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    Blogging Basics: here are all the key posts


    Anyone working with organisations on corporate blogging will have noticed the different ways in which they approach the medium, ranging from indifference, to dipping their toe politely in the blogosphere’s water or jumping in with both feet in the hope of making as big a splash as possible.

    As I look around, I also see organisations using the blogosphere in different ways – some content to be passive observers and use blogs primarily for research, while others making use of their full potential and developing their own ‘community’ around their own corporate blog.

    Here are some of the organisation types that I’ve identified and the way they approach blogs and the blogosphere – no doubt there are more, but these are some that I have come across.

    The Sleeper
    This is an organisation which is aware of what business blogs are but decides not to participate at all in the blogosphere. This could simply be because it doesnt see a need to do so and is content with using other methods to engage with its customers, prospects and other stakeholders. Equally, it might be that they are not aware of the benefits available or it may be that the openness of blogging does not sit comfortably with their company culture. Whatever the reason, for the moment, the Sleeper is content to close its eyes and pretend that blogs dont exist.

    The Onlooker
    Also known as “The Listener”, this organisation is not actively engaging with the blogosphere but does have an interest in what is going on. It browses blogs to look at and listen to what others are saying, across a wide variety of subjects but particularly about the industry or marketplace in which it is active. Being an Onlooker is always a good start point for any company intending to get involved with blogging because it offers an insight to which topics are viewed as important and gives a better feel for what works. Using an RSS reader, it is also now very easy to follow a number of blogs once you have found them.

    The Researcher
    Although similar to the Onlooker, the Researcher has a specific purpose in mind when checking the content of the blogs it reads. In some cases, this may be to monitor what is being said about the organisation itself (akin to the press cuttings file of days gone by) in which case the research could be done internally (perhaps using Technorati and Google Alerts) or by using a 3rd party specialist. However, in many more cases, this research is a key phase in planning and launching its own corporate blog and provides invaluable information on who the key bloggers are and what conversations are currently taking place.

    The Contributor
    The Contributor is an organisation which has taken its first steps in interacting with the blogosphere, by leaving comments on other blogs and thereby participating in the conversations already taking place. This should always be done transparently and individuals posting should state that they work for and are representing the company when commenting. Contributing to the conversations is not the only benefit – leaving comments is a good way to practise ones own blogging style as well as promote the organisations own blog if it is to be set up.

    The Builder
    The Builder has done the research, taken advice and planned the blog accordingly and is now in a position to start and build up a company blog. Having its own blog is an important step for a company because it can now initiate the conversations, spread its own message and attract and communicate with people interested in the area. It also gives a place to direct people as you continue to comment on their blogs. The Builder is now in control of what is being said rather than simply reading or reacting to others posts, allowing them to guide the conversation and the topics to meet with the requirements of the company.

    The Host
    Finally, there is a full immersion in the blogosphere with an active blog and an active community around it which the organisation engages with at all levels. Here the Host, through the blog, is facilitating not just a two way conversation with readers but a multidirectional conversation with a number of participants. Using the blog as a key central marketing and communications tool, the Host can develop the relationships it has with the blogs readers and, in doing so, build up both its own reputation and trust.

    In some cases, organisations are content with the way they use the blogosphere and have no great desire to change. Perhaps they want to use it for research but prefer not to use it proactively. Others progress from one type to the next, a bit like climbing the rungs of a ladder. Each step up the ladder means the organisation is taking a greater and more active participation in using blogging and increasing the number and depth of conversations that they have with those in their market.

    Of course, as the conversations develop so does the level of trust which is created between the parties giving an ever greater chance for business connections to prosper. Exactly what any organisation considering blogging is looking to achieve. So go on, don’t be a Sleeper – get on the first rung and see where it takes you!

    Images from Photographer:Scott Maxwell | Agency: Dreamstime.com

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    Last week, I was asked for some ideas on the time management of blogging by someone who knew he wanted to create a business blog, had gone through the initial planning stages with me and yet was still hesitant because of the time commitment he perceived was involved.

    Anyway, I went through some of the methods that I use in the two main areas that cause problems which are coming up with ideas for the posts and then actually getting down to writing them. Even though my own time management could do with some help just at the moment, I thought that I would share them here as well along with a couple of other methods that I haven’t yet used.

