Blogging Off Topic

One of the most challenging aspects of business blogging is deciding upon a topic.  Not only do I hear the many “reasons” (a.k.a. excuses) for not choosing a topic and sticking with it,  but I’ve uttered a few of them to myself along the way.

Admittedly – it’s hard to stick to a tightly targeted topic.  It requires effort and creativity to compose blog posts that somehow – someway –  take a cursory pass at the topic of your blog.  Once again – I’d like to offer here a bit of advice for anyone who would rather learn from my experience than their own.

Blogging off topic

Why are you blogging?  It’s the most important question to ask as you launch your business blog.   If you’re enveloped in a fog created by the various “gurus” who tout business blogging as the way to get rich quick for your business – you’ll quickly discover that business blogging is not a get rich quick sport.

Business blogging is a GREAT way to build an impressive array of articles which showcase the value of your products and services.  Business blogging makes publishing these informative articles to the web quick and easy.   Through these articles – you can allow prospective customers/clients/patients to “see” what’s in store after they do business with you.

One important lesson I’ve learned over the past few years when it comes to business blogging is this:

Blog posts should be timeless.

However, when you are blogging – it’s often easier to write about what’s happening at the moment than to lay out a blogging “plan” for your upcoming posts. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes “the moment” is the fodder for the best blog posts.

SOMETIMES

Other times – “the moment” takes your blog horrifically off track and off topic.

A few years ago – I wrote such a “blogging off topic in the moment” post.  At the time, I was feeling abused by a local business and very angry.   I also had shiny new  powerful Weapon of Mass Destruction – my blog.  I vented my frustration under the title “When a pest control company becomes your biggest pest.”

That blog post did everything I wanted it to do at that moment in time.    My account with the company was quickly adjusted and I was pleased.  Not only did I achieve satisfaction – but once again I saw the benefits of maintaining a business blog.

That was then – this is now.

Today that blog post seems to have become an internet lightning rod for Floridians frustrated by their pest control company.  (Pest control services are a necessity when you live in the Sunshine State.) So what’s not to love about a blog post that gets so popular that it becomes the target of an internal online reputation repair campaign?

Well – it’s the fact that the blog post is completely and totally off topic for my blog.

When visitors arrive at my blog via search – they see that blog post as their “opening page”.    Keep in mind, many of those visitors are here for information about pest control companies in Florida.   There isn’t much information here beyond that single post – so these visitors bounce.  They aren’t here for information about social media marketing or business blogging – they’re here because they’re upset with their pest control company.

Business blogging is definitely a horse of a different color than “traditional” blogging.

As a business blogger – you need to create TIMELESS blog posts that are on target – because the older those blog posts get – the more likely they are to show up in a search.

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”  ~Mark Twain

I blogged in the moment – and I inadvertently picked a cat up  by the tail.

A word to the wise – if you’re blogging for your business – focus upon keeping your blog posts on topic and timeless.

First Impressions Mean Everything

It turns out the first impression your business makes on consumers may be the only impression you ever get a chance to make.

Studies have shown that first impressions are actually more powerful than previously thought.  It’s possible our brains are actually wired so that the first impression made upon us by others actually become self-fulfilling prophecies.

One such study was done by psychologist Nalini Ambady.  During her time at Havard, she performed an experiment to examine the effect of first impressions on perception.  In this study, she divided students enrolled in a college class  into two groups.  She showed each group video clip of the professor “in action”.  One group saw clips which depicted the professor as cold and uncaring.  The other group saw clips which portrayed the professor as warm and caring.  Each student was asked to write an evaluation of the professor after viewing the clip.  Of course, their first impressions of the professor were carefully crafted – and students who were shown one set of clips had a distinctly different first impression that the group shown the second set of clips.  The students in both groups then took the class with the professor in question.

I wanted to believe that once the students EXPERIENCED the professor’s teaching firsthand that they would then be able to form an “accurate” opinion.  I wanted to believe that Instead of the carefully crafted first hand impression they had formed based on watching a few brief video clips, the students would end the class seeing the professor for who and what he really was.

However, that’s not what happened in the study.  Instead of the students revising their original first impressions based on first hand experience, they instead fiercely clung to their carefully orchestrated first impression.

