The Dysfunctional Guide to Blogging (and Business) Success

Image of High Voltage Warning Sign

Ever wonder how some bloggers seem to suddenly take off — or come out of nowhere and steal your attention and your audience?

Their subscriber numbers blow up into the six-figure digits … they garner a gargantuan mob of Twitter followers … and everywhere you look people are talking about them.

To top it all off, they land the book deal, the sweet speaking gigs, and the adulation by big media.

And here’s the deal. They aren’t necessarily a grammarian’s best friend. They send Dutch Puritans into coronary failure with their crude language (read: profanity). And they routinely break some of the fundamental rules of great content creation.

But they don’t care. Their blog is so irresistible that readers go nuts waiting for the next post. What gives?

Here’s a few ideas on how they get it done …

What makes some blogs grow

If you are from around these parts, then you understand the secret behind Copyblogger’s success: smart, sexy, and super-useful content. Brian Clark and the community of great Copyblogger guest writers have built an empire by writing top-notch articles year after year.

And I could point to other blogs with a similar track record: Problogger, Chris Brogan, Mashable, Search Engine Watch.

This is a smart model to build a business around. It builds trust and attracts customers.

These sites dominate because they publish tons of high-quality, useful material that seduces readers.

Their success is an open secret. It’s what we talk about 99% of the time on Copyblogger.

But it’s not what we’re going to talk about today. There is another breed of writers who dominate blogs for an entirely different set of reasons.

What makes other blogs grow

For this breed of bloggers, failure is their preeminent theme. Their own failure. Their failure with jobs, relationships, money, children, responsibility, parents, bosses, landlords, pets, writing.

You name it — they’ve failed at it.

It’s all about struggle. But their struggle isn’t hopeless. They have reasons for blogging. They must tell their story. They love to write. They need the applause. They want the revenge.

More importantly, they want people to learn from their mistakes. To rebound and bloom.

Some of these writers blog anonymously. Milking dysfunctions in public is entirely too risky. Others do it openly without shame.

But they all share one thing in common: a dead-on recognition of their weaknesses. And this makes them a powerful audience magnet.

Want to learn one powerful way to become an audience magnet? I’ll show you in a minute. In the mean time, let me introduce some bloggers who do a nice job of milking dysfunctions.

The Altucher Confidential

James Altucher is not just another financial commentator. He was thrown out of graduate school, interviewed prostitutes, druggies and homeless kids at 3 in the morning for HBO, blew through sixteen failed companies, and screwed Yasser Arafat out of two million dollars.

We know all of this because he wrote about it on his blog. He’s a pretty darn good writer, too. And he has a nose for a story. Take a peek at a few of the titles for his blog posts:

None of those articles go the direction you think they will. What they share in common is James’s self-effacing confessional style.

He doesn’t just trade in confessions. He also offers advice. He’s got a weekly Twitter advice routine that’s growing in popularity and offers up unorthodox wisdom on topics like college, writing and being an entrepreneur.

Hyperbole and a Half

All we know about Allie Brosh is that she went to the University of Montana, lives in Bend, and is/was “heroic, caring, alert, and flammable.” She’s also deeply personal and very popular.

Here are a few of her most popular posts:

Did I mention she was popular?

All that popularity landed her a book deal with Touchstone (Division of Simon and Schuster) — in less than two years.

Allie, keep writing. Please.

The Year of Blogging Dangerously

Here we have a young professional female with four kids and a husband. Because she is a professional at a top-notch corporation with an office in New York City, there is no way she could be personal on a blog.

But she really, really wants to be personal.

So, here’s what she did: “One night I turned my monitor so my husband couldn’t see it and I met you, INTERNET, my secret love, the one who wouldn’t judge me.”

Now she can be herself.

  • She can grin and nod as her neighbor brags about their boat rides and daily trips to the beach while she is mentally stabbing her.
  • Or fight back tears thinking that Friday doesn’t signal the weekend is here — rather chores, soccer games, and meals to be made in The Ugly Scream.
  • Or watch her son moon her as she backs out of the driveway to go to work — an obvious downside when her husband is a stay at home dad.

Then there are blog posts that I don’t dare mention in mixed company. Or any company for that matter. Yet, this confessional style earned her a Bloggie award in 2011.

Attack of the Redneck Mommy

The Redneck Mommy blog is a classic story of nerd who wins — no matter what life throws at her. She lives in the middle of nowhere in Alberta, Canada with her family. And I’d say she gets the confessional blogging thing:

Blogging. The place you can work out your issues when you’re too poor to pay to sit on a therapist’s couch.
The Road to Forgiveness Is Paved with Keys to My Car.