    Gathering ideas

    • Always carry a notebook with you to jot down ideas as they occur to you – this is probably the biggest source of topics here. However, you could also use your blog as a notepad, in which case you could consider using one of the voice to text services such as SpinVox.

    • Use your RSS Feed Reader to keep up to date with news from blogs which cover your areas of interest – the information comes to you, you don’t have to go looking for it everyday. What other bloggers are writing about is always a great source of both inspiration as well as information;

    • Use Google Alerts to generate ideas and research your marketplace and industry youll find some excellent ideas on using google alerts as a research tool on Krishna Des blog;

    • Use questions that you have been asked as the basis of a post. You might have been asked via email, at a seminar or conference or just in conversation, but if one person has asked then the likelihood is that others are wondering the same thing and so the answers in the post will be of interest to them all;

    • Develop ideas which expand on one of your earlier posts or themes, or from the comments which have been left on your previous posts. They come from your readers so are likely to be relevant to them.

    Writing

    • Use the (non private!) content of emails that you have written on the subject as these will often contain the core of a good information post;

    • Schedule a regular time when you sit and write your posts – it could be at any time during the day but just set some time aside as you would for other marketing tasks;

    • Consider writing a number of posts in one go. Some people find it much easier to write when they are in the flow so if “the mood grabs you” (!) then make the most of it – you can then schedule the posts to appear over the following days;

    • Plan and write a series on an important subject area for your readers – it’s much easier to keep going once you have started to write on a subject so a series is a great way to achieve that;

    • Divide a longer post into smaller chunks and present them over a couple of days;

    • Focus on what your readers want to read and this will help to focus your writing too as Seth Godin commented this week, “The mistake most blogs and books make: they are about the writer, not the reader”;

    • Bring in additional authors to post alongside you, either as guest bloggers or as co-writers on an occasional or semi-permanent basis.

    I hope that some of these prove to be useful and help in your own blogging.

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    Blog database backupIn the digital based world in which we live, if there’s one thing that we can be certain of, it’s that from time to time computers will break and data will be lost. Granted, hardware and memory is becoming ever more secure so information loss no longer happens with quite the same frequency as it did during my days at Psion during the 90s (now that ages me) when I recall people losing their agendas and address books on a fairly regular basis.

    Nevertheless, we hold more and more company critical information in digital form on PCs and servers which we would we lost without – as no doubt some of us have already discovered to our cost! :(

    Well, in your blog, you have another key business tool whose information needs taking care of, just like any other. For this reason, a word of advice – and one that I give to all of my business blog clients – remember to back up your database on a regular basis. Furthermore, just as you should be doing with the information on your PC, keep a copy yourself rather than solely relying on your host to do it for you.

    For WordPress users, there used to be a plugin bundled with the application code but this is no longer the case in recent versions. Luckily, the same WordPress Database Backup plugin has been taken on by Il Filosofo and updated as well. The most recent version has an added feature which is a godsend for someone like me that has good intentions on backups but all too often a memory like a sieve for them – you can set it to automatically create a backup on a regular basis and have it saved or sent to you. Great!

    If you prefer not to use a plugin or have a masochistic streak a mile wide in you (or for non WordPress users), then you might find this blow by blow account of how to back up your database in the WordPress Codex to be fun reading.

    However you decide to go about it, do remember to do it! Or a least keep a large swear box handy for when something goes wrong.

    EDIT: Hat tip to Graham Jones for this: it seems there is a new service called Blog Backup Online from Techrigy which offers automated database backups. Caveat – not tried it yet myself but might be worth a look.

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    Liz Strauss of Successful Blog fame has recently been running another wildly successful Group Writing exercise where she asked her readers to define their own metaphor for blogging, ideally to help explain it to those coming to blogging for the first time.

    A huge range of really good and incredibly diverse metaphors were forthcoming which it seems appropriate to share here so that you can peruse them at your leisure.

    There were also some “winners” chosen – randomly I might add, since my own Blogging Metaphor was one of them – who will be receiving a copy of Lorelles book “Blogging Tips What Bloggers Wont Tell You About Blogging“. The ten winners were:

    The complete list is given below. Enjoy!

