October 2007


Corporate Blogs and how to sink themCompanies are discovering the benefits of communicating with customers through corporate blogs, and are setting them up in ever greater numbers. There are many places now where you can find help in setting up and developing successful blogs – indeed I hope that Better Business Blogging is one of them! However, I have found a dearth of places with practical information on sinking a blog, although the blogosphere seems to be littered with real life examples of dead or dying blogs.

So I decided that it would be good to post some pointers to help those determined to professionally sink their blog. These have been tried and tested by some of the most expert blog “scuttlers” around so, with pens and keyboard at the ready and without further ado, I give you:

1. Don’t focus on any one subject area: keep your readers on their toes by switching between posts on “Thermal Dynamics” and who is likely to win “The X Factor” or American Idol. Maintaining a clear focus on your blog will simply attract readers interested in the subject and encourage high search engine rankings for your relevant keywords. A real “no-no” when trying to kill off your blog.

2. Make sure your Domain name can be misread: ‘Experts Exchange’ may be the name of your blog but you could find that using a domain name of www.expertsexchange.cc results in you attracting readers looking for a very different type of service.

3. Over-optimise your posts: a keyword-optimised post should contain keyword phrases which are keyword attractive to Search Engines but non-keyword-optimised human readers are less likely to wade through keyword-rich blogs with too many keywords which make no sense. (cf. keyword phrases). Related post: “Keywords for keyword addicts

4. Always sign your posts with “Lots of Love”: blogs are intended to be personal, so you can never be too friendly with your readers. Adding “xxx” for kisses adds that additional personal touch that sets you apart from other blogs.

5. Don’t update your Blog: you know that your first post was probably “the best you’ve ever written” or indeed “the best anyone’s ever written”, so don’t pander to your readers’ whims by providing regular information. In any case, youll find that good regular information will only encourage them to come back and recommend your blog others, so stay clear of this potential minefield at all costs.

6. Avoid pictures - in fact avoid anything remotely colourful. Everyone loves pages of plain text and the more austere it is the better, so don’t mess it up with imagery. Ideally steer clear of new paragraphs as well, one long one is more than sufficient – and you’ll also find that punctuation only distracts readers so do away with that too.

7. Cater to a Multilingual audience but do so using an online translation tool. You will find that your blog instantly becomes unintelligible in the target language as well as the original. A clear “Win – Win” situation when it comes to confusing readers and chasing them away.

8. Don’t respond to comments: to be honest, you never meant to allow people to actually leave comments anyway, it was just that you couldn’t find how to disable them. And dont install a spam comment filter either all those “special interest sites” are probably just what the doctor ordered.

9. Calculate your Blog’s ROI – not a bad idea, per se, but once you have gathered everyone’s opinion on how to do it, decided on what criteria really matter and how to measure them and then finally got stuck into the calculations, you will find that you have no time left to post anything of value.

10. Use lots and lots of external advertising – there’s nothing like a good game of “Hunt the Post” on a blog, your corporate readers will love it! So make sure you have multiple AdSense, BlogAds and eMiniMalls on your blog although, if space permits, you might like to squeeze in a post or two. The false dawn of hope that your readers experience when they finally find a post is a joy to behold.

11. Avoid expressing an opinion – there is nothing worse than opinions to get peoples backs up and encourage them to participate on your blog which you will then need to ignore at all costs to dampen the debate. You may find that sharing information carries these same risks as it opens the door for dialogue and discussion, so avoid at all costs.

With these 11 key rules in place, you will be well on your way to creating a blog which is certainly unattractive and hopefully will not be around long enough to gain any visibility for your company in the market. So cast off and bon voyage!

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Blogging in the News - UK BlogsSome articles which have appeared in the UK online press over the past week which looks at blogging (primarily business blogging) and its uses. If you find any good articles that could be highlighted here, then please post the links below or send them to me directly at mark[at]betterbusinessblogging[dot]com and I’ll do the rest.

Thousands of bloggers unite in blitz of green tips
The Blog action Day on the 15th October seems to have been a success with thousands of bloggers participating and raising awareness on climate change and environmental issues.

Going the Whole Blog: The Benefits of Social Networking
Jackie Cameron explaining why blogging and social networking work so well together for her and in her work. Nice personal account.

Newlyn processor joins seafood ‘bloggers’
Another sector looks at blogging for a range of different uses – and it’s good to see a sector such as this trying blogging. As the article states, “Its a great example of using modern technology to promote the industry in an unusual and engaging way”. I can think of some other industries that would do well to follow the example.

