Are You a Courageous Blogger?

Courage

What does it take to be a leader in your niche?

Courage.

You need the courage to alienate the wrong people in order to resonate with the right people. You need to stick to your convictions when people tell you you’re wrong simply because your knowledge doesn’t mesh with their opinions.

Blogging by consensus is a recipe for failure. Your success will be determined by the execution of your vision. Think about it… if your audience is more qualified to write your blog than you are, why should they read what you say?

Don’t get me wrong—feedback in the form of comments, emails and posts that take issue with something you’ve said is invaluable. Since day one I’ve taken the feedback I get from my readers and used it to craft the direction of this blog.

All feedback contains a lesson. Realize, though, that the lesson may have nothing to do with what the person giving the feedback thinks they’re telling you.

The fact is, if no one hates you, you’re doing something wrong. Trying to please everyone is the goal of mass media. That’s why it sucks. We’re supposed to be smarter, right?

But day after day, I see smart bloggers battered by asinine comments, and watch those bloggers back down and second guess themselves. Soon their content is watered down in the hope that no one is offended, but by that time, no one is reading.

Some of you are thinking, “Sure, Brian… that’s easy for you to say. You have an audience.”

Yes, it is easy for me to say, because I lived it. In fact, I have people telling me I’m offensive to this day. Such is life.

Let’s take a quick trip back to a year-and-a-half ago.

At the end of 2005, the blogosphere was a much different place. It was perceptively changing, but that change hadn’t yet become obvious to everyone.

Keep in mind that this was long before the days of John Chow and Pay Per Post. A year-and-half in Internet time is forever.

When I launched Copyblogger in January of 2006, my tagline was “how to sell with blogs.” I knew some people wouldn’t like that, and I was right.

Thus came the attacks, both publicly and privately, by prominent bloggers who saw me as pond scum who “didn’t get it.” Did this deter me?

Hell no… that’s what I was counting on.

If the old guard bloggers would have embraced me with open arms, I’d have been wrong about everything. Instead, the reaction from certain corners of the community was as expected.

Better yet, the reaction from the right people—the people I wanted to reach (that’s you)—was as hoped. Commercially-oriented blogging was growing up, and people were looking for pragmatic advice.

Focus on the right people, and let the wrong people say what they will. It makes for great publicity when the sanctimonious blast you simply because they don’t realize that things have changed.

But don’t take my word for it. Tim Ferris, best-selling author of The Four-Hour Work Week and newest darling of the blogosphere did an interview with Darren Rowse today. Here’s what Tim had to say:

Do not try to appeal to everyone. Instead, take a strong stance and polarize people: make some love you and some hate you. Hate is an extreme, but here’s the gist: what you write, in order to create the highest pass-along value, needs to be “remarkable”. Is it something that is worth remarking upon?

Polarize your audience, elicit some attacks — which create disagreement and rebukes and debate — and be anal about the numbers. Track what works and what doesn’t. Fine tune what works and test it again. Rinse and repeat.

Leadership is not about genius. It’s about courage.

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Comments

  1. True – All feedback contains a lesson. And some a great tip for an article

  2. Hi! I think that it’s very unconventional, but the message rings true nevertheless. I think to compromise what you believe in for what society likes to call the ‘norms’ is to lose your identity. The effort is very hard, but so worthy it. Also, I don’t think it applies to blogging alone, but to alot of things as well. Great point! =)

  3. In my youth a teacher shocked me by telling the class, if you never have any enemies you will not have amounted to much. He would have liked this post, as I do – uncomfortably.

  4. Brian I couldn’t agree more.

    This not only happens in the blog world but in business all over. I have been told countless times that I can’t do something or I’m doing it all wrong.

    The people who end up succeeding are the ones who have the guts, and courage, to stick to their beliefs and do the best they can. Regardless of what other people say.

    I think there’s another point to be made though. You also need to have the courage to stick to your beliefs when you are extremely successful and/or famous.

    Be true to yourself, be courageous, and keep learning.

    – Mason

  5. Brian,

    Leo Burnett once said: “A company in which anyone is affraid to speak up, to differ, to be daring, original and remarkable is closing the coffin door on itself”. Same is true for bloggers…

    The fact that you’ve spent more time improving your theories rather than to defend them, has made you one of the finest bloggers we have today.