    (more…)
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    Swiss Army Knife - Blogging AnalogyRecently, Liz Strauss set out a challenge to those of us who blog – write a blog post using a metaphor to describe blogging to help introduce or explain what blogging is to others.

    In taking up this challenge, I decided to do so looking at business blogs which is where both my interest and my professional focus lies. From this perspective, I would liken a business blog to a Swiss Army Knife (SAK).

    Like the Swiss Army Knife, I consider a Business Blog to be a tool which has 101 possible uses. All self contained, it gives the owner a range of options as to how to use it which will vary according to the situation that they find themselves in at the time. Often, the trouble is understanding all of the possible uses and then deciding which is the most appropriate for a given situation.

    It is something which is easy to use at a basic level but if you want to use it properly then it demands time and attention. When someone has taken the trouble to explore and understand the tool, has discovered how best to use it and has learned from the experience of others, then the results can be excellent. However, in the wrong hands, it could be considered as a dangerous tool to “play about” with.

    But remember, while it is a tool which can do all of these things, it cannot do them all at once. If you try to pull all of the tools out of the knife at the same time, then the result will be chaos and you wont be able to use any of them properly. Likewise, an individual blog should not try to be all things to all people it is at its best when it has focus and is used for a specific purpose.

    And how do I feel about it? Well, like the SAK, whatever it does and whatever I use it for, it remains personal to me – I feel a sense of pride in owning it, using it and maintaining it. I make sure that it is fit for purpose so that it works for me in the way that I want it to and the way that it was designed to. It works for me and it’s personal to me at the same time, and I hope that that comes through in the way that I use it.

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    Flora London MarathonLast weekend, once again I watched the London Marathon and, once again, felt hugely inspired by those people taking part.

    I was inspired at two levels: firstly, by the thousands of people who were taking part in the Marathon for a thousand individual reasons to achieve personal goals or to do something for others by raising money for charity. And I was also inspired by the athletes in the Elite races, for the most part professionals now, who were competing for the top honours and to win the race itself. Incredible talent, work and commitment.

    It is this mix that, for me, makes the London Marathon and the other major city marathons around the world events like no others as they bring together runners of all abilities, with differing motivations, goals and expectations then giving them a place to express this.

    I am compelled to say that, albeit in a very different way, the blogosphere offers similar opportunities.

    How so? Well …

    • The mix of bloggers for starters. There are expert bloggers – the so called ‘A’ List bloggers – who are trailblazers in many respects and have shown us the way that blogs can be used. There are also those who earn a living from blogging and of course the many millions that write, with varying success, either from a business or personal perspective.

    • People blog for many different reasons – these may stem from the desire to publish their thoughts and raise their profiles in the case of personal bloggers, through to corporate blogs intended to develop prospects, partnerships and sales.

    • Both require Planning and Preparation – to be successful, the hours of practice that the runner puts in is mirrored by the conscientious blogger spending time in researching, writing and publicising their blogs.

    • Cooperation and mutual help is the name of the game – there is an attitude of cooperation that seems to exist between bloggers which is mirrored in the way that they reference and support each other through linking, advice etc. I saw the same community spirit in the marathon with runners encouraging others and helping them to finish.

    • Enthusiasm: blogging is all about expertise and authenticity in my opinion and, at the core of that, is the enthusiasm you need to be dedicated enough to make a real go of blogging, whatever your aims.

    • Practice makes perfect – knowledge and reputation grows over time, so it is likely that a blogger will need to persevere to make an impact and gain the respect of their readers and peers.

    As a result, I believe that the analogy is valid and that the diversity, dedication, commitment and enthusiasm that I witnessed last Sunday is also present in the blogosphere, demonstrated by those who wish to take the medium seriously and/or use it for their own ends.

    It was also a useful reminder, as I close off both this analogy and the comparison, that developing and running a successful blog is much more akin to participating in a marathon than it is to running a sprint.

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    Calls to actionWell, this weekend, I’ve been doing a fair bit of decorating at home in readiness for our imminent arrival at home. This had a couple of consequences: firstly, it reminded me that I’m still no Michelangelo with a paintbrush and roller and, secondly, it gave me the opportunity to listen to the radio rather more than I have done for a while.

