Black Blogger Month: Very Smart Brothas, Separate But Equal

Working exclusively online, Damon Young and Panama Jackson have built Very Smart Brothas into a respected blog and book brand

Panama Jackson and Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas

Very Smart Brothas Panama Jackson & Damon "The Champ" Young

Damon “The Champ” Young and Panama Jackson were fans of each other’s writing and connected over Instant Messenger to create the super witty and very popular blog, Very Smart Brothas, three years ago. Chockfull of pop culture, dating and relationship musings, the site now averages 200,000 unique visitors a month and earned two Black Weblog Awards in 2010 for Best Group Blog and Best Humor Blog. Not bad for a pair of guys who went into business together before even meeting. Still, Young, a 32-year-old Pittsburgh educator, and Jackson, a 31-year-old Washington D.C. government analyst, make it work. They communicate via email and have churned out over 750 posts since VSB launched in 2008, all while increasing their devout and very vocal fan base—the blog reels in about 350 comments per post.

With the January release of their self-published book, Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm at Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide to Dating, Mating and Fighting Crime, Young and Jackson have taken their first major step of branding outside the blogosphere. As part of Black Blogger Month, the pair share their thoughts with BlackEnterprise.com on being business partners, blogging versus penning a book, and what it means to be “very smart.” —Christina M. Tapper

Our blog stands out because…

Jackson: It’s entertaining. We’re entertainment-based. We have fun with it. We realize humor is a tool and helps with the delivery and everyone responds pretty well to humor.

People trust the Very Smart Brothas brand because…

Young: Of the content. There are numerous blogs on sex and dating, and you’ll see these topics on Nightline or Steve Harvey with his Strawberry Letter, but we’re different. We’re not trying to be experts or talk condescendingly—other sites do that. We average 300-350 comments per post. That helps us stand out. Our readers are into the conversation. We’re consistent and honest.

Jackson: We’re extremely consistent in the type of writing [we do] and what we focus on. We don’t try to tell people what they need to do with their life. We just write and entertain. People trust us because we’re honest and funny. And our readers love honesty and humor.

We realized blogging was a business when…

Young: When we started seeing the level of responses and people talking about us, then people wanted to write about us, talk to us… I began to pay attention and thought maybe we have something here. Maybe put more energy and re-plan things for VSB and that’s what we’re doing.

The biggest mistake we made in business was…

Jackson: We didn’t have a clear focus at first. We were just writing. Planning some things a little better, understanding the admin side of running a blog and mapping out what we’re trying to do and what direction [we should go in] are all things we could have done better.

Networking is important because…

Young: It has helped us become a brand. We aren’t as popular without meeting people and doing the VSB happy hour events. We don’t do the traditional networking, the relationships we’ve been able to grow with people are online and those people helped us create a community brand. They know who we are, what we do and what we’re capable of doing.

Building a brand is important because…

Young: You want your brand to be recognizable. We want to have people think of VSB and consider us when opportunities come up—call us when they need someone to talk to about relationships or need someone write a profile about. Building a brand allows us to pursue a myriad of opportunities and, also, you don’t want all the time you spend on the blog to be in vain.

Jackson: People come to us for entertainment and to have discussions with like-minded people who, we assume, are educated and established. As a brand we are very smart brothas and sistas, we have formed the community. It’s important to build a brand because we’re building something that is a destination for this community.

Being a Very Smart Brotha means…

Young: That you’re able to have intelligent conversation, be objective, laugh at yourself, reason, appreciate humor and satire.

Jackson: Thinking like a wise man but speaking in the voice of the people. Not succumbing to stupidity. It’s just about being smart and real enough to relate to people. Provide different perspective and start the conversation. It’s taking everything you learned in life and applying it and paying it forward and having fun.

We measure our success by…

Very Smart Brothas Book CoverYoung: Our growth. Our traffic has grown and never dropped in the past 36 moths and I want to continue that. Get more eyes on the page. Book sales are a good way to gauge how popular we are and how much room we have to grow.

Jackson: Thus far our general bar of measurement is how good of a conversation we generated. The only real way to measure our success if seeing what we manage to pull off next. We were in the Washington Post, BET reached out to us, as well as the Michael Baisden Show; I think our success is dependent how far we take VSB and how many books we sell.

Anyone who want to follow in our footsteps should…

Young: Realize there are no overnight successes, even for people who have been writing for years. You can’t be afraid to work or work in the dark. You can’t expect to be popular from day one. You’re going to have to work on your craft and voice and continue grinding.

Having a partner in business is…

Young: Challenging. You have to remember you’re working with someone else. I’m a little more impulsive. I’ll do something without talking it over with him, but I have to be more considerate of my business partner.

Jackson: An adventure. It’s a real ride. Especially since we never met until this past April. We connected about six years ago online before starting VSB. The running joke was we’d finally meet on Oprah.

 

Be sure to check out the rest of the digital thought leaders as they’re revealed each day by logging on to BlackEnterprise.com/BlackBloggerMonth.

ACROSS THE WEB
  • Marisa

    I like how the simple act of blogging that most of us do anyway can lead to such success. A blog can be turned into a brand and that can lead to a published book. Well done for the Very Smart Brothas Young and Jackson. Congratulations on your success and on inspiring others. Opportunities ARE everywhere.

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