The 48 Laws Of Power Applied To Blogging


Robert Greene is a sharp writer with a deep understanding of power hierarchies in our society.  He writes on strategy and power and loves to reference historical figures such as Otto von Bismarck, Louis XIV, Talleyrand, Catherine the Great and others in order to illustrate real-world application of his points.  Robert also clearly and repeatedly states in his books he hopes readers will use their insights on power for good, something I agree with.

I read one of his landmark books, The 48 Laws Of Power while in college, have repeatedly referenced it for insight, and seen many of the laws proven true time and time again.

Learning the art of power is perhaps most important as a defense in preventing others from manipulating you.  The laws are vital for success in life – if you haven’t read the book you should.

The other day I was pondering just how close the blogosphere mirrors the concept with which these laws were written with reference to – modern courtship theory, which is the thesis of the book (inspired by Machiavelli).

If you’ve read the book, you should already have good context on these, but even if you haven’t, there are many insights to gain by analyzing how Robert’s 48 laws of power apply to blogging:

Law 1
Never Outshine the Master

This is only half true – in the blogosphere you never want to hold back your talents because it is an open market for readers.  There are also many avenues to success, you do not necessarily need to go through gatekeepers.  But, making already successful bloggers in your niche appear brilliant (even if they aren’t) is a strategy that holds true and is a great way to get links, endorsements and readers sent your way.

Law 2
Never put too Much Trust in Friends, Learn how to use Enemies.

The second part of this law, learning how to use enemies, offers huge potential for you as a way to build a popular site.  A former enemy can prove even more valuable an ally than a friend.  Making enemies as a blogger is a powerful strategy in itself and potentially is a way for both parties to garner huge amounts of attention.  I have watched Jason Calacanis, Michael Arrington and others use this strategy to huge advantage on more than one occasion for links, traffic and exposure.

Law 3
Conceal your Intentions

This all depends what your goals are with the blog really.  I would encourage transparency here because the web will out you if they find you’re being deceptive (for example, throwing in affiliate links or paid links without disclosure).

Law 4
Always Say Less than Necessary

Depends on your blogging style.  Seth Godin and Tim Jahn are masters of this, but guys like Darren Rowse and Aaron Wall go into more detailed, informational posts.

For web design, simplicity is a huge power play – the real challenge is using less.

Law 5
So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life

100% true.  Reputation is the cornerstone of powerful blogs.  If someone pokes a large enough hole in your reputation based off something you did or said you’ll be open to attacks on all sides.  Remember, reputation is more important than attention.

Law 6
Court Attention at all Cost

Another huge trusim of the blogosphere, especially for top bloggers.  The top bloggers and social media power users are masters at this.  This rule is worth quoting from the book verbatim:

Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing.  Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion.  Stand out.  Be conspicuous, at all cost.  Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious, than the bland and timid masses.

Law 7
Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit

I’m not sure I agree with this one as applied to blogging.  I see some bloggers do this sort of thing but I would say this is the antithesis of the medium.

Law 8
Make other People come to you – use Bait if Necessary

Another direct application to blogging.  The art of linkbaiting still works as good as it always has and is built into the system as a way to get people to come to you.

Law 9
Win through your Actions, Never through Argument

As applied to blogging, the art of winning through your actions is linking to evidence of truth instead of explaining why you are correct using purely your own words.

Law 10
Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky

Very true, and is a reason you should associate, link to and align yourself with successful, positive and inspired bloggers – not people who consistently spread pessimism and negativity.

Law 11
Learn to Keep People Dependent on You

This happens only after years of blogging and a consistent effort put into what you’re doing.  You need to work extremely hard to become a go-to source for something.  Once you become the source and the more you are relied on, the more freedom you’ll have as a blogger.

Law 12
Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm your Victim

Not much application to blogging, you should always use honesty with your writing and generosity through things such as passing link juice to other blogs.

Law 13
When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude

Definitely true, especially when you’re working with people you haven’t worked with before.  Appearing to other’s self-interest is the obvious way to get what you want.

Law 14
Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy

I’ll throw this one out of the mix as a law of power you should apply to blogging.  If you work as a spy and are found out your reputation could be destroyed with a single link.

Law 15
Crush your Enemy Totally

If you’re seeking to make a living from blogging and garner more attention, links and readers you need to be consistently more compelling than your competitors.  There is a daily, cutthroat competition between popular blogs for the finite resource of the web (attention) – the only way to win is to always be the sharpest option.

