Facebook Pixel
Join our Facebook Community

Writing with Confidence or Risking Your Reputation?

Posted By Darren Rowse 21st of January 2008 Writing Content 0 Comments

A guest post over at John Chow’s blog today by Steven York titled Successful Blogging – 5 Tips for Writing With Confidence caught my attention today. The title was something that I was keen to read as I think that being confident as a blogger is important – however as I read it I found myself reacting against every point made.

The five points:

#1 – Don’t Ever Talk About Being Dugg/Reddited/Stumbled
#2 – Don’t Disclose Failure Unless It’s To Make a Point
#3 – Shout About Your Successes
#4 – Write with Authority
#5 – You Don’t Need To Tell The Truth All The Time

Now there is plenty of room for bloggers to blog in their own voice/style – but quite a bit of the advice in this post left me wondering what type of blog a blogger would build if they took all of the advice in it.

I was going to write a post on this topic – but ended up leaving it in a fairly raw form over on the post itself (I think my post is currently in moderation). I’ll repost my comment here in the hope that it’ll add to the conversation. I’ve added a few other thoughts to my original comments below (in italics).


Steven – I respectfully disagree with most of your points:

1. Talking about being Dugg/Stumbled etc can actually be a good move strategically. By mentioning it you introduce your regular readers to social bookmarking. I did this a couple of months ago on my photography blog and mentioned that the day before I’d had a lot of new readers from StumbleUpon and Digg. What I found is that most of my loyal readers had never heard of StumbleUpon or Digg before but many signed up to them that day. The next day I had massive traffic as a result of loyal readers submitting posts from my archives. I didn’t tell them to do it and only mentioned social bookmarking in passing but it was enough to get a lot of new readers using the tools.

While I agree that you wouldn’t want to constantly go on about how your blog has been Dugg or Stumbled I do think that an occasional mention can actually help to build a culture on your blog where readers naturally use these tools – something that a blog could really benefit from.

2. Disclosing failure is something that I think is important on a blog for numerous reasons. It makes you more relatable, it gives you something to build on when you teach how things SHOULD be done and it can show real character and transparency to your readers. I find that when I talk of my weaknesses or failures that many readers email me and comment thanking me for showing that side of things.

Steven used the example of Shoemoney showing his big check instead of talking about his failures. I’d argue that while the check picture was crucial in his rise to fame that it was also his ability to talk about messing up. He’s written himself about this on numerous occasions. Check out his posts My Top 10 Worst Ideas to Make Money and My Advice to Connect with Your Readers.

3. Shouting about your Successes – I partly agree with you here but only to a point. If you don’t talk about your successes to some degree they might go unnoticed – but when you ’shout’ about them you can actually hurt your reputation. Constantly talking about how well you’ve done things can alienate readers who don’t achieve what you’ve achieved and it can come off as arrogant. I’ve seen numerous bloggers lose audience over being perceived in this way. I do agree with your words about using case studies to highlight your successes as this is a more helpful way to share them – but just be careful about doing it too often.

Again I’ll emphasize – that it’s not bad to highlight your successes – but do it in moderation and in a way that is relevant, relatable and on topic.

4. Authority – I agree with this point the most, although think that there is room for ambiguity on a blog. If you’re not sure about something – I wouldn’t recommend saying that you are or you could end up being caught out by readers. Authoritative statements that turn out to be wrong can hurt your reputation. It’s about being transparent – but also about covering your butt if you’re wrong.

Yes do blog with authority but only when you are an authority.

5. ‘You Don’t Need to Tell the Truth all the Time’ – Again I’m not so sure on this. While it is possible to write about something that you’ve never experienced I generally find that it’s more powerful to disclose your experience level on a topic. Again it’s about transparency – but also about connecting with your readers. Perhaps you’re different to me but I’d much rather read someone tell me how they’re trying something as a beginner than read something by someone who presents themselves as a know it all who obviously has little idea of what they’re saying.

Getting found out as a liar when you’re presenting yourself as an expert can have a lasting impact upon your reputation and blog’s profile.

I don’t mean to pick on your post – but what worries me about the style of blogging that you’re describing is that if people follow it they could end up hurting their reputation. While some bloggers might well get away with some of it – if you’re looking to build a blog with a long term profile in a niche and that is respected as a credible and authoritative source then I think a blogger needs to really consider the impact of taking this kind of advice.


Perhaps I was being a little harsh or narrow minded with my comment. I do think that there is room for promoting your successes, being authoritative etc – but look at a lot of successful blogs and see people who are fairly humble and down to earth people. While there are certainly a few who follow the five points above and still get successful I’m not sure I’d be building a blog on these strategies.