    I’m Mexican, I live in Mexico, and English is my second language. You, your blog and advice have helped me improve my writing skills, to a point that I already have my own blog. I still have a long way to go, but I am planning on sticking arround your blog for quite a few more years :)

    Thanks for your courage and for sticking arround too!

  6. Mason, I think you’re absolutely right. The more you succeed, the more pressure there is to change.

    Initial success may be the true critical point when you need to stick to what you feel is right, and to ignore what others tell you you’re doing wrong. But you can never stop learning, or you lose perspective.

    Great comment.

    Mannymo, thank you for your comment. I had no idea when I started this blog that I could help anyone new to or learning the English language. If you’ve found Copyblogger useful, then I’m more than thrilled.

  7. Very – uncomfortably – true.

    However, there is a flip side to this. I notice a lot of bloggers resorting to cheap shots, just for the sink of linkbaiting. And, I guess, some people like to read that sort of thing.

    They might appear ‘courageous’ for speaking their minds out. But, to me, real courage is more than just ‘making enemies’.

  8. Shai, so true. The point many bloggers miss is that you don’t need to seek enemies. If you’re speaking truth with a unique perspective, they’ll find you.

    The key is the unique perspective, not going on the attack.

  9. So true Brian.

    It’s funny because the best advice given on beginning a blog is to pick a topic that you are passionate about. If you are passionate about your topic, it’s expected that your passion will come across in your writing. If you then start doubting your own beliefs that got you into blogging in the first place, this will affect your writing. Then, how will you be unique, different from the rest of the pack?

    It’s not fun when people disagree with you, especially if you tend to want people to “like you”, but I think it’s most important that you stand by your beliefs.

  10. Misery befalls the man who tries to please everyone. Along the route to success, there are bound to be supporters as well as detractors. It is our reactions to them that determines how high we will reach.

    Good post as always, Brian.

  11. Courageous? Bold? Brave?

    I think Tim hit the nail on the head with ‘polarize people’. Or, to add to JoLynn’s comment, ‘Polarize people through passion’.

    That is, write with enough feeling or emotion to create factions in the audience. Better yet, fashion ‘light bulb’ moments where the opposition empathizes with your perspective. There’s no stronger evangelist of a blog than the newly converted :)

  12. Nice valid points. However, one should be careful not to stand out for the sake of standing out. In order for you to successfully make a point that is differing from others, you must FIRST AND FOREMOST know what you are talking about! I believe that many don’t stand out is because they are not as familiar with their topics as others and so it is just easier to go with the flow. Thus, to me, what’s most important is, you must KNOW YOUR STUFF and only then, can you make a stand and be different, if necessary and not for the sake of it.

  13. I suppose disagreeing with the basic premise of this post would only serve to fan its flames? :)

    I just want to offer a bit of caution: I’ve seen so many people equate controvery with blogging success that I think it’s becoming a cyber-myth of sorts.

    The key to a successful blog is not controversy — the key is having something important to say and sticking to your guns in the face of adversity.

    And what if that adversity never comes? If a post does not polarize people is it doomed to fail?

    Brian, I would humbly suggest to you that CopyBlogger is successful because of the people it pleases, not because of the people it pissed off.

    In other words, controversy is *not* an essential part of blogging success. Now that the blogging mindset has begun to change with regard to monetization, I’d have to say that CopyBlogger’s controversy meter is at about a 1 or 2 out of 10. Same with ProBlogger, another fantastic blog.

    So what point am I trying to make with all this? Well, I agree with you that you should focus on the people who want your message and not the people who don’t.

    But when a person says, “If you haven’t made any enemies, you haven’t amounted to much,” is, in fact, focusing on the people who don’t, as if success is somehow tied to the number of people we piss off.

    It’s not. It’s tied to the number of people we please. The truth is, if we capitulate to the negative voices and water down our content, we may be trying to please everyone, but we end up pleasing no one. And that’s the real reason why a blogger shouldn’t fear controversy, but neither should he embrace it simply for its own sake.

  14. Who is John Galt?

  15. A highly paid and respected consultant friend once told me that experts piss people off — but so do a$$holes.

    I’ll parrot much of what is said here, the key being that if you resonate with your intended audience, while pissing off others, you are an expert.

