Unpopular Opinion: Stop Calling Blogs Social Media

blogs aren't social mediaLanguage can be so complicated, can’t it? Especially when you’re dealing with words that are new and still evolving. The word “blog” only just came onto the scene in 1997. The first use of “social media” may have beat it by a few years, but the evidence of its earliest use is unclear. These are words that apply to technology that keeps evolving. And even as the technology itself evolves at a rapid pace, the way we use it changes even faster.

For a long time, blogging has been lumped in under the larger category of social media. I think it’s time for us to acknowledge that it no longer belongs there.

3 Reasons That Blogging Is No Longer Social Media

  • Blogs increasingly resemble media properties more than they do the content on social networking websites.

Brands have spent years trying to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks when it comes to blogging. Recently, we’ve started to gain a clearer idea of just what does work and, in most cases, it’s well researched, meaty, long-form blog posts that more closely resemble the articles common to media properties than the short and pithy posts of social media.

The difference between this type of blog post and a tweet is comparable to the difference between a magazine article and a slogan – they’re completely different types of writing, with different goals, and vastly different work processes involved. The way we talk about them should reflect that.

  • The most social thing about blogs – the comments – are only a prominent feature on a small portion of blogs.

If there’s one component of blogging you could use to really make a case for their being social media, it’s the comments. But how many blogs do you visit that don’t seem to have any comments at all, much less significant social interaction in the comments? Many prominent blogs have even done away with comments altogether, due to the increasing workload of sifting through comment spam. Copyblogger, a big proponent of calling blogs social media back in 2009, famously disabled the comments on their blog in 2014. They felt confident people would move the social component of interacting with their blog to social platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

So if the blog is for putting quality, article-like content out there and social networking platforms are for talking about them (and anything else you want to discuss), perhaps it’s time to acknowledge they’re serving different purposes.

  • The goals of a blog are different than those of a social media presence (although they’re related).

Social media is all about interaction, awareness and promotion. Blogging is about education, thought leadership, and traffic. The specific goals and KPIs for the two mediums should differ.

Social media’s a great tool for promoting your blog posts and ideally developing the community that will visit your blog, and blogging can be an opportunity to gain the trust of readers and turn them into social media followers – and both should be helping you work toward the larger goal of building trust and gaining customers. But they each have a distinct role to play within the larger strategy of content marketing.

 

When you hear the term “social media,” what do you picture? For the vast majority of us, the interfaces of Facebook or Twitter will be the main images that come to mind. I’d be genuinely surprised if you told me that the image of your favorite blog popped into your head. Blogs are a type of media, and they’re often social. But they don’t fit with how most us now use and understand the term “social media.” It’s time to acknowledge that, as important as the relationship between the two mediums is, they’re not the same thing.

5 Questions to Guide Your Blog Strategy

If your business has a blog, but doesn’t have a blog strategy yet, I just decided what the next two things on your to do list should be:

1. Finish this post. 2. Create a blog strategy.

You can’t just blog blindly. Whether you’re taking the time to write content yourself or hiring a freelance blogger, blogging has a cost. No good businessperson wants to incur that cost without taking the proper steps to get something back from it. When it comes to business blogging; that means creating a blog strategy.

The Difference a Blog Strategy Makes

Based on a 2013 study, only 20% of businesses had blogs, and over a third of those never got updated. You know how that happens, right?

Someone says, “we need a blog!”

Someone else says “Ok.”

Then no one creates a blog strategy or puts in the work to keep it updated.

An abandoned blog will do nothing for you. A blog that you’re investing time and money into that’s not getting read or driving conversions won’t do much more for you than an abandoned blog will (although you’ll be spending a lot more on it).

Creating a blog strategy can help you avoid those fates.

Here’s what you need to consider to put a good one together.

1)   What are my blogging goals?

A blog can bring in new leads and customers, but that’s not going to happen right away and it’s not always easy to determine which leads first found you through the blog. So while that can be your overall goal, when it comes to creating your blog strategy and tracking your progress, it helps to have some lower-level goals that can help contribute to that, like:

Think about why you want a blog and what you want it to accomplish for you. Your blog strategy should be based around those goals.

2)   Who am I writing for?

Hint: it’s not you. You can absolutely create a blog that’s all about the things you’re most interested in – but it shouldn’t be on your business website. Your business blog has to be about what your audience cares about.

You have to think about their problems, their questions, the types of things they normally like to read and do online and in the world at large. What you blog about and how you write needs to all come back to them.

3)   What does my audience care about?

You really want to get inside their heads here (as much as you can without being creepy, anyway). If you’re a local business in a city full of people with local pride, that should come through in your business blog. If your audience is moms who care about the environment and worry about the ecological effects of every product they buy, your blog should share that concern (and provide information that helps them make informed choices).

