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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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    Building a successful blogYou want to have a blog which benefits your business – yes?

    You want a blog which people are going to want to come back to time and time again – yes?

    Essentially, you want a blog which is going to be successful – yes again?

    Well, to give you the best chance of a successful business blog, then you’re going to need to make sure that you tick all the boxes to ensure that all of the underlying elements are in place to make that happen. It’s not difficult but it is important.

    For me, there are 5 elements which are like building blocks that make a blog what it is, 5 layers if you like that constitute the makeup of a blog and so 5 key aspects that you need to keep in mind as you plan and develop your blog.

    1. Philosophy
    Underpinning everything else are the general philosophy needed for blogging – you’ve got to be comfortable with the basic ideals of what people expect from blogs or else you’re going to fall at the first hurdle. The key one is that of openness – if you, or your company, are not willing to be open and honest in dealing with the readers of your blog then the likelihood is it will not achieve the goals you have for it. Be transparent and honest, and you’re off on the right foot.

    2. Technology
    You need to build the blog on the right technology base so that it supports what you want to do with it. It has to be one that will help your blog achieve the requirements that you have for it, both now and in the future. Making sure that it can grow with your ongoing needs is key to effectively future proof all the work and effort that you’ll be putting in. There are a number of excellent blogging platforms available – my own preference being for the full self hosted WordPress – but just ensure that you pick one that will be able to grow with you.

    3. Business
    Getting the business elements right means that you are treating the blog as the business and marketing tool that it is rather than as a piece of technology divorced from the company’s aims and requirements. Getting the business part right means that you’ve planned your objectives and aims for the blog, know how you intend to promote it (including with social media tools in place) and have answered the 3 key questions in the planning phase which are:

    • i) What do you want the blog to be used for

    • ii) Who is your target audience and what do you want to attract to your blog

    • iii) What you want to achieve with it and how to measure that?

    4. Layout and Graphics
    The so called “look and feel” layer focuses on how the blog will be laid out and takes into account not only the graphical elements and branding but also how the layout and structure can reflect the goals of the blog and the company. In addition, the layout should support the business goals by ensuring that the key “real estate” areas are used as effectively as possible and navigation remain intuitive and compelling giving a “stickiness” to the blog.

    5. Content
    Finally the content is ultimately where your ongoing focus needs to be, with all of the other elements essentially being there in place to support and market what you write about. This is of course the key part which needs to have our ongoing focus since all of the other elements will ideally be planned and implemented in the planning and preparation phases.

    While the content element does rightly get the lion’s share of our attention and much of the online advice on setting up and writing blogs, the content will only work to its full potential in a blog built with a foundation of the other elements outlined above. They are what ensures that the content is correctly focused, distributed, read and shared – essentially delivering you a successful blog in the process.

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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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    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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    SEO in business blogs for rankingIt really is a total waste of effort setting up a business blog if your sole intention is to use it to enhance your Search Engine rankings. If you do, then youre not just missing out on the important benefits that blogs offer, youre also missing the point of blogs altogether. Oh, and in the process, youll also be jeopardising the success of your own, right from the word “Go”.

    “But I thought a business blog would help my Search Engine rankings!”, I hear you cry. “Absolutely”, I reply, “it will. Enormously so!”

    The thing is, thats not the point.

    Running a blog will give you the chance to do so much more, whether you are looking to use it to initiate dialogue with your readers, build trust and foster new connections with customers and prospects, carry out market research or customer service, or indeed any of 101 different business uses that blogs can be put to.

    And thats where your focus, effort and attention should be directed – your readers – not simply on helping your SEO efforts!

    However, if you do spend the time to keep the content of your blog focused on what your target audience wants then, believe me, the much lauded “Google Juice” will flow naturally because of what you write and the way that you write and structure it. However, it will do so as an automatic by-product rather than the sole aim.

    The same values hold good in all areas of social media – concentrate on the people you are talking to and what you are talking about and youll go far. Social networking sites, for example, are called that rather than Google Ranking sites for a reason. If Google is your main reason for being there then the networking activity will ultimately die, killing your presence on the site along with it.

    I might add that if you use these tools to do nothing more than sell, then youre also missing the point and once again youll find that this comes back to bite you. Using social media to employ the same “old school” marketing tactics that we, as consumers, are rejecting en masse shows a lack of understanding in my book not only of the medium but of people.

