I started blogging in December 2008. At the time I was working for Fairview, the second-largest health care system in Minnesota. At the time, I wasn’t working in digital marketing–I was in a more traditional corporate communications role. But, I was experimenting with blogging. And, I loved to write. Blogging was a natural fit for me.
At first, views and followers were tough to come by. I remember those first few posts. Very few eyeballs. For anyone who’s blogged, this should sound familiar. We all start at zero.
But, as time went on, I learned a few things. I learned what people wanted to read about. I learned a few strategies for attracting new readers. And, I was consistent in my blogging (2-3 posts a week–probably the most important recipe for long-term success). In about a year, I had built up a bit of a readership. See below–almost 3,000 visits as of April 2010 (about a year-and-change into my blogging journey).
But something changed in 2009–I started my business. So suddenly, my blog took on a whole new meaning. It was now my de facto web presence. I wasn’t going to create a web site–why would I? I already had this blog. So, I started to think about my blog a bit differently. It became a new business tool (and I started to invest even more time there). And, as a result, readership grew again. This time, hopping up to nearly 11,000 visitors.
For the next year, things plateued a bit. But, I still gained a few new visitors in the following year.
And then things really began to take off. Between April 2012 and April 2013, I almost doubled the number of visitors to my blog (from almost 12,000 visits per month in 2012 to almost 22,000 visits per month in 2013).
That’s a whopping 659 percent growth in just three years of blogging. If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I don’t toot my horn all that often, but this is one of those accomplishments I’m very proud of.
Blogging is hard work. Ask anyone. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to make this blog a success. But, it’s paid off for me time and time again. In terms of business leads, meeting new people, speaking opportunities. You name it. Blogging has been invaluable to my business–and my life.
So, how did I do it?
I’m not sure I have all the answers–I’m no @ProBlogger, after all. But I can share with you some of what I believe have been some of the key factors in my blog’s rise to 22,000-plus visitors per month.
What would I want to read about?
To a large extent, my target market for my blog is, well, me. So, as I brainstorm many posts I put myself through the “what would I want to read about?” paces. This forces me to think more critically in terms of topics. And it forces me outside the typical “digital churn” that so many bloggers turn out day after day. For example, I wasn’t seeing a lot about the recent Facebook changes earlier this year–and wanted to know more about them. And out came the following post:
Tip: Simply ask yourself “What would I want to read about?” if you were a target reader of your blog. Asking yourself that question will lead to many productive posts.
Focus on posts people will bookmark (and link to)
One of my most popular posts for the last six months has been my “Instagram cheat sheet” post I made on Dec. 11, 2012. My original goal with this post: To create a resource for the community that would get links–and get bookmarked. All of which would help drive search traffic, which has proven to be true. In April, this post had 2,318 page views (my top post). In March, it had 3,493 page views (my second most popular). And in February it had 4,098 (again, my most popular). It continues to drive search traffic every day to my blog–while I do nothing at all. Beautiful.
Tip: Think about content you can contribute that could be a resource for your readers–then think about how to organize it in a blog post.
Spotlight the community (but find the right members)
Early on in my blogging I started a series I’ve continued to this day: The PR Rock Stars series. The goal? To shine the spotlight on some of the true pros pros in our business. My secondary goal? To build a community around this blog that will attract more readers over time. Over the years, I’ve featured 30-plus rock stars as part of this blog. That’s led to an increase in readership since every time I share one of these posts, the rock star inevitably shares it, as do many other people who know the person. And, I typically open up a door to either cement an existing relationship with the rock star–or build a new one, if I don’t know the person all that well (it’s even led to a couple client engagements). And, the best part? It takes less of my time since their answers provide most of the content. But the real trick is to highlight the right people. Sure, I wanted to shine the spotlight on people doing great work. But I also wanted to shine the spotlight on those doing great work who were also active online. There is a difference.
Tip: Don’t just profile any community member–target the ones with larger social followings (or least a sizable following–you don’t have to target the A-listers in your industry).