    If you’re pissing off almost everyone for the sake of linkbaiting, you’re just an a$$hole :)

  16. John, it’s not about controversy. The funny thing is, in these days of political correctness and niche passion, it’s pretty hard not to create controversy, even unintentionally.

    As you say, it’s about who you please. But in order to truly please a certain group of people, you have to be ok with the fact that millions of other people will ignore you, think you’re wrong, or even despise you.

    Some of them will go out of their way to tell you you’re wrong or that they despise you. The point is to figure out who to listen to and who to ignore. Most of them you ignore.

    Tony, I love that. :)

  17. I don’t think the key point is really about controversy or pissing people off.

    I think the point is that when you’re really going for it people will try to tell you what you can and can’t do. They will try say you’re wrong, or stupid, or not good enough.

    I you aren’t encountering any naysayers, chances are you not pushing yourself quite enough.

    That’s what I really get out of this post, not that you should stir up controversy, but that you should go for the gold and not slow down when people tell you otherwise.

    – Mason

  18. Brian you beat me to it : )

    Though I suppose it is your blog after all.

  19. Sorry Mason, I should have just let you do it… you said it much better. :)

  20. Brian – Great post!

    The bigger the audience, the more diverse the opinions and the thicker us bloggers skins must get.

    Mike

  21. Absolutely great post. One of the finest I’ve ever read and a great business model to boot.

  22. Brian, thank you for the excellent post and advice. You and Darren are two guys that I read regularily. Now I know why.

  23. “Leadership is not about genius. It’s about courage.”

    Agreed. But being a genius certainly can help. ;)

  24. Couldn’t agree more (unless I purposefully did so just to do so).

    Relevant movie quote from Kingdom of Heaven: “Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Speak the truth, always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong… it’s a kingdom of conscious or nothing at all.”

    The Balien of Blogging does it again!
    REgards
    Shane

  25. When you peek beneath the covers of controversy, courage, passion, love/hate in the audience, you find the true fuel that feeds great (blogging/business/music/fill-in-the-blank):

    Conviction.

    A smart person with conviction will naturally polarize – not for the sake of stirring up hornets, but only because conviction touches the raw nerves of what we believe is right and wrong.

    And that will naturally create an audience.

  26. I absolutely agree. In my field, opinionated people have always pushed the medicine into its highest echelons. Unfortunately, as it has become more modernized and Americanized it has become less so. I’m trying to be part of a return back to strong stances based on sound investigation.

    I wonder, though, why this works so well for attracting an audience. I think it might have to do with the fact that many people find it difficult or abhorrent to articulate a strong position about anything. So they look for people to stand with or behind that resonate with them. Also – people love a good fight. :D

    Anyway, great article.

    Eric Grey

  27. I agree with everything in your last comment, Brian. :)

    I said what I said because I’ve noticed that a lot of new bloggers are coming away with the attitude that they should aim to create controversy in their posts, as if that’s somehow the goal in and of itself.

    I know that’s not what you’re saying.

  28. Great read, and very true. One blogger that I think does this well is Chris Pearson. I don’t think people hate him, but I’ve seen a few comments with people disagreeing with his articles and rather than try and appease them, he stands his ground from the viewpoint that he’s still right, and they’re still wrong. One thing is for sure, you cannot please everyone, so don’t try. Just have the courage to do your own thing and don’t worry about what anyone thinks. :)

  29. [needless word(s) witheld]..ing best advice I’ve read in years.

  30. This is a great point and an important post, Brian.

    You and the other b5 veteran bloggers were instrumental in encouraging me not to back down in the face of threats during my first controversial thread (Scoble/Cuppy’s Coffee). Since then I’ve been amazed at the effect some of our posts have had on the behavior of some pretty big companies.
    I’ve been amazed to find out that writers from the WSJ and other pubs subscribe to my feed. Part of it is that we’ve got a freedom that even they don’t have.
    I think the power of the blogosphere is that, despite having to click through a lot of crap to get there, you’ll eventually find someone ballsy enough, stupid enough or self-destructive enough to tell the truth about any given issue.
    (I haven’t decided which of the last two describes me, just yet)

  31. Thanks for the refreshing reminder on this. In the earlier days of my video blog, a lot of people hated some of the stuff I posted and some of the things I said, and others loved it. It was polarizing, and the exact dynamic you described was playing out.

