June 2006

Spotlight on UK Blogs - all postsEach week, I will be highlighting some of the Business Blogs which exist in the UK. The aim is to show a cross section of what people and businesses are writing about and how they are approaching the task of using blogs in their business activities. As a result, you’ll find that these posts will contain a mix of Blogs displaying a range of topics and styles.

In addition to this weekly selection, I am working with others to build a comprehensive list of Business Blogs in the UK. So if there are UK blogs which you have visited and would recommend (including your own!), then please let me know by leaving a comment or sending me a message. Thanks!

Spittoon is a wine and food blog written by Andrew Barrow, a freelance wine writer and expert, whose content focuses on wine tasting notes and wine news together additional forays into the worlds of beer and spirits.

Andy Hayler
Andy Hayler is the founder of Kalido and uses this blog to comment on developments in the Enterprise Software marketplace, in which he is a self proclaimed “veteran”. In terms of experience, you understand!

The Big Blog Company
Does what it says on the tin and a lot more besides – one of the organisations which has been promoting blogging since the very start.

The ArtFinder Blog
The ArtFinder in question is Lydia Bates and her blog contains her thoughts on Art together with a generous sprinkling of the 3 ‘L’s of Life, Love and Liverpool.

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This afternoon I had the pleasure to listen to a webinar hosted by Marketing Profs and given by David Meerman Scott entitled The New Rules of PR: How to Use Press Releases to Reach Buyers Directly.

The main elements of the webinar focused on the changes in how Press Releases should be written for today’s online dominated news services. David made clear that the days when a Press Release should be composed with editors and journalists in mind in order to get it published have most certainly gone – now we should be creating and distributing Press Releases with our potential readers (and, let’s face it, buyers!) in mind.

Cutting it down to its bare bones, we should look at our Press Releases as crafted, keyword rich articles which we distribute through specialist channels on the internet and aim at a specific audience. In this respect, I see a lot of parallels here with how Business Blogs in their most basic form should be written and publicised, and indeed with the distribution of articles which are submitted to “article sites”.

A Press Release is distributed through its own channels such as PR Web or Business Wire and will be available on service such as Google News; an article might go to Ezine Articles or Article Alley which will be flagged up in the main Google Search; and blogs will appear in Technorati, Bloglines and Ice Rocket before also showing up in the main Search Engines.

However, they all have the common thread of keyword focused content designed for a target audience. We then add to them: we inject humour and personality or additional details and information which make us, the target audience, want to read them. The links that they contain can then guide us back to the relevant site or blog as well as providing additional ammunition for the link development element of our Search Engine Optimisation.

Press Releases are a means to an end and if you have a clear idea of what you want that “end” to be, then you have an additional powerful online marketing tool at your disposal.

Clearly my potted, and subjective, summary could never attempt to do justice to all the ideas raised and I will be looking to write more fully on the subject later. However, in the meantime, take the opportunity to read the proper version! David provides a complimentary ebook on this subject on his blog Web Ink Now, which is the perfect read for anyone interested in this area.

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This post is the 2nd part of the series which looks at the 5 key elements of creating a successful Business Blog. These elements are:

Read – Reply – ReturnRecommendRSS

Let’s turn our attention to the second of the 5 Rs, which is:

In general, most of us like to be given the chance to express our views and opinions on subjects we are interested in we also like to have them listened to. This is excellent news because it is exactly what we want to happen on our Business Blog we need people to voice their opinions, thoughts, ideas and concerns because of the interaction they bring.

Listen and Reply
When these opinions are directed at your business, then you need to be able to both listen to them and respond to them. A key function of a Blog is that it gives us exactly this ability, with readers able to express their opinions on the posts through the Comments feature. Your Business Blog therefore serves the dual purpose of allowing readers to voice their opinions and at the same time providing you with the facility to reply to them, perhaps respond to their concerns and, in the process, start a dialogue.

