Why Valedictorians Make Lousy Bloggers (And Class Clowns Rule)

Customer Relationship

Care to play a little game?

Okay, think back to your days in high school for a moment. Try to remember some of the class clowns. You know, the people that never seemed to get any work done, preferring to either tick someone off or make everyone laugh.

Can you remember what they looked like? If I asked you to tell me a story about them, could you do it?

Good. Now, forget about the class clowns. Try to remember your valedictorian, the person with the highest grades in your graduating class. Who was it? Can you even remember?

I sure can’t. I tried this test with several people, and none of them could. You might be able to remember them if you had a super small class, or if they were related to your best friend or something, but for the most part, valedictorians are forgotten the moment they step down from the podium.

But everyone remembers the class clown.

Whether they made you smile or you wanted to punch them in the face is irrelevant — the point is, they provoked a reaction, and that’s what makes you remember. They made you point your finger and say, “Look at what that idiot is doing now.”

Is blogging really so different?

The Secret to Getting Noticed

The secret to getting noticed is doing or saying something that’s worth noticing.

It’s a truth that guys like Brian have been trying to pound into people’s heads, but the response is always the same. The class clowns of the world nod their heads, instinctively knowing it’s true. The valedictorians sit there with puzzled looks on their faces, thinking “That can’t be all it is… What isn’t he telling me?”

Why?

Because becoming a valedictorian is all about dissecting things. You dissect books, problems, frogs, your teachers, tests, and anything else that you need to understand in order to get the “perfect” grade. By understanding all of the pieces of the system, you hope to master the whole.

“Certainly,” you think to yourself, “Blogging must be more complicated than getting others to point at you.” You pour over subjects like headlines, social media, and viral content, hoping to fit all of the pieces together into a comprehensive blogging strategy.

Except you can’t seem to make it work.

Your headlines are perfect copies of the classic templates, but no one links to them. Your posts are targeted at Digg, but no one votes for them. You write a post with all the signs of becoming a piece of viral content, but no one talks about it.

Here’s why:

It’s Boring!

In the pursuit of perfection, valedictorians forget that readers aren’t looking for the perfectly constructed post. They’re looking for something interesting.

I could have titled this post “How to Write an Interesting Post That Gets Lots Of Attention,” but I didn’t, not because it’s inaccurate, but because it’s boring. The web is so saturated with headlines like that that we routinely skip over them.

Instead, I had to find an angle worth noticing… like an attack on the deity of high school intellectuals. I had to break your “guessing machine” for a moment, stopping you in your tracks. Then I had to say something so interesting that you couldn’t help but look.

If you’ve read this far, then I guess it worked.

Blogging Clowns are Smart and Courageous

The good news is valedictorians can learn to be clowns. Look at all of the comedians and screenwriters that come from Ivy League schools. Not only can they make you laugh, but they can make you think too. They find a way to express the truth that breaks through distractions and grabs your attention.

That’s the crucial difference.

Unlike high school, being a blogosphere “clown” is less about acting stupid and more about telling the truth in an interesting way. Sometimes they’ll laugh, sometimes they’ll get mad, and sometimes they’ll be thinking about your post two weeks later. Regardless, as long as you’ve captured and maintained their attention, you’ve won.

So stop trying to impress other people with your smarts. Have the courage to write something that forces your readers and other bloggers in your niche to pay attention.

How are you supposed to do that, exactly? Stay tuned for my next post.

About the Author: Jon Morrow is the co-author of Keyword Research for Bloggers, an 8,000 word guide for how you can use keyword research to build a better blog. Learn more about keyword research tools and how they help you succeed.

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  1. ha, this is completely opposite of my experience. I remember the valedictorian clearly (his name came up in conversation just last week, no kidding) & have a hazy recollection of some jokers. In today’s hyper-competitive college application environment, I suspect the top students are plenty memorable. The days of the valedictorian being a nerdy bookworm are gone. Instead, he/she could be the next entrepreneurial success story.

