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What Makes a Blogger Credible?

25 Comments 03 July 2012

Image courtesy of violet.blue, Creative Commoons license

Definition of credibility: “The objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message.” – Wikipedia

I was recently asked “what makes a professional blogger credible?” and it gave me pause to think. (In this case, I’m particularly thinking about individuals who are blogging about professional topics, not organizational or personal bloggers.) So, what makes one blogger appear to be “credible” and another not? Or one blogger more credible than another in this age of citizen journalism and blogging democracy? Here’s my list of what I think it takes to be a credible blogger.

1. Knows the industry.

This is the most important element of blogging credibility, in my humble opinion. If you are blogging about a field you don’t know much about, I can’t think of why I’d read your blog. I have a minimum expectation that you read industry blogs, participate in industry conversations, are aware of industry trends and activities, and have professional experience yourself in that industry.

2. Adds value to the field that he/she is writing about.

A credible blogger is not only aware of the industry trends, but uses his/her blog to contribute knowledge to the field. I’m thinking about bloggers Dan Pallotta (nonprofits and innovation), Beth Kanter (nonprofits and social media tech), Melinda K. Lewis (community organizing, policy analysis and advocacy), Michael Margolis (brand and organizational storytelling), Amy Sample Ward (nonprofit technology and community-building), Jeff Hurt (associations and events), and Joe Waters (cause marketing), to name but a very few. These bloggers add value to their fields with almost every post, utilizing a mix of analysis, industry examples, and knowledge-sharing. What these bloggers do NOT do is create lists, participate in groupthink, or repost content. They truly extend industry knowledge and conversations. (Apologies to the many other credible bloggers that I read and didn’t include in this very short list.)

3. Is generous. Almost to a fault.

A credible blogger doesn’t have to talk about his or her campaigns/stories/activities/innovations all the time. The credible blogger wants to share the best and brightest ideas and concepts to his or her blog readers, regardless of whose campaign or idea it may be. In fact, the most credible bloggers know that showing off other great ideas is one of the best things one can do to benefit the entire industry.

4. Blogs regularly and frequently. 

You can be the most credible source of information, but blogging regularly and (relatively) frequently means that you are serious about adding value to the industry. I believe the minimum frequency would be adding weekly new content. I may get a lot of flack on this one, but I’ll hold to it. I don’t blog regularly enough, and I believe it really does hurt my credibility. I think there’s some truth to a relationship between frequency and blog credibility: readers need to be able to count on a blogger to produce regular, quality content.

5. Builds a community.

A credible blogger listens thoughtfully to his or her blog readers, and builds a community of engaged readers though the comment conversation. A blog is a forum for conversation about the post, the industry, the news. A really credible blogger understands that readers are not just commentators, but contributors to the conversation who become part of that blog’s community. Responding to blog comments, engaging commentators, and integrating comments into the original blog post as appropriate are all traits that a credible blogger exhibits.

6. Bonus: Is a really nice person.

I’ve had the experience of meeting in person a very knowledgeable, credible industry blogger that I admire, and walking away thinking “I can’t stand that person.” The fact of the matter is, you are whomever you are. But if you’re generous, attentive, and congenial in person, you’re all the more credible. Everyone wants to know that the blogger they so admire IS in fact…someone they’d like to know better in person as well. We all want to share a beer with our favorite blogger and enjoy it, right?

What makes a credible blogger in your eyes?

 

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  • Great post, Debra! I’m blushing from inclusion on your short list – wow! Thank you 🙂

    One more thing that I would add, and this may not be another item on the list but a nuance to either #2 or #3 is the idea of being a resource. When I think of bloggers that I consider to be credible, authoritative on their subject area, etc, I think of people that if I had a question, I could ask them – and they would answer. They recognize their role in the ecosystem is not just to put content out there but to engage in the conversation – starting discussions with thought-provoking posts is only part of that conversation. Being a resource for other people to ask questions of, openly sharing answers/knowledge, etc is the other part of that. I know that personally I have quite a few blog posts that get written because someone emailed me asking about the topic and I figured if 1 person had the question and asked it, many more had it but didn’t think to ask, so putting the answer on the blog would be more valuable. I love being asked questions and I love helping!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Amy – I think you added two really relevant points. 1.) “They recognize their role in the ecosystem is… starting discussions with thought-provoking posts.” Absolutely. The blogger sees something that needs to be discussed (For example, I’m thinking about when Juno launched and I could count on certain industry bloggers to write about it with a critical eye.) Which actually brings me to the point that I count on certain industry bloggers to start discussions that need to be had in the industry – thanks for bringing this up. 2.) “Being a resource for other people to ask questions of, openly sharing answers/knowledge, etc.” Sharing these questions and thoughts in a blog post is a great way to be a resource, thanks for mentioning it.