Do some research:

  • Pull up websites you know your customers like and look at what posts and articles are the most popular.
  • Read the comments that people in your audience write on those sites.
  • Spend time in forums.
  • Have conversations with your customers and prospects directly.

Keep a running list going where you collect all the ideas you learn so you can make sure you’re blogging about the things they care about.

4)  What’s my (realistic) blogging schedule?

If you read somewhere that you have to publish a new blog post every single day, forget it. While it’s often true that regularly posting fresh content adds up to better blogging results, that’s only true if the content is good and you keep up with it. A lot of businesses don’t have the bandwidth for daily blogging.

My one-woman business publishes once a month because I know that’s the most I can expect from myself while also getting all my client work done. The ideal isn’t to produce as much content as you possibly can, it’s to produce as much good, worthwhile content as you reasonably can. Setting your sights too high in terms of quantity will mean an abandoned blog or junk content no one wants read.

Carefully consider how much time you really have, how much time your employees really have, and how much you can afford to spend on a good freelance blogger. Then create a blog strategy and editorial schedule that’s doable.

5)  How am I going to promote my blog posts?

Don’t overlook this step. It’s one of the big things that sets successful blogs apart from those that fail. People have a lot of content to choose from out there. How are they going to find yours if you don’t create a plan to get it in front of them?

Content promotion can be part of a long-term social media and influencer strategy, it can incorporate paid media to get results faster, or it can be some combination of the two. Just make sure your blog strategy includes room for promotion (both in terms of time and budget).

 

Starting a blog is easy enough, but doing blogging that’s worth it and yields results for your business is hard. Anyone who says otherwise is misleading you. If you’re going to invest in a blog, be willing to invest enough to make it worth it. My free report on building a better blog is a good place to start in visualizing your larger blog strategy. If you could use some help with the content writing, side of things, I’m happy to help.

How Bloggers Blog: The Survey

Do you blog?

The number of people that answer that question with a “yes” continues to grow.

Blogging can look really different depending on who’s doing it.  A blog that’s mostly meant as a fun way to work out your thoughts or track your experiences on vacation will provide a different experience than the blogs meant to help promote a business. Even within the latter category though, how people blog varies.

To get a clearer picture of what business blogging looks like, Orbit Media took a survey. What they found, as expected, is that there’s a wide variety in how bloggers blog. Even so, they were able to pull out a few key trends in the blogging process.

  • Most bloggers spend less than 2 hours on each post, but it’s not unheard of to spend over 6 hours.
  • Bloggers don’t keep normal business hours. They write whenever they can fit it in, or when an idea hits.
  • Most bloggers work from a home office.
  • Many bloggers publish new posts multiple times a week.
  • Few bloggers have editors.
  • The main blogging promotion tools used are social media and SEO.

Not too many of those surveyed were freelance bloggers, but the survey findings match my experiences pretty well.

There’s no one right way to blog. Anyone who works in a creative field knows that you just have to figure out what works best for you.

If you want your blog to succeed as a business tool though, there are a few key things you need to keep in mind.

For a more in depth look at what you need to do to build a more successful business blog, download the Austin Copywriter report on the subject.

So what about you? How do you blog?

 

You’re Not Normal, So Stop Marketing To Yourself

Doesn’t it just drive you crazy when you’re trying to read a magazine and you keep having to flip to different pages to finish each article. No?

Image by Nina Mathews via flickr

That’s because you read a magazine the way most people do, flipping through to see which articles are interesting to you rather than starting from the beginning and reading straight through to the end the way weirdos like me do it. Magazine publishers design their issues based on normal reading habits. My habits aren’t normal.

I Wrote This Sub-Heading Just For You

Which brings us to another way in which I’m strange, I read blog posts the same way: I start at the beginning and read through to the end. As a writer who produces content for the web, I had to do my research to figure out that this isn’t normal.

It’s not just me. Especially tech-minded people see the world differently than the audiences they sell to, a lesson they had to be reminded of by Justin Jackson. Whatever your personal vision of “normal” is, probably isn’t. When you to need to reach people that aren’t just like you, you have to get outside of your own head.

If I want people to read what I write, I had to figure out how to appeal to the normal reader, rather than doing what comes naturally to me.

Do Your Research

It’s human nature to assume that the way we like to do things is the best and most obvious way to do them. It sure would make marketing easier if that was the way it worked. Instead, figuring out what people respond to is hard work and involves a lot of research, followed with trial and error.