A lot of her content revolves around her inadequacies as a parent, especially to a sixteen year old daughter. And she fills plenty of pixels with the woes and utter wonder of raising a severely disabled son.

Her struggles draw our sympathy, which in turn builds her audience. She also won a Bloggie.

Gaping Void

The cartoonist Hugh MacLeod is the brains behind Gapingvoid — a blog about business, startups, social media and life.

He’s managed to turn that slant into a profitable business model. He’s done work for Microsoft, Intel, Rackspace. He’s got art work in galleries. People commission him to create unique business cards. People love his cube grenades.

And this all started with a story about a young, restless man sleeping in a YMCA at night and drawing cartoons on the back of business cards by day. Back in 2006 he started blogging with a no-holds barred attitude.

  • He penned insulting cartoons about clients
  • Toyed with the divine
  • Exposed the excesses of the male libido

Then a series of posts on creativity landed him a book deal with Portfolio. Two more books followed after that.

Hugh isn’t a PhD. He’s not a hot shot executive. He’s an artist who wore his emotions and thoughts on his sleeve, which lead to massive attention, money, book deals, a great business, devoted followers, and (most prestigious of all) three Copyblogger guest posts.

Take notes, bloggers. Copious notes.

Boy Wonder

Here’s a unique one. Joel Robinson is a photographer who lives in a valley in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. And since 2005 he’s been posting one picture a day on his Flickr photostream.

But there are a lot of people who post a photo a day on Flickr. Joel’s just happen to be really good. He even got a link from Maria Popova of Brain Picking’s fame.

Yet, it’s how he drags his dysfunctions into the light that makes him popular.

For instance, in My Heart Beats he writes:

This theme couldn’t have come at a better time, a time when I feel my heart is strong and pushing me to find what I really want in my life. It knows where I should go, it’s just convincing the rest of my body to follow.

His photos stand on their own. The added dimension of his inner life in writing makes him accessible, vulnerable — and his fans love him for it. His fame is only growing.

Cat Marnell

This is the confessional cautionary tale to end all cautionary tales.

You might have heard of former xoJane writer Cat Marnell. She has a little bit of fame for her drug abuse. Especially in New York City. And she has milked that dysfunction for great affect.

She mourned the OD death of Whitney Houston — and painted a compelling picture of her own addiction and love affair with bathtubs while on drugs.

She taught us how to pass drug tests with hair products in Gonna Wash That Angel Dust Right Out of My Hair.

She also gets how to write compelling content. She has a PT Barnum nose for business. Her line of work — beauty products — is neck-high in copycats, and can be very boring. So her pieces must stand out like this: It’s Makeup Monday: 3 Secret Weapons for My Black-on-Black “Vampy Weekend Eyes” Look!

But that level of vulnerability takes a toll. When it comes time to pay the piper, I’m afraid Marnell may not be able to pay. Sarah Hepola summed it up best in her New York Times piece Watching a Spectacular Public Meltdown With Just a Hint of Jealousy:

I worry about anyone who is lighting themselves on fire for our enjoyment. I worry about the bloggers and viral stars who have burned up so much of themselves for the prize of a few thousand followers. Our attention span is so short these days. One minute you’re a meteorite lighting up Google Trends, the next minute you fall back to earth, another piece of ugly, busted-up coal.

I would find myself excising the grimmest parts of personal essays, torn between my desire to protect the human being and my knowledge that such unforgettable detail would boost a story’s click-through rate.

This summer Marnell quit xoJane. She now writes for Vice. She’s reached the basement there. It’s absolutely awful. I won’t even link to it.

Why do dysfunctions attract people?

Here’s the deal: milking your dysfunctions is nothing more than being transparent. Transparency works because you are vulnerable.

You show people you are just like them — a human with endless faults.

Transparency is effective in persuasion. It lowers barriers. People start to like you because they realize you are not that much different than they are.

That’s what every single one of those bloggers above demonstrated. They think the same dark thoughts as you. They say the same dumb things you do. They do the same goofy things you do.

They were just brave enough to confess it online. And then people stampede their subscriber form.

Here’s how this works in the business world

Credibility is hard to come by in the business world. When you are trying to convince people to part with their hard earned money for your product — you need credibility.

You need people to trust you.

Unfortunately our tendency is to hide the ugly truth from people. If our product has defects, our instinct is to downplay those attributes and lead with the eye-popping promises.

Sounds intuitive, right? But in reality that doesn’t really work. Most consumers are skeptical. They look for the flaws because they know they are there. They want an excuse not to buy.

Here’s a classic example.

Selling the world’s ugliest car

Back in the early 60’s ad agency Doyle Dane + Bernbach won the account for the old Volkswagen sedan.

The sedan with the rag top. The one without a gas gauge. The one that hadn’t evolved in 20 years.

