Are you stuck for something to blog about?

Alice

Finding enough content to write is always a troubling problem for bloggers. I constantly read on forums bloggers asking for inspiration about what to put into their blogs, especially since there is that constant nagging in their minds that they need to be consistent and frequent in their postings. This is particularly prominent if you have advertising and affiliates on your blog, as you rely on a constant stream of visitors to make such applications pay their way. 

I suppose it doesn’t help to say the more you post, the easier it becomes. It’s all down to practising, persistence and perseverance. Get into the habit of putting down your thoughts, even if it’s in draft form, to develop later into full-blown posts. Diligent bloggers may have plenty of potential posts in draft, waiting for that final finish.

Look around you for inspiration, there is plenty of ‘post fodder’ about if you know where to look. Look at the emails in your in- and out-box, especially the ones you write in reply. This is an excellent source of your expertise. If you are a prolific writer elsewhere, refer to past articles that you’ve written, and there is no reason why you can’t rewrite old stuff that may have got out of date, may have had more recent developments or needs a more prominent boost.

Refer to the internet for information: subscribe to Google Alerts with certain keywords that interest you or are relevant to your business, and you will get plenty of posts and articles other people have written. Use these not only to learn more about your industry, but rewrite these topics in your own style or in your own point of view, agreeing or disagreeing, adding to the subject matter or explaining a point further. This is not plagarism if you make your work totally different from the original.

Remember things that have been said or you’ve heard somewhere, such as networking events, or even when you are meeting your clients: ask them for ideas, or question them to get their point of view. They may ask for explanations on certain subjects, and their question with your reply could easily be adapted as a post.

It’s all due to you acquiring the right sort of blogging mind-set. This may sound pretentious, but once you do train your brain to start looking for posting material wherever it goes, content will start springing out of the woodwork! Start thinking in that frame of mind, and you might be pleasantly surprised…

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How WordPress.com can help businesses in the short-term

Alice

I read blogging blogs that exalt the virtues of WordPress and what a fantastic platform it is to create a blog. But what they are mainly talking about is WordPress.org, the sophisticated version that is independently hosted, and can perform in total synchrony with your website, or even become your whole website!

But its problem is its expense, it requires a webdeveloper who understands how the platform works, and it can take time to set up. Even so, once accomplished, the results are totally professional, collaborate extremely successfully with the search engines, and are very much worthwhile the expenditure.

This is all very commendable, but what about the blogging sceptics? There are plenty out there that are uncomfortable about starting a blog, are not sure of the expense, may be on tight budgets, or would like to find out more about WordPress before making a commitment.

Enter WordPress.com, the ‘free’ version hosted by WordPress that can be set up in minutes. Its minimal expenses are to activate Akismet, the ‘spam eater’, and if you want to convert the URL WordPress gives you to one of your own.

Here is a blogging platform ideally suited to enable you to ‘practice’ blogging before embarking into this section of social media properly. By creating a WordPress.com blog, you will be able to learn how to fully use the platform, discover all the tricks there are available, excel in the intricacies of blogging and enjoy producing a fully-operational blog with the minimum of fuss.

OK, there are some restrictions: you can’t put advertising or sell from a WordPress.com blog, as the blog police will close you down. Only certain forms of HTML are accepted (RSS, YouTube videos, podcasts, etc) so it is not a medium to make money, only to education, entertain and publicise your business.

But if you want to create a blog to practice blogging or to dip your toe into the blogging world before expanding into more elaborate and profitable realms, then WordPress.com is the platform to use.

And don’t forget, it is extremely easy to transfer the contents of your WordPress.com blog over to your new WordPress.org website without losing a thing! A perfect example of continuity to maintain consistency.

Is being the fastest the best?

Alice

It is commonplace to hear that an event had received a large audience because it has been publicised on Twitter. This does, of course, depend on how many followers the Twitterer had, what time of day the tweet was sent, how many times, and what it said. And the viral element: how many times it was retweeted, which, in turn, depends on the Twitter accounts it was retweeted by, and who read it…

Social networking is notoriously fast. To those who aren’t old fogies like me, it seems incomprehensible how slow we were 20 years ago, without email, mobile phones or even the internet. Publicising an event would have taken planning, forethought and a considerable amount of legwork: getting flyers printed, distributed and posted up on show; invites sent out to likely friends, relying on the Word of Mouth (a factor now replaced by Word of Mouse); booking done via telephone, in person at a box office or even by post (heavens, not snail mail!).

Of course there are (slightly) slower versions today: texting and status updates on social media do require a bit of a time delay before you get an answer, which should allow you plenty of time to think of something suitable say (if possible). Go a step slower and blogging encourages comments on its posts which, depending on whether they are moderated or not, can become flowing conversations where necessary.

