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    Business Blog DiaryPrevious Instalment: Part 1 – the decision

    At the end of the day, the decision had essentially been taken out of his hands. Daniel could see that his competitors were already benefiting from the type of industry exposure and customer contact that he had envisaged getting for his own company. And this was coming from their blogs.

    However, this was NOT about keeping up with the Joneses – that would be pointless. To make it work for his business, he knew that he had to have a clear idea of what he wanted to do with the blog and what results he wanted it to achieve for him. He also needed to be clear about the people he was looking to attract to his blog – if he knew that then he could focus on writing articles that they’d want to come and read, and pass on others. This sharing of content was going to be key.

    This was the business marketing side and he felt comfortable with it – after all, it was what he knew and was passionate about. However, he also needed to know how to really use blogs and get the best out of them. How could he engage with his readers, how to set up a blog, what software to use, how to get it into Google? So many questions and much of which he felt he knew little about.

    He had to start somewhere. So he decided to check out what similar companies were doing online and how they were using blogs to promote their businesses. His searches on Technorati and Google’s blog search gave a lot of good starting points – he then followed the links they referred to and added the best ones to his RSS feed so that he would receive their news automatically. He could see RSS was going to be a real timesaver and made a mental note to make sure his blog would offer it too.

    He also used Google to search on “Business Blogging” and that provided some excellent reference sources – the more information he had, the better equipped he would be to get the best results out of the effort he’d be putting into the blog.

    Based on the advice there, he decided that the blog should appear as part of his current website as that would help promote all his other pages as well and that he would integrate it properly. It would give visitors to his site the ability to leave comments and ask questions directly – a great plus in developing closer relationships with them. It would also distribute and promote his information automatically for him, giving his company greater visibility.

    Having looked at the alternatives, he decided that a blog system called WordPress would probably offer the best solution – lots of future development potential and tried and tested on many thousands of blogs. In this instance, going with the crowd did seem to be the best option. He’d need to load it on his own server but it looked straightforward and, during his research, he’d also seen there were people around who could give help if he needed it.

    He felt that his readers would appreciate a constant flow of articles but would probably feel overwhelmed if he tried to send information every day. He planned to post 2 to 3 times a week and worked from that standpoint. He also felt that the he had a handle on the sort of information they wanted – a mixture of industry information, links, informed opinion and an insight into what made him and his company tick. He also wrote out a big “Don’t try to sell!” post-it note to remind himself that the blog was not a direct sales tool. That he knew would just be a turn off to his readers.

    Feeling much more comfortable about the organisation of the blog, it was now time to put that into action, get it set up and work out what elements would be important to make sure it had a successful launch.

    Next Instalment: Part 3 – the launch

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    Mindmaps for planning business blogsAs you may well have gathered, I’m a great advocate of planning your business blog before you set out and actually write it. It’s also good to keep that development going so that you can keep track of the different subject strands you are working with and allow you to expand them further.

    Previously, I’d always done this with pen and paper but have recently started to try something again that I first dabbled with a number of years ago as a student – and no, this is not going to be a politician-like cannabis related admission!

    What I’m actually referring to are mindmaps. They work really well in helping to develop different subject areas as well as extending the boundaries of what your blog could be doing for you – all without losing track of the key elements that you want to concentrate on and that your audience is looking for.

    Granted they are not for everyone but for someone like myself, who is very visually focused, they are an excellent way to visually represent ideas that you have for your blog and help you to develop them in different directions. And since business blogs need to be focused on and around the main subjects that you want to address, then using this method will allow you take your main subject areas and develop them naturally into adjacent areas. This is turn will help give your coverage of the topic even more scope and breadth.

    The mindmap of course does not need to be a static representation of your blog – by its very nature, it’s perfect to be developed as necessary. So as the needs and requirements of your readers expand (or even change) then so can the mindmap and your planning to reflect the additional elements that you need to be considering.

