September 2006

Joshua Schachter over at announced this week that they had registered their 1 millionth user while TechCrunch in their own summary also reminded us that Digg recently reported they had just passed the half million mark.

While the numbers arent enormous in internet terms, they are by no means insignificant and they are growing. So, along with the other social bookmarking (and indeed social networking) sites, they are certainly worth paying attention to as we look to promote our blogs and raise the visibility and profile of the information we provide.

Why in particular? Because social bookmarking provides an additional way for your readers to save your site or an individual post as one of their favourites which allows them to share it with others – this creates an additional route for people to find and potentially write about your site. In this sense, you could look at it as a sort of online version of refer a friend on steroids. Not forgetting that, as with all networking, even if the person they tell is not directly interested, they may well pass it on to others who are.

So, who might use this as a promotional tool? Effectively anyone with something (preferably interesting!) to say or share. It could be an article or a set of useful hints and tips, it could be a drawing, photo or picture (using Flickr for example) or perhaps a podcast or video clip. Whatever the content is, the key element is the sharing and the community aspect if someone has it in their favourites then they are effectively endorsing it and recommending it to others. Best type of recommendation – from a friend or colleague. And by extension, best type of business – referral business.

For this reason, I have added social bookmarking to my list of Marketing and Promotional techniques, in particular for blogs though it should also be considered for websites. It is an added way to gain additional exposure which in turn translates into additional visitors which you can then turn into additional revenue. Definitely worthwhile.

So what do I have to do to take advantage of this? Well, ideally it should be as easy as possible for visitors to save your content to the social bookmarking sites and the best way to do this is with a simple link or icon which does this automatically. If you are using WordPress, then there are a number of plug-ins which will help you to do just this. Two that you might like to look at are Sociable and Social Bookmark Bar, both of which achieve it well.

People talk about social bookmarking as the way that Search Engines in general will need to go in the future, relying less on mathematical calculations and more on individual and personal recommendations. While this may or may not come to fruition, there is no doubt that it is a developing area and one that as Business blog owners we should both be aware of and catering to.

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Spotlight on UK Blogs - all postsOver the past few months, I have been running a weekly Spotlight on UK Blogs here, highlighting some of the many UK Business blogs which exist and which are being set up every day.

This will now be continuing over at The Blog Coach where it will be integrated with the other elements which will be highlighted there. This has started with a recap of the UK Business Blogs highlighted so far, and will be continuing every Friday. In fact, as today is Friday, you’ll find the first new set of UK blogs there today.

In its place, there will be a new weekly series here at Better Business Blogging which will be starting next Friday. I hope that you will find it both useful and entertaining.

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I was interested to read an article entitled “It takes a Web Village” in a recent edition of BusinessWeek that a number of high profile companies such as GSK, Kraft and Hewlett Packard had been turning their attention to the use of online communities when researching the perception of their brands and development of new products.

In the particular cases mentioned, they used a bespoke private online community by linking up with Communispace to provide an environment in which they can work with a defined set of respondents to help them in evaluating new product ideas and, in the process develop additional thoughts and ideas.

There are two aspects to this – firstly the general use of an online environment for this type of research and secondly the selection of the right tools to achieve it. The benefits of using online communities in this way seem clear it is an ideal opportunity for companies to get real feedback from the people that matter most. Their customers. However, the price tag of this type of set up is probably out of reach for many of the companies that would most benefit from it.

So, would a blog be a good substitute to a custom built environment for small and medium sized companies? I believe so.

A business blog is already an great way to create networks and communities of people interested in a certain topic, market or area. By then managing the development and use of the blog, you can set-up an ideal community environment in which to test ideas, get feedback and encourage open discussion between your customers.

You can easily set up a closed blog, just as you might do with an internal blog, or alternatively there is of course the option of a closed area within a current blog set-up. There are already examples of closed or semi-closed environments being used for specific purposes; a product development blog is one such example.

So, how might they be used and what would you expect to gain from them? Well, they could be used:

  • to test discuss ideas for new products and product concepts

  • to test new marketing ideas in terms of promotions, offers, packaging ideas, advertising etc.

  • for surveys which could either be carried out using a threaded discussion and/or a simple tick the box multiple choice

  • to elicit feedback on products by providing an open forum where people can express opinions and discuss specific questions

  • to get an insight as to how you compare with other products on the market

  • debating offers and the appeal of them

By incorporating images or video into the blog, concept testing and sampling can be done using full mock-ups or demos, and at all times the discussions can be directed if required simply by participating in the conversations as they happen. Feedback will tend to be almost instantaneous and the insights from the consumer-to-consumer conversations will be there without any filtering or “interpretations”. At the end of the process, you will also have the benefit of a community of product champions who will feel part of the development of the product.

Are there companies who could not benefit from this? Well, you would need to be interested in hearing what your customers have to say, but thats true of any business blog. Soliciting peoples opinion and then totally ignoring it is never going to be a winning strategy to adopt. Other than that, it seems to me that using the key blog elements of communication and interactivity in this highly focused way to gain insight about your customers, products and marketplace can only be positive.

