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Why and How to Start Blogging Now

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Why and How to Start Blogging
Now

 

by Paul Gillin

 

Deciding whether to join the
blogosphere is relatively simple for small companies. If you?re passionate
about your work and can communicate, then you should be using this channel.
Blog about your market, your employees, your opinions, your craft, your ideas,
your causes, your travels, your customers, or whatever moves you. Launch a
monthly podcast to help your customers or your business partners work with you
better. Use it to transfer some of the years of knowledge you?ve accumulated to
the next generation. Put a microphone in front of customers and ask them about
their work. It doesn?t really matter. Just do it.

 

Social media are well tuned to
smaller businesses for many reasons, including:

 

It?s
all about search.
Google and its
competitors are the best thing that ever happened to small business. Companies
that can?t afford to advertise can achieve international visibility in vertical
disciplines through search performance. Blogs do exceptionally well on Google
because of the search engine?s fondness for frequent updates and relevant page
titles. A focused blog, podcast, or videocast that stakes out an unclaimed
niche in the market can come to dominate search results in a short time. The
more you write, the faster you?ll move.

 

Getting
personal.
One of the main reasons
people do business with a small company is to get personal service. Blogs and
podcasts are all about personality. If you bring a distinctive voice, a sense
of humor, and a hint of passion to your commentaries, people will feel they
know you. And that will make it easier for them to do business with you.

 

The
voice of authority.
Let?s suppose
you?re a small business that specializes in books on scuba diving. You decide
to focus on the new technology of closed-circuit rebreathers. Launching a blog
that helps people understand the technology and its benefits will get you quick
results. People searching on that term are likely to find your helpful
educational material on rebreathers ahead of the catalog entries of the
equipment companies because, remember, Google favors content over commerce. You
won?t get anywhere near that kind of cost-efficiency from advertising.

 

You
can?t beat the cost.
At monthly
prices that top out at $15, the cost of a blog is a nonissue. You can produce a
decent podcast with less than $300 worth of equipment. Your real investment is
time, so you have to ask how much of your new-business investment you?re
willing to channel into this effort.

 

Small-business owners and
employees are generally more resource-constrained and time-strapped than their
large-corporation counterparts, and the frequency with which you need to update
a blog—ideally at least once a week—can be a hardship. Owners of
smaller businesses also don?t necessarily have strong writing or speaking
skills or access to people with those talents.

 

But you can be effective enough
with a modest investment of time to make the effort worthwhile. Here are some
tactics to consider:

 

Specialize.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> If your topic is very specific and/or no one else is
writing about it, you can get away with a less-frequent publishing schedule and
still see good impact in search engine results and links. If you?re too
specific, though, no one will come at all. Or you may run out of things to say.
Try homing in on a new practice or technology that?s affecting your business.
Or take a tips-and-tricks approach, posting a new idea every week. Several
highly trafficked blogs take this approach; take a look at 43folders.com and
Lifehacker.com for ideas.

 

Be
offbeat.
Cater to readers? sense
of humor or the bizarre by featuring nuggets of trivia that relate to your
business. If you do books on politics, for example, spotlight the strangest
speech of the week. If your books are geared to pet owners, feature an
interesting cat fact or new pet-care idea.

 

Start
a diary.
Blog software is the
perfect format for recording a sequence of events because it?s organized
chronologically. Many of the most popular personal blogs on the Web are nothing
more than personal diaries of people who have a knack for finding humor or
meaning in ordinary events. Would other people be interested in knowing about
what you do? Don?t sell yourself short; there?s a little voyeur in most of us,
and peeking into the day-to-day life of others is intriguing. You can blog
about the process of finding good manuscripts or creating good covers or
dealing with temperamental authors. If you make a video showing tricks of the
trade you use, you can post it on YouTube or Google Video or another free service
and link to it from your blog. This is reality TV writ large, and you?re the
star, if you can just get the passion you feel for your work across to your
readers.

 

Use
audio and images.
All blog
software supports images, and a $50 digital camera can take pretty nice
snapshots these days. Illustrate the topics you write about. If your books are
about needlecraft, show some new styles they feature. If the books offer
weight-loss advice, snap some before-and-afters. Be sure to tag your images so
they get picked up by the search engines.

 

In the same vein, podcasting is a
golden opportunity for small businesses. You can get acceptable quality with a
couple of hundred dollars? worth of equipment, free editing software like
Audacity, and cheap or free hosting services. Try Q&A interviews with your
staff, or sit down with a steady customer and talk about a problem you solved
together.

 

How-to podcasts are also a good
bet. If you do how-to titles, help customers with ?tip in a minute? postings;
really keep your length to 60 seconds, and you?ll have a winner.

