December 2008


Blogs for businessI had the pleasure of having some friends over this weekend – it was great to see them, as it seems so long since we hosted at home following the arrival of our first born aka “he who shall be obeyed”! :)

After dinner, I was chatting with one of my friends and we touched on something that I wanted to share with you because it’s just so relevant to what we are doing.

He kindly asked how my “blogging business” was going and I replied that at the moment there seemed to be a growing interest in both social media and blogging which meant that things looked positive for the coming year. He was very pleased for me but he went on to tell me that the while he knew of my interest in blogging, he had never actually read a blog himself. “Bollocks,” I thought. I said that I’d be surprised if he hadn’t, as I knew he was someone who liked to keep up to date with the news in general and the financial news in particular.

So I asked him if he read the Business section of the BBC news website. “Everyday”, he replied. “I particularly like Peston’s Picks – it’s the best bit of the whole site.” (That’s written by the BBC’s Business editor, Robert Peston).

“Yep, one of my favourites too”, I replied. “What do you like about it?”

“Well, he always seems to have written it that day so it’s got the latest news – exactly what I’m looking for – and you know that he’s got the inside track on the stories because of his reputation from the TV. I also like that fact you can also leave your own opinion at the end of the article and, to honest, some of those are really interesting too.”

Well, if those all sound to you like key characteristics of a blog then you’d be spot on and indeed Peston’s Picks is one of the most read blogs on the BBC site, particularly in the current economic climate, for exactly the reason my friend cited. But the fact is that although there are references to it being a blog, it just comes across as the place on the site where you can read what Robert writes. The fact that the technology he uses happens to be called a blog is frankly immaterial – it’s just the name we currently give to it.

So, in fact my friend is an avid reader of a blog (and no doubt others) without even knowing it. Perhaps he’s also exactly the sort of person that we should be seeking out and listening to as we start blogs for our own businesses. Rather than focusing on creating a widely read “blog”, I believe that he reminds us that instead we should be looking to write widely read articles or to engage in conversations or create connections with people we want to associate with. The fact that we do so through something called a blog happens to be because it’s the perfect tool for the job.

So when we plan our blogs, let’s put ourselves in the place of my friend and look at what matters to him – that’s all about content, authenticity, discussion and relevance. And it’s very little about the technology that we choose to use to supply him with those things.

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One of my favourite analogies when I talk about social media and online marketing is the concept of spreading “welcome mats” around the internet. The more individually made mats that you make and strategically place, the more chance you have of being found in an increasingly competitive online market … and of course the better the chance of developing those all important contacts and relationships.

What’s a Welcome Mat?

So, what do I mean by “welcome mats”? Well, for me, they come in many different shapes and forms but are essentially places on the web where you invite people back to your website or blog by introducing yourself (through something you have written yourself or via someone else’s reference or recommendation) and making contact with them. Essentially a “doorway” back to your site indicated by a “welcome mat”.

Still not clear? Well, let me give some of the forms that they can take. Some of the principal ones that come to mind are:

  • Website pages which appear as Search Engines results

  • Blog posts (individual, categories etc.) in Search Engines and Blog Search Engines & Directories

  • Social/Business Networking Profiles pages and the posts or comments you leave on these sites

  • Bookmarked articles on Social bookmarking and Crowd Sourcing sites

  • Links coming from other websites or blogs

  • Blog comments you leave where the “name” will link back to your blog

  • YouTube profiles linking your videos back to your site

  • Reference to your post from a Twitter message (either your own or someone else’s)

  • AdWords (PPC) Adverts

  • Directory entries

  • Articles posted with a link in the signature file

  • Forum / Bulletin Board signatures

In each of these cases, you are effectively creating a Welcome Mat – something which provides information about you and your business, and then extends both an invitation and the means to find out more about you, via a link back to your site.

So, how will people find me?

As people use the internet for research, social interaction, fun, information gathering or whatever they individually want, they “cross the internet” in a variety of different ways – just how they go about it, is totally out of our control. In fact, it’s likely to change each time and so the ‘route’ that they take will be different too.

They might use a search engine and then follow links in a directory they find, or head straight for the blogosphere and check Technorati. More and more, they may use a tool like Twitter to ask others’ opinions or they might start off with some Press Releases via Yahoo News. Whichever they choose, our goal as online marketers is to make sure that we appear in as many relevant places as possible to increase our chances of being part of their search – creating multiple and specific Welcome Mats allows us to do this.

Our mission – should we choose to accept it! – is to make sure that we give ourselves the best chance possible to place a welcome mat in their path and make it attractive and relevant enough for them to follow and read our information. No small task!

Where do blogs fit in?

The trouble is that creating Welcome Mats is all well and good but the internet is vast and there are a lot of people vying for attention – so you have to take the time to make them relevant and to make them stand out. They have to demonstrate why they should spend time on your site rather than someone else’s. Blogs have two key roles to play in this scenario.

In the first instance, they are a great way to create welcome mats. For example, each time that I write a post which I hope will first and foremost be of interest to people who read my blog, I also know that it will also automatically:

  • create 5 or 6 new pages (individual post, home page, archive page, 2 category pages) 5 potential Welcome Mats on the main Search Engines;

  • ping 35 blog search engines, directories and RSS directories – let’s say at least 10 Welcome Mats;

  • if it is well written, it may be fortunate in having 5 people reference it in addition from their blogs giving another 5 Welcome Mats;

  • add to Feedburners Headline Animator which I use when I post on Business Networking sites which displays links to my RSS feed on average another 5 Welcome Mats;

  • perhaps referenced, tweeted or dugg on relevant social media sites if the post is something that people believe is worth sharing.

So, by posting on my blog and focusing purely on my key aim of writing something which will prove useful and interesting, it is also likely that I will automatically create over 25 new Welcome Mats. That for me is a bonus rather than the primary reason that I write … but is also an additional reason to encourage businesses I work with to get their own business blog.

In the second instance, blogs are also a great place to refer people back to – so not only do they fulfil the role of information creator and distributor, they are also a great place for all of these welcome mats to lead back to, rather than a static website. This is particularly true when it comes to social media and the interactive nature of the blog acts as a central focus for the other tools such as video, microblogging or social bookmarking. There is no better place for someone to get to know you (and decide whether they want to do business with you) than on your blog – so let it reflect the information and values you wish to communicate.

So, go for it!

It’s no longer the case (if it ever really did work this way) that you can simply put up a “roadblock” and divert people automatically to your website. This smacks of so called “interruption marketing” and as such gets short shrift from the net savvy users that we have become today. Today, we have to use our powers of attraction and our networks instead to help to deliver our message and information to the people interested in it.

The ‘Welcome Mats’ of today need to be much more based upon four of the principles of social media – creating, sharing, participating, involving – than on the advertising bias of a few years ago. These also offer many more opportunities. So take the time to look at your own and see whether you are creating attractive invitations that people are going to want to follow and share with others – if you find that you’re not, then I’d suggest that now’s the time to start.

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