January 2008


Start or set up a blog: Key question 1This is part of a 3 part mini-series looking at the planning phase of setting up and starting your business blog.

Each post will focus on one of the 3 key questions that you should have clear answers for as you set up your blog before you start to write it.

Question 2:
Who are you writing for?

Unless you are writing a personal blog, and thats really not what we are dealing with here, then you are writing your blog with a business purpose in mind just as we looked at in the 1st Key Question. This in turn means that you are writing for someone, for an audience, who you are hoping will not only read your blog but react well to its content and to you as the author.

To achieve this, need to be clear about this audience – your readers – and what they are going to expect from you and from your blog. You’ll also need to know how best to go about getting those reactions and building on them. This knowledge needs to influence every aspect of your blog including:

  • what your blog looks like

  • the content of your blog

  • the style of how you write it

  • the length and frequency of the posts

  • how you elicit comments and feedback
In fact, what you are looking for is to encourage your target audience to engage with you and your blog in what I term the 5Rs:
  • Read: first of all you need to create subject matter which will encourage people to visit your blog and then read what youre writing about.

  • Return: once they have visited for the first time, you have the opportunity to give your readers something theyll wish to read more of, hence encouraging then to return to your blog.

  • Reply: you are looking to encourage dialogue and communication so you must find subjects and a style which encourages them to express an opinion about it and reply to the post.

  • Refer: provide your readers with enough compelling, relevant and interesting content and they’ll want to recommend it to everyone.

  • RSS: encourage them to sign up and receive what you are writing as and when it appears using RSS either directly or via email.
So just how do you find out what they want? Well, first and foremost, you are as much a part of the target audience as you are the author! Its your area of specialism, so bear in mind your own areas of interest as you write, but a also look at what you are doing and writing with a critical eye from time to time and check you are still on track. In addition, take the time to listen to your readers. Listen to what they are saying in the comments they post on your blog or in the emails you receive from them. When you are at conferences and exhibitions, note down what are the hot topics that everyone is talking about they are literally giving you your killer content posts on a plate!

But do remember that different blogs have different aims and therefore very different audiences. An internal blog, for example, will be aimed at talking primarily at employees, while an external blog with a customer support focus will need to provide exact information and specific answers within tight timeframes. Of course, the more than you can prepare for this in advance of starting the blog, the better focused and (probably) more successful it will be.

To take a look at how all elements of a blog come together to fit with the audience it is targeting, Id like to recommend that you take a look at Sony and the two blogs that they launched last year for different parts of their business and for very different audiences.

    1. The first was the Sony Playstation blog which is heavily branded with a very specific topic range and audience in mind which has been attracted in droves to the site. Everything about the blog caters to this audience, their interests and ultimately the games that they are being encouraged to find out about and buy. Language, content and imagery all support this beautifully.

    2. The second was the Sony Electronics blog dealing with a very different part of the business, a very different product range and therefore a very different audience in terms of both interests and priorities. The frequency and content were both targeted towards their expected readers and they responded in their own way which, of course, also needed to be handled correctly.

In summary, you need to ensure that you are always encouraging your readers to act on an appropriate aspect of the 5Rs. So, make sure that your business blog has a well defined theme and, once you have decided that, write your posts with it firmly in mind (remember keeping your aims on your monitor). Dont forget to use your RSS reader to keep up to date with what is happening in the areas that your blog covers and keeping offering your opinions on relevant and interesting items in your posts. Finally, keep encouraging feedback from this target audience and make sure that you respond to the comments that your readers leave.

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Super Advocates, A list Bloggers and Bloke down the PubI read earlier this month an article in the Financial Times entitled Business urged to woo social network figures which was reporting on some of the findings in a report on social networking from Experian and Hitwise. In it, we are recommended to woo super-advocates that is to say influential members on social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace.

Having tried (and failed) to stop myself smirking at the use of Super Advocates and banish the idea of them sitting at their computer wearing their underpants on the outside of their trousers, I thought that there was a certain amount of sense in what was being said.

But hang on a second, havent people like this always existed?

Of course they have – go back a couple of years and, within the blogging world, we would have referred to them as A List bloggers because of the influence that they had. Before that, it might have been someone we knew who was well connected or one of our friends who tended to lead the conversations and spread the word about the latest information or gossip. And of course, if all else failed there was always the bloke down the pub who positioned himself as the fountain of all knowledge.