It was truly one of the ugliest cars EVER.

“Winning” that account may be an overstatement. “Punishment” might be more fitting. I mean, why in the world would an international ad agency want such an account?

Would you?

Well, they wanted it because they knew how to sell the car. And make a fortune doing it.

First, they knew that it was reliable and cheap to run. But everyone else knew that, too. So what could they say to make this automobile stand out? Easy. They could tell the truth.

Their ads were simple. A photo of a Volkswagen sedan with these words:

This car is ugly. It looks like a bug. A beetle.


This car is slow. You’ll be lucky if you ever get a ticket.

The results to the ads were off the charts. Sales shot up because people were drawn to the astounding force of simple and pristine truth.

That’s an important key to persuasion: when you point out the defects of your product (whether it is you or an object), everything else you say is going to be easier to swallow.

The law of diminishing credibility

Let me show you how this works on Copyblogger. Take the post How to Write an Article in Twenty Minutes by Jim Estill.

Be honest: how many of you believe that is true?

I think its baloney. Yet, even though Jim’s statement is outrageous, it’s a powerful promise. We wonder if it could be true, so we decide to read it.

Now, let’s say Jim said forty minutes. That really doesn’t make us flinch. It seems more reasonable. But not quite as intriguing.

But what if he had said fifteen minutes? We might spray the screen with chunks of our authentic artisan biscuit and wonder if the old boy hadn’t got a BB loose in the can.

Ten minutes and he’s obviously snorting bath salts.

Five minutes and we know he’d left the planet (but we’d read the article anyway just to witness the breakdown — who doesn’t like a little emotional wreckage?).

But imagine Jim really can write a decent article in five minutes — it would still be in his best benefit not to mention that because it looks like nothing but hype. Credibility plummets.

Introduce the defects first, however, and five minutes doesn’t sound unreasonable.

When you sin and suffer

Transparency can also help you recover from a disaster. David Neeleman, founder and CEO of JetBlue, confessed in a New York Times interview that he was “humiliated and mortified” with the way his company was stranding fliers.

Next, he listed a litany of problems with the organization, suggested it was in a meltdown and even bashed their low-cost model — the model that he created.

I’m sure his lawyers went white with that interview.

That story is a case study for a CEO and an airline. But it is also sound advice for a blog. JetBlue sinned. It suffered. But it publicly repented.

When you screw up — admit it. Immediately. Make a decent apology. And you’ll recover. Stay natural, open, honest, and transparent. And don’t forget to milk those dysfunctions.

Is dysfunction milking the key to post popularity?

I think it is. It was for the coming-out-of-the-closet (so to speak) Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underwear post — easily one of the most commented upon posts in Copyblogger history.

It’s a great story with great conflict: against all odds a single mother beats the system. And that’s what happens when we are vulnerable.

Another Copyblogger contributer, Jon Morrow, also understands the power of sharing his weaknesses and struggles. His blog posts take off like something coming off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral when he’s brutally honest about making a living online.

You can’t fake that kind of success.

Here’s my question to you: Are you faking your blog? Are you natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking on your blog?

My love affair with transparency

I run a small blog called The Copybot. My purpose is to hustle the finer points of writing for the web. But after about six months of grinding out technical pieces on the art of writing for the web I got bored.

So I decided to start writing about my life.

Those posts quickly become some of the most popular I ever wrote. Posts like How to Outsmart Obsolescence and Writing Advice from a Rock Climber, Monk and Bonehead — Really?

Now, these posts aren’t comment circuses or click-through rockets like a James Altucher, Cat Marnell, or James Chartrand post.

I’m okay with that, though.

To be honest, I don’t have the stomach to be a hard-core exhibitionist. I’m a private guy. I have a thing for obscurity. I DO NOT like talking about myself (very much for very long day after day).

But I do enjoy telling stories, and sharing stories about my faults is a brilliant way to bridge the gap between me and my readers.

Over to you …

So, how have you seen radical transparency work on your blog?

What are some good stories you can share about transparency? What are the risks behind publicly milking your dysfunctions?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Brutal or otherwise …

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Reader Comments (93)

  1. says

    Fantastic information Demian! I am just starting to get asked to guest blog. I am a wife, a mother of three, a grandmother of nine, and great-grandmother of 1 1/2. And I’m pretty…my husband thinks I’m very pretty! I wear classic styles and get my nails and hair done regularly. I drive a sweet pale blue Mini-Cooper. My goldendoodle Emma is one of the great loves of my life. I am a psychotherapist. I write a blog. On my blog I talk about my experiences in juvenile hall, almost getting pimped out, the mental hospital, being gang-raped, doing drugs, sleeping around, and being beaten, and becoming a mother at seventeen. I’m almost at the part where I became very seriously mentally-ill…for years! After that I’ll write about breaking my neck, and being given one year to live with a huge brain tumor at the base of my brain-stem. Because the truth is, I’m still here. I’m not only here, I’m thriving! And when a young mother who has had all of her children removed comes into my office for treatment, I can look her in the eye and say very truthfully, “I could have been you. Let’s get to work.” And we do.

