Are you a Marathon Blogger or a Sprinter?

Blogging has probably matured a great deal since you started. Part of it is that it has reached critical mass, or tipping point, as it may be. The more people have blogs, the more blogs out there contending for everyone’s time and attention. Part of it is that thanks to all the great advice out there, many have learned about the ins and outs of:

– attracting readers
– getting comments
– writing better content
– having cleaner designs
– increasing subscribers
– finding post ideas
– staying the course

Social media and marketing have become so ubiquitous, that one of the things we rarely think about is the way in which we approach publishing and how that feeds back into our self esteem and brand. If you feel well conditioned and ready for a rush of activity, good for you. If instead, you feel that you are in a race that never ends, you may need to take inventory of why that is. It could be that:

You’re overextended – too much distance in too many terrains

When your creativity is being scattered over too many sites, even if you consider yourself remarkably creative, your concentration suffers. So does your writing. In addition, your brand will become diluted.

It works just like it works with products and services. You need to pick a focus, a home base site, and develop that well. If you have multiple sites, you may want to pull back some of that work and put it on your main site.

Being overextended also means being tired and tired people’s nerves fray more easily. That is when you are likely to make a bad judgment call, or react to a comment instead of responding. That’s when things rip apart.

You are getting tired of the language of social media – too crowded

The words “conversation” “anything 2.0 or social media” even “blog” are being rendered less valuable by their mass appropriation. There’s just a lot of it out there, and some folks are busy pounding the terminology flat. The general solution here is to start looking past those words as your central point of reference.

Chances are your brand and business are much more than those terms. You need to get past them and focus on where you are going next, vs. where you are now. Words are very powerful and they can change how you think about what you do – and help others do the same.

Do you need to broaden your horizons, change your pace? Maybe you need to get out of the race altogether.

You may just not enjoy what you are doing anymore – you need rest

If you’re having a hard time coming up with fresh ideas regularly and just do not look forward to writing, you may suffer from burn out. It colors everything you do. Even when you’re writing well, you’re not appreciating your own success.

It’s a sign that it’s time for a change.

Blogging is also changing – bursts of activity scattered in more places

Discussion is migrating elsewhere. A lot of the smart people are migrating to things like Friendfeed — which is an important service — Facebook, and all the other stuff like Twitter and Plurk.

You might be able to restrict your availability on these outside discussions, driving conversation back to your site. Or maybe participating in off-site stuff increases your influence and drives the site. No one knows how that will play, yet.

It may be that you have to shift your expectations of a good post or a good week at your blog. It’s a time of flux in this area — it’s tough to say now. Maybe you’ll know in a year you’ll see what evolves in this area. The technology is still changing, too.

In the future, discussion may become very portable — very decentralized. But there will be software hooks back into websites. So you’ll comment where you wish, but the comments will get hooked wherever the publisher wants them.

Friendfeed, for instance, could be hooked to your site. When people comment on FF, the discussion is a sort of trackback. Friendfeed-like services may become social networks that get anchored where you want them. All hooked together. It will be easy when it’s ready. You’ll add a widget: done.

Content will propagate through these tools, eventually. Nets on top of nets. Communities will become more like flash mobs as these tools get adopted. More like butterflies, actually. People will see a bright flower, visit, and move on. They’ll be back.

Like any activity, business can be approached with a view to the long haul or in a very focused, and temporary manner. Are you in it for the long run, or is this just a sprint to your next destination? Are you a marathon blogger or a sprinter? There is no right or wrong, just make sure it is what you want.

How to be More Productive

It’s a common challenge we all encounter at some point or another. We are so busy getting through the basic tasks of publishing, that we become less organized – and thus less productive. The time we’d dedicate to marketing our blog and building relationships with readers vaporizes as we try to dig out from under.

If you’d like to find more time to share your ideas with others and attract a greater number of readers, you need to become more productive. You can start with five easy steps.

1. Put your bookmarks on de.licio.us. In fact, dump everything you might need later into de.licio.us. Not only can you search your links much faster than using your browser’s built in tools, your bookmarks will be available anywhere you go.

2. Find an RSS reader or web-based service you like, load the sites you visit regularly, and get familiar with the interface. This is the single most effective think you can do to optimize your online productivity. You’ll spend less time loading sites and hunting for data — and more sorting what you need. Hint: Google Reader.

