Spreading your gospel: build your blog audience with this killer tip from expert Mitch Joel

With 181 million plus blogs out there, leaving your mark on the blogosphere isn’t easy. Competition abounds and success requires a searing focus – especially at the start – on building your audience.

Fortunately, developing a robust following of committed, even rabid, fans is possible with the help of some tried and true strategies for drawing in the masses, or – at the very least -attracting a few folks who aren’t related to you.

This post is the second in a series of five posts detailing killer tactics for spreading your gospel and includes recommendations from top bloggers like Gini Deitrich of SpinSucks and Mitch Joel of Ctl Alt Delete fame.  Easy to employ, these tips seem destined to kick butt in the form of some serious follower expansion.

Check out my earlier post for the full story as well as tip number one.

  1. Be active in other communities:

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Social media guru Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation and the blog Ctl Alt Delete has said he would “spend ten times as much time adding value to the five or ten existing communities where my potential members might be hanging out, reading and connecting” as he would creating valuable and relevant content. As he says, doing so provides A-1 exposure to potential new followers while hopefully, drawing them to your site and, better yet, adding them to your readership.

Posting comments that are smart, meaningful and add value is critical; it’s the motivation to visit your blog. For example, to attract new followers an interior design blogger needs to say more than “great bedroom redesign” on another blogger’s site. S/he should offer true value by providing information that matters to readers.  A comment on the lighting with a quick tip on choosing bedroom lighting and a link to a post on bedside lamps would do just that.  It’s valuable information that informs the reader.

To get the biggest bang for your buck so to speak, re-evaluate who you’re following.  Are you following blogs read by your audience or do you need to find blogs better aligned with your followers’ tastes? Choose carefully where you spend your time otherwise your efforts may not hit the mark.  I’m carefully reassessing who I’m following and where I’m spending my time.  I’m quite sure that when the process is complete, there will be new blogs on my radar and – with any luck – new followers on my metrics.

As I mentioned in that earlier post, I am – like you – hoping to increase my modest audience with these killer tactics. I’ll keep you posted on my success.   I hope you do the same.

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Best-ever lemon cupcake, the perfect Spring dessert


A petite sweet treat with a huge “awesome!” factor, cupcakes have been having their moment for a few years now.

On-trend since Magnolia Bakery in NYC’s West Village turned them into an eye-catching confection – not to mention their star-turn on Sex and the City which further sweetened their profile – cupcakes are, still, an “it” dessert.

More sophisticated than the donut but less of a commitment than a piece of cake, they are an awesome accompaniment to a cuppa and a light but omg dinner finale.

I recently served these moist cupcakes for dessert along with lemon curd and fresh fruit. Joyfully consumed with requests for seconds and the recipe, they go into my dessert file under “killer.”

Tart them up with piped icing – so easy – and candied lemon peel and they will rock the dessert plate, guaranteed.

They are truly a perfect Spring dessert.


They came to fruition (sorry – I couldn’t resist :)) by combining two lemon cupcake recipes. The cupcake base comes from Style at Home and the icing is from Real Simple.

More proof that my massive sizeable modest magazine investment is worthwhile.

They are an easy make-ahead. In fact these lemon cupcakes can be made weeks before a special occasion and frozen. Thaw and ice (sounds like a contradiction – I can hear my husband sighing… heavily) when needed.

I made an extra-batch for my mom to enjoy on Mother’s Day.

Here are the two recipes:

Lemon Cupcake – makes 12 cupcakes

1 ¼ cup cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup whole milk


Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350 F. Line 12 muffin tins with paper cup liners.

  1. Sift the cake flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Put aside.
  2. In a large bowl and using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until smoothly blended and lightened in colour, about two minutes.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is blended into the batter and it looks creamy, about one minute.
  4. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla and beat for two minutes.
  5. With mixer on a low speed add the flour and milk, alternating between the two and making three additions of the flour and two of the milk. Mix until flour is incorporated. Don’t overmix.
  6. Fill each paper liner so they’re ¾ full.
  7. Bake for 23 minutes or just until the tops feel firm and bounce back when touched.