To me blogging with confidence has more to do with knowing what you do know and knowing what you don’t. Blogging about your experience. Connecting with your readers. Building relationships based upon trust and blogging in a way that is true to your values. But that’s just me – what do you think?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. If find myself agreeing with you on this one Darren. Talking about being Dugg or stumbled is important. Skellie recently wrote a post on getting on the front page of Digg and it was valuable to many readers, as she gave advice for doing it themselves.

    Not telling the truth all the time is also harmful. I don’t understand why so many people lie – because they think they get ahead faster. Surely it would be more satisfying to get there eventually without lying, or cheating anyone?

  2. I tend to agree with you too, Darren. I like being upfront about when I’m facing challenges, rather than pretending it all comes easily. I’ve mentioned StumbleUpon before, but I don’t harp on it and now you have me thinking I need to talk about it on my non-WAHM blogs.

  3. Thanks Darren for this reaction, and thank you CatherineL…

    I do not use social networking on my blog yet for two reasons:

    1) My readers are mostly not knowing what it is
    2) I’m not a great fan of having all the social networking icons below each and every of my posts.

    This is why I like the way CatherineL is doing, with the single “share this” link taking the reader to a page from where you can do all social networking you want.

    I would not be surprised if this pops-out on my blog within the next days…

  4. I would say not telling the truth will show with time. One should always tell the truth. Why would anyone want to lie to their readers? I totally agree.

  5. It is truly surprising that readers of blogs have not heard of DIGG.

    Of course, someone can mention that they were successful on a social bookmarking site.

    But what interesting is – WHO submitted the piece and who were the first to DIGG it.

    So many great pieces go nowhere because they did not attract the attention of the top members

  6. The guest post talks mostly about controlling an audience and not allowing it to do some stuff that blogs like this will allow. This is strongly shown when one reads #3 and #4. The audience is forced to know and read like the author is authoritative and self-centered.

    In the end, it’s the bloggers call. They build their own style and we build our own style, yes?

  7. I completely agree.

    When I saw how contradicting #1 and #3 were, and how bad the advice from #5 was I knew should leave a comment. I feel sad for his 500 rss readers who have been blindly following his advice (even if he had no idea what he was talking about).

    A lot of my readers WANTED me to post a Digg case study when I had one of the 250 most popular Digg’s of all time… and making that post helped me, so I strongly disagree with his #1 tip.

    As Warren Buffet said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to lose it.” -I couldn’t agree more.

  8. The first four are debatable, depending on the writing style of the blogger. Unless you’re writing serial fiction, the fifth one is a horrible idea.

    #1 – Maybe not “never”, but unless it’s a techie blog, you shouldn’t talk about these things often.
    #2 – Don’t write ANYTHING unless it has a point.
    # 3 – If you don’t toot your own horn, other people aren’t likely to.
    #4 – Even if you’re just learning the topic, you should be researching enough to write with authority on what you’ve learned so far.

  9. I do agree with you Darren. Your last paragraph above pretty much sums up what I keep trying to tell my readers through my blog. I think in most cases, blogging is like an extension of our physical life. If one advocates the 5 points mentioned by Steven, I wonder whether it also shows how the person is in “real” life.

    Perhaps the qualities advocated by Steven are more of “worldy” standards but unfortunately, I do not subscribe to them. The genuine and more transparent approach is preferred for me.

  10. Your comments are absolutely on target on every point, Darren, in my view.

    The one thing that burns me the most about blogging is to go to a blog that seems to be authoritative only to find that the blogger’s background in that niche is very limited. If you’re still learning your way on a subject, tell me so and ask me to join your journey of learning. Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not. Unfortunately, there are all too many people trying to be an authority who are simply parroting what others have said on the subject — particularly when the subject is making money online.

  11. I’m with you on this response Darren, and I must admit I read John’s blog less and less as I’m finding it’s gone too ‘yeh I’m awesome’ and has gotten a lot harder to relate to.

    Anyway, great post..

  12. Most of his writing points were too narrowed to the ‘make money online’ niche. On a normal blog like a tech or gossip blog you wouldn’t discuss digg or of your success as a blogger. I do agree with the whole ‘blog with authority’. No matter what niche you’re in you should write well and have knowledge of what you are discussing.

    Thanks for bringing this up again, Darren.

