Thursday, February 25, 2010

Starting a Blog for Your Business? Start With a Business Case

Longleat Hedge Maze
Image by Howard▼Gees via Flickr
"Blogging is easy. Every business should have one."

That's often the only argument you'll hear consultants give when advising clients on the merits of blogging. After that, they wax poetically on a litany of benefits you'll get from blogging. Increase search traffic & better engagement with customers usually top the list. And while I agree with the last two, you lost me at "... is easy".

Relative ease does not a business case make.

A business case for blogging? You must be mad. It's easy!

Didn't we just cover that? And just so we're clear, strategic blogging for a business is certainly not easy. The mechanics alone are daunting to a the vast majority of people who don't let words spew forth from their keyboards naturally. It's a tactic that takes time and understanding to develop the necessary skills. And that's just to learn how to write. Now do it frequently. Against a schedule. On plan. And fit it in with the dozens of other things a business owner has to do every day to keep their business a going concern.

OK, Ok... ok. It's not easy. But a business case?

Yes, a business case. Listen: anytime you invest time or money in something for your business, you need to understand what you're getting yourself into. Don't get me wrong; I'm a sucker for spontaneity. Some of my best ideas were crazy "gee, I wonder if..." ideas that were launched shortly after the concept germinated. But the ones that are still going all -- without exception -- had at least a rudimentary business plan. I'm not talking about a 60-page document that needs to be ratified by the Board. The last business case I put together for a client was a simple spreadsheet.

But to my initial point, "it's easy!" isn't a business case.

Here are 3 questions you need answers to before you jump on the blogging train:

  • Do we have the content? If you're a retailer that relies mostly on your vendors to supply you with information about the products you sell, this may be a problem area. By and large, you can't repurpose collateral and have that be blog-worthy content. You need original material, written from your company's point of view and in your company's voice.

  • Do we have the time? If you're working your employees at close to maximum, they won't have a lot of bandwidth to dedicated to blogging. And the time it takes you to read a blog post has nothing to do with how long it took someone to write it. 2 - 3 hours per post isn't an unrealistic numbers. How will you balance that time against other productive work time from your employees?

  • Do we have the dedication? Every new blog starts out with the same number of readers: zero. Almost every blog grows at about the same rate: incredibly slow. Even with gangbuster content right out of the gate, you shouldn't expect any sizable audience for 6 - 12 months. Maybe 18. Are you committed to generating exceptional content on a schedule that entire time and accept slow and steady progress?

And for fun, here are 3 questions you should never ask yourself about blogging for your business, for the answers are abundantly clear:

  • Should we outsource our blog to someone else? Oh hell no. Yes, there are professional writers out there who perform copywriting services on a consulting basis. I'm one of them. But you do not want to outsource your blog content. There are many ways in which you can use these services to help your blog be better, but don't ever think you can hand the reigns over to someone else. The best business blogging comes from within. Hire, train or allow for personal development. Don't outsource.

  • Is our business interesting enough for a blog? Oh hell yes. You obviously think it's interesting or you wouldn't be doing it. And if the whole thing isn't all that interesting, there are some parts that are. Focus on those. If you can convey the interesting parts of your business in a blog, you've just made inroads with potential customers when they discover it. And isn't that what your sales people try and do anyhow?

  • Is there an audience who cares? This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. Don't assume your business blog has to appeal to tens of thousands of people. It doesn't! Interesting content will attract the right audience to it, and that will expose people to your business. Key words include interesting and content. No one cares about a blog full of posts about products. Blah.

So... ready to blog now? It may not be for you. Yet. Don't feel pressured. But don't ignore the question. Keep asking it. Some day, you may be ready.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

What the Flip can teach you about the power of a simple presentation

J's Super, Super 8 Video Camera
Image by jhmostyn via Flickr
Is your marketing campaign too complex? Maybe you think it needs to be. Maybe you're right. But sometimes all it takes is one new player in the market to change the game, and all that complexity falls away.

