Archive for December, 2009

Why Businesses Need Blogs

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

In short, because blogs are well beyond the novelty stage, and now a mainstream communication medium for b2b vendors. They are generally trusted and progressively more widely read, and they draw an attractive demographic. They are search engine-friendly and one of the easiest, fastest and least expensive ways to increase the online exposure of your business.

Technorati now indexes more than 133 million blogs; nearly a million new blog posts are written every day. According to a recent study, 77% of active Internet users now read blogs. 51% of businesses view blogs as the most useful social media tool. Forrester Research reports that 91% of b2b buyers use social media in some form, and 58% react to content in social media (including blogs). And it isn’t just middle-management types using social media for b2b decision making; 77% of senior management team members listen to podcasts or webcasts, and 61% visit company blogs.

Consultant Suzanne Falter-Barns has echoed the blogs-are-mainstream theme and suggests that blogs will displace email newsletters and e-zines. Growing and maintaining an opt-in e-newsletter list has gotten more difficult for several reasons. First, due to their proliferation (almost every business now has a company newsletter – I even get one from my garbage collection service!). Second, due to overstuffed in-boxes, largely because of spam. Third, and related to the last point, over-zealous spam-blocking programs end up preventing many legitimate marketing emails from reaching recipients, leading to low deliverability rates. Fourth, they are a lot of work.

Blogs, on the other hand, are fast and reasonably easy to create. Anyone in your company with an interesting story to tell or knowledge to share can contribute. They are less formal than a newsletter. They are interactive. And they are loved by the media as well as by search engines.

Search engines (particularly Google) love blogs, for reasons partly philosophical (Google owns blog creation service Blogger) and partly technical. Blogs make your site “stickier” and more likely to be revisited by prospects looking for fresh, interesting content. A blog is also far easier to build than a Web site, requiring no or at least very limited knowledge of HTML and FTP. Keyword competition is also less intense for blogs and RSS feeds than for commercial websites (through with the rapid growth of business blogs, this is changing).

As blogger Ankesh Kothari has pointed out, blogs are fundamentally nothing more or less than a form of communication. If you can make money using other forms of communication (e.g. email or direct mail), then you can make money with a blog.

Most blogs don’t draw large audiences, but with a narrow industry focus, they do draw a highly targeted readership. By creating a blog that provides real value within your industry niche, and promoting it effectively, you can attract those highly relevant readers, create interaction, and enhance your company’s image by demonstrating your unique expertise.

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Surveying the Social Media Landscape

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009
In “The Four C’s of Social Media,” I noted that coming up with a concise definition of social media, like defining “art,” is challenging. Describing it through the four C’s—content, context, connections and conversation—was one approach. Another is to look at the different types of websites and tools that comprise the social media landscape.

The intent of the lists below is to categorize the landscape and show the most prominent sites in each category. They aren’t intended to be comprehensive, but rather to identify the high points in the social media topography.

Social Networking

Sites where you can post your profile, promote links to your company site / blog / etc., join groups based on various common interests and traits, ask and answer questions, provide updates and engage in other online networking activities.

Site Alexa Rank (March 2009) Compete Traffic (February 2009) Compete 1-Year Traffic Change Google Pagerank
Facebook 5 73,787,766 +159.0% 8
LinkedIn 14 11,246,726 +137.4% 8
Plaxo 1,440 2,629,043 +144.7% 7
Friendster 47 1,454,029 -20.0% 7
Naymz 12,476 522,953 +93.2% 6

Social Bookmarking

Sites where you can post links to articles, blog posts or other content that you find interesting or want to promote, search for what’s being posted on a particular topic, and, depending on the site, do things like join special interest groups, see what others are linking to, view the most popular links, vote on your favorites, promote content, and comment on links posted by others.

Site Alexa Rank (March 2009) Compete Traffic (February 2009) Compete 1-Year Traffic Change Google Pagerank
Digg 243 33,433,760 +51.2 8
Reddit 3,777 4,908,990 +114.6% 8
StumbleUpon 832 4,418,609 +38.6% 8
Delicious 2,735 1,623,083 +2,176.8% 8
Propeller 3,340 1,164,549 -12.1% 8
Mixx 589 879,108 +341.2% 8
Furl 19,326 164,949 +10.7% 7
Searchles 39,385 67,406 +25.7% 5

Blog Tracking

Sites where you can promote a blog, search blogs for specific topics, evaluate the popularity of various blogs and track selected blogs.

Site Alexa Rank (March 2009) Compete Traffic (February 2009) Compete 1-Year Traffic Change Google Pagerank
FeedBurner 522 3,581,957 +42.3% 9
Technorati 599 3,309,174 +25.2% 8
Bloglines 9,182 435,118 +2.6% 8
BlogPulse 58,521 51,229 +89.7% 7

Media Sharing

Sites where you can upload, promote, search and share non-text media such as video, photos and podcasts.

