(Guest post by Stephanie Halligan from The Empowered Dollar)

Quick poll: If you were browsing around on Facebook, which would you rather click on:

This:

Check out today’s post on Blog Sexier and learn how to Facebook fan engagement strategies.”

Or This:

unicorn graph
Answer me honestly :)

I stumbled across the power of a hand-drawn unicorn a few months ago, and my blogging life has never been the same.

When I started adding more doodles and images with funny text written over them to my blog, my readers came alive literally overnight: comments on my blog posts started doubling just after one week and the number of likes and shares on my Facebook page were shocking.

People were actually engaging and responding to my writing, and all I had to do was attach a fancy picture.

It’s that simple.

Why do pictures work?

Simply put, we’re human. We can interpret visual information more quickly than written words. We like things like Pinterest and 160 character text. And when you’re a reader in “must-read-all-blogs” or “Facebook zombie stalking” mode, sometimes you need a startling visual image to jerk you awake.

For example, here are the top two posts that have generated the most user engagement on my Facebook Page (meaning they clicked on the post to view the picture and then went to the blog).

valentines day chart
debt pay off picture
The first image is highly visual and takes some digesting and exploring – naturally, I would want to click on it to read what it says. The second image is simple, but creates a visual contrast so the reader can immediately grasp my situation.

Both of these are very different visual strategies. But both of these are way more exciting to look at than a Facebook post that says: “Check out today’s blog post on credit card debt! www.nobodycares.com”

Okay, but I can’t draw…

You don’t have to be an artist to grab someone’s attention and you don’t need Photoshop to create an interesting picture. In fact, the more “real” your drawings are, the more attention they’ll get. All you need is the most basic computer drawing program, an imagination and a quick wit. Here are some easy options to start adding interesting images to your blog:

  1. Start with simple hand drawn cartoons (even if you’re a sucky artist): A crappy stick figure drawn in MS Paint adds infinitely more humor and character to your post than a stock image. Don’t worry if you can’t come up with the perfect drawing for your personal finance blog post about debt reduction; in fact, it may just make your image more interesting (What about a Debt-Fighting Dinosaur?)
  2. Add text for a personalized touch: Adding a quirky one-liner or a speech bubble to a photo or screenshot helps make an image more relevant and personal. The screenshot above of my savings and debt dilemma is a great example of taking an image up a notch with a little text. You can do the same with your own photographs.
  3. Know the easy tools of the trade: I use PicMonkey.com for any text that I want to quickly add to a picture. I’m a littler fancier and use a Bamboo Drawing Tablet to create more intricate charts and drawings. But I started with MS Paint and a lot of patience – so don’t feel like you have to invest a lot to create interesting images. Keep it raw :)

Simple as that! So get out there and start creating beautiful works of blog art :)

—————
Stephanie Halligan writes for The Empowered Dollar, a blog dedicated to helping twenty-somethings fix their finances and find their stride in life. In an effort to make personal finance a little less boring, Stephanie fills her blog with as much snarky writing, awkward videos and hilarious drawings as humanly possible.

EDITOR’S NOTE: All very true stuff. Pictures – especially those which are funny/creative – help out SO much! If you’ve never seen the blog CrappyPictures.com, I highly recommend it. A perfect example of it growing a site like mad. Thanks for the awesome article, Stephanie!

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How to Vlog Like a Boss

by J. Money on March 11, 2013


[Welcome to a kick-ass guest post video post by my girl Kathryn at Makin’ Sense Babe!]

If you’re not at work, shut down your twitter/facebook/emails, close your door, then  turn up the volume and hit play! For the next 10 minutes you’ll learn exactly how to pump out quality vids that’ll grab your attention and get your sexy readers (watchers?) coming back. It’s long, yes (that’s what she said!), but it’s totally worth it, believe me. If, that is, you want to be a video king.

Close your door and do it now!

(Here’s the direct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjighOUPFX4
And if you’re a bore and want to read about it instead, the outline of the vid is below…)

==============================================================

So you want to know how to make a video that doesn’t make people want to stab themselves in the eyeballs? I’ve got the formula for you!

Before we start, let’s clear one thing up: making a YouTube video should be fun. So if at any point you’re not having fun while making your video, remind yourself that people care less about your videos than you think.

