If you’re blogging to promote your business and your brand, it’s essential to have a clearly defined plan. Yes, this seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many bloggers just jump into the blogosphere without doing a little bit of research, reading the work of other successful bloggers, and establishing some kind of blogging plan.
Yes, in blogging as in business it’s important to have a plan, even if it is just a loose outline. Some aspects that a blogging plan should include is a posting schedule, an organized set of categories and keywords, and a series of goals that the blogger intends to achieve (of course, you can always add keywords and categories later, or switch up your schedule, but really, most people operate better under some kind of set parameters and a good plan will help you start off on the right foot).
Setting goals, even small ones like “gain ten new high quality incoming links this week” or “move up five spots in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for your top keyword” is a good way to propel yourself through the ranks of the blogging community. Reaching these goals is also an excellent morale booster, especially when you look back at what you’ve accomplished on days you’re feeling discouraged. It’s important to remember that every blogger starts with just one opening post, even the Technorati Top 100.
You could also set writing goals, such as “post three times a week for the next month” or plan to a finish a longer piece such as a tutorial or glossary (your flagship content) by a certain deadline. Creating a certain number of informative podcasts and video posts is another potential goal.
Of course, you need to have the big picture in mind as well. What do you hope to accomplish with your blog? Do you want to be in the top five search results for your main keywords? Want to establish yourself as an authority and get consulting gigs as a result of your expertise? Want to use your blog to generate internet buzz about your company and products? Writing these things down and having an end result in mind will ensure that your blogging efforts are more focused and accompanied by a sense of purpose.
The type of goals you set should depend on your niche, your expectations for your blog, how much time you have to work on it, and most importantly, the sort of blogger you are. However, it is extremely helpful and even necessary to create a plan or outline, including a series of goals – and don’t forget to reward yourself with some kind of treat when you reach them!
Many people have realized the value and potential benefits of blogging, but they struggle when it’s time to actually write their posts and create their content. After all, it’s tough to maintain a blog and post interesting things day in and day out. However, the web is full of ideas and ways to set your creative capabilities on fire.
One way to generate new ideas and give life to old ones is use the social bookmarking and tagging sites to find new perspectives in your niche. Digg, del.icio.us, stumble upon, flickr, youtube, and other sites all have tons of user-submitted content, organized by tags. This system is referred to as a “folksonomy” – the practice and method of collective collaboration using freely chosen keywords known as “tags”. Users tag content with descriptive phrases and terms in order to share it more effectively with people who are interested in the same topics.
It’s important to see what others in your niche are talking about, and one way to find this out is to see what’s been tagged with your keywords on the various social media sites. You may be wondering, however, does this translate into posts on your blog? Here are five things you can do with knowledge gleaned from the social media.
1. Write a response to another blogger. Did you disagree with what they said? Want to add to their thoughts and bring a new point of view into the conversation? Use your blog to share your insights, and be sure to link to the inspiring post so the original blogger is aware of you (one caveat – keep your criticism constructive and respective – flame wars have no place on a business blog).
2. Create a round-up of interesting links. Did you discover all sorts of all cool sites and articles? Chances are your readers might be interested in them too, so why not post them on your blog? Don’t forget to write a sentence or two about each link so they know what they are clicking on.
3.Compliment another blogger. Come across another blogger or website that is simply amazing? Write a post about why they are so incredible and if it applies, use them as an example of a blogging success. Maybe even interview them and tell your readers their story.
4.Share what you’ve learned. Find an informative article or how-to that you really learned something from? Elaborate on that for your audience. Bonus points if you can post pictures or your own experience of following the original article’s advice.
5. Post a funny, creative, or intriguing video. When you’re simply at a loss for blogging words, youtube, vimeo, and other video sites can be your saviors. After all, if a picture’s worth a thousand words, a video has got to be worth at least a million.
What do you do when you suffer from blogger’s block?
Chances are you’ve heard the terms “web 2.0″, user-generated content, and social media networks being thrown around before, and you probably have a decent idea of what they mean (if not, check out my dictionary of blog related terms). However, you may not be sure how to use the social media networks for your business – to blogcast your brand, because the blog is the center of it all.