At the end of the semester – the students who saw the videos depicting the professors as warm and caring still described him as warm and caring.  Those who began the semester thinking the professor was cold and uncaring ended by describing the professor as cold and uncaring.

This study – and several others that followed – seem to illustrate this disturbing fact:

The first impressions actually become self-fulfilling prophecies.

This study shows why it’s essential that your business make a good first impressions on consumers.  That’s one of the reasons business blogging is becoming such a powerful force for businesses big and small.

When you begin blogging for your business – it gives your business an opportunity to “speak” in a warm and caring manner.  You can influence consumers by “speaking” in a warm, caring voice via your blog.  You can write to address their problems and provide answers.  You can carefully craft the first impression your business makes on consumers.

So often, small businesses craft their web site trying to appear “cold and uncaring”…. a.k.a. “professional”.   I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a static web presence that has a professional appearance – but the real question is –

Is that what consumers want when they visit your web site?

Your professional static web site may offer basic information consumers need – but chances are they need more.  They need a carefully crafted first impression maker which casts your business as the problem solver they need.

That’s the type of first impression your business blog can make.

Your business blog can do more than your static web site because it can tell daily, weekly or monthly stories of how others have used your products/services to conquer evil and save the world.

Maybe your stories won’t be Star Wars epic and grand – but you get the picture.

Your business blog can share real life customer testimonials – via the written word, via audio or even via video.  As you create those stories and share those testimonials – you’ll find that your business blog begins to almost magically begin attracting visitors who were searching for “keywords” contained within those stories.

That’s a “warm and caring” first impression every business owner should be striving to make.

When is it time to stop business blogging?

Launching a business blog is an exciting time.  The opportunities that open up as a result of blogging for your business are positively staggering.  There’s no way to predict specifically how blogging will impact your business – but if you give blogging for your business a six month commitment – you will no doubt witness some form of benefit that more than justifies the time and expense.

Perhaps you’re like a lot of business owners and one of the reasons you haven’t started blogging for your business is that you’re afraid it’s a never ending commitment.   If the prospect of making an open ended commitment to business blogging  makes you nervous, take heart.

Every business owner who maintains a business blog will have to answer the question, “Is it time to stop blogging?”

Jim Kukral is a blogging superstar.  He’s an author – a speaker and a consultant who began blogging way back in 2001.  Blogging has helped to establish Kukral as a sought after speaker,  author and business thought leader.   Last week – he announced that he has quit blogging and  his announcement has created quite a stir. Many have offered their take on Kukral’s decision to quit blogging.  Jonathan Fields writes in his post “Should YOU stop blogging

[T]he bigger message we should all take from his announcement is not that blogging is dead, but that:

  1. We need to examine why we’re doing what we’re doing on a regular basis, then
  2. Respond and evolve to accommodate change, both external market-imposed change, and internal shifts in where we want to take our businesses and lives.

We’re all hostages to the constraints that time places upon us.  We all have a mere 168  hours available each and every week.  Work – play – sleep –  all have to fit within the confines of 24/7.  It’s no secret that launching and maintaining a business blog takes time and we all have to budget our time effectively.

We make  dozens of” time budgeting” decisions daily – many of them without much conscious thought.

I like to equate blogging with exercise because both require a regular commitment and the benefits tend to accumulate over time.  When we say that we’re “too busy” to exercise – what we’re really doing is valuing the benefits of other activities over the benefits of exercising.

There’s one key difference.

The benefits of business blogging don’t stop when you quit blogging.

Stop exercising for three months and your body will definitely tell the tale.  On the other hand, assuming you’ve created a solid business blog foundation – you can take 3 months off from business blogging and come back to find a business blog that is stronger – not weaker – as a result.

The time you devote to business blogging today will continue to benefit your business long after you’ve stopped blogging.

Lisa Barone over at Outspoken Media gets it.  In her blog post, she is encouraging business owners to ask the right questions about using social media.  She writes:

Ask yourself:

  • What are your business reasons for doing X?
  • What actions are important to help you see a benefit from X?
  • What are the rules for the organization when participating in X?
  • Is X the best thing for your business, or could you see a better reward if you switched your focus to something else?

