Blogging Lessons from Non Sequitur Fridays

Back in May 2012 (a million years ago in Internet time), I wrote a post about starting "Blog Breakfasts" at Wistia. In those days, I was young and naïve and I’m pretty sure I tweeted about "throwing a meeting." I guess people don’t usually use the verb "throw" in reference to meetings (and naturally, Ben made fun of me for it. Because that’s what Ben does).

It's been a while since I essentially took control of the Wistia blog, and things have changed a lot since then (Blog Breakfasts are now a thing of the past), and I'd like to start writing more about the process of running the blog and the thoughts behind the content decisions I make. For starters, I'm going to dive into why I started Non Sequitur Fridays and what I've learned from publishing a regular content series that gets the entire team writing on an informal basis.

Why Non Sequitur?

Every blog can benefit from incorporating a variety of voices, but it can be scary at first for "non-writers" to dive in. I encourage everyone at Wistia to share their thoughts on blog posts that I'm about to publish, but it can be harder to convince people to write something themselves.

For a long time, Non Sequitur Fridays were the only content that we published on a strict schedule (that's changed with the advent of Top Hat Tuesday), and everyone is required to contribute. It's been a good way to make sure everyone is comfortable with the blogging process so that when the time comes for them to write a post about something Wistia-related, they can focus better on the meat of the post rather than freaking out about process.

Of course, I want this content to be fun to read for our audience as well, so I work with everyone on their posts, from coming up with a concept to helping with outlines to editing their drafts. For each Non Sequitur post, I meet with the author at least once to help them decide on what topic to go with and how to frame it.

As far as the purpose of this content, it's twofold: first, it's a fun way to pull back the curtain on who we are as people. It's a nice break from reading the usual business articles, and we try to provide some sort of value with the posts, whether it's entertaining storytelling or meaningful takeaways or useful life hacks. And as a side benefit, it's a nice way for people on our team to get to know each other better.

Lessons from Non Sequitur

I ended up learning a lot about being a better editor from working with people on Non Sequitur Fridays. Since it's lower-pressure content, I felt more able to experiment with the process itself.

Remind people early and often

I tend to err on the side of bugging people as little as I can. I hate, hate, hate to feel annoying, and I also feel intensely paranoid that people hate, hate, hate to be bothered. However, I've come to realize that if I keep my reminders reasonable, people appreciate it. Because writing a blog post probably isn't their #1 priority, it's easy to forget about, so reminding people a few times during the month when their post is due never hurts. (But I'm sorry if I've ever annoyed anyone!)

Meetings are pretty useless if no one has any ideas

Meetings about content are much more productive if there are already a few ideas floating around. When I meet with someone for the first time about an upcoming Non Sequitur post, I encourage them to have a few ideas listed out already and talk to me about each.

That's not to say there aren't exceptions: I've had meetings with people who had no idea what to write about, and I've been able to make suggestions and ask questions to help them decide what to do. But for the most part, it's better to ask people to at least try to think through what they'd like to do before we make time to chat.

People write better when they're passionate

During the idea meetings, it's pretty clear which ideas people are most excited about. Even if some of their other ideas are "better" in some way (more useful, more accessible, etc.) I'd much rather they write about something they truly care about. The posts always turn out better that way.

I've found that that's true for regular content as well, whether it's written content, video content, or anything else. People work much better on things they feel good about working on the it shows in the results.

Always have a back-up plan

The scary thing about a regular series is that people come to expect it, and if it doesn't show up, it's clear someone has dropped the ball. A lot of people (understandably) wait until the last minute to write their Non Sequitur, and then something comes up and they don't end up finishing it in time. I'm lucky that there are a few people on the team who get excited and write their posts early, and being flexible about slotting their posts in has been really helpful for the consistency of the series. But if those people didn't exist, I'd have to establish a new system for creating a backlog.

Remind people why they're doing what they're doing

The times I've gotten pushback about Non Sequitur Fridays have all happened when it had been a while since I'd reminded the team why the series exists. So I've gotten better about including that information every time I send out a new schedule, and every time I let someone know their post is due soon (mostly by creating an "ideas form" where both a writeup of the idea behind the series and some examples of good posts from the past are included).

If writing isn't something that's naturally fun for you, then it can feel really frivolous unless you truly buy into the idea behind it, especially when there's always other work to be done.

How do you encourage everyone on your team to get involved with blogging? I'd love to hear other people's ideas!

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