    But I get your point :-)

  2. As a former class clown and a current marketing enthusiast, this isn’t the first time that I have been reminded of the parallels drawn between extroverts and memorability.

    It is sometimes the simplest concepts such as this that fails to reach so many would-be successful entities that are hung up solely with maintaining a too-professional, almost stodgy appearance. In short, social media works because of the personality that is allowed to shine through.

  3. Alas, I fear there are already too many clowns on the web.

    Being a clown is a tough gig if you’re writing a blog for b2b professionals. It can backfire – and sound like you’re trying to be the cool teacher.

    If you are going to be a clown, don’t think circus clown – think Falstaff.

  4. Right on, it’s all about personality! There’s really only so much knowledge and information to go around — it all eventually gets regurgitated. Therefore, the trick lies in putting your unique spin on it. Thinking about things in unique ways is what will make the difference. You can write 20 different posts about keyword planning, but all using different anecdotes and stories. Guess what would happen? You’d force yourself to start looking at problems creatively and people would react. Give it a try and see what happens. ;)

  5. Rather than a class clown, perhaps a better analogy is court jester or fool whose job was “truth in entertainment” and to puncture the pompous for the king’s amusement and even a little comeuppance.

  6. I understand what you’re saying. Be interesting. Be approachable.

    However, just in point of fact… I do remember our valedictorian. She was also interesting and approachable. She just also happened to be driven.

  7. Kenobi – In the context of B2B marketing, I agree with you. Anything other than a “professional” style is dangerous. Still, we are talking about blogging, not B2B marketing. I don’t think blogging has caught on with the B2B crowd, probably because the medium is too personal.

  8. This post completely and totally and supremely ROCKS!! :D Thank you so much for taking the time to write it – it’s helped me a lot. Really! It was ‘just’ what I needed to hear today.

    And the funny thing is, some schools are actually doing away with the concept of valedictorians altogether! I think that’s totally crazy, but, that’s a discussion for another day entirely!

    Again – thank you – hit the nail on the head for me today!

  9. It is the ‘energy’ of the class clown; the incentive to be in motion; the risk taking as compared to over studying an approach that I want. Nerve enough to speak up; blogging gives introverts a chance to let that other personality come to the surface and be useful to others and to our projects. I love it!

  10. Good premise, but I have to disagree with the valedictorian part. I actually was the valedictorian, and at my 10 year reunion, everyone remembered me. :-)

  11. I suspect that part of the problem lies in the fact that the opportunity cost of boring people so they take no action is hidden, while the usually small cost of annoying people who let you know they’re leaving because you’re a joker is highly visible. (OK, that was the worst sentence ever. Sorry.)

    I would argue that being boring in the B2B space is very dangerous, it’s just harder to see that danger. Naturally you don’t want to come across like an idiot, but you can also limit yourself severely by boring your customers to death.

    The key is in Jon’s last graf, “Unlike high school, being a blogosphere ‘clown’ is less about acting stupid and more about telling the truth in an interesting way.”

    No one is saying be another loudmouthed moron (that does not, unfortunately, differentiate you online). But Dan Kennedy correctly identified being boring as the #1 sin of marketing, and that applies even in highly conservative industries.

    The combination of valedictorian w/class clown is why I idolize Steve Martin. :)

  12. Class clown of my high school journalism class was Nick Cage (although he was Nicholas Coppola back then). I would have remembered him even if he did not become famous because he made me laugh and was really nice. One of the smart, super successful (yes even then) popular “got everything going for her” kids was Daryn Kagan (yes, that Daryn Kagan) and I would have remembered her too, because well she had everything! I started blogging because it was fun, and now I enjoy the people and want more of them. Anxiously awaiting lessons on how not to put them to sleep! Thanks!

  13. Hmmm, much food for thought for me.

    I was Clown and Valedictorian both. I’m still a riot to have a beer with, but “all business” when teaching athletes the skills they need to master (I’m a coach).

