Friday, 30 May 2008

10 Tips for blogging for business

I was asked recently if I could suggest some light reading or advise how to set up and run a blog for an expert in his field, who was setting out on a new venture, but had little depth of knowledge of the Internet.

I thought initially, "oh, yeah, guide to blogging, no problem" - then went and looked and discovered I couldn’t easily lay my hands on anything that I would recommend to someone of his skillset - most articles and blogs assume that the reader already knows a fair amount about the media in which you are reading the article itself!

This might be fine for industry people, but not much use for most REAL business people, ie those NOT just in the internet industry.

Like this page you are reading, a blog (shorthand for Weblog) is merely a type of website that is enabled to allow you to add and amend the content yourself - it stores all the entries in an easy hierarchy and offers a simple way of gaining other's input and feedback on your posts (or blog entries).

And there's no need for you to be an IT prof to use something that can add value to your business, through building trust and engagement in your networks.

So, here's my 10 step quick guide to setting up and maintaining your own professional or company blog.

1/ STRATEGY - Before you rush off and launch a web browser and fire up Google to find a blogging tool, let’s get the basics in place and sort a strategy out. Just start with the simple (but usually ignored) top level things:

  • Why are you considering using a blog – what’s its purpose to be?
  • Who will read it – who are your audience?
  • Who is going to write and maintain the blog? (Even who is going to write it, it doesn’t have to be you. You might be a brilliant expert, but are you a copywriter? Is there someone else who is really expert and good at communicating?)
  • What will you write about? (If you don’t have a plan of articles, you can soon dry up and there’s little more lifeless than a blog that’s not been updated for months)
There’s a raft more questions that are worth consideration here; my advice is just to put yourself in the seat of a potential reader and try and think from their view but basically, if you don’t plan a destination, how will you know if you’ve arrived!

2/ TITLE and URL - Your blog will be located at a web address (URL) of your choice either under a blogging service (like Blogger as I use currently) or it can be directed to a page under your main company URL.
Think about a URL and also short blog title that makes sense to your audience – something that people may search for, and easily recall.
Is it your own name, a product name or company name that the audience will remember most? If it is your name, then you can set up a "digital footprint" of your name and use it as similarly as possible across blogs and other social media sites if you use them. Or is it your company or a product or skill? If so, incorporate that into the title This is an important step, as, once set up, it is difficult or impossible to change a blog name and title.

3/ PLAN - Detail a simple plan as to what you will blog / write about over a period of time - I recommend starting half a dozen or so posts (blog entries) so that you can add notes and research and make them comprehensive and thorough whilst in draft. In your plan it is worth detailing the main topics you will cover (eg mechanical, equipment, techniques etc) so that all entries can be tagged (a means of labelling posts to classify them) for ease of cross-reference. Also, with a plan, there will most likely be weightier topics that could warrant more detailed "white-papers" that could be included or referred to during your blog.

4/ GO! – Ok, you can start with the online meccano now! Its straightforward to set a basic blog up using one of the free services online (using Blogger or Wordpress for example) - there are help guides and how-to's all over YouTube (search for "how to blog" or "how to set up a blog") to help achieve this if needed. There are other ways to do it, too, where a free service doesn’t offer everything you want or you’d like to add certain functionality an maintain a strong brand presence, in which case talk to your web agency (or contact the team at Preview!)

5/ BRAND - Think carefully about your audience and your values. How do you engage with your clients now and how will the audience engage, what do they want to read / hear about and what tone of voice do you take with them? - is it sincere and professional, or friendly and conversational? Be consistent and then deliver your copy / blogs in this tone. Note also, your brand is incredibly powerful and is not just limited to your tone of voice, there’s colour and imagery in a website and you must be consistent. If you don’t have brand guidelines, its worth thinking about, otherwise you are potentially cutting out hooks with your audience.

6/ CONTENT– Don’t forget the pictures! Blogs, like printed material that doesn’t include pictures can be incredibly boring to look at and read. You are working in a rich media and one where rules for copy and content are very different to print.
Keep the sentences reasonably short, and use paragraph spaces to separate the copy up. With a clear, relevant picture here and there the copy is broken up and draws the audience’s eye.

What also helps bring blog content to life are dynamic links. Where you mention something that refers either to another section of the blog, or requires an external reference, simply link to it with an embedded link, a hyperlink. You might refer to a peer, manufacturer or reference site - if it adds value, its worth linking and re-using their content (as long as there is no copyright issue!)

7/ FEEDBACK- Ok, so you’ve published a few entries and are enjoying it. Now encourage feedback. A blog that no-one interacts with is, well, a website of old!
Be controversial if you can, have an opinion and get others to feedback to you, on the blog. That way your audience can join in the conversation and learn from each other as well as you.

There is a consideration for moderation here, but most systems (eg Blogger, Wordpress) allow you to turn on and off moderation capability, so you can check feedback and comments before it’s published. One word of warning; if you don’t like what someone says, unless it's spam, resist the temptation to delete it – publish it, but respond to the criticism or comment and engage, just like you would if you have a problem with a client in the business world. You are building trust, after all.

8/ ADVERTISE – Publicise the blog - put the address on the footer of your emails, mention it in your newsletter, put it on your business card and link to it from your website. Get contacts to forward it. If you write good and regular content, it will propagate naturally as people refer it on, but make it easy for them to do so, especially if you add social bookmarking tools like Digg, Stumbleupon and

9/ MEASURE - Dont forget to measure the success of your blog. Google Analytics can do this for you, but you'll probably need technical help to incorporate the code into your blog. It’s well worth it, as you can track the take up of your blog and what interests people and what doesn’t, and then hone the direction of it to make it more popular.

10/ FREQUENT – Keep your blog up to date. If you’ve decided that you will only blog once a month, fine, but it is generally better if you can write an entry at least once a week, or every day, if what you have to say is relevant. Short, punchy articles, or news stories that relate to your audience, re-distributed with your opinion are usually well-received.

One word of caution. Don’t forget that the internet is for ever. Even if your blog is only aimed at close friends or a small client list, the mighty tendrils of the search ‘bots will find everything you publish. It gets viewed, stored, distributed and archived, even if you think you’ve deleted it from your blog, it will most likely have been cached or copied within a few days and could come back and haunt you, so be careful what you write!

Once you have a few good results under your belt (and don’t lose sight that you have a product to offer and you are encouraging an audience to buy it, it’s not just free opinion), then you can look at other ways to promote your blog and increase engagement with your audience - see a great article here by a great blog writer

Have I missed anything significant? Please comment or feedback.

Let me know how you get on!