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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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    Social Media: here are all the key posts


    Social Media - coming ready or notI have been doing a number of talks / presentations recently to business groups and networking groups entitled “Social Media – coming ready or not!” and I just wanted to apologise publicly for this.

    I’m really very sorry!

    It’s not that I feel that they weren’t full of good information or that they weren’t well received or even that they only scraped that surface of the subject at hand – although the latter is certainly true (but hopefully not the others!).

    No, I wanted to apologise because I fear that the title is misleading. I worry that it gives the impression that social media, with blogging sitting at its centre, is something which has still to fully arrive and that we can watch its approach with a type of detached intellectual curiosity. I feel that perhaps people might think that if we all collectively close our eyes, then it might disappear and be replaced with something more friendly to the business marketing status quo.

    Or perhaps, in the tried and tested disaster movie formula, we feel confident that the “social media asteroid” hurtling on a collision course with Earth will somehow be diverted from its course and we will all be saved … probably by Bruce Willis, if cinematic history is anything to go by.

    This is all untrue. Social media is here … now.

    It is already profoundly affecting what we do and how we interact. From a business perspective, it is impacting how we find, evaluate, promote, recommend and share information, products and services, as well as how we rate the companies and individuals which supply them. And of course, conversely it is changing the ways in which companies need to listen to us, their customers, and engage with us if they wish to succeed.

    There are still companies which seem to believe that they can ignore or avoid it – well, they can certainly elect not to actively participate but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be involved. If people are talking about them then they are involved, albeit implicitely. Their reluctance to actively join the conversation simply means that they have no say in the discussion and so no control over what is being said or its future direction.

    So, I say to those companies and individuals defiantly sitting there like King Canute hoping to stem the tide, don’t fight it but rather embrace it. At the very least, make sure that you have the tools in place to listen to what is being said, but ideally also make sure that you have the tools and knowledge to participate and, preferably, initiate conversations. It will certainly be beneficial and you never know, you might even enjoy it!

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    There have been a number of comments over recent weeks (and indeed months) about the imminent death of blogging, to be generally replaced it seems with newer tools such as Twitter and lifestreaming.

    For a small minority, it’s possible that this may well be on the cards – however, for the vast majority, and particularly those using these tools for primarily business purposes, I would say that this prediction is premature in the extreme.

    Indeed, with the growing presence of social media as a marketing and comms tool in its own right, are we going to be seeing a decline in the role of blogging as one part of that? My answer is a resounding no and I’ll explain why.

    Blogs will play a central role

    It is true that there are major changes afoot – the industry is currently developing quickly ahead of an undoubted period of consolidation. As a result, I am constantly looking at the variety of social media which now exist, of which a business blog is certainly one. In the future, while the number of potential avenues for social media continues to expand, I still see a blog playing the central role for companies wanting to engage with customers and prospects using social media and general online methods.

    For instance, if we take some of the more popular social media tools as examples:

    • Microblogging in the current guise of Twitter is great but a little restrictive – it’s difficult to save evrything in 140 characters, so is often used to make people aware of other sources of information or to initiate connections;

    • Social networks are proliferating in many different forms from the monsters such as Facebook to the niche forums on systems like Ning – they come and go (some quicker than others obviously) but each time a new one takes hold you need to establish a whole new infrastructure and set of contacts;

    • Podcasts and video have their own key sites like YouTube or iTunes but in most cases, businesses fail to achieve an independent identity or forum with them alone, although cases such as “Will it Blend?” from Blendtech prove that it is possible.

    A blog, however, allows a business to bring all of these other elements together, creates a focal point for a community of customers, provides the company with its own social network hub whatever else goes on in the market and allows it to expand on the information disseminated on Twitter, YouTube or iTunes.

    Business BLog as your online home

    A personal analogy

    To put it another way, if I make a personal analogy, if I meet friends in a bar or a coffee shop, then they will get a certain picture of me through a number of different factors: what I am wearing, what I look like, where we are meeting, what I’m drinking, who I am talking to and about what etc. All of these things give a certain picture of me as a person but it is still a superficial one.

    However, if you come and have dinner at my home then you have a much more complete view of me. You see where I live, the type of house, the décor, the books and music I’m interested in, the decoration and style of fixtures and furniture, what I cook and what I serve for drinks etc etc. In short, you get a much more complete sense of me when you visit my home because it is much more multifaceted.

    To my mind, social networking sites, discussion forums, Twitter etc are all types of coffee houses where you can a first image of me. My blog, however, offers much more of an insight and is essentially the online equivalent of my home.

    You need a place to invite people to online

    Don’t take this as putting down the other social media tools or indeed other general online marketing tactics – it is just the opposite. All the other elements are great when used in line with a business’ commercial aims, but you still then need to have somewhere to “invite” friends back to online rather than always meet in proverbial bars / coffee houses. That’s where a blog comes to the fore, bringing all the other elements together as well as contributing in its own right.

    Think also that as you engage with other bloggers on their own blogs, there is only so much that you can convey when you leave comments, no matter how erudite and pertinent they are. What you need to have in conjunction is a place to develop your ideas further. A place to continue that conversation that you have started – once again, a role that your own blog would ideally fulfil.

    Effectively, as you look at the world of social media and the innumerable opportunities that it brings with it, to me it is clear that a blog sits solidly at the core of this activity. Personally, I see it as driving and conducting the online activity that a company undertakes and as the place to develop a community of readers that links from other social media will help grow and promote.

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    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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    Buzz MarketingMarketing Week ran a front page item a couple of week’s back which focused on buzz marketing – the question they asked was whether the new EU Law is likely to spell “The end for Buzz Marketing?” So what is it all about and are these bleak prophecies really warranted?

    According to Marketing Week, Buzz Marketing is “the practice of creating a buzz around a brand” with the focus generally being on newer online channels such as blogs, social networking sites to create Word of Mouth marketing etc. As it happens, the Law in question (The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations) doesn’t simply target the fake blogs which is where much of the article’s focus is placed, but rather any activity, online or offline which sets out to deceive or coerce consumers.

    Essentially, the Law is there to protect you and me from people making claims which are untrue or representing themselves falsely – an online example might be leaving testimonials on your own site under a false name or submitting a positive review of your company’s service or product without revealing your identity or without making your connection to the company clear.

    In the same way, flogs or fake blogs such as the “Walmarting across America” fiasco and the “All I want for Xmas is a PSP” which was more painful than deceitful, will now be illegal rather than simply downright stupid. As it happens, in these cases, the blogosphere did an excellent job of policing itself and the companies in question quickly admitted responsibility and withdrew the blogs.

    So is this the end of the world in terms of online Buzz Marketing, now that we are no longer able to lie to and deceive our customers without falling foul of the long arm of the law? I think not and indeed my own opinion is very much in line with Simon Quanse’s comments quoted in the article when he states that

    “the new regulations will only have the potential to affect those using “underhand” buzz marketing techniques”.

    Spot on.

    There are many innovative ways to communicate with, interest and interact with customers without deceiving them. Although not online in this instance, you only have to look at the recent Honda campaign and the “live ad” with the skydivers to recognise that these are great cases of buzz marketing and just because a fake blog or similar is the easy route, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the best, even if you can get away with it.

    So be creative and open and above all respect your customers – with those three things in mind, you’ll be in a position to create successful campaigns and keep your customers’ respect … as well as their ongoing business, I suggest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Very active in the right circles, markets or areas

    • The right sphere and level of influence

    • Trusted and Respected

    • Outgoing and communicative

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

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

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

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