  13. You don’t need to tell the truth all the time? Is this by omission or by blatantly being untruthful?

    One of my concerns about blogging (particularly in the “personal” blog type niche that I blog in) is the way some bloggers produce a “false front”. If you make your readers feel inadequate are they going to continue to enjoy reading or drift away?

    Maybe it’s different with other niches, I don’t know. I think overall integrity comes out over time. How can it not when you put so much of yourself out there – no matter what niche you’re blogging in. Part of the appeal of blogging is the more personal aspect of it. At least, that’s how I see it.

  14. Darren, I think it’s a most thoughtful response and I’m glad you shared it here.

    Your last paragraph is spot on. It’s also got huge advantages for the blogger – it leaves you on solid ground, even if things go wrong, you still know you’ve been true to yourself and your values, and no one can take that from you.

    “To me blogging with confidence has more to do with knowing what you do know and knowing what you don’t. Blogging about your experience. Connecting with your readers. Building relationships based upon trust and blogging in a way that is true to your values.”


    BTW if you took out the refs to ‘blogging’ here you’d also have a nice recipe for confidence for life :-)

  15. Darren, you’re points align with my thinking about this blog post. I think that, if one followed those tips, one would end up with a blog almost exactly like John Chow’s, which already got taken off my Google Reader. I agree on the honesty factor, too. If you reflect your honest experiences, including failures, your readers will relate to you more, and feel more connected to you.

  16. I agree, your last statement did sum it all up nicely. As long as the success or failure are relevant to the topic you’re discussing, go ahead and use it. Use either too much or carelessly, you come off as a bore, or just pathetic. Any good conversationalist knows the key to communication is getting other people to open up. By sharing experiences you might strike a chord in one of your readers. They feel a connection and end up benefiting from your post – and coming back for more.

  17. obviously, theres a reason why im reading YOUR site and not theirs. ;)

  18. I think Steven York didn’t follow #4 here. I think his authority suffered from this post. The authoritative statements came out wrong and many bloggers will make a lot of mistakes if they follow his advice.

  19. I agree, Darren. Steven is talking about posturing, which can be a useful tactic against people who are less inclined to do a full investigation on both sides of an issue.

    I think that people in our particular industry are a little too well educated by people who know what they’re talking about to be bowled over by fast moves.

    Steven’s tactic reminds me a little bit of the old multi-level marketing days, where it was acceptable to say anything you wanted to get a prospect in front of a whiteboard.

  20. I think the person who wrote that post is confusing confidence with cockiness. No one wants to listen to a know it all. People read blogs to learn from personal experience like Darren’s. I wouldn’t give this other guy the time of day.

  21. I agree with you and I like how you disagreed without sounding mean. I don’t think a blogger should lie, because eventually they will be found out. How can readers trust someone they know is a consistent liar? They wouldn’t waste their time coming back to the site.

  22. I am amazed how you can actually counter a blog post and the way you counter it is what I call writing with confidence.

    On admitting our blogging failures, when I admit to my blog readers that I am actually banned by Google AdSense, they start to take the case seriously rather than thinking Google ain’t that superior. Also, admitting to readers what are we not good at will let them know what should be expected from us when they are reading our blogs.

    On shouting out our success loud, I think this will depends on what the “success” is. A milestone such as 100 feed readers is something that deserves a shout. First time Digg front page is another that deserves it. However, if your blog is those made for Digg news blogs, this success become nothing to boast about. Also, it is pretty lame to have posts like “My blog has been visited by XXX, look at my widget!”

  23. Add me to the list of people who agree with Darren!

    I actually think that “I’m not sure about this – what do you think?” can be one of the most powerful ways to interact with your readers. Steven York sounds like he’s more of a lecturer than a conversationalist though.

  24. @Joanna Young mentioned that if you take out the refs to blogging you’d have a nice recipe for confidence for life — too true! I really feel that the one piece of advice that can always be relied on is to be yourself: in life, in business, in blogging, your unvarnished soul is the most transformative asset you have. As Marianne Williamson said, our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, it is that we are powerful beyond measure.

    Thanks for your excellent blog, Darren!

  25. Completely agree with you on point number 5.

    Telling the truth is one of the reasons I am so drawn to blogging. Take that aspect out of it and you are left with something akin to traditional news media and marketing (magazines, newspaers, advertisements etc.) so why bother blogging in the first place?

  26. Spot on.

    For me it is a simple rule: put integrity and honesty above everything else.

  27. I wish it was more flattering to be featured on Problogger for the first time, I really do.

    I really appreciate the feedback Darren and agree with all of your points, yet I continue to stand by my post – for two reasons.

