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  • Warren: Blogging and Social Media definitely go hand in hand. Having a successful social presence can do a lot for a...
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    Reputation & Credibility: 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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    How many times have you been in a position where you are looking to buy something and yet are faced with an enormous choice of seemingly similar products. What’s the first thing that you think of doing? If you’re like me, you’ll either do a search on the internet, get someone else’s opinion ... or do both at once.

    If that’s your chosen route to “product enlightenment” then you’re not alone and it seems that the both at once option is becoming ever more common with customers’ opinions on the internet being a key factor in the decision making process. One recent survey targeting Generation Y (also known as the yoof of today in common parlance) reported that some 67% say that they use online reviews as a way of deciding what to buy, with 21% specifically stating that they have used blogs to help them make buying decisions.

    However, this type of reaction is not restricted to the younger generation. We all trust the opinions of others more than we trust the marketing blurb communicated by companies.

    • On Amazon, people look at the reviews to support the selection they have made;

    • On ebay, the customer review section is important to get a feel for the sellers;

    • On Hotels.com, the opinion of others that have stayed there is as important as the hotel information itself.

    All these opinions have a huge influence on our buying decisions and, in each case, effectively what we are looking at is online Word of Mouth.

    Working with your blog is going to give you a real headstart here. It can be a key element in starting up discussions and giving the opportunity for people to air their thoughts and comments on the products. All of this if course, creates extra content about the product on your blog which in turn will help raise your Search Engine profile and attract more visitors a virtuous circle if ever I saw one!

    There are a number of ways in which you can develop it from there perhaps use the blog as a place to highlight the reviews or write posts which link through (sparingly, please) to the products area of your site giving product details, how people use them, where new developments will be etc. You may also find the blog develops a type of community feel for your products and certainly let people review and talk about them openly.

    Remember that personal recommendation together with both peer review and peer pressure are all key factors in our buying decisions, so let your blog help facilitate this and in the process give potential customers a timely nudge in the right direction!

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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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    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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    Last week, I wrote – granted, tongue in cheek – a post called How to avoid negative comments which looked at the problem of companies which are reluctant to blog because they feel that they will open themselves up to an avalanche of negative comments.

    Another concern that I often experience (rather than hear expressed) is a reluctance to link to other websites and blogs from posts. Creating links which go away from your blog somehow seems contradictory in many peoples minds. I think that this comes from the idea that linking out means losing something, whether that be visitors (and by implication potential customers) or Search Engine Power! as it were, in terms of Page Rank.

    Difference of Approach

    Its true that perceived wisdom online has always suggested that once you have a potential customer on your site, you should direct them to do one thing and one thing only get them onto the page where they can buy from you! This is exactly the right approach on sites which are set up with direct selling in mind however, that isnt the case with most blogs.

    Personally, I consider that there are 4 key things we are looking to encourage visitors to our blog to do Read, Reply, Return & Recommend as I explained in The 5 Rs of Better Business Blogging. If I had to pick a single goal for a blog, I think that it would probably be to get visitors to return and become regular readers. By fostering and developing these relationships, sales will still be the likely result if that is your end goal.

    Informing and Supporting

    The blogosphere works on different parametres from most other websites. It thrives on links & connections and those blogs which create those outbound links will tend to thrive with it.

    Linking is carried out for three principal reasons:

    1. referencing and connecting to sources of information as part of the support and corroboration that you are providing for one of your posts;

    2. as a general recommendation of other blogs as excellent sources of information;

    3. as a way to help readers follow an ongoing discussion or topic by following the links between blogs carrying on that “conversation”.

    So, as you link out to other blogs, you lend greater relevance and credence to your own. At the same time, you are encouraging others to look at and hopefully reference your own blog – trackbacks in addition to links in the body of your posts will help this.

    Creating Community / Network and Value

    Every time that you link out, instead of giving away or losing value, you are in fact gaining it. In the process, you are creating a mini resource in your area of expertise which will in turn help to generate a community or network around it with you and your blog at its centre.

    The links that you provide help your readers to discover more about the subject matter as well as follow and track discussions that are going on. They will use your blog as their start point for their investigations because they trust the information and the links that you provide effectively you become their online directory and general resource in your specialism. You become THE person to go go to for them.

    And, if you are worried that you are making it easy for them to find other authors on the subject, then dont. With Search Engines, they would find these articles anyway – however, by helping them, you are in fact strengthening your position, as you are providing them with a resouce and network which they will keep returning to.

    Conclusion

    So should you just link to everyone? Well, no. The quality of links that you provide and the sources that you refer to reflect on you. Equally, there is no point linking just for the sake of it – your blogroll of sites is likely to show your general recommendations so keep the links in your posts relevant to the subject that you are writing about.

    Above all, never worry about linking to other sites that you wish to recommend or refer to – you will find that just as you link to other blogs, others will link to you because your writing and blogging ethos merits it. What goes around, comes around – in a good sense!

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    No, not being offensive – just taking a stroll back down memory lane to my days as a linguist and in particular my Latin classes.