Take the consumer electronics and personal camcorders, for instance. My uncle's super 8 video camera from the 70s was pretty simple, yet looked rather intimidating. All I know is that I wasn't allowed to touch it. The first camcorder I purchased around 1990 had more buttons and dials than I could possibly master. And it seems that every year that passes requires at least one more bell or whistle to be added.

Enter the Flip, playing the role of game-changer to the market. Small, inexpensive and a built-in compulsion field. Hold the thing in your hand and you can't not start taking video. Yeah, it's that cool.

But not as cool as how it came to be. Business Week ran a story called Lessons in Simplicity from the Flip a few days ago. It's pertinent to anyone in business, and covers quite a few of the key points I like to harp on. Like the power of a simple, elegant presentation. Simon Fleming-Wood was responsible for convincing retailers to stock this new camera. A new camera that eschewed the standards of what modern video cameras should look like and what they should do. He states that...

... he spent 50% of his pitch on one very simple slide. He asked [retailers] to "reimagine" the category. The slide contains photos of two camcorders—a traditional video camera and the Flip. Under the traditional camcorder are the words: "Use this for special occasions." Under the Flip are the words: "Use this for everything else."

It's no secret I'm a fan of simple things. Hence, the name of this blog. I've been a reluctant marketer for over a decade and been in more battles with complexity than I care to imagine. Sometimes, things need to be complex. But much of the time, they don't. I'm reminded of that each time I pull out my Flip.

And while this story is ostensibly about a game changing product, it's more about a game changing approach. It takes guts to hinge your success on a single slide. It takes foresight to resist the temptation of shoving in more and more data to your presentations. Above all, it takes confidence in yourself, your knowledge, and your ability to convey your message in a way that will resonate with your audience.

Oh, and practice. :)

Your turn: How do you fight complexity in your presentations?

Doing a talk in Ignite or PechaKucha style will help. But not everyone can do that. Pass along your tips in the comments.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Social Media 101: Stop Hacking and Phishing With Good Password Habits

This is a SlideCast version of a talk I gave last week prior to Social Media Club Phoenix. Each week I lead a session called Social Media 101. It's a safe place for newbies to learn one aspect of social media and to get their questions -- on any topic -- answered in a friendly environment.

"My account got hacked!" How many times have you heard someone say this, usually after they've sent you 5 "here's how you can make a gazillion dollars by blowing your nose!" tweets? Of course, they didn't send that to you. Some nefarious hacker gained access to their account, sending out spam messages to everyone -- including you.

But they have their facts wrong. They didn't get "hacked". They willingly gave up their password to some website. That's not hacking. That's phishing. Or maybe the site they gave their password to got hacked. Or maybe they left their computer unlocked, and all sorts of bad things happened.

Being smart about selecting and securing passwords is about as 101 as you can get. And we -- I'm lumping me in here, too -- do it wrong/bad/without enough forethought all the time. This Slidecast presentation will walk you though the basics of setting up and securing passwords in today's social world. While it was aimed at the social media beginners, more than one seasoned maven picked up an idea or two when I gave the talk last week.

You'll notice also I'm starting to rebrand some of my talks. This one uses the new naming: A Simpler Way to be Safe and Secure Online. Hope you enjoy it!

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Is Social Media Bookmarking for Etailers BS?

Image by holisticmonkey via Flickr
I've just spent 8 hours of my life -- wasted, some may say -- investigating the efficacy of social bookmarking for large etailers. Social bookmarking sites -- Digg, reddit, StumbleUpon and literally hundreds of others -- have a variety of uses. I'll even grant you that they may have some value in increasing traffic and helping search rankings. But here's the punchline: the amount of bullshit artists touting bullshit advice on how to use social media bookmarking is of astronomical proportions.

Yes, I know. Bad advice on the internet. Go figure.


So is social media bookmarking worthless?

No, not at all. Millions of people use sites like those listed above to not only save interesting sites and web content, but also to discover and share new and interesting content. It's the social part of the name that's important. And often forgotten about in a rush to gain the oh-so-powerful backlink.

