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    Positioning as an Expert: here are all the key posts


    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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    Unless we are in a very fortunate position, then when we start a business blog we are likely to be faced with the challenge of how to attract visitors to it, how to encourage them to become readers and then how to build their trust and confidence in us and our blog over time.

    This comes through building, developing and of course maintaining a relationship with our blog readers and it’s a process that Ive been trying to represent visually for a while. Recently, I came across something that I feel comes very close while flicking through some books at home and one in particular called How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant which is written by Timothy RV Foster.

    In it, I found a diagram and section entitled the ‘Ladder of Goodwill’ which the author had developed to explain the developing relationship a supplier has with its clients. The various rungs on the ladder were described as ranging from ‘Nowhere’ at the start where a customer has no knowledge of you or indeed that you even exist, through to ‘In Position’ where you have the total trust of the customer and you are the primary supplier in your area or field. The goal of course is climb as high as possible up the ladder in your relationship with each of your clients.

    For me, I can see a lot of similarities with the way that we have to develop a business blog as well, particularly in the case of a small business or individual where there is not already a significant offline or online presence to act as a springboard.

    First of all, it is a case of creating awareness that the blog exists and developing its visibility through marketing or word of mouth, Then you need to get people to come to read it and have their first experience of what you are writing about and what topics you cover. To get a positive first reaction you need to make sure you deliver, ideally every time. Follow up on this by providing something (perhaps a newsletter or white paper) so you have the opportunity to reinforce the first positive experience. Building on this means being consistent in your writing and content thereby encouraging people to recommend your blog to others and share their experience. From there the positive experience can be developed further over time resulting in a loyal reader and, from a business perspective, perhaps a potential future customer as well.

    Each rung of the ladder represents another building block as you build a sense of confidence and trust in what you do and, at the same time, you are gaining the active involvement of your readers in your blog and your business.

    Of course, for a really active blog, youll be looking to have readers at all levels, hopefully all moving upwards! So how many readers do YOU have on each rung on the ladder?

    Ladder of Goodwill diagram is copyright to Timothy R. V. Foster

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    Business Blog PostsI am confused.

    This wont come as a shock to some of you who know me and have watched the increased addling of my brain through sleep deprivation caused by fatherhood. Just at the moment, though, I feel wide awake and a little bit peeved (yet still confused) by Jakob Nielsen’s latest offering “Write Articles, Not Blog Postings“.

    As you might imagine, I was intrigued by the title, so I started to read. The summary of Nielsens article states:

    To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough value added content that attracts paying customers.

    So far so good. I agree totally – this is the basis of a good focused business blogging strategy, particularly for consultants, topic experts and professional services companies such as accountants and lawyers. Value added content is the perfect way to develop and enhance your reputation as well as encourage the spread the word about your expertise – in the same way, a blog is the perfect way to publish and distribute this information and engage with the people interested in it who respond to your ideas.

    So where’s the issue?

    Nielsen continues that “Blogs are … fine for websites that sell cheap products”. From this, there is a very clear implied conclusion that blogs are not fine for other types of website – though why the link with websites at all, I’m not sure.

    In any case, patently not true.

    Blogs are communication vehicles to be used as the author sees fit. To link them to low value products shows, I feel, a narrow and outdated view of how blogs can be used in business, ie. an approach which concentrates purely on search engine rankings as his Pistachio nut example does. Good search engine rankings should be the expected byproduct of any well written blog on a certain subject, rather than the main goal. The main elements should be the conversations and the connections they generate as well as a focus on community and collaboration.

    It was at this point that I started to wonder whether Nielsen might just be being ironic. Was he perhaps using this long article as an exercise in linkbaiting, a concept more normally associated with the short posting that he dislikes?

    I read on.

    “Blog postings will always be commodity content: theres a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody elses work.”

    Arghh! So all blogging is commenting on somebody elses stuff? So who does produce the content in the first place, only people and companies who don’t blog? I’m well aware that I am using a blog post to pass comment here, but that is only to support my stance on the use of corporate blogs in a business environment, which I do in the other articles that I offer here and in other forums.

