April 24, 2014

Is there a simple answer to blogging success?

Don’t worry. I’m not about to tout a single secret to blogging success – I don’t think there is one. But I have managed to get twenty-one bloggers to share their very best tips – and that’s a good start.

Every Monday night (8pm-9pm UK time) I co-run #CommsChat – a Twitter-based chat for people with some interest in the communications industry (PRs, journos, bloggers, marketers, writers, community managers). We usually have an expert guest host appropriate to the topic, and around 100 people take part, with anything between 400 to 1,000 tweets flying back and forth.

This Monday 24th January 2011, we’re having a Big Blogging Brainstorm (check out #BBB on Twitter). The premise is simple. Get 100(ish) communications pros together and bat ideas around to create more post ideas than you can shake a stick at. [More info here]

Now I wholeheartedly believe that constantly coming up with new things to write about is a BIG challenge for many, but it’s not the only one. So, ahead of Monday’s chat, I talked to twenty-one bloggers and asked for their best tips for blogging success.

Blog with purpose…

Blogging is great. But blogging with a strategy is even better. – Mark Shaw (@MarkShaw)

Try and have a cohesive theme, an anchor point. – Ben Johnston (@2ftfromfreedom)

Decide on what you are going to write about and stick to it. – Heather Townsend (@heathertowns)

…but retain the freedom to evolve

Know your niche but don’t let it define you. Too often bloggers begin down a very specific path and then find it hard to evolve / adjust because they get ‘known’ for something. – Adam Vincenzini (@AdamVincenzini)

Audience matters…

Choose your target audience and write your blog for that audience. – Richard Osborne (@RichardOsborne)

Write on topics, & in a style, that your intended audience will connect with. Put yourself in their shoes & write something that is appealing to them. – Marc Lawn (@businessgp)

…but so does self-belief

Simply write about what you know. – Ben Johnston (@2ftfromfreedom)

Don’t try to emulate another blogger / writer. Be yourself. YOU ARE interesting! – Rob Fletcher (@Tfgrobfletcher)

Be passionate and interested in what you are writing about. – Carli Ann Smith (@Carlir6)

Only ever write about things you enjoy writing about, else you won’t keep it up. – David Lurie (@Setsights)

Don’t try to be someone you’re not, let your own personality shine though. – Mike Garner (@realgoodwriting)

Stop worrying about what people think, write and publish often. you cannot improve your blogging if you do not do it. – Sarah Arrow (@SarahArrow)

Blog regularly…

State upfront when or how often you will post: every Thursday, twice a week, on the 1st and 15th of every month… This will keep you on schedule. – Catherine Jan (@TranslateTrad)

Go with a topic you like and develop a posting strategy (once a week, once a day, etc) and stick with it. You’ll find that over time it becomes a habit and you will continue to improve and gain confidence. – Allan Schoenberg (@allanschoenberg)

…but favour quality over quantity

Don’t ever think that because a blog post is short and sharp it won’t get as many hits as a full-blown thesis that takes you weeks to write! It’s the insight that counts. – Jon Clement (@JonClements)

Blog sparingly, comment frequently. – Richard Bailey (@behindthespin)

Sometimes the best thing you can do to a blog post before you hit publish is delete it or re-write it. Your readers will thank you for your quality control. – James Ainsworth (@AlterianJames)

Differentiate yourself…

Keep your content, style and ideas varied for the sake of you and your readers. – Adam Vincenzini (@AdamVincenzini)

Always add value – don’t just regurgitate. – Trefor Davies (@tref)

It’s important to differentiate yourself. Try to be very creative in order to provide new and different content and don’t copy other bloggers. – Petya N. Georgieva (@pgeorgieva)

…but don’t dismiss what’s tried and tested

Some of my most popular blog posts have been lists. There is nothing people like more than top 5s, top 10s etc so settle on a subject and create a list. It always leads to a debate! – Dan Martin (@Dan_Martin)

Get your own domain and web host right from the start. – David Bennett (@Quillcards)

So if there really is a secret to blogging success, it’s simply listening and learning from those already doing it well.