  32. Everyone is talking about sticking to your guns even when people tell you you’re wrong. But what if you are incorrect? What then? It seems to me that first you must be an expert, then you can proclaim your opinions. But what defines an expert opens up a whole other can of worms…

    Mason Hipp, above, perhaps said it best, “when you’re really going for it people will try to tell you what you can and can’t do.” Perhaps it is because they are jealous of your success, that you saw the trend and decided to act on it first?

    After re-reading the article and many comments, maybe I can answer my own question: If you discover you are wrong, then learn from the mistake, adjust your direction and start out again. Easier said than done, and for some (most?) it might be a significant blow to the self-confidence! What do you think?

  33. LaurenMarie, I think you’re exactly right. The flip side of this issue is people who can’t take constructive criticism. Even an expert is continually learning and open to new ideas, or they won’t remain an expert for long.

    The problem is, a lot of feedback is not constructive.

  34. Ah, constructive criticism. That makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it? I understand now that people are differentiating between feedback (meaning, mostly pompous opinion) and constructive criticism. I didn’t pick up on that previously.

    I appreciate people who take the time (and have the guts) to present a different way of thinking. It helps us all expand our perspectives and solidify our beliefs through closer examination. Thank you!

  35. Great post as always. The internet has too many sycophants as it is–no need to imitate popular opinions.

    Btw, Brian, I am friends with Tim. If you want to set something up I can get a hold of him if you’d like. Just drop me an email. I’m sure he digs your stuff.

  36. Nice post. To me what you’re talking about here is “targeting”. I guess it’s courageous to take negative feedback or have a strong opinion (I’ve taken and given both and quite recently). I don’t look at it as ‘polarizing’ or ‘alienating’, it’s the way I authentically think and/or feel. I’m very open to different opinions–otherwise I sure am wasting a lot of time just talking about the opinion I already know I have.

    Courage to me isn’t taking a stand to profit off of something (even if people say bad things when a person does)–it’s taking an action to better something (when most people would just keep quiet). Be that something a better practice, a better business model, better principles, etc.

    Hopefully I didn’t alienate you with my comment as your post is quite good. But if I did, then by your definition I’m just being courageous.

  37. “Everyone is talking about sticking to your guns…But what if you are incorrect?”
    Laurenmarie: The “experts” I respect are those who are boldly searching for the truth. When presented with a valid opposing argument, they’re willing to change their minds. Those who aren’t willing to change views aren’t experts, they’re just bores.

  38. Quote from Brian: “Some of them will go out of their way to tell you you’re wrong or that they despise you. The point is to figure out who to listen to and who to ignore. Most of them you ignore.”

    To use another Stephen King Reference (quite popular these days), I believe the Master of Horror once said that if a criticism of one of his pre-publication manuscripts is solitary that it can safely be ignored, but if everybody and their mother is saying the same thing, there might be something there worth listening to.

    I guess the key word being *might*.

  39. Sean, I’m glad you decided to comment in response to my questions; what you said is very encouraging. That is an excellent way to define expert and it’s the type I want to be! :) Thank you!

  40. John Place wrote:
    But when a person says, “If you haven’t made any enemies, you haven’t amounted to much,” is, in fact, focusing on the people who don’t, as if success is somehow tied to the number of people we piss off.

    John
    You may choose if you wish to embellish and misrepresent my report of a wise warning to young people, effectively to prepare them for the likelihood that standing for something will inevietably draw hostility from some. But it would be so much better to just make your own case with your own explanation.

  41. Great post. You have to have a voice.

    I think Des missed your point. I ‘ve got a friend who says if you like everyone you meet, you’re not meeting enough people. It’s inevitable that your blog is going to p off some people if its touching enough bodies and you have an opinion.

  42. Hi Brian.

    I totally, totally, totally agree. Taking a stand is tough, and even scary sometimes but this is what sets you apart.