    Anyway, enough ranting about this – back to my main point. Business blogs are great in providing enhanced Search Engine opportunities but try not to focus on this to the exclusion of everything else or you risk losing everything. Focus instead on your readers and I guarantee that your SEO desires and requirements will follow.

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    Business Blogs Grow UpI’ve been running this blog for nearly three years now and have seen a lot of changes in the acceptance and usage of blogs in business during that time, first in the US and then more recently here in the UK as well.

    Unlike many, I never really entered the blogging fray with a truly personal blog which was designed simply to broadcast my opinions – that wasn’t of interest to me. Personally, right from the start I have approached blogging from a standpoint of it being a business tool – hence the name of this blog – and wanted to share those business possibilities with others.

    Blogging is Dead, Long Live Blogging

    Latterly, I’ve seen a spate of articles about the death of blogging, most notably one on Wired – however, I have been encouraged by the quantity of comments on these posts which in the most part have been supportive of blogging. For me, blogging as I perceive it (ie. in business terms) is not only not dead, it is still to reach its prime – in terms of the Technical Adoption Lifecycle, I see it still very much in the Early Adopter phase, particularly in the UK.

    This was made abundantly clear to me last week in two very different situations:

    • in the first, I was giving a presentation to a group of marketing managers on “Blogging and Social Media” at a workshop run by Generate UK. For most of the attendees, blogging was still something which they were planning and preparing for rather than tiring of it.
    • Equally, in the second, a meeting with a FTSE100 company demonstrated their desire to fully engage with blogging, but only subject to demonstrable benefits and previous examples. Once again, classic drivers for companies in the early and late majority phase.

    In both instances, after discussion, it was clear that there were still huge benefits to be had for them from starting a corporate blog, supported by other social media activity we looked at.

    A great response

    The best overall response to the “Blogging is Dead” theme, though, came from the Economist in an article entitled Oh, Grow up with “Blogging is no longer what it was, because it has entered the mainstream” as its subtitle.

    Spot on – that’s exactly what has happened.

    I particularly loved the analogy that was made with PDAs, not least because I was working at Psion as handheld computers went through their initial boom and bust phase and so have first hand experience of the way that particular market morphed into what we see today.

    “Gone, in other words, is any sense that blogging as a technology is revolutionary, subversive or otherwise exalted, and this upsets some of its pioneers. Confirmed, however, is the idea that blogging is useful and versatile. In essence, it is a straightforward content-management system that posts updates in reverse-chronological order and allows comments and other social interactions. Viewed as such, blogging may “die” in much the same way that personal-digital assistants (PDAs) have died. A decade ago, PDAs were the preserve of digerati who liked using electronic address books and calendars. Now they are gone, but they are also ubiquitous, as features of almost every mobile phone.”

    I see blogging as such. The way in which I see blogs and websites merging more and more reaffirms this small businesses I work with are now deciding not just to set up a blog but rather use the technology to run their whole site giving them control over updates, the ability to post and distribute information as required and of course the all important interactivity.

    For me, the research by Gartner reiterates this in their Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. They also position Corporate Blogging at the start of mainstream acceptance and use as you can see in their diagram below.

    Business Blogging by Gartner


    Where do we go from here …?

    Well, if I had to sum all this up, I think that I would have to say, that if you are looking to start a business blog because you think that itd be a cool and trendy thing to do then youre probably a couple of years behind the times now. Have a look at Twitter instead (in fact you should anyway – follow me for starters at www.twitter.com/BlogCoach) but be prepared to move to the next up and coming technology when it arrives.

    However, if youre starting a blog because of what they can bring to your business, and you want a tool that will really help your relationships with customers and prospects as well as generate new business for you, then you have found the perfect time to start a blog for your business. Just make sure you plan ahead and set it up to future proof your investment.

    So now, without even an small tear of remorse in the corner of my eye, I can happily announce that blogging is now all grown up – and rearing to show you what it can do!

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    Spotlight on UK Blogs - all postsI used to run a series here on Better Business Blogging called Spotlight on UK Blogs where I’d link to business focused blogs based in the UK which had caught my attention. The aim was to show a cross section of what people and businesses were writing about and how they approached the task of using blogs in their business activities. As a result, the posts contained a mix of Blogs displaying a range of topics and styles.

    I haven’t written one for a while but there has been such an upturn in the use of blogging for business over the past year that I feel a return for the series is long overdue and so will be starting again next weekend.



