Friday, April 29, 2005

What are the Benefits of Blogging?

The biggest comment I've received from yesterday's post on my executive blogging service offering is that people still aren't convinced or clear on the benefits of blogging.

What are the benefits is really two questions: what are the business benefits and what are the personal benefits. Executive blogging straddles the line because executives are responsible for the performance of the business but, in many cases, have a certain celebrity of their own.

But executive blogging is a little of both personal and business. In a later post I'll talk about the business benefits of getting a whole company blogging.

First up, a blog builds credibility, shows your an expert and demonstrates that you're ready to talk honestly about the subject.

Second it builds recognition for your name.

It's a great way to deliver information, often faster, less expensive, and more easily than a press release, whitepaper, or other publication.

A blog is responsive and creates a forum for direct communications with customers and potential customers.

Blogs are excellent value added marketing - they give you an opportunity to provide a customer with useful information and lets them know that there's more where that came from.

Many people aren't aware how good a blog is for building a body of writing. Blog posts have a way of turning into KB articles, whitepapers, and even books.

Finally, personal achievement should not be left out. Executives want to achieve something like anyone else, and they like it when they get a chance to say something and say it well in a place where others can appreciate it.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Executive Blogging Services

I'm going to toss something out there. I've been thinking about offering executive blog coaching as a commercial service (in fact I've already started doing this, I'm just not advertising yet).

Blogging's really starting to turn a corner in acceptance. The question these days isn't so much "why in the world would I blog?" as "how do I get started?"

Here's how I propose to answer the question:

  • The Blogging Roadmap: In one consultation I will give you an executive overview of business blogging and RSS feeds. We talk about the decisions you need to make right at the start, and the things you'll learn and refine along the way. By the end of the consultation you will have your first blog, your first post, and an idea of where you can go from here.

  • Blog Coaching: This offering takes the roadmap one step further. I will provide coaching and guidance for the first month of your blog and beyond. I will talk to you about what makes an exceptional blog, show you how to promote your blog. Technical services and knowledge are included, such as entering your blog on the top blog registries and enhancing searchability.

If you just want to find out what blogging is and whether you should be interested, I'll happily talk to you for free.

So what I want is a reality check. Does this sound like something worth paying for? Would you pay for it? Is something missing? What can I do to make this offering valuable?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Hello Auction Maestro

One of the things I like best about my job is talking to different business people. Everybody's got a different point of view, a unique take on doing business, and unique experiences. Today I sat down with Jay Fiske and helped him start up his first blog, The Auction Maestro's Journal.

Jay is hugely knowledgeable about running non-profit auctions and events, and has many anecdotes and tips to share. He's just the kind of person I love to get into blogging. He already has a store of useful and entertaining things to say, and he isn't shy about sharing them. So go visit his blog already!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Managing Product Development Blog

Johanna's Managing Product Development blog is packed with insight. In the tech industry, everyone is a project manager at some point. Knowing the pitfalls means that you can avoid them... or at least when you find yourself at the bottom of the pit, and everyone says "what happened" you can learnedly say "we just fell into a pit."

Link gleaned from Brian Kennemer.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Learning to Blog

Tonight I am teaching my first class on personal business blogging. We've got a photographer, an Ebay merchant, a storyteller, and a doctor with a highly technical specialty, so it should be a pretty interesting mix. One of the things I'm going to talk about is how to identify your audience.

How do I figure out who my audience is? What do I say to them?

  • What do you enjoy talking about?

    Fun blogs last longer and work better. Chances are that if you're passionate about a topic, that will come out in your posts.

  • Who do you enjoy talking to?

    These might be the people you want to start a conversation with?

  • Are there any questions that you get asked over and over?

    If the answer is yes, that's a great sign. Not only do you have some valuable information, but you're already an authority!

  • What are your customers interested in?

    The best answers to the "who is my audience" question usually start with "people interested in...".

  • What do I want to learn more about?

    It's not just a one-way channel. Blogging is as much about what you learn as what you can teach.

UPDATE: Class is out and I'm very pleased with the results. The students asked good questions, and I think we're going to get some good blogs going as a result. I've also got heaps of notes on how I can improve my class.

Published Work (So What is it you do Again?)

A consultant or freelancer of any kind needs to be able to ask the question, "so what do you do?" I like to tell people I'm a blogging consultant, but more often than not, I'm a technical writer. What I do on any given day is just as likely to be writing whitepapers[1].

Here are a few samples of papers that I have written or to which I have been a major contributor:

Windows Server 2003 Reviewer's Guide

Good, Better, Best: Windows SharePoint Services Integration with Microsoft Office

Integration Guide for Microsoft Office 2003 and Windows SharePoint Services

Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 Custom Management Pack Development at Microsoft

Advanced Smart Tag Tools

Smart Tag Security

Office XP and BizTalk Integration

Coexistence of Windows Server 2003 and Windows NT 4.0

1. A whitepaper is a balanced document which lays out a company's opinion on a specific topic, often with supporting arguments and information. The "balanced" is the tricky part. It means that the document is supposed to be fair and honest. In practice, this also means "balancing act", because the paper must also be true to a company's view of itself and the strengths of its product. A better word than balanced might be "credible".

