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Blogging Backwards: A Success Story in Reverse

Sara Given By Sara Given Published on May 27, 2016

Two years ago, I started a blog as a joke for some friends. We were making fun of crappy stock photography - you know, the kind depicting perfect white families on perfect white couches - and I decided to catalog it all on Tumblr. Three days after I created the blog called, “It’s Like They Know Us”, it went viral.

My previous social media usage would best be described as “Old people who are comfortable on Facebook,” and occasionally, “Old people who don’t understand Twitter but are trying their best anyway, God bless them.” My learning curve was steep, but I managed to develop my blog into a book, freelance gigs with a few magazines, and an awkward appearance on the Today Show.

My blogging trajectory was somewhat backwards (successful blog THEN learning to blog), but I have since discovered a few things about maintaining that success.

Write something you would want to read

It sounds obvious, but took me a while to realize that “It’s Like They Know Us” was exactly the thing I needed as a new mom. I wanted something funny, reassuring, and short, (2 hours of sleep at a time doesn’t exactly give you stellar reading comprehension). Nothing like that existed, so I made it myself.

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What need are you trying to fulfill by blogging - Do you want to help people? Chronicle your life? Work through the fact that you can’t get your toddler to brush her teeth by making fun of stock photography? All of these are valid reasons to start a blog, and there is a good chance you fulfill a need for someone else as well.

Ask for help

When “It’s Like They Know Us” went viral, I had no idea what to do. It felt like one of those dreams where I realize I’m not wearing pants and then I have to make small talk with Matt Lauer on live television. In a panic, I emailed other people with viral blogs begging for help. Luckily, someone responded. Greg Pembroke, from “Reasons My Son Is Crying,” spent an hour on the phone with me answering questions like, “What is happening to me right now?” and, “Do you know how Twitter works?” Everything I learned about blogging, publishing books, and why his son is crying, I learned from Greg.

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Find a blog that inspires you and contact the owner. Let them know that you love their work (be specific), and see if they’ll answer a few short questions for you. I do this often, and I am always surprised at how generous people are with their time.

Don't look at "the lions"...or do

If there were ever a moral to the Internet, it would be, “People can be jerk-wads about absolutely anything.” Greg compared them to lions. He said, “It’s like we’re out in the wild, and we’re conditioned to look for danger. No matter how many zebras we see, no matter how many people tell us we’re funny and great, our eye will always be drawn to that lion. The one that says we suck and they hate us. Zebra, zebra, zebra, LION! And then you stay up all night worrying about that lion.”

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Oddly enough, my way of dealing with the lions is to go looking for them. I like to find articles that are so uncontroversial, so benign, and so positive that NO HUMAN BEING ON EARTH could possibly find something wrong with them. Then I search for the lion...and I always find one. The absurdity of someone complaining about Mother Teresa giving baby ducks to underprivileged youths helps me put things in perspective on my own page.

Think about your reader

Often, we get so caught up in what we’re writing we don’t consider the person on the receiving end. I imagine my readers are tired parents who share my captions out loud. As in, “Hey honey, here’s one about psychotic toddlers…” I always read everything I write aloud multiple times so the inflection is just right. Then I pester my husband to read it. Then I change one word to something else and then back again 5,000 times. Then I Google “comma usage,” and decide that comma usage rules are antiquated and I’m just going to do whatever I want anyway. THEN and ONLY then, do I post.

Make sure you are tailoring your content to your reader. Ask yourself who they are, how they got to your blog, and what they are doing while reading it. If you write a blog about breastfeeding, the women reading it are probably new mothers who are up at 3am searching, “OH GOD, WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MY NIPPLES?” This can help you better customize your topics, formatting, even advertisements, (nipple ointment, anyone?)

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Set yourself apart

Finally, take the time to see what is out there, and make your content meaningful enough to stand out. There are a million blogs that regurgitate thoughtless content. Yours should offer something genuine, useful, and specific to you and your audience. Loyal followers appreciate quality, and they will stick around for it (that, and your nipple ointment recommendations).

Sara Given is the creator of the popular Tumblr blog, “It’s Like They Know Us,” and author of the book, “Parenting is Easy: You’re Probably Just Doing It Wrong.” Growing up, she was often told, ... Show More