So what do they all have in common – well, in essence, they are people who others listen to. Each has their own sphere of influence and their own expert subject matter (except possibly the bloke down the pub who is an expert in everything!). This means that we consider what they tell us to be both correct and valuable which we therefore take at face value.

So, let’s look at it from our own perspective: what type of person would we take note of and why? This is important because if we wish to position ourselves as someone whom others would recommend (perhaps using our own business blog as a focal point) then these are the type of characteristics that we should be looking to demonstrate.

So what is it that makes a super-advocate super when it come to helping our business?

  • Good level of Contacts – ideally both in terms of quality and quantity

  • Recommended either by someone you trust or a number of different people

  • Very active in the right circles, markets or areas

  • The right sphere and level of influence

  • Trusted and Respected

  • Outgoing and communicative

As an example, think of someone like Martin Lewis who runs the Money Saving Expert site and blog – well respected, listened to and widely used as a reliable source of information and, generally, when we hear that something comes from him then our reaction is that “it must be true”. He has reached a point where he has a reputation which puts him is a special category of trust in many people’s eyes.

If you want to call him a type of “Super Advocate” through the use of his blog and his website, then so be it. But, whatever you call him, he has an enviable position in his field and one we should be trying to emulate in our own areas of expertise.

So, next time you read about “Super Advocates” (and once youve stopped smirking to yourself), do remember that there are these types of Connectors in all areas of life so think of 3 people who could be influential figures for your business and get in touch with them. At the same time, work at developing your own reputation through your blog or whichever other medium you feel can offer the same coverage and visibility. If all goes well, you’ll soon be there wearing your underpants on outside of your trousers too! ** smirk **

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Start or set up a blog: Key question 1This is part of a 3 part mini-series looking at the planning phase of setting up and starting your business blog.

Each post will focus on one of the 3 key questions that you should have clear answers for as you set up your blog before you start to write it.

Question 1:
What you do want to do with your blog?

This may seem like an obvious question or rather you may think that the answer to it is obvious. Great! If you have a clear idea of what you want to do with your blog and how it will help your business, then write it down and stick it on your computer screen. Keep it in mind as you write your posts, make changes to your blog and work on promoting it because that sort of focus is going to be all important if you want to achieve the best results.

It does seem to be the case, however, that many companies (and this applies equally to multinationals as it does to small businesses) still look at blogging as something which needs to be done to keep up with the Joneses. Unfortunately, blogs set up with this in mind often suffer a swift demise since they generally have no real substance, identity or direction.

Blogging will cost you time and therefore money. In my case, if I am writing posts for my blogs, then I cannot be doing paid work on blogs or online marketing campaigns for other companies, engaging in other marketing activities, carrying out my duties with my accountants hat on etc. So plan what you want to do with your blog.

Marketing focused blog as an example

Lets take the example of a business blog which has a marketing focus, one where you are essentially looking for it to communicate your expertise or the benefits of your services or products, and to start to generate interest and trust in them (and you of course!).

Blog planning

So to get the right balance and focus in the blog, youll want to incorporate important influences both from within your company and from the market you work in ie. from customers, partners and competitors etc. You also need to look at how it fits in with your other marketing activities and the general direction of the company. If you can incorporate all of these, youll then be developing a marketing tool which will reflect the companys goals, will work in tandem with everything else you are doing and will allow you to communicate with your target audience in as unfiltered a form as possible.

Other business uses for a blog

Of course, marketing is just one of the many uses you could put your business blog to and as the focus of your blog changes, so of course will the influences which are important to it. If you are looking at an external blog to support your customer service or technical support activities, then the targeting and format of the blog will change to suit that goal. Likewise, an internal blog to help your internal communications or perhaps one dedicated to pre-sales / sales team information sharing will be different again.

Other ideas of possible ways to use a blog as a business tool, both externally and internally, might include:

Blog types in Business blog planning

But at the end of the day, whatever you decide to use your blog for, it needs to reflect the requirements of both the company and your target audience, and add value to both parties. Do that and you are well on the way to creating a business blog which will prove an invaluable asset to you.

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Market research with Focus GroupsIn a post called Using Blogs as Communities for Research and Development back in Sept 2006, I mentioned that one of the lesser known yet still ideal uses for business blogs is as a vehicle for conducting market research and product development. Why? Simply because your blog will create a community around itself containing exactly the type of people that you would love to get opinions and feedback from.