I love the way Lisa phrased these questions – because they’re questions that every business owner needs to ask about EVERY business activity – not just business blogging.

One of my clients recently let her membership to the local Chamber of Commerce expire.  She enjoyed the networking activities but her business is “bigger” than the small Tennessee town in which she resides.  As her practice has grown – she has had to evaluate whether the time she spends socializing at local Chamber events is the most profitable use of her time.  This year, her answer to whether to remain active is”No”.  For her,  that 2 hours a month is better spent finishing her book and blogging than socializing.

For Jim Kukral – when he asked those questions – his evaluation of the time he was spending blogging lead him to quit investing time in creating new blog posts.

But notice – he is NOT taking DOWN his business blog.

That’s not what Jim means when he says he is “quitting blogging”.  There’s a big difference between taking DOWN your blog and choosing to stop actively creating new content for your business blog.

Over the past nine years, Jim has created hundreds – perhaps thousands of blog posts.   Even though Jim won’t be creating new blog posts, the posts he has created in the past will continue to serve him well.   When visitors arrive at Kukral’s now static blog – they will still be able to click on the links in the sidebar – they’ll still be greeted with a pop-up window to ask them to sign up for Jim’s newsletter – they can still become a “doer” and part of his private inner circle.

In other words, Jim’s blog will continue to do what his blog has been doing for the past nine years – building trust, establishing his expertise, collecting leads and selling his book.  The point is – now his blog has reached a point where he doesn’t HAVE to keep adding posts.  He can simply let his blog continue to do what he created it to do.

One of the biggest”fears” I hear expressed about business blogging is that business owners confuse business blogging with “blogging”.  Business blogging does not require that you post three times a day 7 days a week.  The only reason for blogging on that type of schedule  is if your primary competition is the 24/7 cable news networks.

For most business bloggers – posting one or two articles a week will result in a robust offering of informative articles about the benefits of doing business with you.  Two blog posts a day for five years will yield a “website” with over 500 pages of content.

That’s 500 opportunities to share 500 different ways your product or service has been used to solve your target audiences problems.

So when is it time to stop business blogging? My answer would be when you’ve stopped offering new products and services and you’ve covered every possible angle on the products and services you currently offer.

  • Stop blogging for your business when you can’t think of another way to illustrate the value of your product.
  • Stop blogging for your business when every consumer in your target audience knows why your the natural choice.
  • Stop blogging for your business when you run out of ways to share with potential consumers the benefits of your product or service.

Of course, you won’t achieve any of the above in five blog posts or less.   The act of blogging is easy – the art of packaging your products and services into a a cohesive marketing message is the hard part.

Of course, in order to stop blogging for your business you have to start – and for many business owners – they have yet to clear that hurdle.

Business Blogging – Free Blogs vs “Your” blog

One of the great things about having a business blog is it allows people who visit to ask questions via the comments section.   Think of your business blog as an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page on steroids. Even if you have a “regular” website and even if that website has an FAQ page – a blog can still help you to illustrate all the  potential benefits consumers can experience by using your products and/or services.

That’s just one reason business blogs are great for growing your business.  They provide an opportunity for visitors to ask questions…. visitors who have found your business blog post while searching for information via the search engines.  Recently, a visitor to this blog asked: “Is it better to have the blog on your own website or blog on another site that lets you post your blogs there for free?”

What a great question.   It’s such a great -and basic-  question that surely it’s one I’ve answered before.

OOPS!!!

Maybe not.

Is it possible that over the course of 314 blog posts that I haven’t answered this basic question about business blogging? A quick search through the posts and pages on this site reveals that I haven’t addressed this topic previously and it’s definitely one that needs to be addressed.

Why would you want to PAY for a business blog when you can blog so many places for free??

Well – as in most things online – FREE rarely is truly “free”.  Often times – free comes with strings attached.  The same is true of  blogs.

