5 Unusual Blog Features To Spice Up Your Content
You know what the usual blog features are:
You should have comments. You should have spam blockers for those comments. You should have social sharing buttons. You should include easy contact information. You should probably have an RSS feed. And the list goes on.
Without going too crazy and making your blog needlessly complex, it’s possible you want to add a feature or two to set your blog apart. You want people to remember your blog for the right reasons, and not for being a train wreck.
We have five blog feature ideas that are a bit different, and that might be just the ticket for your blog.
Blog Feature #1: Show Emotional Temperature
What if your blog could feature feelings?
That sounds a little weird, but let me explain how that might look.
While taking part in a webinar last year, I was intrigued by a graphic that indicated how the participants felt about the presentation as it was happening. It fluctuated up and down, from red to green and back again, as people “voted” repeatedly based on what the presenter was saying or how they felt the webinar was going.
We could see the emotional impact of the webinar, live. I found myself feeling as if I were part of a group, pleased when it flashed enthusiasm for the things I agreed with. I was gauging my own response by those who were also participating.
Bitly For Feelings is a rather unusual way to share a link and say what you think about it, whether you say anything extra or not. Using shortlinks to indicate your feelings, Bit.ly lets you get extra meaning into your social shares. This is particularly helpful on Twitter, where you are restricted to 140 characters. Why waste the space? Why not let the shortlink do a little extra work, too?
Content marketing is multilayered, where the words are one layer and the images are another–everything is meaning upon meaning. It’s where hashtags aren’t just for organizational purposes, but they also carry double meanings. It’s where a simple Twitter favorite doesn’t just mean “I like this” but has many complex possible meanings.
Emotions are expressed, in this world of short-form social media, in tight, abbreviated ways. People talk about content marketing often in singular terms. “You have to know how to write great copy” or “You need to know how to make amazing graphics” or “You need social proof!” but not too many talk about the best way to package up all of that in as tightly wrapped package as possible AND add emotion to it.
Bitly For Feelings is attempting to do that. It’s showing emotional temperature in just a simple shortlink. One thing (the shortlink) serving two purposes (your feelings, link to article). Is it possible you can give some indicators on your blog as to the emotional temperature surrounding your content there?
What might this look like on your blog?
- Which posts are always hot? Grab a WordPress plugin that makes your most popular posts easy for readers to find. Show your readers what people are reading. Besides being great social proof, it’s fun to watch the list fluctuate and change.
- Which posts did you write while hot under the collar? Custom template that indicates if your post is a rant. On one of my personal blogs, I used to have a template that indicated through cartoon characters if a post was funny, sad, a rant, and so on. There was a cartoon character with a facial expression that indicated as much. The post was still categorized with typical categories, but the character expressed my feeling about it. I found that many readers preferred the rants (I don’t know why) and went right for the posts with the rant face.
- Which posts are hot right now? With some custom development, you could indicate how posts are faring right now. Maybe you’ll measure in current traffic, comment activity, or social shares. A visual indicator next to each post would let visitors to your site know where the current action is happening in real time.
Blog Feature #2: Live Reader Collaboration
Most blogs feature comments and social shares, but that is a reactive opportunity, one where you let readers react after they’ve read. What if your blog featured a way for them to collaborate beforehand?
Many years ago, I had a kind of whiteboard in the sidebar of my blog. It was for typing only, and there was no registration required. Basically, anyone who was on my site could edit what was there, adding or deleting, and it would be saved. It went pretty well for a while. Between my readers and my own participation, we came up with a humorous epic poem.
Until a few jerks arrived, and the poem became far less appropriate and I finally took it down.
It was fun, though, while it lasted and I found that many readers kept coming back repeatedly throughout the day just to see what the other regulars had added. They were very protective of the work there, and would weed out the ne’er-do-wells and their spurious contributions.
It was a kind of virtual bulletin board, much more interactive and pliable than a mere comments section which only allowed for commentary on a particular post. It wasn’t me saying “yes, you can take part but only on the topics of the posts I choose to write” but me saying “write whatever you want to and let’s see where it goes.” Periodically, I would copy the whole poem into a blog post, draw an illustration to go with it, and we’d start over again.
How can you get your readers to collaborate on your blog (and have a bit of fun)?
- Use an interactive whiteboard. There are so many whiteboard options online. Scribblar, AWW, RealtimeBoard, WebWhiteBoard, FlockDraw, etc.
- Use an interactive whiteboard for exclusivity. Exclusivity sells. People want in. By allowing some access to the whiteboard, you can use it as an incentive to sign up for your email, for example, or make it available only to the people who are taking part in your webinar.
- Open up a blog post for the specific purpose of collaborating on content. Let your readers know that the comments section of this post is for them to write the content itself, and that you’ll use what’s there to create a final product. Give contributors mention on social media.
- Add games to your post. This is purely for fun for your readers. The gift of fun is no small thing. There are several WordPress plugins that let you add games and activities into a post.
You will have to police it a bit depending on how the collaboration is allowed. There are no shortage of people on the internet looking to ruin things, and spammers and overly pushy marketers are much more common now than they were back when my blog had the feature.
You could do some of this on your social profiles, like Google+, but I have this thing about sharecropping content, sometimes, and like to bring activity, when possible, back to my own site.
What do you do on your blog to allow for reader collaboration? Are they only allowed to share and comment?
Blog Feature #3: Clear Blog EULA
Ah, the beloved end user license agreement that no one reads. Most bloggers are already aware of FTC requirements for bloggers and the fine print they are required by law to have on their site, but what about your own fine print “requirements”?
