I set my blog up in 2014 purely to help fundraise for a charity walk along 2000-year-old World Heritage site of Hadrian’s Wall. But it also gave me a platform to tell my story – awareness of Neuroendocrine Cancer was also a listed aim of the adventure.
In the beginning, I had to rely on family and friends but I slowly attracted a small patient following. However, at this time, I had no inkling that it would become anything other than a low-level storytelling effort with a temporary life span, eventually to be signed to internet ‘shelfware’. After my charity walk, I kept the blog open and reasonably lively but I confess that was just to scrape in a few more pennies! Readers demanded more words and I complied.
Fast forward 4 years, I recently won the 2018 WEGO Health ‘Best in Show: Blog’ award and it was the third attempt having made the finals in 2016 and 2017. I’m actually a user of many different platforms and apps for my advocacy work but the blog was the one I really wanted to win. My blog functioned as the foundation for everything else, it was central.
While trying to win the blog award in 2016, I actually won the Best in Show: Community award. This was a shock but made me think of my advocacy work in a totally different way. The accolades that followed made me realize that all the different social media accounts I used to share my blog, were, in fact, functioning as a community. I guess that’s why more people voted for the community nomination than the blog one. The community aspect has actually changed the way I blog and is something I’m still developing today.
I’m so thankful to WEGO Health for giving me this platform for my advocacy work and for making me realize I was doing something important, something people actually wanted. Moreover, I found that people outside my community were actually interested. Being a WEGO Health Award winner has opened up new doors, allowing me to develop myself as a patient leader and to help and collaborate with others outside my own community.
As I write this article, I have almost 810,000 views of my blog site and I’m scheduled to pass the ‘magic million’ mark around June 2019 based on current averages. I suppose that’s not bad for a condition not many people have even heard of?
So.… what happened between 2014 and 2018?
What is the secret of my apparent success in setting up a blog and attracting so many followers?
Actually, there is no secret; I’m not even sure how I managed it other than hard work. I just plowed on doing what I thought was right. There’s a saying along the lines of “doing things right” and “doing the right things”. Some will say that the latter is more strategic thinking and the former is more tactical thinking. Using this analogy, I guess I started off tactically by trying to do things right and then gradually (without realizing I was doing it), I became more strategic in my approach by ‘doing the right things’. Having now written my 10 tips below, I can see that change developing.
When WEGO Health asked me to share my top tips and advice for blogging, I initially gulped because I didn’t have anything documented, I didn’t know exactly how I went from 10 hits per day to an average of one thousand. Sometimes as a patient advocate and a blogger, I feel like I have been more responsive than proactive in my activities. However, in accepting this task from the WEGO Health team, it suddenly dawned on me that my sub-conscious way to doing things is perhaps something that needs to be documented in the hope that others may benefit.
So here goes:
Best In Show: Blog Winner Ronny Allan’s 10 tips for setting up a blog and reaching one million hits
We’ve compiled Ronny’s tips and more into a downloadable document. Download the document below or keep reading!
1. Find yourself a blogging app
There are many around. I use WordPress, I find it relatively easy but like all the other apps, it takes a while to get used to all the features. I eventually upgraded my package to provide better capability and features. I advise starting with the free version which will be sufficient for most.
2. Find Yourself an Audience
Most health advocates will have a condition in mind and most will already be a patient with that condition or be caring for one. Others may operate on a wider basis or a specific aspect of living with the condition, perhaps a campaigning aim. Decide if you are focussed on a single geographical region or open to international patients. My condition is not that common, so I was eventually forced to go international to expand, although many patients came to me due to the power of the internet – if you build it, they will come. Just be aware of language, cultural and healthcare differences in place (it’s a steep learning curve). It’s fairly easy to set up Google translate in WordPress.
3. Find yourself a brand
I didn’t give this much thought at the beginning but there is some scope for change downstream. If possible, try to make the big changes early on. I’m still working on this one!