While WordPress offers an incredibly easy, world famous 5 minute installation of the software – and if your hosting includes cpanel you can install WordPress without ever connecting via FTP – to truly set up your own self hosted WordPress business blog and use it as a powerful marketing tool requires a willingness to acquire a minimal level of technical expertise.   Not only do you need to possess (or be willing to acquire) a smidgen of tech savvy to set up WordPress on your own – you need to make sure you keep your installation of WordPress up to date to protect your business blog from hackers.

There is an easier way – and that’s to simply set up your blog on one of the many free blog sites. Free blogs are by far the easiest way to get started blogging.  They’re easy to use and easy to set up but because they’re free – but as anyone can tell you who has launched a blog – there’s a lot more to creating a success blog than simply creating a blog post or two.   To unlock the full power of blogging for your business- you need a to craft a business blogging strategy in order to create a successful blog.

Let’s say you are able to invest the time and effort needed to educate yourself on your own on how to create a successful blog to promote your business.  You might be thinking that it’s better to “learn the ropes” while blogging on a free site and then migrate your site to a self hosted blog – one which YOU control.

Which brings us to  one of the key “sticking” points with free blogging sites.  I liken it to building a house on land you do not own.

A while back, Yahoo decided to pull the plug on their free blogging site – much to the dismay of those who had come to depend upon the free blogging service.   This illustrates a key point which is when it comes to free blogs – there’s no guarantee that any free blogging site will either continue to operate or continue to remain free. (A quick read of  Tumblr’s terms of service agreement will reveal that they reserve the right to begin charging for the service at an unspecified point of time in the future).

With the more successful free blog sites, you can probably rest assured that they won’t pull the plug on your free blog site because they have developed a way to make money from your blog posts.  You might be surprised to learn that many free blogging sites can use a plugin which inserts a special piece of code into each blog post.  This bit of code will only display ads to visitors when they find your blog post via the search engines.   You might not be aware of these ads because the plugin can be configured to not display ads to the author – or to visitors who arrive at the blog via other means like when they follow a link from your business website to the blog.

In other words, when you use one of these “freebie” blog sites – very often the visitors who find your post via the search engines will also be seeing paid ads in the body of the posts.  Because of the nature of online advertising – those ads will most likely be run by you or your competitors.

It’s a brilliant easy money strategy for the free blog site owners because when someone finds your blog post via a search on a search engine –  they are usually very serious about finding the products and services you offer – and very likely to click on these ads.  If you’ve ever run a PPC campaign, you know that such ads can run as high as $20 or more per click. This is why these free blog services are willing to allow your quality blog posts live on their site for no charge, because you’re doing the work and they get paid from advertiser dollars instead of from you directly.

Still not convinced that starting your business blog under your own domain on your own web hosting account is the way to go?

Here’s the final item I’ll submit for your consideration – blogs obey the same “rules” that govern the web.  One of the “rules” of the web is that older sites (and blogs) do better than newer sites (and blogs).  The search engines LOVE blogs – especially older established blogs – blogs with loads of incoming links.  Most of those incoming links – when you create a blog on a free hosting service – will be linking  – for example – to yourblog.wordpress.com.

So when you decide to migrate your blog to your own domain name – you may be able to pull the database and migrate the blog posts – but you won’t be able to pull the incoming links with you.  Those links STAY pointing to the free blog – you’ll have to earn new incoming links to your newly migrated blog just the same as if you started from scratch.  I recommend that when a business blogger wants to migrate from a free blog to a self hosted blog that they leave the blog intact on the free site and simply start from scratch again – creating a text sidebar widget which directs visitors of the free blog to the new blog – where new information can be found.

Creating a successful business blog is a time consuming process that can yield great rewards for your business.   Blogging for your business is truly a numbers game. Each week – you can create just two blog posts which results in over 100 pages of content written each year.   As you create those blog posts, you’ll  be unintentionally targeting “long tail keywords” – low volume keywords which people tend to use when they are REALLY searching online for information about the products and services you offer.  As time goes on – those blog posts can more an more “authority” until most business blogs have literally dozens of blog posts – each bringing a trickle of prospective customers into the funnel.    As those trickles combine – they grow into a stream and finally a mighty river.  It doesn’t happen overnight – but it can and does happen.

Great Opportunities Brilliantly Disguised

When you launch your business – your greatest opportunities will often be brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.