What are your biggest blogging challenges? And what do you think is the most important element of blogging success?

Read it and Tweet (#ReadItAndTweet) is born!

Bit of a diversion from the norm while I continue to beaver away behind the scenes on the blog redesign.

We’re launching a Twitter book club…

A conversation on Twitter between @amandafirepr @Chris_Hall1 @EmLeary @JenAndersson @rebeccataylorpr and @MissBarry, sparked by a chance book mention aaaaaand we’re off!

Presenting….the Read it and Tweet book club – we read books, and we talk about it on Twitter. Simple, eh?

Or in more traditional bio-speak:

“We meet on Twitter every other Wednesday 8pm-9pm to discuss our chosen book of the week, but it’s an informal group, so we also use the hash tag all week long to talk about what we’re reading, and share tips on great reads.”

You can discuss what you’re reading and get updates on what’s happening with #ReadItAndTweet in the following places:

The first book will chosen soon (democratically, of course) and a schedule announced, but in the meantime, feel free to start using the hash tag to talk books.

Five things your home page can do without

This is a guest post by Tom Albrighton, a professional copywriter and founder/director of ABC Copywriting, based in Norwich.

Planning the home page. So important, and so difficult. Often, our answer is to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. The trouble is, you end up with a lot of stuff that you really don’t need. So in a spirit of ‘less is more’, here are five things you could consider hacking away from your home page.

Welcome message

This is a contentious one. Many marketers and copywriters feel that the ‘welcome’ statement is embarrassingly old hat, and shouldn’t be present on a modern website.

I agree that it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it, or that it’s not effective.

In my view, a ‘welcome’ statement has its place if it talks to the priorities of your visitors and makes them more likely to stay. If it just wastes their time or irritates them, drop it.

For example, a niche online retailer selling speciality coffees is the kind of cosy ‘shop’ you’d like to be welcomed into, while an all-business insurance comparison site would probably do better to lead with an eye-catching offer.

If a welcome message isn’t appropriate, you can use the space to offer ‘doorways’ into other parts of the site, or an orientation statement that tells the visitor where they might like to begin browsing.

Background info

I’m a strong believer in a simple, straightforward positioning statement somewhere on the home page, just so visitors can confirm they’re in the right place. For example:

We are a small, friendly team of accountants serving clients in Carlisle and the surrounding area.

Nothing wrong with that. Every word conveys information that visitors almost certainly need, and it’s almost certainly good for SEO too. But the ‘about us’ chat should end as soon as you get into things you want to say, rather than things the audience wants to hear.

For example, it’s unlikely that anyone needs to know immediately when you were founded, how you developed, how many people you employ or (being brutally honest) anything about your beliefs, values or business ethos. Provide that stuff somewhere by all means, but don’t put it on the home page where it could get in the way of a visitor who wants to get facts or make a purchase.

Generic pitches

Many, many websites fall into the trap of making a generic pitch for the products or services they offer, rather than selling themselves specifically. For example:

If you’re setting up in business, you can give your image a major boost with a professionally designed logo and letterhead.

The visitor already knows that. That’s why they went to Google and typed in ‘logo designer’, ‘business stationery design’ or whatever. They’re already persuaded of the general benefits offered by firms like yours, so don’t fritter away their patience by restating those benefits. You’re not writing an ad for the back of a bus – online, your audience is pre-vetted, proactive and attentive.

Remember, the user has probably got a set of nine similar search results sitting right under the ‘back’ button whenever they want them. So draw them in with some reasons they should stay on your site – in other words, the specific benefits of choosing you over a competitor.

Generic selling does nothing to advance your cause and arguably gives a hand to the competition – there’s a risk that you merely reinforce the visitor’s generalised interest, allowing another site to convert it to a lead or sale later on.

Scattergun content

Looking at some home pages, you get the feeling that the company got a bit bored with their own business. On top of the basic text and the navigation, you’re looking at case studies, client logos, special offers, awards, company news, blog posts, knowledge portals, newsletter signups – everything’s been thrown into the pot.