Write about topics no one else is writing about
In 2010, I wrote a post about how to create knock-your-socks-off presentations using Prezi, a then-new tool in the mix. At that time, few people were blogging about Prezi. I knew that because I did a few simple searches–and anecdotally, I didn’t see many PR/marketing bloggers talking about it. Plus, I was actively using the tool so I had some experience with it. I thought a post on Prezi would be an easy way to rank for a key search term many in my industry might use. I was right. From Jan. 1-May 10, the Prezi post was still my fifth most popular post in 2013–a post I had written THREE years before. That’s the power of writing about a topic no one else is writing about.
Topic: Do searches for keywords around topics you think no one else is writing about to confirm your suspicions.
Utilize list posts (that you haven’t seen before)
List posts. They’re a dime a dozen on the Web. Literally. People say they’re tired of list posts. Yet, the good list posts still work. Case in point: This post I wrote about 15 up-and-coming PR pros to watch in March of 2012. Check out the share numbers–97 retweets, 62 likes and 52 LinkedIn shares. Those are pretty solid sharing numbers for a post on my blog. And, I saw that traction because it wasn’t your garden-variety list post. It wasn’t a list of the “top 20 social media gurus” (which has been done to death by now). It was a list of up-and-coming pros. I didn’t see too many lists like that when I did my research. Plus, the other upside: These were people who don’t usually receive a lot of online accolades, so I had a hunch they’d be more apt to share (unlike the “gurus” like Solis, Brogan, etc. who are recognized day-in and day-out). No, these folks would help drive traffic to the blog. And so would their friends, colleagues and family members.
Tip: Don’t shy away from list posts–but write list posts that you haven’t seen before.
Write about what’s on your mind
One of the smartest decisions I’ve made about how I use my blog has been not to overthink it. Ever since my blog became my de facto business site, there has been a perceived need to use it purely as a new business tool. I remember one friend who once told me: “If you’re blogging about anything other than services and tools you offer as a business, you’re doing it wrong.” I listened to that advice, but promptly dismissed it. Why? Because I believe when people hire me, they hire ME as much as they hire me for my skills. Sure, I post plenty about topics I have services around (social audits, content strategy, marketing strategy, etc.). But, I also post a lot about topics that merely interest me. Or, items I read about in the paper (I recently blogged about the Target CMO, who was featured in a Star Tribune piece recently). Or, just things my family and I are dealing with (like how we cut the cable cord last year–which, incidentally led to a piece on KARE-11 featuring our family; see below). So, I try to post a couple times a month about things that may not even relate to digital marketing, but posts that tell readers a little more about me as a person.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to get personal on your blog. Remember, blogging is a way humans connect with one another. Even if you’re working for a large company.
Earlier this week, friend, colleague and fellow blogger Aaron Pearson asked me to speak to his class at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. The topic? Corporate blogging. Something I know a thing or two about based on my personal experiences with this blog and the lessons I’ve put to good use for my clients.
I actually titled my presentation “Is corporate blogging dead?” I hope we all know the answer to that question. And yeah, I was having a little fun with the title. But, the fact remains that 28 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a public blog. Not a bad number. Especially considering we’re talking about the biggest of the big. What about the thousands of other blogs from midsized and small businesses out there? No doubt, those numbers are fairly large.
So, corporate blogging is NOT dead. Who’s doing it well?
By now, we’ve all heard about the Southwest Airlines and Starbucks blogs of the world. But, what about other larger companies? Those we might not hear about as often–but those who continue to blog month after month. And do so with what appears to be some success (I say “appears” because we can never know for sure how these companies are measuring success with their blogs).
Here are five companies that aren’t talked about quite as much when it comes to blogging–and how they’re pulling the right strings when it comes to corporate blogging.
Instead of going uber-corporate, Boeing lets vice president of marketing, Randy Tinseth do the talking. It’s a shrewd move, as it gives Boeing more of a “face” online–but also gives Randy a chance to talk about his many travels, personal experiences, and his thoughts on the great things Boeing has in the queu.
Views/perspectives “from the road”
It seems like Mr. Tinseth travels a decent amount. Many of the posts on the blog are recaps of Randy’s travels and his trips abroad to visit partners and to see some of Boeing newest jets in action.
