Professional Blogs Find a Readership
Kathryn Lord is a "romance coach." For the past four years, she has helped her mostly-female clientele look for romance over dating sites like Match.
But about a year ago, Gardner thought Lord's site needed something more-a blog. "She kind of twisted my arm," said Lord, who at the time knew just enough about blogging to figure she didn't want one. But Lord was a good candidate. A prolific writer, she was already publishing two online newsletters a month and still had plenty more material that didn't fit. On Valentines Day, 2005, Gardner was up and blogging. Lord is a now writing one of a growing number of professional blogs. These are not personal diaries in the traditional sense of a Web log, but are created by people to promote their expertise. The payoff, aside from personal satisfaction, is increased visibility-more people taking notice, leading to more clients and customers. Susannah Gardner was in a good position to understand how blogging relates to marketing. In addition to her design work, she's the author of Buzz Marketing with Blogs for Dummies, part of the extensive "For Dummies" series published in the U.
Gardner knows what she's talking about. She keeps a blog of her own-www.
Other tips from Gardner are pretty basic to blogging, but not always understood by new bloggers: "Put a stack counter on your page so you can see what your traffic is on certain entries. When you get one that's really popular, go back and try to figure out why: was it a content thing? Was it that you linked to something good? Looking backwards at what has been successful will let you know what to do in the future." And of course, blogs should be set to offer RSS syndication. RSS readers are growing more prevalent, both as part of browsers like Internet Explorer, Safari and FireFox, and as features built into Websites like Yahoo! That means that more people will know how to subscribe to the feeds. It's also important to add to the blog regularly, because recently updated blogs are more likely to show up on search engine queries. Gardner suggests using the free ping services like Ping-o-matic.
In her book, Gardner lists some famous blogs that have served to promote the blogger. These include Dan Gillmore, a Silicon Valley journalist, and Dave Winer, one of the first bloggers and the inventor of RSS. But you don't have to be famous to blog, although some bloggers are on their way to becoming famous. "In small businesses, people are getting bigger profiles than they ever could before," she said. "And for people who are trying to develop personal businesses, blogs are just perfect for them."
Indeed, blogs can lead to bigger things. After reading Kathryn Lord's blog, the editor of Yahoo! Personals, one of the most popular online dating sites, invited her to write for the service's online magazine. "When the first article came out, my webstats took a big jump," Lord said. Similarly, when an attorney she knew inquired about pending legislation about Internet dating, Lord sent her the link to the relevant portion of her blog. Blogs have even lead to books. New York secretary Julie Powell blogged her attempt to prepare every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The blog proved popular, and now Powell is the author of Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.
Kathryn Lord's blog acts more as a news digest, covering the steady stream of stories on online dating. To create her own news "feed," she set up ongoing searches on Google and Yahoo!, using four phrases: "cyberRomance," "matchmaking," "Internet dating," and her own name. "Blogging is a really good way to organize material because it forces you to become at least a temporary expert on a subject. And as you blog, you compile a trove of material that can be used elsewhere. Blogs are a nursery for your ideas, and a repository for your thoughts."
Blogs from musicians, lawyers, food lovers Professional blogs are coming from both musicians and artists, who have added blogs to their websites. You won't find one on Rollingstones.
A less obvious area for professional blogging is from a sector better known for arcane language: lawyers. One enterprising attorney, Kevin O'Keefe, even started a business dedicated to helping his fellow lawyers create blogs-or to use his term: "blawgs." O'Keefe writes in his own blog that the motivation is a matter of "getting clients to know lawyers' talents." His massive blogroll spans the spectrum of American legal practice, with firms specializing in real estate law, construction law, fashion law, search and seizure, and immigration. There's a blog covering Silicon Valley Media Law-everything from merchandising rights to Winnie-the-Pooh to Randy Quaid's lawsuit over Brokeback Mountain compensation.
Other blogs allow their bloggers to expand beyond their "day jobs." Matt Armendariz is the advertising director of the Bristol Farms, an upscale food store chain in Southern California. But off-hours, he is the blogger behind "Matt Bites," which covers "Food, Drink + Everything in Between." His employer doesn't officially sponsor his blog, but Armendariz's job gives him access that makes his blog more informed. "As part of my work, I write about food, go to tastings, meet with farmers and cheese producers, and sample new products," he said. Armendariz collected more information than he could possibly use on the job, so he started his blog as a way to share it. Armendariz also wanted to talk about his own personal taste for food, whether or not it overlapped those of Bristol's customers. He started Matt Bites on Blogger last December. The blog is elegantly presented with a sprinkling of pictures, reflecting his background as a graphic artist.
Armendariz's day job has served the blog well. "One time I met with an artichoke farmer for a promotion we were doing," he recalled. Steve Jordan of Baroda Farms had crossbred his own variety of artichoke. In the advertising copy, Armendariz had only a few lines to work with, but the Internet imposed no such restrictions. "The story was so fascinating that the interview trickled into the blog, where it became a lot more personal, because I could say whatever I wanted to say about the product."
