No Website? Then You Must Have A Blog

If you are in business and you don’t have a website, you should set up a blog. If your hesitation was the cost and complication of a website, just know that a blog is simple to set up and either free or inexpensive.

People expect you to have an address on the web. If someone wanted to call you and you said you didn’t have a telephone number, they would probably move on to the next option on their list.If you don't have a website you must have a blog

But, importantly, you are probably on the web whether you intended it or not. Anyone who Googles you will find a miscellaneous collection of information about you personally and possibly about your business as well. They will see your Facebook page (if you have one), a Yelp review of your business, or a comment you made on a forum or a blog two years ago. The list goes on. A certain number of potential customers will look for you this way, and what appears by chance will be the impression that they walk away with.  Maybe it’s all great. But it isn’t necessarily the picture you want to present.

A new brand-new blog is worry free because it won’t get a lot of traffic at first and you can test things, practice and learn as you go.

Here is the information your new blog should include:

If you don’t have a website, creating blog is dipping a toe in the water. It’s simple. It’s inexpensive. It’s better than nothing. Show it to a few people. Ask them what’s missing. Ask them to tell you what impression they get about your business from your blog. Tweak it. See how much more useful it is than a business card for telling people about your business.

Once you’ve lived with your blog for a little while, start building on what you have. Soon you’ll be knee deep and ready to go for a swim.

image source: flickr (mrvjtod)

Blogger Outreach: All About The Followthrough

“You gotta follow through all the way.” That’s what my dad, and later numerous softball captains, said over and over again every time I stepped up to the plate. (Mind you, I was no star softball player – just a casual work-league player who mostly warmed the bench.) I’ve taken that notion to heart in business, particularly, and try to be really diligent with followthrough on projects.

Apparently, many people who pitch bloggers do not adhere to the same concept.

follow through

I’m shocked, absolutely shocked, at how few PR people (or social agency people doing blogger outreach, but mostly PR people) pitch bloggers, meet them at events, bring them to events, or otherwise engage with bloggers and then drop them. Cold. Like a stone. No followup, no data gathering, often not even a thank-you note. Or worse, don’t even engage well to begin with.

Here’s my own experience with blogger outreach/PR followthrough. I attended BlogHer last August and met some nice brand folks at a bunch of parties and expo booths. I estimate that I gave out approximately 50 business cards to brand reps. I did not expect to get anything from any of them because if you go to the website listed on my card, it’s clear I’m not the kind of blogger brands want – I’m a social media pundit, not a momblogger or a lifestyle blogger or a food blogger. So I was surprised to have the following happen:

  • Two brands sent me an email thanking me for my visit with them and asking if I wanted to learn more about their products. Good work. I didn’t respond, so they didn’t either – perfectly fine.
  • One brand sent me an invite to a special “blogger-only” event that I was very interested in, so I RSVPd and they were lovely and encouraging so my family and I went. My husband, who is sort of one of those bloggers, is now in touch with that brand and we’re looking at ways he can do more with them in the future.

Those were examples of good follow-through. Really good, since I didn’t expect either to happen, given who I am. Here’s the bad:

  • Two brands put me on their email list. Yucch. Didn’t ask, didn’t opt me in, just added me. I unsubscribed from both immediately and now have a bad taste in my mouth about those brands.
  • Lastly, two weeks ago, nearly six months after BlogHer, a mysterious package arrived for me via FedEx. It was from one of the big PR agencies. Beyond curious, I opened it to find a bunch of product from one of the brands who had had a presence at BlogHer. The only note: “It was a pleasure meeting you at….Please enjoy these [brand] samples enclosed.”

Tell me, what good is this kind of outreach follow-up, six months later, to someone who is not even in their target market, going to do for the brand? Does the brand even know that there is a (likely) coordinator-level person in the big PR firm’s office, sending out product (and a fair amount of it, too) willy-nilly to anyone and everyone?

There are lots of hilarious (and sad) examples of bad PR pitches out there; my recent favorite baddie was one for Kellogg’s Special K that a friend of mine received and then was blogged about by Jessica Gottlieb. Clearly PR people need to figure out how to pitch in a more personal way that doesn’t demean bloggers nor assume that they will work for peanuts (or nothing).

However, little has been written about the followthrough, that all important next step once you’ve reached out to, met or worked with a blogger. Good followthrough is really no different than what your mom taught you about thank you notes: short, timely, relevant. Ask questions: How did the campaign perform for your site? Are there any site stats or metrics you can share with me? Was this a good brand experience for you and your readers? Is there anything I can do differently when I’m working with bloggers in the future?

If the blogger created content for you, hosted a contest, or did something else that you can point to, thank them by thanking them with a note – but also by retweeting their content on your brand channel or posting it to your Facebook page. And begin the dialogue about the next campaign as soon as you can, to keep the momentum going.

