Blogging is my front door. Since 2004, I’ve started and sold off blogs where I cultivated my ideas, both big and small. In the past ghost blogging has paid my way through bad credit and a jobless past. There’s no doubt that deciding to come out and be seen on this blog is the most important marketing tool I have as an online marketing strategist, writer, and advisor to small company owners. Even after a little more than decade and close to a thousand blog posts, I’m always surprised at how effectively this tool helps me and my customers accomplish our goals.
Blogs allows me to push ideas into the marketplace as I think of them, generating instant feedback. Sure, many blog posts just sit there with little feedback, few comments, and no results. But I learn from these failures, too; when my audience doesn’t get excited about something, it’s probably either a dumb idea or poorly explained.
On the other hand, some posts have had truly phenomenal results, quite literally changing my business in the process. I’ll admit that my ravings about the importance of my blog may sound over the top. But the truth is that blogging really has changed my life.
Thanks to the power of search engines, my blog is also the most vital and effective way for people to find me. Every word of every post is indexed by Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and the other search engines, so when people look for information on the topics I write about, they find me.
As I write and talk to these corporate audiences and other professionals about the power of blogging, many people want to know about the return on investment (ROI) of blogging. In particular, executives want to know, in dollars and shillings, what the results will be.
The bad news is that this information is difficult to quantify with any degree of certainty. For my small business, I determine ROI by asking people who contact me for the first time, “How did you learn about me?” That approach will be difficult for larger organizations with integrated marketing programs including blogs.
The good news is that blogging most certainly generates returns for anyone who creates an interesting blog and posts regularly to it. So what about me? My blog has gotten my ideas out to tons of people who had never heard of me before.
Consider this: If I didn’t have a blog, you literally wouldn’t be reading these words, because I couldn’t have been writing post without it.
Will writing a blog change your life, too? I can’t guarantee that. Blogging is not for everyone. But if you’re like countless others, your blog will reap tremendous rewards, both for you personally and for your organization. Yes, the rewards may be financial. But your blog will most certainly serve you as a valuable creative outlet, perhaps a more important reward for you and your business.
Online Blogs are a popular way to create content because the technology is such an easy and efficient way to get personal (or organizational) viewpoints out into the market. With easy-to-use blog software, anyone can create a professional-looking blog in just minutes.
Most marketing and PR people monitor what’s being said about their company, products, and executives on this important medium. A significant number of people are also blogging for marketing purposes, some with amazing success.
I have found writing post to be a challenge because there is great variance in people’s knowledge of blogs and blogging. I sometimes ask the audiences I present to, via a show of hands, “How many people read blogs?” I’m continually surprised that only about a quator read blogs. That’s a ridiculously low percentage.
There’s never been an easier way to find out what the marketplace is thinking about you, your company, your products and services! When I ask how many people are writing their own blogs, the number is usually less than 10 percent. While even the people who are currently reading and writing blogs have varying expertise in the blogosphere, there are significant misconceptions about blogs and blogging among those who don’t read them at all. So with apologies in advance to readers who already understand them, I’d like to start with some blog basics.
But it’s a special kind of site that is created and maintained by a person who is passionate about a subject and wants to tell the world about his or her area of expertise. A blog is almost always written by one person who has fire in the belly and wants to communicate with the world. There are also group blogs (written by several people) and even corporate blogs produced by a department or entire company (without individual personalities at all), but these are less common. The most popular form by far is the personal blog.
A blog is written using software that puts the most recent update, or post, at the top of the site (reverse chronological order) like WordPress. Posts are tagged to appear in selected information categories on the blog and often include identifiers about the content of the post to make it easy for people to find what they want on the blog and via search engines.
Software for creating a blog functions essentially as an easy-to-use, personal content management system that allows bloggers to become authors without any codding experience.
If you can use Microsoft Word or buy a product online from Jumia, you have enough technical skills to blog! In fact, I often suggest that small companies and individual entrepreneurs create a blog rather than a standard website because a blog is easier to create for someone who lacks technical skills. As the lines between what is a blog and what isn’t blur, today there are thousands of smaller companies, consultants, and professionals who have a blog but no regular website.
Many blogs allow readers to leave comments. But bloggers often reserve the right to remove inappropriate comments (spam or profanity, for example). Most bloggers tolerate negative comments on their blogs and don’t remove them. I actually like some controversy on my blog because it can spark debate. Opinions that are different from mine on my blog are just fine! This might take some getting used to, especially for a traditional PR department that likes to control messaging.