If you start a blog to promote your business, you can’t just sit down and brainstorm a list of all the topics you think would be interesting to write about. If you’re lucky, there will be some overlap between what you want to write about and what your target audience wants to read, but you can’t count on it.

Instead, you need to go where your target audience is and learn what they’re responding to.

The Best Way to Learn About Your Audience.

If you can contact them directly, this is the gold standard!

Surveys, calls to clients, email requests for feedback – if you have enough of a relationship with members of your target audience to get information on what they want to read about without annoying them, then use it. Few things will serve your marketing as well as taking the time to listen to your current customers (or people just like them) about their problems, concerns, and needs.

What Next?

Failing that (or to supplement that), find the other blogs in your space and lurk. Don’t worry. It’s not creepy to lurk on a blog or website the way it is in real life. It’s a valid and fully expected way for you to gather information about what people like.

Research the blogs and publications that are getting the most visits in your industry, as well as the ones that get the most engagement (they’re not always the same):

  • This tip probably goes without saying, but Google some of the key terms related to what you do and see what comes up.
  • Check out what’s listed for your industry on Alltop.com
  • Use FollowerWonk’s search function to find some of the people with the most followers in your industry.

This will get you started. Once you’ve found a few of the top blogs in your industry, it’s easy to follow the trail to more influential sites.

You see, bloggers and websites that get to the top of the food chain pretty much always get there with the help of other bloggers and websites. That means the guys you find that are influential in your industry are probably following, linking to, and otherwise connected with other influential sites in your industry. Once you find your first two or three, they’ll lead you to the rest.

Pay Attention to Metrics

You don’t want to just read these guys. You want to pay careful attention to the things they write that get the most shares and comments. These are the topics your readers care about.

Obviously, you shouldn’t straight up copy the big guys, but use what you learn there as a launching board for collecting ideas for your own blog.

Quick note: this isn’t a step you do once and are done with. Once you’ve collected a list of relevant blogs in your space, make them part of your weekly (or even better, daily) research routine so you can stay up to date on what people are concerned about in your industry. This will not only help you regularly come up with topic ideas, it will also help you stay connected to your industry.

You can use feedly to collect all the blogs you want to follow into one stream. And of course,  follow them all on twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

If what you discover your audience likes seems totally counter-intuitive, all that means is that you’re not normal. If you’d done your marketing based on the way you think, you’d have failed. Now, you can craft your marketing efforts based on what matters:  your audience.

The Benefits of Content Marketing

Now that you know what content marketing is and why it’s good for your small business, let’s talk about some of the specific benefits a business can achieve with good content marketing.

Part 3 in our Introduction to Content Marketing for Small Businesses video series covers what you can expect to get out of content marketing.

Give it a look, and let me know what you think!

If you prefer to read it rather than watch it, here’s the transcript:

Hi! I’m Kristen Hicks and welcome to part 3 of the Austin Copywriter video series on content marketing for small businesses.

Our focus in this video is some of the specific benefits content marketing can offer to your business.

We’ve talked more generally about why it’s useful and what it is, so here’s what you can expect to get out of content marketing.

Benefit #1: A stronger reputation.

So much of small business success comes back around to reputation. Who’s heard of you and what did they hear?

Current and past customers who have had a great experience with you are a really good way to build this reputation, but limited. They don’t know everybody, and you want to attract and impress customers included in that circle beyond their reach.

Imagine a woman in crisis. She’s having a terrible day because she has a problem she can’t solve on her own.

Naturally, she turns to Google. She finds a blog post on your website telling her exactly what she needs to know to solve her problem.

Success! You’ve just made a positive impression on someone who has never heard of you before.

The problem and solution vary depending on what you have to offer, and how you help your customers, but the idea is consistent. Helping people will improve your reputation.

Benefit #2: A convincing demonstration of your expertise.

That same woman we just talked about. Not only does she think fondly of your company now because you helped her solve a problem, that blog post also showed her you know your stuff on: accounting/furniture building/gardening/whatever your business does.

If you’re worried that giving your expertise away for free could lose you business, chances are, it won’t.

Most people are happy to hand over the chores they don’t excel at to someone who does (for a reasonable price).

Benefit #3: Greater visibility.

You need people to know you exist, plain and simple. No one will ever think to buy your product or services without first knowing you exist.

Content marketing helps spread the good word of your business throughout the web. And, once people start liking you enough to talk about you with friends, beyond.

You give people something worth talking about and sharing, and they will. Your reach will extend based on how large of an audience you gain, and how much they like what you have to say.

While not a comprehensive list, that hits some of the most important benefits of content marketing for your small business.

Check back soon for the 4th and final entry in our Beginner Content Marketing for Small Business video series where we get into some of the best tips to make sure you do content marketing right.