That access, whether through the authority of work or as a prominent blogger, can be an important selling point for readers. There are thousands of blogs that rehash stories that appear in the press. By contrast, Armendariz is, at least some of the time, doing original research. "Too many food blogs essentially say-'here's what I had last night for dinner.' That's not enough: you have to get out." Sometimes, though, stories come to him. People have started sending Armendariz products for review, thereby reflecting his growing influence in the blogosphere.
What Armendariz doesn't have is a strict recipe for how to design a blog. "Mine was largely trial and error," he said. "I got it right on my fifteenth attempt. My basic advice: just do it-you can't be afraid of it." His guiding principle: make it visually appealing but don't forget legibility. He does much of his own photography using a Canon EOS 20D digital camera. "I use a lot of natural lighting. Food just looks beautiful when left as much alone as possible."
First the blog, then the marketing The lines between business and blogging also blur at gapingvoid.
But what put the gapingvoid blog on the map are MacLeod's many doodle-like sketches, which he first drew on the back of business cards when he lived in New York. Now he also uses bristol board cut to the same dimensions, and a Rotring 0.
So what does a blog full of doodles have to do with the marketing and promotion of global microbrands? MacLeod's point is that a blog's first obligation is to be interesting, whether you do that with compelling text, interesting doodles, or something else. Once you have an audience, you are free to, say, promote a Savile Row tailor shop or, for that matter, anything else. As long as the readership doesn't think it has dropped into an extended infomercial, they'll probably go along. As MacLeod's audience grew, his blog has become less personal and more about his emerging interests in advertising and marketing. "The drawings complement the marketing stuff and the marketing stuff complement the drawings. It's the drawings that keep people coming back, but it's the ideas and the text that get linked to other blogs and talked about. If the conversation gets interesting enough, people tell their friends and word spreads."
And that gets us to the MacLeod theory of global microbrands-which he defines as a specialized product from a small company that nonetheless sells around the world: a London tailor shop, South African winery, collector English shotgun maker, or titanium bicycle frame builder. Small brands selling globally are not new, but the Internet has accelerated the word-of-mouth needed to achieve worldwide fame. And a blog fits in perfectly with a global microbrand, because the product, itself, is only part of the appeal. The customers-who sought out the brand and are willing to pay a premium to get it-are also looking for a story to tell, especially in this age of mass production and Wal-Mart-style mass retail. The enemy here is anonymity and the blandness of twenty-first century commerce: phone trees, outsourced order takers, and factories churning out stuff that is functional, but pretty much all alike. If a purchase is, at times, an act of self-expression, well, so is a blog. "It's very hard to blog in anything but an authentic voice," MacLeod said. "And that builds up trust."
Sidebar: Tips for Creating and Keeping a Professional Blog
Start with a website, then add a blog.
While not every professional blog takes this approach, it's a smart approach, especially if the blog is overtly promoting a business. A conventional webpage-or a blog that is constructed as one-makes it easy for new visitors to quickly figure out who you are, what you do, and why you do it-as well as how to reach you. Once the introduction is made, the blog, which is a continuous work-in-progress, will make a lot more sense.
Figure out what kind of blog you want to write.
Roughly speaking, there are two kinds: digests and personal ramblings. The first is a summary of newstories related to your topic of interest, be it online dating or law. The material can come from your own reading, and if you need a steadier stream, you can set up a search engine to do automatic searches on key words of your choice. Digests take the talents of an editor, and if you have the personality, you can add your own opinions. You can write them without ever leaving the house. The other kind of blog is more of a journal-though usually not a personal one- and is often written by professionals who go to conferences, meet interesting people, and hang out at parties. David Winer's archetypal blog, Scripting.
An obvious point, perhaps, but still worth noting. There are now so many bloggers that it's a wonder any of them ever get read. To attract a readership with such fierce competition, your blog must keep the reader in mind.
Find the balance between frequent and interesting posts.
Blogs that are updated regularly are read regularly. But don't update your blog daily if you aren't saying something interesting, or readers will stray away. As more people learn how to subscribe to RSS feeds, less frequently updated blogs will still get attention. Meanwhile, try to find a balance.
Illustrate at least occasionally.
Many professional blogs are strictly text-only, but like a good magazine, most blogs benefit from an occasional photograph, drawing, or graph. If you're an artist or graphics designer, of course, the pictures will be more profuse. But it's the text, not the pictures, that tend to get linked.
Be the blogger of your company or firm.
While many professional blogs are written by independent entrepreneurs, others are produced by the volunteer blogger within a small group. That's the case with most of the "blawgs" written by an attorney-it's one lawyer's project. And if a jazz quartet wants to keep a blog, and the drummer is the best writer, that's who should be doing most of the blogging-not the alto sax.