Trans-tangental: The Value of Off-topic Blogging Posts

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Brand-oriented blogs by necessity have to focus on a particular topic. People are coming to the blog because of the brand, and they want content related to the brand in most cases. Readers are creatures of habit, and routine is comfortable to them. A blog should put out on-topic content for the same reason it should update on a consistent schedule. A blog that doesn’t maintain a consistent voice or message is probably not going to maintain its target audience’s long-term interest, by and large for the same reason that a book that can’t decide if it’s an adventure story or a romance won’t hold a reader’s attention.

That said, there are many very good reasons to go into off-topic posting as well. Habit and routine are important, but so is variety. Creativity and a smart change of pace can make a blog more lively and keep the readers guessing. The trick is to balance the needs of on-topic commentary with the occasional bit of off-the-wall entertainment that brings some lively discussion with it.

As an example, consider a blog dedicated to political journalism. The author has a modest audience of several thousand people interested in his posts. The blog focuses on political corruption and promise-breaking, because this is the author’s interest and because everyone likes a good scandal story. However, this kind of material can get relentlessly depressing over time. If the only picture being painted is upsetting, people might not check in to the blog quite as often.

This kind of irregular off-topic material is intriguing specifically because it isn’t something that can be predicted. The audience can come back every day or every week for the content they’ve grown to expect, and can also come with the slight hope that maybe a new “unusual” post will come up to catch their attention.

In a similar but variant approach, there’s the idea of playing with a particular theme. Say that a blog is focused on architectural disasters. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are devoted to stuff that’s simply hideous and ill-advised, such as chartreuse shutters on a house painted orange, while Tuesdays and Thursdays focus on poor construction that’s pretty evidently going to fall apart. The main focus of the blog is humorous, rather than serious.

To play with this theme is to write posts that come close to it, and still follow the main theme, but go at it from a different direction. For example, say our architecture blog starts a series called Silly Saturdays, where he posts images and blog entries about people who’ve deliberately gone a bit nuts in their construction for a funny effect – such as a family that builds a treehouse in the middle of a city. Alternately, he could post a Sunday WOW blog in which he shares images and stories of houses that have truly amazing architecture, subverting the original theme. He’s still focusing on the interest in architecture, but changing the pace just often enough to provide context and perspective.

In both the case of irregularly-timed, off-topic posts and those that occur regularly but only as a small part of the main content, the key is to maintain a good proportion. In both cases, the bulk of the content is focused on the key topic at hand, be it political journalism or amusing architectural decisions. This means that the “asides” are small and rare enough that they come as pleasant surprises and changes of pace. They allow the variety that keeps the mind quick and engaged, while not overpowering or distracting from the main message people are coming to enjoy.

Choosing the sort of off-topic message to go into can be tricky. Content that plays with or subverts the main message of a blog is usually easier to work into the process. It doesn’t feel forced or squeezed in, because it’s still touching on the main body of work while allowing for a bit of creative differentiation.

That said, instinct is usually a good thing to follow. Remember that no one can predict what kind of mood the Internet is in at any given time. Websites about cute cats, bizarre cakes – even videos of pandas sneezing have gone viral for no apparent reason except a “mood” taking hold of us. If you’re writing a blog and an idea that doesn’t seem in-theme but still worth posting comes up, give it a try. At worst, people might wonder what the big deal is and ignore the post. Fair enough; in that case, you can return to your regularly-scheduled programming. On the other hand, it might just garner a certain amount of interest and bring in a new audience to pay attention.

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