Lemon Cupcake Icing

½ cup (one stick) butter at room temperature

1½ cups icing sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

To make the icing:     Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium high until light and fluffy, three to five minutes. Beat in the lemon zest, lemon juice and salt. Ice the cupcakes and voila!

FYI – Why use cake flour instead of all-purpose flour?

It’s a simple question with a serious answer. More evidence that baking is chemistry. Cake flour has a lower protein content, which affects the end product’s texture.  Quite simply it makes the baked good more tender.

Who doesn’t love tender, especially when we’re talking about cake or men.

Transporting cupcakes can be tricky. Here’s Canadian Living’s recommendation for the best cupcake carrier.

Let me know what you think!


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Organizations using social media can learn from Rolling Stone’s recent “journalistic failure”

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 10.20.12 PMThree days ago Rolling Stone magazine retracted a story it had published last Fall about a gang rape that allegedly took place on the University of Virginia campus. Its mea culpa was a shocking admission of extreme journalistic negligence on the part of the respected publication. As a review by Columbia University’s School of Journalism showed and as highlighted in the published retraction, it failed to properly vet the story. Surprising as it may seem, facts weren’t checked and with that remarkable lapse, a story was printed that apparently was largely if not entirely incorrect. A massive blow to its reputation, the publication is now working feverishly to repair the damage.

With the growth of brand journalism and content marketing where organizations have become not only purveyors of goods and services but publishers as well, Rolling Stone’s story and its ensuing credibility crisis is a cautionary tale.

Any time information is published, whether by an individual blogger or an organization, the credibility and ultimately reputation of its author is on the line. An audience follows a blog or frequents a site because it’s a trusted resource and expects the information provided, whether it’s tips on how to clean a pool, suggestions on throwing a toddler birthday party or strategies for improving customer experience to be truthful and accurate. The quality of the content is everything; it’s the foundation upon which this vital relationship between audience and publisher is built. Without it, an engaging style, sharp visuals and compelling topics are worthless.

While the Rolling Stone story is an extreme example involving a massive falsehood, publishing any misinformation can have a deleterious impact, whether it’s misstating a statistic, linking to a site with incorrect information, overstating a product benefit or exaggerating an experience. Those inaccuracies undermine credibility and, subsequently that key relationship.

One of the first lessons I ever learned in media relations was to never overstate a story regardless of the situation. Steering clear of sensational words that inherently overpromise was essential. If you say it’s revolutionary it sure as heck better be revolutionary, in the truest sense of the word. News releases were reviewed as carefully for the veracity of the information being conveyed as they were for punctuation. Communicating inaccurate information no matter how slight would undermine that important connection with both our immediate audience, reporters and the eventual one, our customers. It’s a lesson that extends beyond the boundaries of traditional media and applies just as vigorously to social media.

For many bloggers and organizations there is a pressure to publish, an editorial schedule that must be followed.   It’s critical however, regardless of the burden to print, to make sure the information being communicated is correct. Review statistics and make sure you’ve captured their true meaning, assess your use of language and determine whether it accurately captures the essence of the experience, issue or product; and make sure the broad perspective of your content is correct, especially if it’s built on information from other sources.

As it goes with trust, once it’s lost it’s so hard to regain it. Respect your audience and invest the extra effort required to make sure – every time you publish – the information being communicated is completely, one hundred per cent accurate.

I’m sure Rolling Stone wishes it had done just that.

By Alison Cook


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Quick and easy last minute tips for an awesome Easter celebration

Are you in a mad panic, like I am, prepping for Easter? Getting organized and crushing these highly anticipated events isn’t always easy. Life’s busy, frantic crazy sic all of the above pace means sometimes these occasions sneak up on us.

Especially when the date moves around. Is there anyway they could stop doing that?

