Two Facebook posts in the last week got me thinking: Should I really keep blogging? Does is still make sense for me?
First, Geoff Livingston talked about how if he had to do it all over again, and start his social presence from the ground up, he would NOT blog.
Then, I followed a conversation thread on a private solo PR group I’m a part of where many folks were talking about why they really don’t consider blogging a great tool in terms of new business and inbound marketing.
And, it got me thinking: Should I keep blogging in 2015? Does it still make sense as a business and branding tool? And maybe most importantly, is it still worth the time and effort?
I’m going to think out loud a bit in this post–it will allow me to get my thoughts down on paper. So, bear with me for a minute. But, here’s my thinking so far:
I love to write, and blogging has been a creative outlet for me for the last six years
I started my blog almost six years ago now. In the beginning, blogging was all about a creative outlet for me. I was a bit bored with my day job, so blogging gave me an opportunity to talk about all these interesting things in the industry that were happening. Six years later, that’s the exact same way I look at it. I love to write, so blogging comes naturally to me. I don’t really have the time to do this–but I MAKE the time, because I love it. That’s what I tell people when they’re considering blogging. If you don’t love to write, and you don’t love the topic you’re blogging about, don’t bother. You won’t last. So, for me, blogging isn’t really all about leads, clients and business. It’s about me! (big shock, I know, a blogger who’s all about himself!). Not in a selfish, ego-centric way, but more from a “I love to write”-kinda way.
My blog isn’t all about business for me
I remember when I was starting my business, a friend of mine made an interesting statement: “Now your blog will have to be 100% focused on your business and your services.” Huh, I thought. Why would I suddenly change and blog only about my business? That seemed odd. So, I didn’t do that. I still blog about things that RELATE to my business–sure. But, I also blog about things I find interesting. Like cutting the cable cord a couple years ago (we’ve been a cable-free household for two-plus years now). Or, the death of the phone call in PR. These kinds of things aren’t directly relatable to my business or a service offering. But, people find them interesting. And I find them interesting. And, it leads people to my blog and site where they can learn more about me. Which is all I really want. If I can get people to my blog, to know who I am and what I’m about, that’s a big win for a solo consultant.
I’m not overly concerned with page views
Here’s another area I think most agencies/consultants get hung up on. I don’t. Why? Because 30,000 page views a month doesn’t do me very much good, if none of those folks are potential clients or influencers now, does it? So, what I’ve learned is that page views don’t matter–especially when search is now bringing up to 60 percent of my blog traffic. What DOES matter is getting the RIGHT people to read my blog. Largely, that means people in PR and digital marketing here in the Twin Cities (where 95% of my business comes from). I still love that people from around the world read my blog–that’s led to speaking engagements, guest blog opportunities and a variety of other deals in the past. But I really, really, care about getting those local folks to read my blog. That’s where the rubber meets the road.
My blog isn’t all about “new business”
When people think about blogging from an agency/consultant point of view, I think they get a little too hung-up in making the direct line to new business. That’s REALLY hard to do. In fact, I don’t know if that’s ever happened to me. BUT, on the other hand, my blog has been INSTRUMENTAL in many new business endeavors from an AWARENESS point of view. For example, I remember sitting in a new business meeting with a B2B prospect a few years back. In the room was the PR lead, the HR lead and another high-level exec. During the course of introductions, I remember the PR lead saying she had read my stuff regularly on PR Daily, and how that was a big deal for this guy (me) to be on an industry web site like that. A few days later, we started working together. That kind of thing happens fairly regularly. It’s not a direct line of sight to new business, but it’s pretty darn big.
My blog feeds my Talking Points e-newsletter
My Talking Points e-newsletter now has 1,000-plus subscribers. I’ve worked heard to earn the trust and build up that readership over the last two years. But, a big part of that e-newsletter success has been my own blog content. The whole point of the e-newsletter is to curate content from the previous week in PR/digital marketing. So, I’m serving as a filter of sorts for my audience. But, I also insert my own posts into that mix each week. After all, why not? And you know what? My posts are typically some of the most clicked-on posts week in and week out. So, without that content, the e-newsletter doesn’t have the same feel. And, it’s not driving traffic back to my site. So, this is a big factor for me, too, in keeping the blog going.
