Business Blogs: Tour Guides for the Information-Hungry Traveler

travel guidesThe moment I read the headline “Blogging’s a Low-Cost, High Return Marketing Tool”, an article by Marci Alboher in the print edition of the New York Times, it caught my attention. The same day when she asked “Should Small Businesses Blog?” in her Shifting Careers Blog at NYTimes.com, I didn’t have to think about it too long before I answered, yes.

Her reference to an American Express survey that found only 5 percent of businesses with fewer than 100 employees have blogs raises an important question; what will it take to persuade the other 95 percent?

For starters, I think the more newspaper columnists and bloggers write success stories, anecdotal experiences, along with recommended tips and tools of the trade; the sooner small businesses will join the 5 percent who are enjoying business-life on the other side of the fence.

Marci Alboher wrote about Tony Stubblebine, founder of CrowdVine, who uses his blog “as a way to share news with friends and people who wield influence in his industry as well as a reference check for customers.” She also referred to John Nardini’s decision to write a blog about personal finance because “it is a popular search category on the Web and because he knew he would not tire of posting about it.” Like other bloggers Nardini uses tools like Google Analytics and Site Meter.

Businesses don’t need to reinvent the wheel when they can learn from others experiences and readily implement a blog into their marketing mix. CrowdVine Social Networks blog links to “How to “Web 2.0-Enable”your Live Event” an article David Spark of Spark Media Solutions. One link from his article directs the reader to information and a resource for adding audio to your blog. Ms. Alboher’s link to “How To Build Traffic To Your Blog” by Priya Shah is not only an example of a great how-to article but demonstrates how prolific the author was writing such thorough ground rules back in December 2004.

Shah’s article addresses:

  • writing posts people will want to read
  • optimizing posts for search engines
  • submitting blog to directories
  • pinging blog services
  • editing blog posts into articles
  • creating buzz about blogs
  • capturing subscribers by email

So in answer to Marci Alboher’s original question, should small businesses blog, I say yes. Blogs need to be more than a soap box or a place to pontificate. They need to make a difference, add value to a reader’s life, and provide concrete and useable information–simply, blogs need to guide us to worthwhile destinations.

The Digital Native Defined

We know that generation Y has been exposed to digital media from birth — video games, cell phones, digital cameras, instant messaging and web communities, to name a few. But what does this actually mean to marketers?

This very topic was explained by Craig Bettles, a futurist and researcher from Institute for Alternative Futures, in his presentation Capturing the Imagination of the Digital Native, which he presented in early December for a National Park Service educational conference. He explains that the 15-20 year olds are wired differently. Their brains naturally process multiple pieces of information simultaneously. So, the communications we present to this group must be more complex, more interactive, and dynamic. If your audience is in this range, or will be, this is important information to understand.

Digital Natives vs Digital Immigrants

This slide, from Bettles presentation, shows some of the fundamental differences between digital native and digital immigrants. Most likely, the readers of this blog are immigrants.

We recently reviewed some educational websites for high school-aged children that attempt to take educational experiences into this realm. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has produced and an electronic field trip that uses a PDA analogy as a mechanism for capturing and storing evidence and findings in an educational lesson. While we felt that the implementation is a bit clunky, the intention is intended to communicate in a style that is accessible to this age group.

Currently, we are working on several projects that require an understanding of how the Generation Y age group thinks and learns. To do this, we have become members of mySpace, Facebook, and many other online communities that cater to this group. While we can’t think the same way, we can certainly try. And, of course, we ask our friend’s kids for insight and advice.

We would love to hear from other folks who work with the age group and to see successful examples of social media for Gen Y in action.

Venturing into the Land of Web 2.0

map of world webLast week I referenced the B2B Marketers’ 2008 Budget Trends, a recent report by Laura Ramos of Forrester Consulting, and her advice– “make sure the corporate web site, search optimization, and email marketing programs, are unified and operating on all cylinders before venturing into Web 2.0.”

A few days later I found myself caught up in the brouhaha circulating around the blogoshpere after Jakob Nielsen wrote his Alertbox Column, Web 2.0 Can Be Dangerous. Some people interpreted Nielsen’s remarks as anti-Web 2.0. Some voiced disappointment in Jakob Nielsen’s assessment.

I worked as a web content manager for a large Health Maintenance Organization in the mid 90’s, and while the internet has come a long way from the early static web sites, some things haven’t changed–you can’t ignore the core fundamentals of site architecture and maintenance.