    One of the things that intrigued me, apart from the fact that I still recognised a lot of the music, was the way the adverts have developed since I used to listen to radio driving about in the car. The medium has clearly evolved quite substantially since then and become more sophisticated – certainly, advertisers have developed a number of different ways of attracting and holding our attention with their adverts.

    Putting my marketing hat on for a moment, I found it interesting to listen to the way in which the calls to action were done. Of course in days gone by, the only real call to action was to get people to phone for more information. Interactive and immediate. You call, you can ask questions, you can chat to someone.

    Obviously that’s still used but, naturally enough, advertisers have added websites into the mix over the last few years, so we now get:


    Go to www dot la-de-dah dot com for more information.

    Thats okay, but while it’s immediate, its not interactive in the case of most websites. Unlike using the phone, you can’t easily ask specific questions so you have to make do with the information available. Surely what we need to get back to is the interactive element that a telephone call could offer so that we can advance the selling process more quickly? If so, then presumably that’s something that blogs can help us with by providing an online route for the conversation to start to take place.

    The other thing is how to encourage people to visit your site. Rather than a simple go to, how about join us at or visit us or even talk to us at. Somehow that seems more inviting and so more likely to be acted upon. Do you agree? If you do, then what call to action would you suggest?

    Or maybe the paint fumes have gone to my head and I’m just imagining the whole thing.

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    Business blog designWhen I consider Business Blog Design, Im not just thinking about the graphics side of blog design, but rather all of the elements that go together to make a successful business blog. For me, the key aspect to the design is that it should enable your business blog to support the business goals that you are looking to achieve with it.

    Use your blog’s “prime real estate”
    To make this happen, you need to ensure that you place the elements which are most important in achieving these goals in the most prominent places. These are areas which are going to be viewed most often by your readers and so, in property terminology, would be your blogs prime real estate. Generally, these will the areas in the header and at the top of the columns and, to a lesser degree, all of the area above the fold (ie. what you can see on screen without scrolling). Use these areas carefully when designing your blog.

    What should be the focus?
    There is no single answer as to what should be there, simply that it should support the business objectives of your blog. So if you are looking to increase subscriptions to a free download, course or newsletter, then make sure that the sign-up box sits prominently at the top of your page. Likewise if you have a special promotion or service to push or perhaps a book that you want to publicise, then make sure that there is a clear link there through to a page where you can talk more about it.

    In addition to this, there are certain other key factors that you really need to be focusing on when it comes to the design of a business blog. To help on this, I’ll be doing a series of posts here which will cover these points in more depth starting next week – check it out, I think it’ll be useful! ;)

    Some key elements to consider
    However, in the meantime, these are the areas of blog design that I believe should carefully be looked at, with a brief overview of why that’s the case:

    • Profile and contact details
      At the end of the day, the goal of 95% of Business Blogs is to encourage people to engage in dialogue with you so make it easy for them to do so. And while you are at it, take the opportunity to let them know a bit more about you oh, and dont forget the information you need to provide by law now!

    • Navigation and usability
      While you want to use the key areas for the elements that you particularly want to promote, you still need to make it easy to find all the information that it contains. As a basic, use categories and archives sensibly and let the blog software do the work for you there are some other tips on that which I’ll expand on in the Blog Coach post.

    • Blogging software generic templates
      The templates supplied with blogging software are the basic building blocks for a blog – in most cases, a common denominator which, by its very nature, needs to be all things to all people. It supplies a good basic format but can never give you the real benefits which will truly differentiate you from others and allow you to promote your key business elements properly. If you use a template, take the best from it but then make it your own.

    • RSS Subscriptions / Signups
      Just like an ezine subscription box on a normal website (in fact, make sure you have one on your blog – they work well together), RSS subscribers are important or even key to developing your business blog. So make it easy to subscribe and give them options such as specific chicklets or subscribing by email – incentives such as a free ebook to RSS subscribers are an added bonus.

    • Onpage advertising
      Its so offputting having to wade through adverts to get at the posts and its the posts that are going to do the real work for you – if you have to include ads then keep them clearly differentiated. Ideally, unless you really need to directly monetise your blog, dont include them. Youll get all the benefits you need from the extra business your blog generates.