    [Reply]

  • Atcook

    Really great, and you definitely qualify as a credible blogger in the contribution you make, your generosity, friendliness, commitment to community building — not to mention that you’re really nice in person! The one point I would take issue with is your sense that you “should” blog weekly. Your posts are of such high quality that whenever one pops up, I know that stopping what I am doing to read it will be worthwhile. If you posted every week, I’m not sure I would do that. Now, I’ll go look up the people on your short list. Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Well, thank you kindly – I certainly wasn’t fishing for any compliments when I wrote the post.

    I still hold to the idea that regular, at least weekly, blogging is important so that readers can count on the blogger for that regular industry insight/analysis/information/trends. Otherwise, I think it’s like going to a restaurant and hoping it will be open…but never being able to count on it. That said, your point about quality content is important. Just blogging weekly to fill the week’s blog post contribution isn’t helping anyone. Content is king, after all.

    [Reply]

  • Great post, really pragmatic advice.  I particularly like your identification of what credible bloggers do NOT do. I would add that a credible blogger should also take the time to ensure his/her content is reasonably well-written, grammatically correct, and free of typos. Some otherwise credible bloggers overlook this, and I find it distracting. To me, it’s kind of like blog hygiene — it says a little about respect for one’s readers and oneself. I know we’re all busy, but if we’re not too busy to shower and brush our teeth, why can’t we take the time to proof our blog for distracting typos, or have someone else do it?

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Lynne- I almost added that as a point as well! I decided to limit my post to the 5 (plus one bonus) points and debated which ones to include/exclude. Now you know, eh?

    It’s certainly a pet peeve of mine when I read posts that are written sloppily with a lot of grammatical errors and typos. I’ll add that I find it distracting when bloggers are also too informal in style for a professional blog (I’m thinking about using the lowercase “I” and lack of capitalization).  As an aside, I have wondered if the informal style isn”t a generational thing, since I didn’t grow up blogging. I’m wondering if other readers have a thought about this specific point of formal/information as a generational divide…

    That said, I’m certainly guilty of leaving in a typo or a grammatical error in my blog posts not too infrequently, though I check each one over several times before hitting “publish.”

    [Reply]

  • I think your point on adding value is a key distinction of what makes a blogger credible. I would actually say that adding real knowledge to the field is the only criteria for being a credible blogger.

    The other points included in your post are essential for being a successful blogger, and excellent advice on how to be a successful blogger, but for me, credibility is all about how your ideas actually add to the field.  
    Am I nitpicking? It’s possible 🙂 

    I think it’s quite easy to find people who are putting old wine into new bottles in the blogging world, such as posts about how to be social, when to post on facebook etc.
    I would agree with Atcook, that frequent posting isn’t critical for building credibility. In the course of a month I will subscribe to, and then unsubscribe to, a plethora of email lists, blogs, etc. and then rarely if ever read them. 

    Some of that is due to my own limited time, but a large part of it is due to the fact that I rarely read a blog post and think “WOW! That really improves my understanding of social media.” I usually think “WOW! Hasn’t that idea been around for years?” or “Isn’t this just common sense?”
    It’s far more rare to come across writers like Michael Wu, and his excellent piece on facebook engagement (http://lithosphere.lithium.com/t5/Lithium-s-View/Are-Your-Facebook-Fans-Real-Fans/ba-p/28330). Now that’s a guy who is really expanding the public’s understanding of how social media functions. Even though I read that article almost a year ago, it’s still easily one of the best pieces I’ve read on facebook engagement, and an article I’ll recommend to anyone who seeks a better understanding of which metrics to focus on when using that channel. Of course credibility + generosity & effective self-branding is what makes for a more widely read blogger, which is why I recommend you, Debra, to anyone I know who is interested in social media and non-profits. And that’s not pandering, that’s the honest truth. 