3. Unsubscribe. It’s easy to get caught up in the noise of Web 2.0. Do you really need pokes and superpokes on Facebook? Did you just blow an hour of daylight on Twitter? Dump it. Decide what’s important, and stick with it.

4. Get your projects organized. One great way is Basecamp — a no-nonsense planning and management system suitable for personal or group use. Set goals, share files and information, whiteboard — in short, make it happen. There’s a free version suitable for single projects. The Basic plan is $24/month, and is as much project management as most small businesses will ever need.

5. Many hands make the job easier — or at least give you a living knowledge-base. So network — but be smart about which one you choose. Facebook has a huge user base, but may offer more distractions that your personal productivity allows. If you’re building a professional network, consider LinkedIn. It is more focused on business and you will find that members are open to helping you with marketing questions.

These are just five tools. What are some of your favorites?

Can You Run an Online Publication?

Answer honestly. Do you have what it takes to run background research, fact check, spell check, grammar check, objectivity check. Wait a moment, wasn’t blogging supposed to be about opinion and voice? Yes it was, and so was journalism. You are allowed to feel, witness (experience), and document what you see through your human filter.

Christiane Amanpour thinks that “there are some situations that one simply cannot be neutral about. Objectivity does not mean treating all sides equally. It means giving each side a hearing.” Herein lies the first lesson in running a publication for bloggers – it is about being balanced in recognizing differing points of view.

Another journalist I have tremendous respect for, John Timpane of the Editorial Board at The Philadelphia Inquirer – former Shakespearian English teacher and poet – calls it skepticism. This means requiring the official reality to explain itself. Not to be confused with another sentiment, which is often overused: cynicism. A cynic is not open to discovery, he is set in his ways. A skeptic, on the other hand, is open to receiving. In other words, they are listening while exercising critical thinking.

Now that you are listening, you can pass the biggest test.

The Biggest Test

The biggest test you can take after you honor the proper grammar and form is that of the attribution. Being objective means being honest with yourself, and with the other – both sides. Can you do that?

Then you are well on your way. All the other things – finding news, analyzing it, doing background and fact checks, even finding a sponsor or an ad network for your publication is easier.

The hardest part is always that of objectivity. Asking, even requiring reality to explain itself is harder than it seems. Yet the rewards are oh so much greater. With the recent news of Ars Technica being bought by Conde’ Nast we learned a very important piece of information: the community that forms around an online publication can be a powerful story.

Compelling at the tune of millions of dollars. The content is key to forming that, of course, as is the integrity and passion of the reporting – with objectivity. What side of the conversation are you not giving a hearing to?

3 Marketing Lessons from Benjamin Zander

“Waiter,” Boston Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Ben Zander exclaimed, “I have a perfect life, but I don’t have a knife.” He was having breakfast in a restaurant with a friend at the time. As he uttered those words, he heard a girl nearby giggling. They made eye contact, smiled together, and he went back to his conversation.

The next day, he happened to cross paths with the young lady again, this time they exchanged words.

“Good morning, how are you today?”

“Perfect,” she said.

As she left the room accompanied by her parents, he called out to her “Have a perfect day!”

“I will,” she replied, as if it were the easiest, most obvious choice she could make.

I paraphrased the opening of Roz and Ben Zander, The Art of Possibility. The book, is about turning life’s obstacles into possibilities. It is also about marketing – what is becoming the future of marketing.

Lesson # 1 – It’s All Invented

A person looking to start a blog on social media today may feel overwhelmed. There are so many blogs on social media, one for every flavor, literally. She may think: it’s hopeless, I could never break through. No one will read yet another blog on social media.

Another person may take stock of the situation and think: this is fantastic, there are so many people writing about social media that I will find an instant community. Then I can specialize in social media for engineers, or for lawyers, or for plumbers. Take your pick. In other words, she sees opportunity galore.

Whenever you are faced with an issue that seems to be a problem, use this simple advice. Remember that it’s all invented. Then you will have the opportunity to dismantle your own assumptions that prevent you from seeing possibilities. Instead, think how else can I look at things? What other choices does that give me?