    The word Amateur actually comes from the latin amatorem (nom. amator) meaning lover, from the verb amare meaning to love. And one of the key elements that you really need to have as a blogger is a love or a passion for the subject that you are writing about. If you dont have this, then it will certainly show through in your writing

    Passion can make a real difference to how you communicate your message. Next time you are discussing something with friends, take a moment to look around and youll quickly spot who is truly interested in the subject. Youll see it in their body language, in the way that they speak, the words they use and how they interact with others. At the end of the day, they stand out and thats what we want to do when we write a blog.

    Even in business blogging, particularly when it comes to niche business areas, we need to communicate both our knowledge and our passion for what we are writing about – both will be factors which influence and attract our readers. As a blogger, if you are not passionate about your subject, then you cant realistically expect your readers to be. However, if you can get across your enthusiasm, then that can really be infectious.

    Of course, when we communicate in writing, and particularly online, we have to rely mainly on the words and language that we use. That doesnt necessarily mean that we have to spend more time poring over every comma and full stop, though. Very often something written spontaneously conveys our enthusiasm and the message we want to get across so much better.

    So to really get your message across when you blog, communicate with passion even if it does make you an amateur!

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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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    Theres been lots of talk about Edelman and the WalMarting across America fake blog (or flog) episode across the blogosphere over the past two weeks as you’d expect – lots of accusations and finger wagging, most of it justified. (In case you are blisssfully unaware of this then this, this, this or this will fill you in on the background).

    My own issue isn’t so much with the initial action (naive as it was) or the delay in Edelmans reply but the impact this type of action has. This impact is felt not only by those already blogging and using the blogosphere, but is even more telling on those companies still examining it and deciding if it is something they should get involved in. An episode like this can have a huge impact in terms of trust, something which is essential if people and companies are to consider blogs as a source of reliable information and hence worthy of their attention.

    A survey run by Globescan earlier this year indicated that the blogosphere still suffers from an image problem with only 25% of those polled indicating that they trust of the information they provide, less than other types of media. This is clearly an issue yet is one that can only be changed over time – episodes like this will only serve to set back that process.

    The need to be whiter than whiter at this stage of the blogospheres growth is critical. To many, the blogosphere seems to have a more of a reputation for outing information like a tabloid reporter rather than providing critical updates and valued opinion. This isnt necessarily true but thats not the point – its perception that counts.

    But like anything, there are differences. Trust in online sources has to be earned – not just for blogs as a whole but individual blogs within that. Those blogs which have shown themselves to be reliable and informative will build an audience which trusts and values the information that they provide, though it is all too easy to lose that trust.

    Episodes like this one with Wal-Mart and Edelman are embarrassing for the companies involved and also potentially damaging for the image of the blogging in general. If it gets tarnished by so called spin then it loses credibility and that could impact us all.

    I find it slightly ironic that blogs, which are such a perfect tool to help build trust and reputation, can result in such a public loss of both when misused. At the same time, I also find it reassuring that the reaction this has provoked shows that there is a self-regulatory force at play which will I hope dissuade others from attempting something similar.

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    It seems to me that, while most businesses could benefit from using a Business Blog as part of their marketing and business development activities, there are some types of companies which would find them particularly beneficial.

    Companies which need to present a human face to their activities: some professional services organisations have been known to suffer from a bland image. Using a blog, you can break down some of these preconceptions and reveal some of the personalities carrying out the work which will help to engender greater trust in what is a customer focused environment.

    Companies which rely on their specialist knowledge to attract clients: consistently demonstrating expertise in a chosen field can quickly help to build a positive reputation and encourage potential clients to gravitate towards you. Client case studies go part of the way, but displaying both your general and specialised knowledge over a period of time in a Business blog helps more than a sanitised case study can ever do. Think of it as multiple case studies on steroids if you like. This is particularly relevant for independent consultants and specialist consultancies.

    Companies which have progressed beyond the hard sell approach: direct advertising and the hard sell has become less and less successful as an approach. However, an educational marketing approach, where you provide potential clients with information on which to make their own informed decision on their purchase, has gone from strength to strength.

    Companies wanting to become more of a partner than a supplier: as you engage potential clients through your Business Blog, you develop trust and a relationship which can position you as a partner rather than a simple supplier. People prefer to work with and buy from people and companies that they trust and a blog will help to achieve this.

    Companies wishing to be THE information resource for their market niche: most of the information that your prospective clients are looking for is available on the web, it is just a case of finding it. So rather than let potential clients find it on a competitors site, provide it yourself or provide links to it on your Blog. You will become the preferred place to go for this type of information and so attract anyone interested in your niche to your blog. This is turn provides you with the ideal opportunity to open a dialogue with them.

    Companies organising conferences, seminars and exhibitions: blogs are the ideal focal point for collating and distributing information to attendees pre-Conference and for gathering feedback from them during and after the Event. You can update the conference details and add new information yourself, and you automatically develop a powerful online Search Engine marketing tool as well.

    Companies looking to develop a network or community around themselves: as a networking tool, a business blog can help in many different ways but one of its most powerful is when it allows the creation of a network of like minded people interested in a particular area. It is particularly positive for the company setting this up and running it because they find themselves at the centre of this network and therefore in a high profile position.

    Companies developing new products or services: customer feedback and input is essential in the product development process. By taking the step to allow this feedback to take place on a Blog, you are allowing discussions and generating ideas which can be invaluable to the process. Added to this, you have a group of people who have contributed to the product and so are likely to be its strongest evangelists and advocates.

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