In other words, like Laura Ramos and Jakob Nielsen, I’m in the opinion that you can’t focus on Web 2.0 until you’re confident that you have a secure web foundation. Not only should it be well built, with clear navigation and strong content, but you need to use it in your marketing mix, to its full potential.

Nielsen stated, “Before throwing away money on “2.0″ features, make sure that you have all the “1.0″ requirements working to perfection. Of the 149,784,002 sites on the Web, maybe a handful can make this claim. Most sites don’t even use the customers’ terminology in headlines and page titles — if you want one quick action item to improve site profitability through better SEO ranking, more clickthroughs, and better understanding of your services, rewriting the first two words of your microcontent will beat any technology any day.”

A few suggestions before venturing into the Land of Web 2.0:

  1. Refresh your web site’s content, add new material, edit existing and don’t be afraid to hit the delete key when appropriate.
  2. Test the usability of the site, and ask yourself and others, can people find what they’re looking for?
  3. Check-out your search engine optimization. Look into Google Analytics , it’s free and will tell you a lot about what’s working on your site, and what needs improvement.
  4. Don’t be afraid to be an expert. If you have a whitepaper or materials that demonstrate why you’re the go-to company in your industry…show don’t tell.
  5. Even a small make-over e.g a new palette of colors, fonts and lay-out can give you a new fresh look.

Once you’re confident that your site is working on all cylinders, take your next steps. If you’ve been considering a business blog, there’s an excellent resource I’ve come across, How to Write a Business Blog by Debbie Weil, to get you started.

As Deborah Richman says in her recent post Try a Little Social Media in 2008, “consider all the places where you’d like to be found and consumed. For next year, look at your visitors who blog or communicate on Facebook/MySpace. Decide how to engage and share content via containers, widgets and places where they live online. My gentle resolution doesn’t mean you have to change your business models — only include social media in your mix.”

There’s never a better time then the present to begin.

Credits: Map created by Randall Monroe of XKCD.com

Measuring Blog Success

tape measureI’ve been blogging on ”Impressions Through Media” for just over three months.  And yes, I admit it – at times I wonder, “Is anyone really listening?” But, then I see my own post pop up on a Google alert or I see a comment posted from a fellow blogger, so I know someone is.  That is exciting in itself, but does that mean the blog is really working?  It got me thinking about how and when to start measuring success.  What does “success” really mean?

In my attempt to answer this question I came across various suggestions. Overall, opinions on ”measuring blog outcomes” differ widely.  Stephen Downes called it ridiculous, comparing it to measuring a friendship.  Others, like Avinash Kaushik, who recently presented at the November 2007 BlogWorld Expo, recommends six metrics for measuring blog success.  The six metrics include: raw author contribution, audience growth, conversation rate (meaning # of visitor comments/# of visitor posts), Technorati rank, cost, and benefit/value.  The metrics  were based on analyzing data from his own blog after 17 months. 

I also searched for some real world examples of blog successes.  One interesting success story is Thailand Golf Zone, which was launched last April.   Mark Siegel, owner of Golfasian.com (a Thailand golf travel company) reports that the blog has been the single best action taken in the way of marketing for the company. It is estimated that traffic to the corporate site has increased by 50% with $250,000 in new business as a result of people reading the blog and gaining confidence in Golfasian.com. The blog has enabled the company to expand their profile and reputation.  A business like Thailand Golf Zone measured its success with metrics like # visitors, posts, overall site traffic, and lead generation/new business.  In addition, they realized qualititative success as well given the increased presence and visibility with clients.

To some degree, I agree with both Stephen Downes and Avinash Kaushik.  Quantitative metrics can be applied to measure blog success once you’ve been up and running for six months or so.  And, a blog is somewhat like a friendship or a relationship.  With every post you are reaching out to pursue a conversation with others.   Yes, it is ridiculous to associate quantitative metrics with a friendship.  But, it is not ridiculous to acknowledge that you have the opportunity to gain considerable qualitative benefits from a friendship… and yes, from a blog too.  Thus, when launching a blog, or looking to measure success after you’ve started one, remember to define what the goals of the blog or “relationship” will be.

Operating on all Cylinders: The Road to Web 2.0

RoadIn the recent report, B2B Marketers’ 2008 Budget Trends Laura Ramos, VP and Principal Analyst for Forrester Consulting describes the 2008 outlook for business-to-business (B2B) marketing budgets as optimistic.