Lesson #2 – Stop Measuring Everything

When you go down the route of constantly checking how many readers, comments, and page views you have, you find yourself stuck with thoughts and actions that reflect survival and scarcity, comparison and competition, attachment and anxiety. You stop the creative flow in favor of the judgement and evaluation. There is a place for goal setting and tracking towards your objectives.

Yet, when you constantly box yourself inside what others have established as success metrics, you forego your potential, where you could grow. Ask yourself: how are my thoughts and actions, in this moment, a reflection of the measurement world?

Over the long haul, you are more likely to create abundance in your business and life by having the attitude that there are always new readers, there are many more customers out there to engage with. When you express your skill with passion and joy, people will be attracted to you – and when your life does not depend on hitting the jackpot all the time, you will be more open to connections, which in turn create success.

Lesson #3 – Be a Contribution

When you stop obsessing constantly about progress, you lift the veil on contribution. What is it that you bring to the table that nobody else does? What project, form and shape can your ideas take? Any that you decide. The issue with best practices and following standard advice, is that everyone ends up looking and sounding the same.

Nothing could be further from your truth – you are capable of contributing and you can let anyone contribute to your success. If you let your ambition drive you, then anyone who does not think like you, who is not on your side or is on the same list with you, is a competitor.

With the thought of contribution, everything changes. All of a sudden, you can learn from anyone and be a teacher to anyone – even the most experienced blogger. How much you can make and where you stand in the business ecosystem do not disappear. Yet, it’s your attitude that changes, from how can I win, to how can I serve. Watch all sorts of good things happening to you because of that.
__________

Bottom line, no matter where you stand in the conventional totem pole, remember that it’s all invented, when you stop measuring all the time, you start thinking about projects as potential you can fulfill. You can make a difference, even if sometimes you may not fully appreciate how and why.

Link-In Your Blog to the Business Community

Last week I participated in a panel to talk about the use of social media for your business. Specifically, we addressed the needs and questions of entrepreneurs, solo-preneurs, and small business owners. This demographic tends to be in much closer contact with their customers than your average person inside a large organization. By closer contact, I mean they would be in touch with what their customers want and needs. That would allow them to be able to provide content that is useful and valuable to those customers.

You may be in tune with your readers on a consistent basis and have plenty of content ideas. Yet, every blue moon, we all hit a dry spell. What do you do then to find ideas for posts? More importantly, how do you know that those ideas are valuable to the readership you are working on attracting?

The answer may lie in the questions – and can find plenty of them about a wide range of topics on LinkedIn. If you already have a professional profile on LinkedIn, you can go in and look under “answers” in the main navigation bar and select “answer questions”. Then scroll down the questions and find one or two that speak to your knowledge and experience. Pick one question and develop an answer-post.

Once you’re done with writing, select the payoff from your post – the place in it where you actually give the answer – and post it as a reply to that question. Then link your published post at the bottom of it for those readers who want to know more about your thought process, and how you got to the answer. Let’s look at two examples.

Craig Peters inquires about Conversational Marketing:

I believe this will be THE buzzphrase of 2008, but like other buzzwords — “viral” in particular — it’s open to gross misinterpretation and misuse.

So: What do you believe “conversational marketing” to be? Is behavioral targeting (which was a huge component of a conversational marketing discussion here at ad:tech yesterday) part of conversational marketing? (I would argue no.) How do other tactics you’re using fit in to “conversational marketing” as you see it?

The Cluetrain Manifesto said it a decade ago in a pithy way: “markets are conversations.” Mainstream agencies and marketers are starting to awaken to this notion.

What, in your view, constitutes “conversational marketing”?

And now look at the answer from Eric Holter with a couple of links to his newsletter, where he has covered the topic in more depth. Let’s say you blog about conversational marketing – helping flesh out an answer would start getting you noticed by people who seek that kind of expertise – on LinkedIn and at your blog.

Another good question from Chris Kieff on How Your Choose an Internet Marketing Consultant:

How do you choose an Internet Marketing consultant?

What are the 3 top factors you would use in hiring an outside Internet Marketing consultant?

Some ideas:
Referral from a trusted source.
Examples of work.
Worked with before.
Referral from LinkedIn or other network.
Proposal contents.
References.
Like their haircut.

You can see how the question is already good fodder for a list post. Ian Lurie responds with a pretty good set of questions, in turn. Eugene Rembor numbers qualities.