    1. The post was aimed more towards the evil side of blogging, writing with confidence so that you can “dress for the job you’re trying to get promoted into” as one commentor said.

    2. I don’t follow all 5 tips on Seopher.com because I’ve been doing it so long now, being dishonest to the readers would be rude. If I was starting a new blog from the off, I might be more evil.

    I guess this just shows the two distinct angles you can take on blogging – honesty and sincerity vs. rock-star like sensationalism.

  28. I enjoy getting a rounded picture of a blogger – their life, their experiences, if you like, rather than a sanitised version that sounds close to marketing speak.

    The beauty of blogs is hearing many different voices offering many different solutions to challenges, dilemmas and problems that we all face.

    I’m more interested in attitude, I guess. If a person is enthusiastic and thoughtful for their readers, I’ll pretty much be interested in what they have to say.

  29. Disclosing failure is probably a better idea than you think. Some of my best received posts have been those where I’ve described something I’d done badly – it can be very helpful to learn from other people’s mistakes.

    As for not telling the truth, whilst it’s ok to blur details, if you mis-represent yourself, you will be caught out. And then you’ll definitely lose credibility.

    Some of the others just need to be done in moderation. It’s ok to talk about your successes, or to talk about Digg/Stumble etc if you do it appropriately. Either would be wrong all the time. And you should probably talk a lot less about social media success than about any other sort of success.

  30. A nicely considered and – as we would expect – genuinely authoritative but non-arrogant response. Can’t help thinking Messrs Chow and York are loving the attention you’ve given them, but them’s the breaks.

  31. I went and read the original article to see if there was something missing here about the “don’t need to tell the truth” point. There wasn’t. My philosophy has been to tell the truth all the time. My readers are looking for candor, integrity and honest analysis – if I were to jeopardize their perception – even once then I have lost all credibility I may have gained. It’s not worth it.

  32. I tend to agree – some of the things that I like most about the blogs I read, e.g. Steve Pavlina, is their transparent & down to earth writing style.

  33. Steven – I’m sorry that I wasn’t flattering with my post. I’ve nothing against you personally and I did understand what you were trying to do (ie fitting with the ‘evil’ style of what John’s done on his blog etc).

    It does show two distinct styles of blogging – I agree with that.

    I guess what concerns me with the ‘evil’ style that John promotes is that it actually does work for some – but I also see the flip side of it regularly in the emails I get from readers who attempt to emulate it and then find that it leaves them in a worse off situation than they started out in.

    While a few bloggers seem to grow their blogs in spite of using ‘evil’ tactics and then become famous for doing so there are many others who take them as ‘the way’ to blog and don’t realise that they are actually risking their reputation.

    I’m glad you don’t do all this on your own blog – but I guess I wonder what writing about doing it and then admitting that you don’t does to your own credibility? How do you feel admitting that furthers your own blogging? Not having a go at you – just genuinely interested to know?

  34. I think one thing that is easily forgotten about what makes blogs unique from regular “websites” is the expression of the blogger’s humanity. People in general really enjoy spending their time with “real” folks like themselves who have bright sides and dark sides.

    I have broken every single rule on Steven’s list, and some times with great balls of fire. There have been times I thought ,”oh no! I’m gonna be hosed”, and the complete opposite happens. The more I have expressed my humanity, the more my credibility, authority, and traffic has grown. I had to really learn how to be ok doing this because my corporate marketing training taught me different. But I gotta tell ya, it’s so much more refreshing to let the hair down, so to speak.

  35. excellent post. and, i must say…i’m in complete agreement with you!!!

  36. I couldn’t agree with you more, Darren… About all the points, but especially the one about telling the truth. Number two would have to be about disclosing failure. My failures are what got me to where I am. My successes too, but had I not failed so hard I would not feel so strongly about my blog’s topic.

  37. Agree with you on this one. Honesty is important. It only makes sense to write about what you know or to give your true opinion on something. After all I like to think that I can trust the blogs I read regularly.

  38. Darren I couldn’t agree with you more. I mention in my newest point how stumbleupon is 30% percent of my traffic so far why should I leave that out? My blog is about my journey which includes my failures and my success thats what great about a blog if you are honest and upfront people keep reading. Thats why problogger is my favorite site; you are grounded and always want to help your readers,


  39. I especially like number 5.
    HEY you, want to see the best blog in the universe?
    I get upwards of 500 000 hits per month.
    I have many loyal RSS subscribers who are ready to fulfill my every whim. They are currently washing my car and licking my floor clean. Want to see what the buzz is about?