Early in my blogging career, I decided to create a Blog EULA. While I didn’t fully expect anyone to read it (people tend to be more interested in responding and reacting than listening and reading), I thought it would be a good way to easily explain my moderation activities when someone got out of hand. Instead of long and agonizing emails and debates in email, comments, or social media, I would simply share the link to the EULA and say “I cannot allow that on my blog. See reason #4.”
What should your blog EULA have?
- It should be readily available. I gave every reader an opportunity to find the blog EULA. It was linked to on the main template and therefore, no matter where they ended up on my site
- It should outline what you expect of comments. I don’t expect people to temper their responses, or make them less spammy, because of a blog EULA. What I use it for instead is a kind of mission statement for what I expect to see in the comments, and tool to compare a comment to when I don’t think it should pass moderation. If someone gets upset (and there are a few who watch to see if a comment is published), you can kindly say that it doesn’t fit expectations and indicate why. My EULA talks about offensive language, personal attacks on people, spam, and keeping comments on topic.
- It should address copyright issues. Make it clear how readers can (or cannot) use your images and content. Provide clear instructions on how to get permission, how to attribute, that they should not link to an image, etc.
Granted, sometimes this was like waving a red flag in the face of a bull (particularly my earlier versions, which were highly sarcastic and snarky), but most of the time, readers would understand. Many often rephrased comments so that they were more appropriate.
Blog Feature #4: Provide Live Chat
Live chat on a site isn’t anything new, though it is mostly reserved for a “how can we help you” support function rather than pure “let’s talk.” What if you made it possible for readers to chat directly with you, once in a while, on your blog? If you’re interested in chatting with random readers, this blog feature is for you.
Admittedly, as an introvert I cringe at the idea in some sense, but I’ve done it before and it can be fun. I’ve embedded a “Chat With Me” button on some posts that shows me as available when I’m logged into the particular chat service I am using. This does a couple of things:
- You know if your post is being read.
- You can use it on particularly popular or particularly contentious post. I’ve found that people tend to behave differently when they are chatting with a “live” person than leaving an anonymous comment hit-and-run style.
- You make your blog more sticky. Having a leisurely chat with the author of the blog post I just read? That’s going to make me come back to the blog. I feel like I got to know the person, and a sense of loyalty seeps in.
I wouldn’t sign into the chat service all of the time, but if you do use it, you should actually use it. Plus, it’s a great way to get feedback. I’d rather have someone hop in chat and point out a typo than interrupt the comment flow of others with a “you spelled it wrong” comment.
Blog Feature#5: Callouts And Action Boxes
Any blog features that can get readers to slow down and read are aces in my book.
Our blogs use several different design element that any of our blog team members can easily include in their post. These help content to stand out as well as provide interaction for the reader. In an age where people read by skimming, picking out headers and other things that stand out from the rest of the page, highlighting content is a necessity for your blog.
1. Click To Tweet
Making tweetable content right in your post is a great way to get your reader involved with your content, and it makes it easy to share. Our popular Click To Tweet WordPress plugin actually originated as something we built for our own custom use. People started asking us where they could get something similar, and it took off from there.
So when I’m writing a blog post and I type this:
I get this:
It’s super simple, meaning I’m more likely to use it when I’m creating blog content. The good news? You can add our Click To Tweet plugin to your WordPress blog super easy and get this for yourself.
2. Ask A Question
We had a theory that if we ended blog posts with a question, it might spur discussion and conversation that otherwise would only get “good post!” comments. While I can’t always say that it’s worked as we thought, asking a question and highlighting that question in your post does cause some readers to use the comments section to answer it.
In a similar fashion to the Click To Tweet box, I can create a question that stands out by typing this:
The result is this, a good-looking highlighted question that links to the comments section directly. Click on it. You’ll see.
Again, you are highlighting your content. This one is doubly interactive. You’re requesting a specific response, and you’re taking them to where you want them to reply, all in one click.
Please note that this is something we custom developed for our blog and is not available as a plugin.
3. Share Great Quotes
Most WordPress templates handle a quote in a way that helps it to stand out from the rest of the text. If you aren’t making use of the quotes option in your own blog posts, and are simply keeping quoted material in the body text, you’re missing out on grabbing the attention of those skimming your post. You need to do what you can to snag their eye and get them to stop and read.
We took our quotes a step further and made them stand out visually as well as make them interactive and tweetable. Because they are strong visually, they sometimes have the same effect as images, breaking up the page and making it so we don’t have to struggle every time to find lots and lots of graphics.
When I type this:
I get this:
You can see the quotes in heavy use in a post where I highlighted famous writers. Their quotations were a major part of the post.
Please note that this is something we custom developed for our blog and is not available as a plugin.
4. Bootstrap Elements
Even if you’re not a developer and able to come up with these custom solutions that we have, you can use WordPress plugins to your advantage and highlight special text areas.
Are you using Bootstrap CSS on your site? You could also use Bootstrap elements, such as alerts or wells, which make it possible to create pretty colored boxes, or create your own custom CSS to allow for the easy creation of such elements while writing blog posts. While they aren’t going to be interactive, they do highlight your content and catch the attention of those skimmer readers. We often use these kinds of colored boxes when we want to point out action the reader should take.
Final word? Go easy on these kinds of “special” features. I certainly wouldn’t use all of them.
It doesn’t take much before your blog is overloaded with graphics, widgets, blinking and animated calls-to-action, ads, scrolling marquees and other such distractions. Adding things to a blog is fun. Most of us are always tinkering with our blog trying out new ways to get our content noticed and our blog remembered. Too much makes it disastrously forgettable.
Remember: nothing should get in the way of your most important call-to-action. Nothing should get in the way of your content. If it does, no matter how creative, it probably has to go.