So, I guess I just talked myself into blogging again in 2015.
Who am I kidding? I’m most likely going to do this for a long, long time. For many of the reasons listed above.
What about you? Have you considered starting a personal blog? What’s stopped you or why haven’t you pursued?
Last week, I was at the Minnesota PRSA Classics Banquet and a student at the event asked me: If you could share just one blogging tip with me, what would it be?
Good question. Many, many posts have been written about this topic. Many, many suggestions have been made.
But I thought about that question. And I thought some more. And, I came to my answer:
“Don’t be afraid to say what everyone else is thinking.”
It’s a concept that actually took me a while to realize and understand.
You see, in meetings, I’m usually the kinda guy who sits back, listens and takes everything in. I’m rarely the first to talk. Even in my consultant role now (where you are usually expected to be the first to talk). My style has always been: Ask questions, listen, THEN respond and suggest.
So, my approach to most meetings is pretty passive by most type-A PR standards.
But, I learned a valuable lesson in my days on the corporate side of the fence. I learned that there was tremendous value in simply saying what everyone else in the room was already thinking!
But wait, Arik, if everyone else in the room is thinking something, why isn’t everyone else saying it?
Good question. Maybe it’s because I’m from Minnesota. Maybe it’s because some people don’t feel comfortable speaking up in a meeting full of people. Maybe some people don’t want to offend others.
Whatever the case, I noticed it happening. A lot.
There would be an obvious “elephant in the room”–a topic everyone wanted to discuss, but no one would bring it up. Until someone did. Once they did, that person had instant credibility–and was looked at a bit different in the meeting.
The same concept holds true for blogging.
Invariably, many of my most commented and well-read posts over the years have been those where I almost hit the delete button before publishing.
A recent example: My “Why I’m changing my coffee meet-up strategy” post from a couple weeks back.
Touchy subject. Controversial viewpoint (I caught a lot of guff over that one–still am, in fact).
But, I’ll tell you what. I’ve had NUMEROUS people come up to me in person (and over email) saying: “Hey–I completely agree with you. Thanks for writing that post. I’m glad you mad that post.”
That’s exactly what I’m talking about.
Saying what everyone else is thinking about, but just doesn’t want to say it.
Now, I’m not here to pat myself on the back. I’m not saying, you should be like me. That I’m the bravest blogger in all the blogging world (OK, you can say that if you want :).
What I am saying is don’t be afraid to say what everyone else is clearly thinking.
Don’t hold back. Say it.
You’ll be glad you did.
Last week, uber-popular marketing blog, Copyblogger, decided to shut down comments on its site.
1) Conversations were happening elsewhere, and they wanted to support that.
2) They want people to form their opinions and post on their own blog–not Copyblogger’s.
Needless to say, this decision resulted in all sorts of fever-pitched conversations across the web in marketing and PR circles. Gini Dietrich was abhorred (not surprisingly–her Spin Sucks community is one of the biggest forces in all of PR and marketing blogging). And, Mark Schaefer talked about the economics of the decision.
But, what I didn’t see was anyone talking about the culture of blogging. And that’s really the issue here–not the comments themselves, but what they represent (I guess Gini’s post touched on this in a way).
4-5 years ago, when fewer people were blogging, I would say blogging WAS about community. An online community, at least. More people were commenting (anecdotally–I have no facts here). More people were using Twitter as a conversation platform in our industry and directing people to blog posts (instead of the auto-tweeting of links that takes place now). More people seemed to be spending more time online.
Fast forward to today. I see more blogs seeing fewer comments (with the exceptions of huge blogs like Gini’s and Mark’s). I see people in our industry spending FAR less time on social networks (gasp–they’re busy doing work!).
So, my question becomes: Are blogs really all about an online community anymore?