  2. says

    A lot of my favorite blogs are listed here, and I found myself nodding along. I have seen many personal finance blogs that share their net worth, debt, etc. I think that kind of transparency is something that works well in that niche, but you don’t always have to lay it all out that way if it doesn’t make sense for you and your family.

    Personally I take into account the fact that my family is a huge part of my story, so I have to be mindful of how they feel about sharing certain things. While brutal honesty is a wonderful, wonderful thing, we also have to be mindful of the relationships in our lives. We can still be honest and share our story without hurting the ones we love.

    • says

      I agree, Kelly — even if you’re going to be quite radically transparent, I think we can all set boundaries about what we will and won’t talk about.

        • says

          Very important to set the right boundaries, I agree. Too little, and you are one blog among millions. Too much and its either too exhibitionist or you risk hurting people who accidentally stepped in front of your train wreck.

          But the right balance is magic and delivers value.

          Great post, btw. I plan on checking out all of the blogs you mentioned. And thanks for mentioning me, Demian. I really appreciate it.

          • says

            James: Did you ever write a post that you feel went too far? If so, please share it. I’d love to see an example. As someone with a very tiny audience testing just how far I can push it, I’d be curious what someone at your level considers the “right balance.”

            Thank you!

    • says

      Hey Kelly, love your examples about financial writers opening up their financial lives to us. That’s an example I didn’t think about, but it really shows vulnerability.

      And I agree: brutal honesty is a wonderful thing when it doesn’t damage someone else’s life.

    • says

      Kelly – I also agree about being “too” transparent because we still have family to think about. I waited to begin writing my story until after most of my family passed away. No matter what happened, my healing includes forgiveness and no desire to hurt them. And for the family who are still here? I leave a LOT out. Damage is something we’ve all had enough of. Great comment.

  3. says

    That was a super post.
    Who would have thought that blogging like this can trigger the success factor? I truly enjoyed the post.
    Also the post proved to be useful to me because I got to know about a lot of blogs that got successful by not following the typical blogging tips that we read every now and then. They are what they are on their own.
    Superb post man. I got more inspired knowing that I am not the only one failing now and then.
    Keep this up as I can use a lot more inspiration.

    • says

      Hey Arbaz, thanks for the great comment. And while radical transparency was a key to these bloggers success, a lot of them also use tried-and-true methods to attracting attention like compelling headlines, working the social media pump, etc.

      Glad you got inspired brother! Rock on!

  4. says

    My blog is all about transparency in an environment where Christians stumble dangerously close to perfectionism. I tell people, “I screw up; the whole world knows about it.” Some have called my blog unique. And you’re comment reminds me that I need to get more interviews. Too much talking about me. This post though really helped me feel inspired and introduced me to new inspirations.

  5. says

    It takes a lot of guts to be “radically transparent” and not many companies are comfortable going to such lengths, especially since you can’t really hope to hide and build your brand at the same time. But I go agree that people respond to honesty and humanity. Your company is made up of people and those people have thoughts and feelings and opinions and faults and your audience wants a peek at them every now and again.

    • says

      Good comment, Nick. The company that immediately comes to mind when I think about radical transparency is Best Buy. I believe they have something like 3,000 employees tweeting for the company. That’s risky, and I understand that they are using it for customer service/tech support, but still, I guarantee they aren’t micro-managing those accounts–that shows trust for their employees which I think translates to credibility.

  6. says

    Some of my favorite sites and blogs were included in this post. I appreciate when people are as honest and open as I am. Some writers shy away from that in fear of being “found” on the web making commentaries on their job, sex life or pets. I say why not? Sometimes it’s okay to use an alias, but when people can have an honest conversation through blog comments about serious topics like depression, I can’t think that that is anything but a good thing.

    • says

      The nice thing about the web is that you can hide–and write about the things you really want to write about without getting busted. I guess that is a nice thing. Depends on what you want to do with that anonymity. There are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Ever.

  7. says

    This post rocked!! thank you. I try to speak in my own voice in my blog but do find myself holding back, as to not offend anyone. I’m so over that now. I needed this kick in the ass. thanks again.

  8. says

    Excellent post about blogging success. I think many of us are looking for the secret. It’s often not very formulaic…just gutsy real human connection, redemptive stories, and outrageous stories have their appeal. One of the things I’ve found is whether blogging or speaking, many of us appear more together than we are. People are encouraged by the reality that we are all so darn flawed and cheered by the fact that we keep trying anyway.

