Discover jumped into science blogging on a national scale last year when they hired the awesome Phil Plait, our favorite Bad Astronomer, to be their anchor and then boosted their credibility when they lured respected journalist Carl Zimmer from Seed Media's Scienceblogs.com property, along with the Cosmic Variance folks and others.
First, it's important to understand why larger companies hiring people is important. Blogging, in science and otherwise, had gotten a bit of a black eye years back; it was supposedly all rants about politics or culture or shoes. I am proud to say we did our part in changing that perception by having quality content from prominent people - a million readers a month can't be wrong - but plenty of others did too. It's certainly well regarded now.
I mentioned Discover Blogs because they show no signs of stopping and CEO Henry Donahue clearly 'gets it' - they may well be The Borg, except for science blogging, and a lot nicer than the actual Borg - and maybe you want to be assimilated. But whether you want to get a contract from a corporate site or you want to make a go of it here or on your own, there are a few things you need to do.
Unless you are starting from scratch, here or on Wordpress or Blogger, i.e., if you're going to get a contract to blog, you'll need to bring an audience with you. Easier said than done. Bloggers at the New York Times or Discover or anyone place else put in the time building up a devoted following. There's no shortcut to that.
How to do it? It's practically a full-time job in itself.
1) Write every day. Most of you have jobs that don't involve writing so you won't write every day but some kind of consistency helps. If you have 1,000 people who read you and you write once a month, that's 1,000 times you get read a month. If you write every day that's 30,000 a month. Still not a lot but if you write every day that will grow. If you get 20,000 people reading you a day, you will be popular and also make some money - around $3,000 a month here, though I don't know what other sites give to writers because they are media companies and have more overhead. John Tierney, NY Times science blogger, doesn't write every day but he's been at this a long time so he doesn't have to - and sometimes he writes three times a day. Basically, if you don't love writing for people and interacting with them, it's over for you at step 1. Most of us are here because we like to take our time and write when we have something to say. The most successful bloggers are junkies about updating.
2) Participate in the broad science community. We do this on a community level but most of us don't do it on an individual level, including me, other than the occasional comment on someone else's site, but it can mean more than just the internet. If you give talks, seminars, etc. people will want to know where to reach you. Heck, I will send you a shirt if you want to wear it on TV. If people know about you, and you write good stuff, they will link to you. Not everyone; there is a subset of writers who will regard you as a competitor, but they are not writing at the Times or Discover. Successful people are always on the lookout for topics and if you happen to have something interesting, they will send you some traffic.
3) Link to them too. People who think they are your competitors won't link to you but they don't understand basic economics; value is nonlinear. The first fax machine had no value but the second one gave value to the first and the third gave value to the first two. The audience for science blogging is not finite so by making the audience bigger, everyone benefits.
4) Social media helps. The most successful bloggers mobilize the audience to get them on social media sites, but that's because they did Steps 1-3 to get the audience first - it isn't a shortcut to success. If you visit Facebook (and you should - Bente made a page for us there!) or Twitter you will see that bloggers from sites as far flung as National Review's The Corner and Huffington Post or science sites either ask for social media help, like votes on Digg, directly ("blegging") or get audience members to do it for them. We're not going to have stuff Digg readers like but we do well with readers on places like Slashdot.org and Reddit.com and Stumbleupon. Below the title of each article or blog here is a Share/Save button that has links to literally every social media site of any size. If you're reading this and write on another site, you can customize your own social media tool at AddThis.com. If you write something you are proud of, spread the word.5) Some business savvy is not a bad idea. If you're going to write anyway, you might as well be read by a lot of people and if you're going to be read by a lot of people, it's okay to make money at it. In business, you have alliances. We have alliances on a company level, sites with cultures similar to ours who like what we do, and you can do that on a personal level too. Make friends.
6) Sometimes a niche is a good idea. P.Z. Myers, who writes the Pharyngula column at Scienceblogs.com, is ground zero in the culture wars, namely the fight about evolution and religion. He created a niche and it serves him well. Someone like John Tierney at the NY Times does not disclose traffic data so it's hard to say who is number one but Myers has to be in the top 5. That doesn't mean you have to be controversial - you can't out-Pharyngula the actual Pharyngula - but you can still have a niche. A number of us read John Hawks for anthropology, for example, and he doesn't do huge traffic but he does great stuff.
Those are my ideas, crafted after two years of observation. Have I followed them? No, what would be the point? I am not a PhD, book author or a Nobel laureate so people are not here to read my articles and no one has enough money to get me to leave here - but I have some idea what works.
I'd sure be interested to read what successful science bloggers have to add.