    Regarding the opinions of your readers, I think a great thing about blogging is that anybody with a desire to communicate can do it. That’s why blogsphere (or blogosphere) is a big collection of multifarious opinions. I like this thing about blogging

  43. Taking a stand and being controversial is courageous only if someone is taking a stand they truly believe in. Making enemies by being shocking or simply obnoxious is not courage.

    That said, I wish a lot more bloggers took the kind of stand that you’re describing. I’d certainly read them a lot more. In fact, I’ll read someone I disagree with who’s passionate about it more than someone who’s boring on my side.

  44. Courage is a necessity, without it your blog will just be like everyone elses and not stand out in the least. Good post.

  45. Des Walsh:
    You may choose if you wish to embellish and misrepresent my report of a wise warning to young people, effectively to prepare them for the likelihood that standing for something will inevietably draw hostility from some. But it would be so much better to just make your own case with your own explanation.

    What?

  46. Great post and it is something I want to do.

  47. I lost my job because of my blog. Some people might think it’s stupid; I think it was courageous. When what you write is so true or so disturbing that the only way to try to shut you up it to threaten of firing you; you know you are right. When I look back on this today, I’m happy I stuck on my convictions.

  48. Louis: I guess it’s easier to be courageous when one’s self-employed. Could you share what happened? (Otherwise I’ll have to sign up for French lessons so I can read about what happened on your blog, and I was saving that money for a family member’s operation.)
    I wonder how many people have been fired for blogging?

  49. Sorry I came upon this post so late in the game, but the timing was perfect. I’m doing some writing that basically contradicts conventional medical opinion because they are just dead wrong, causing more problems than is necessary. Steroid drugs being one example. So I will help those who will listen and ignore those who want me put in jail.

    Thanks for the pep talk.

  50. I m new into blogging arena and i find your post very beneficial.I’ll continue reading your blogs in future.

  51. The path of failing completely, is pleasing everyone and personally anyone. So I agree on this topic, very well written.

    I do find there is not enough creativity at moment, except same idea re-packaged, videos with same messages from marketers’ and the usual “twitter mania” wave.

    I’m excited though, have always been and maybe, because I relate a lot to the message Brian. I have been this way when I was in a job and now as a business owner.

    It is very strange, cause I posted an audio 13 hours ago on twitwall, on integrity, and focusing on not pleasing the masses, in being true to oneself and not fear to break boundaries, and be creative.

    Great article Brian.

  52. Hi this is sankranthi.
    I would humbly suggest to you that CopyBlogger is successful because of the people it pleases, not because of the people it pissed off.

  53. WOW Brian!! Thank You so much for this post!! I really needed to read this tonight, and will most certainly be bookmarking it. Thanks for sharing with us the courage it took on your part when you began, and to this day as well. You are an example, and I absolutely love this blog!!

    Thanks

    – Renee.

  54. Courage to always stand up for what you believe in and never letting anyone get you off track. Great post!

  55. Thanks Brian Clark for the share

  56. Back in the 70’s when I first got into radio as a sportscaster I had the pleasure to sit down in New York with John Chanin who at the time was the president of the ABC Sports Radio Network. We got on the subject of doing commentary and he said to paraphrase, don’t be afraid to be outspoken and go against the popular and safe way to think. If you want to be popular go into television.

    That carried on through my radio broadcasting career into the 80’s and has served me well in my bloggin of the LGBT blog “Focus On The Rainbow” which is now in its third edition as a stand alone rather than part of another website. The new edition is more commentary than the previous editions wherein I take on not only the anti-LGBTs but what I and other like minded bloggers have termed the elite of LGBT blogs, websites and news orgs and LGBT orgs in general.

    As Chanin said if I wanted to be popular I’d be in television or as far as putting out an LGBT blog make it a pretty boy blog. I don’t worry about hits and readership as others concern themselves with. The audience I get know what to expect and are often looking for someone “brave enough” to write what needs to be written but are oft afraid to because of retribution.

    Retribution, I eat it for breakfast. That’s the difference between a real journalist such as myself and others I know who parcel out real commentary as opposed to the so-called “citizen journalist” who were it not for copy and paste would have nothing on their blogs and have never set foot inside a newsroom much less than bathroom down the hall.

    So take the advice of this well written posting as the man knows what he’s talking about.

    As Churchill said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”