Build in the time and process to followthrough on your next blogger pitch and you’ll see how your data and metrics are more robust, your relationships blossom, and word-of-mouth on how you’re one of the “good PR people” spreads. It will make your job easier, and more rewarding, in the long run. And please share your ideas for good follow-up with us in the comments below.

Image source: flickr (gflinch)

 

Editorial Calendar Continued: Creating a Facebook Calendar

As a further extension to my series on editorial calendars, let’s talk about Facebook.  If you’re running a Facebook brand/fan page, you’ll want to create an editorial calendar for that, too.

Facebook needs an editorial calendar too
Given how many friends people have, and how quickly status updates get pushed down on people’s home pages, Facebook recommends that brands post status updates at least twice per day in order to capture the greatest audience for your brand content.  That means creating (and posting) 10 to 14 updates per week (depending on if you include weekends – which Facebook recommends but most brands don’t do).  That’s a lot of content!

Goals for Facebook engagement

Of course, you’ll first want to establish your goals for engaging in Facebook – you could be looking to:

  • build awareness
  • develop relationships with brand fans
  • promote new products/services, deals and specials
  • crowdsource ideas/get input from brand fans
  • encourage fan evangelism/advocacy about your brand
  • all of the above!

Your goals will help determine the content you should include in your Facebook calendar.  Building awareness requires more frequent posting.  Product promotions may happen infrequently.  And you may want to ask fans questions on a regular basis – it’s proven to be one of the best ways to get fans engaged on Facebook.  More on that in a moment.  So let’s assume you know why you’re on Facebook.  Now for the what.

Steps to creating a Facebook calendar

1. Determine your posting schedule. Is it twice a day, weekdays only?  Once a day? Are you including weekends?

2. Setup a calendar (I use a simple Excel spreadsheet) to include the following columns:

  • Day/date
  • Theme/category
  • Notes/ideas
  • Actual copy
  • Links
  • Images
  • I also use the spreadsheet to track results, with columns for Impressions, Feedback, Comments and Likes – all info you’ll get from Facebook through their Insights tracking

3. Consider whether you want to include recurring topics and themes.  As with blogs, you could set up various days of the week for specific topics or coverage areas.  For some clients I’ve done media clips once a week on a specific day, for others I’ve included a video once a week – the brand’s or a link to another video that was relevant and timely. Block out these recurring topics in your calendar.
4. Be sure to include a mix of media in your posts.  You can post links to outside content, photos and videos; you never know what will catch a fan’s eye, so experiment with various content types at various times of the day/week to see which ones generate the greatest results.
5. Don’t be overly promotional, but don’t forget that you have brand goals for using Facebook in the first place.  Look at your overall marketing calendar to see if you can use coupons, marketing promos, sales or other events in your Facebook content. Consider creating specials just for your Facebook fans.  But keep in mind that Facebook’s Terms of Service are pretty specific about how you can market using promotions, so be sure you’re staying on the right side of their terms.
6. Find ways to make your posts interactive.  Ask questions. Create polls.  Be open to feedback.  From my client experience, I’ve found that an open-ended question can generate as much as 200% more interactions than a statement.
7. Write out as many posts in advance as possible in your spreadsheet. Use your themes/topics and marketing calendar to guide you. While you could write long(ish) updates on Facebook (420 characters is the max), the system cuts off posts that are over 320 characters and adds a “see more” link which requires an extra click from readers. So try to be brief, unless you need to communicate a lot of details about something special.

Status vs. Publisher posts

Did you know that there are effectively two kinds of status posts in Facebook?  There is a “status” post, which can only be text or a text link (you can’t use Facebook’s linking feature), and which stays at the top of your fan page until you write a similar post.  And then there’s a “publisher” post, which can include links, video or photos, and which shows up on your fan’s walls but does not stay at the top of your fan page.  Here’s an example from the Gap fan page.

Facebook editorial calendar

I recommend that you think about what you want to keep at the top of your page and build those updates into your content specifically.  From the Gap example, if there’s a link to a hot product you want to keep front-and-center, use a text link in a text-only update.  But if there’s an event which is time-sensitive, or a promotion that may not last, create links using the Publisher link option in the status box, which will give it some graphic “oomph” and allow it to move down the wall as you add new updates.

Tools for keeping your page up-to-date

There are a number of third-party resources which can help you manage your Facebook page, including scheduling updates and moderating comments. Many will also let you share this responsibility with a team. A few to check out include Context Optional, Buddy Media and Involver. There are also free tools such as HootSuite, but HootSuite only currently allows posting of text-only updates, not media-rich publisher posts (as described above).

None of the more robust Facebook management tools come cheap, so consider your staff resources when putting together your editorial calendar as you may need to have an actual human doing your posting every day!

What’s in your toolbox for keeping your Facebook page fresh? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments.

