Today I'm presenting at a local association for small business owners about blogging for your business with Chris Krewson, Executive Editor for Online News, Philly.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Daily News (Chris on Twitter, me on Twitter, just in case you're there). I like the idea of being paired with a journalist, it will keep me on my best writing behavior, verbally.
To me the first question that needs answering about starting any social media or network activity is that of why - why start a blog? In my post how a blog is born I shared a graphic on the emergence and rise of mass social media. It described in visual form the shift to consumer control, pull, and its network effect.
For businesses especially, people have come to expect that you have a Web presence. But, when they research you or your type of business, they prefer to read what others are saying about you, or they want to see you in action - read how you solve problems, what kind of expertise you have, etc.
Sure, newsletters and testimonial ads still get the word out on your good work. They are not going to go away. But they are one way communications - from you to your customers and prospects. Send one too many newsletters by email and they might skip it, or think it's spam even when they granted you permission to send it in the first place (remember to ask). On the other hand, some people prefer receiving information by email - you can still do that with a blog.
Blogs allow you to:
- provide topical and relevant information and resources regularly, become an appointment
- receive feedback from your readers and engage them in discussion that are relevant to them
- distribute your content more widely thanks to Google and the larger business community online
They allow your readers and customers to:
- receive regular updates from you when and if they want them
- share the resources and tips you provide with their network
- find you through search thanks to keywords and tags that describe their problem
Chances are your customers are more connected and in more ways today than they used to be. A blog will get you more Google juice and allow you to differentiate yourself from any other business with a little bit of work and personality on your part. Follow this link to the marketing genius of one guy with a video camera and a passion for wines and you will find Gary Vaynerchuk. Results? Gary has attracted a cult-like following of more than 80,000 viewers a day.
Gary works very hard at his short videos and blog. If you're ready to make that kind of commitment to your customers and prospects, then go ahead and get started. Blogging is much more inexpensive than any form of advertising you may do. But it requires time and attention. Are you willing to give it both?
So now that you know why, how do you make it work?
25 Tips to Make Blogging Work for Your Business
1/ Find the domain name. If you already have a Web site, find a way to attach your blog to your business site. The next best thing is might seem that of owning the domain name (dot com preferably) that is descriptive of your business. In fact, the next best thing might be using your own name for your blog. People already know that.
2/ Figure out what blogging tool would work best for you. There are at least two camps on tools - those who prefer self-hosted, and those who prefer a hosted tool. It really depends on what you are comfortable with and where you gravitate.
I'm a writer, not a designer, so I went with a hosted option that is customizable easily - I use TypePad by SixApart. If you prefer more control, SixApart makes Movable Type, which is the platform many blogs use - for example Marketing Profs Daily Fix where I also contribute, uses Movable Type. Many businesses and bloggers prefer WordPress - Marketing 2.0 was built on a WordPress theme. For expert advice on this platform I recommend Lorelle VanFossen, who has literally written the book on WordPress. Of course, you can always go with a free tool - Blogger.
3/ Tell your readers about you. Use the about function of your blog template wisely to capture the essence of what you help people do and your experience. Because this is for a blog, strike a good balance between business speak and human voice, it will serve you well.
For more ideas on the about page, read Chris Brogan's post.
4/ Register your blog to begin spreading the word. I would wait to iron the kinks out and get comfortable with it, especially to know if blogging is for you. You might also wait until you write a few posts and build content before you publicize it. It will help people subscribe to your feed if they have a small selection of posts to read.
Register the blog at FeedBurner to provide RSS (learn more about what RSS is) and email feeds for people to pull your content. Although less popular than it used to be, Technorati is also used to search for content (tags are important for this service). The more important registrations are with the search engines, especially Google and Yahoo, but also MSN search and Dmoz.org. Your submissions to those sites are free. The most valuable function online is search - make sure you are indexed so you can be found.
5/ Create a blogroll or a resource section. If you have blogs you read regularly and utilize in your business, or think your customers would enjoy learning from, list them on your blog. I broke down my blogroll into topical categories, the themes I talk about in the content of my posts, what I am passionate about. A blogroll is generous in two ways - it allows the people you link to to find your blog, and it allows your readers to expand their knowledge by finding other blogs you recommend.
6/ Link out from your blog as much as needed/possible. Take for example this post. There are a lot of smart people in my network who have written great posts on some of these topics. Bookmark their great posts and refer to them when you write about that topic. This is also good blogging etiquette and you do want to be a good neighbor online.
7/ Comment on other blogs and sites. This is not only an opportunity for exposure and link placement, it's also a way to be generous and participate in the business community. Leaving comments is akin to networking actively in the off line world.
8/ Give people ways to share your content. I've had little luck with it because I installed it when TypePad was launching a new composer page in beta, but people are very happy with social bookmarking plugins like Share This.
9/ Give people ways to engage with you. The most obvious one is to open the comments function. If you decide to moderate comments, which is perfectly understandable, make sure you stay on top of it. People will come back to see their comment posted. In the rare event that you decide not to post a comment for some reason, make sure you reach out to the person who left it by email (required to comment) first. Also, write a comments policy and post it on the site.