    A mixture of content and post types is vitally important. If you are looking to show expertise in an area, then you do this not only through new thinking (leading edge if you like) but also through an understanding, appreciation and indeed appraisal of other ideas and debates in your field.

    Ok, a few deep breaths and I’m feeling calmer, just calm enough to write that I feel very insulted by the distinction that Nielsen makes between his interpretation of articles and blog posts. Perhaps he should read more blogs? Personally, I find that I am drawn to those which are indeed in-depth with original content and driven by the author’s expertise, all of the attributes that he considers blogs to be devoid of.

    Rant over. I would have liked to had the opportunity for an open discussion with the author about his article but, as you may have guessed, he doesn’t use a blog so that is a bit of a conversation stopper.

    However, I’ll finish by saying that, for me, blogs need to be written with their audience in mind and that they should therefore include posts of all types, from indepth articles, to commentary on others’ opinions, to links to useful resources and news articles. It is in this way that we best show our expertise and engage with others, and also the way in which we raise the profile of our business and develop its reputation.

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    Don't be an expert blogger... just be an expert who blogs.

    I cant be sure, but I have a sneaky suspicion that there are a number of people who start a professional blog not so much because they are looking for any business benefits or to inform, but rather because they want to be able to say that they are a “Blogger”.

    This really is looking at blogging back to front. Their focus should be to show themselves to be an expert in their field who communicates this expertise through the medium of a blog, rather than portray themselves as a blogger who writes on a particular subject area. It might seem like a mute point, but to me this is an important distinction which really affects how blogging works as a business tool.

    As a reader, I dont go out specifically searching for bloggers to read, what I do is look for people writing with authority on a subject that interests me. For example, I invariably read Jonathan Schwartzs blog, and I do so because of my interest in what he writes about in his position as CEO of Sun Microsystems, not in his role as a “CEO Blogger”. It is what he has to say about the company and the industry from his position of influence that draws me back and makes me read what he has to say.

    For him, his blog has given him the chance to communicate with a huge audience and receive comments and feedback directly without the filters of management or the PR department. For me, it has allowed me unprecedented access to what a leading figure in an industry of interest to me has to say.

    Equally, someone like Brian Carroll at B2B Lead Generation Blog is an expert in increasing sales leads in a complex sale. Thats his specialism and the one that he writes about in his blog. Or Thomas Mahon of English Cut fame a Savile Row tailor who writes a blog to market his skills (and his suits). Both have very different and wildly successful blogs which are based upon their expert knowledge in their field which they have chosen to market through a blog.

    In the same way, when a lawyer, accountant, recruitment consultant, real estate agent etc. decides to use blogs to support their business, they do not immediately undertake a magical metamorphosis from service professional to blogger, they simply engage in a great communications method. And, closer to home, when I play tennis, Im not suddenly transformed into a tennis player (believe me, I have many people wholl back me up on this one), Im just someone who plays tennis.

    So, while I recognise there are skills to learn if you want to blog well, my advice to professionals intending to start a blog is not to do so to get a “Blogger badge” but instead focus on showing your expertise in your field and let that shine through in your blog rather than allow yourself to fade into the masses as a blogger who merely writes on a particular subject.

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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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    As reported last week, Google has decided that spending $1.65bn would be a good idea to acquire You Tube.

    Clearly, Google thinks this is a good idea, I would imagine that the founders of You Tube would agree and no doubt there are some copyright lawyers rubbing their hands in glee that they have a target with remarkably deep pockets to go after on behalf of all the copyrighted videos that somehow find their way onto the You Tube site.

    But just what makes You Tube so attractive when Google, along with the other major players in the sector, have their own products. Well, clearly the visitor levels to the site are a major part of this together with their spending potential for online advertising which is, let’s face it, Google’s primary source of income. But is that it?

    Personally, I’m tempted by the argument that the major players are showing that they realise that the social communities and social networks on the web are going to be the places which will continue to grow and where people will “congregate”. Where there are people, there is of course also value.

    And this is why I feel that it is particularly worthy of mention here. Blogs can also develop into a type of combined social and business network, albeit on a micro scale. The topics discussed and the type of people attracted will depend on the subject matter of the blog and will therefore be broadly led by the author who also imbues its , but it is the participation of the readers of the blog which really give it its character over time.