Making a home page is a bit like making a soup. You can put in ten different vegetables if you want, but your users won’t be able to discern every last taste. Instead, you might want to use just two or three really strong flavours and give them a more focused experience. Adding more can lead to dilution rather than concentration. As I’m often telling clients: the more you write, the less likely people are to read it all.

If you look at your home page for years, it’s inevitable that it starts to look a bit dull or elementary. But your visitors have never seen it before. (OK, they might be returning for a second visit, but it still won’t be familiar.) In fact, it may be that your whole industry is a completely closed book to them. Some basic info and a reassuringly simple layout that they can get their heads round in seconds might be just the ticket.

Irrelevant imagery

If you’re selling a product, it makes sense to show the product – holidays, showers, cars. But what if you’re selling a B2B service such as web hosting or copywriting? What should you show then?

Well, you could try to show one of the tools of your trade – a web server, perhaps, or a fountain pen. Unfortunately, those things aren’t that interesting visually, and they run the risk of making your audience think about computer hardware or stationery rather than website uptime and effective communication.

So you go down the road of metaphorical or figurative illustration – light bulbs (=innovation), fast cars (=high performance), shaking hands (=partnership). That gets you a pretty picture, but again, you’re risking the audience thinking about something irrelevant, like cars. And unless you can sustain the metaphor far enough to make every point you need to make, your text is going to end up being on a different theme from your imagery, which means that the overall message will not be harmonious.

It’s difficult. Believe me, I’ve grappled with this beast many a time. But even though it’s hard, you don’t have to make it harder by choosing a design that obliges you to have a leading or ‘hero’ image. Ask your designer to solve the problem with text and graphics.

Ideally, every image should have a semiotic, rather than purely aesthetic, justification – paying its way in terms of meaning as well as decoration.

Tips for a better home page

It’s so easy to criticise. So here are a few positive pointers to help address the problems I’ve covered in this post.

  • Imagine yourself as a newcomer to your site – one with little or no knowledge of your field. How will it come across?
  • Develop your home page for visitors – not for yourself, or to outdo competitors.
  • Make sure everything on your home page has a reason to be there.
  • Don’t be afraid to use space and simplicity to emphasise key messages (or a single message).
  • Keep in mind what you want the user to do. Include a call to action and don’t be afraid to state it early on. You’re selling products or services, not website content.
  • Think of your home page text as an ‘elevator pitch’, or the words you would choose to say if you were introducing your company. Be memorable, but don’t be afraid to state simple details. Facts are reassuring.
  • Don’t sweat it. Remember the user is actively searching – they want to use you. All you have to do is remove the barriers in their way.

Giving it away: a look at content marketing

This is a guest post by Toby Reid, the founder of In A Fishbowl, a business reality website that follows the progress of three entrepreneurs.

If you are in the service or advisory sector these days then, as unnerving as it sounds, your best marketing strategy is to give away everything you know for free. When you think you have given away nearly all the information you have, go and dig up some more and then give that away as well.

It is called content marketing and here are three reasons why you should be doing it:

Reason 1

Because you will no longer gain and maintain customers by guarding and restricting access to information you hold. “We can tell you this but we could tell you a lot more if you pay us”. Really?…

NO and double no. Those days are gone. They are gone because with the internet nearly all information is freely available. Conceptually, people refuse to pay for something that can be found free elsewhere. They may not find it, or understand it when they do find it, but that doesn’t matter because the damage is done… they have already switched off from you.

Free information is your hook to attract the attention of your target customers.

Reason 2

Brand is no longer just about logos and strap lines, it’s about voice. You want to be a market leader, be a market leading voice. It’s difficult to be a compelling voice without talking about what you know and what you think, so don’t hold back, tell them what you know. Providing quality content establishes you as an authority on your subject and gives you serious credibility in the eyes of your target customers.

Proving you’re an expert in your field sustains the interest of your target customers.