    As an example, I’m working through a new series for this blog at the moment on Blog Marketing and using a MindMap to help develop the different strands it should cover (still work in progress of course)

    This particular one was created using MindMeister which has an excellent free option as well as the upgrade to their premium and team services. However, even the free version gives you the chance to collaborate with others so if you have multiple authors on your blog then it would be an ideal tool to help co-ordinate input from all of the them and develop ideas for new posts and future direction.

    There are a number of online mindmap systems which you could use and a good start point for information is would seem to be MindMapping.org which lists a whole range of these elements as well as a range of other mindmap related resources – well worth checking out.

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    When creating a successful corporate blog, there are a number of elements which come together to make it what it is. The content itself is key to this, but the words just form the final part of the blog and one which is supported by a number of other layers or building blocks. Together, they help to determine the blog’s focus and its effectiveness.

    The more that I work with companies (large and small) on their business blogs, the more I see how these different layers must work together to give the right results. This is the case whatever the size of the organisation, though the timescales can vary enormously. A large corporate blog may take several months to come to fruition, not because there are additional elements but due to the number of “interested parties” involved. With a small business blog, the decisions are often made instantly and so the timeframe is shorter; however, the business challenges are similar.

    In both business and corporate blogs, the structure and elements involved are made up as shown below.

    Anatomy of a Blog: Layers and Building Blocks

    1. Philosophy Layer
    The foundations of any business blog should include the basic principles of blogging, which hold true for organisations just as they do for individuals writing their own personal blogs. These would include openness, two-way communication, passion, writing with an authentic voice, authority and personality.

    An organisation intending to establish a blog should consider these carefully as well as the business ideals they embrace. If the company culture is one which does not have the flexibility and openness to accept and apply them, then it is unlikely that it will be able to use the blog to its full potential and it may be better served using other online marketing media.

    2. Technical Layer
    The selection of the blogging software to be used forms an important part of the technical layer together with how the blog is integrated with the company website (or set up separately), the internal IT requirements of the company and the hosting structure required.

    The choice of blogging platform can compromise a corporate blogs potential from the outset if it cannot support the elements needed to achieve the blogs goals. To help future proof the investment in time and money, the platform should therefore not only cover the initial requirements but also have the scope to develop over time as the business needs of company and blog develop.

    This might also take into consideration the technical aspects of Search Engine optimization, for example, which should ensure that the blog has the flexibility to allow page level customisation of elements such as title tags, blog tags and metatags.

    3. Business Layer
    Some of the most important decisions during the preparation phase relate to the overall business requirements of the blog and how it will be used by the company. The basis for these decisions will come from the answers to the 3 key questions which need to be answered right at the start of the process, namely what the aims and goals of the blog are, who its intended audience is and what it is designed to achieve.

    The answers to these questions will effectively decide the format and focus of the blog which in turn will dictate who is the best person/people to write it, how often to add posts, how it will be marketed and what impact it will make on various departments throughout the company. All of these elements form part of the business layer.

    Every successful business blog will have a particular business focus which will influence the way that it looks, its focus and the content that it contains. This focus can take many different forms given that the blog could be an internal blog (sometimes called a “dark blog”) serving a company, project or team or an external one used for branding, customer service, product development or any number of customer facing uses. [Some examples of business blog uses.]

    4. Blog Interface & Graphic Layer
    The graphics and branding elements are important parts of this, but they do not make up the whole story. In addition, the layout of the blog needs to be consistent with the business requirements of the blog so that best use is made of the space available to promote the elements which will support its business goals.

    If your business requirements dictate that you are pushing to get subscribers then your RSS and email subscription areas will be very prominent. If there are special offers or specific service areas which are key to achieving the blog’s goals then these should be made highly visible within the layout and design. Some of the other elements relating to the interface and graphic layer can be found in the Business Blog Design Series.