    Why are blogs particularly suited to this? Primarily because, when developed well, they embody the ethos of sharing and of community that social networks display. In successful blogs, information is freely shared and linking to other sources is generally done on a merit basis rather than because of a shared desire to belong to a “link farm of two”.

    In doing so, good individual and business blogs put themselves at the heart of a network or a community which forms around a blog. This happens because it attracts and draws together people with similar interests and allows them to communicate with each other. And that of course is great for business too!

    We may not all be able to create a community which we can sell on for a 10 figure sum (!), but in our own ways we are trying to do just the same as You Tube. We are creating an environment where not only the author, but all the participants can share ideas and opinions on a diverse range of subjects and learn from each other.

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    Whether they publish their work in the form of seminars, white papers, ebooks or “real books”, I always encourage independent consultants to use their Business Blogs to pick up on the ideas and concepts they have raised, expand on them and use them to initiate discussion.

    This of course has the dual benefit of not only opening a dialogue with new potential customers and re-affirming your own expertise in the area, but also provides an ideal extra outlet to promote the book or event that the ideas come from.

    I was therefore delighted to see that yesterday, Ted Demopoulos in his post Book Blogs for promoting and marketing Books wrote about some advice given by Michael W McLaughlin (co-author of Guerilla Marketing for Consultants) during an interview with him.

    One particular comment stood out, which was

    “Take advantage of the intellectual capital in the book. Expand, update, and take it in other directions, and do something with all the great material you wrote that didn’t make it into the book”

    I couldnt agree more! As a consultant, the Blog you use for your business is the perfect place to disseminate and expand on these ideas so benefit from it. You are able to develop the concepts if your blog readers request it and can add to their understanding as well.

    But you want them to buy the book and attend the seminar, do I hear? Well, if they like what they read then they will and by publishing it on your blog and gaining their interest in the subject you are making it much more, not less, likely.

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    Business blogs are an excellent business marketing tool for consultants. In fact, consultants and professional service providers are one of the best placed groups to capitalise on the key marketing and business development benefits that blogs can offer.

    As blogs can be both quickly and easily updated, and because they are inherently interactive, they provide the perfect opportunity to both display expertise and initiate a relationship with clients. The additional benefits such as a more prominent profile with Search Engines is a clearly a plus but the ability to show what you can do, and the knowledge and experience that you can bring to a project are critical.

    Looking at it from an overall business perspective, some of the main benefits that can be achieved through business blogs are:

    • Create a human face for your business: consultancy in its various guises can be very impersonal. What you know is clearly important, but who you are and your personality are also key to a successful customer relationship, as well as being critical branding elements and business tools for your business – so USE them!
    • Educational Marketing approach: use the content of your blog to show your potential customers about what you can do as well as inform them about developments and best practice in the area that you work in. This is a much more powerful approach than traditional direct selling methods and it will help to build better relationships with your marketplace and give you a positive “trusted partner” image.
    • Demonstrate your Expertise: as a consultant, gaining recognition as an expert in a certain field and being able to demonstrate real credibility is hugely beneficial. A blog can act as a shop window to these skills and is doubly effective if it is THE place to go for information in a specific niche. Using the internet for research, potential customers will certainly find the information they are looking for – so make sure that they find it on YOUR blog!
    • Interact with your marketplace: give a tangible feel to the services you offer and the benefits they provide by letting people interact with you by commenting on your articles, case studies or news releases;
    • Knowledge Leadership: when people are interested in what you are writing about, they will want to hear more and recommend you to others. By expressing your ideas and thoughts openly you will encourage this and help position yourself as a leading exponent in your field.

    There is still a reticence on the part of companies and individuals alike to open up and share more about what they can do – they prefer to keep that under wraps until a contract is signed or reveal parts only behind closed doors.

    In today’s environment where information is readily available, unless a consultant brings something totally proprietary then there will be many others in the marketplace offering the same. To ensure that customers find you first, it is critical to broadcast the knowledge you have – the greater the level of quality information that you share, the greater the chance of being found and taken on.

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