I shared earlier the “impossible” situation Janet Simpson found herself in on your way to the top – you might fall down.  She finished her 5 mile race despite falling flat on her face and cracking several ribs.  I shared how that’s the kind of tenacity you have to have to launch your own successful business.

Back in 1997- a series of minor “impossible” situations forced me to leave my “real job”  in advertising and launch my own business.   Along the way – I’ve experienced what seems like more than my fair share of impossible situations.     One thing I’ve learned over the years is this:

Hidden deep inside each and every impossible situation is a great opportunity.

The key word above is “hidden”…. because for some mysterious reason great opportunities are rarely easily visible.

In order to find the great opportunity which lies hidden within your impossible situation – you’re going to have to dig.

You’re going to have to dig into that impossible situation with your bare hands because impossible situations rarely happen when you’re surrounded by the proper tools.

You’re going to have to dig through that impossible situation until your fingers are bleeding – and then you get to dig some more.

You will probably have to dig through layers of gunk and goo which makes raw sewage seem sweet in comparison – all in search of the golden nugget of opportunity which lies hidden within.

Og Mandino wrote:

“Your capacity for occasional blunders is inseparable from your capacity to reach your goals. No one wins them all, and your failures, when they happen, are just part of your growth. Shake off your blunders. How will you know your limits without an occasional failure? Never quit. Your turn will come.”

There is no way to ensure that you’ll never find yourself in an impossible situation – however you’ll reduce the odds of finding yourself there if you never take a risk.

My favorite saying lives on a coffee mug which reads, “What would you do today if you knew you could not fail?”

With that attitude – even the most impossible of situations becomes a treasure trove of opportunities.

Happy gold mining!

On your way to the top – you might fall down

I’d like to introduce you to Janet Simpson.  She is a nutrition coach and registered dietitian.  However, she’s also  an entrepreneur, a professor, a mentor, a grandmother and tri-athlete.  She could have cut time from her first triathlon if she hadn’t stopped to hug and kiss her grandchildren who were there to cheer her on.

In other words, Janet is “Wonder Woman” in the flesh.

Janet had previously shared with me that she was planning to run in a 5 mile “fun run”.  If running five miles doesn’t sound like “fun” to you – you ain’t heard nothing yet.  When she finished with her fun run, she planned on helping race organizers tend to the needs of those running the 100 mile course.  That’s not a typo – in addition to the “mini” 5 mile run, there were half and full marathons in addition to the  one hundred mile competition!!!

Eighty people signed up to run the 100 mile course, and Janet later told me that the winner finished in a mere 18 hours.  She reported that he looked as fresh and energized as if he’d just completed a jog around the block.  Of the 80 who signed up for the 100 mile run – 60 completed the course in well under the 30 hour time limit.  Of those who didn’t finish – all completed at least 60 of the 100 mile run – before succumbing to such injuries as their toenails falling off.  One competitor ran the entire 100 miles barefoot.  Did I mention the race was held in October in Michigan?  BRRRR!!!!

If you think running 100 miles in the course of a single day barefoot in the cold sounds like an entry in the DSM-IV for some form of mental illness – you’re not alone.

While the runner who won the 100 mile run finished the race looking and feeling great – the same couldn’t be said for Janet. The course she ran followed a trail which lead through a forest.   The leaves from the trees  had  fallen, covering the exposed roots and other hidden dangers.  As Janet began her descent down a steep hill, she found herself flying through the air.  She had inadvertently hooked her toe under an exposed  tree root- hidden from view by the leaves.  She landed face down with enough force to not only scrape her face, hands and knees but also to knock the wind out of her and  crack a rib or two in the process.

Here’s the amazing part – the part that anyone who aspires to build a business of any size needs to know –

Janet still finished the race.

Even though she was battered and bruised, she sill  finished running the race -and came in 2nd in her age category to boot.   Initially she justified finishing the race by saying that she fell at the 2.5 mile mark and it only made sense to keep moving forward.  However, she later admitted that she could have chosen to ride to the finish line – but she was determined to finish the race under her own power.

