Anatomy of a (very) successful student blog post

krissypostA funny thing happened recently when one of student blogs unexpectedly exploded and became our most popular ever … by a very large margin. When that happens, it’s worth taking stock of some reasons.

University in Australia vs. College in the States by Krissy O’Farrell, a student visiting from Down Under, was well-written and engaging, but many of our students craft well-written and engaging posts. But it became our first student blog entry to net more than 1,000 visits in a single day (1,009, to be exact) and brought record traffic to the blog overall.

Most visits (884) came from Facebook, where we posted it mid-morning on a Monday. The Facebook post had a fairly modest 117 likes and 15 shares — but also many more comments than usual, many from alumni, some from others who studied abroad. But looking at the other end was more impressive in that this post was shared to Facebook via WordPress 191 times.

(Aside: We don’t post every student blog entry on Facebook; it’s more a “best of” or “greatest hits” in that if a blog entry shows up on our Facebook page, audiences are guaranteed a good read. I know some colleges and organizations hook up feeds that vomit every news item, sports story and/or blog entry onto Facebook, but this serves nobody. It discounts the value of every post in the eyes of your reader … and to Facebook. Many posts with few clicks mean your page’s Facebook EdgeRank drops, meaning less people will see your individual posts. By autofeeding, you don’t benefit your content or your reader, you merely create a new corollary to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence. But I digress …)

Krissy’s posts have done well before. Her debut article, which we also put on Facebook, intriguingly titled From 104 degrees, to 3.2 degrees in a day (chronicling her journey from Australian summer to Oswego winter) did not receive that much traffic in one day but ultimately has been shared more via WordPress (217 times on Facebook). So we know her blogs catch attention.

But what about this specific blog entry may show us what can work more regularly? A few things I’ve noticed:

  • A strong headline. In a world of linkbait headlines that devalue this importance of this, a strong headline that gets your attention by letting you know what’s coming and making you interested really helps. Both the aforementioned headlines by Krissy get your attention and pique your interest for what’s to follow. Which in this case is …
  • An intriguing central question. How do universities in Australia compare with colleges in America? If that doesn’t interest you, well, you’re just not a curious person. It certainly made a lot of our Facebook fans want to click … and that so many shared it from the end of the article shows they read the whole thing and thought it worth sharing with others.
  • A unique point of view. The primary target market for our blogs are prospective students. To future freshmen, wherever they come from, college is a strange and fascinating new world. An exchange student from Australia is less different from them than one might expect, plus she brings an interesting angle to any current students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents reading the blog. Krissy was also our first blogger recruited from Tumblr; my associate Kelli Ariel saw her photos and posts there and thought Krissy would bring great storytelling and a compelling point of view to our student blogs. Needless to say, she was correct.
  • An inviting image. I’ll be honest: A good image for Facebook posts matters more than it probably should. An outstanding blog post with a middling image or no image won’t get read as much as if it had a good image. And an image of food? Win! As Susan Weinschenk noted in her excellent book Neuro Web Design, our old brain asks three very primitive questions when encountering images, even on the web: Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Can it kill me? It’s blunt, but it’s science … and explains why food imagery suffuses the web so effectively.
krissystats

Side note: Ignore the all-time stats here, because Jetpack is a recent installation that reset these stats.

I’m not saying to consider this a be-all end-all in terms of what works in student blogs. Many factors decide whether a blog or specific post gets readership or not. What I am saying is that there are some factors that may make some posts more likely to succeed. And when our students are telling great stories, they deserve many appreciative readers.

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