Email newsletters and similar campaigns are maybe the slowest, but booking online via clicking on a link that will direct you immediately to a Paypal or similar shopping cart certainly cuts down the lengthy procedure of finding a box office, and stimulates a more immediate response that eliminates the chance of being forgotten, overlooked or displaced by another event.

But then these slower options do allow more room for information about the event, a phenomenon that is certainly more difficult if restricted to 140 characters (SMS as well as Twitter) or the quick-fire responses on status updates on Facebook, (certainly, as in the case of my daughter, with several open all at once!). Posting up details of the event on a blog, forum, Facebook fanpage or as a discussion on a LinkedIn group will allow a bit more perpetuity than the ‘here, now gone’ scenario of Twitter, so subject to a continuous timeline forever superseding what has gone before.

Why you shouldn’t neglect your blog

Alice

All the excitement of creating or building a blog, the newness of it all, can be quite short lived. Many would-be writers avidly start their blog with great gusto and go through the settings and themes to get the ‘look’ they want, vowing to contribute posts regularly every week.

But the reality is different. My boss asked me to design a banner for one of her clients’ WordPress.com blog, and taking a quick look at the existing content I noticed that the style and subject matter were good, lively and readable, but he hadn’t posted since May. All that frenzied activity for the first month had quickly fizzled out, the enthusiasm had drained away, and a poor, neglected blog that appeared to have great potential languished before me on my computer screen.

This is the plight of so many blogs out there (the same is with Twitter accounts and other social networking profiles). A blog with no content might as well be a cheese sandwich! These self-editable websites are carefully designed to attract the search engines and their spiders, and thrive on consistently produced new material stuffed full of keywords and links that are so appetising to the internet bots who constantly roam looking for something to index. To forgot to regularly update them is as sad and unthinkable as getting a new puppy and then forgetting to look after him properly!

The adage “blogs are not just for Christmas, they are for life” may be scary, but this needn’t be so. If you are as diligent and full of enthusiasm as you need to be to make your business a success, then you need to do some sort of social networking activity, and a blog is an easy (and it is easy) example.  If you can’t write well, hire someone who can – there are lots of good ghost-bloggers out there who will do a good job. Even so, I’m sure whatever you write will be suitable towards promoting your business the way you want to. After all, who else knows your business better than you?

That is what the blog’s content should contain – all about you and your business.  Don’t submit irrelevant material like you find on Twitter, instead write about what you know. You must be a fountain of information and expertise about your industry, so why not share it with your existing and potential customers? Use your blog as somewhere you could record everything you think is important for your customers to know, a point of reference that can be fed into your social networking accounts, back-up links to affirm your points of view, a place to hold your latest revelations, fantastic ideas for the future, past successes with great clients, scintillating information that your clients would really benefit from…

So don’t neglect your poor old blog!  He needs visiting, reassuring, feeding – remember, he’s hungry for your knowledge!

Why you should add blogging to your marketing mix

Alice

There are many pros and cons to having a blog. Unfortunately, if you mention blogging to the uninitiated, they immediately think of the cons, partly because they don’t know the pros. But in my mind blogging is an essential part of marketing that should be ignored at your peril, as businesses without blogs are seriously isolated in this ever-increasingly online world. So here are some pros and cons so you can make a choice:

The pros of blogging

Having a blog will increase your business’s credibility. Here is a medium that will allow you to express another side of your business, deliver more information that cannot be crammed into your website, somewhere to answer customers questions, and offer solutions and other valuable expertise. It allows you to converse with your customers through their comments, and influence prospective customers who want to learn more about you before they buy.

Blogs will increase your business’s visibility, not only through their pages, but because each new post can be ‘fed’ to other social networking sites, increasing your business’s exposure to a much wider audience than via your website alone. They are notoriously compatible with search engines, who send their spiders hourly to check for new material (since that is what a blog is designed to produce), not to mention their plugins (applications) that enhance the use of search engine optimisation, and proactive use of contextual links to direct traffic to your website and other online promotions.

The cons of blogging

The first thing that puts people off is the thought of constant updating and monitoring. OK, an effective blog is one that is posted in at least three times a week, as this consistent new material is what stimulates the search engines to visit, but if writing new stuff is deemed too difficult, especially when you can’t think of what to say, why not outsource this task to a copywriter, VA or marketing firm?

There are some people who worry about how much blogs are visible on the web, but then all online activities are exposed to ever increasing audiences, especially if they are connected to each other through social networking. The idea of a blog is to promote your business to more potential customers, and having the chance for your readers to immediately respond to your posts, and you returning a reply, is surely a valuable commodity to forming customer relationships?

