Today we’re talking about blogging for your small business with Ann Handley. Ann is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a rich and trusted resource that helps businesses market their products and services smarter and better. Entrepreneurs, small-business owners and marketers in the world’s largest corporations make up its 361,000 subscribers, making it the largest in its category.
She is an 12-year veteran of creating and managing digital content to build relationships for organizations and individuals. Also, she’s a writer who blogs at her personal blog, A n n a r c h y, as well as American Express OPEN Forum, Mashable, and The Huffington Post.
Previously, Ann was the co-founder of ClickZ, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.
QUESTION: If you were a small business owner committed to being the dominant business in your niche or category online, would you have a blog?
ANSWER: Since you asked whether *I* would have a blog… then the answer is unequivocally yes. Among other things, I think it’s a great way to connect more deeply with your existing or would-be customers, build a community around your business, give a human personality and “voice” to an organization, evolve your business and relationships in sometimes unexpected or surprising ways, and yes, drive sales.
The bottom line is that a blog is among the most straightforward and simplest ways to create a steady flow of interesting, valuable and personable content to connect with customers, boost your search ranking, and help build your business. (Or my hypothetical business, since we are talking about me. Hypothetically, of course.)
QUESTION: Is there any reason why you think a small business shouldn’t have a blog?
ANSWER: There are lots of compelling reasons to blog — see my answer above — but if you need something succinctly quantifiable: My favorite stat for demonstrating the value of a small businesses blog is the one from Hubspot that shows that small businesses with corporate blogs receive 55 percent more traffic than small businesses that don’t blog.
That said, it’s a bit risky to start suggesting that EVERY company out there needs a blog, because that’s just silly, right?
You shouldn’t have a company blog if you really aren’t on board with investing the time, energy, and resources it will take to have a successful blog.
You also shouldn’t blog if you are a bore — and by that I mean, if you really only want to talk about yourself. The most successful small business blogs are focused on creating value for the reader, not on crowing about your own company’s achievements, or an endless drumbeat
You shouldn’t blog If you aren’t willing or able to create a unique point of view and perspective, an interesting voice, you lack a consistent schedule to post (or can’t stick to it), and you’re impatient. Like a lot of things, a blog requires patience, attention, consistency, and a long-term commitment to succeed. Does that sound like too much work? It is.
And finally, you shouldn’t blog if the very idea of it doesn’t excite you. Starting a blog is like getting married — and you’ll never be as emotionally intoxicated as you are at the start of your life together. You might grow to appreciate the blog (or your relationship!) in other, more ripe and lasting ways — for example, you might grow to appreciate the depth of the relationship, you might grow to depend on it, it will feed you on some fundamental level, and so on. And all that is wonderful, of course. But it’s hard to create a lasting bond with something that doesn’t fundamentally interest and excite you.
QUESTION: If you were a small business owner and you were planning to create a blog, what are the first steps you would take?
ANSWER: I would do two things: First, I would define my goals. Why am I blogging? What do I want to get out of it? Do I want to drive sales? Connect with customers? Increase my search rankings? Up my site traffic? Find out how my customers react to things, or how I do? You don’t have to define it too specifically, but you have to have something of a goal or two behind it. (Even if that might change, over time.)
Second, I’d think long and hard about my brand’s unique perspective: Who am I? What do we stand for? What makes my business unique? What’s my take, point of view, or perspective? Once you start defining what’s most unique and interesting about you, you can begin to create a general approach, personality and theme of the blog. Literary types and writers would call this your blog’s “voice,” and I think it applies equally well to businesses who are publishing blogs as much as a novelist.
QUESTION: In your opinion, what is the most important thing a small business blog should do?
ANSWER: As I said above, I think having a unique perspective and point of view is critical. It’s what’ll give you personality, and it’ll make what you produce interesting. Don’t be afraid to take a stand and have a point of view. Tell people who you are.
The biggest snore is a blog that has no discernible point of view or no clear voice. That’s practically tragic to me, because blogs (and social media generally) offer businesses an unprecedented opportunity to create deeper and more interesting relationships with a wide number of customers: Don’t squander it! (Or to quote the Spider-Man franchise: “With great power comes great responsibility.”)