Get to love comments
Therefore, unless there are very specific reasons why not, you should always allow people to comment on your blog and also make sure that you have the ability to deal with them. Whether the comments you receive contain information, praise or criticism, you need to deal with them openly and correctly. You can achieve a huge amount by doing this, gaining respect in the process, especially when responding to negative comments. You will also encourage additional comments by the way that you have dealt with previous ones.

Create the desire to reply
To get people to reply and voice their opinion, we need to have interested the reader enough for them to want to post a comment and ideally have either challenged or inspired them as well. While a controversial post can attract a higher number of responses, it may not be wise to take this route unless it fits with your overall plan for your blog. What is more appropriate is creating subject matter which elicits interest and positive reaction rather than controversy.

Aim for group interaction
As we get multiple replies, the communication moves past a simple single interaction and starts to develop more of a community or network feel, with your blog at the very heart of it. The interaction may start as a one-to-one between you and one other but, as the community expands, it will develop into one to many and then many to many conversations. All of this will start to create relationships at a number of levels.

Actively encourage comments
As you can see, getting responses is vital to taking a Blog to the next stage so dont sit back and wait for comments help to initiate them, either on your own blog or those of others. Dont be afraid to openly and candidly ask for comments you should feel comfortable to encourage or challenge people to reply, or ask them for information. Start that conversation!

Do as you would be done
You will also tend to encourage comments on your own posts by commenting on other peoples. As you leave constructive comments on other blogs which add to their posts, you will encourage a dialogue which will no doubt also follow you back to your own blog. Once you show that you are prepared to take the time and effort on others blogs, they will reciprocate on yours.

Finally, remember that although the comments feature will be the main way for people to reply to you, there is also your profile which should contain your contact details. People may be more comfortable using this method, so make sure that it is easily accessible and contains all of the relevant information.

Key elements: make your posts worthy of replies, allow readers to comment, encourage and ask for replies, respond to the comments, post relevant comments on other blogs, help to develop a network

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Yesterday, Jupiter Research released figures which they claimed would mean that 70% of large companies would have deployed corporate blogs by the end of this year.

Even if this figure is realised in the US, and I admit to having deep reservations as to whether we will be anywhere near that, this will certainly not be the case in the UK, neither at the SME nor the large corporation end of the spectrum. The initial feedback from my request last week for information on UK based Business Blogs has produced a number of excellent blogs but not the sort of numbers which would indicate anything more than single figure levels of activity within companies.

This does of course mean that there are still huge opportunities for UK organisations willing to embrace blogging & the open discussion and interaction with clients, suppliers, partners and staff that this would involve. Not to mention the increased levels of visibility and business. So what is stopping people? In the MediaGuardian last week, Stephen Brooks in a piece called Blogs struggle to impress in the UK comments on two surveys which conclude that “there is a reserved nature in the British Market when it comes to writing a blog” and that even 30% of heavy internet users have not even heard of Blogs.

I remain unconvinced by the “reserved Brits” epithet although I do recognise that there is a certain caution in the business world when it comes to transparency – though if companies have nothing to hide, I sometimes wonder why this reticence prevails. However, when it comes to Small Businesses (SMEs), potentially the group which has most to gain by using blogging as part of their marketing mix, then I see the issue as one dominated by a lack of information and hence understanding of how blogging can be used.

As this changes, the development is likely to follow the same path as the early days of websites with early adopters making the biggest gains and benefiting most. However, ultimately a blog – or rather a website with blog functionality – will become the norm rather than the exception. But by the end of the year? Well, in the UK, I think that we will still be firmly in the “early adopter” phase but there is no doubt that it is gathering momentum, “reserved Brits” or not.

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Just as many of us were brought up on the 4 Ps of traditional marketing, in Business Blogging, I believe that there are 5 Rs on which we need to focus our attention if we are going to create a successful and sustainable Business Blog.

These 5 key elements of creating a successful Business Blog are:

Simply put, we need to create and maintain a Blog which in the first instance will attract visitors and then encourage them to particpate by replying to our posts. Following on from that, we need to ensure it provides sufficient value or creates enough interest to make these visitors return and become regular readers as well as recommend our Blog to others. The 5th ‘R’ of RSS underpins all of the others.