However, I strongly believe that comments from readers offering different viewpoints from the original post are actually a good thing on a blog, because they add credibility to your viewpoint by showing two sides of an issue and by highlighting that your readership is passionate enough to want to contribute to a debate on your blog. How cool is that?
Before we look at some examples, I’d like to comment for just a moment on the term blog. A blog is just a website written by someone who is passionate about a subject and wants to share that passion with the world. And as we’ve discussed here, it’s also a terrific online marketing tool.
However, the term sometimes carries negative connotations among people who have heard of blogs but do not make an effort to read them regularly. These folks assume that blogs are frivolous and without value. As I mentioned, when I ask people if they read blogs, the show of hands tells me that aquater the audience does. I am certain that this number is wrong. Many more of them, I’m convinced, do read blogs but don’t realize what kind of content they are reading when they land on one.
They usually find their way there via a Google search or a link suggested by a friend, colleague, or family member, but since they didn’t seek out blog content intentionally, it doesn’t occur to them that that’s what they’ve found.
What’s more, too many people are still hung up with outdated, artificial demarcations between “mainstream media” and “blogs,” arguing that one is more legitimate. This leads to flawed online marketing strategic decisions.
This is especially true of many (but not all) public relations agencies whose reps do their clients a disservice by focusing on one form of media over another.
That’s nonsense. The distinctions have nearly disappeared, and smart individuals and firms have already eliminated this prejudice.
Whenever this subject pops up, I’m prompted to ask a series of questions that I hope illustrate the changes happening:
Guess what? It’s all just media, real-time media in this case.
The Monitor is technically a blog. It is written on the Blogger platform, so there is no significant difference between when a reporter writes an article for The Monitor or when I write a post on my personal blog (no difference but the size of the audience, that is).
The Monitor is a blog. But it’s also one of the most important Ugandan news sites on the web, with an Alexa ranking as I write this of the #1 most visited site in Uganda.
The BBC is mainstream media, but readers can comment on stories. Thousands do, just like on The Monitor.
The East African is a magazine, but people can share links to stories within the magazine’s website, using widgets for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, and Tumblr.
The difference between mainstream media and the blogosphere has blurred, and this blurring has important implications for your business. When your buyers search Google or another search engine for information related to your business, they don’t really care if the top results come from a “news site” like the BBC, a “blog” like the Monitor, or your own blog or content-rich website. So you need to eliminate the bias.
When buyers ask a question on social media, they are happy when someone sends a valuable link to information on the web. They don’t scrutinize what’s recommended to them and dismiss the blog content and only read newspaper and magazine articles. They’re happy for an article that educates and entertains, wherever it comes from.
The best online marketing strategies must include creating your own content, including text, video, and images. It should also include strategies for getting noticed by important voices, so they write about you. And getting noticed comes back to the content you create.
Content is content, no matter what it is called. If you are creating valuable information to market your business, don’t let someone’s anxiety with the term blog hold you back.
If you find in your company that you’re encountering resistance to starting one, perhaps you shouldn’t call it a blog at all. Instead, you could speak with your managers about starting a regularly updated information site or creating ongoing content for your buyers in order to help drive sales. I’d say this renaming could even apply to the links from your main site to your blog. Rather than a link on your home page to “Our Blog,” you could link to the name of the blog (without using the actual word) or to “The Stories We Tell.”
Content is content, no matter what it is called. If you are creating valuable information to market your business, don’t let the term blog hold you back.
Blogs are independent, web-based journals containing opinions about anything and everything. However, blogs are often misperceived by people who don’t read them. Journalists as well as public relations and marketing professionals are quick to dismiss the importance of blogs because they often insist on comparing blogs to magazines and newspapers, with which they are comfortable. But the blogger’s usual focus of promoting a single point of view is dramatically different from the journalist’s goal of providing a balanced perspective.
In my experience, blogs are deemed bad or wrong only by people who do not read them regularly. In journalism school and on their first beat assignments when they begin their careers, aspiring reporters and editors are taught that stories are developed through research and interviews with knowledgeable sources. Journalists are told that they can’t express their own opinions directly but instead need to find experts and data to support their views. The journalist’s craft demands fairness and balance.
