Last week, Keri, a student from the Savannah College of Art and Design, reached out to me with a few questions on social media. Keri is pursuing a MFA in advertising design and she is researching new media and blogs in particular. Her inquiry came at a time when I was leaping onto deadlines so I recommended the posts at The Blog Herald as a start.
As serendipitous things go, this weekend I had a pretty lengthy conversation with Seni Thomas about the future of advertising and marketing education in general. Seni is a graduate of NYU and a very astute marketer with a practical business sense and an already impressive array of hands on experience. Our discussion's backdrop was the MoMA visit of "Design and the Plastic Mind" during Blogger Social '08.
In our conversation we touched upon the lack of a contemporary reality check for advertising students. You may recall that about a month ago I visited with the students of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design as a guest of Tim Brunelle. As Seni, Tim feels that nothing beats practical executions, especially those that involve how we interact with products and services through social media.
Many of the discussions at the blogger dinner Saturday night revolved around the use of social media and why it matters understanding it. When Keri sent me a thank you note yesterday I had the opportunity to think about her specific questions one more time and thought it would be a beneficial conversation to have here. Here are Keri's questions (in bold) and my answers:
How did your blog gain the readership that you have? Did you “launch” the site in some way? Did you send an email blast or hire a publicist? I’m just trying to figure out how a blog is born.
How was your blog born?
Is also the question I answered many times this weekend in New York. It was August 2006 and I had just completed a full personal brand assessment to plan the next learning opportunities I should seek. I tend to be quite disciplined that way. As those things go, I was probably a late adopter - the time felt right for me to start publishing online.
The brand conversation
Given that what I do is launch new brands and develop mature brands to take them to the next level, in some cases to an exit strategy, it was appropriate to execute social media on my personal brand. Conversation Agent was born out of the idea that I have always been a connector - someone at the intersection of ideas and people, marketing and public relations, academia and practicums with participation as my contribution. In other words, the idea was to express marketing, communications and participation as one. That is the conversation part. Agent stands for (Lat.) effective, expressive - it's an action verb. It's a matter of language: I am talking about connection vs. transaction. Big difference.
The launch without fanfare
I did not send any email blasts - the site went live on September 1, 2006 and nothing happened. That's right, what happened in the intervening weeks and months was the result of a commitment to social media - through comments, guest posts, helping others connect, building a community of shared thinking, and in general giving time and attention to my colleagues online.
Readership finds you
That's how individual bloggers found me. Through trackbacks and links, comments to their posts and consistent content here. Your content is the value you provide your community. A blog, in other words, is born from a commitment to put your content out there, listen, and participate actively. We know that third party endorsement works best in recommending anything. With social media, this is amplified.
What did you do to prepare your site for launch? Do you have any tips you can share?
At first I was worried that I would have nothing to write about. From the feedback I received this weekend I think I need not worry about running out of ideas. The trick for you is to discover what lights you up. What are you passionate about? Why are you publishing in the first place? That energy will be your best friend on slow content days.
There are two amazing bloggers who have delivered consistently on their promise without ever compromising quality: Rebecca Thorman and Tiffany Monhollon. There are many more, of course. I am suggesting you connect with them as they are Gen Y writers who may be wrestling with many of your same issues.
Before going live and publicizing my URL to friends and colleagues I went ahead and wrote several posts to give myself a head start. That also gave me some back up confidence that I would be able to keep to a regular schedule until I figured out how long it would take me to write and post. I also wanted to test my "voice" and style in posts - I had been reading and commenting at other blogs for several months by then.
What effect do link buttons have on the popularity of your site? (i.e. Digg, Technorati, del.icio.us, etc.)
The point is not how you can push the content out, the point is providing a way for people to pull your content, if they so choose. By far the most important button you may have on your blog is the RSS feed. The sole provider of RSS feeds in alternative to hosting the traffic on your network is FeedBurner, which also provides an email option. As I wrote recently, RSS stands for really simple syndication. Steve Roesler suggested that it can also mean relationships, style, and substance.
Other social media bookmarks
Bottom line, if your content deserves attention, it will get it. Technorati tags will allow you to highlight the topics you are writing about so people can find you. It is also a source to find who links to you so you can learn more about your fans. I cross reference Technorati with Google Alerts because sometimes the links take weeks to be indexed or do not show up at all on Technorati. Remember also that Technorati links have an expiration date - 6 months.
Skellie wrote more eloquently than I could about Digg - do take the time to read the comments, too. Do Diggs grow your subscriber list? In other words, does a short burst in traffic converts to increased RSS and email subscriber counts? Skellie might know better - I rarely get dugg. Many of my readers prefer to use Stumble, which has a much longer tail: it drives traffic over time.
You can learn more about Del-icio.us from the Wikipedia entry.
What’s the best way to encourage relevant comments on your blog vs. random rants?
Lead by example
Be present and listen to your readers. They will know if you're just putting content up vs. intend to engage in the conversation with them. Lead the way by example. I read more than 100 feeds and I find that the most popular bloggers tend to respond to comments and care for their community of readers. It is less likely that those bloggers will receive rants.
Relationships trump quantity
Having said that, there are occasions when you might be linked by a popular site or get on the front page of Digg, when you will need to stay strong and weather a few rants. The best way to encourage productive conversations is to focus on the readers who are loyal to you - those you already have engaged with. Relationships trump quantity.
What are the most useful tools available for blogs – things that make it more engaging for the reader?
Make it personal, it is
Asking questions, participating, caring for your readers' experience and giving them a seat at the conversation are all ways to provide value in addition to writing things they are interested in learning. I've observed that the more personal posts earn more interaction. That's because in social media the point is not perfection - the point is getting to know each other.
How important is it to link to other blogs on your blog and how does this affect traffic?
My philosophy on linking is quite simple - be generous, highlight good content produced by others. I tend to do that in a couple of ways: (1) by incorporating it directly in my posts, in the flow, like I did here; (2) by linking to it at the bottom as further reading, a recent example is the discussion on Starbucks; (3) by listing contributors to a specific project, like The Age of Conversation.
Whenever you link to someone, you are telling your loyal readers you recommend their content. The same happens when others link to you. If someone who writes a blog that gets a lot of traffic links to you, you may receive a nice traffic spike. I have also seen focused traffic from newer blogs. I would not get hung up too much on who links to you. Focus on the relationships.
Any other comments that you would like to share with me on creating a successful blog?
I will let my readers kick off the conversation on that one.