    • says

      I think you pretty much summed it up with this line: “It’s often not very formulaic…just gutsy real human connection, redemptive stories, and outrageous stories have their appeal.”

      Thank you for sharing.

  9. says

    Nice article, and you are right, there is something sweet about learning from others’ mistakes that can make an article truly compelling. We get to pretend that ‘I would never make *THAT* mistake’ and learn from it at the same time.

  10. says

    Great points made here, and great examples! (I’ll have to check out some of those blogs I’m not familiar with.) There are so many blogs out there that I’ve enjoyed in the past but have become bored with because they’re not willing to be imperfect. Every post is, “This is what I’m up to! I’m so lucky and happy! Here’s a pretty picture.” Not that they’re not allowed to be happy, but I’m suspicious of anyone who claims to be happy the majority of the time.

    I’ve definitely noticed that my posts that show me a little vulnerable and a little exposed get the most feedback. People appreciate honesty, plain and simple.

    • says

      I couldn’t agree more, Cassie! I prefer a humorous, self-deprecating blog to one that is all flowers and pink and cupcakes and cashmere. There is a blog called Pepper Steak and Polyester that pokes fun at those gorgeous (WordPress) themes and ladies.

    • says

      I agree. I like taking risks in writing. I find the posts I hesitate to publish are the ones that get more responses. I like taking risks.

  11. says

    Hi Demian.
    Transparency is very powerful, admitting to your mistakes makes you more human and not just a blog designed for affiliate scraping and Google AdSense. People love to identify with people ‘warts an all’ as we say here in the UK.

    Admitting to your mistakes also helps others to avoid making the same mistakes and when someone finishes reading a post and walk away feeling connected to a person, identifying with the author and having learned something that they didn’t know before they read the post will have them coming back for more and being grateful to you for writing the post.

  12. says

    To say that I’m impressed with this post is an understatement. Superb writing and such a relief after reading so many posts elsewhere that (as you mentioned) aren’t exactly grammar food.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this very topic. Marla Cilley of is one who turned her dysfunction into a successful business. My more successful posts have also been self-revelatory in nature. But I think you make such an important point: there has to be more to it than that. After all, I was fascinated with Hoarders for a while, but when you’ve seen one house full of 60 dead cats, you’ve seen them all. The blogger has to offer help and hope in addition to the opportunity to rubber neck for a while.

    Thanks for something to think about as well as a list of great blogs (including yours) to check out.

  13. says

    Outstanding post. I’m really excited to see two of my favorites here: @blogdangerously and @redneckmommy They are awesome beyond description.

  14. says

    Thanks for sharing all of these kick ass, raw and ultra-talented bloggers. I agree completely with the idea that transparency = connection. Through blogging and performing, the work that has resonated most with my audiences has always been the same—the painful truth. It’s been especially true these last two months. After getting sh*tcanned from my day job, I went to town on my blog. At first, I was euphoric…actually forgiving of my employer and my boss, who I thought was a saint.

    Then I woke up. And I let that fu*cker have it. (I swear, I’m not bitter!)

    The response has been fantastic: a significant boost in site visitors, support from friends, and more importantly, unsolicited comments from people who’ve said they “love” what I’m writing about. I’ve only received this kind of feedback from two prior posts: one honoring my “super dad,” and another about my mom’s death. And I mostly write humor. Go figure.

    So, seeing others crank out their dark side inspires me to both continue what I’ve been doing and do so with even more vulnerability. I only hope I can shut up my stupid censor inside and let it all hang out.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  15. says

    I do think you can be too transparent, but it’s important to show the ‘real’ you. Let’s face it; no one is perfect. If you can share your trial and errors regarding “fill in the blank,” your readers will know that you’re not perfect and that you stumbled and fell a long the way. Be real and cut out the B.S. (most people can see through it anyway). Just be you.

  16. Blog reader says

    I can’t believe you left Penelope Trunk off this list. Tweeting her miscarriage? Putting up a nude photo featuring the bruise her abusive husband gave her?

    • says

      Penelope Trunk is one of the first people I think of when we talk about this, I agree. But she gets enough traffic already. :)

      The Bloggess is another one. And Dooce. And Mrs. Woog. And, and, and.

      • says

        Yet Penelope Trunk is may be the most bizarre of the lot – and mesmerizingly intrigueing. I agree with ‘Blog reader’ – and not just because of the miscarriage. Many of her posts make me cringe – and then smile, or shake my head, and wheter Penelope is downright crazy or not, I applaud her.