4. Study and understand your audience
This is really a follow on from finding the audience. If you’re dealing with the same condition, it really helps with the understanding. I actually joined a number of forums/groups/email subscriptions and read (lurked) a lot before my blog really took off. I was, therefore, able to hit the ground running in terms of what I understood the key issues to be (although when I read some of my early blog posts, I often cringe). That said, some of my early posts remain my most successful.
5. Tell them about you
Do this first. This was easy for me as I had written a patient story well before my blog was set up. I had all the medical letters and reports so it was relatively easy to document that in as much ‘patient speak’ as possible and in a way that others could compare and empathize. This is a very individual thing, some stick to the ‘technical aspects’ of their condition, others focus on life impacts. Personally, I try to avoid a ‘pity party’ and try to focus on the positives. That said, I can talk about the horrible aspects but in the context of a particular subject with a particular aim in mind – even positive patients have vulnerabilities. In fact, I often add in personal stories in the opening or closing lines of my articles, this is a combination of setting the scene or for emphasizing.
6. Listen and learn from your audience
Just when I think, I’ve written about ‘everything’, a subject comes along which not only resonates personally but also seems like something that needs to be ‘fleshed’ out, something that needs an answer or at least some thought leadership. Often there can be a common thread on many different forums but the answer seems to be quite elusive. I look at those scenarios as challenges and an article frequently follows. Sometimes the ideas come thick and fast and the draft section of my blog site is always full of ideas. I set up my own closed Facebook group 12 months ago which is providing a whole new learning (and humbling) experience and blogging ideas.
If you want to get to the ‘million club’, you need to grow your followers and find more outlets to share your material. My following is totally 100% organic (nothing purchased) and that goes for all my social media platforms. After a year of blogging, I decided to set up a Facebook and Twitter account to match my blog site (on a much smaller scale, I also use Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google Plus). Facebook made the biggest difference – I actually have 5 Facebook pages for various purposes. All of these need sites to be public to allow people to find and share your material. I also use a newsletter feature based on Twitter. Again, there are a few of these around but I use Nuzzel, I find it really easy to use, I can add stuff directly to the app and schedule accordingly. I find this is now competing with Twitter as the second biggest source of hits. I also use Buffer, a scheduling tool which allows me to post many items up to 2 or 3 days in advance. I currently only use it for Twitter posts. My Facebook posts are often scheduled directly in the Facebook tool but many are ad hoc. If you have an international following, consider the time zones of your main country groupings.
8. Knowledge is not power
I pride myself on researching from the most impeccable and trustworthy sources (some at my own cost). With a less common and complex disease, this is really important – the internet is a dangerous place, full of fake news, myths, snake oil sellers and other such quackery. Many of my posts are written in the style that I have used since day 1 – something which takes away the complexity and mystery in order that patients can understand what is being said. Most posts will have reference articles or other links for those who like the detail. This knowledge should be free to all patients and not held close to the chests of doctors and other healthcare professionals. In order to spread this further, I set up a closed Facebook group 12 months ago which has really taken off. The group is based on all the principles in this article.
9. Try to be consistent
If your posts start to appear contradictory or you have wildly differing views on the same subject, you will ‘draw fire’. I think I have stuck to my guns on the vast majority of subjects, clearly, healthcare is a moving picture so older articles may need tweaking, updating, or in some cases deleting (although I tend to ‘reinvent’ those to build on the existing hits within my statistics).
10. Be ‘You’
I try to put over the human side in all my articles. I’m just a wee Scottish guy with a computer and a complex and less common disease. I write about things I think people want to hear about (having done 1-9 above). I can relate to other people with the same condition and they appear to relate to me. I try my best to put over what I think about living with Neuroendocrine Cancer and how to best advocate for myself and others. I’m a naturally positive person so that comes out in my posts but I can still empathize and sympathize with others having a bad time. It seems to work and I will, therefore, continue to be ‘me’ going forward.