Slow Starters: Blogging in the Building Industry
As Phil Clark so eloquently puts it, “The construction world isnt exactly full of bloggers, but if even Sir Terry Farrell is chatting away online these days, it might be time to start taking it all a bit more seriously.” A second hurrah!

Playing Footsie with bloggers
CEOs should be considering whether corporate blogs are important – a little controversial in places but underlines the potential influence that blogging has in business and people’s perception of businesses if nothing else

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Looking for Business BlogsWhen starting a blog of our own or one for our company, hopefully we take time to plan out the content and look at what we want the blog to achieve for us and perhaps follow a process such as the one I advocated in the Green Cross Code of Blogging.

One of the key parts in this process is the “look and listen” phase. This is when you take time out to research what is already going on and what is being discussed around the blogosphere in your industry or area. By following other blogs which address the same subject areas as your own, you should get a better feel for some key elements which will help you with your own blog, such as:

  • what others are writing about

  • what conversations are ongoing,

  • what topics are already being covered and by whom

  • who the main players are

  • which are the key blogs to read and be seen on

  • ideas on how to present your own blog




But of course first of all, we have to find them!

So what are the best places to find what blogs are already out there in the area that you have an interest in. Personally, I’d always start any search of this type with a Blog Search Engine and specifically Technorati which I suppose doubles as a Blog Search Engine and a Blog Directory. Being able to see who is linking to whom allows me to easily trace a route through to find the blogs that I am looking for. Others you could also check are Google’s own Blog Search Engine and Icerocket.

However, there are other ways of locating blogs which would be of interest to you (and then of course adding them to your RSS reader – makes life a lot simpler afterwards!) and here are some which should make the job easier:

  • Blog Directories and RSS Directories: check through some of these blog focused directories which are usually organised along business and general interest lines. Choose your sector and start reading.

  • Social Networking / Business Networking sites: with the proliferation of the sites such as Facebook, Linkedin, Ecademy, Xing etc, there are a good bet for finding information on relevant blogs. This may be listed on the profile page of the person but it is also worth checking the “signature” text that appears under their posts on the discussion forums where they are often promoted;

  • Other Blogs: once you have a blog you are interested in then use the links and recommendations that they provide. These links may well be in the text of the post itself or in the Blogroll (or Recommended sites) in the sidebar of the blog;

  • Press Releases: as companies take on board the fact that press releases should contain more social media tools and be aimed at their target audience rather than editors, they are including blog addresses in their contact details. Get a Google Alert set up to include their News section and get a daily email on who’s making press releases which contain your keywords;

  • Blog Awards: there seem to be a number of Blog Awards now, either at national level or in specific sectors. Either way they should throw up blogs which are worth looking at;

  • Search Engines: of course the main search engines also include blogs along with the other websites and so may throw up different results to the blog search engines. In any case, always worth a look because of their “firepower”.

  • Blog Carnivals: Blog Carnivals are generally arranged around a theme so check out ones that might be happening in your area of interest and see who is getting involved.

  • Corporate Sites: as more and more companies realise the benefits of a having a blog (or more likely multiple blogs) you will find links to them from their sites. So check the company you are interested in and have a look around!

  • Google Alerts: don’t just use Google Alerts for Press Releases, make sure that you cover all the Google sections available – you can find some research ideas with Google Alerts here.

Of course, since these are good places to find blogs, they are also excellent places to promote your own. As a first step, do make sure that you have your blog submitted to the various blog and RSS Directories and that your blog software is automatically pinging the Blog Search Engines every time that you post. After that you can look at some or all of the other methods for your own promotion purposes as time permits.

Try to pick up as much as you can from the ones that impress you most but above all enjoy reading the blogs you find – that’s what they are there for!

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Can we use blogs for selling? Im often asked this question and Ive also seen a bit of a debate going on around the blogosphere about it of late, so heres my take on it.

For me, it depends totally on what you interpret as “selling”. According to what your response to that is, then my answer will range from “absolutely not” to “yes, of course, thats the whole reason for having a business blog”. Basically, anywhere from zero to ‘off the scale’.

Not too much help as yet, I know.

To help explain how I think selling should be done on a blog, Id like to tell you a story a fable from Aesop called The North Wind and the Sun. It goes something like this:

The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him.

At last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.

The stated moral of the story is that Persuasion is more successful than Force. So let’s take that idea and look at it in the context of selling.

If you are thinking of using your blog in the style of a door to door salesman, then please dont. If you are looking to focus on the interruption style of marketing that weve been subjected to for years, then I would also advise a rethink.