  17. says

    I would add Tucker Max to this list. Self-proclaimed asshole who blogged about his drunken escapades and sex life and landed book deals and made his own movie as a result.

  18. says

    I believe in AUTHENTIC because it works in my own life [after nothing else did].
    So I make my blog authentic. Transparency is the detail needed to make it authentic. When is little to little and much too much – still finding my way.

  19. says

    First time to read this site and it has given me lots to think about….Thanks!!! More thought to titles and what works and what doesn’t…..mine has seemingly been making the rounds in Europe and I am in the US….not sure how that happened but it is fun. Hoping to build a following to help with marketing my book coming out in a few weeks and so much to learn. Writing the book was the easy part. “Climbing Out of the Box, My Journey Out of Sexual and Spiritual Abuse Into Freedom and Healing………

  20. says

    I LOVE this article Demian and I’ll be subscribing now to read more!! I’ll also be checking out the blogs you’ve mentioned here as many strike a chord and look like they’ll be fun to follow. My own blog is about me, and when I began writing I doubted that anyone would read such self indulgant nonsense about a woman’s experiences running a small business. My most popular posts were about a skirt that fell down as I presented a training course and a case of (mistakenly!!) being arrested for soliciting… It’s good to see that we’re all a teeny bit crazy. Thank you for showcasing these people – looking forward to your next blog!

  21. says

    Hi..this is a very detailed, very impressive post. As a blogger, talking about my personal opinions or my life has always been very tough for me. I think ‘radically transparent’ only works for some people, but after a while, it gets old! I have experienced that myself while reading some blogs that seemed too narcissistic after a while. Gradually, a pattern emerges that shows the reader that most posts are self-serving, and that’s a huge let down.

    I wonder if it is possible to sound genuinely dysfunctional without being so? In that case, you would be writing fiction! What do you think about that?

    I seem to remember another Copyblogger article in my email recently that advised the ‘be yourself’ mantra, and suggested that bloggers should not profess to know anything or be expert at anything until they build up an ’empathetic’ following! Does this mean people will relate to you only if you’re dysfunctional?

    Another thing I have noticed is that people/bloggers prefer to downplay themselves or plead ignorance just to ‘relate’ to the multitude. Playing dumb seems to be the fashion.

    Appreciate any thoughts you have on this.

    • says

      Uh, to sound dysfunctional without actually being dysfunctional…I’m thinking that’s a possibility. I think it’s called acting. I don’t know about your second question. You would need to link to it. And regarding your last thought, it definitely is in vogue to not be be a know-it-all.

      Great questions. Thanks for asking.

  22. Martin Goulding says

    Hi Demian, well put together and interesting piece.

    Just thinking about your notes on blogs that break the rules but succeed; there is one blog I read, that is very popular among a certain group of people.

    The man writes like a demon, vast swathes of extremely dense material, sometimes thousands of words on a very sophisticated tangent, complex intricate thinking, not for the average reader for sure, but he does have an extremely loyal following to the extent that if the guy wrote on toilet paper his fans would read it, he shuns all social media and yet his readers set up a fan club for him.

    What you notice about his writing and why it succeeds (he is a very fast writer, but all his stuff is carefully edited) is there is not much self consciousness in it, it’s not contrived and he writes from passion, real interest, no compromise.

  23. says

    This article should garner 10 points in a scale of 1-10. The extremes of things (success and failures) are excellent areas to talk about. When one can communicate his thoughts as if one is in his shoes, the rest will come out unexpected. We can sense a good deal of honesty to the writer when he/she talks about something that he/she had undergone. A vivid presentation of the struggles, failures or successes he/she had experienced can be most appealing to the reader.

    I will visit this site regularly and read more about the articles and the references mentioned. Thank you so much!

  24. says

    This post makes you think! We all like to naturally be as good as we can be, but if we are not up to our own expectations in any area, then we don’t like to shout about it publicly. However,within blogging it can have a beneficial effect, as you say. We are all human and we are not perfect and others will relate to that as they are human too.This could be called the foundation stone of blogging – building trust. Why should people trust us? Because we tell it like it is.

    • says

      Couldn’t agree more with your comments Laurie.
      And wow what an incredible post! A great lesson is ‘Transparency works because you are vulnerable.
      You show people you are just like them — a human with endless faults.’
      This is where the engagement, empathy and connection comes from.
      I’ve done a lot of public speaking and my most successful presentations, that helped and inspired people, where when I talked about all the mistakes I’d made and what I’d learnt. Yep we all stumble and fail!
      I’m currently writing a guest blog where I put myself out there and it’s really difficult to write but I’m hoping it will help others so it will be worth it.
      And I totally agree, getting that all important balance is a real art form.
      Thanks for sharing this

  25. says

    When I first began doing this line of work and writing my own blog at the same time, discovering you was the single most encouraging thing that happened to me. This insightful, well-written article carries your voice so strongly; your level of transparency in your personal work inspires me with your bravery and honesty. I’ve been living in the northeast too long; the dissonance I feel wears me down and creates huge barriers for my own transparency. What a nuisance. Stay who you are. You light the way for us.