Ramos says that in order for the digital transformation to accelerate, “B2B marketers must ensure that three key tactics, corporate web site, search optimization, and email marketing programs, are unified and operating on all cylinders…the success of these tactics will provide the foundation from which to experiment with 2.0 media strategies while keeping the sales pipeline full and critics of further marketing investment at bay.”

Earlier this year, the American Business Media (ABM) engaged Forrester Consulting to research the trends and impact of B2B media on end-users, business decision-makers and marketers. The report entitled The Digital Transformation sheds light on Business Decision Makers use or intent to use Web 2.0:

90% use/or intend to use mobile/wireless
90% attended web-based events
86% read a blog
76% listened to a podcast
70-90% use an RSS feed from a news source, website or blog
69% visited a social networking site
59% read and/or posted to a wiki

Two other significant findings from The Digital Transformation:

  1. Business-to-Business (B2B) marketers are turning to emerging media at a rate consistent with BDM’s growing interest.
  2. In 2008-2009, B2B marketers plan to use more digital media including tactics like videos, web-based events and online community pages.

What’s a company to do? To start with, take the time now to tune up (or overhaul) your corporate web site, search engine optimization, and email marketing programs so you’ll be well on the road — to destination Web 2.0.

Lead Generation and Blogs: Making the Connection

Keyboard - sellAt this time of year, we often find ourselves assessing what worked and what did not in terms of marketing campaigns.  You may be questioning if you met lead generation goals on a quarterly email program.  You might be determining if the ROI on trade show or speaking engagements justifies a repeat performance in the coming year.  In the end, you work to analyze actual results to derive that optimal mix of marketing tactics for the coming year.  

The jury is still out for many of my clients when it comes to incorporating social media tactics like a blog into their marketing mixes.  This hesistancy may represent fear of the unknown, a misunderstanding of the tool, or skepticism regarding results, you tell me.   If it is the latter - meaning you need to better understand the connection between a blog and lead generation - you may find a case study published on MarketingSherpa entitled, “Seven Practical Tactics to Turn Your Blog into a Sales Machine” of particular interest. 

The case illustrates how one successful real estate blog incorporated seven key elements to generate significant prospect interest.  These seven practical tips include:

  1. Seed your blog posts with key words
  2. Provide exclusive news and insight
  3. There is no need to blog daily
  4. Add easy contact links to each post
  5. Jump on incoming leads fast
  6. Measure success by qualified leads not total traffic
  7. Blog elsewhere

 

 

Launching social media: what are you waiting for?

In the fury of some last minute holiday shopping yesterday, I received an interesting google alert in my inbox that I thought I’d share.  This alert on “conversational marketing” displayed an article by Heidi Cohen in ClickZ entitled, “Tis the Season to be Social: Five Ways to Tap into Social Shopping.”  In the article, Heidi made reference to a statistic that I find fascinating. 

According to internet information provider, comScore, October 2007 results indicate that ”roughly one of every seven minutes spent online is in conversational media (social media and blogs); specifically, conversational media sites average 12.4 minutes per usage day out of the 86 minutes spent on the Internet in total.”   Wow.  Stats like these are clear indication of the increasing time consumers (and, yes, our potential customers)are spending on social media and blog sites.   Does your online marketing strategy take such telling statistics into consideration and incorporate social media? 

If you are considering launching some form of a social media campaign, don’t be intimidated.   Start by taking a close look at your customers and empowering them to advocate for you.  As an example, take a look at a great case published on MarketingProfs.com featuring the Georgia Acquarium.  Officials at GA relied on existing customer content (including photos and personal stories shared on a group on Flickr) to serve as a powerful endorsement tool on their website.   Using social media, the GA was able to find their existing advocates, bring them together in a central location, and empower them to do the marketing.

 

 

Blog: The Personality Behind The Company

blog1.jpgMaybe you’ve already heard of the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and know how you would be described. Meyers Briggs Types are explained in 16 different personality types expressed as a code with four letters.

Most of the people I know who’ve taken the MBTI – and even some of the most skeptical – felt the type indicator was surprisingly right on the mark: a good representation of how they focus on the outer world, extrovert (E) or introvert (I); how they focus on basic information, sensing (S) or intuition (I); how they make decisions, thinking (T) or feeling (F); and structure, how they focus on the world, judging (J) or perceiving (P).