This technique may help you especially when you new to blogging and are looking to have a number of solid posts right off the gate. LinkedIn may be just what you need to get content ideas and a general flavor for the type of discussion that would ensue. Would you link to someone’s LinkedIn profile in your post? I would, and I have. Although they might not be able to find the link as we do with blog entries via Technorati, they may have set up Google alerts for their name or the name of their business. In that case they would find your post and may choose to join the conversation there.

New media is about linking and increasingly we are interlinking among different tools. To reach out to the business community, make LinkedIn part of your content strategy.

Creativity Friday: Take the Best Ad Headlines and Make them Yours

Titles and headlines work really hard. Ask any copywriter worth their salt. They need to grab the attention of the casual observer, the passerby, and the multitasker and pull it right onto the page. In a split second, your reader will decide wether to stay or go.

Give your posts the green light by leveraging the craft of brilliant headlines and advertising. Learn from some of the most persuasive and groundbreaking advertising copy, and make it yours.

“Look for it! Wait for it! See it! It is coming” P.T. Barnum

They called him the Shakespeare of advertising. When you read lines like:

“Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

“Limited edition collector’s item at an unbelievable low special discount price”

“Going out of business, last and final liquidation closeout sale! All items must go! We’re closing our doors forever!”

You are reading pure Barnum. His style was to translate the everyday situation into a commercial via popular (or vulgar) language. It’s a skill. Words like “jumbo” are his. He single-handedly manufactured hype.

If you’re a self-promoter, Barnum blazed the trail for you. He understood one fundamental principle of advertising – and that is how important it is to gather a crowd. And he sold the exotic: the circus!

“Magic Lies in Pretty Teeth – Remove that Film” Claude Hopkins

This is the guy who understood that the goal of the advertiser is to get to the path of desire – today we call this positioning. Blame research and analytical psychology on him. One thing is for sure – he took his audience seriously.

Hopkins established the reason why you buy a product. And it has very little to do with the product itself and everything to do with what you think the product will do for you. Never compare your blog or post to that of another writer.

“People are like sheep.” he said “They cannot judge values, nor can you and I. We judge things largely by others’ impressions, by popular favor. We go with the crowd.” And indeed the most effective thing in advertising is the trend of the crowd.

How did he move people to buy? Look at that headline. Hopkins staked a claim that was obvious – you can rub just about anything on your teeth and get a sense of cleanliness. We all have a membrane on our teeth, and if you roll your tongue over them, you can feel it. That claim sold millions in Pepsodent.

“Magic lies in pretty teeth” is the precursor of “for skin you love to touch”. Akin to saying that blogging will improve your sex life. The power of magic. What magic promise is in your titles?

“How can you make two months’ salary last forever?” N. W. Ayer

I bet you know what this ad headline is selling. How would you like to write a title like that? This was the brilliant campaign started by Ayer for De Beers. The ads did their job. they intercepted and reformatted desire.

And they did not talk specifics. They just went directly to how the product would make the person it is bought for feel. Now take a look at your headline, how can you make it timeless, aspirational, and still keep it simple?
“A diamond last forever” – will your headline?

“Does she… or doesn’t she?” Foote, Cone & Belding

Maybe she’s born with it… maybe it’s marketing. Two generations, same kind of attraction. Instilling the doubt as in the famous Miss Clairol’s campaign is an old technique. It dates back to the ‘50s. If you think this is sort of cheesy, remember that the campaign propelled sales 413% higher in six years.

The secret lies in not revealing everything with the headline. In fact, if you look at the examples I listed here, they all contain powerful hooks that will prompt you to consider the product.

What kinds of headlines light you up? Have some fun and share your best headlines. Better yet, let’s craft some here together using this material as inspiration. For a limited time only! Come on in and let’s do some marketing magic.

Are you Delivering a Blog Brand Experience?

All great brands have one main thing in common – what they promise and what they deliver are aligned. In other words, the experience of the user, reader, or customer is the value-add component. Joseph Pine and James Gilmore first talked about our shift from goods and services to events in The Experience Economy.

Experience implies being affected by what you meet with – it could be a happening, an event, or an adventure. It definitely has to do with perception. These are not terms usually associated with business; they are however the quickest path to making your blog content sticky and keeping people returning to it.