Our goal should be to put all the necessary elements in place on our Blog to allow these 5 Rs to happen as smoothly and as automatically as possible. In doing so, we will have created a Blog which fulfils both our readers requirements and our own business needs.

Let’s look at the first of the 5 Rs, which is:

Our first challenge is to get someone to read our blog. Here, the quality of what we write in the posts will obviously be important but, before that, we have to attract the readers to our Blog so that they can find out what we are writing about and how good it is!

In many cases, the only elements that they have to make the decision on will be the name of the Blog and the title of the post. These are effectively the headlines which should capture the attention of the readers and, as any good copywriter knows, the headline is crucial in getting people to read the rest of the article. In blogs, doubly so, because these elements may be the only thing that they see when they find you in Search Engines, for example. So spend time on these first when you set up your blog and then each time that you write it.

You also need to make sure that you promote your Blog well you need to let potential readers know what you are writing about and where they can find you. In fact, you need to let them know that your blog exists at all! So use all of the tools that are at your disposal: clear links on your website, make as much use of Search Engines as you can with search engine friendly structure and posts; make sure that you submit your Blog to Blog directories, RSS directories and general online directories; get your RSS feeds found by them as well. Ping after every post ideally automatically! Promote your blog on your business cards, stationery, email signature and wherever someone comes in contact with you or your business. You want to ensure that you spread the word as widely as possible, so make the best of all the opportunities.

Search Engines are also an excellent source of new readers so give your Blog every chance to be found. While a well written, focussed Blog is excellent Search Engine material in itself, it you are able to increase its attractiveness further through additional Search Engine Optimisation, then you should do so. You need to build these elements on top of a solid base of quality content though remember who you are aiming this at.

There are some blogs which can get readership levels up very quickly by being contentious, by provoking or attacking in the posts. This is particularly effective if the target is a well known figure or idea. However, for most business blogs, we are looking to attract readers with positive ideas rather than negative ones, so this approach should only be considered in certain special circumstances.

Key elements: consistent quality content, attractive title, optimised posts, good blog promotion

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Spotlight on UK Blogs - all postsI’m looking for your help here, so please give me a moment.

Reading other peoples blogs remains one of the best ways of getting to understand how they work and what they can do, and is one of the first suggestions that I make at the start of my ecourse.

Im often asked to recommend Blogs which are relevant from a market or functional point of view. However, although most of my clients are in the UK, most of the examples I give are based in the USA. This is natural enough as the US has been leading the way in terms of taking the concept of a blog from the personal focus to its use for businesses and then extending the range of uses that it can be put to.

So what I am going to do is highlight the Business Blogs that exist in the UK, show who is using them and how they are being used and then feature them here. I will be looking to highlight at least two UK based blogs every week so we can focus on how Business Blogs are being used and who is developing them in the UK.

I need your help in letting me know about blogs that you have found in the UK that you would recommend and feel should be highlighted either leave a comment or send me a message.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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I’ve been reading Naked Conversations again this week – such a good read with so many elements in it that are worthy of comment.

However, my focus this week has been on product based blogs, whether they are focused on the product development phase or the product management and marketing phase. In both cases, the focus remains steadfastly on customers and there was a set of recommendations quoted which had come from Creating Corporate Evangelists which I found to be particularly relevant. These were:

  • continuously gather customer feedback;

  • make it a point to share knowledge freely;

  • expertly build word of mouth networks;

  • encourage communities of customers to meet and share;

  • devise specialised, smaller offerings to get customers to bite;

  • focus on making the world, or your industry, better.

Although not specifically focused on blogs, if you can follow these recommendations as you develop your product based blog around your product, then you will create something which will foster the idea of ownership and community. This in turn will develop a buzz around your product and, as the title of the book says, create product evangelists who will be out there promoting your product at any opportunity.