They’re not thinking about them all day long, even if it’s a really bad video.

The biggest obstacle between you and the camera is you obsessing over “feeling dumb” or not saying the right thing. PS, everyone is too obsessed with themselves to be harping on your video (or maybe that’s just LA) so no worries.

How to make a killer video blog:

  1. The Flow
  2. The Conversation
  3. The Equipment

—————————————————— THE FLOW ——————————————————

The Flow #1 – The first seven seconds of your video are key.

Do something unpredictable! Whatever you do, don’t sit there and look like you’re reading off a screen. And forget saying who you are, they know who you are if they look on your YouTube channel and I’m sure you’ll have your name or blog name somewhere in the video in a banner at the bottom. Don’t waste their time in the first seven seconds with mundane info you can incorporate somewhere else.

The Flow #2 – Shock the viewer every 30 seconds.

If you write out an outline like I do, make sure you have something in there every thirty seconds that will shock them. You don’t need to be a comedian, it just needs to be something unpredictable.

Our brains are always looking for patterns. If you ramble on for more than 30 seconds, your viewer’s brain falls asleep because they can predict what you’re going to do next so they don’t bother paying attention. The key is to wake their brain up around every 30 second mark so they don’t know what’s next. I doesn’t need to be “exactly” 30 seconds, but around there is good.

The Flow #3 – Talk in short sentences.

When you make your outline, write short sentences to get to your point. You’re not on TV. You can edit short clips together which keeps the video moving vs long sentences with long duration clips.

The Flow #4 – Shake it up at 40 seconds.

Right around 40 seconds people start to get bored. No matter how good your intro is, or if you’ve been talking in short sentences, and if you’ve been a little unpredictable, around 40 seconds people will bail unless you are moving in a new direction. If the video is to help people with something, right around 40 seconds you need to make clear that that’s what you’re doing, very soon.

The Flow #5 – Turn the corner at one minute.

Here’s the thing, right at one minute, if you take the video in a whole new direction, you can get them to the two minute mark no problem. At one minute they really need to understand what the value add is (to them) of continuing to watch the video. Whatever you do, don’t blow through the one minute mark without taking a bit of a turn in the video.

It’s all about turning corners with unpredictable and/or valuable information, not just blowing through those corners blabbing away.

————————————————– THE CONVERSATION ————————————————–

The Conversation #1 – Fly your freak flag.

Stop trying to be so professional. If you have good content, it is good to be a little weird (if you’re weird). Just because you fly your freak flag doesn’t mean people won’t listen to you and take you whatever you’re saying seriously….if you have good content. Wrap your awesome content in a pretty freaky bow.

The Conversation #2 – Have a conversation.

For the love of god, don’t read a script. Write a rough outline (with short sentences) and just start talking in the camera like you’re talking with one of your friends. If you talk to your friends like you’re reading off a paper, I’m really not sure how you have any friends. It’s a conversation withe viewers, you’re not talking “at” them. And keep the camera rolling. Don’t start and stop when you mess up, if you keep it rolling then it starts to feel more like a conversation. Then when you edit you just use the clips where you got your point across.

The Conversation #3 – Tell stories and use analogies.

Don’t use a lot of numbers. You’re not the Khan Academy. People remember stories and analogies the most, why? Because they relate to their life so then they don’t really have to “remember” anything if they remember the story or analogy. Buy Made To Stick. Great book on this topic.

The Conversation #4 – Why do they care?

Again, the video needs to be about them, not about you. And here’s the thing, a lot of people think they’re making videos that are about the viewer, and they’re not. You have to specifically tell them “why they care about X.” Otherwise all the info gets lost and they’re like, what does this mean for me and my life? Don’t make them wonder that, tell them what it means for them or how this information impacts them.

—————————————————– THE EQUIPMENT —————————————————–

The Equipment #1 – I use a Canon 60D.

It works great for what I’m doing. Sometimes I use quicktime movie on my laptop when I’m traveling for work and I don’t have my camera with me. Quicktime only works properly with short videos though, when you shoot longer videos your voice doesn’t sync so well with your mouth. Those videos need to be 1 minute or less.

The Equipment #2 – The mic.

There’s a built in mic in the 60D but I bought a RODE mic too. It helps with the sound, a lot.