I’m not so sure.
Again, blogs like Spin Sucks and Grow that have huge, amazingly engaged communities–clearly, community still matters to those blogs. But, what about the lion’s share of the blogs? Does community really matter to those folks?
I think I’d argue “no.”
And, I think I agree with the Copyblogger folks–at least in that regard.
At their heart, blogs are really about one person sharing an opinion with the rest of the world through an online medium. Blogs are born from passionate writers. Adam Singer talked about this recently.
And in our industry, blogs are all about writing. Pure and simple. You don’t like to write? Don’t even bother starting a blog.
See, I love to write. I NEED to write. So for me, blogging comes second nature. It’s something I love to do. I’m guessing many bloggers feel the same way.
I never started a blog to create a community (not that I’m not glad people read and share my posts each day–I definitely am). I just feel like if you’re starting a blog to create a community, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.
After all, can’t robust communities be built on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn? Isnt’ that what those platforms are DESIGNED for? Again, this seemed to be Copyblogger’s thinking.
Here’s the other angle–and this is just based on my personal experience. My blog gets about 20,000 (roughly) unique visitors per month. My average number of comments per post? Probably less than 10. I don’t see a lot of blog comments anymore (but really appreciate the comments I do get). Yet, I hear anecdotally from people here in Minneapolis (and from around the world), that they read my blog all the time (side note: six years after starting this blog, I’m still floored by that). They don’t comment–but they do read it. And in my mind, that’s a win. That’s what I want–both personally (to help people get smarter about PR/marketing) and professionally (to get them reading so someday, when and if they have an opportunity, they consider referring me business or become a client themselves).
Do I love when someone leaves a comment? No doubt. But, it’s not necessarily my end goal. I’m not writing to GET comments. I’m not in this to write posts that have 200+ comments. And I’m not necessarily trying to build an online community I can leverage at some point for some other business purpose.
I really just want to write things that interest people and get people thinking (and recognize great work and good people, as I do with many of my list posts). That’s it.
So maybe I’m crazy, but I think I’m on board with Copyblogger here. I’m not shutting down my comments–I still enjoy hearing from people from everywhere from Spain to Burnsville. But, I can see their logic. What do you think?
Last month, I made a vow: I was going to blog once a day for every business day in January.
I’m proud to say, I achieved my goal. 22 business days in January. 22 blog posts.
Big deal, you say. People do this all the time, Arik.
Maybe so. But most of those people are either full-time bloggers or focus exclusively on blogging as a new business activity.
I fall into neither bucket. As a solo consultant, I am responsible not only for all new business that comes through the front door, but also executing on that new business and billing hours each week. Translation: Clients come first, blogging comes later. Which means I have to really work hard to find the time in my schedule.
And, that was definitely the case in January. I found myself blogging in the evenings and weekends mostly. It wasn’t easy.
But, after a month of blogging every day, I did come away with a few lessons. Here’s what I learned:
Blogging more didn’t lead to more traffic
I was really hoping blogging more would lead to more direct traffic. But, that simply wasn’t the case. I had 23,449 page views in January. By comparison, I had 23,628 page views in December. And although page views were higher in January than they were in Sept-Nov., 2013, it wasn’t substantial enough to justify the volume of blogging.
Blogging more did lead to an uptick in social traffic
People come to my site in three main ways: Via search, social referrals or directly (subscriptions, bookmarks or entering the URL). Here’s how the numbers have broken down the last four months:
Jan. 2014: 53 percent
Dec. 2013: 74 percent
Nov. 2013: 65 percent
Oct. 2013: 64 percent
Jan. 2014: 19 percent
Dec. 2013: 8 percent
Nov. 2013: 10 percent
Oct. 2013: 10 percent
Jan. 2014: 18 percent
Dec. 2013: 10 percent
Nov. 2013: 15 percent
Oct. 2013: 17 percent
My takeaway? By blogging more, I also spent a bit more time on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn promoting my content–hence the bigger jump in social referrals. So, more blogging=more social interaction, for my blog.