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It can sometimes be difficult to keep coming up with ideas for the next posts on your Blog we will always have moments when we struggle to know what we can post while still ensuring that we keep the quality and the focus.

My main suggestion to help overcome this is simple: keep a notebook with you at all times. Why? So that you can note down ideas that come to you during the course of the day – and, believe me, they can come at the weirdest moments. They could be triggered by any event, something that you see or a comment that somebody makes to you. Note down the idea and any associated thoughts that come with it and then you can then dip into these ideas as and when you need to.

Is that all I have to say on the subject? Well, no actually. There are a number of the other methods that Ive used which Id also like to pass on.

  • Write about current events
    Keep an eye on what is being written about your industry through various news media and ideally through the use of RSS feeds which gets you the news ultra quickly. Select an event or piece of information and give your comments on it and perhaps its implications, while referencing the article where appropriate.

  • Read other blogs
    Keep an eye on other blogs and what they are talking about you will probably find subjects that you wish to develop further, ones that you wish to comment on in your own blog (dont forget to use a trackback!) or ones that simply spark new ideas that you can write about. Other blogs are great sources of current thinking and new potential ideas.

  • Write a series
    Select a topic and write a set of posts around the theme you have selected. Try to plan the series out in advance (at least the titles) and then write them as you need them.

  • Revisit old posts you have written
    Check back over some of your old posts and see if there are ones that could be developed more fully. You may feel that there are now updates or new information that you would like to add to them, so do so in a new post which references back to the original one and develops the ideas further.

  • Answer Questions
    Use contacts from people who have asked for information or have asked questions which have developed on your original post and opened up in turn new areas or topics. Take these questions or the points that they raise and develop the answers into new posts.

  • Get a guest blogger in
    You do not need to write all of the posts yourself, many Business Blogs will in fact have two or even more people working on them. However, if you dont have people who post regularly, you can still have a guest blogger who might come in to post on a particular subject where they have a specialist knowledge.

There is of course a final option – simply take a break from posting for a few days. There’s no issue with that – just let your readers know and they’ll be waiting for your return with bated breath.

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In the first part of the series, I looked at the variety of different methods available when you are looking to promote your Business. In this second part, we will take a look in more detail at some of the options we can use which are specifically used for blogs.

Firstly, though, it should be pointed out that good content will in itself attract visitors to your blog as people recommend your blog to others – it will also attract people wanting to link to your site. The essence of the Blogosphere is its power of communication, much of which is achieved through linking, and is based on merit and quality. People will reference your site and comment on what you have written if it warrants it this will create a buzz around your blog and acts in a viral marketing way.

a) RSS Feeds
All blogs should have at least one RSS feed and over time possibly more as you segment both your content and your blogs readership. The RSS feed will generally be created automatically for you by your Blogging software and so your main task will be to make sure that it can be found – you can then augment the information that you gather from it and improve its use as a promotional tool by using Feedburner as outlined in this post.

b) RSS Feed Directories
There are also web directories where you can submit your RSS feed and where the content from the RSS can be searched on both for general subject area and in terms of the content of individual posts as well. A good set of RSS Directories can be found at All RSS.

c) Blog Directories
There are an increasing number of directories which are dedicated to blogs and which can offer a good way to get your blog referenced and linked to. Most are general directories with sub categories which function in the same way as the main web directories, though there are also some which are focused on certain particular market areas. Being found in these directories will help not only to direct visitors directly to your Business blog but also add to Page Rank element and so your Blog’s rankings in the main Search Engines.

d) Blog Search Engines
There are some main Blog Search Engines such as Technorati which are important to be indexed in luckily, this can be done rather more simply than is the case with the mainstream Search Engines by pinging the relevant web servers (see below). The Blog Search Engines will generally then index the new posts on your Blog almost as soon as you have posted them. This is one of the key reasons why you can find such up to date information using these Search Engines and a contributory factor as to why blogs are so valuable.

e) Pinging
Pinging, in terms of blogs, is where you send a short automatic notification to the blog servers (such as Search Engines) to tell them that you have posted new information on your Business Blog and that they should come to index it! Simple just remember to post and ping!