    And when writing from my professional expertise, I’m dry as a bone. I even bore myself!

  14. “The combination of valedictorian w/class clown is why I idolize Steve Martin. :)”

    I completely agree with this statement!

    “And when writing from my professional expertise, I’m dry as a bone. I even bore myself!”

    I love this confession – that is exactly what I have been doing, too – boring myself to death on one of my blogs! Until today, it was making me sad, because it is my ‘name’ blog http://www.lisamariemary.com – and I didn’t want that blog, of all blogs – to be boring. It somehow just got that way. And now I see what I’ve been doing COMPLETELY wrong – leaving wacky Lisa out of the equation!

  15. I remember the class clown. He is now in the Navy. Carries a condom in his pocket etc. My Valedictorian is still in college. Higher studies and all.

    Neither of them blog. Hmm… Is there a message in this?

  16. *reads beginning of post, shouting* “Hey, what’s wrong with the valedictorian?”

    Jon,

    The title works on former high-school geeks, I can tell you. You had my instant click-through.

    By the end I totally got your point and cooled off. I was always told that to write accessibly, an eighth-grader has to get it, and I guess I’m doing that.

    I put my blog through the Blog Readability Test recently when I read that so-n-so’s blog was at genius level. Should I be thrilled or disappointed that mine is at elementary school level? :)

    Oddly I do not remember the class clowns. Go ahead and say it, that’s ’cause I was busy vying for top geek.

    (Missed it by two, in the end, in our hotly debated class of ’86. Toppled by two great friends—with good senses of humor—who were more aggressive than I was. I thought senior year was for coasting!)

    Good post, nice provocative position you took, and really fine arguments. Well said.

    Regards,

    Kelly

  17. You mean like that Dooce woman? Whatshername…….?

  18. Gee, thanks for the slam, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Blogging is a variation on high school after all. Popularity rules.

  19. “The good news is valedictorians can learn to be clowns.”

    They’re smart. They can learn to do and be a lot of things.

    In contrast, the clowns can’t say the same.

  20. Karen – Wow. What school did you go to? I want to go :-)

    Kelly – Yep, I wrote it for high school geeks. Glad to hear it had the desired effect :-)

  21. Here’s the question: Why are class clowns both STICKY and INFLUENTIAL?

    They’re STICKY (credit to the Heath brothers) because:

    1) Their behavior is UNEXPECTED.
    2) Their actions are typically CONCRETE (they do physical things we remember, like throwing a paper airplane at the teacher).
    3) They evoke EMOTIONAL responses, by making us laugh–or by hurting our feelings.
    4) Their behavior makes for great STORIES.
    5) Their appeal is SIMPLE–they don’t use big words, or big ideas, the way valedictorians might in speeches.

    Valedictorians, on the other hand (if they’re chosen only for academic ability), are typically boring, abstract, rational and complex. Which might make them great accountants, but doesn’t make them sticky. (Valedictorians are more CREDIBLE, but that’s just one element of stickiness.)

    Additionally, class clowns can be more INFLUENTIAL (credit to Robert Cialdini) because they:

    1) Make us LIKE them.
    2) Make others like them–and want to like them, to avoid being made fun of–which gives them SOCIAL PROOF.
    3) Appear not to care what people think, which makes their attention SCARCE, and hence more valuable.

    Again, valedictorians might have more AUTHORITY, but this can’t compensate.

    So, when we say we want to write like a class clown, what we’re really saying is:

    Be likable, get other people to like you, and write simple, unexpected, emotional, concrete stories.

    Now add credibility and authority, and you’re set.

  22. @Jon – LOL! Beverly Hills High and it wasn’t so exciting back then, but I was also pals with Lenny Kravitz, who was never without his guitar. Now if only some of that talent could have rubbed off on me!

    @Kelly, that blog readability is cool, thanks for sharing!

    @Simon, spoken like a true Hybrid. I loved your comment!

