My evil twin from a mirror universe provides readers with terrible, terrible advice.
Eric F. asks: Dear Evil Wade, I’m thinking about just phoning it in on my blog this week. Any tips for Not Getting Caught while doing so?
Evil Wade says: A wise move, Eric F. Putting thought, time and effort into your blog is ridiculous, when it’s obvious that you can become just as successful by merely phoning it in — perhaps even more so.
Here’s a replicable, scalable, best-practices method for Phoning It In:
- Become soulless. This is a baseline recommendation for most of my advice. If you don’t take care of this essential step, you may later find yourself feeling like you’re letting your readers down. Hogwash! Your readership is a resource for you to exploit, and your blog is the machine that processes it. People go in one end, and blog stats come out the other. You want clicks! Eyeballs! Monetization! Comment counts! You just need to find a way to exploit this resource as quickly, ruthlessly and efficiently as possible, yet not so blatantly that they abandon your blog in disgust.
- Identify a “hot” topic to write about. Ideally you want something that a lot of people are talking about, but which is still so fresh that you could conceivably be an “expert” on. Depending on your audience, you might check:
- Twitter’s Trending Topics
- What’s Hot on Google+
- The Facebook Wall of your friend who always posts angry rants about news stories he clearly hasn’t read all the way through
- Message forums for nearly any industry or hobby (look for all caps and/or exclamation marks)
- Do 10 minutes of research on that topic, tops. You don’t want to gain an understanding of the topic — you have other things to think about, like which model of gold-plated helicopter you’re going to buy with all that blog money. You just want to collect three to five links to news stories, forum posts or blog posts about it.
- Write away! Here’s your format:
- Catchy headline – absolutely the most important part, because this is how you’ll get those sweet, sweet clicks and eyeballs. I suggest either something misleading and incendiary (to get people like your angry friend to share it on their social channels), or a genuinely provocative question which you will not answer.
- Introduction – briefly state what the topic is.
- Body – a few sentences linking to stories about that thing.
- Conclusion – a question that restates your headline followed by something vague like, “Only time will tell.”
The headline is also key because phoning it in is all about managing expectations. Linking to something you find interesting isn’t phoning it in; promising your readers a full meal but getting away with handing them a bowl of cheese crunchies takes it to a different level.
For example, there have been some noteworthy developments in the world of tabletop role playing games. Wizards of the Coast announced that 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons designer Monte Cook has returned to the company, fueling buzz that a 5th edition of the game might be underway; and Paizo announced that a Pathfinder MMO is in development.
In the first case, a great phoning-it-in headline would be, “WoTC Announces 4th Edition D&D Is Dead”. In the post, say that Monte Cook has rejoined the company, post links to various “perspectives” on the announcement, and end with, “Is this the death of 4th edition D&D? Only time will tell.”
And you could do exactly the same thing for the Paizo announcement. Give it the headline “Is Pathfinder Dead?”, pop in some links to stories about the upcoming MMO, and at the end ask, “So is the tabletop RPG version of Pathfinder dead? We’ll have to wait and see.”
You can do this over and over and over again. Eric F., I’m beginning to think you could get away with phoning it in for a lot longer than a week. Why not a month? A year? Why not forever??