So let's start there: Social media bookmarking is a complete and utter waste of time without compelling content.

If you're an etailer selling the same stuff available at any number of other online -- or offline -- retailers, even if you're selling it for a lower price than anyone else, understand this: the fact that you sell something does not constitute compelling content. To be blunt, we don't care.

Ok, smartass. So is social media bookmarking worthless for online retailers?

Maybe not. But it does require a strategy to develop the content worthy of sharing. Compelling content. Remarkable content. And if you're not willing to do that, then you might as well stop reading. You won't like the rest of this.

Here are a few tips on building compelling content as an etailer that may be worthy of sharing:

  • Interesting packages - Just because you don't make something doesn't mean you can't pair that -- or triad that -- up with something else to make it interesting. Smoking deals are always relevant. And it's often times better to discount a group of items with a mix of profit points than to slash everything by 25%. Create pages that feature deals that your customers want and your competitors can't touch. And for the love of peat (I like scotch), hire a copywriter to convey the awesomeness of the deal without sounding like a used car salesman!

  • Copy from Groupon - This rapidly growing site features city-specific, super-discounted deals that only kick in when a certain number of people sign up. To get the deal, interested parties share the deal with their network, and it's not uncommon to see Groupon deals all over the various social media bookmarking sites. Offer up the same idea, but base it on the number of times your site's offer page is Dugg, for example. Or even easier: put a coupon code on the offer page and add in "share this" type links loudly to encourage sharing.

  • Data mine and publish quirky behaviors - We've all seen the funny "those who bought this also bought..." suggestions Amazon often makes. Chances are, you have some real gems in your database, too. Or maybe you see a spike in orders of one type of product during the year that seems a little odd. Mine your data looking for patterns people might find interesting or funny, then build content around those patterns. If it's compelling, share it!

  • Go ahead and list your "special" pages - You should submit more than just your home page. Just make sure the pages are good entry points and have good content. No one wants to see your "here's all the brands we sell" page. But someone may want to see the special storefront you made for Doodiddly Diodes. Be smart about using this, and always ask yourself if the new page you've created is worthy -- in the social bookmark users' eyes -- of being included on those sites. If the answer is "I'm not sure", then it isn't. Move along.

That'll get you started. Once you've figured that out and created the content, you've got the lion's share of the work done.

But what about that "share this" button I've placed on every page of my website?

It's probably a waste of time. Even worse: it may be impacting your conversion rate. Ouch! You won't know until you test, but anything not directed to get someone to buy on a purchase page is diverting attention. A better approach might be to send that "share this" button along to the customer a few days after the sale with a "if you loved it, share it!" message.

Your turn now. Did I go too far?

I'm certain that a fair number of "seo experts" will jump in with stories of how they've managed to boost rankings, build boatloads of traffic and generally refute my initial arguments. If that's you, can I ask one question? Please provide specific examples related to the business of etailers. I'm trying to be specific with my lambasting. I hope you will be, too.

Now for that worthless "share this button". No, wait. I'm not an etailer. Different rules apply, see? ;)

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Measuring ROI for Social Media

Weeks ago I gave a presentation at SMAZ -- Social Media for Business in Arizona -- that was all about measuring ROI for social media. This is a topic that gets bandied about quite a bit. It's also something that gets made up, brushed under the table or completely ignored. And that's a shame. Because, yes, there are ways to measure ROI -- real ROI -- for social media efforts. It's not easy. It's not glamorous. But it's growing more necessary all the time.

Special thanks to Olivier Blanchard for helping shape much of my thinking about ROI and social media. Even more special thanks to all those in attendance at my talk for the outstanding questions. I love that so many of you realize the need to understand this piece of the puzzle. Thanks for the great ideas you gave me and the audience during the talk.

For those new to me, no... I usually don't dive this deep. But this is a growing trend, and even CFOs need a simpler way of thinking about things, right?

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