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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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    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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    HR, Human Resources, Personnel and blogsI was interested to see two opposing views expressed recently in Personnel Today of whether blogs and social media were of use in general and particularly whether they had a role to play in the area of company HR (Human Resources).

    On the one hand, there is the take that blogs and social network sites are nothing more than gimmicks and toys used by the younger generation and for time wasting by chatting with friends. The other view is that they are tools which have real potential to help HR managers in their work by improving internal communications and employee engagement, as well as changing how recruitment is carried out.

    As you might imagine, I am hardly an unbiased observer but I will try to give an objective overview of the value of blogs and social networks here.

    Using online Social Networks

    When we consider “social networks”, there is a range of different ones that we need to consider. These vary from primarily social to business social and through to purely business networks – examples being MySpace, Bebo and Facebook to eCademy, Xing and LinkedIn. The relative value of each from an HR perspective will vary, but I believe that when it comes to recruitment, the use of the internet and hence these networks is a legitimate (and increasingly important) method to identify potential candidates as well as gather additional information about candidates. Therefore my advice to individuals looking to use these networks for business purposes, either now or in the future, is to remember that you should never say something online that you wouldn’t stand by and be quoted on. The internet doesn’t forget and is seldom forgiving! Recruiters much less so!! ;)

    Using Blogs: external and internal

    In terms of blogs, they can be used in a number of different ways from an HR perspective. On the recruitment front once again, from a Researcher angle, an HR manager interested in recruiting a candidate can get a much more in depth and rounded view of an individual’s knowledge and general suitability via a blog rather than simply from a traditional CV. This approach may also help with the anticipated skills shortage which seems to be expected by the majority of companies. If the company is open to embrace the use of blogs (as a ‘Builder‘) in their own recruitment process, then using them to demonstrate how current graduate recruits view working for the company, as Cadbury Schweppes did, is certainly an excellent option.

    However, perhaps the biggest gains can be made through the use of internal blogs on general HR issues and the opportunities that they provide to open up the channels of communication within an organisation. Improved internal communications, dissemination of important HR information, better team working opportunities, improved employee participation in the company are all benefits that have been reported by companies such as Allen & Overy, Dresdner Kleinwort and Microsoft. They are also all benefits which are available to companies of all sizes through the planned use of blogs internally which can be combined with other collaboration tools such as Wikis.

    Safety Measures

    Of course, as with anything, this is open to abuse. It is possible that employees spend too much company time on social networks or in writing either their own or company blogs. It is also possible that there may be inappropriate posts made by employees on blogs which could lead to problems or even legal issues. For these reasons, it is always advisable that a company has a blogging policy, whether they are actually running a company blog or not. (For help in drafting one, contact details here.)

    Just as important is the employees’ education in the whole area of blogs and online communications. Running workshops which help employees to understand where blogs can be beneficial and which also outline the corporate lines which should not be crossed will often be the best way to approach this matter. They should give clear guidelines without stifling the benefits that blogs can accrue.

    Conclusion

    So which view of the interaction between blogs and HR do you go with? Well, for me, without doubt, there are potential issues raised by the use of blogs and social networks within a company. However, it is clear that trying to suppress this is unlikely to work and dismissing it is simply handing a golden opportunity to your competition to steal a march on you.

    Instead, I believe that embracing these communication media will reap rich rewards for companies though I’m also all in favour of ensuring the confidentiality of company information through education of potential bloggers among the workforce. Harness the energy, passion and ideas rather than try to suppress them and you’ll be onto a real winner!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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