For a good example of a comments policy see the one on the sidebar at Jeremy Pepper's blog. Customize the content to fit your purpose, style, etc.
11/ Sign up for an RSS aggregation service. This is so you can stay on top of the blogs and online publications you read by syndication. I use Google Homepage. Many prefer Google Reader, or use Delicious, Bloglines, and even FriedFeed (instead of individual RSS you add individual accounts here, which include more than just the blog RSS).
12/ Listen to what people are saying about you. There are many tools you can use to monitor the conversation. I use Google Alerts with my name, the name of my blog, and also topics that are of interest to me.
13/ Publicize your blog to your network by printing the URL on your business cards, posting it on LinkedIn, Facebook, your Twitter account, including it in your email signature, in your newsletter - you get the idea.
A great resource to learn more about online tools and networks is Matt Dickman at Techno//Marketer.
14/ Install analytic software to track traffic sources. I use Google Analytics, which is free. Another great free tool is Quantcast, which boasts 10M of directly measured web properties. This specific tool will also help you in case you decide to sell advertising on your site as it allows people to define an audience and measure your site on that basis.
15/ Create timely and useful content. This is worth a mention. As business-savvy professionals, you already know that newsletters and articles help you grow your business because they allow you to show your expertise. Blogs are no different. Take this post, for example, you can bookmark it and refer to it as you are building your social media presence, you can share it with colleagues and business associates. The same rings true for your own great content.
Consider the search engine optimization (SEO) value of your content as well. To learn more about SEO, I recommend the work of Jon Wuebben. There are entire blogs and sites dedicates to SEO.
16/ Consider using audio, video and rich media. Different people learn and respond to media differently. If you'd like to start your own radio show, check out BlogTalkRadio, for example. It's free and it will allow you to interact with your audience by way of comments. My good friend Toby Bloomberg hosts a show on marketing topics there.
You may also want to try podcasts. My friend Anna Farmery at The Engaging Brand hosts the most useful collection of podcasts on branding. For tips on video blogging tools, read this post by Christina Laun on 100 tools, resources, and free software packages. I have used iMovie on my iMac to make short videos.
17/ Create opportunities to meet face to face. Blogging can lead to many more opportunities to meet professionals face to face. Whenever you travel, you should be able to reach out to people you have met online at that destination. Think about opportunities at events you attend or speak at. Publicize that event on your blog and invite people from that area to contact you so you can meet at the venue.
18/ Make it easy for people to contact you. I am still amazed at how in this day and age many sites, blogs included, do not have information on how to contact someone. Include your email, phone number, office location, anything that will make it easy for people to find you.
19/ Post consistently and regularly. You do not need to post every day to make an impression. However, you will want to set expectations for your readers that there will be a consistent flow of content for them to read. Decide how frequently you will be able to post, then stick to it. This is a promise you make and it will be easier to keep if you announce it openly. It will also help you be disciplined about writing.
20/ Keep a scrap book for ideas. One of the concerns many business owners have, aside from the learning curve on technology, is their ability to come up with content ideas. Keep a file, or a notebook, where you jot down thoughts after business conversations. Write down the questions people ask you and post about your thoughts to share with your readers. Ask questions yourself. Talk about how you solve problems.
21/ Run polls and surveys at your blog. Also contests, games - these are all great ways to engage your readers and learn more about what they think or worry about. I use Poll Daddy, a free survey and poll tool. Free Blog Poll and Blog Poll are also good tools. For surveys, you may use Zoomerag or Survey Monkey, for example.
22/ Use graphics and photographs that add to the content. There are some sites that offer free charts with data and research like eMarketer, Marketing Charts, Compete, and of course analyst blogs and sites often provide great charts and research. For photographs, browse Flickr (consider creating your own account there as well) for images licensed under a Creative Commons license. You can also buy great images for a few dollars at iStockphoto.
When properly tagged and indexed, these images will also drive traffic to your blog. Of course, you can have your own graphics and charts. In that case, I would add the URL of your blog in small type right in the chart or graphic so that people who use or share it will find it easier to attribute it back to you. A great example of visual imagery are the illustrations by Critical Mass agency VP and blogger David Armano.
23/ Write compelling titles that will make people want to read. Take a look at your feed reader and see what attracts you. That would be a good gage of what looks interesting. All the same rules of apply here as they do for articles. Lists are always catchy. Revealing secrets, lessons, reasons why. Teaching "how to" do something, explaining why are all good ideas.
For more ideas on headlines, read this post.
24/ Include a call to action. If you want people to take an action, go ahead and ask. Be honest and transparent and if you provide value, people will not have a problem referring you or taking the next step. Just make sure you balance that with great content and engagement.
25/ Have fun! This should go without saying, but as business professionals, we can get too caught up with the professional side and spend less time showing our human side. People buy from people they like and a blog is an excellent medium to let others get to know you in a more informal way.
What would you add? Please feel free to point to resources, tools, ideas I missed. This will help small business owners get the most out of their blogs and online relationships.
[image by Valeria Maltoni, ConversationAgent.com]
© 2006-2009 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.