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Just to let you know that there will be a short hiatus in updating Better Business Blogging as I am having a few days break and the PC has been banned … just for a week, though.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as we are sure just what normal is (sic: Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy) – or alternatively on Tuesday 19th September.

See you then!

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Everyone loves a story. Stories are part and parcel of our history and have their roots in the “oral tradition” which spans all cultures, when news and tales alike were passed down by word of mouth, and storytellers were as important to the fabric of society as any of the professions that we know today.

Even now, in a world where there is a multitude of different media to choose from, we still love to read or listen to a good story. We are brought up on them and we remember them. With stories, we identify much more easily with what we are being told and get involved more than we would with a simple stream of information. In turn, this allows us to remember it much more easily as well.

So what’s your point, Mark?

Well, blogging is just another of those media, albeit a relatively new one. The keys to its success are content and the way that we present it … and our goal is that people should remember what we say and pass it on to others. So give them a helping hand, and communicate your message with a story. Even at its simplest level, you can frame a story with a context and personality or at least set the scene, so that our imagination can take over.

In any case, we even have huge advantages over our story-telling predecessors because:

  • when we post to our blog, people can go back to it time and time again because our story and its message is always available;
  • it can be easily distributed and won’t suffer from “Chinese Whispers” because people can refer directly to our original version;
  • we don’t need to gather an audience around us in order to tell our story, there is always one accessible online.

Now if I’d been ultra clever, I would have presented this post as a story … weaving my web and luring you in to make my point, rather than stating it as plainly as I have done. Ah well, such is life – next time perhaps! However, open your minds to a great post, or indeed two posts, from The CopyBlogger who demonstrates this far more eloquently than I could, so, if you haven’t already had the pleasure, drop by The most powerful blogging technique there is and then read the follow up post.

Then come back and tell me I’m wrong if you like. Bet you won’t! Do come back, though, for the next gripping instalment …! ;)

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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!

Innocent Drinks
Nicely integrated into their site and certainly managing so far to keep up the smooothie and fun image they cultivate … along with the fruit, of course.

Medical Dental Financial Services
Dentists and Financial Advisors together! I should hate it … but I don’t! Nicely focused blog in start-up phase by Ray Prince and Graeme Urwin. Now, open wide, this won’t hurt …!

Charkin Blog
Richard Charkin from Macmillan does his own bit of personal publishing – a true Busman’s Holiday some might say!

Tom Watson, MP
Well, in a week where everyone seemingly wanted to get out of the government, I had to resign myself to including a first political blog – no doubt the first of many.

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Following up on my post earlier this week which tried to weigh up the relative benefits of having a blog as a separate entity or as part of your website, I thought that I would put a short addendum here to just give an overview of the three main ways (as I see them) of combining a blog and a website.

There is no “one right way” to do this and the best method will vary according to the situation of the individual oragnisations.

Directory or folder
Probably the most common method, where a directory is created which contains the blog and all of the files and information, in the same way that you might do it for any other major section of your website to help with its structure. This would have the format of and will probably appear as part of your overall navigation on the site.

The ‘look and feel’ should ideally be exactly the same as the rest of your website to fully support the branding and because your visitors need not know that they are looking at anything other than another part of the website. The Search Engines treat this as part of your website as well and so the links between these and other pages are treated as internal links.

This takes the format of and then the structure of the blog develops from what is essentially a new homepage. This allows the blog to retain the branding benefits that the main domain affords, but means that it can be treated as a special area and therefore vary slightly in terms of the ‘look and feel’ from the rest of the website. It should, of course, maintain the themes and colours to support the brand.

From a Search Engine point of view, however, it is treated as a separate site and so will need to build up its links and “online points”, as it were. Nevertheless, because it is on a subdomain, it is easier to incorporate into the main marketing and promotional push than a blog on a different domain would be.

Website as part of your Blog
Not exactly an accurate description, but I will explain. This is where the blog software is used as a Content Management System and the website is built as static pages within the blog, which of course is also used to create the interactive blog based section that you would expect. This all works as a single domain and gives the owner the ability to change the website content at will, as well as provide it with all the interactivity that blogs offer and the “sex appeal” that they have from a Search Engine’s perspective.

From a marketing perspective, the branding and the domain all works together to give a single unified image and there is a totally integrated look and feel. For small businesses, in particular, looking at a website or a blog for the first time, this is likely to become the solution of choice because it offers all of the benefits of a website and a blog in one package.

All of the 3 ways mentioned above are valid and have their benefits. I do, however, believe that as we move forward, the third option where the website and blog become integrated in a single site with all of the blog’s interactive ability will become more and more the norm. Even now, I believe that it is certainly the best choice for any small business which wants to benefit from blogs, keep costs down and have control over the online website presence.

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One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to setting up a business blog, and certainly one which I have been asked on a number of occasions recently, is whether it is better to have a blog as part of your website or to set it up as a separate site on its own domain.

I would love to be able to give a brief one line response to this, however, I don’t believe that there is one which will fit all circumstances. So, true to recent form, I have to say that the answer to this will depend on a number of different factors, all of which can contribute to the final decision.