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Michael Wu: how could I forget him in my short list? (See, there’s one more I forgot…) He’s so darn smart and I think every one of his posts adds insight to the industry.  I still remember the Facebook research post (a multi-part post, right?) you’re speaking of, btw.

    There are so so many bloggers out there recycling the same old stuff (what’s the best way to get Likes on Facebook, what makes a great blog post) that isn’t tied to research or trends or deep analysis. I agree with you on this. I also find myself subscribing and unsubscribing and then not reading (may be another blog post inspired by this on how I mostly trust the curated content streams I subscribe to for finding great reading material). I think you’re absolutely on- it IS hard to find fresh voices, credible voices, ones that still inspire and provoke.

    The point about how adding value is a key distinction and the rest is about being a successful blogger: I disagree respectfully. However, that’s your point and I respect it. I did publish the points in descending order of importance (IMHO), which should offer some insight into how I view one point in relation to others.

    I knew I’d get flack on the frequent posting point, and I stand by it. I explained myself more fully to Atcook, below, if you want to reply there. I encourage you to please do respond. I’m open to the conversation and even being swayed by it.

    Thanks for your kind words, too, Drew.

    [Reply]

  • Melindaklewis

    Of course I am beyond honored to be included here, as someone you believe fulfills these criteria, and among company I turn to often for insights and inspiration. I think I am attracted to bloggers who see it as a medium, not a commodity, if that distinction makes sense. I love to read blogs by people from whom I’d love to read books, or just sit by on a plane…people who get that blogs are a way to put ideas put into the world. What I appreciate about you, which maybe belongs on the list, is a generosity of spirit, a welcoming stance that seems to see blogging as a gift that you simultaneously give and receive, and that welcomes those exchanges. The best part about blogging, for me, is getting to ‘talk’ with such interesting and fun people!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

     Interesting point about bloggers who see blogging as a medium, not a commodity. I think of that as a medium for conversation and extending ideas, is that along the lines of what you are implying?

    I also agree with you about getting to “talk” with interesting people. I first entered social media by commenting on other blogs, and began to feel like I was part of a blogging community there…and loved actually “talking” with the bloggers and other commentators.  As you know, I do enjoy our conversations as well – I learn so much through your blog!

    [Reply]

  • Number 6 is so true. Personally meeting someone whose writing you admire and finding out that they’re really not so nice in person is such a big let down. So yes, be a really nice person, especially if you blog 🙂

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

     Thanks! Would love to know your name, too, btw. It doesn’t show in the link to your comments.

    [Reply]

  • I have to agree with you, though I think even more than once a week is necessary. I find that now that I’ve turned it up to three times a week again, I’m getting a lot more props.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    I blogged twice a week last summer, and I also found that not only did the blog receive more visits AND comments, but I was more inspired and couldn’t stop thinking of new post ideas.  Geoff – what do you my by a lot more props, exactly?

    [Reply]

  • Willie Matis

    Debra,

    I really liked this post a lot.  I think all bloggers strive to be credible but few (including myself) think about the “added value” piece you bring up.

    A credible blogger in my eyes not only brings added value/best practices in a piece but breaks down their point into doable steps or understandable parts.  In other words, they don’t just bring a new idea to the table and say, “This is relevant because I hit publish”.  They are credible because they can relate their new idea to existing practices.

    A really good post, and these 6 traits will be written down and kept somewhere close!  

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

     Willie, I think you bring up an interesting point: how is the blog post idea conveyed meaningfully to its audience? Brings up all kinds of follow-up thoughts (and there’s maybe even a blog post idea here!) such as: what makes it understandable, how to best convey ideas meaningfully, relating the post to the audience. All of these things contribute to a strong blog post, for sure.

    An implied part of credibility, which you bring up here, is understanding who your audience is and speaking to them with respect. Thank you!

    [Reply]

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Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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