The story of John McAfee is stranger than fiction.
Authorities captured the anti-virus pioneer in Guatemala after he spent weeks on the lam from Belize law enforcement, blogging about it along the way. McAfee, who is described as a paranoid eccentric, was sought for questioning after the death of his neighbor. He landed in Miami on Wednesday night after officials from Guatemala expelled him from the country.
His blog (titled “The Hinterland
”) has traces of magic, despite several of the author’s lapses into a bizarre, self-aware paranoia. At times, it’s a rip-roaring ride that’s almost too wild to believe. It’s most certainly the most exciting blog from a corporate executive (current or former) you’ll ever read.
You can capture some of the electricity of McAfee’s blog without fleeing Central American police. Whether you’re writing your own blog, or managing one for your employer (or CEO), here are four specific things you can do to liven up your blog:
1. Pick fights.
As the adage goes, nothing draws a crowd like a fight.
You don’t have to tell McAfee that. In his posts, he called out a number of journalists who, he believes, wronged him. Take this excerpt from his first post
“Jeff [Wise] has made a life work out of smearing my character … He has gone beyond the call of journalistic duty to bring my dark side to the attention of the world. You might think that moral duty or a search for the truth has been driving him. But, sadly, this is not the case.”
Some bold words from a man hiding in the jungle.
Don’t call out a journalist in this manner, but embrace controversy when it’s appropriate. Take a stand. Rant about a topic near and dear. Just make sure you do it respectfully and thoughtfully—otherwise you’ll sound like a man hiding in the jungle. (McAfee later apologized
to Wise for making an erroneous claim.)
If you accomplish your goal, you’ll become the center of attention, which means people will pick at (or pick apart) your argument, so it had better be a sound one. Readers can disagree with your stance—that’s the whole point—but you should be able to lean on what you wrote. The only thing separating you from a libel lawsuit is the strength of your argument.
Stay away from politics and religion. You don’t want to pull a Chick-fil-A and become the center of a polarizing debate. Instead, aim for something that’s less controversial, but will get people talking, such as cell phone etiquette or wearing sweatpants on airplanes.
2. Tighten up your leads.
Stop wasting your readers’ time with long introductions to blog post. Attention spans are frayed; competition is stiff. Get to the point.
Just look at what McAfee is doing on his blog. His writing is urgent. There’s no big windup, instead he reaches out and grabs his readers. Take the opening sentences from his third post
“In the pre-dawn hours of April 30th of this year I woke to the sound of a bullhorn yelling unintelligible orders. I ran naked outside and saw a military formation whose uniforms identified them as GSU, creeping slowly down my driveway.”
Or this lead paragraph from his post “Blogging from Jail”:
“I am in jail in Guatemala. Vastly superior to Belize jails. I asked for a computer and one magically appeared. The coffee is also excellent.”
Now compare that with this lead sentence from a recent post
on the McAfee Security blog (the company he founded):
“In the past, I talked about how HITECH gave a boost to HIPAA compliance by allowing state attorney generals to bring civil actions for alleged violations of HIPAA Privacy and Security on behalf of state residents.”
Although this isn’t the worst example of lousy corporate writing, it is clunky and slow, and contains too many acronyms. Next time, leave the alphabet soup for later in the post—when you also define them—so the lead can hum, not lumber.
Unless it’s a common abbreviation or acronym, such as FBI or SCUBA, leave it out of the lead paragraph. And when you do mention it, define it for your audience.
3. Tell your story with pictures.
The tyranny of prose is over; today's online readers expect pictures.
McAfee’s blog is packed with images. In one post titled, “My Life in Belize
,” he tells a story almost entirely in pictures (with brief captions). Here’s are a few of them:
They aren’t of the quality of a photojournalist (nor are they formatted correctly), but they make his point—Belize is a stunning place of contrasts.
If you’re formulating a story that’s best told with pictures, or you’re simply suffering from writer’s block, grab your camera (it might be your smartphone) and take some photos. It’s a quick and compelling way to convey thousands of words.
Make your images even sexier by running them through a filter using Instagram or Camera Awesome on your smartphone. Or create your own meme with sites such as Quick Meme
and Cheezburger’s meme maker
4. Write evergreen posts for the blog bank.
In case of capture, McAfee promised that he had written enough posts to keep his blog going for months. He also had an assistant helping him out, a luxury that perhaps you can’t afford.
Still, it’s wise to write a post or two on evergreen subjects that aren’t time sensitive, such as how-to or list stories. Maintaining a blog, whether for business or pleasure, can seem oppressive when you’re trying to keep it updated on a regular basis. By writing ahead, you’ve got at least one good post in the bank for the days you’re feeling overwhelmed with work or unable to formulate a coherent sentence. Your blog will have fresh material that wasn’t squeezed out of you, painfully.
If it’s a matter of time (“I can’t even afford the hour or so to write one post, let alone several”) consider the mornings, afternoons, or evenings when you’re inspired—the caffeine is coursing through your veins, and you’re churning out copy. Instead of writing a single post and calling it a day, harness that energy and inspiration to kick out just one more post. Pour yourself another cup of coffee, put on a new playlist or album on your iTunes, and get cracking—you’ll be thankful you did.
Keep a list of evergreen topics that would work great for your blog.