    • Make it easy to leave comments

      You want to encourage dialogue, so dont make it difficult for your readers to leave comments – having to log-in or fill in a CAPTCHA (one way to protect against comment spam) just puts up additional barriers. However, make sure that you dont allow rubbish comments either which could damage your blog. Ah, so much to think about!!

    • Search Box

      It’s important to include a Search facility on your site by its very nature, a blog focuses on your most recent posts but is meticulous about storing everything that you write. Its the cumulative information that is the real value both to your business and to your readers. So its important that you give readers every opportunity to access it and the Search function is of course at the centre of that.

    • Categories and Archives
      Keep the names relatively short and where possible have them contain some of your keyword phrases. Like the Search function, these are key ways for readers to explore what you have written in more depth.

    At the end of the day, making sure that you have the basics in place is key after all, you are spending a lot of time on your blog and you want it to be successful for you and fulfil your business objectives. So get the design right and make sure that it helps and not hinders what you want you blog to achieve.

    A blog is wonderfully flexible, despite first appearances, so incorporate different side bars on different pages where necessary and ensure that they help re-inforce your business objectives. After all, a business blog is a tool (albeit a very powerful one) so make the best use of it you can and make sure that the blog design supports the business goals … and not vice versa.

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    If I see one more person just one!! introducing blogs simply as the magic solution which will instantly turbo boost my sales or promising to show me the one secret about blogs that the experts dont want me to reveal that will skyrocket my bank balance I think Im going to snap.

    [The image you want to conjure up at this point is from Fawlty Towers – just cast your mind back to the car breaking down in Gourmet Night – for those of you without a copy handy, you will find that particular clip about 2 minutes into this excerpt.]

    Thats how I feel. Probably in red letters, bold , font size 30 with yellow highlighter pen over it!

    Why does it rile me so much? Wouldnt I be happy for small businesses and corporates alike to launch a blog and have explosive and instant surges of cash cascading into their bank accounts? Well, yes, I would of course be delighted.

    My issue (apart from the bad English) is that these people are setting unrealistic expectations and time frames – this results in people starting blogs expecting immediate success and then abandoning them because they fail to live up to these hyped levels.

    Blogs are excellent marketing tools, they are brilliant at developing dialogue and thereby fostering relationships and they do give great benefits in the Search Engine Rankings – all of this will bring new customers and greater visibility. But it will also take time and effort.

    So, come on people lets cut back on the spin and focus on the very real benefits that blogs bring to business. Dont think of a blog as something which will give an instant turbo boost to your sales consider it more as a top of the range car that you keep well serviced and which then provides you with years of high quality performance, higher profile and admiring comments.

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    I really liked Brian Clark’s post The Five Essential Elements of an Influential Blog over at Copyblogger. In fact, that is generally my reaction to a great many of his excellent posts so I’d certainly encourage you to get him in your RSS Reader if you haven’t already.

    In this post, he proposes that, to be truly influential and by implication gain the level of readers and traffic we are looking to, a blog should have 5 key components:

    • Simple - so that the core elements behind it can be easily communicated which will help your message to spread

    • Unexpected – so that it stands out above the others in its field either because of its different ideas or the way in which it expresses them

    • Concrete – so that the information the blog contains is directly useful to your readers

    • Credible – because your readers need to trust you and what you are communicating for the blog to be valuable to them

    • Story – which brings together and helps to communicate all of the other elements of the blog in a way which triggers not only an intellectual response but also an emotional one

    I think that from a Business Blog perspective, I would probably also add Focus to this list – while it may already be implicitly bound up as part of some of the others, I believe it worthy of its own mention.

    In some blogs, this focus can result in a blog with a relatively narrow field of content, but with a real depth of comment which makes it worth reading and hence influential. In others, the focus is more of a central theme around which other ideas gravitate and spark off from. In both cases, the focus is a key factor in the blog’s success and ultimately its longevity.

    Brian also concludes the post by stating:


    How you say it is important.

    But what you say is critical.

    Absolutely, but it is the combination of the two that makes certain blogs really stand out – Copyblogger among them, in my opinion.

    Business Blogs, whether run by large corporates or individual professionals like myself, should certainly aim for this. However, we need to remember that it is an ongoing process so making any change, no matter how small, will be a step in the right direction.

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