I noticed that last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article called “The New Focus Groups: Online Networks“. Ah, yes indeed! Their focus was it seems prompted by the rise in Social Networks but as I pointed out in “Who owns YOUR Social Network?” the best type of network that you can possibly have as a business, and the one which will endure longest, is one that you run yourself. Essentially, your business blog.

So with a blog as your best way to develop your own network, social or business, this is a ringing endorsement for using blogs in a market research capacity. It also brings the benefits of targeted market research within the reach of companies of all sizes, not just those with a budget of thousands to spend on external market research providers.

The benefits of using the type of private community that a specially created blog can give you are clear. As the article points out:

Companies use them to administer polls, chat in real time with consumers and even ask members to go to the store to try out specific products. The rapid back-and-forth between the company and the online community can help substantially shorten the product development cycle.

Real interaction with customers, shorter product development cycles? Sounds just what the doctor ordered! And with blog consultants :) able to help you to develop these environments in double quick time (should you require it), you can concentrate your efforts on preparing the research you want to carry out, listening to what your customers tell you they are looking for and then delivering it to them.

Almost sounds like joined up marketing to me!

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Blog Broadcast from AweberThe RSS Feed is one of those key underlying technologies in a blog that can do a huge number of things for us and yet most of us, myself included, are still only scratching the surface with it.

Its main use is of course to give your readers a secure and immediate way of receiving your latest posts by subscribing to your RSS feed through an RSS Reader. Nevertheless, with so many internet users still unfamiliar with RSS in spite of its many benefits, I always recommend also offering the option of subscribing to the RSS feed via email as well.

The easiest way to offer this is by using a third party supplier. Feedburner, for example, provides you with the code to create a basic sign up form on your blog and then visitors can use to subscribe to receiving your blog updates automatically via email. A similar service is provided by Feedblitz and Zookoda.

Normally, you receive these on a daily basis as posts are published. However, there is another provider, Aweber, which gives you the option to take that one step further and effectively create a newsletter with your posts.

Aweber is probably best known as an autoresponder and email service provider along the lines of Constant Contact and Vertical Response. However, last year, they also launched a service called Blog Broadcast which essentially delivers your blog posts via email but also offers other features in as well. As you would expect from a company which specialises in email and newsletter delivery, this is includes a range of templates to control the look of the emails sent out, personalisation of aspects of the message and title, and tracking of links or ads.

In addition, as of this week, they have added a scheduling feature to the service. This means that you can now use the service to send out your posts on a schedule which suits you and your readers rather than one decided by the software. For example, you can now automatically send your readers a newsletter every week or every month by email with all of your posts. A great way to use emails to help support your blog.

Granted this is not a free service but the additional benefits that this gives you are certainly worthwhile and particularly if you also use the other services it offers. For example, I use the autoresponder to deliver my Business Blogging eCourse and you can also use the email broadcast system to send other ezines or general communication to your readers.

So, if you want to do more than simply send out each post as you make it or you’re looking for an automated way to publish a newsletter to your list of readers, then this might well be worth looking at.

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Over the past couple of weeks, Ive had a number of enquiries from different social networks, or rather from certain of their members, asking me to join their networks. Granted, many of these are automated – which amounts to spamming by the website owners in my view, but thats another story – but this has nevertheless been a clear demonstration to me of the continuing growth and proliferation of social networks.

Networks and networking in general are hugely important to businesses of all sizes and small businesses in particular. Therefore joining these social networks or business networks is undeniably useful to a point – although I feel that it is nigh impossible to maintain a useful presence in more than a few before you spread yourself too thinly and get lost in the crowd.

The problem as I see it though, is that when we talk about social networks, we are usually merely refering to a website or platform. All the new social networks that keep appearing are in fact just different websites whose main focus is to create their own network environments (with associated revenue potential) rather than really help us to create our own personal network.

This is potentially in conflict with what we are all actually interested in, which is our own network (whether that be social or business), made up of people that we want to communicate, interact and deal with.

As individuals or as businesses, what we really need to do is create our own network, a network which exactly matches the interests, goals and requirements that we have. In fact, a blog is an excellent way to achieve this and to create not only a network but, where possible, a community focused on a specific area. It allows people who just want to network and connect with you to do so, and it gives you the means and opportunity to develop those relationships.

At the end of the day, by all means join as many networks as you can realistically participate in but chose them according to the goals that you have for your business and use them for the benefits they bring at the time. However, if you truly want to participate in a network which will endure and will best serve your networking goals, then set up a business blog where you can create and develop your own.

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