You give something more when you provide an experience – it starts with a core, unifying idea. Maybe you are thinking – wait a moment, I do not have a product, or a service, this is a way to showcase my writing skills, or the way I think. Language too is an experience. Words are not mere semantic twists. Words are funny things – they can change everything.

So go take a look at your blog and think about the plot it conjures:

– Is it clear?
– What’s the difference?
– What’s the point?
– Do yo have a point of view?
– Are you selling a certain something? A lifestyle, a specific idea, for example.
– Do readers know what the story is?

When you are delivering a blog brand experience, people can’t wait to read the next episode. You will know because the quality of your discussion changes dramatically from merely following some advice, to delivering a story worthy of time and attention. Today’s marketers are contending with grabbing these scarce resources. You have the ability to win them over.

Experience takes a mere “it works” to “it leaves an indelible memory” and makes a satisfied reader into a member of a club, a fan. Can you think of a couple of examples of blogs that deliver a full brand experience?

Transfer Equity from Your Current Brand to the Next

In a recent conversation here at The Blog Herald, Chris Garrett asked a very good question:

What do you do when your well known brand doesn’t match with your business?

He cited Wendy Piersall’s eMom brands as a good example of an online brand that started as a blog and is now expanding into a full media publication for both moms and dads.

Rebranding or repositioning efforts can also be a move to package your site for a sale. Rob May of BusinessPundit.com did just that this past February. While May developed the voice and style of BusinessPundit.com, the site was well positioned to continue to appeal to readers in search of business news and information. The site lives on sans May.

While rebranding efforts online include potentially the redirect of a domain name to a new one or an expansion of the original brand, in addition to your readers, what you would like to transfer is the equity of your current brand into the new one.

Readers and business prospect will be more flexible than search engines in following your brand to a new place. They will do that because they follow you – in other words, your name is associated with the blog’s brand. That is a strength and it can be a weakness if you are working towards selling.

Brand Equity Can be Transferred

Equity means that you built a reservoir of characteristics and experiences that are identified with your brand. When the brand you own is one and the same with your name or person, you may need to work towards disassociating yourself from the brand before you can sell it.

Lorelle VanFossen wrote about the experience Aaron Brazell had when he put his blog for sale. One of the points she made was that the blogger counts. As more and more bloggers will look at selling their online properties and work:

The issue of separating the blogger from the blog will be a huge hindrance, but I think the value of the blogger and the blog may meld in an interesting way as more bloggers consider selling their blogs.

The plan is simple, develop a voice for the brand and begin to tone down the blogger’s personality – yours. This is exactly the opposite that you did when you built your blog. In the beginning it was probably all about you and developing a voice. Part of doing that today is also cross-networking your blog on Twitter and Facebook, for example. The more known you became, the better read the blog – because of you.

Do the opposite now. Build a stream on Twitter for your brand that is separate from you. If you have been using the brand’s name as your own, like in the case of Aaron with Technosailor, start a stream for Aaron and begin using Technosailor for the brand. Think it cannot be done? There are many memes on Twitter started by people with streams who developed a separate persona for a niche message.

What if I Use My Name?

If you use your name and have an eye on an exit strategy that culminates with a sale, what you need to do is find a name for that publication. Then you can begin to build equity into the brand by borrowing from your own. Here’s how you do it.

You begin by always associating your name with the blog name everywhere. Sooner or later, readers will begin to see you as one and the same. Then you start using your name a little less, making the blog/brand name more prominent while still using your voice.

Once you see that you are making headway with the new brand, you can complete the transferring of equity into that brand by working on making that voice separate from yours as I outlined above. The brand that can stand on its own and be seen as an asset with an established readership – metrics, please – and earning potential for a buyer, will be much more appetizing. At that point it will be neutral enough to appeal to someone else.

You Could Start by Developing Just the Brand

There is always the option to develop the brand as a publication with its own voice from the beginning. In this case you may be seen as the editor and not linked too closely with the posts. You plan it this way and play it detached for the very reason that you have an eye on transferring the asset in a sale.

Of course, even companies often start with the founder’s name and manage to be sold profitably and continue under a different leadership. In some cases it takes a long time – think about Ford – and many layers in the organization to make that happen.