    5. Content Layer
    Last but certainly not least, the content itself. This is the most important single layer because it is the one that the blogs readers are most aware of and it is the content which will attract them back and turn them from “passers by” into avid readers. However, the content only comes into its own because of the interaction and support of the other layers.

    In truth, many companies and businesses tend to concentrate solely on this layer. However, the blog’s content needs to build on what was outlined in the business layer to achieve the right business focus for the company. This content will then be promoted, highlighted and pushed by the elements in the other layers.

    One important, yet often overlooked, part of content element is the specific use of the individual post titles and specific Search Engine oriented elements such as the titles tags, meta tags and general blog tags, all of which should be provided for in the technical layer.

    Summary
    A blog needs all of the different components to be working together to be really successful and, for a corporate blog, doubly so. A blog using a standard template rather than the organisation’s branding will be less effective, as will one built on a platform which makes leaving comments difficult or one that reads like a sales brochure. Equally, a business blog where all the other aspects are in place but which is aimed at the wrong audience will not achieve the success that it perhaps warrants.

    However, with each of these different layers working together, then the results can be excellent. The day-to-day focus can then be firmly on maintaining the quality and focus of the content and promoting it in the right areas to ensure that it can (and will) achieve the business goals it was designed for.

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    I’ve been trying to slowly catch up with some back reading from the last week when I had a bit of time away from the PC; so I am now trying to catch up with some great posts sitting snugly in my RSS Reader just waiting to be discovered.

    One I felt that I had to share was from Mike Sansome over at ConverStations – in his post, Is Your blog simply marketing insurance?. He starts with such an important point and commentary all wrapped into one when he says:

    We’re hearing more about and from companies launching blogs (good news), and many are doing it because it’s the hot marketing tactic (bad news).

    Now perhaps I should focus on the fact that businesses are considering starting a blog and just be content with that – I do work as a business blog consultant after all! But, like Mike, I’m also keen that they are launched for the right reasons and not just because it’s the “latest thing”.

    The right reasons will differ from company to company but they need to be thought through and decided upon before they start. By taking that extra bit of time to plan, the blog has 10 times more chance of being a success and delivering the sort of business results that companies are looking for.

    This was actually the point I made as my contribution in Ted Demopoulos’ latest book “What no-one ever tells you about Blogging and Podcasting“. As I wrote there, I always advocate asking yourself (and answering) 3 key questions before starting a blog:

    • What is the blog looking to achieve?

    • Who is the blog aimed at?

    • What results are you looking for?

    In an ideal world, these would form the basis of a blog strategy (scary thought, I know) and at the very least they need to be considered and written down before diving headfirst into the blogging unknown.

    Blogging may be hot and may produce great results but that doesn’t come from simply installing WordPress or setting up your Typepad account. Rather it comes from the planning you do before that and the work that you put in after.

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    Well, it has certainly been an interesting first month’s ride for Dell’s Blog! Divided opinion at the start from various bloggers on the format and content, lots of listening and interaction and now a change of name from One2One to Direct2Dell because of an Adult site which is also called One2One! Phew!

    So, what’s coming next? I guess that we’ll have to wait and see.

    It is, however, interesting to watch the changes happen and I have no doubt that there will still be more to come. Most of us launching a Business Blog go through the same sort of initial debates and modifications, albeit not under the intense scrutiny that Dell has had.

    While I do believe that a lot of what has happened could and should have been foreseen and planned for, nevertheless, there are certainly some positive lessons that we should take from the way in which Dell has dealt with this:

    • Plan ahead properly prior to launch but be ready and able to adapt
    • Accept and respond to criticisms online, but also offline where appropriate
    • Continue to communicate with all your readers, don’t just focus all your attention on your critics
    • Keep your readers informed, and explain why you are doing what you are doing
    • Don’t chop and change – if you decide to make a change then have the courage of your convictions and do it properly

    • Outline your intentions going forward so that your readers know where you are heading

    All about communication really and keeping your readers informed – and of course there’s no better way to do that than through your blog!

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