Blogs are very different. Blogging provides experts and wannabes with an easy way to make their voices heard in the connected marketplace of ideas. Companies that ignore independent product reviews and blog discussions about service quality are living dangerously.
Organizations that don’t have their own authentic and human blog voices are increasingly seen as suspect by many people who pay attention to what’s being said on blogs. But as millions of independent voices shout and whisper all over the Internet, certain mainstream media and PR people still maintain rigid defensive postures, dismissing the diverse opinions emerging from the web’s main streets and roads less traveled.
Many people prefer to lock blogs into their existing worldview rather than understand blogs’ and bloggers’ unique roles online. Often people who don’t understand these roles simply react with a cry of “Not real journalism!”
But bloggers never claimed to be real journalists; unfortunately, many people continue to think of the web as a sprawling online newspaper, and this mentality justifies their need to (negatively) compare blogging to what journalists and PR people do.
But the metaphor of the website as a newspaper is inaccurate on many levels, particularly when you are trying to understand blogs. It is better to think of the web as a huge city teeming with individuals, and blogs as the sounds of independent voices, just like those of the street-corner battery speaker preacher or that friend of yours who always recommends the best movies.
Consider the recent case of MTN CEO saga. MTN came out on social media to blog about the situation and someone from one the social groups I subscribe to dismissed the way MTN had handled the PR. “Why did they tweet or blog instead of coming out and telling the real story like (he mentioned names) does?” They asked. If he still thinks what they said on social media or blogs can’t be the real story, this person still lives with the old rules of PR and needs to upgrade his software before he’s rebooted by the web.
Should you believe everything you read on blogs?
Hell, no! That’s akin to believing everything you hear on the street or in a bar. Thinking of the web as a city, rather than a newspaper, and of bloggers as individual citizen voices provides implications for all online citizens. Consider the source (don’t trust strangers), and find out if the information comes from the government, a newspaper, a big corporation, someone with an agenda, or some banker’s ex-wife who is just dying to give you $20 million in an email.
Blogs and bloggers are now important and valuable sources of information, not unlike your next-door neighbor. Take them with a grain of salt, but ignore them at your peril. Just remember that nobody ever said your neighbor was the same as a newspaper. The challenge for marketers and PR people is to make sense of the voices out there (and to incorporate their ideas into our own).
Organizations and small businesses have the power to become tremendously rich and successful by harnessing the millions of conversations found in the online city.
As you get started with blogs and blogging, you should think about four different ways to use them:
There are good reasons for jumping into the blog world using these four steps. First, by monitoring what people are saying about the marketplace you sell into as well as your company and products, you get a sense of the important bloggers, their online voices, and blog etiquette.
It is quite important to understand the unwritten rules of blogging, and the best way to do that is to read blogs. Next, you can begin to leave comments on the blogs that are important for your industry or marketplace. That starts you on the way to being known to other bloggers and allows you to present your point of view before you create your own blog.
Many organizations cultivate powerful relationships with the bloggers who write about their industry. You should work with bloggers so they know as much as possible about what you do. Finally, when you feel comfortable with blogs and bloggers, you can take the plunge by creating your own blog.
In my experience, corporate PR departments’ concerns about blogs always focus on issues of actually writing them. But if you’ve monitored blogs and know that there are, say, a dozen influential bloggers writing about your market and that those blogs have thousands of loyal readers, you can show a PR person the importance of simply monitoring blogs.
Some of the more popular blogs have readerships that are larger than that of the daily newspaper of say like Kampala city. PR people care about the readership of the Red Pepper, right? Then they should care about a blog that has a similar number of readers. If you become known within your organization as an expert in monitoring blogs, it is a much smaller leap to gaining permission to create your own.
There’s no doubt that every organization should be monitoring blogs to find out what people are saying about them. I find it fascinating that most of the time when I mention a company or product on my blog, I do not get any sort of response from that organization. However, maybe 30 percent of the time, I’ll get a comment on my blog from someone at that company or a personal email. These are the 30 percent of companies that monitor the blogosphere and react to what’s being said. You should be doing this, too, if you’re not already.
It’s also clear to me that in most industries and product categories, early bloggers develop a reputation as being innovative. There are still opportunities for first-mover advantage in many blog categories. Once you’re comfortable with reading and commenting on blogs, get out there and start your own! Go!