Most popular posts were still list posts featuring people (by far)
By far my most well-read post in January was the “18 social media career moves in Minnesota” on Jan. 9. Not surprising, really. These kinds of list posts featuring people typically are among my top performers. In 2013, “The next generation of PR pros”. The learning for me here: Work to create one list post per month going forward featuring people.
Twitter is still my biggest social referral source
In Jan., Twitter made up 46 percent of all my social referrals. Facebook comprised 36 percent of all social referrals and LinkedIn made up just 13 percent. That really hasn’t changed–Twitter has been my biggest social referral source for the last six months. So, no change here.
More returning visitors
This one surprised me. 17 percent of all site visitors in Jan. were returning visitors. That’s up from 10 percent in Dec. 2013, 13 percent in Nov. 2013 and 13 percent in Oct. 13. Not a huge jump but a pretty good jump nonetheless. Why are returning visitors important? Because the more time I can get someone coming back to my blog, the better chance I have of them signing up for my weekly e-newsletter, Talking Points. And if they sign up for that, I’m in their inbox each week (Talking Points currently has 800-plus subscribers and 30 percent of subscribers open Talking Points weekly).
Maybe people want to read more about traditional PR topics?
The top posts I wrote in terms of unique visitors/page views in January were as follows:
The first, by far the most popular post of the month, was built on the sharing principle. So, let’s take that one out for a moment. Of the next five most popular, three focused on what I would call more “traditional” PR and one focused on one of the more traditional social media platforms (LinkedIn). Only the Snapchat post was trend post outlier. Why is this interesting to me? Because the “traditional” posts are often my “throw-away” posts. Short to write. Designed to start conversations. And focused on things I see in my everyday coffees and meetings with others in our industry. I spend far more time researching and writing the trend posts and more digitally-focused posts. And given my January stats, maybe I should think about shifting that thinking. I’m still going to focus on trend posts, new digital tools and other more forward-thinking posts, but I’m also going to give more thought to keeping it basic.
Maybe I should also write about pop culture more?
This is kinda tongue-in-cheek, but my post about Scandal/Olivia Pope (my new favorite show at the moment) was not only among the top 15 posts of the month in terms of visitors/page views, it was also my second most socially shared post of the month. This isn’t a new trend. Last year, my post about the Sons of Anarchy and PRSA’s code of ethics was one of my most socially shared posts in the first half of the year (and, SOA founder, Kurt Sutter tweeted it–a blog highlight for me in 2013). In 2011, my post about Saved by the Bell and PR garnered huge social share numbers (for me) once again. So again: Maybe I should write about pop culture more often.
People still do comment on blogs
Now, I don’t get a ton of comments on my posts. But, a fair amount of people weigh in from time to time, depending on the topic. The posts I thought would inspire comment conversations did in January–the post about MBAs and the post about cover letters (again, both traditional PR topics). What WAS surprising was the length and thoughtfulness of those comments. Many people wrote PARAGRAPH-length comments. Pretty interesting, considering everything I hear from pundits says people don’t have time for this sort of stuff. Attention spans are too short. Yet, here are people probably spending 5-10 minutes to write a comment for my blog. Blog commenting is not dead, folks. Not by a long shot.
So, those are the statistical things I learned from my month of blogging. What did I learn anecdotally about what it takes to blog on a much more regular basis?
Write shorter posts
Most of my posts over the course of the month were not long. Many were under 750 words–some were even under 600. I can crank those posts out pretty quickly–and I had to during January.
Write when I’m hot
When I get in a groove, I can write fast. In January, I learned that when I’m in that groove I need to take advantage. I’d bang out 2-3 posts when I was “feeling it.”
Don’t try to be perfect
With 22 posts in January, I didn’t have the luxury of proing over every single post. I had to be OK with every post not being perfect. Now, admittedly, I learned this lesson quite a while ago, but it became even clearer for me in January. This is also one of the key lessons I try to impart to anyone starting to blog for the first time.