What this story has to do with building your business

Building a business is hard.  I’ve worked with literally hundreds of new business owners and few are prepared for how difficult the process can be.  It’s taxing physically, mentally and emotionally.  As a general rule, everything will cost more than you think it will and take longer to complete than you think it should.  It’s just how business launches go.

New business owners are rarely prepared for the many obstacles they will have to overcome as they launch their new business.  While some hazards are common enough to be experienced by almost all business owners, others are like the tree roots in the forest through which Janet ran which laid hidden beneath the leaves.

According to Patricia Schaefer at Business Know How, one of the key attributes needed to start a business is the ability to recover after encountering such hidden obstacles.  She writes:

You learn from your mistakes, and use these lessons to succeed the next time around. Brian Head, Economist with the SBA Office of Advocacy, noted that studies of successful business owners showed they attributed much of their success to “building on earlier failures;” on using failures as a “learning process”.

Some hazards you’ll encounter as you launch your business are predictable.  That’s why you choose carefully the team members you’ll use to support you as you build your business.  A good accountant, attorney or business consultant can help a new business owner see many potential hazards which lie ahead.  Their advice is often worth it’s weight in gold – but if you’ve never tripped on a hidden root and broken a rib – you might not realize how valuable your trusted adviser’s advice is.

No matter how good your counsel – chances are that as you build your business – you’re going to have to navigate a steep path covered with newly fallen leaves.  You too may stumble upon a hidden exposed tree root and you may find yourself lying face down on the ground, battered and bruised with the wind knocked out of you.

At that moment – you’ll  have a decision to make.  Will you use the fall as your excuse to leave the race?  Will you climb upon the courtesy cart and be ferried back to the finish line?  Or – will you pick yourself up and start running again – heading towards the finish line?

The answer ultimately determines whether or not you’ll succeed in your business – because it’s not a question of WHETHER you’ll fall.  You will fall.  It’s just a matter of when, where and why.

No- the question is whether you decide to get up and try, try again after the fall. Will you view your fall as a learning experience – or will you view it as the end of the race?

Business Blogger – Know Your Audience

There’s no way for me to over emphasize how important it is to know your target audience.  It’s my experience that blogging without a target audience firmly in mind is one of the primary reasons why business blogs fails to make a”connection” with customers.

In  the blog post “Telling Stories to Sell More Stuff” I gave an exaample of how the recent Allstate commercial tells a story which effectively entertains and educates at the same time making it a powerful marketing tool.

I saw another ad in the Allstate Mayhem series while watching a football game the other day.  This 2nd ad  is tightly targeted towards football fans and frames the new story in a way to appeal to a different audience.   Instead of a teen-aged driver in a pink SUV – this story uses a college football quarterback to tell the story.  Though it uses a similar story plot – it casts different “players” to tell the tale so it will “connect” with yet another niche market.

When you defined your blog’s target audience –  you’ll know who should be starring in the stories you tell.    You’ll know who to cast as a villain and who to cast as the conquering hero.

If you haven’t defined your blog’s target audience though – you won’t know where to begin.

Blogging for your business is incredibly easy and hard at the same time.  A blog makes it easy to get your story published to the web.  Unlike the television commercial featured above – you don’t have to hire a production company or actors to tell your story which makes it a great tool to “test” the waters and see which message connects with your audience.

However, while it’s easy to publish your story online with a business blog –  you are still faced with the task of composing those stories with your target audience in mind.  That’s where blogging gets hard for most business owners and bloggers.

Sometimes you have to compose dozens of different stories before you find one that connects with your audience.  Business blogging allows you to “test” these stories and see which one makes a connection.

Your business blog allows you start the process by telling the story with words – and then move on to audio or video if you see that a particular story has struck a chord.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a client who wanted to try something new with her blog.  She had an idea for a feature she thought might connect with her target audience and it was an idea which had the potential of becoming “viral”.   However, she wanted to test the waters first and her blog was the perfect test vehicle.

Instead of investing in a production crew to create video stories – my client started by creating a written story which she published to her blog.  She then broadened that single story to a series of stories.  Now she is incorporating audio into the story telling process. If that’s successful – THEN she’ll make the necessary financial investment to move to video to tell her stories.