Great visuals readers won’t find anywhere else
I heard the Boeing folks speak at an event in Seattle last year. And one thing stuck with me from that chat; the fact that there were so many people out there that cared so much about Boeing jets. They’ve worked hard to cultivate this community–and they know what they want. One thing: Visuals these people can’t get anywhere else. Check out the pics below–just a sample of what Boeing shares regularly on this blog.
Despite the great visuals within this blog, the blog’s design isn’t all that impressive. In fact, I’d probably label it as fairly spartan. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. The content is so good, no one really even notices the design. Brands often get overly hung up on the design of an online property. Many times, if a brand would channel that energy into the content and strategy behind the blog, they’d be much better off.
Using many different kinds of posts
One thing I love about what Whole Foods does on the blogging front: They use the full complement of blogging devices. List posts, profile posts, tip posts, personal experiences (see below). You name it, they’re using it. And, it provides a breadth of content few corporate blogs can match.
Connect with a wide variety of stakeholders
One of the benefits of those many different kinds of posts? It allows them to connect with the wide variety of stakeholders Whole Foods serves. Take their vendors for example. What better way to shine the light on this group–and build community–than to profile them in an ongoing series on the blog (see below)? Simple, but brilliant.
Great use of GIFs
A Tubmlr fave, IBM is playing to the strengths of the blogging platform. You’ll see a number of GIFs regularly on their Tumblr blog–including those that highlight some of the newer innovations of the organization.
Creative ways to inspire and recognize
A recent series of posts on the blog highlights this point well: IBM’s effort to highlight it’s 50th anniversary Fellows Class. By profiling each Fellow with a separate post, they’re producing ample content, while giving each Fellow the stage, if just for a post.
Highlight innovation through video/”infographics”
Love what IBM is doing here with a combo platter of videos and infographics to tell the story of IBMers who are innovating. Remember: Inspiring visuals that are also shareable.
Breaking news for organization
This one might be more relevant in the tech world since more tech reporters and media outlets follow these tech blogs than in other industries (and seemingly EVERY tech company has a corporate blog), but Google seemingly breaks its news on this blog. They announced the Chromebook Pixel on the blog last month, a post that was shared 1,500 times on Google+.
Tool for CEO to use to communicate with key stakeholders
This is one of those points that people always make about reasons why companies should start blogs. But, you rarely see CEOs taking the opportunity. Google is not one of those companies. Larry Page doesn’t post all that often, but he does use it as a platform to share key insights and decisions (like the recent transition of Andy Rubin off Android at Google, which was a big move in that industry).
A tool to showcase new products
Leveraging power of celebrity
Target really does this well here. And having worked with celebrities on a couple clients over the years, I can tell you without question that it is not easy. Target uses multi-media to really bring the power of their celebrities to life–usually through video, like this Q&A with Nate Berkus.
Good mix of tips, ideas and entertainment
Much like the Whole Foods blog, Target excels here. Instead of focusing on one kind of post, they do a nice job of mixing it up. Tip posts. Ideas for you to use in your daily lives (using products found at Target, of course). And, plain old entertainment, like this post featuring the oh-so-hot JT.
In case you missed it last week Posterous announced it was closing up shop as of April 30 to “focus 100% of our efforts on Twitter” (the company that bought Posterous last year).
Not a big surprise for those paying attention. After Twitter bought Posterous last year, it seemed there was a decent chance they might shutter Posterous. Sure enough, that day will come on April 30.
It’s too bad really. Posterous was an innovator in many ways. It was one of the first platforms to give you the ability to publish to many platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) with just a single click. And, it was also among the first (and only?) blogging platforms that allowed you to publish via a simple email. This was always an under-served path to blogging in my view. As corporations looked to easier ways to blog, it struck me as strange that this really never caught on (although personally, I LOVED it–I think I have more than 10 Posterous blogs I’ve started at one point or another over the years).