    Successfully avoiding union law suits since 2006

  40. Darren:

    I especially agreed with the need for the blogger to be transparent, almost vulnerable.


    To make you more “relatable” – I find myself being inspired when the writer is honest and risks riducule like I did when I talked about how fear almost stopped me from taking on a major speaking engagement. I learned a lot of lessons from that experience and shared it with my readers.

    You can click on my name to be directed to that post if you’re interested.

    Great post – thanks. You continue to inspire me with your posts. You care a great deal about helping your readers.

  41. I agree with your comments. I started blogging nine months ago thinking it would be fun to share successes and failures in my gardening experience.

    Then something strange happened, I began to think about traffic. And I found that it stifled my creativity. So I decided to not worry about traffic and just write about what I know, telling my perspective, returning to my original reason for writing.

    I discovered that not trying to be authoritative allowed me to be more relaxed and the words flowed more smoothly.

    My blog doesn’t have much traffic, that I know of, but I am beginning to get positive and supportive comments.

    Personally arrogance will turn me away. The ‘know it all’ attitude does come through in the writing and that may have helped some people ‘make it’ but in the larger picture, I think it is detrimental.

    It is pretty easy to tell if a writer actually does know a lot about a subject and if that writer can tell it in such a way that I don’t feel talked down to then I will return to see what else I can learn.

    Thank-you for publishing your thoughts.

  42. Darren, I agree with you on Digg/Stumble, etc. These sites can really make a newer, small blog catch on, and when that happens why not share the excitement with your readers? As you mentioned, many of them will go sign up to see your “dugg” work and will likely submit more of your work in the future.

  43. I TOTALLY AGREE Darin, with all your points. And actually my honestly on my blog is probably the number one reason people read my blog.

  44. I guess it’s just like real life (go figure)… there is a difference between being confident and being an a$$… people respect confidence, they don’t like ti when you talk down to them

  45. I am so glad this post caught your attention, Darren. I hate to say this, but maybe Mr. Steven York does not know anything about humane blogging esp. with the last tip. He must be a good businessman, not a blogger. With all due respect, I hope this guy could view my Squidoo for him to understand more about humane blogging. Thanks!

  46. “How do you feel admitting that furthers your own blogging? Not having a go at you – just genuinely interested to know?”

    I guess it’s a case of having to appreciate evil to be good. You can get a long way in business/blogging by being good, but you can also go a long way by being evil. It’s personal choice which angle to take but to appreciate the decision you need to know both sides exists.

    Plus, a few of my points that I made on JC’s blog are true of any walk of life. Use of language is crucial for people to listen and respect your opinion. Shouting your successes is also vital to add authority to your advice.

    However I still think that there’s this whole ambiguity over admitting defeat that walks a fine line between helping you be personified as real vs. making you appear inexperienced and weak.

    While it may make for a warmer experience for the interested reader, the average user is a time-sensitive being and needs to see results immediately. I think ultimately admitting failure needs to have a point (like my posts about failing at PPC) but doing it without anything constructive can be painful.

    This might not have been my best post and left lots of room for disagreement, but I’m sure John is enjoying the traffic.

  47. You make some very good points, Darren. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Admiting failure is the opportunity to show to the readers that I am also a human and I am being transparent, which I think is a trait every blogger should have.

  48. This is what I believe about blogging…if you can live with whatever you’ve divulged on your blog five (5) years from now, then I‘ll say proceed on and blog about it…but if you will be embarrassed by your revelation of any sort then permit me to write…you need keep the cat in the bag…

  49. Darren, I posted on the comments at Johnchow also, that I was in the midst of writing about my failures just yesterday, and I read this post. However, I am still going to post about it, and hopefully prevent my readers from making the same mistakes.

  50. You’re right. I don’t want to read a blog by someone who is constantly talking about how great they are, and I think that discussing moments you’re less proud of can make your blog more interesting.

    Likewise, it is a big turn off when you realize that a blogger is writing like he is an expert but his knowledge of the topic is actually very limited (say, that he only read an entry about it on wikipedia). I am interested in history and have become disappointed with a few blogs when i notice the author is writing like he has all the answers and yet he’s really reciting fourth grade textbook stuff which serious authorities in the field have rejected.

    I write about a range of subjects on my blog but try to avoid this trap by doing research, linking to source material, and letting the reader know when my knowledge of the topic is limited or where i’m not certain about something.

A Practical Podcast… to Help You Build a Better Blog

The ProBlogger Podcast

A Practical Podcast…