Why? Most people have a real aversion to the hard sell and it’s certain to have a negative effect on your readers. In any case, a blog is never going to be a good method of engaging in this type of selling – blogs work best as a two way dialogue rather than a sales pitch monologue. This type of strong arm tactic, represented by the North Wind in the fable, will generally result in the reader leaving our blog, unlikely ever to return.

However, there is another way. Instead we can engage in relationship or educational selling (or marketing if you prefer), building trust with our readers and letting them familiarise themselves with the product or service that we offer. How do we do that? Through our posts, we engage with them and allow them to get to know us. We also help them to understand what we do by continually delivering information which is relevant to them … and yet also relevant to our business, our products/services and the market in which we work.

The result is a much deeper understanding of how what we do can benefit and impact their business – this is because they will have had the opportunity to examine and develop their ideas of its actual uses in their situation. Therefore, when you do sit down with the (now) prospect, it will be with one who has already gone far down the road to deciding that they want to commit and one with a much greater likelihood of implementing and using it properly.

All of this benefits us because it results in a happier client, a strong ongoing business relationship and positive word of mouth about us and our product/service.

At the end of the day, for me, its all about the difference between trying to sell something to someone and helping them decide that they want to buy from you. As a customer, I know which I prefer – so, be like the Sun and try the persuasive approach as a seller as well.

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Browsers, Searchers and Subscribers to BlogsWhen visitors arrive on your business blog, you need to make sure that they can explore it in the way that suits them, at least as far as possible, so that they can get the most out of their visit. To do so, you have to try to preempt their requirements and their habits.

If we look to group visitors by the way that they are likely to want to explore your blog, then I think that they will fall into browsers, searchers and subscribers. To help them locate information and articles on your blog which will interest them, you should aim to cater for all of these groups and offer them methods to look through your blog which suits their requirements.

Browsers

As the name indicates, browsers are generally not looking for something specific when they arrive at your blog. Instead, they are simply following links from other blogs (from an article or perhaps via a Blogroll) to see where it takes them and whether anything appears interesting or catches their eye.

Once on your blog, browsers will generally follow links – theyll move between posts by using links that you create so it’s sensible to reference your own posts where appropriate as well as other peoples.

As a result, they can be quite random in what they look at and also easily lost if their attention wavers, so ensure that there are always links in your posts which reference other posts with relevant information. You may also find that creating related posts after the post (either manually or automatically) will help to increase their continued browsing of your blog.

At the same time, they are open to being guided so point out posts which you consider to be most important (a Very best of page for example) or ones that others have recommended (such as “most commented” or “most viewed” posts) and get your best articles in front of them. Your goal here is of course to turn them into a subscriber so give yourself every chance.

At a more sophisticated level, it may be possible to track what they have been looking at and therefore offer tailored or personalised advice as to what else may interest them websites such as Amazon are great examples of this in action.

Searchers

By contrast, searchers have clear aims in mind so are likely to be looking for a specific subject area when they arrive at your blog. They will be much more single minded in their approach when reading your blog, and so what they want are clear methods of locating the information that they are looking for as quickly as possible.

Probably the most conventional way to do this is through a search box which should ideally be easy to find and on every page of the blog. However, they will have keywords or key phrases already firmly in mind and therefore may well latch onto the category names or the tags associated with your posts to help explore specific topic areas.

Its still very important to offer searchers other links, particularly to related posts. This is partly because it may help them to locate the information they are searching for but, in any case, it will give similar or adjacent topics and so show the depth or your blog’s content. It should also encourage the searcher to delve deeper into your blog once they have found the specific information they are after ultimately to help them subscribe to your blog via RSS or via email.

Subscribers

It is probable that on your blog, the subscription is mainly run through RSS and so this is where we need to concentrate our efforts to encourage greater access to your content for those who are already subscribers.

One element of this is the selection of a full or partial RSS feed. With partial feeds, an excerpt is delivered to the subscribers reader and if they want to read the full post then they have to click through to your blog. Most people, however, prefer full feeds which means that articles can be read directly from the feed the downside of this is that they dont actually have to visit your blog to read its content. However, fear not. Its still possible to incorporate other links and offers in the feed itself to encourage them to explore further different medium but still very useful.

Never fall into the trap of thinking once you have subscribers you can forget about them just the opposite. You have done the hard work by encouraging them to subscribe but now it is up to you to maintain the quality and relevance of what you are writing so that they continue to return and read and also hopefully recommend your blog. (Remember the 5Rs!!) With RSS, it is both easy and immediate to unsubscribe from a feed so the onus is on us, as business bloggers, to maintain a standard which will keep their interest.