But, now that Posterous will be gone for good on April 30, what does this mean (if anything) for the rest of the blogsphere. I think three implications are in play:
Confirms the importance of self-hosting
Sure, Posterous is giving its users the ability to download content and shift to another platform, but if you had bought your own domain, and self-hosted, you wouldn’t be in this position, would you? I think the number-one outcome of Posterous shutting down is that it confirms the sheer importance of self-hosting your blog. If you own your blog, and the domain, you never have to worry about your platform being bought out by a bigger corporate giant. You never have to worry about porting content to a new tool. You can just focus on building the best blog you can. Every day.
Tumblr will only get bigger
For the last few years, the big blog players have been: WordPress.com, Blogger, Tumblr, Typepad (less lately), Squarespace (gaining steam) and Posterous. WordPress.com is far and away the clubhouse leader among this group with Blogger usually close behind and Typepad, Squarespace, Posterous and Tumblr in the rearview mirror. But, with the explosion of Tumblr (77 million blogs as of Oct. 2012 and counting, according to Wikipedia) as a community AND a blogging platform in the last couple years–and now with the demise of Posterous–Tumblr has really solidified itself as the primary #3 blog platform on the market. And, a lot of those folks with Posterous blogs will be switching over to Tumblr in the weeks ahead–just watch.
Apparently blogging by email WAS NOT a need
This one surprised me. I thought this was the most brilliant part of Posterous’ set up out of the gate in 2008–the ability to blog by email. For those who were confused and tormented by the “techniness” of platforms like WordPress, Posterous offered something much more simple. In essence, if you could use email, you could blog. It was literally that easy in the early days. Since then, of course, Posterous has evolved a bit, But that, along with the ability to cross-post across other social networks, was the chief USP for Posterous. And, it really never panned out. You really never saw people talk about how much they really loved that feature. I heard more folks talk about how they loved the simplicity and look of Postersous–but not so much around the posting by email. I really thought that was a need that Posterous filled nicely. And, I was wrong.
One question I hear from a number of clients: When a blogger sends us an email asking for product to review, how do we decide whether or not we should work with that blogger?
Basically what they’re asking is this: What criteria should I use to rank bloggers against other bloggers?
I know, I know, there are tools you can use to do this. Agencies have designed proprietary systems around how to measure the influence of bloggers.
But, those tools are typically reserved for organizations with larger PR/marketing budgets. What about the legion of small businesses who don’t have that pot of money. Who don’t employ reputable firms like Edelman Digital, Golin Harris and Fleishman Hillard?
What tools and resources do they have?
Answer: Not much. They’re often left to fend for themselves, actually. So, I thought I’d share a few questions I usually suggest clients start with in evaluating bloggers when they reach out to the company. Below are 15 questions to ask before saying “yes” to that blogger.
What is the blog’s audience?
- Who is the blogger writing for? Make sure the audience syncs up with your key audience. If there’s an “about” page on the blog, that’s usually the best place to learn about the blog’s purpose and audience.
- How much traffic does the blog receive? (Use www.compete.com to get an estimate on monthly unique visitors to the blog; it’s not 100 percent accurate, but it will give you a feel for the traffic the blog receives)
- How many comments does each post receive? This is an indicator of how engaged the readers are in the blog’s content. Balance this against the number of unique visitors the blog receives each month.
What about the blog’s content?
- What is the tone of the blogger’s writing? Is it professional, friendly or casual? Or does it tend to be negative, caustic and “ranting”? The latter could be a red flag.
- What kind of topics does the blog cover? Are they in line with what your target market is likely interested in?
- Are there any frequently covered topics or expressed opinions that you would not want to be associated with? For example, severe political views.
- Is the blog well-written? Or are there typos and a lack of punctuation that might make the content difficult to read and take seriously?
- How frequent are the posts? Is the blog updated on a regular basis, or are there long periods of time without any posts? The latter might mean a less engaged readership.
- Does the blogger do product reviews? Are they generally favorable or negative reviews? Does the blogger disclose whether or not he/she received products for free in exchange for writing about it? Note: Bloggers frequently have “PR friendly” or “PR” tabs on their site that lay out how they work with PR firms or companies.
- Does the blogger do product giveaways? What are the rules for participating? How many people generally participate?
How about the blog’s appearance?
- What does the blog’s design look like? The design tends to be a good indicator of how seriously the blogger is about maintaining the platform.
- Does it appear to be a custom design?