OK, so it’s not easy to see immediate results, but then all online marketing is long term. Blogs can take up to a year to get ‘noticed’, but this depends on how often you blog (obviously if you post several times a day you will gain a following much faster than if you contribute only once a month). Self-hosted blogs allow extra applications to Google Analytics for monitoring your blog’s performance, but there is an in-built stats system that automatically shows how many times your blog is visited and which posts are more popular.

As you may have gathered I am totally biased towards blogging, because this is ‘my’ subject, and with good reason. This blog has helped promote Appletree to a higher online level, and linking it successfully to social networking has increased its exposure to a much wider audience than before. So, is a blog something you should ignore or participate in?

How would a blog work in the 19th century?

Alice

Blogging is definitely a 21st century phenomenon. So why am I thinking of it in Victorian terms?

Quite some time ago I posted a question on LinkedIn asking how would a Victorian gentleman view blogging. The responses were as varied as they were interesting, some even replying as if they were Victorian gentlemen themselves! Apart from the florid language and lengthy time taken to describe things, it was a good insight to break down blogging into its most basic format, to view it without all the bells and whistles that adorn this platform that could also confuse the true reason why to blog.

The internet was viewed as the telegraph, and therefore a blog is somewhere to publish your news through the telegraph system to reach a much wider gathering than through letter alone. Of course, sending a letter to The Times would certainly reach many readers, and the Victorians were compulsive letter writers (as well as reading them), but a blog could resemble an inclusive Gentleman’s Club through which you could submit your thoughts and musings, ideas and innovations, gripes and grumbles, retorts and responses, to both a private and public audience.

This opportunity to broadcast yourself as a source of authority, where readers will take your opinions as fact, would be much less expensive than writing and printing a series of pamphlets. These might be in danger of not reaching their intended audience, be wasted in their distribution, and be limited in their extent of circulation, and certainly could not enable their recipients to respond immediately through the same medium.

Your letters would reach their recipients much quicker than the usual method of postage, without the initial cost of paper, envelope and a stamp. And if you wanted to change your mind or add more to your message, this could be possible even after distribution. Replies may even be instantaneous, resulting in an immediate response of your own, thus adding to the conversation which could elaborate further on the subject matter.

And it would be worth while reading other gentlemen’s letters on their similar methods of communication, just to keep in the know, monitor what your competitors are doing, and steal a march on other exciting projects by acting first. Every time you reply to these letters, your signature will allow other readers of these missives to find out who you are and read what you have written, thus extending your expertise in the subject and your presence in the community.

And there is also somewhere where you can leave your visiting card for interested persons to access, find out more about you, and even take the opportunity to visit you, either at your Club or in person. You would only have to distribute one visiting card, as it would be able to be seen by a great many more persons than leaving it on the table in a Club or another social meeting place in the hope that it might get noticed.

What other elements of a Victorian business man’s life might be improved if he had this wonderful innovation they call a ‘blog’?

Marketing for paupers

Alice

This is a good subject for start-ups and very small businesses who don’t have a large budget to work with.

The first free marketing method is networking. Go to as many meetings as possible, particularly the free events or those that don’t require a big entrance fee. But to make these successful you must arm yourself with a good pitch, both 10 and 60 second versions, the first to grab attention to yourself, and the second if you get a chance to address the whole room. If you can create something that is different, easily understandable, poignant and relevant to your listeners’ needs, then you have a head start above many others.

It is important to get yourself as visible as possible in the business world. There are two possibilities: blogging and social networking group pages. It is very easy to create a free blog, and social networking sites allow you to create groups or fanpages which you can devote to your business.  In these you must regularly post up information about your business, and then, as with the blog, use RSS feeds to inform your followers of your new posts, or email through the social networking system to your followers that you have recently contributed new material for them to read.

And then there’s Twitter, equally free, which is an excellent way to promote your business, not forgetting that you can feed your blog to it, and now your posts can be automatically replicated on your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles.

Writing articles and publishing them around the net is another way to spread your expertise. Make sure the resource boxes direct the reader back to your website, blog or social networking profile pages, so they can find out more about you.  Take advantage of keywords to improve your search engine optimisation, and careful attention to the headlines and first paragraph will increase the likelihood of a response.

If you do have a website, get as many links back to it as possible from other websites and web directories. The more high profile the link source, the more respect search engines give your website, not to mention providing more portals for the spiders to crawl over your site and report back pages for indexing.

Create a good signature for your emails, to publicise your website, blog and social networking profiles. Don’t forget that the space at the bottom of your communication is just waiting to be filled with promotional written material and links, and everybody you write to will get a chance to see them.