    As an intro, and because it is particularly relevant in the current economic climate that we all find ourselves, there’s one that I’d like to draw your attention to ahead of this. It’s also one that I have been following avidly over the last couple of months simply because of the sort of information it has been offering. The blog in question is Peston’s Picks written by the BBC’s economic editor, Robert Peston.

    So why do I think that this is a good example of a blog? I think because it goes back to the core elements of clear writing and pertinent topics, couple with excellent use of the immediacy of the web. Specifically, it offers to us as readers:

    • Authority: whether it’s direct reported information or informed opinion, you get the feeling from the blog that this where you need to go to get the low down on the subject at hand;

    • Instant access to news: when I’m looking for an up to date view on the latest situation in the financial markets or general economy then I know that I’m likley to find it here first;

    • Clean format: the short paragraphs and clean text doesn’t distract the reader away from the information being displayed, while the overall format gives a clear branding message while still making it clearly RP’s;

    • Encourages Debate: no matter whether it is because of the topics covered or the way that they are covered, the posts encourage comments and discussion, which then duly arrive!;

    • Informed opinion and trust: this comes clearly across as an expert writing about a subject area that knows intimately. As such it helps develop trust in both him and the information he provides;

    • Encourages further reading: the use of the sidebar encourages further reading of the blog and, just as importantly, makes it easy to do so.

    • Authentic voice – when I read the words I can hear Robert Peston delivering them. That adds to both the experience online and when we see him elsewhere

    Are these what we should be looking for in every blog? No, not necessarily. Every blog has a different goal and hopefully uses what a blog format and technology can offer to help achieve them. However, as I’ve often said before, it’s not the technology which makes a blog, it’s the content; and here, I feel that the content delivers on all counts, allowing the blog to then do its job too!

    BTW, if you have UK Business Blogs you’d like to recommend, then please drop me a line or leave a comment here. Thanks everyone!

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    Well, according to Comscore’s latest report, YouTube has now overtaken Yahoo and sits in second position (behind Google of course) when it comes to online search. Quite an achievement! But, to be honest, it some respects, it really doesn’t matter where they are in the rankings – the fact is that the 60m+ visitors it attracts on a monthly basis speaks volumes on its own. It also begs the question – how are you using video to benefit your blog and your business?

    Where videos prove their worth

    Video, together with the increasing use of social media such as blogs, social networking and podcasts in marketing, has been winning new fans because of the extra dimension that it can give to our marketing activities. Using video not only helps to differentiate you from your competitors, it also allows you to convey your message in a different way.

    The use of video has had a huge rise in popularity over recent years, with steeply rising user numbers. YouTube, with its estimated 64 million visitors every month leads the way, (more…)

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    Linking Business Blogs and Corporate BlogsLinking is part and parcel of blogging and its an important part of it as well. The blogosphere thrives on links & connections and those blogs which create those outbound links will tend to thrive with it.

    Put simply, linking out is good good for your blog and good for your business.

    As you link to others, you strengthen your own position. Partly because you are validating and supporting the content of your posts but also because you are developing a repository of information which will benefit the readers who are attracted to your blog.

    In fact, there are lots of positive reasons for linking to other blogs and sites which I tend to categorise as follows:

      Informing your readers and Supporting your posts

      Links are probably the sincerest way of recommending other blogs as valuable sources of information – you are effectively giving them a big thumbs up. Equally, they are an important way of providing reference sources to support and corroborate the arguments or assertions you are making in your own posts.

      Business & Blog Promotion

      By linking out, you will also be spreading the word about your own blog. If you use trackbacks to the sites you link to, then youll appear in the comments section of the post you’re referring to, giving more people the chance to find your blog. Owners of blogs are also generally interested in who’s referencing them, so you’ll often get a visit from them, and hopefully they’ll like what they find!

      Developing Reputation and Creating Value

      You will get more readers using your blog as the start point for their research, primarily because they trust the information and the links that you provide effectively, in your area of specialism, you act as their online directory and general resource. For them, you become THE person to go to.

      Creating Community & Networking

      By linking to other sources, you are creating a mini resource in your area of expertise this in turn can start to generate a community or network of readers using it with you and your blog at its centre. The links you provide help your readers to learn more about the subject and direct them to discussions going on elsewhere. Essentially your blog becomes the place where your readers know they can get up to date information on issues that they consider to be important.

    So next time you worry about linking to other sites, blogs or resources of any type, try to think instead of the business benefits instead – not just to your readers but to you as well.