- Does the design look outdated or neglected?
- Is it a crowded, busy design that makes it difficult to navigate the content?
- Design shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely a factor to consider along with audience, content and influence.
What about the blogger’s “influence”?
- Does the blogger write anywhere else, such as other blogs, magazines, newspapers, books, ebooks, and so on? These are all outlets that increase the blogger’s reach and influence online.
- What’s the blogger’s Klout score (check www.klout.com)? Not the end-all-be-all in terms of online influence, but it does give you a number to measure against other bloggers.
- Is the blogger active on social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest? These are all outlets that allow the blog’s posts to travel further.
- How many followers does the blogger have on these various platforms?
- How often does the blogger update on these channels?
- Look for bloggers that have larger Facebook and Twitter communities, at a minimum. Larger communities there give the blogger more opportunity to share content with a wider audience.
- What is the blogger’s tone on the above outlets? Does she take a strong stance on any controversial issues? Does she complain frequently about products and brands? You can identify red flags fairly easily here.
Note: Photo courtesy of Oberazzi via FlickR Creative Commons.
When it comes to blogging, we put a whole lot of emphasis on creating content that gets clicked. And, eventually content that fosters loyalty (return visits), behavior change (digging deeper into the site) and action (purchase).
We put time into developing editorial calendars, interviewing subject matter experts and taking photos for blog posts. We research hot and relevant topics. Find links to insert into posts. And, work hard to tag our posts so they’re easily searchable by keywords for months and years to come.
But, what we don’t usually do is put a lot of time and effort into thinking: What happens AFTER we make the post?
And that’s what I want to talk about today.
Because what you do AFTER the post can often be just as important as what you’ve done leading up to the post.
Here are four ideas to get you thinking about how to merchandise your blog content AFTER the post.
Share selectively via DMs and private messages
Yes, you want followers/fans/customers to share your posts “organically” online. But, it doesn’t hurt to do a little pre-promotion to seed a few potential shares, too. So, why not create a few lists of Twitter followers to share your posts with via DM as soon as you post. Could be a list of your best customers. A list of key business partners. Or, maybe it’s a list of employees you know are on Twitter. Whatever the case, sharing your post via DM creates a more personal connection between brand and key audience and gives you a better chance for sharing success (and remember, you can replicate this process on other networks, like LinkedIn, too).
Look for syndication opportunities
What do I mean by “syndication opportunities?” Are there Web sites or blogs in your niche that gather other industry blogs and re-post under their own blog (check Alltop)? Are there e-newsletters that use other blog posts to share relevant industry news in your niche (think Sarah Evans #Commentz e-newsletter in our industry)? Seek out those opportunities via some simple research, approach these folks and see if there’s interest on an ongoing basis on them syndicating your blog content. Nice opportunity to reach a whole new audience within your specific niche.
Seek additional curation opportunities
Now, think about how YOU can curate your existing content in different formats for different audiences. For example, do you have a number of “list” posts you can curate into an e-book you can share with key customers? Or, what about using a group of posts with data points and key stats and reformatting that information into an inforgraphic for your blog (or, that you can also pitch to other blogs)? Or, what about simply curating a few particular posts around one particular topic and making a new post with a list of those former posts? Again, just think about how you can repackage your existing content in different ways to pique the interest of customers and potential customers.
Repackage posts as earned media pitches
Here’s an approach I’ve been using with one client of mine–taking an existing post (or series of posts) and repackaging them as an earned media pitch. For example, what if you worked in the craft beer business (big surprise–I’m talking about craft beer!), and you wrote a post about a new brewing process that’s becoming popular among craft brewers. In the post, you featured a number of brewers from across the country, as well as your brewery. Couldn’t you simply take that post, write a very short note to a local outlet or trade publication and link to your post for more information? Easy way to pique media interest–and you’ve already done a lot of the legwork, theoretically, so you don’t have to run down spokespeople and examples (they’re already baked into the post).
Those are thoughts and ideas I’ve executed in the last few months/year. What about you? How have you made your blog content work for you AFTER the post?
Note: Photo courtesy of subadei via FlickR Creative Commons.