Reason 3

Because your customers still need you. In this age of free information, information isn’t your asset anymore. So give it away! But what will your customer buy from you? Well, your interpretation of the information and application to their personal circumstances, the time savings you can offer them in doing so, the peace of mind of outsourcing to an expert and the customer service you offer along the way.

The time saving, peace of mind and customer service are the benefits you offer. These can easily convert an audience of already interested targets into actual customers. But remember you have to attract their attention and prove your credibility first!

How to write effective customer case studies

This is a guest post from Chris Lee, founder and managing director of PR and social media consultancy, Planet Content, and founder/editor of DIY PR and marketing blog RunMarketing.

Are you proud of what you have achieved for your customers and clients? Can you prove tangible benefits and returns on investment that really illustrate what your company does best? If you can, then this is where case studies come into play.

Publications love the “proof in the pudding” – real-life examples of where companies have used a product or service which has had a demonstrable effect on their business. Could you gain approval from a customer and draft an 800-word account on how you helped it operate more efficiently?

If you could, then this is how a customer case study – or ‘customer evidence’, to our friends across the pond – should be constructed:

Title: Hard-hitting, catching title outlining the crux of the case study in a single line (particularly benefits) – e.g. “Company X saves Company Y £X million a year with product Z”

Subtitle: Add some more quantifiable facts about the customer case study – time savings, staff efficiency etc

Introduction: You have a single paragraph with which to capture the audience and encourage them to read on, so make sure your opening paragraph is tightly written and neatly summarises all the key financial, time and efficiency benefits.

Detail: Under orderly sub-headings you should now go into further details outlining:

  • The existing problem
  • What your company proposed
  • Was the contract put out to tender? If so, what did you do that stood out to win it?
  • What challenges did you overcome, be they physical, financial, cultural etc?
  • What you did in practice and more on how benefits were achieved
  • What was the customer feedback? Include a customer quote
  • Conclusion – include a quote from your own MD, CEO or project manager

Try to keep it to around 800 words, use images and regularly deploy sub-headings to retain reader interest. Don’t forget to get permission from the customer to write the case study before you start drafting and run it by the customer’s marketing team to make amends and approve the final draft. They might not let you disclose everything, but highlight the benefits for them – free publicity, for one!

Also, keep the hyperbole to a minimum. Nothing turns people off more than sales spiel, so speak plain English and drop words like “market-leading” and “solution”.

Spread your wings

You could pitch the case study to a local publication, or vertical media outlet, depending on your target audience and the strength of the case study or customer brand. You could also build a page especially for case studies on your company website. If so, don’t forget to make sure that the text is optimised for your company’s keywords to help potential customers find you online.

Also, don’t forget to plug it on social media channels. Tweet the link to your website, or why not post it on Slideshare.net?

Here are some examples of customer case studies from corporations such as Xerox, Microsoft and Virgin Media Business. They vary greatly in style and format, from video to basic pdf.

If you’re worried that you’ve not got the right time or skills resources in-house to generate customer case studies then seek out a professional writer, it will pay off for you.

Announcing #BeMyGuest Mondays and a dedicated guest blog exchange

We are excited to announce two new #BeMyGuest initiatives today.

  1. The launch of #BeMyGuest Monday
  2. A dedicated blogger’s exchange for the #BeMyGuest community

#BeMyGuest Monday

Following the success of #BeMyGuest month in March, we’ve been having a think about the best way to continue the exchanging and connecting.

The answer?

Encouraging the #BeMyGuest community to make Monday the day to ‘search’ for guest bloggers or feature guest posts.

Simply attach #BeMyGuest to tweets in either scenario and help spread the word about the talent that lies within the community.

MyBlogGuest.com

Even more exciting is the involvement from dedicated Blogger Exchange / Directory MyBlogGuest.com.

As discussed at the end of #BeMyGuest month in March, we have been investigating ways to integrate the community into a full-time exchange – one which allows you to dip in and out and make new connections at your leisure.