Image via Wikipedia

 

blog calendar template

Editorial Calendar Continued: Blog Calendar Template

blog calendar template

I’ve had a couple of requests for a copy of the spreadsheet I’m using to track my blog editorial calendar, so I’ve created a Google Docs version that anyone can view and download.

In the spreadsheet I’ve included what I consider to be the most important fields that you should fill out while creating your calendar, as well as some columns for tracking your results afterward.

I’ve used similar structures in various ways with different clients, depending on their style and needs. Here are some of the things I think about when I’m crafting and updating my blog calendar:

  • You can either program far in advance with “evergreen” topics that you know will be relevant a month or two from now, or you can program out a week or two and move posts around as new topics and ideas come up.  I mostly do the latter, though I do have a couple of posts queued up that could get slotted in anywhere.
  • I use the Topic Notes column like a scratch pad, and initially include everything I think could be relevant to a topic or post.  I then continue to add to that topic over time until I’m close to that  date and actually sit down to write the post.  It’s then that I often realize that the topic might be too broad, in which case I split out some of the notes onto a new day in the future.  That is sometimes how a topic series develops – I determine that I have more to say on a particular topic than one post will contain, so I then program out one or more future posts as part of a series.
  • When I sit down to update the editorial calendar I give myself an hour or 90  minutes so that I can be as comprehensive as possible.  I do this once every week or two, plus quick updates most days to reflect actual posted information.
  • I also program out time to write the actual posts, striving to have the posts completed at least a day or two before they’re scheduled to be posted so that I can sit with them a while and copyedit without time pressure.  Of course, this doesn’t always happen (I do write plenty of same-day posts), but it’s nice to do when I can.
  • Of course, part of the raison d’etre for most blogs is to be able to authentically participate in an conversation, so keeping your calendar loose enough to accommodate spur-of-the-minute posts on hot topics or in response to someone else’s blog, Tweet or article is key.  I never hesitate to push a scheduled post to a future date if I’ve got something I just have to blog about immediately.

This calendar template is for my personal blogs and may be too casual for some brands.  For agency clients I formalize the process a great deal more, scheduling weekly editorial calendar meetings with the blog team (which also go into the calendar), programming out dates that blog drafts are due to a central editor or blog wrangler, and even building in senior management approval time if necessary – just add in columns for those dates.

You may have other ideas and needs for your editorial calendar; I’d love for you to tell us how you’re modifying this in the comments below.

 

program blog content

Editorial Calendar Continued: 9 Ways to Program Out Blog Content

program blog content

Hopefully now you’ve got a structure for your editorial calendar.  But it’s empty.  How do you determine what content to include in your blog?

The first place to start is to listen.  I’ve said before that I’m a huge proponent of social media listening, as that’s where you’re going to find the topics that are of interest to your audience.  You’ll want to also understand how you’re telling your brand story – what’s your voice, who’s speaking on your behalf.

So assuming that you know who your audience is, you know what you want your voice to be, and you know who’s writing (if it’s a multi-author blog), let’s look at some of the various ways to flesh out your editorial calendar for your blog.  These may not all be appropriate for you, just pick and choose to get the right balance of content for your brand.

Cover regular topics

Program out your calendar to reflect your company’s products or services, to ensure that you’re providing content that covers your most important products or speaking to the different types of people in your audience.  The PurinaCare blog does this well, ensuring that they post about cats as well as dogs, and also including content that’s relevant to veterinarians who may be selling their product.

Use themes or memes

Choose to designate certain days for various themes, whether serious or whimsical.  Graco Baby, a former client, does this with their Bundles Bumps and Babies series, which runs each Wednesday and always includes a wonderful photo.  Many blogs adhere to broader memes like  “Wordless Wednesdays” where they only run photos or “Friday Fun” where they go off-topic a bit and post something amusing.

Create a series of posts

Develop running series, like this post, which develop a topic over time.  My editorial calendar series is currently programmed out to include a total of four posts, but I’m leaving the door open for more.

Interview people

Create a series of interview posts featuring relevant interviewees for your topic.  Rubbermaid’s blog includes regular Q&As and tips from professional organizers – exactly the kinds of people Rubbermaid consumers want to hear from.  Interviewing people is sometimes easier for the interviewee than asking them to guest blog….

Invite guest bloggers

Get guest bloggers to provide content for you.  Tamar Weinberg uses guest bloggers to enhance the content on Techipedia and to give herself a writing break now and then.  Tamar also believes that giving guest bloggers a voice on her blog gives them a way to be discovered by her community.

Stalk celebrities (sort of)

A popular blog meme for product blogs is to capture news items about celebrities using the product. Bigelow Tea recently wrote about Michelle Obama’s high-profile White House teas and runs celebrity stories as an occasional series.  You can find these items in celeb magazines or online.