The book Companies are People Too: Discover, Develop, and Grow Your Organization’s True Personality by Sandra Fekete, describes company cultures in the form of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality. Whether you take the time to assess your company’s personality or not, rest assured your clients will probably do it for you.

Kevin Hendricks, a blogger for Think Personality writes in a recent post, “Everything your organization does is marketing”, e.g. how you answer the phone, how long it takes to respond to email, whether you meet your deadlines. Seth Godin takes it one step further, “Even when you don’t try, you’re telling a story.”

The company blog has become a new means to assess a company’s personality. As Douglas Karr says, “I like to compare a website to the sign outside your store and your blog is the handshake when the patron walks in the door… the blog is where you actually introduce the personality behind your company.”

As 2007 rolls to an end, blogs are still one of the most underutilized, flat-out missing parts of marketing strategies for a high percentage of U.S. businesses.

Let’s face it, the time has come to put the company blog higher up on the list.

Maximize Your Company’s Conversation Strategies in 2008

crystal_ball.gif
I think it’s fair to say, that you don’t have to be a seer with a crystal ball to predict that we’ll see an influx of social media in the business world in 2008. In case you haven’t noticed, we hit the tipping point a long time ago. Whether you’re in the early development phase or shaping your existing strategy for the coming year, the goal will be the same, maximize your efforts.

Leah Jones, from Me2revolution, whose clients include Microsoft, Nissan Motors, and Walmart says social media strategies will be part of her client’s programs, not an add-on. “When we look at 2008, we’re asking, ‘What’s our news? What’s our online strategy? What are our conversation strategies?’” Jones said.

Tools for Developing Conversation Strategies

Earlier this year, Jason Spence, the author of BlissLogs, talked about a ‘points system’ which he’s developed to keep up the momentum on his blog. He says he has to reach at least 50 points a day. A woman named Eve from Confessions of a Housewife created a spreadsheet based on Spence’s system which Passionate Blogger, went on to refine. The end result, a downloadable excel spreadsheet, The Passionate Blogger Blog Points System, is a great tool for gauging your blogging productivity.

The highest number of points for a blogging activity is 20, and reserved in my opinion, for the most important task of all, create a plan for a blueprint or series of articles. 10 points are given for setting up a profile on a social networking site, compared to a mere 1 point for submitting a post to Digg and or StumbleUpon.

Peter Flaschner the author of “The Guide to Business Blogging” suggests the key to business blogging success is to “Write with passion on topics you are passionate about.” He offers an easy to use, four step process for determining if business blogging is right for you. According to Flaschner, “knowing what you’re going to say, how often you’ll say it and what kinds of content you’ll want to use will make blogging easier.” At the end of the guide he provides links to a list of excellent resources which are definitely worth checking out.

Get Started Now

  • Carve out some time during the bustling holiday season to start formulating your online and conversation strategy
  • Try out the blogging points system to determine how you can get the most from your efforts
  • Use “The Guide to Business Blogging” to develop your blogging business goals

Last but not least, if you’re going to do any blogging in 2008, make yourself a New Year’s Resolution; write with passion on the topics you’re most passionate about.

Creating a Customer-Loyalty Generating System

My clients typically focus marketing efforts on acquiring new customers and getting them to buy.  What occurs post-purchase is typically just an afterthought.  Little is done to make the customer feel good about their purchase and there is no process in place to support the purchase choice and generate customer loyalty. 

I’m committed to changing the way my clients view customer loyalty and retention marketing.  I’m always open to new ideas.  One way I track trends and best practices is with daily google alerts on customer loyalty, customer retention, and retention marketing.  One recent article that I found particularily interesting published in Entrepreneur Magazine was “The Come-Back Kit” written by John Jantsch.   The article acknowledge’s the importance of a simple post-sales technique in generating follow-up business. 

Be sure to put a process in place to meet and exceed your customer expectations after the initial sale.  When signing on a new customer, foster loyalty by showing them how to get the most of the relationship with a series of communications, or “new customer kit.”   Key elements of the “come-back kit” highlighted in the aforementioned article included:

  • what was agreed upon in the sale
  • how you invoice and a copy of the invoice
  • what you need to get started
  • how to get the most from the product/service
  • what to expect next
  • contact information

By communicating the above, you can successfully set and meet your customer’s initial expectations.  With just this basic information and documentation, you create the beginnings of a customer-loyalty generating system that is built upon professionalism and solid marketing principles.