  23. @ Jon Morrow – “I don’t think blogging has caught on with the B2B crowd”. I’m not sure I get your point. TechCrunch, Scoble, Om Malik – all are b2b blogs. Just look at their ads. Look at any web design agency and they’ll have a blog. All are designed to appeal to businesses / decision makers.

  24. Jon…..perfect post. You could not have gotten the point any clearer.

    The complicated things are always so simple.

    Live From Las Vegas
    The Masked Millionaire

  25. Now I am glad that I did not even made it to the Top Ten of our class…lol.

    Kidding aside. I would like to add that it is not just being smart. It is more being a street smart. This means you can talk about anything and you talk to anybody.

    That is blogging.

    Thanks for reminding us.

  26. I think many are making the assumption that the “class clowns” were stupid. The class clowns that I knew were often as or more intelligent than the top performers. Sometimes they were the top performers. It’s funny how we perceive these things differently and make assumptions. What I got from the post is have a personality for God’s sake, lighten up and have some fun on your blog even if you’re writing for a B2B audience.

  27. I was a class clown. I was also one of those annoying smart kids in all the accelerated classes.

    I wanted the popular kids to like me. That lasted until I succeeded and realized I was aiming way low. :-)

  28. Jon,

    LOL! (You really should have heard the howl before I read the whole thing.) Again, great post.

    Karen,

    Glad you liked it. I did test a few of my favorite blogs after I did my own, and decided I’m doing fine. Small words, big ideas.

    Simon,

    I adore the last two sentences of your comment: “Be likable, get other people to like you, and write simple, unexpected, emotional, concrete stories. Now add credibility and authority, and you’re set.” I may have to pin that on a wall.

    Regards,

    Kelly

  29. As editors, we, too, are always trying to promote the idea of reaching an audience through an understanding of what that audience needs. This is, we think, what makes the class clown so popular; he or she makes a statement in such a way that people notice.

  30. lol I was going to say what many others did.

    In fact I clicked through just to tell you that I remember the valedictorian because he’s a successful multimillionaire stud now. I don’t recall any class clowns, but I did check facebook, and best I can tell, one knocked up his high school sweetheart and drives a truck, another is doing 10 years for B & E.
    hmmmmmmm

    anyway, good concept, false analogy.

  31. yep, sorry, I remember the valedictorian AND the salutatorian (even if I can’t spell it, neither can Firefox spell check.) I had an average size class, was not friends with anyone, and graduated 20 years ago.

    Class clowns – I remember bit – the only one I really remember well is me, in Child Development class. I was a real smart a$$ there.

    I do agree though that it’s more interesting to be the clown, and that’s how I sail through life, making others laugh at me or with me. It’s the best way to enjoy yourself. I’m trying to find that balance in my blog and it’s tough – my blog is focused on real estate in small market area, and it’s a challenge to make it interesting and yet relevant so that I get business from it (not just people who enjoy reading ramblings, which I happen to do a lot…lol…)

  32. This has to be one of my favorite posts here because it hits home. I love clowns and serious stuff bores me. Now you have to teach us how to have an on-line sense of humor without offending anyone or without being taken out of context…..not an easy task.

  33. I couldn’t agree more. One name comes to mind “Howard Stern”! Need I say more? Heck I live in South Africa, never heard his radio show but know of him. Why? Because he provokes a response!

    Now I know that there are many better radio and TV shows, but I couldn’t name the hosts. Guess that pretty much proves your point.

  34. There is a known example of inducing the public to talk about you. Call it being a clown and smart at the same time. Make an extraordinary public admission like Brazil’s President Lula da Silva made in July 2007.
    Suddenly he confessed that he fears for his life when flying in Brazilian airplanes. “Personally, when the airplane door closes, I deliver myself to God. Even with my luck in the hands of God, I confess I’m afraid. I confess this publicly because I am not embarrassed to say we are afraid.”