Think of your brand/business as a solar system – your blog is the sun, and the rest of the social media sites and applications as planets orbiting around it. You may have profiles on the other networks, videos on YouTube and photos on Flickr, and use social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us and digg, but it all revolves around your blog (be sure to put links to your blog in all your profiles, but you already knew that, right?).
There are two main forms of social media that can be quite useful for bloggers – networking sites (Facebook, Myspace, Linked In) and bookmarking sites (Stumble Upon, Reddit, and my personal favorite, del.icio.us).
The networking sites are kind of self-explanatory; they are not that far removed from your actual network of friends, associates, and colleagues, except that they are virtual and you can see everyone else’s networks too. Besides the fact that it is simply convenient to have everyone’s profile info at your fingertips, these sites can also be useful when it comes to reconnecting with old colleagues and accquaintances, and for learning more about new friends. While you don’t need to maintain a presence on every social networking site on the web (you wouldn’t have time to do anything else!), it’s helpful to be involved in one or two that are popular in your business’s niche, e.g. fashion types with Iqons and anything music or entertainment related with Myspace.
Bookmarking sites are useful for bloggers in the both the promotional sense (having your content listed on the sites brings in readers) and in the personal sense – you can bookmark and tag your favorite sites and articles and access those bookmarks from anywhere, and if you work from multiple computers your bookmarks will be synched. I personally like to bookmark and tag any articles that would be good blog fodder, so bookmarking sites can help beat blogger’s block as well. Social bookmarking sites are also excellent tools because they enable you to check out what others in your niche are reading and what they thought of it. Popular forums can function in a similar fashion (be sure to put a link to your blog in your signature line!)
Last but not least, there is Technorati, the blog index that has become so much more. Technorati lets you see who has linked to your blog and how recently, what other sites they have linked to, who they have favorited, and so on. There’s also an authority ranking (how many sites have linked to a particular blog). It’s a good way to keep track of which bloggers are saying what, and how other bloggers are reacting to it.
The key idea to remember is that the social networks are a community – you have to participate, learn the mores, and in some cases, follow the rules (for example, many forums have certain codes of conduct and behavior, so check out the regulations before you jump in and post). Even if you’re a natural rebel, you have to learn the rules before you can break them. Like any other community, virtual or not, you have to learn to listen as well as speak.
Branding a blog is not unlike branding a business – you want to design a brand that encapsulates your core characteristics, that makes you stand out from the crowd, and that sums up your philosophy. I’m not talking about pretty logos or a memorable slogan, however. In order to succeed in the age of Web 2.0, your brand/blog must be dynamic, beneficial and/or entertaining – or preferably all three. Today’s readers are savvy, demanding, and fickle, so there has to be substance behind the hype if you want your message to stick.
When you begin your blog, ask yourself these questions:
1. What do I want to say? Try to narrow your message down to a few sentences. Think of it as a blogging mission statement (you can put this on your about page).
2. What do I have to offer? What unique skills and knowledge do you have to share with your readers? How can someone benefit by reading your blog? This can can become the basis for your cornerstone content.
3. What is my niche? No one can be all things to all people, so focus on what you can do well. Define your niche so that your blog and brand can be tailored to it (this is also important for SEO purposes, as it helps you to focus on the best possible keywords).
4. Is this sustainable in the long run? Do I have enough to say on this topic to maintain a blog? If you are blogging about your business, (hopefully), you’ll be very passionate about it and have more than enough to say. Remember that creating a successful blog, like a successful brand, requires time and commitment.
5. What sets you apart from the competition? What makes you and your business stand out? Can you describe in a few words? Why should someone read your blog?
As an example, here are the answers for this blog:
1. What do I want to say? In a nutshell, I help bloggers make their blogs better; in particular, I teach to people use blogging to promote their businesses.
2. What do I have to offer? A finely honed writing ability combined with an knowledge of new media and web 2.0 topics, and an awareness of trends in the blogging community. Plus, I’m patient, friendly, and a good teacher.
3. What is my niche? Yes, I’m one of the many who blogs about blogging, but I’m focused on helping small business owners and entrepreneurs create compelling content and maximize the potential of their blogs.