Law 16
Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor

Not if you want to retain/grow your readership.

Law 17
Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability

Predictability gives your readers a sense of control when they visit your site – in other words, they generally have some idea of what they are going to get.  Depending what your purpose is with blogging, you may want to break expectation once in awhile with something outside the norm, but be careful not to be wildly unpredictable.

Law 18
Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous

Extremely true for bloggers.  By isolating yourself you risk ceding ground to well connected competitors.  The more connections and allies you have as a blogger the more insulated from risk you are.  This is extremely true as well for professionals, which is why I write so much on the importance of building career security, not job security.

Law 19
Know Who You’re Dealing with – Do Not Offend the Wrong Person

Another truism for bloggers.  If you’re going to take a stab at someone, be sure you know who they are first so you are aware of potential repercussions.  For example, I would not go out of my way to annoy someone like Steven Hodson (he’s influential, has a razor sharp wit and isn’t afraid to use it).  But that’s just me.

Law 20
Do Not Commit to Anyone

Taking sides on arguments and discussions in the blogosphere is fine to do with care and as long as it supports the viewpoint you are presenting on your site.  Robert writes:

It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others – playing people against one another, making them pursue you.

Although I think you need a great deal of clout before people would pursue you due to maintaining your neutrality.  If your an unknown a way to become known is to pick a side and write on it from your unique and interesting perspective.

Law 21
Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker – Seem Dumber than your Mark

Not much application for blogging, most people generally don’t subscribe to bloggers who aren’t intellectually compelling (at least I don’t).

Law 22
Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power

Some bloggers really like to pick fights and arguments with other bloggers looking to get a rise from them.  In many cases you can’t win those arguments and it is best just to ignore them – a tactic that sometimes can actually make you appear more powerful.

Law 23
Concentrate Your Forces

Another one I’d like to quite Robert on:

Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another – intensity defeats extensity every time.

In other words, if you’re looking for influence or to spread ideas don’t run 4 mildly popular sites and spread yourself weakly across 10 social networks.  Run one ultra-popular site and concentrate on just a few social networks.  This law is seen to be true time and time again when observing influencers.

Law 24
Play the Perfect Courtier

The top bloggers certainly understand this whether they realize it consciously or not.  Learn the art of indirection, flattery, yielding to superiors and power assertion when necessary and there’s no limit to where you can go.

Law 25
Re-Create Yourself

If you’re a blogger and you’d like to rise to the top, being in control of your own image as opposed to letting others dictate it is vital.  Never accept the image that society forces on you – create one of your choosing.

Law 26
Keep Your Hands Clean

Definitely true, your reputation as a blogger depends on it.  We’ve seen blogs destroyed in the past by accepting under-the-table deals that were later discovered.  Also, if you’re doing underhanded things like manipulative link-building, Google will eventually find out and punish your site accordingly, there is no reason to ever risk that.

Law 27
Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following

This is spot on if you want an ultra-popular blog.  I’ve written about this before here in the shift of broadcasting your messages to instead building a following.

Law 28
Enter Action with Boldness

Robert’s rule is stat and applies to all bloggers:

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.

Law 29
Plan All the Way to the End

Having a plan for your blog is vital.  As Maki at Dosh Dosh sagely writers:  you’re not just a writer, you’re the editor in chief.  From the post:

The editor-in-chief is the person who ultimately decides the content direction of the publication in the long run. Like a curator of some sort, the editor-in-chief determines what topics to cover in the editorial calendar and decides how content is arranged together in a way which coheres with the standards of the publication as well as its overall strategy/purpose.

The editor-in-chief is responsible for keeping up to date with reader needs, industry news and competitor publications. He/she is a specialist in analyzing and framing news sources in order to emphasize specific unique angles. This is the person who looks at a piece of writing, thinks beyond copy, and asks: How can I best use this to improve the publication as a whole?

Law 30
Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless

This one speaks for itself.  Your accomplishments as a blogger should be natural anyway if you are keeping a blog from your professional perspective.  Yes, it takes significant effort to build up substantial readership and influence, however you’ll notice the top bloggers never state publicly how much work they put in.