If it makes you feel any better, I haven’t had much time (who does, right?) to lay out the plan, or even the menu for that matter. In fact, the first order of business for me, is taking down the outdoor Christmas lights and removing the pine and cedar arrangement with the sparkly fake fruit that’s by the front door. Seriously.

Sigh. How did it get to be April?

With the clock ticking, simple recipes, fresh ingredients and a few well-chosen festive touches will make pulling the proverbial rabbit, er bunny, out of the hat possible.

Here are a few quick and easy tips found on the web, some from the pros, some from those super-fabulous creative lay people who are killing it and one from my lovely daughter who is a blossoming super-fabulous dynamo in her own right (proof that the apple does fall far from the tree).

Easter Nests: Ever so simple, made with chow-mein noodles and chocolate chips, these nests are yummy, no-bake, super-festive and a crowd-pleaser. Recipes abound on line for these babies but the one we’re (actually my daughter) is using is the easiest of all. The crush factor is cranked way up with these cute, morsels of goodness.

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Spring flowers in jars:        This tip has been borrowed from the grand poobah herself, Martha and involves simply placing fresh cut flowers in various sized jars (I used preserving jars) – the staggered heights is key – to create a colourful, country-fresh centerpiece. These arrangements were easy-to-make, inexpensive and look awesome. Check out how Martha has turned a paper bag into a basket for Spring flowers. Pretty cool.


Peeps Cupcakes:   These are my daughter’s creation and they are super-cute, easy and delicious. Use any cupcake recipe, even a mix, though I always make the icing from scratch, and tap into your inner Martha to Easterify these cupcakes. The options truly are endless: adorn them with Cadbury eggs, edible flowers, a Lindt mini bunny or little Peeps (a marshmallow confection)


easterpeepsIMG_1643Bunny Treat Bags:   I so wish I could take credit for these but this comes from one of those super-fabulous creative lay people. Check them out. We have our paperbags and are making them tonight for the eight kids attending our Easter celebration. We’re using pink paper for the interior ear and adding whiskers and a nose from our craft drawer. They are being filled with a medley of treats.  Awesome

Dave Lieberman’s Spiral Ham glaze:     Dial way down the work and pressure to please by having a spiral ham. Pre-cooked and pre-sliced, these hams are beyond easy; all you need to do is warm it in the oven. Hello!  While Ina Garten’s glazed ham recipe is our go-to-glaze for spiral ham, tomorrow I’m trying Dave Lieberman’s recipe which is made exclusively using pantry items. Great reviews, it’s a “make-ahead-of-time’ and maple syrup as a key ingredient are making me excited about this sweet topping.

Good luck with your Easter celebration. Let me know what you did to make your Easter festive and fun – for you too!

By Alison Cook



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Spreading your gospel: five killer tips to grow a blog’s audience


Are you looking to leave your mark on the blogosphere while building an audience of die-hard fans?

Whether you’re an organization hoping to promote your brand or an individual wanting to connect with like-minded individuals blogging is a great way to further your goals. From the opportunity to share insights to the two-way conversation that ideally ensues, it’s a powerful tool.

While engaging posts filled with valuable, audience-centric content are essential to growing your community, one of the biggest challenges these days is making sure your key audience sees it. Back in the early days, when blogging was in its infancy, the “build it and they will come” approach often worked, primarily because competition was minimal. Bloggers weren’t like smart phones; they weren’t everywhere and in that relatively quiet environment being heard was easier. You weren’t competing against a din of voices.

But now with more than 181 million blogs worldwide competition is intense. Connecting with an audience is kind of like being in a jam-packed stadium and trying to get someone’s attention on the other side. It ain’t easy and requires more than crossing your fingers and hoping it happens. Spreading your gospel requires a well-developed strategy and killer tactics, well-chosen tools, that will help you to connect with and build your audience. They’re your megaphone and without them, even the tightest, most-riveting post may go unnoticed.