The Equipment #3 – The tripod and remote control.

I bought a SLIK tripod and a remote control as well. These help so that 1) you don’t have to balance your camera in random places (like I was doing at the beginning) and 2) you don’t have to get up if you are starting and stopping your camera (which you won’t do much, the conversation #2)

The Equipment #4 – Check out Lynda.com to teach yourself Final Cut Pro x.

You can do a lot on iMovie but it’s definitely not as robust as Final Cut Pro X. But Final cut Pro X is a little pricey, think I paid $250 when I bought it a while ago.

——————————————————- CONCLUSION ——————————————————-

This video on the Fiscal Cliff was about two minutes and 40 seconds. The average viewer watched 99% of it (these stats are in the back end of YouTube in YouTube analytics).

If you watch the video and follow my format, you’ll see that I follow it for the most part. This was the video that I realized there actually is “a formula.” Some of my first videos, you’ll see, do not follow this formula and don’t have the same results.

Lastly, yes of course you feel like a total weirdo starring down the barrel of the camera. That is a given. But, if you can get yourself to a place where you feel like you’re having a conversation vs “making a video” or “reading a script” you’ll find it fun.

So go have fun!

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Kathryn uses video to plow through the news that impacts your money and makes sense of it. Her site, MakinSenseBabe.com, is dedicated to non-finance people because finance people are annoying. She has worked in the asset management industry for 13 years and has factual data to back up her claim. Word.

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Right now, on Budgets Are Sexy, it’s my search bar and also my commenting notification system which sends alerts every time someone leaves a comment where you had left one too (if you had checked the box to receive them, of course). It’s been broken for about 8 months now.

The first year of blogging this stuff annoyed me to no end and I couldn’t go to sleep until it was fixed, but now – 5 years later – I’ve learned to just live with it. Or, more accurately put, *expect* it. It still doesn’t make me happy and I want to punch someone in the face when the most SIMPLEST thing breaks (!!!), but I now know it’s all a part of the game. Just like owning a house. Something will always be broken and you just do the best you can to maintain everything. Sometimes you’re awesome and fix things fast, and other times not so much.

So. If something on your site is driving you mad right now, stop, take a deep breath, and realize that all 1,000 other of your blogging counterparts are dealing with something stupid right now too. Your readers won’t go away or shun you. In fact, they probably have no idea something is broken! Do your best to fix it whenever you have the time, but otherwise keep pushing out killer content and let THAT be your #1 priority.

No one is coming to your site to look at your logo or your fancy “best of” article rotator widget. They help, and are fine to have, but they’re there for your content. Unless that’s the stuff that’s broken, all will be good in the world :)

XoXo.

UPDATE: I’m proud to say I have finally fixed the comment notifications!! It literally took 2 minutes: 1 email to a friend for a recommendation, and another 30 seconds to install his recommended plugin: “subscribe to comments reloaded“. As for the searching feature on my site? It ended up solving its own problem a few days later, haha… I won’t ask questions!

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Quick Tip: Download ‘Rapportive’

by J. Money on February 25, 2013

If you like to know who you’re emailing with all the time, download Rapportive and it’ll show you in the sidebar every time you open up an email in Gmail :)

It’s kinda freaky actually. And sorta feels like stalking, but then when you realize others are seeing *your stuff* too it makes you feel better, haha… And that’s ANOTHER reason to download it actually – so you have control of what others are seeing of your accounts too!! The more you have connected through Gmail, the more that will show up when people are looking (not that everyone uses Rapportive, of course). It’s a great way to connect to those you like.

Oh, also?! It gets rid of all those ads in the sidebar too! You’re replacing junk with something informative :) Been using it for about a month now and really pleased at how it’s going… I wish I had done it a year ago when I first heard about it! It’s fun to see who those random people are on the other end sending you stuff, haha…

You can find it here: http://rapportive.com

And this is what it looks like:

rapportive j. money

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awesome word bubble

(Guest Post by Kelly Gurnett of Cordelia Calls It Quits)

Bullet-pointed Top 10 lists…
SEO-maximized keyword usage…
Cultivating your e-mail list…

Mmmm…  Hubbah, hubbah, right?

Not quite.

