You’ve decided you’re going to take the recommendations of the office evangelist and start writing a blog. The word still bothers you, but you’ve been told that it’s just like a newsletter or an article for a magazine, only faster, and online. But what comes next? How should you approach it? And what will make the difference between a blog that people read, and a blog that people ridicule? Here are some basic ideas and suggestions. (None of these are rules. There are a hundred ways to do things. My associates will fill the comments section with variations on the theme.)
Above All Else, Be Human
If that advice sounds familiar, it’s not unlike the very first post in the Social Media 100 series: Above All Else- People. The advice is the same. People are who read blogs (okay, we could argue that Google also reads your blog, but let’s save that for another time). To that end, present yourself as a human. Write with the first-person (“I”) perspective, and write as if you’re telling me something, not a faceless mass.
Also, pay attention to that previous post and be attentive to people’s attention constraints.
Commenting Is Just as Important
Remember to visit other blogs in the space and comment on stories and posts that appeal to you. Do NOT be “that guy” (or “girl”) and reference yourself and your company on all these comments. Instead, be sure to seem human and comment on things that have interest to you. Commenting matters, and we know if you’re part of our community by how and where you comment.
Your blogging policy shouldn’t be any more complex than your email policy. Look over your company’s policy documents and see if you can replace “email” with “blog” and “blogging.” If yes, and it makes sense, that’s probably fine. It should go without saying that company strategy as well as financial data is not especially good to put on blogs.
If you must have some kind of process in place where more than one set of hands has to touch a blog post, keep it simple. Anything more than two sets of eyes beyond the author, and I believe you’ve already killed people’s interest in blogging.
Does This Tie to Strategy at All?
Remember that your business blog has more requirements than a personal blog. Why did you start it in the first place? What’s the GOAL of the blog? What are you hoping to do with it? Think this through and check your efforts against it regularly. If you can set up metrics of any kind, these might help.
For instance, if your goal is engagement, measure number of comments, web hits, RSS subscribers, inbound links, and a few other criteria. But if your goal is customer service, maybe the blog itself doesn’t get measured as much as overall sentiment in the marketplace gets measured.
My point, simply, is to pay attention to the strategy behind why you’ve bothered blogging in the first place.
Platforms Aren’t THAT Important
But you should consider whether the blogging platform you’re using is easy enough to keep it enjoyable, that it has RSS subscription capabilities, tagging, the ability to add plugins and external code, and a few other details that I’m happy to share, if this is a big concern.
Mix it Up
We don’t want to read only about your company, your product, you. We want your take on the industry at large, on events that might be resonant with us outside of your organization, on other forces that might impact our relationship with you and your products. Try to have that in mind when you write. Yes, it’s a blog for your company, but it’s also a source of information, and has to reflect the world around us.
Don’t Sell, but Don’t Be Shy
A blog isn’t about the hard sell. Let’s accept that. Yes, we’ll be suggestive. Yes, we’ll be persuasive. We’ll give you tastes of what you might receive if you buy the whole deal, but if it’s just a place for selling, we’re not reading. There has to be passion and interest and information flowing through there. Sure, you can help us find where to buy things. But maybe try to mix it up a bit. Don’t pretend like you’re not selling, because that can seem awkward, too, but if you can, consider the last few posts you’ve written and see whether or not it’s time to sell to us again.
Build a Workflow
The mood to blog might not always strike you. It might be helpful to keep a notepad file of topics and ideas so that you can tap into these when you’ve a moment. Also, don’t be afraid to write into a text file, and then dump it into your blog software when it’s all done. This will enable you to write anywhere, with or without the web, and when you have a moment. (Note: there are plenty of great tools for this, as well, including Windows Live Writer for PC and Mars Edit for the Mac (Any good offline editors for Linux? No, besides vi!)
Another trick to building a good blogging flow is to have a good blog reading habit. Use a tool like Google Reader and subscribe to sites and relevant searches that will keep you in quality posts.
We pay attention to where you link. If every link in your blog is to your own stuff, we discount you as self-referential. Consider pointing out other great posts in your space, and give adequate links and credit. Don’t sell the store, but make sure you’re building a healthy linking habit. Otherwise, links will rarely flow inward as well.
Frequency is How Often You Have Value to Add
If you blog on a monthly basis, your traffic will likely be dismal. Unless you’re Donald Trump, and then, I imagine you’d still pull it off. For the rest of us, try to stick to a weekly-at-worst and a daily-at-best standard for your blogging. Don’t feel frustrated if you can’t do daily right away. Blogging takes practice, and it can sometimes fall to the bottom of our priority list (as it should). But if you build a decent work flow, this effort should become more natural over time.
Pay Attention to Design
I wrote recently about blog design, and so I won’t reinvent the wheel, but in brief: make sure you have easy-to-use contact information on the blog. Put up a very human About page, including information on the blog’s author as well as the company you serve. We KNOW it’s a company blog. We want to know about you, too. Finally, make sure the blog has all the social sharing tools built into it, such that people can bookmark sites easily, share in popular places, and provide this information easily to others.
How do you build blog posts that last and add value? You encourage conversation. One way that I do this often is by asking questions of the people who read this blog. It’s a great way to tap the expertise of the people in your space. No experts in the crowd? Then consider writing your posts in such a way that your most likely audience will have something upon which to comment and add their own value. Making a post too rock solid is just an invitation to have nothing said about it after the fact.
What Else Would YOU Recommend?
Until now, I’ve written this as if you were the prospective new blogger, but I know that the folks reading [chrisbrogan.com] are professionals in their own right. This post will certainly be shared as advice to others considering starting up a blog. What would you add to the advice I’ve already given? What have I missed? Your comments make this post dozens of times better than what I write on my own. How would you advise a newcomer to business blogging?
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
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