Law 31
Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal

I love the game of chess and the strategy involved.  Law 31 is very true with chess.  Basically the idea is to make people believe they have two (or more) options when in reality all moves play right into your hands.  But for the sake of transparency I wouldn’t suggest you try and control the options for your readers or other bloggers.

Law 32
Play to People’s Fantasies

Depending on what your target demographic is, this is a great strategy.  Just be careful to only promise what is truthful and possible.

Law 33
Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew

Probably not much application in the world of blogging unless you really want to unhinge someone else (although you don’t have much to gain as a blogger by doing that).

Law 34
Be Royal in your Own Fashion:  Act like a King to be treated like one

Certainly your actions around the social web affect on how people view your blog when they get to it.  And, how you act will attract similar types of people to your site (it’s the law of attraction).

Law 35
Master the Art of Timing

The first part of Robert’s law is great advice for all bloggers:

Never seem to be in a hurry – hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself, and over time. Always seem patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually. Become a detective of the right moment; sniff out the spirit of the times, the trends that will carry you to power.

Law 36
Disdain Things you cannot have:  Ignoring them is the best Revenge

Time spent focused on things you don’t have is never a path to achieve them.  Don’t even give them a second thought – focus on what you can achieve right now.

Law 37
Create Compelling Spectacles

As applied to blogging, you need to create compelling content.

Law 38
Think as you like but Behave like others

I disagree with this law in terms of blogging.  There are way too many other bloggers to behave like everyone else and have success.  You want to stand out and let your originality and creativity shine.

Law 39
Stir up Waters to Catch Fish

This is vital to carve out influence, readers and attention for yourself.  Find a way to stir the waters and you’ll rouse the attention of huge groups of people.

Law 40
Despise the Free Lunch

This law doesn’t really apply to blogging/social media.  If someone decides to promote your content for you, you probably earned it.  The social web is dependent on links/recommendations – in fact I have written previously on the strategy of offering a link.  There’s no harm in reciprocation, it’s how the web works.  Sharing and self-promotion is a two way street.

Law 41
Avoid Stepping into a Great Man’s Shoes

Don’t let yourself get shoved into the shadows as just another blogger in the echo chamber of a niche.  Carve out your own voice, don’t get drowned out by louder individuals or a crowd of softer individuals.

Law 42
Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will Scatter

If someone is usurping your readership and you’re losing power to a negative individual or group, it may be worth it to band together with others to point out the deceptiveness of that entity.  Use this only as a final resort and when you’re sure that this person is a negative influence that you can overpower.

Law 43
Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others

If you are being manipulative to gain readership, it will eventually backfire.  The underlying reason anyone subscribes to a blog is because they believe it will benefit their mind or heart.  Focus on bringing positive change to people’s hearts and minds and you’ll win every time against coercive types.

Law 44
Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

Robert’s definition of the mirror effect:

The mirror reflects reality, but it is also the perfect tool for deception: When you mirror your enemies, doing exactly as they do, they cannot figure out your strategy. The Mirror Effect mocks and humiliates them, making them overreact. By holding up a mirror to their psyches, you seduce them with the illusion that you share their values; by holding up a mirror to their actions, you teach them a lesson. Few can resist the power of Mirror Effect.

Many bloggers actually do this quite well through parody to prove a point.  The enemy being an idea, false reality or societal norm they wish to change, not necessarily another blogger.

Law 45
Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform too much at Once

Another one worth quoting from Robert, as many readers here are people who keep blogs with the purpose of spreading ideas:

Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic, and will lead to revolt. If you are new to a position of power, or an outsider trying to build a power base, make a show of respecting the old way of doing things. If change is necessary, make it feel like a gentle improvement on the past.

Law 46
Never appear too Perfect

This is something that makes blogging special – it is unpolished publishing in the raw.  If you overly refine your posts you may wring out all the personality they once had.  Proofread, yes – but you want to come off as human, not robotic.

Law 47
Do not go Past the Mark you Aimed for; In Victory, Learn when to Stop

From a blogging perspective, if you started with a goal and you’ve achieved it (for example, said everything there is to say on a subject) it may be time to move on.  If you believe you have said everything necessary on a subject there is no need to continue to spend more posts on it if the material in it isn’t fresh – your site will suffer.

Law 48
Assume Formlessness

This is extremely true for success doing anything on the web.  In Robert’s words:

Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes.

We have witnessed time and time again that the digital landscape is in constant flux.  By being open to change you afford yourself the greatest protection of all.

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