And what are these factors, I hear you ask. Well, the main ones I would look at are:

  • Branding requirements

  • Intended use of the Blog

  • Target Audience

  • Focus of Blog

  • Domain Name Selection

  • Search Engine / SEO Requirements

  • General Marketing Requirements

If we look at these in more depth, we can see where the tipping points are likely to be in each of the areas and therefore what will influence your final decision:

Branding requirements
If you are looking to reinforce your main brand, then keep all the information supporting it together and include the blog as part of your website rather than dilute it by dividing the content onto two separate sites. However, if you are considering a Product Blog to focus on and around a particular product or range, or you are looking at a sub-brand of some description, then these would benefit from having a separate domain and standalone image which would allow real focus and input from users and advocates.

Intended use of the Blog
If you want to use the blog for something which complements the rest of your website, such as an FAQ section or an online media centre, then integrating it in the website is ideal, as it will re-inforce and support all your company’s activities. If, on the other hand, the blog needs to present you as an independent source of information and advice, then you would be better to distance it from your website, so that you can be seen as objective in this role rather than as part of the company which has interests in the area.

Target Audience
If your blog and your website are designed to appeal to the same audience then, all other things being equal, it makes sense to combine them in one location which gives extra value to your readers and adds to the appeal of the website. However, if the blog deals with a specific area which is directed solely at a particular subset of your website’s target audience (or a different one altogether), then it would be better to maintain it on a separate domain rather than risk alienate customers not interested in that subject. The alternative, and better solution, is to create a series of specialist blogs which offer additional value to each individual group.

Focus of Blog
By adding your blog to your website, it will not be able to stray too far from the general topics and direction that the website already has. As a result, you may be restricted in terms of what you can write about, as the blog will be closely connected with the information presented on the rest of the website. A separate domain will give independence from the original site and hence allow you greater freedom in terms of your stance and commentary on issues.

Domain Name Selection
Setting up your blog on a separate domain will allow you to choose a new domain name which is specifically relevant to the blogs aims and goals, and which adds to its SEO potential, for example by including your main keywords. On your current website, you would not have this flexibility although you would still be able to choose something relevant either as the subdomain or the directory, according to the set-up you select.

Search Engine / SEO Requirements
Putting the blog on your website will add both content and value to it in the eyes of the main Search Engines and its development should increase it status and the number of incoming links to your website, as other blogs link to you. With a separate domain, however, you can set up all aspects properly from the start although you may have to go through Googles “sandpit” which can restrict rankings over the first few months. The links that come into this separate domain can then be focused into your main site and will have additional value because they come from an external site with good quality and relevant content.

General Marketing Requirements
You may not have the resources to fully market a totally separate blog which would effectively require its own marketing and promotional activities push. It would, however, create a whole new focus to the company’s activities which would potentially attract a new target audience. If, on the other hand, it sits on your current website, then it can benefit from the current marketing efforts used to promote the website and link from there. Whichever route you choose, you use, you should incorporate blog specific marketing as well as the more general online and offline elements as you promote your blog.

This seems like a long list and there are no doubt a number of other factors which could be added to it. However, in reality, although the list of factors might be long, there will generally be one overriding element which will end up dominating all of the others. It could be technical in nature or one of the commercial/marketing elements mentioned above but the outcome will be the same – the best solution for you in your particular circumstance will effectively select itself!

So, how to summarise all of this advice? Take your blog back to basics and examine what was the real trigger moment that made you decide that you needed or wanted to have a Business Blog – look at that reason and what you wanted the blog to achieve and then work forward from there.

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Blogging BooksI love bookshops, always have. There’s something about them which attracts me – I love browsing and just flicking through the books, picking out pieces that interest me – I guess that’s a little what I do when browsing blogs as well, dipping in and dipping out of ones that looking interesting and returning to them time and again. Clearly, having an RSS reader makes the job a lot simpler online!

Anyway, during a visit to one of my favourite bookshops yesterday, I decided to check out what books on blogging were currently available here in London. My first challenge, however, was to find them. My own take on Blogs is that they are first and foremost a communications tool so the Marketing section seemed like a good starting point; but then they are also an excellent Business Development Tool, so maybe the Sales section would be more likely; alternatively, I use mine partly as a networking aid so would that be the best section to start with?

Well, as it happened, none of them showed any sign of a blogging book. So, where did I finally find them? Well, there were two in Web Design, two in Internet for Beginners and a solitary book (Blog Marketing by Jeremy Wright) in the eCommerce section nestled among all of the books about how to make your fortune on eBay!

I suppose that that shouldn’t really have come as a surprise. Most people’s first reaction is to view blogs simply from a technical perspective when they first come across them. The challenge is getting beyond that and being able to focus on the business applications, which is where blogs really come into their own – unfortunately, I find that many people are still stymied by the word “Blog” and their perceptions of what it means to them.

Anyway, while still enjoyable, my trip to the bookshop didn’t yield any new purchases on this occasion. It did, however, remind me that there is still work to be done to show businesses where the real value of blogs lie and plenty of opportunities for those who catch on quickest.

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