  26. says

    Thank you for a lot to think about and a terrific post.I have spend several days mulling it over. 😀
    It’s true, people flock to witness struggle and discontent. The blogs you mentioned are terrific and I enjoyed exploring many of them for the first time. If I stick around I’m sure that I will be a faithful reader and begin to care about their families and their mental health just like I do about Dooce and her children. I will feel compelled to comment and offer support.
    Now here comes the but….my own discomfort.
    I would love to write as well as these women but I have no intention of writing a “reality blog.” I know if I wrote more about my husband sudden death and how it effected my teen my number of comments would grow as would the clicks. When I have written about being offended, hurt, or snubbed my readers flock (a small flock) to comfort me but since this takes energy away from their own lives, I think carefully before I hit the publish button.
    I noticed you did not mention blogs that grow from being silly or interesting lifestyle like The Pioneer Women. If you did mention them…I’m sorry If I missed them. You also didn’t talk about these blogs effects on the bloggers family members, friends and community. The solution for some it seems is to write anonymously. How really is anonymous. I like real names.
    For reasons I will keep exploring, growing a blog through strife, discontent, and mental illness seems very self serving at the expense of the reader.
    Thank you again for the food for thought.

    • says

      Hey Katybeth, I think it is wise to think through before you hit publish. I have a friend who writes nasty Facebook posts, shows them to his wife and then deletes them. He gets it out of his system without hurting people. I wish I had that kind of discernment at times. :)

      Pioneer Woman was on my short list but I pulled her in the end. I forget why. :/

  27. says

    Up until very recently I ran a technology blog. As I’d also been involved in politics I ran a reprinted article on the resignation of a physicist. Said scientist (now deceased) resigned from an eminent organization due to his views on the miscarriage of science regarding global warming.

    427 (published, many to vicious to permit) comments that, to my mind display the dark side of the environmental movement. NB: At that time I’d passed no comment on the veracity of climate science, ran a political campaign that was reasonably pro action etc. A taste of how vile the individuals can be can be seen in the comments section here:

    I was pretty disappointed and admit I had a rethink on “transparency”. Surprising for a decade long veteran Usenet Moderator (now retired Moderator).

  28. says

    WOW I had to re-read that jon morrow article again. I forgot that it was one of the most inspirational posts that I had seen to really make me take this blogging thing seriously.

    Still haven’t seen too much dysfunction from copyblogger though just great examples of making it happen. How about sharing some TRUE FAILURE stories. Talk about posts or launch ideas that failed and why, etc?

    • says

      You remember how Demian talks about two strategies? We do the first one. :)

      Copyblogger’s never going to be a “confessional,” personal Dooce-style blog. But we do sometimes run stories wehre we learn from things that didn’t work, and once in a great while we run more personal posts that talk about how we got where we are now.

  29. says

    This is such a great discussion and i am learning so many things, not only from the post itself, but all of you! I am glad it keeps coming back into my “in” box because I want to print the original post off and then have those addresses handy. Thanks so much for this Demian!

  30. says


    After reading your excellent comments, I thought of something else: Why are companies so afraid of showing personality in their blogs? For example, in my last job, I wrote a post about personal disruption, which involved my week-long attempt at sporting a mustache. I realize this may sound silly, but there was a connection back to the company’s overall mission (i.e., helping people with health issues).

    The post garnered the highest number of visitors *ever* to the company’s blog, a lot of positive comments, and yet the CEO made us take it down. Why?

    He said, “I don’t like it.”

    The marketing director told me, “It’s highly entertaining and a great post…it just doesn’t make a direct connection to our products.”

    Really? Does everything we do always *have* to sell? I believe our followers liked the post because it was funny, truthful, and did *not* try to sell them something. If anything, it was selling something even more important to building relationships: that we’re people who, like you, struggle with stupid sh*t.

    I would love to hear what others feel.


  31. says

    This is an excellent post. When I first started my blog, one of my readers contacted me and we became friends; when I met him and his wife for lunch he told me that reading my blog always left him feeling raw and wanting to cry. Somehow that sounded wrong to me and I thought writing personal stories was bad. Business school had after all taught me to seperate my personal life from my business life. It took me 3 years to understand why my blog traffic dropped drastically – I stopped telling stories and there was no me in the content. Reading this confirmed how important it is to be authentic in all aspects if your life, including writing. What I got from this post is to find the balance between quality content and telling your own story by being transparent. Thank you for such an insightful post.