So, from today, you can join MyBlogGuest.com and enjoy the benefits of that service – simply quote ‘BeMyGuest’in the sign-up page.

This will give you access to all the free benefits available as well as upgrade if you see fit – we hope you enjoy this addition to the community.

What’s next?

More blogging!

We’re really excited about #BeMyGuest Mondays – this will concentrate all the fun we had in March into one day each week, helping us to grow the community even more.

And with MyBlogGuest.com on board as well it should double the fun.

If you have any questions, just ask.

Til then…enjoy #BeMyGuest Monday!

For more information visit: www.bemyguestblogger.com

Every ash cloud has a silver lining: mapping social media 2.0

This is a guest post by Jeremy Bramwell, Client Services Director at IAS B2B Marketing.

The biggest and most bizarre news story of the year so far has got to be the Icelandic Volcano (I won’t even attempt to spell it, let alone get you to pronounce it), its accompanying ash cloud and consequential lockdown of Northern Europe’s airspace for 6 days.

I heard about this the first morning via @skynewsbreak in my Twitter feed and immediately started to think about using Twitter to map the movement of the ash cloud over the UK. Mistakenly, I thought that we’d actually be able to see the ash cloud and so I asked my Twitter followers to @ reply me their postcode if the ash was overhead (of course, I got no replies).

I got the idea from @benmarsh who developed a very neat application to map the affects of the snow in real time last winter. That of course is too clever for me and my intention was to create a cardboard map of the UK, give it a dusting of ash from an instant BBQ, take a picture and post it on Twitter for a bit of fun (see original tweet).

This I did and the ‘UK Ash Map’ took off getting 1,700+ views on Twitpic over the next 2 days. I quickly realised that the story was going to run and also tweeted the UK ash map from the @iasb2bmarketing Twitter account with the line ‘Mum’s not going to Iceland’.

I also toyed with other ideas of how we could as an agency have a bit of fun, and help people stuck in other parts of Europe, I even considered ‘re-naming’ IAS as ‘Icelandic Ash Services’ for the week and using our network of agencies across Europe to assist stranded B2B marketing professionals get home but the logistics were too complicated so that had to be shelved.

I learnt a valuable lesson in on-line to off-line PR from my very first UK Snow Map back in January, which was even more successful getting over 10,000 views on Twitpic, so set our PR team to work in producing an IAS press release on the UK Ash Map which has already gained good coverage in our key trade publications. Our agency is very creative, fun and irreverent and the ‘cardboard maps’ I create fit our brand perfectly, we may even put together a 2011 ‘Cardboard Map’ calendar I just need a few more biblical events to stimulate my imagination.

So in the interests of ‘new media art’ we are giving away a framed print of the UK Ash Map at IAS’ Digital PR forum in Manchester today, if you’re lucky enough to win it, you’ll have a small piece of Twitter history to put on your wall.

The launch of #BeMyGuest in March: a month of mutual blogging

Be My Guest

Written by Adam Vincenzini and Emily Cagle

Guest blogging is great. It’s great for the guest poster, great for the blog ‘host’ and most importantly, great for the audience.

Why?

The guest poster gets to expose his / her work to a new audience. The host gives his / her audience something new and fresh to enjoy. It’s what social media and sharing is all about.

So, we thought it would be a good idea to make March the month to encourage some mutual guest blogging via ‘Be My Guest.’

What is ‘Be My Guest’?

It’s pretty simple. During March 2010, anyone taking part will aim to:

  • write at least one post for someone else’s blog, and
  • feature at least one guest post on their own blog.

How will it work?

We’d really like to focus on creating some new relationships, so instead of writing and featuring posts for people you already know really well, we’d like to extend it further.

All you have to do is use Twitter to tweet out your blog details and the hashtag #BeMyGuest to let people know you’d like to take part.

Your tweet might look like this:

“I write a blog about #media called The M3dia Blog <link> and I’d like to take part in #BeMyGuest http://bit.ly/bemyguest”

“I blog about #food at The Yum! Blog <link> and I’d like to take part in #BeMyGuest http://bit.ly/bemyguest”

This will hopefully see bloggers who are interested in specific subjects connect and do some ‘mutual’ blogging.

