This column is written by Kimberly Turner from Regator (a great tool that gathers and organizes the world's best blog posts). – Darren
Man alive, I hate bringing you a list of blogosphere trends that includes both Lindsay Lohan and Jersey Shore—not to mention Sarah Palin. But I report the list, I don't decide what's on it (neither does Regator—it just calculates what's being blogged about most this week). Then again, you might love Lohan and eagerly await the next episode of Jersey Shore. You may have voted for Sarah Palin. My distaste for those things is merely my opinion and, in giving it, I have given you a better sense of who I am. As a blogger, I am all for that. And you should be too.
If you look at the web's top bloggers, you'll find they have a couple of things in common: a unique voice, which we talked about recently, and opinions to share. As Darren pointed out, "Expressing opinions on your blog is like adding seasoning to food. Without it, your blog could end up being quite bland and blend into the crowd." Reporting the facts is useful but adding commentary helps your blog stand out from the dozens—or hundreds—of blogs covering the same story. If you all have the same facts, it's your viewpoint that will help remove you from the echo chamber. You are providing your translation of the story and encouraging your readers to see it in a new way.
Let's look at examples of posts about this week's top stories to see how sharing your opinions can enhance your blog and engage readers:
- Shirley Sherrod – Michelle Cottle of The New Republic pulls no punches in "The End of Andrew Breitbart." She rails on "conservative pseudo-journalism" and refers to Breitbart as a "toxic tantrum." Be warned though: This technique is not for the timid. Cottle has a long history of writing highly opinionated pieces that have, no doubt, helped her build a tough skin when it comes to antagonistic comments. The most frightening thing about going from a blogger who reports news to a blogger who reports news with a viewpoint is that you will offend someone—particularly if you phrase your opinions in such a confrontational way. But you will also build a stronger relationship with the rest of your audience, particularly those whose stance is similar to yours (and those who enjoy a healthy dose of debate).
- Facebook – Epicenter's "Five Things That Could Topple Facebook's Empire" is a far more subtle approach. Since no one knows what will (or could) harm the social networking behemoth, Ryan Singel's list comprises his own ideas about the challenges Facebook faces. This sort of opinion-sharing/hypothesizing is far less likely to ruffle feathers than the first example. While searching for a post that shared original thoughts on Facebook, I had to rifle through literally hundreds that were simply repeating that Facebook has reached 500 million users and Facebook was being taken to court and Zuckerberg was interviewed on television. They all had the same facts with nothing to differentiate one from another. That is what you want to avoid.
- Lindsay Lohan – Crushable's "Poll: Should Celebrities Always Do The Right Thing?" shares the opinion that, due to her background, jail-bound Lohan should be allowed to make mistakes. The post follows up with "But maybe we are wrong!" and an invitation for readers to take a poll. One advantage of sharing your viewpoints is that it opens the door to the opinions of your readers and provides a venue for productive conversations. Your enthusiasm for a topic is contagious and much more likely to elicit a response than a straightforward repetition of the facts.
- Comic-Con – While other nerd blogs were rejoicing in the glory that is Comic-Con, Techland's Lev Grossman was busy writing "The Guy Who Hates Comic-Con Goes to Comic-Con, Part 1." It stands out among the posts on the event and the humor of it is a fantastic cloak for what might otherwise have been construed as a bit of a whiny perspective. It is fun to read and, most importantly, it is the author's brutally honest assessment of the convention.
- Inception – Jim Emerson's "Inception: Has Christopher Nolan forgotten how to dream?" post from Scanners does contain spoilers, so beware of that. But it also contains a unique perspective on the movie that I found compelling enough to share on my social networking pages. Emerson's post shows the importance of providing supportive evidence to validate your opinion. Even those who do not agree with your assessment of a situation before reading your post may find themselves saying, "That blogger really has a point" if you provide enough reasons for your ideas.
- Mel Gibson – Rufus F.'s "In Defense of Casting Stones at Mel Gibson" from The League of Extra Ordinary Gentlemen is a direct response to E.D. Kain's "In Defense of Mel Gibson" from the same blog. That is the beauty of opinions; they are likely (particularly among dissenters) to provoke discussions in the comments and, if they are divisive enough, to prompt entire posts providing an alternate position. For the record, I'm not encouraging flame wars or knock-down, drag-out arguments; I'm advocating respectful two-way conversations between adults with different viewpoints. Keeping your tone positive and staying open to contradictory viewpoints will help maintain a healthy community and positive vibe. I learn a great deal from listening to those who disagree with me, and you will too.
- Oil spill – "Gulf of Mexico," which has been on trending for several weeks, has been replaced by "Oil spill" thanks to news that China is dealing with a spill of its own. How depressing. But I digress… Treehugger's "In Defense of the Offshore Drilling Moratorium" takes the safest path to stating an opinion by defending the drilling moratorium. Sharing opinions is one thing, but sharing opinions that will alienate most of your readers (for example, a post titled "10 Best Steak Restaurants" on a vegetarian blog) is simply unwise. You don't need me to tell you that.
- Steve Jobs – Flip the Media's "On Media and AntennaGate" cites the author's own history as support of an opinion, making ample use of phrases such as "I don't think so," "I agree with him," and "I doubt it" to make it clear that the blogger is providing her personal opinion. There's no need to go overboard, but be sure that you aren't phrasing your opinions in a way that could be misconstrued as fact.
- Sarah Palin – From the moment you read the headline "I'm Telling You, Palin Has No Chance," it is clear that Daniel Larison's Eunomia post is providing a personal opinion. He acknowledges that "it's risky to make absolute statements about anything…" but goes on to provide several reasons based on his findings. Again, this is a post that is a rebuttal to a post from another blog.
- Jersey Shore –Portfolio's "Here’s the Situation: Fire the 'Jersey Shore' Cast" provides its reasoning in the form of bulletpoints in what amounts to an open letter to the makers of the reality TV show. Open letters can be a fun and creative way to share your thoughts.
Are you opinionated on your blog or afraid of offending people? Let’s chat about it in comments.