With 25 posts under my belt (including this one) and a group of followers that includes a few non-family members (joking – my family doesn’t read blogs ☺) I’m ready to expand my following. To find the best ways to increase a blog’s audience, I’ve gone to the experts, seasoned pros who know from experience which tools are the most effective. These five relatively simple strategies are going to – so I hope – add some serious decibels to my volume. To keep it all manageable, I’ll incorporate one new tactic each week for the next five. So tune in weekly for a new tip on how to increase blog traffic.

Here is the first killer tip to increase your blog audience.

1. Publish, promote and re-promote: Social media’s ear-piercing racket – from tweets to snap-chats to pinterest alerts – makes it easy for a post to be missed or forgotten. Re-publicizing those communications via your social media channels not only makes sense, it’s often essential. Gini Deitrich of Spin Sucks fame says their formula is to tweet a new post four times the first day it’s posted. On day two it’s tweeted twice and on day three it’s tweeted once. Garrett Moon in a KissMetrics post says the same; share more than once or it may be missed by your audience.  While spamming isn’t cool and can jeopardize relationships with key connections – be sure to respect your audience – making sure a post reaches its audience is important. Determine whether re-publicizing works for you and then decide the time frame and social media platform(s) that make sense for your goals, content and audience.

If using Twitter, instead of re-using the same tweet consider pitching the post by tweeting a fact, posing a question, or quoting the author along with the link. Doing so will help it stand out while piquing people’s interests. VerveSearch has some awesome examples of how to do this. Check them out.

Do you promote your blogs more than once? Do you have a favourite audience growth tactic? I’d love to hear from you so let me know what you’re doing and what works.

Posted by Alison Cook

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This gritty, positive phrase may help you and your kids climb mountains

While watching the Golden Globes a few weeks ago, my daughter curled up by my side, I came across a little nugget of inspiration in one of the winner’s acceptance speeches. Actress Gina Rodriquez, star of Jane the Virgin, thanked her parents while saying her dad taught her to say every morning “I can. I will and today is going to be a great day.” Tearfully, grasping her statue above her head in triumph she concluded by saying “Dad, today is a great day.  I can and I did.”

While I’ve never heard of her (or the show for that matter. See my blog post “I need to watch more TV”) I loved the moment. Her breathless, overwhelming OMG joy was awesome, totally heart-warming and was a fabulous reminder of the huge emotional pay-off that comes from working hard, reaching high and achieving a coveted goal.

But what I really loved was that simple, gritty, can-do, my glass-is-half-full phrase and the role it played in helping her to attain a dream.  While her accomplishments can’t be chalked up to one simple mantra, those few sentences clearly influenced her and – more importantly – reflect a strong positive culture within the home.

As the professionals tell us, grit isn’t a dirty word.  In fact, according to some experts it’s not just important, it’s the make or break factor in goal accomplishment and big picture success.  Gina’s parents apparently recognized its importance and focused on cultivating a determined approach in their kids.

Kudos to them because not only is Gina’s success impressive but her sisters are pretty accomplished too; one is a doctor (and paid for Gina’s post-secondary education) and the other is an investment banker. The three girls grew up in Chicago with Puerto Rican parents – her father was a boxing referee – and without the advantages that can be so important to attaining success. Not bad at all.

For more on grit, check out my blog post on “grit” expert Angela Lee Duckworth and her Ted Talk.

Gina’s story is a great reminder of the massive impact parents can have on shaping their children’s perspective and approach to challenges.  Efforts as small as providing a simple mantra can help equip them to weather life’s storms and climb mountains on the way to achieving dreams.

And, as I’m thinking of climbing what seems to be Mount Kilimanjaro by leaving my uber comfortable world to return to the working world full-time, it’s my new mantra… replacing “as if.” Joking!- kind of.

And you know what? Today really is a great day.

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My rock-solid(ish) commitment to going gluten and dairy-free


Crap (sorry – no pun intended). I saw a gastroenterologist the other day and received devastating news. OK, maybe not devastating but it’s a huge bummer (sorry again). This brownie-loving, latte-dependent (adult bubbas in my mind), pizza-pasta-cheese enthusiast needs to try and give up (uh-oh. I’m already using non-committal language) gluten and dairy. Oh. My. God. Noooooooooooo.