I have a pretty good idea that online everything tends to move much faster – including the rate at which people may experience burn out. If an exit strategy is what you have in mind, you do want to think about making the arrangements to position your brand for it well before that critical moment. The value of your asset depends on it.

7 Types of Comments that Matter

We talked about how comments matter in conversational marketing. While we all acknowledge that time is probably one of the biggest constraints we face, including comments in our social media marketing strategy can make a big difference. Why?

We are more comfortable hiring someone who engaged with us actively. While weak links in networking do help a great deal, direct recommendations and referrals come more readily after some interaction. In that, content in the way you think and articulate your expertise is still king – in the posts and in the comments.

In some cases, building credibility with other bloggers through thoughtful comments can help you launch your social media activities with a bang. People already know about you and your content. This of course works best when you’re willing to give away some ideas for the good of others.

There are 7 types of conversational marketing comments that matter:

Responding to a question in the post. This is pretty obvious, I know. It is however, the easiest way to participate by showing you are listening and are willing to give away information. Have you noticed also how responding to questions is becoming prominent in your LinkedIn Profile?

Adding a thought provoking question of your own. You are showing that you have considered the information provided and are willing to build on the idea by sharing your experience. I’ve seen lots of smart questions asked on Twitter, too — either to begin or extend a conversation that is then captured in a blog post. This is an example of integrated marketing in social media.

Making an open ended statement as additional thought. This is one of the best known forms of solicitation for further thinking and discussion. It works so well because it gives the other party(ies) the opportunity to add more information as you broaden the scope.

Pointing to other resources. Let’s face it, we don’t all have a full research department at out beck and call. When you offer knowledge to others, you not only look good, you build a reservoir of good will in the process.

Extending the conversation to other applications. This will definitely raise your profile with the blogger and all the other readers. And it may establish you as a knowledgeable source. Show them how something could be employed elsewhere. You may raise the question of why give away so many ideas. Trust me, the money is in the implementation. Ideas are free – or they want to be.

Providing an example as a case study. This will highlight the possibility of an interview as part of a subsequent post at that blog. You are establishing yourself as a domain expert in a particular field or for a topic.

Offering to co-author a subsequent post on a topic. It’s a more direct way to go from comment to a blog’s main real estate – the post – without saying you’d like to take over. This is especially useful if you don’t already have a blog of your own but have been very active and generous in the comments to other blogs.

I categorized them as conversational marketing because they show a degree of high involvement and can lead to establishing and deepening a relationship. What other types of comments worked for you?

In Conversational Marketing, Comments Matter

Do you respond to comments to your posts? Do you spend time making comments on other blogs? Have you set comment guidelines for yourself? It may be worth revisiting how you think about comments, both in terms of how you deal with the comments to your posts and those you make in other blogs.

In this age of conversational marketing, responding to comments helps you show your readers that you are listening and participating. That’s important especially if you are in the service business. The action of referring to the content readers share with you and addressing any further questions will set you apart. It shows your commitment.

As well, it will buy you additional permission to engage with your readers and tell them about the work you do. That is no small feat in an increasingly crowded marketplace where doing what you say you do counts more every day.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that many blog posts often gather the “great post” and “‘atta boy/girl” in the comments. That is when you are fortunate enough to get comments to your posts. If you are leaving comments like those in other blogs, I encourage you to reconsider. You may be depriving yourself of opportunities to develop relationships – and relationships are key in conversational marketing.

The main reasons why comments are by and large left out of a full social media marketing strategy are:

being time starved. Social media and the wealth of projects these activities can generate are filling your days. That is good. There is only so much time you can dedicate to writing at other people’s bogs. You need to care for your own.

testing the waters. When you don’t know someone, you are inclined to stay general in what you say. You are not familiar with who else is reading and commenting and are still getting to know the author. Will they respond? Bottom line: is this going to be a waste of time?

being afraid of not sounding knowledgeable. The more popular the blogger, the easier it is for a new blogger to feel intimidated. After all, they are successful because they know so much more, right? Actually some of the kindest and most unassuming people I met are the folks who’ve succeeded beyond imagination.

There is also the issue of negative comments, which others have addressed extensively here. Let’s focus for a moment on the reasons I listed here and any other that you might have. Leave me a comment to begin the conversation on why it is a good idea to have a comments strategy.

Next post, we will talk about the tactical part.