Perhaps the best lesson I ever learned while working in a TV newsroom was to answer questions this way:
“I don’t know…but I’ll find out.”
So many — too many — people stop at the first half of that sentence and wait for someone else to go dig for an answer. I’ve never understood that. If you don’t know, find out, and then use it to your advantage:
- provide relevant information that advances a story or gives more context to your audience
- educate the person who asked the question and let them know that you’re an expert who can be counted on
- stand out when others are standing still
In news, it was crucial to getting the job done. “How is traffic impacted by the crash? I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” “Are they still looking for a suspect and is he/armed and dangerous? I don’t know but I’ll find out.” When you’re in the business of transmitting information and developing stories, that one phrase can truly make or break your career.
My friend Bess recently wrote a post for FLBlogCon’s website in which she encouraged people to use that response when trying to build their small business, and I wanted to amplify that here.
Let’s use a real example, and apply it to blogging. Here’s a question I don’t currently know the answer to:
“How many vegetarians are there in America?”
:::Give me 30 minutes. I’ll be back.:::
:::OK, I’m back.:::
According to a 2009 poll from the Vegetarian Resource Group, 3% of U.S. adults classify themselves as vegetarian (indicating that they don’t eat meat, poultry or seafood), and the number was up to 4% in 2012. Vegetarian Times published its own poll, finding that in 2008, 3.2% of Americans considered themselves vegetarians. Also in 2012, a Gallup poll found that 5% of Americans call themselves vegetarians, down slightly from previous polls.
So, I didn’t know. Now I do. Depending on the poll you use as your source, and using the 313.9 million Americans listed in the most recent Census, I think I can make a reasoned argument that between 9 and 15 million people in America consider themselves to be vegetarians.*
Now what? Here are five post titles just off the top of my head based on this question/answer:
1) Why Are There So Few Vegetarians in America?
2) Why Are There So Many Vegetarians in America?
3) Five Recipes for the 5-Percenters (Are You One?)
4) Plant-Based Polls: Where Do You Fall?
5) Vegetarians, Flexitarians, Meat-Eaters and More: Why I Eat the Way I Do
For each headline, I think there could be a really well-written, funny, informative post — all because I tried to find the answer to a question. Maybe there’s even enough for a regular series on vegetarian diets in America, and I could share recipes, interviews with other experts, poll data from my own audience, funny or informative videos, etc.
I picked a topic that resonates with me and fits my audience, but you could do the same. What if you tried to answer these questions and developed a post on your own site to answer and provide more context (pick the one that best fits your vertical):
- What’s the best workout for someone with joint issues? (Personal trainers and group exercise instructors)
- How often do I need to feed my newborn? (New moms, lactation consultants, doctors/nurses)
- What is the best tool for watermarking my photos? (Photographers, bloggers)
- How is cheese made? (Food bloggers, chefs)
Become an expert. That’s what I did, and it wasn’t because I was born knowing something — it was because I tried to get answers to questions I had, or others posed, and then I posted them publicly.
My media kit series never would have existed or taken off as it has had I not answered the question “what should be on a blogger’s media kit?” And now, that brings me tons of page views, speaking gigs and has launched a successful series on my site.
ASK WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY. Then go find and publish the answer.
*Obviously, there’s a lot of wiggle room, but I said a reasoned argument, for the purposes of this topic. Also, I am terrible at math so if I have the numbers wrong, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll give you credit for the update!