If you’ve been studying the big blogging gurus for a while, you know all the stock tricks to build a “better” blog.  And this is stuff worth knowing.  It’s the foundation that make your blog professional, effective, and ready to potentially grab some attention in this crowded space known as the blogosphere.

But none of these expert tricks will mean squat if your content puts people to sleep when they actually start reading it.

Why None of the Expert Advice Matters

It’s just like a book.  (Remember those?  The physical ones, not the digital, you-can-read-Fifty-Shades-of-Gray-on-the-sly ones.)

You can have the best A-team publishing squad on your side… the sleekest, most attention-grabbing book jacket… glowing reviews from bestselling authors… a marketing strategy that makes people who don’t even read want to line up in front of Barnes & Noble to get your Great American Novel the day it’s released. But if the book itself is a snooze, it’ll be in the bargain bin sooner than you can say “What the mother-loving $*#&?”

The gurus like to say “content is king.”  And they’re half-right.  Great content is Blogging 101, but if you want your blog to succeed, you’ve gotta go beyond the basics. And it’s your voice that makes your content either shine or plummet to the earth with a sad “wah-wah!” noise.

It’s you, the personality behind the blog, that readers will connect with.  It’s you who brings the content alive and makes it the kind of thing people want to subscribe to, retweet, and tell their friends about.

Which means that you’ve gotta be pretty freakin’ awesome.

The Cold, Hard Truth (And How You Can Totally Kick Its A**)

I’ll let you in on a little secret (brace yourself, it’s a depressing one):  Everything you want to say on your blog has already been said.  Everything.

I’ll pause to let the sound of shattering dreams settle.

That’s right.  Every thought you have, every topic you want to cover, every epic opinion you’re ready to unleash on the world — someone, somewhere, has already said it or is already saying it.  So how do you even stand a chance?

By saying it in a way no one else ever could.

What sets the great blogs apart from the “meh” ones is the way the bloggers present their material.  You keep coming back to them not because they’re necessarily writing something never before written, but because they’re writing it in a way that resonates with you.  Because they’re fun, they’re snarky, they’re fresh, they’re weird — they’re whatever it is that makes you remember them and want to see more of them.  They’ve got pizzazz.

And you need to get you some of that pizzazz if you want your blog to avoid making that sad “wah-wah!” noise!

Help!  I HAVE No Personality!

First of all, that is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard, and I want to give you a hug.

Secondly, we all have a unique personality, and if you feel the driving, overwhelming urge to share your message with the world, then you can be pretty confident your one-of-a-kind voice is in there somewhere too.  Because bland Joe Schmoes don’t have a passion for blogging.  They prefer to express their personality by sharing Family Guy clips on Facebook and wearing t-shirts they think are hilarious.

So, how do you find this elusive voice of yours?

I’d recommend these exercises:

  • Journal.  Every night, write down whatever’s on your mind and your heart that day, and write it knowing that you and only you will be reading it.  Write it with the abandon of a 16-year-old girl writing about her world-ending crush.  Really let loose.  The more you learn to let go of how you’ll “sound” and just allow yourself to capture what’s gushing out of you, the more you’ll start to hear your voice — and the more comfortable you’ll get writing in it.
  • Write how you talk.  Imagine you’re writing your post as an e-mail to your best friend, the same way you’d talk to him or her in person.  Do you tend to make up words?  Do you scatter high-falutin’ terms from your days as an English major in between your “like”s and “OMG”s?  Do you use ironic pop culture references?  Write your post in that voice, not the voice you used to write term papers in.  If one of your good friends can’t read your blog and think, “Yep, this sounds like her!”, then you’re doing it all wrong.
  • Speak what you write.  Read your post out loud when you’re done writing it.  If something is stilted, long-winded, or unnatural, you’ll hear it a lot faster than you would re-reading it.  If you don’t feel like “you” reading the words you wrote, edit them so you do.
  • Follow the greats.  Take a look at the way bloggers like Ash Ambirge, Erika Napoletano, and up-and-comer Courtney Johnston write their posts.  You feel like you know then (and that they are awesome) from the get-go.  That’s what your going for.  Don’t mimic them, but look at the ways they make their posts sounds like genuine (uncensored) conversations.  Then go forth and try your hand at doing the same.

—————-
Kelly Gurnett runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook and hire her services as a blogger here.

[Photo by Sam Howzit]

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