Promote your own media

Did you get a great media hit in print, in a blog, or on television? Write it up, humbly, for your blog. Your readers may not have seen it, and someone else’s endorsement of your brand is always more valuable than your own.

Promote your products

Running contests, promotions and giveways will increase engagement on your blog and bring new readers in through viral pass-along, if the offers are valuable.  Be sure to include easy ways that people can share your promotional content – buttons to tweet out the post and post it to Facebook, and an “email this” link to quickly send to friends by email.  Graco Baby takes the concept even further with their “Get One, Give One” program, allowing the contest winner to also give the same item to a mom or organization in need, establishing brand goodwill all around.

Build around your authors

If you have multiple authors for your blog, that may be a natural way to break down the content – assign “columns” or focus areas to each person based on their interest or passion, and program out the calendar from there.

What are the other ways you generate content to fill your editorial calendar?  What other blog memes could new (or established) bloggers consider following?  Please help flesh out this topic by posting your comments below.

brands working with bloggers

Brands Working With Bloggers – It’s Confusing

brands working with bloggers

While I was busy last week getting my new site up and running, a major conversation was happening in the blogosphere about compensation for mommybloggers. This is a topic that I’m pretty passionate about, having recently moderated a panel about how PR and bloggers can work together, and as a long-time liaison between brands and bloggers.

From the brand side, there is certainly a great deal of confusion (and, dare I say, ignorance) about how to work with bloggers (of any type, not just moms). Here are the issues from my perspective.

Public Relations and Bloggers

If you’re coming from the PR side, you’re used to working with editorial content, and calling up or emailing journalists to place stories about products and services you represent. You would never think to compensate those journalists, and even if you did send product samples you often get them back. And your budget does not extend into payments for anything editorially related; you may have budget for events or stunts, but not for paying people to evangelize your brand.

Why this works in “old media”: Journalists are paid by their publications (whether they’re paper or online), and the publications monetize based on subscriptions and ad revenue. The two are, in theory, held (more or less) strictly separate (more on that below).

Why this doesn’t work for bloggers: Bloggers don’t have “publications” paying them, they are the publications. Some are monetizing their site via advertising, others are not. Those that have worked hard to build up their readerships to a level where they’re valuable to a brand have probably done most of it uncompensated. They therefore often (but not always) want to find ways to generate revenue from their blogs/sites.

Advertising/Media and Bloggers

If you’re an advertising or media buying person, you’ve got a budget. You’re used to finding places to put your ads and paying those places to take them. So now you want to attract niche demographics, like moms, to your brand, and so you assume you can just pay bloggers with those readerships to get the exposure you’re looking for. While you don’t necessarily expect editorial coverage to accompany your ads, in practice there is absolutely an unwritten code that makes it more likely that a publication (particularly magazines) will cover your product if you’re advertising frequently.

Why this works in “old media”: It’s a pretty simple equation. Advertisers want to put their product in front of people who will care about it, and publishers have space to sell, online or off. And hey, if it does encourage editorial coverage here and there, all the better.

Why this doesn’t work for bloggers: Marketers and advertisers are now more than willing to compensate bloggers for product reviews, as if they were just another ad buy – whether that compensation is in cash or product. This is complex territory all around, clouding the notion of what a product review is (or at least should be). Bloggers who remain editorially neutral and/or provide full disclosures may not be as attractive to advertisers who want their reviews to look as organic as possible.

Additionally, although many bloggers do take paid advertising, as a persistent online publication it’s more difficult to straddle the line between advertising and editorial. What if you really love a product and write about it one week, then the brand offers you advertising dollars the next? That post lives forever and may be featured alongside that advertising, murking up the waters of integrity.

So What’s a Brand To Do?

No doubt this debate will continue, as marketers need to break out of their “old media’ models and bloggers further assert themselves as hardworking assets to brands. Others have written eloquently about great ways to compensate bloggers without paying for posts and how agencies should evolve.

Here’s my advice: Start with the assumption that you’re going to need to compensate bloggers in some way. If you’re PR, make sure your bosses or clients are aware that there will be costs involved in blogger outreach – to compensate bloggers as paid brand ambassadors, to create customized content for your site, or to test your product or service and write a properly disclosed review. Then be pleasantly surprised if your product or service is cool enough that your pitch gets met with a warm editorial reception, without compensation.

If you’re advertising/media, don’t expect more than what you pay for. If you’re buying advertising, that’s what you’ll get. If you want bloggers to do other things for you, plan to compensate them accordingly.

And, brand marketers, put yourself in the bloggers’ shoes. Take the time to communicate with the blogger and understand their motivations. Are they blogging for their community, and just trying to pay the hosting bills? Are they building readership to attract more (and more valuable) paid advertising? Do they have other skills they can bring to the table for you – are they trained marketers themselves who can add a new perspective to your marketing team? Once bloggers become your true marketing partners, everyone will win.