Whatever type of reader arrives at your blog – browser, searcher or subscriber – try to make sure that you cater to their online habits by ensuring that they can find your best information as easily as possible. With a good business blog design, the main elements should be in place but adding a little extra for each of the groups is always valuable. And hopefully, if they can find information which interests them, they will not only become subscribers but remain subscribers too!

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Promoting books with blogsOver the weekend, I popped into Waterstones book shop in Richmond a frequent haunt in the days before Amazon and still a favourite one. On this occasion, rather than my normal top floor seat in the business and foreign language section, I had to be content with the ground floor (baby + pram + no lift = ground floor) and so spent a few moments looking through the books on the current Best Sellers lists.

There were some authors there that I recognised, and a number that I did not. What I certainly did spot was the number of books which were connected in some way either to either TV programmes or films currently on at the cinema. Jamie Oliver at Home was at the top of the hardback list while Atonement sat astride the paperback list with Nigella Lawson, The Bourne Ultimatum and Michael Palin’s New Europe all making top 10 appearances. Now, good as they may be, one thing is certain. Without the publicity afforded by the TV shows or cinema appearances, these books would never have achieved the same level of sales or enjoyed the same level of success.

So whats my point? Well, although only a very small number of books published have TV help to promote them, all books need promotion to succeed. One such promotional medium which is available to all authors is a blog, and its a good one at that! Using a blog allows you to get in front of your potential readers, engage with them and hopefully really grab their attention done correctly, it can not only give a feel for the book but expand on it and pique the interest of potential buyers, readers and future loyal fans.

Setting up a blog to promote your book should be an automatic step in the book promotion process and it can be a very powerful approach. However, there are some elements that you should bear in mind to make sure that it will be as effective as possible:

  • Give your Blog the same title as your book: that way, when you are promoting the book via the blog or simply promoting the blog, you are still always focusing peoples attention on the key thing you want them to remember, your books title

  • Use the same domain name too: for exactly the same reasons, make sure that you buy the domain containing your books name and develop your blog there. You are writing the blog on a specific subject and for a specific reason so make sure that you have a specific domain too. Youve probably seen film companies do exactly the same to great effect with websites to promote their films (eg. Atonement) ... so follow their lead!

  • Make sure it is linked visually with the book: take the graphics from the cover of your book and build these into your blog so that the two are instantly associated. This will really help from a branding point of view and, when someone sees the book online having visited your blog, then it will trigger their memory too

  • Make use of the layout and design: just like a general business blog, make sure that the layout and design works for you to achieve your business goals in this case, promoting your book. For example, get your newsletter sign up box and your RSS subscription logo (I recommend running both) prominent on your blog to encourage signups and then use that information to grow your supporters

  • Incentives and Promotions: remember that incentives work – if you’re not convinced then pick up a copy of Freakonomics and see why you should rethink. They do! So, perhaps you can give a chapter away free as a taster, or offer an ebook which develops on some of the themes you discuss in the book. You could even go as far as Seth Godin did when he gave away his book the IdeaVirus in ebook form … this in turn catapaulted the paper copy into the best sellers list! We might not all have the pulling power of Mr Godin, but the principle is a very powerful one

  • Use your blog marketing opportunities: just as you would do with any blog, use the mainstream blog marketing opportunities to spread the word about your book. As a start point, comment on other relevant blogs, submit your blog to blog directories, use links and trackbacks and get your RSS feed into RSS Directories. Here are some other blog marketing methods Id recommend considering

  • Dont forget your offline and other online marketing: the more targeted traffic you can get the better so dont forget to use other methods which will benefit you. Ive listed some ideas incorporating both online and offline methods in a called 52 ways to promote your blog.

Of course, you need to make sure that you can deliver the content – but this should be the easy part, you are the author after all! :) Take the opportunity to expand on the themes that you covered in the book, talk about adjacent areas that lead into the subject matter of your book and talk about background areas which will be of interest but which you were unable to include in the book itself.

Use the blog to pique the interest of readers at every opportunity and ensure they remember the name and branding clearly – give them a link to Amazon or your preferred outlet too. Display comments and recommendations from others who have already bought it and ask them to refer people to your blog who might enjoy it. Intrigue them and give them every opportunity to decide that they wish to buy BUT … a word of warning … avoid overtly / directly selling to them.

Above all, enjoy doing it, just as I enjoy sitting and reading what others have written, whether I’ in a Richmond book shop or online. If you enjoy it, then it will shine through in the writing on your blog. When that happens, your readers will be able to share your enjoyment and enthusiasm and, as likely as not, then enjoy reading your book as well.

Footnote: if you are considering writing a book but need help and guidance as you do it, then can I recommend a chat with Mindy Gibbins-Klein “The Book Midwife – you’ll find it will be time well spent!

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