 

Celebrate
others.
Small-business owners
enjoy a level of collegiality with others in their markets that doesn?t exist
in the hypercompetitive big-business world. If others in your business blog or
podcast, point to their sites and compliment their good work. Send them email
and post a trackback, so they know you were there. You?ll get reciprocal links,
and everyone?s traffic will grow.

 

Quiz Questions

 

To assess the likelihood that
blogging will help you build your business, ask yourself:

 

Does
my company?s culture value transparency?
As we have seen, choosing to blog means engaging in a very open and
public conversation with all kinds of constituents. You will gain valuable
insight from this discussion, but you will also take your share of criticism.
If your management isn?t ready to respond to the skeptics humbly and
constructively, your experience will quickly turn negative. You must buy into
the perspective that being honest about your faults and shortcomings will
create a more trusting relationship with your market and ultimately lead to
better customer relations. If you don?t believe that, don?t get involved.

 

Are
we good communicators?
Not
everyone is. CEOs are often not the best people to participate in a
conversation because their hands are tied by investors, regulators, and the
media. Your good communicators may be buried three or four levels down in the
organization. Are you willing to give them a public soapbox? Do you trust them
to be positive and constructive? Are you willing to accept the possibility that
their celebrity will make them a target for recruiters and your competition? If
not, think hard before entering the conversation.

 

Can
we live with the commitment?
Don?t
start a blog because one incident motivates you to talk. Start it because you
want to create an ongoing conversation about something that is important to
you. You must be willing to commit to contributing new content every few days
for years. Your organization needs to join you in this commitment, because
others will inevitably take on responsibility for continuing the conversation.
This is why choosing a voice and a topic are so important.

 

Podcasting is a little more
forgiving. You can launch a podcast of limited duration, shut it down, and
archive it. But you probably won?t want to do that. Podcasting is addictive
once you start building an audience.

 

Do I
believe that small markets are important?
Most marketers over 30 were brought up in an age in which size and
scale were everything. Successful companies were big. The Super Bowl was the
ultimate marketing platform. It?s human nature to want to define superlatives
in terms of size. Even after seven years of serving small markets, I find
myself doing it all the time. But direct marketing to small markets, with their
engaged audience and focused conversations, can now yield response rates 10
times higher than those attainable with mass-market messaging.

 

Am I
ready for a wild ride?
No one is
editing bloggers and podcasters. There are many intelligent, reasonable voices
in social media, but there are also a few wackos. Fortunately, they don?t build
much of an audience, and their potential to disrupt conversation is low. But
you will encounter them, and they may be hard to ignore.

 

Although early social networks
were often undermined by disruptors, that isn?t happening in the blogosphere.
As more voices have joined the conversation—scholars, business leaders,
authors, journalists, inventors, engineers, politicians, and others—the
quality of discourse has improved. Mainstream media have become so dependent on
social media, in fact, that it is hard to imagine that professional news
organizations would let this channel go away.

 

With the voices of reason coming
to dominate the online discussion, people will be quick to forgive you if you
admit your mistakes. But it helps to have some Maalox on hand in the meantime.

 

Paul Gillin has been
reporting on the impacts of technology and media for 25 tears. Previously
editor-in-chief of TechTarget
and Computerworld,
he now advises marketing executives and CEOs on taking advantage of social
media.

 

This article is derived
from his book The New
Influencers: A Marketer?s Guide to the New Social Media
, just out
from Quill Driver Books, which is offering PMA members a special discount at
newinfluencers.com; click on the cover image at the bottom of the page where it
says ?best price on the web.?

 

 

 

Bet on It; It?s No
Bubble

 

Watching the phenomenal
growth of social media venues like YouTube and MySpace, some people have come
to believe that this is a bubble economy and have chosen to wait for a shakeout
before deciding whether to join the conversation. They will be waiting for a
very long time.

 

Social media isn?t a bubble
any more than email or instant messaging were bubbles. Bubbles need air in the
form of investment capital and inflated investor expectations. There hasn?t
been much investment in this market because there isn?t much money to be made.
Most social-media practitioners aren?t in it for the money. Instead, they seek
recognition, a chance to meet others, and the opportunity to influence markets.

 

As Harvard Business School
professor Clayton Christiansen has observed, disruptive new technologies
usually aren?t very good at first. But they succeed because they give people
the capacity to do something they couldn?t have done before. Automobiles,
radio, television, air travel, telephones, personal computers, and the Internet
were all clunky and awkward to use in their early iterations. Yet their value exceeded
the inconvenience of using them. Social media is in the second inning of its
game, and it will become stronger and more functional as time goes on. Talk to
an enthusiastic blogger and you?ll hear terms like <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>empowerment
, <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>expression
, and <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>community along
with conversation.
You will have to pry blogging tools out of their cold, dead hands.

 

 

 

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