4. Is this sustainable in the long run? Definitely. I clearly have lots to say, and the blogging community is incredibly dynamic and innovative, so there are always new topics to cover and lots of blog fodder. I’ve developed blogs before, so I understand the time commitment. Finally, blogging is something I’m passionate about on a personal level, because starting a blog literally changed my life (ultra quick summary – I was planning on going into a completely different field after I got my B.A., but I started a fashion blog as a hobby, fell in love with the world of blogging and online media, and the rest is history).
5. What sets you apart from the competition? I consider myself a writer as well as a blogger (just because the web is more informal medium than print doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t put my best face, or posts, forward), and I teach people to use their blogs as a means of active communication, connection, and involvement with their readers/markets instead of just a promotional tool. I’m in this to help other people succeed.
This post is being submitted to ChrisG on New Media’s Branding Round-up, so click the link for more posts on branding and how it relates to new media.
And a Happy 4th of July to my American readers!
You’ve probably heard this advice at some point:Ã‚Â “If you want to become a good writer, read everything you can get your hands on” or some variation thereof.Ã‚Â It’s true however – it’s one of the reasons that Ã‚Â people read the work of great writers – in order to learn from them.Ã‚Â This principle also applies to blogging – reading the other popular and/or well written blogs will make you a better blogger.Ã‚Â However, there are few things that are important to remember.
Writing for the web isÃ‚Â a littleÃ‚Â different than writing for print.
For instance, the vast majority of people will not read long paragraphs or large chunks of unbroken content on the screen.Ã‚Â It’s hard on the eyes (wallpapering your site with tons of flash animation and widgets has a similar effect) and it’s boring.Ã‚Â Appeal to the short attention span of the average digital media reader and make your content bite size.Ã‚Â Think sound bite, not manifesto.
How can you do this?Ã‚Â Personally, I like lists, and so do some of the most successful bloggers out there.Ã‚Â Whether you use actual numbers or bullet points, lists are a nice, clear way to organize your content, and most subjects can be divided this way.Ã‚Â Lists are especiallyÃ‚Â useful when you’re enumerating the reasons to do something, i.e. buy a particular product or perform a certain activity.
Another good way to organize your longer posts is to highlight a few main points in bold, perhaps as subject headings.Ã‚Â Really, anything that breaks up a solid mass of text is probably a good idea, whether its relevant images or bold text.
Think of Your Blog as a Book, Not a Journal.
However, some topics just warrant reallyÃ‚Â long posts.Ã‚Â Whether it is something that needs toÃ‚Â be described in detail or requires in-depth discussion, consider turning it into a series of posts.Ã‚Â Not only will you then have several posts taken care of, you’ll give you’re readers an incentive to suscribe to your feed or bookmark your blog so theyÃ‚Â can finish the story.Ã‚Â It might be helpful to think of your blog as a constantly updated serial book instead of a weblog/diary.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
In the nextÃ‚Â few days,Ã‚Â I’ll go more in depth on the “blog as book” topic, as well as listing some of the things not to do on your blog.
Yesterday I went to the Printer’s Row Book Fair (one of the many interesting events in Chicago) to check out all the cool books for sale and meet up with a few local writers. Not surprisingly, many authors have blogs that they use to promote their work and share their stories. However, just as many seem to either dismiss both the internet and blogosphere as a community of dilettantes and plagiarists.
Although everyone is entitled their own opinion, I think that neglecting to realize the full scope of the web is dangerous. There is some great content online, and for many, the web is their main source of news, information and entertainment. Younger generations even tend to view search engines as an extension of their brains.
Blogging has democratized publishing – anyone with a computer and an internet connection can become a writer. Granted, there is a whole lot of chaff out there, but once you separate the wheat you see how blogs can be a very powerful promotional tool and means of expression. You don’t necessarily have to be the next Hemingway, either. Just write simply and clearly about what you know. It’s a way to build your personal brand and share your expertise with current and potential employers, clients, and customers. Even the New York Times (check out this article entitled “Can Blogs Become a Big Source of Jobs?”) has recognized the value of blogging!
If you’re really worried about plagiarism, encourage people to link back if they quote you (this is just good “netiquette” anyways) and add a Creative Commons license to your site.
In closing, here’s a cool book to pick up if you’re interested in how digital media is changing publishing, I picked up a book called Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times. It’s a collection of essays by young writers about writing, technology, and the web. Edited by Kevin Smokler (who has a blog, naturally), it’s a good read even if you’re not part of the media world.