  35. Huh. Maybe straight arrows remember the valedictorians (like I do) and the class clowns remember the class clowns. (I don’t) I do agree though that a great deal of it has to do with having an engaging personality & post. If there is no passion, it can get dull. My fav posts are usually rants!

  36. As neither a class clown or a valedictorian I have always wondered how to gain attention. I have been smart, but not grade smart. I have been fun and funny but not to attract attention, just to have fun. Now I am beginning to realize how this all fits in with becomming a serious blogger and infoprenuer.

    I think the sweet spot must be somewhere in the middle. Maybe that geeky homecomming king that we sometimes get. You have seen him, the kid that doesn’t play sports but everyone likes. Who is not the smartest but when he is in your class he is the first one you go to for help. The one who you know is going to make it in life.

    Yeah I want to be that kid.

  37. As a Valedictorian of my High School class, I can attest to the fact that there is at least a kernel of truth to this post. Blogging is indeed about being interesting and making sure that you reach your audience. Over-analysis can be crippling.

    Actually, I have found the lessons I have learned from reading CopyBlogger to be some of the most useful I have found. That, and my wife is all too happy to function as my editor. Just another reason that I love her.

  38. Boring is tough on blog readers:) It’s a challenge to be creative and entertaining, while delivering serious information. Another challenge is being found by the target readers (for blogs without the established readership base). When I took creative license with blog titles, for example, I had more traffic, but not of people who were interested in real estate.
    I continue to learn from your blog. Thanks for keeping it non-boring:)

  39. yes, I agree 100% that people looking for something interesting

  40. Let’s not generalize here. There are plenty of great valedictorian bloggers – and I’ll tell you, not a single class clown from where I come from even knows how to start a blog.

  41. @Richard – good point. But I think the idea of the post is we have something to learn from the class clowns as far as drawing attention to ourselves.

    I didn’t read the post literally.

  42. There is also one fun kind of clowns – bloggers that called financial stripteasers. :)

  43. While your post sounds good on the surface, it isn’t practical for the vast majority of bloggers who still have to be concerned about the SEO value of their headlines.

    If you already have a large audience, you can afford the luxury of “clever” headlines. But if you’re looking for search engine placement such headlines are not going to help.

  44. @Terry – I suppose that depends on what kind of marketing and link bait you’re trying to do.

    Are you writing for people or search engines? Probably both, so a good mix would be good.

    my 2 cents -

  45. Terry, how exactly did Copyblogger get a large audience? Did it just magically appear?

    People seem to forget this blog started only slightly over two years ago with zero readers… just like everyone else starts. And it wasn’t SEO that got the vast majority of the attention or the audience.

  46. Well I hate to break the trend but I was Dux (what Europeans call Valedictorian) AND class smart ass.

    Rare, I know!

  47. I truly believe people are looking for super content. Not a sales pitch about how your selling something content..

  48. I was the valedictorian who always got sat by the class clowns. You know, so I could “influence” them to behave. Mostly what I did was laugh at their antics. Because they were funny. And a bit of their snarkiness rubbed off on me.

  49. Be a blogging clown and you will get free traffic.

  50. @Perfect Blog – if it were really that easy there wouldn’t be much need for Copyblogger or about a hundred other blogs.

  51. Exactly, to Brian Clark’s response to Terry’s comment regarding SEO.

    A blog is a blog and an SEO’d blog is just a glorified content site. If you want to build a faithful audience that keeps coming back and tells others about you, drop the SEO titles. Put those on your content site and product pages designed to bring in first-time traffic.

    As far as the valedictorian / class clown thing goes, I was neither and I have no idea what happened to those people from my high school. What I do know is for those of us that refused to be pigeon-holed, we’ve been able to do what we want in our adult life. :-)

  52. Jonathan,
    I can’t wait for your next post. Why? I was valedictorian (church school – class of 8). My school had never had a valedictorian in it’s 19 years of operation. Normally academic achievement was recognized in conjunction with good behavior in the form of the “Pastor’s Award”. My grades were the best in school history and could not be ignored but I was the class clown. There was no way they could give me the Pastor’s Award because of my antics. So, I was valedictorian.