  32. says

    I keep coming back to this blog post and reading it…I’m almost addicted! My own blog is very personal, and I am always fighting with myself about how much to reveal and how much to keep to myself. I recently read Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” which was fantastic, but she revealed some things about herself that I was not sure she would want her children to read. It left me wondering about my own blog and how much to reveal. A previous commenter wrote something about that…that we need to be cognizant of hurting people in our lives with our words. I am a therapist, and I also need to think, “if one of my clients found out this was my blog and read it, would it be helpful or hurtful. It’s a quandary, but I cannot help but write. My latest post deals with the suicide of my brother. I just found out that it’s “National Brothers Week.” Did anyone know this? Have a fantastic week everyone!

    • says

      Asking yourself if you would want your children to read what you wrote is a great principle (my children read my posts and I used the word “crap” and my daughter said Daddy, that’s a bad word.” I was embarrassed and haven’t used it since.). And clients finding out what you wrote…that’s huge, too. That’s why some people go anonymous. There is always your journal.

  33. says

    Hi Demian,

    I do use a pseudonym for my blog, although with all the connecting social media stuff it would not be hard to figure it out. My children, all grown, know my story and are following my blog, but I leave out lots of details for their sake. There are a lot of things that do not add to the point of the story anyway, and my point is to give hope to those who have gone through similar traumas…there is light at the end…the details don’t matter. Thanks so much for responding to my comment!

  34. says

    These posts have given me a lot to think about. My blog reveals a lot about myself…as a matter of fact I use a lot of my own “stumblings” to share about my spiritual journey. However in my soon to be released book, “Climbing Out of the Box, my journey out of sexual and spiritual abuse into freedom and healing,” I tell it all with nothing held back. It has actually served to answer my children’s many questions about not only my past, but theirs as well, and encourages them to move forward, knowing we are breaking all generational patterns. I feel it is our journey and if it can help one soul to have hope for their future then I tell it as it is………..

  35. says

    Thanks for asking Linda!! It will soon be linked to Amazon. When you read it be sure and rate it on Amazon!! My latest posting on my blog tells the story of how the book came about……..I so enjoy your life’s journeys you share on “A Light At the End”…..I eagerly await every new posting…surely a book in process!!! Blessings

  36. says

    My favorite post of yours so far…easily.

    I have found that they posts I make that are the most brutal, the most guttural, the most honest, garner the most interaction. I personally am careful to talk about my personal hiccups in a humorous way because there are few things I hate more than a comment at the end of a really heartfelt blog that begins with, “I’m so sorry”. I’m not. Shit, had it not been for the catharsis that occurred because of whatever that big thing was, it wouldn’t have ever been worth writing about anyway.

    One of my most popular blogs was titled “And sometimes I just suck at stuff” and I think people loved it because they could really relate. I had another post that was just brutal for me to write, about overcoming homelessness, living without furniture, about my dead cat…(I won’t link you unless you ask me to because it’d be tacky) but people really flocked to that thing. Most of them emailed me directly because they had some soul pouring to do with a tinge of stagefright, but whatever, they still let me know they were there.

    My biggest struggle lately is F-bombs. I want to use them sometimes because hey, I’m speaking conversationally, but I’ve been told by my design buddies it’s a no-no and I should offend my Christian Housewives. But hey, I’m a Christian and God still loves me, but I get it. I do.

    Decisions, decisions…

    • says

      I’m tempted to use F-bombs, too. Sometimes it’s like adding that filthy adjective just drives the point home in such an exquisite way. And forceful, too. Email me through my website and send the link to your homeless post. Would love to read the story.

  37. says

    Great post Jeremy,

    I agree with your opinion that almost all of the successful people on this planet mostly were the people that gained many failures in their past. And that’s the truth. They are really independent, extremely persistent, super stubborn and fully passionate with what they do.

    Writing can be really fun to express our feeling to other people. But sometimes, we need to be really confidence with what we are writing. We have to write contents not only to inform readers, but also to make them interested or attached to our articles personally. And that is the one that i’m really struggling to learn right now. lol!!

  38. says

    Great article and some great bloggers to read! You’ve given me some really good food for thought. I’ll admit, I’ve gotten a bit bored with my niche but you’ve just given me a new idea twist. I did have some really great success with a couple of posts and you’re right, it’s because they were pretty transparent. Recently, on a mission trip to Haiti, part of our team experienced something very few in America would be able to wrap their minds around and that’s been my most popular post (Yep, it’s linked to my name here in the comments). And another favorite on my site, I’m Breaking Up With You – that got a lot of response and got me in a little hot water with my mother-in-law. Thanks for the great advice! I always enjoy reading here!

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