Four Common Traits Lethal to Rock Stars and Blog Writers

You know the songs that matter. They have a way of illuminating your past. At the same time, they shed new light on your present and make you look forward to a brighter future. (Articles and blog posts can do this too, of course.)

I’m still unfurling my muscles after a few days stuck in the back of a fully packed minivan. We’ve just completed the summer pilgrimage up to the Canadian Maritimes. Members of my family have been making this trip since my grandparents immigrated to Boston in 1949.

Such trips are a chance to go back in time - even as you’re unmistakably immersed in the present and the future. Countless stories about the people you've loved and lost are told over the noise of the newest generation.

Between the reminiscing, reciting every nursery rhyme I knew to soothe the toddler, and fending off the five year-old’s requests for yet another ice cream cone, there actually were a few quiet moments in the van.

What U2 can teach you about presenting content to people who care

U2 Bono: Four Common Traits Lethal to Rock Stars
U2 Bono: Four Common Traits Lethal to Rock Stars

As I watched the Prince Edward Island farmland stretch to ocean, I caught a U2 song I vaguely remembered.

It wasn’t blurred by time - U2 songs from twenty-five years ago are indelibly etched in my mind. This was a new song from that “oops” album that the band pushed at everyone last year.

U2 “gifted” the album to everyone with an iTunes account. Songs of Innocence wasn’t addressed to the faithful fans or even rock music listeners. It was launched at 500 million people, many of whom didn’t know the difference between U2’s lead singer and some guy who used to be married to Cher.

The chosen audience for this music - everyone - simply didn’t care.

Ego, generosity, self-promotion, and fear are a lethal combo - for rock stars and for writers

If U2's “oops” appeared on your radar screen, you likely recall the backlash.

No one even had time to notice whether the music was any good because they were so angry that it appeared unbidden on their iPhones. (And if anyone from Apple dares to take up one more blessed megabyte with content we don’t actually want, there will be rioting. Or snarky tweets. Whichever.)

Shortly after the album’s release, Bono apologized for their tactics and tried to explain why they did it:

A drop of megalomania, a twitch of generosity, a dash of self promotion – and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard.

Why should you, a content creator and small business blogger, care about a U2 album that will only endure as a reminder that free music isn’t free if you have to pay the fines of public ridicule?

Like it or not, you likely blog and write online content for the same reasons U2 paired up with Apple. Though each element that Bono describes can be good in itself, when mixed together you find yourself in a fine mess.

  1. Ego (“megalomania” is a term best reserved for rock stars and CEOs, so let's scale it back): When you write merely to hear your own voice and to rack up shares and likes, you’re going to lose track of your online raison d’etre - the reader.
  2. Generosity: When you give away all your insights you’ll bankrupt yourself and compromise the quality of what you offer to your paying clients.
  3. Self-Promotion: You blog in order to build an online platform, but, if you’re writing in order to be seen rather than to deliver value, you’ll end up alienating your audience.
  4. Fear: Any venture motivated by fear is bound to fail eventually. Blog posts written in the spirit of “if I don’t get something out on time my readership will forget all about me!” will never be as successful as those grounded in wisdom and anchored in trust that your message is worth listening to.

What happens when you write a blog post for just anyone

This particular track I heard?  “Song For Someone.” The irony was kinda crushing...

When U2 chose to toss their album on everyone’s digital doorstep like a piece of junk mail, they lost track of the special someones who stuck by them even after a decade (more?) of cringeworthy releases.

In order to make a song connect and endure, it has to be sung to someone who wants to listen.

If you want a piece of writing to connect and endure, it has to be addressed to someone who is receptive to the message.

“Someone” doesn’t care about what you have to say. A carefully considered ideal reader who has the problems that your goods and services aim to solve… she’s the one you need to write for (or sing to!).

Everything you bublish needs to be a song for someone in particular

“Song For Someone” will never be anyone’s “With Or Without You.”

Maybe it’s because the song was tinged with that ego, misdirected generosity, self-promo, and fear. Maybe it’s because the band lost sight of what really mattered in their bid to stay relevant and be as cool as Apple.

Maybe it’s because Bono has been more focused on saving the world than he has on music. There are plenty who say that’s a fine thing. And if his mistake makes you a better blogger, just put on Joshua Tree and get writing!

Want to learn more about how to write for your special someone? Consider joining the Sovereign Writers Circle.