    I’ve been guilty of watering down my posts and trying to please everyone. After reading this article and your next one, I’m going to go back to my original plan for my blog and be the Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert of Financial Planning.

    Derek

  53. Well, my sister was the valedoriun… (how do you spell that?). I was definitely more of the clown and I do find myself blogressing into silliness. Check out this post evidencing the fact…

    http://chicorealestatevoice.com/2008/04/01/blogging-at-300-am-not-just-for-crackheads/

  54. actually the main purpose of blogging is to entertain readers and gain attention from it not perfecting each post. I agree with this article! I may not be a valedictorian but i know how to get readers attention =)

  55. Great post. Neither the valedictorian (he’s a douchebag accountant now) nor the class clown (he’s selling insurance). The nerdy smart kids who wrote short stories and drew cartoons on their desks – they’re the power bloggers now.

  56. Wanted to thank you for this piece. This really made me rethink my blogging. I admit that it hasn’t been as efficient as it could. I’m still learning. I now see that blogs need to be bold and grab people’s attention.

  57. Very well put and entertaining too! You’ve done a great job at getting to the root problem most “intelligent” people have with not being able to get noticed.

    Often I’ve found some of the smartest people working away in their basements unnoticed because they don’t know how to interact with others or showcase their intelligence and talents in a way that’s interesting to others.

    They’ll often spend too much time dwelling on “what will others think of me” and stop themselves from trying something before they even start because of this fear.

    We can definitely all learn from the clowns!

  58. Jon…..perfect post. You could not have gotten the point any clearer. The complicated things are always so simple.

  59. Perfect Blog – if it were really that easy there wouldn’t be much need for Copyblogger or about a hundred other blogs.

  60. of course I’ll remember who the class clown was… he’s in my class.

    The valedictorian… maybe not? cause he’s not in my class.

    but I know who got the highest grades in our class.

    I also know who the phantom farter is.

  61. Lols! You did not only gave us useful information but entertaining as well. Thanks!

  62. Nice post there Jonathan. This is a perfect blog. I remember myself being a class clown while I still in college.

  63. I think the question goes much deeper than whether our blogs are boring or entertaining.

    Quite a lot (although not all) of valedictorians succeeded because they paid attention to getting good grades, pleasing external authority figures, and fitting into the box. They became very good at simply repeating what authority figures told them to say.

    Meanwhile other kids, perhaps even more intelligent than the valedictorians, didn’t bother trying to fit into that box. They focused on the simple joy of learning, even when what they were learning about wasn’t part of the standard curriculum. They focused on growing and exploring, even if that meant bucking the system.

    The stuck-in-the-box-follow-the-rules types may make really good middle managers, but you won’t find them inventing anything really new in the marketplace.

    It’s the folks who have the courage to buck the system –to look at the big picture and wonder if XYZ might be better off as YZX –those are the folks who write the blogs that are worth reading. Those are the folks who will have something truly new and exciting to say, instead of simply repeating what perceived authority figures have already said.

    Now more than ever, creativity really counts in an blogger. Who has the time to read anything else?

  64. I thoroughly enjoyed this write-up! So eye-opening. I stopped blogging several months back because I am the thinker who analyzes everything, even to the point of speaking metaphorically. It’s my habit. But what was missing was that I wasn’t making it interesting. I was giving lessons. I was beginning to bore myself. I lost my interest for ‘speaking’. Recently, I got back into it and just flowed. I have more to say now than ever before and it is invigorating! I completely love myself now. I write what comes to mind. Whether it be funny, sad, interesting, or whatever. I walk away feeling refreshed.

    So, where I was once what could have been the Valedictorian, I am now that with a twist and with courage to write what I feel and not what others expect of me – which is what I finally figured out I was doing before.

    Thank you for sharing and allowing Bloggers to challenge themselves to new heights. I appreciate the piece!