When your marketing and advertising budget is less than 5 figures per month, you have to be “smart” about what paths you pursue.  “Spray and pray” is not a viable marketing strategy for most small and medium sized businesses.  When you’ve got limited resources – you can’t afford to invest in creating a “viral” video that doesn’t work to build your business.   That’s where your blog can be a money saving lifesaver.

Blogging is a wonderful cost effective way test your marketing stories which is just one reason why your business should be blogging.

Telling Stories to Sell More Stuff

Since the beginning of time, stories have been used to not only entertain but also to teach and even sell.   Blogs are a great vehicle for telling stories.  If you want to use your blog to sell products or your services, then it’s important to master the art of storytelling.

I got an email from a beginning blogging client the other day – asking if a post was too “silly” to use on the blog.  I replied that there is no such thing as content which is “too silly” for a blog post.

There’s no such thing as “too silly for a blog post” advice comes from someone who wronte about condoms and social marketing in which I told how I mistook a brown paper bag filled with condoms for moist towelettes.  The moral to the story was how my frame of mind affected my perception of what was inside.

“When people arrive at your blog, website or other advertising material, they already have a conversation going on inside their head.  If the conversation on your blog – on your website or in your advertising materials isn’t clear – you might be surprised at how “distorted” you message can get.”

Telling stories is an incredibly effective way to sell more stuff – whatever “stuff” you’re selling because stories can entertain and educate at the same time,

Allstate is currently running a series of amusing commercials which entertain and educate – the story of what your “cut rate” insurance may not cover.

You don’t have Allstate’s media budget to air your amusing and educational stories nationally.  There is another more affordable option available and that’s telling these stories on your blog.

Heck – even if you have that kind of advertising budget- your blog is a great place for entertaining and educational stories to live when they’re not burning up the airwaves.

Before you can decide what storiess you need to tell, you first need to decide what information consumers need.  Allstate’s commercials are educating conumsers about what might not be covered by your “cut rate” insurance.

What information do you need to communicate to your audience?  What do they need to know in order to buy from you?

If you’re competing solely upon price- then telling stories probably isn’t for you,  However, if you’re making a Major Sale – consumers want and need as much information as possible before they make a decision.  Your blog can tell a hundred variations of your educational and entertaining stories.  Those stories may not garner a lot of consumer comments – but they may do something better like contacting you to learn more about how to become YOUR customer,

Social Media’s Role in Branding

Before social media, branding was the buzzword of the marketing and advertising industry.  Like social media today – many in the “biz” were familiar with the term branding – but really didn’t “get” what it was really all about.  As a result a lot of “noise” has been made about branding which focuses upon the choice of colors, logo or other visual elements used in marketing.   But branding is so much more than just the visual packaging of your business or even your business name.  While the name and the visual elements are a way to quickly communicate the “core” or DNA of your business to consumers who don’t know you yet – your true BRAND is built through interaction with your customers.

I’ve always said that branding is not something you do to your business – but rather it’s something your customers do to your business.  Just as a calf does not control the hot metal which sears a symbol into it’s flesh – your company’s brand is controlled consumers.  This is why focusing upon the consumer and striving to meet their expectations is the foundation of branding.  Social media gives businesses a way to make that connection – to collect that information – and to actually see your business from the consumer’s point of view.

Peter Drucker was a self-described “social ecologist” whose insight helped to build some of the most successful companies in the world including General Electric, Coca-Cola, Citicorp, IBM, and Intel. Drucker attempted to unveil some of the “mystique” surrounding branding,

“Suppliers and especially manufacturers have market power because they have information about a product or a service that the customer does not and cannot have, and does not need if he can trust the brand. This explains the profitability of brands.”

According to Drucker – the essence of branding is building trust and long term business profitability ultimately depends upon building trust with consumers.  Branding is all about building trust with consumers.   When consumers can trust you – they’re more likely to buy from you.  Social media provide the communication tools necessary to engage consumers and build that trust.

The process of building trust with consumers used to be as mysterious and abstract as quantum mechanics.   Companies had no way of knowing whether they had made a “connection” with consumers other than to watch for the cash register to tally up another sale.    Social media is providing revolutionary insight into this once obscure concept but  it’s increasing the importance of actively striving to build trust with consumers as well.