Pinging can be set up to happen automatically within the Blog system itself in most cases and this is by far the simplest way. Alternatively, you do not have to ping lots of different places manually fortunately, there are some specialist sites which will help to do this for you such as Pingomatic or Pingoat.

f) Blog Tags
These are tags or phrases which can be added to a post by its author to indicate the main categories of its content and so should give an accurate reflection of what areas the post is talking about. For blogs, the most commonly used are tags for Technorati the Search Engine then allows you to search not only in a general fashion but also by individual tags. Other sites which were the pioneers of this type of social tagging are Flickr and del.icio.us

g) Post Comments on other Blogs
You should be keeping your eye on a number of other Blogs and following those that most interest you or you find most relevant. Ideally, once you have your own blog up and running then you should not only be reading them but also commenting on them. Its a way of getting your name out into the blogosphere as well as encouraging people back to your own blog.

When you post a comment, most blogs request your name and your website address then, when you submit your comment, it appears with your name which forms a link back to your site. Try to avoid comments which just say “Great Post” or something similar; although it will create a link back to your site, it really doesnt encourage people to use it.

However, if you add value to the post in your comment, then there is a greater likelihood that people will want to follow the link from your comment back to your own blog to read more of what you have to say.

h) Trackbacks
When you write a post which reference other blogs, then you should always credit the original source and place a link to it within the text of your post. Wherever possible, you should also use a trackback. A trackback will automatically inform the author that you have referenced their post in your blog and are continuing the themes from their article in your own post. At the same time, it will also create a link in the comments section of the original post which people can follow back to your blog.

To add a trackback, you need to find the trackback address at the bottom of the post you are referencing and this should be copied into the relevant boxcon the screen where you write your post. Once again, the quality of the post that you write will then determine whether people consider it worthwhile to have followed the trackback and visited your blog so try to ensure that you are adding something to the original or taking it in another direction.

If you use all of these techniques then you will already be going a long way towards to successfully marketing your Business Blog. In part three, we will look at the general online methods that you can use in conjunction with these.

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Transparency has become very important whether it is in terms of accounting requirements following in the wake of scandals such as Enron or, at the other end of the scale, the ability for customers to know what is going on with an enquiry or order.

Despite all of the press about how we need to do business in a more transparent way, interestingly it is seemingly this fear of transparency that that I often come up against when talking about the use of blogs within a corporate environment, whatever the size of the business.

Even when considering internally focused blogs, for example for team communications or as an alternative to an intranet, there is sometimes clearly a fear that the open dissemination of information that the blog will provide will somehow weaken a managers position. A throwback to the old version of the mantra that “knowledge is power”.

However, when we look at the possibility of using a Business Blog to open a company up and make it better able to interact with clients, suppliers and partners, then you can get a real look of panic crossing their faces. In most cases, it is not that they have anything to hide, it is simply the fear of the unknown but that is just the point! If the opinions and requirements of these important groups are unknown, then that is something to be afraid of as you have no chance of knowing what they really want or, by implication, delivering it.

I tend to compare going through this process to crossing a rope bridge over a ravine:

    - it’s scary to look at before you cross as all the things that you think could go wrong flashes through your mind;

    - it is quite tense as you are crossing as you take every step with care, but you gain confidence as you cross as you realize your worries were unfounded;

    - and, there is a real sense of release and achievement when you get to the other side and you realise what youve achieved.

Then of course, you wonder why you were worrying about it at all and generally you want to do it again!

Gaining trust is critical in today’s business environment and being transparent and open with the people that your company is dealing with is a big step towards achieving that.

The idea of knowledge is power is changing. No longer is it the knowledge and information that you keep to yourself that provides the power, but rather the knowledge that you share. In the same way, as you open yourself up to receive feedback from your marketplace, the information and the knowledge that this provides is also power, the power to provide them with what they really want rather than what you think they want.

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