I recently celebrated the publishing of my 100th blog post for Affinity Express. To seasoned bloggers, this number is not all that impressive. But for our small team covering multiple areas of marketing, this was a major milestone for one of us to achieve that took much blood, sweat and tears (I cried because my other team members seem to write amazing posts without the same level of angst as me!).
As I know many small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) struggle to maintain a blog or wonder how they can ever get started, I thought I'd reflect on what I have learned and try to save you some of the pain I have had.
1. Focus on one audience. You may have several different segments of customers, prospects, or other readers. But it is very hard to be everything to everyone. We initially wanted to speak to prospects in publishing and marketing services companies (which serve SMBs) and retailers (which have different requirements). We also wanted to provide employee topics--we have quite a diverse team--and share the expertise of various executives at our company. An added challenge for Marketing was to find enough authors and "urge" them to publish something of interest on deadline—no easy task. And meeting the objective to get people to contribute regularly like guest columnists was virtually impossible. As a result, the wide array of topics and the continually changing perspectives meant that it was hard to see the mission of the blog.
We solved the problem by streamlining. We decided our audience was the SMB marketers, the same audience that our publishing and marketing services clients target. This enables us to demonstrate that we understand the challenges our clients face and have the expertise to help them support their end customers. It builds credibility for our services and the related support we provide. It also makes it easier for us to determine whether a topic makes sense for us to cover or not.
2. Find your company's voice. It is okay to have several authors but there should be a cohesive voice for your company. This does not mean sounding like a press release or a robot. Rather, it is a matter of determining your blog's personality and then sticking with it, while allowing flexibility based on the topic.
The Affinity Express blog post is written by three of us: Kriti, Mel and me. You could not put together a more diverse group of people. We live in three countries, are different ages and are at different stages of our personal lives and careers. But we still manage to provide content that works together under the Affinity Express umbrella because there is an overall voice for the blog. At the same time, Kriti does not sound like me in her posts, nor does Mel.
3. Get personal. While you want to have a voice for your business, social media is about people and your authors should sound like living, breathing, emoting humans. I think the initial instinct of bloggers just getting started is to write in the third person or "brochure language" (Not that this has ever happened to me, of course!). For those of us who worked in marketing before social media existed, this is what we were taught was correct for marketers representing their companies. But a blog is an entirely different animal. Thoughts, opinions and jokes in the first-person are not only acceptable but desired.
Of course, the one caution is that we can never forget we are blogging for businesses and are representing our companies. I can remember one incident where a tweet was sent out to promote a post I wrote. When I was busy working on something else, I got a curious email from a colleague who heard from a client following us. I won't quote it here, but I had to go back to the person who tweeted and explain, "Taken out of context, this sound X-rated." Needless to say, we deleted the tweet!
4. Draw on experiences. When dreaming up topics, sometimes you need to go no further than what happened yesterday or last week. If you have chosen the right audience, it is likely you have a steady stream of occurrences you can write about that will be of interest and/or helpful to your readers. Did you solve a customer challenge? Did you hear about a new product or service? Did you create a strong PowerPoint presentation that got a great response? Sometimes you can even draw upon personal events.
In the past, I compared managing marketing to dealing with snow because, like the weather, we know there will always be surprises and projects we can't control. It is just a matter of how much warning we will get.
5. Establish a social media calendar. As Kriti has written previously, social media is something you want to be able to react to as things happen or change. But you can still introduce structure to your efforts by planning out your blog posts, several tweets, Facebook posts, Pinterest pins and more. This gives you the consistency and predictability to ensure you get results, while opening up some time to track and respond to what is being said on various topics.
Kriti does a great job of managing our social media calendar each week. We meet on Thursday mornings and that's when she pitches her blog post topics and I let her know if I want to do anything different in the coming days. Then she submits the social media calendar with this input and the proposed content for the blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., on Friday mornings. Her blog post is submitted to me early in the week so she has the time able to participate in LinkedIn groups and listen to what is being said on all social media. This feeds into building the list of topics she'd like to write about for the next weekly blog post. That is planning ahead while also responding.
6. Monitor which posts get the most likes and comments. You should have a variety of different types of blog posts (we're partial to tips on marketing tactics, trends in various subjects and curating great material we find). But you want to skew the balance to the type that your audience reacts to most.
In our case, the audience of the Affinity Express blog tends to enjoy posts on designing specific items like business cards, websites and ads. The good news for us is that we complete thousands of orders per day so there is no shortage of work we can share!
7. Think about keywords and SEO. When you are populating your social media calendar for the next week, month or even year, make sure you consider the search terms for which you want your company to rank. For example, if you are a local spa, you might want to show up high on page one when people search for "hot stone massage Elgin IL." Then you should be planning and writing blogs on topics such as "why use hot stones in massages" and "the health benefits of regular massages."
For us, terms include "website design," "online ad production" and "social media copywriting," among many others. That's why we often write about tips to create these types of products. The SEO results are clear. Picking just two examples, we show up near the top of the results if you search for [color in ad design] and [design powerful presentations].
8. Use visuals to draw views and encourage sharing. We have found that some of our most popular posts are reviews of ads for specific market segments or holidays that our team has created. They offer tips and share several examples. The use of more graphics than our other types of posts seems to result in many more views. There is a very good reason for this:
"Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest have ushered in visual marketing as the breakout trend for 2012. When it comes to their products, businesses are learning to show, not tell, and visual content sites are fueling our desire for beautiful photography and sensational design. Two years ago, marketers were spreading the maxim that "content is king," but now, it seems, "a picture really is worth a thousand words" (The Rise of Visual Social Media).
9. Share the good information and perspective you find. With the tidal wave of information coming at us on an hourly basis these days, we are learning something new or how to do something better all day long (whether we remember what we read the next day or not!). Provide a service to your audience by compiling several articles on a topic or by helping them understand a relevant trend by citing experts and offering your insight and opinion. Your post gains credibility from the words of others and your links out to these other sources might earn you some additional visibility from the authors (if they link back to you or share your content with their audience) and readers (if they link to you post on their own blogs).
This is a good post on different types of curating you can try on your blog: How Content Curation Can Improve Your Search Rankings.
10. Evaluate your competitors. Take a look at your top and emerging competitors and evaluate their behavior on social media. Do they have a blog and, if so, how often do they publish? What topics do they cover and do they seem authoritative and interesting? It is important to differentiate your blog and carve out a niche for yourself so you have to know what others are doing. If there are no companies in your space or your geography blogging, great! You can set the pace and become the thought leader by establishing a blog.
I wrote about this in a previous post, citing a great article called: But My Business is Different. The post goes on to say that, when you are first in a category, you can take inspiration from all kinds of other businesses and define what social media means and how it fits into your industry. As a result, what you thought was a problem--social media strategies not applying to your business--is really not a problem at all. It is an opportunity to learn to think differently about how social media can work for you.
I was kind of hoping, now that I have wrapped up more than 100 posts, I would get a vacation, a watch, some champagne or something . . . but that's not how a blog works. Instead, I'm going to keep producing content consistently with Kriti and Mel, learning how I can improve and providing value to our audience—I hope. Here's to completing the next 100 posts! (Ugh!) What have you learned from your blogging experience and how have you used your blog to increase revenues and client loyalty?
What mistakes have you made you can help others avoid?