Yeah, credibility is something that whitepapers have in common with blogs. Is it any surprise I find blogs interesting.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Is War Brewing Between PR and Blogs?

Paul Graham has written a great article about PR and blogging called The Submarine. Paul doesn't get to talking about blogs until about halfway through the article. That's just fine. There's really great information in his pocket summary of the PR business.

So who's going to win the war between the blogs and the PR firms? There isn't going to be a war. Paul nails it when he says "As this new kind of writing draws readers away from traditional media, we should be prepared for whatever PR mutates into to compensate."

When he says "prepare" and "mutate", I wonder if he means "evolve". Good PR already has a dose of truth in it. As Paul points out, a PR firm that squanders its reputation on empty claims can't win credibility with reporters. Just so a blog has to maintain credibility with its readers or they will go elsewhere. Good PR gives small companies a chance to get their message out. Yep, that's blogs too.

The question is, what are PR firms going to learn from bloggers? What are guys like me, who know something about blogging and are ready to teach, have to learn from PR?

There's a current crop of fake blogs, fiction blogs, and viral marketing launched by PR firms that want to cash in on the next trend. I predict these won't go far. They're a weak first stab at evolution.

Thanks to philaros for pointing this out to me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

10 Reasons Nonprofits Should Use RSS

I blogged some RSS benefits a while back, but here's a better summary. This is targetted at non profits, but it's valid for everybody: 10 Reasons Nonprofits Should Use RSS | (beta).

I see more and more nonprofits getting into blogging. What a great use of a new channel! Blogs and nonprofits are a great mix. Blogs lend themselves very well to collaborative efforts and community, two things that nonprofits understand intuitively.

What if Monday Monring had a Cancel Button?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Blogging Benefit Illustrated

One of the more difficult blogging concepts to sell to corporate entities is that you have to release some control to reap greater benefits. Here's an example.

Today I was surfing Microsoft Dev Blogs at MSDN more or less at random, when I ran across an interesting post on Rick LaPlante's Visual Studio blog. Some users, apparently erroneously, got the impression that Rick was censoring his comments. This incident struck me as being emblematic of how blogs can work positively in regards to corporate issues large and small.

This is the kind of thing that happens to companies all the time. Customers (or potential customers) get riled about something they've done. Often the company has no idea that this has happened.

The beauty of blogs is rapid identification of the problem and rapid response. Once Rick realized that a problem existed, he was able to address it with a simple blog post and explanation. That kind of rapid, honest communication is one of the biggest business benefits of blogs. Rick was able to assuage his readers' annoyance with a simple post and minor tweak to his blog settings.

The point is that to get there you've got to let go a bit. You've got to let your content get out there and let people shout and complain about it if they want to. Then you've got to buck up and address the issue honestly.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Bowling Ball

Monday, April 04, 2005

What Makes a Fake Blog?

Bob Bly is currently my favorite work blog. Today he asks Are Sponsored Blogs Credible Marketing Tools?

This brings up a more general question, when is a blog fake?

First of all, faking it is bad news in blogland. Some PR and Advertising firms have responded to blogs by offering fake blogs to their customers. This is a bad idea. If you don't believe me, watch Hugh MacLeod take a stripe off fake bloggers here. Update: Scoble has a deeper analysis of the matter here.

Why? Because credibility is perhaps the main distinguishing benefit of blogs over other PR and Marketing activities. If you lack credibility, you're not getting value from your blog.

But what constitutes faking it? I'm not sure I have the whole answer, but here are some things that come to mind:

  • Hiring a shill to write PR pap for your company blog.
  • Fake comments
  • Paying a journalist or industry expert to promote you on their blog (thus creating a conflict of interest)

These are all bad shortcut solutions. How about some alternatives:

  • Hire someone who will engage your company and its product to blog for you, preferably someone you'd happily have talking to your customers face to face.
  • Have a good blog and your customers will supply their own comments - for free! Just be ready to supply good answers.
  • I don't think the blogosphere has that much problem with paid blogging as long its fully disclosed. It is important, however, that your blogger speak truthful, and that might include criticizing you when you make a mistake.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Spelling Doesn't Matter

Over and over again, I see correct spelling listed as one of the essentials of a good blog, but the sad truth is that perfect spelling isn't going to make the difference. Every really good blog lets the occasional spelling mistake through. That's one of the hazards of a medium that's so immediate. Do you really think Scoble's going to hire a copy editor for his blog?

Am I saying that spelling is unimportant? That is should be ignored? No. But if your blog is weak because of some other deficiency, perfect spelling isn't going to change that. If your blog's already great, but your spelling is bad, then there's an area you can improve. But bad spelling isn't going to bring a good blog down. That's why I didn't include spelling as a requirement when I posted my list a while back of what makes an effective blog?

Tip: Always use a spell checker when you blog. If your blogging software doesn't include one, paste your post into a word processor and check the spelling there. Beyond that, don't sweat the small stuff.