You might want to just link up with one other blogger for the month or four…or more! It’s really is up to you.

Some guidelines & ideas

  • Use the hashtag – If you post on someone else’s blog or have someone post as your guest, let everyone know by adding #BeMyGuest to a tweet when it’s published. You can also set up a column in Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or your Twitter app of choice to track every mention of the keyword so you don’t miss any great opportunities.
  • Blog about Be My Guest – If you’d like to outline what you’re looking for from guest posters, and showcase what you’ve got to offer other blog hosts, write a post about your requirements and push it out across your social networks with the #BeMyGuest hashtag.
  • Set out your preferences – Some hosts prefer to retain the right to edit a post, while others publish as is. Similarly, some hosts only take exclusive posts, while others are happy to reuse. So think about your preferences before you get started and once you make connections, chat to each host/guest you work with to make sure you’re in agreement.

Have fun and good blogging!

– Adam and Emily

(For daily updates, check out the dedicated #BeMyGuest Posterous site)

Lost in translation? You don’t know the half of it!

Handwritten scribbles

If you’ve ever played with an online translator like Google Translate, you’ll know that while these tools are pretty good, they’re not perfect.

Before you entrust such a tool with your promotional copy, head over to the Lost in Translation Multibabel tool and enter it there. The tool will take it through up to ten languages and back to English.

Think the results will be intelllgible? Here’s the text for one of our service pages after the Multibabel treatment. Can you tell what it is yet?

To announce the project, invested in the words, the end to control if each part of the contact writes that you are in the way of persuation with its customers and pertinent has.

You’ The RH in the transaction, each part of the writing is important. Each signal if a customer of the pages of a pamphlet pressures, not simply does not adapt it to information, he is _activement that _activement convinced, or at least would have that to be.

A good part of the copy not only declares the circumstances the end equally to work but conceited the lecturer or a certain position of its opinion or ideas of the taken one by the transactions. One leaves memorable of the writing knows the reliability of its small flag, improved ingualmente the squeeze you outside of the amount and the conservation of the manufacture of the improvement.

Our project of the advertising seemed to White Books of direct mail whole, with the national visualizations of the variety of the newspaper behind pamphlets, as with the types of this sequence of the video of the training it catalogues and in the studies finished with bulletins. In all in case that we work with the customer, the end to produce adequadamente in way of convincing form and the writing, who was starting, for the aim.

Engaging stuff, eh?

Lost for words? Five novel ways to beat writer’s block

Fountain pen

Getting examples of your knowledge out into the public sphere is a great way to raise your profile and prove that you understand your industry. Whether you write a blog, place articles in the media, or even pen a book, you can be sure that one day, without warning, you’ll suffer from the dreaded writer’s block.

Faced with this malady, some scour the internet for ideas to inspire them, while others head to the shops or water cooler, hoping a distraction will allow their next brainwave to come naturally. But sometimes, these methods just don’t work.

The next time you find yourself staring at a blank screen, bereft of inspiration, these five questions should help get you writing once again:

  1. When was the last time a client asked you a question about what you are doing for them or how you do it? Keep a note of these questions to create a ready list of article topics to dip into.
  2. What are the most common misconceptions about the kind of services you offer? Posts that make a complicated industry easily understood can be very popular, and will also put potential clients at ease.
  3. For each of the services you offer, there’s usually a line between DIY and calling in the professionals. Can you define that line, and what advice can you give DIYers?
  4. Do you subscribe to industry news sources to keep up with events and legislation affecting what you do? Translate these into layman’s terms to create useful news snippets for your readers.
  5. Are there others within your business with a related but different skill set or knowledge base? Make the most of the rich resources around you by inviting staff to contribute ideas, anecdotes or even full articles.

So, would these ideas work for you? What do you do when your creativity takes an unscheduled vacation?