QUESTION: Do you think employees or customers should create blog posts?
ANSWER: I’m a fan of blogs that include multiple perspectives and voices, if the people you do business with or work with have a passion for creating content. But that’s purely at a company’s discretion, and you need to make these decisions in the context your goals and approach. In other words, there’s no clear answer; so much depends on your approach: Is yours a group blog, incorporating many voices within the organization, like the blogs at Kodak or Indium Corporation? Then it might be great to include employees. Is your blog a “thought leadership” blog highlighting industry trends and perspectives? Then it might be appropriate to include customers, too.
Of course, another way to incorporate customers without asking them to actually blog for you is to regularly answer customer questions as part of your editorial calendar. You can respond to their direct questions (asked through customer services, or a feedback form, or some other customer-facing mechanism), or you can actively monitor what customers search your site for, to get an indication of the kind of questions they have and you can answer.
Of course, you can also include other special guest posts, whatever the approach you ultimately take.
QUESTION: What do you think about hiring a ghost writer to blog for a small business?
ANSWER: I don’t really like the word “ghost” in that sentence. Hiring a writer to help with blogging, or to blog exclusively for your brand, is definitely a wise move, especially if you are not a writer — or you don’t have a passion for creating other kinds of content for the blog, but you still see the wisdom in what it can do for your company. Gary Vaynerchuk (winelibrarytv.com) isn’t much of a writer, either, but he built an incredibly successful video blog. So I’m a fan of hiring content creators, but I’m less of a fan of cloaking their identify, or passing off social media content as the work of the CEO or another executive or whoever. In some situations, ghost-writing makes total sense, but social media content requires a certain straightforward honesty.
I know plenty of people using ghosts successfully, but I’m just not a fan.
QUESTION: If a friend of yours owned a small business, what are some examples of good business blogs you would recommend they model or learn from?
ANSWER: The two I mentioned above are good — Kodak and Indium Corp. Kodak is not a small business, but you can learn a lot from its approach to capturing the spirit and stories of the people who work at Kodak in its Thousand Words blog: http://1000words.kodak.com/ I also like The Future of Real Estate Marketing (http://www.futureofrealestatemarketing.com/) for its focus on the reader, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art (http://www.imamuseum.org/blog/) for the way it incorporates video, photos, and has a fun, funky personality with a clear voice in its community.
QUESTION: Could you give some examples of the kind of goals you recommend a small business owner set for their blog?
ANSWER: I think keeping it simple is a great way to start: Perhaps set goals for yourself around posting frequency (say, 2xs per week), traffic percent increase (perhaps 10 percent increase in traffic to your blog/site per month), revenue (perhaps a 10 percent growth in income), and perhaps a search ranking bump. You can set whatever exact goals you want to set, but I’d start with some basic things that are relatively easy to assess. Again, these are goals, or targets, to shoot for.
QUESTION: You’re working on a new book, Content Rules. What is the most important thing a small business owner will learn from your new book?
ANSWER: Yes! I am! I am the co-author, with C.C. Chapman, of an awsome book, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business, to be published by Wiley in late November of this year. The book is written for any size business, but I have a special place in my heart for small business, so the truth is that it’s more aligned with the likes of you more than anyone else. To say I’m excited about it wouldn’t begin to express the depth of my giddiness, because it’s a perfect mashup of what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years (creating online content) and the place in which we currently do business, on the social web.
As for what small businesses will learn, I think the subtitle pretty much spells it out! And did I mention it’s going to be an awesome book?
QUESTION: Where can people get more information about your new book?
You can order it directly from Amazon. You can also read all about how it’s coming together (and the lessons it will hold) at our own blog, ContentRulesBook.com.
Commenting and asking questions are an important part of successful blogs
I hope you enjoyed today’s interview. Have a question about blogging for your business? Ask away. Have a comment or something to add to what Ann said? Let us know by commenting below.
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