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    Blogging Guidelines and Blogging PolicyEarlier this month, I wrote briefly about company blogging policy as part of my commentary on a piece covering the Blogging Guidelines issued by the IOC ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

    Yesterday, I read a news story by Anne Broache at CNet News.com entitled Corporate employee blogs: Lawsuits waiting to happen? which looked at some legal issues that Cisco are currently experiencing regarding one of their managers who had been anonymously running a blog on patents where he had commented on cases regarding Cisco without revealing his connection with the company.

    This particular case is quite specific but there are certainly some lessons to be learned from it which have a more general impact on companies, irrespective of their size, which are developing blogging guidelines of their own.

    One element which Cisco has added to their own Blogging Guidelines following this case, covers the premise that where there is responsibility then there also needs to be clarity. This may be simply that the blogger works for the company in question or that they have a specific commercial role covering the subject area of their blog which means that their opinion is no longer objective. Their addition states:

    “If you comment on any aspect of the company’s business or any policy issue the company is involved in where you have responsibility for Cisco’s engagement, you must clearly identify yourself as a Cisco employee in your postings or blog site(s) and include a disclaimer that the views are your own and not those of Cisco.”

    To restate this in general terms, I’d normally advise that bloggers do not hide their identity and certainly not their business affiliations – they should also clearly state on their own blog that the views expressed are solely theirs and do not reflect those of their employer.

    This is of course presuming that they are discussing subjects related to their work – if it is on a hobby or non work related topic then clearly there is no potential for professional bias coming into play and hopefully no conflict of interest. This is nicely summed up by Bob Pearson, VP at Dell who makes the comment:

    “If someone is a fisherman and they want to talk about fly fishing outside of work, then that’s not our business, it’s personal. But if someone is going to talk about notebooks and anything related to Dell, they have to say they’re from Dell.”

    The same is also true of leaving comments on other blogs, something which should also ideally be covered in a blogging policy. If it is a subject related to the company you work for then you would be wise to state your connection – in these matters transparency is everything and it can be potentially damaging if you are discovered trying to pull the wool over the eyes of others. You may remember the fall out from the “Walmarting across America” fake blog – if you are leaving ‘fake’ comments in a close knit community that you want to work with, then the impact on your company’s reputation can be equally damaging. So don’t!

    For me, I think that in many respects the less formal take on it that Microsoft adopts is good, and focuses on the use of common sense. However, having said that, I have come across a noticeable absence of common sense from time to time, so their use of a list of FAQs which deals with how employees should apply existing company policies on confidentiality and other matters to the blogging world seems to be a sensible approach to take. When you create your own guidelines, do make sure that they are readable, accessible, understandable and applicable -then you won’t go far wrong.

    If you are looking for help or guidance in creating a Blogging Policy or Blogging Guidelines then please get in touch. Alternatively, below you will find some links to documents which cover either internet or blogging policies from a range of companies that you may find useful as well:

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    Over the past couple of weeks, Ive had a number of enquiries from different social networks, or rather from certain of their members, asking me to join their networks. Granted, many of these are automated – which amounts to spamming by the website owners in my view, but thats another story – but this has nevertheless been a clear demonstration to me of the continuing growth and proliferation of social networks.

    Networks and networking in general are hugely important to businesses of all sizes and small businesses in particular. Therefore joining these social networks or business networks is undeniably useful to a point – although I feel that it is nigh impossible to maintain a useful presence in more than a few before you spread yourself too thinly and get lost in the crowd.

    The problem as I see it though, is that when we talk about social networks, we are usually merely refering to a website or platform. All the new social networks that keep appearing are in fact just different websites whose main focus is to create their own network environments (with associated revenue potential) rather than really help us to create our own personal network.

    This is potentially in conflict with what we are all actually interested in, which is our own network (whether that be social or business), made up of people that we want to communicate, interact and deal with.

    As individuals or as businesses, what we really need to do is create our own network, a network which exactly matches the interests, goals and requirements that we have. In fact, a blog is an excellent way to achieve this and to create not only a network but, where possible, a community focused on a specific area. It allows people who just want to network and connect with you to do so, and it gives you the means and opportunity to develop those relationships.

    At the end of the day, by all means join as many networks as you can realistically participate in but chose them according to the goals that you have for your business and use them for the benefits they bring at the time. However, if you truly want to participate in a network which will endure and will best serve your networking goals, then set up a business blog where you can create and develop your own.

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