Success far more frequently comes to those who expect to be successful and treat their endeavors accordingly. You only get one chance at a first impression, and it is easy to alienate, so maintaining a vigilant and reflective approach to your career or hobby as a blogger is, in my opinion, critical. Evaluate, re-evaluate and assess yourself. That is what others will do, so you need to stay at least one step ahead of the curve.
It is important for you to understand who you are and embrace yourself and what you have to offer. If you wear masks your audience will know, your writing will be stale and might even come across as fake. For me, I have what some would characterize as a peculiar sense of humor. I poke fun at myself regularly, and some take it the wrong way. For example, on the morning of June 18, 2009, I wrote an article nominating Alfred E. Neuman to be the next director of the USPTO. It was a fun article to write. In the article I wrote that we pretty much knew President Obama’s selection to run the Patent Office was going to be Kappos. It was ironic that President Obama could appoint Justice Sotomayor within two weeks, but the vetting process for Kappos was taking many months. I joked about him possibly having tax problems, which was topical at the time. Then later that day, after the close of business (which is unusual) the White House announced its intention to announce Kappos as the nominee for the position of Director of the USPTO. The next day I wrote that I didn’t know whether the White House was reading IPWatchdog.com or keeping an eye on me. I thought that was funny stuff, so did many, but some thought it was self aggrandizing and over the top. It was a joke for goodness sake, and those who didn’t get it can’t check the box with sense of humor in common with Quinn. But those folks aren’t my core audience, so why worry? You just can’t please everyone all the time and denying who you are isn’t, in my opinion, a winning strategy in the Blogosphere.
But what about politics and religion? Well, I haven’t crossed the religion line, and that is definitely on purpose. I don’t deny my religion, but personally I think discussing religious views is a good way to lose friends, and not a way to influence people. Because I have this belief I stay well clear of religion. On the other hand, for some a hot button topic is politics, and that I do not steer away from. I am a Republican patent attorney who thinks taxes are too high, the government too big and spending to be out of control. I think David Kappos and the USPTO is doing a great job after being dealt a lousy hand. I believe independent inventors and small businesses will innovate and create jobs, leading us out these challenging economic times better than the government could ever contemplate if only the USPTO cuts into the backlog, issues patents in a relevant time frame and government gets out of the way otherwise. That is who I am and everyone that knows me knows it. I love politics, I am a political junkie, I donate to candidates and I participate in the process. There is no way I would be comfortable if I weren’t being true to myself in that way. There is nothing I enjoy more than writing a patent or intellectual property article with a political theme. Of course, that is a bridge you need to consider yourself, it isn’t right for everyone, but having ground rules for yourself makes it easier when you are itching to write something you might regret in the morning.
Finally, some will ask: why write about blogging, or politics or social networking on an intellectual property blog that focuses primarily on patents? My response is simple, and comes from something I learned listening to ESPN Radio personality Colin Cowherd. Colin has a show that airs from 10am EST to 1pm EST everyday on ESPN Radio. He says the demographics show his audience is predominantly male and predominantly upwardly mobile professionals who listen to the show in 15 to 20 minute segments, perhaps as they drive from appointment to appointment during the business day. He also knows, and says, that there are things that this target group finds interesting aside from sports, so while he does a show that is 85% to 90% sports he also talks about business, general motivation, work environments and the like. He frequently ties that back into sports. He does this tangential stuff because these are areas of interest to his audience outside the core, so he attempts to provide interesting and entertaining radio to his audience. His show is for his audience and covering things that are tangential but can be tied into the core make for a much more interesting show. I agree, and I love listening to Colin even when I don’t agree with him.
I guess you could say this “Colin Cowherd principle” is an example of watching and learning from those who are successful. Like any other industry you have to keep moving and keep evolving in a positive manner. There is no point trying to learn from those who fail. I tell inventors all the time if patents are good for Microsoft and Apple why aren’t they good for you? Why would you want to copy the backwards practices of failing companies? Similarly, why would you want to copy those who aren’t successful in the Blogosphere or news industry? That is why I always take it as a compliment when folks comment on articles and say that I am the Fox News of patents. They mean it as an insult, but it sure feels good to hear such lofty praise! It means my plan is working, and I sure love it when a plan comes together!