My heart-burn and acid-reflux issues (which make me look like I’m six months pregnant, a big advantage when you need a seat on the bus, a parking spot close to the grocery store entrance or if you want to terrorize your husband i.e. honey look – I’m pregnant. The jaw-dropping-eye-popping look of horror is priceless) will improve massively, apparently, simply by eliminating gluten and dairy. According to Dr. Chen, they’re the two biggest gastrointestinal irritants out there.

Sigh. Despite my discomfort, I’ve resisted the gluten and dairy free band-wagon fervently, with one hand tightly gripped around a cinnamon bun and the other around a hot, frothy beverage. Who would want to give up gluten and dairy? Cornerstone ingredients to so much of what we consume?

Uhhh – not me.

The problem is, it’s a doctor telling me to put down the fork of plum tomato and basil coated spaghetti and pick up a bowl of rice. And when I say doctor I mean a doctor rather than a “doctor” (you know the ones I’m referring to – they often wear hemp clothing, sandals in winter and sometimes don’t look very healthy themselves. We’ve all been to them). A specialist no less i.e. super-knowledgeable.

It’s way harder to say “whatevah” to one of those folks.

I’m dragging my feet primarily because I’ve tried it before. Several times. Most recently in June when my GP suggested giving up the devil-gluten and its evil brother dairy, to help alleviate my stomach problems. I lasted 19 hours and 36 minutes.

I started off with a committed flourish, purchasing gluten-free everything. I didn’t flinch at the humongous grocery bill (inflate bill but deflate belly – a reasonable trade-off). For dinner that night, I substituted gluten-free fajitas for the wheat-based ones and faux did-NASA-make-this-rubbery-tasteless-oh-my-god-it-bounces cheese for the Tex-Mex variety. I even managed to consume those replacements without choking, a testament to my rock solid commitment (and belly).  For dessert I crunched (a generous description – grinded is more accurate) on cookies that cost me an arm and two legs (as well as my teeth, almost) and were frankly not worth the investment.

In fact, it was so so bad it made me think where are the Conspira-sphere dwellers on this gluten and dairy-free cultural wave? Can anyone not see the motivation for turning us off gluten?? The substitute is a marginal, at best, product with fewer nutrients, questionable ingredients and, here’s the kicker, it’s being sold for a gazillion times the price of its gluten-laced counterpart. Hello?! Can you say stroke of genius. Somebody is making a killing. Tapioca starch and xanthan gum manufacturers everywhere are rejoicing. Cha-ching!

Or maybe it’s one of those terrorist organizations trying to make us physically weak and emotionally vulnerable??  I know I felt like crying last time I ate some of that stuff.

Who knows but bottom-line maybe we should spend less time worrying about Dick Cheney’s role in legalizing aspartame or whether UFOs have crashed in Roswell and more time worrying about who’s behind this clearly deleterious initiative.

Food for thought anyway.

My commitment to the dietary change waned the next morning. I left the house without having my usual breakfast of steel-cut oats – which I love. I was rushing to an appointment, meeting ok – a shopping trip with my daughter (very unusual for us. Truly) and I needed some food. The food venues at the mall were, of course, all fast ones and the only option really was oatmeal at Starbucks (home of the latte!). It wouldn’t be truly gluten-free (oatmeal is often processed in plants where wheat is processed) but I’m not a celiac so I felt it would be OK.   Unfortunately they were out of oatmeal. But they weren’t out of lattes. Or breakfast sandwiches. Oh well. It was fun (so not fun) while it lasted.

I think it’s time for a second opinion.

I’ll keep you posted.

P.S.  Gluten-free diets don’t benefit everyone.  In fact, they can lead to mineral and vitamin deficiencies.  Leslie Beck RD has a great article on her website and in the Globe and Mail on gluten-free diets.

Posted in dairy free, food, gluten free, health, women's issues | 2 Comments