Blog posts and building trust with prospective customers

In Blogging, Authority and Trust I talk about how in order to gain access to a prospective customer’s emotional triggers you have to engender a level of “trust” with a prospective customer or client.   That level of trust begins as “trust” and can grow into “authority” with time.

In “Trusting your Gut“I shared the word picture which illustrates how the whole process of building trust works. Now I’d like to illustrate the role trust plays in social media marketing by sharing a recent person experience on how a single blog post – and the comments approved on the post – worked to build – and then destroy – the elements of trust needed to make a sale.

I was searching for software which would automate a task I perform in my business.  Since I’m going to be asking this piece of software to eliminate the need to hire an employee – I know it’s not going to be freeware.   I entered the keywords to describe the software into Google and -not surprisingly – one of the first results returned was a WordPress blog post.  In the post, the author asked his readers to share what software solutions they had used to solve the same problem I’m having.  The blog post had almost 60 comments by the time I arrived and I had high hopes that I would quickly and easily discover the software I needed.

At this point, my trust account balance with this blogger is low.  However, I’m willing to give this blog author the opportunity to earn my trust.  After all – his post is appearing first in Google, it appears he talks about issues affecting my business.

The post itself was basically fluff  – asking readers to submit the solutions they had found. I didn’t mind this – as a matter of fact, I was happy to see it.  It’s great to see how others are solving this apparently common problem.

The first few comments were apparently authentic- each of which acted like a deposit into the newly opened trust account.  Most of the authentic comments on the blog post fell along the lines of “I still use pen and paper to perform this task.”  UGH!  That’s what I’m doing now.

Notice that these are what I call the authentic responses because it was obvious that these were real readers with real businesses.    Unfortunately,  there were only about a dozen “authentic” responses – followed by about four dozen “inauthentic” responses.

There were several comments which looked authentic at first glance.  They included a photo gravatar combined with a first name – like “John” – followed by a comment which went along the lines of “we looked long and hard for an easy to use, intuitive software program to handle these tasks and were delighted to find [insert software name here].”  The comment then went on to describe the software’s benefits in glowing terms.

The problem with “John’s” comment and many others began with a simple hyperlink.  See, one way a reader “gauges” the authenticity of a comment is by following the hyperlinks in the comment.  In the case of these inauthentic “shill” comments,  when you clicked on the link to see if you could “trust” the glowing recommendation.  – surprise surprise -you would find the hyper linked went directly to the website selling the software program described in the comment.

Congratulations “John” – you garnered some weak link juice and lost the opportunity for me to even download a trial version of your software.

John and several others were obviously shill posting as a satisfied customers promoting their software solution via this blog post. This may be what some people call “social media marketing” but it’s really just spamming the comments of blog posts by posing as a satisfied customer.   It’s yet another example of a blunder in online reputation management – one that can’t be easily erased.

The moral of this story is that several software developers who tried to promote their products via shill comments lost the valuable opportunity to be “authentic” and showcase their software product to a prospective customer who was actively researching a purchase.

Instead of leveraging the power of a blog post with a #1 SERP on a valuable – albeit long tail – keyword term to capture high quality sales leads by leaving an authentic blog comment – a surprising number of software developers settled for a link with very little SEO value and absolutely no potential for real customer engagement.

This experience illustrates a lot of “blogging truths”….

  1. Leaving thoughtful comments on other blogs which add value to the conversation are a great way to get new readers for your blog.
  2. Finding blog posts which use powerful keyword phrases and leaving authentic comments is a great way to promote your product or services.
  3. Trying to “game” social media is a waste of time and energy.
  4. Trust which is quickly earned is fragile – and must be earned over time to fully develop into authority.

The best social media marketing practices begin by recognizing that social media is transparent.  Unfortunately it’s relatively easy to “stand out” from the crowd by simply being honest and telling the truth. In the blog post mentioned above, one software developer was “authentic” in his comment – sharing that he was the developer  and asking for input about his software from readers.

The web is big – and often you’ve got a limited opportunity to engage with a prospective customer.  Why would you waste it by lying and pretending to be someone you’re not?