Site Alexa Rank (March 2009) Compete Traffic (February 2009) Compete 1-Year Traffic Change Google Pagerank
Video
YouTube 3 69,110,425 +16.9% 9
Vimeo 537 2,648,778 +848.1% 7
Viddler 5,653 688,155 +669.4% 6
Photos
Photobucket 36 24,470,242 +5.8% 7
Flickr 33 23,769,885 +8.2% 9
Picasa N/A 1,023,139 +48.2% 8
Podcasts
iTunes 94,360 889,156 -10.3% 8
PodBean 21,456 119,812 +82.5% 6
Podcast Alley 27,962 79,007 +15.1% 8
Presentations
SlideShare 1,100 1,008,754 +250.0% 7

Reputation Management

Sites that help you establish your “personal brand” and can also drive traffic to your site or blog.

Site Alexa Rank (March 2009) Compete Traffic (February 2009) Compete 1-Year Traffic Change Google Pagerank
ZoomInfo 2,702 1,864,047 -6.5% 6
CrunchBase 24,789 430,057 +116.1% 7
VisualCV 51,989 85,993 +174.0% 6
LookupPage 74,220 16,525 N/A 4

Wikis

Sites where you can conduct research, create new topic pages based on your expertise, edit existing content pages, and—in the case of Google Knol—rate the contributions of others. These sites use the insidious “nofollow” tag, so they have no SEO value. They are useful, however, for establishing the expertise of an individual or organization on a specific topic, and can drive referral traffic. Wikipedia is the most difficult to edit due to the tight control maintained by the site’s primary editors and their hostility to any content that can be construed, however remotely, as promotional. Knol may lack Wikipedia’s cachet, but it’s a much friendlier place.

Site Alexa Rank (March 2009) Compete Traffic (February 2009) Compete 1-Year Traffic Change Google Pagerank
Wikipedia 7 62,228,655 +11.4% 9
Knol N/A 386,772 +22,303.6% 7
Freebase 22,726 206,489 +1,132.2% 6

Other

Sites that are difficult to categorize. Yes, Twitter is a micro-blogging platform and there are others, but does anyone use them?

Site Alexa Rank (March 2009) Compete Traffic (February 2009) Compete 1-Year Traffic Change Google Pagerank
Twitter 314 7,935,441 +964.5% 9
Squidoo 483 4,324,281 +43.3% 8
FriendFeed 4,771 876,616 +984.5% 7
What did I miss? I’d like this to be a “living” post, so let me know of any sites that should be here but aren’t and I’ll update this list periodically.

Note: This post was originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog in March 2009.

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The Four C’s of Social Media Marketing

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Social media is a bit like art—most of us are pretty sure we know what it is, but articulating a common definition can be challenging. There are many definitions of social media floating about of course, they just aren’t consistent.

Social media “are primarily Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information” according to Wikipedia. It is “the use of technology combined with social interaction to create or co-create value” according to John Jantsch, a “shift in how people discover, read, and share news and information and content…a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologue (one to many) into dialog (many to many) per Brian Solis, “online communications in which individuals shift fluidly and flexibly between the role of audience and author” in the view of Joseph Thornley, and “a category of practices, technology, tools, and online sites that are based in social relationships, participation, and user-generated content” in the words of Liz Strauss.

My own definition incorporates the 4 C’s of social media, or the “4 Cons” if you will: “online tools that permit users to create content, within a given context, to help establish connections and engage in conversations.” Okay, that’s a bit awkward in words, but makes more sense as a picture:The starting point is typically content—a blog post, video, podcast, article, photo, a resource such as an industry-specific glossary or calendar of events, or other means of expression. The context in this case is the particular tool, website or other online venue where the content will be shared: in a blog, a social networking or bookmarking site, a media sharing site (e.g. Flickr or YouTube), a wiki, a forum, a Squidoo lens, wherever. Sharing content enables one to make connections; to find people with similar interests. For example, someone with an interest in enterprise data warehouse technology will probably read data warehouse blogs, watch data warehouse videos, listen to data warehouse podcasts, and follow people who write about enterprise data warehouse technology on Twitter.

Finally, sharing content with those interested in the topic leads to conversations. These can take the form of interaction on a social sharing site like Searchles, blog comments, Twitter replies, LinkedIn messages, writing on a Facebook wall, or other means of online dialog.

The online conversations themselves are content (closing the loop), and can also lead to the creation of new content: for example, a conversation with Cece Salomon-Lee that began with blog comments and Facebook led to her writing several guest posts on this blog, and a conversation on Twitter led to me writing a guest post on SEOmoz.

However defined, it’s clear that social media embodies a set of tools that enable anyone to be a media producer as well as a consumer, and that force traditional media outlets to now participate rather than just broadcast. As the recent example of Skittles first turning its website entirely over to social media and then pulling back, companies and brands are still struggling with exactly how to best utilize these tools. But with the continuing explosion of new tools and venues for online social interaction, the worst mistake marketing and PR practitioners can make is to have no social media strategy at all.

Note: This post was originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog in March 2009.

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How to Pitch Bloggers

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

This post was originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog in July 2008.

Getting blog coverage for your product or service is now just as (if not more) important than getting written about in traditional media. Blogs are now mainstream, as almost 80% of Internet users report having read a blog within the last year. Blogs are also influential, trusted sources of information for buyers, particularly in the B2B space; the most recent ITtoolbox/PJA IT Social Media Index Wave II report updates earlier findings and concludes that “IT decision-maker and influencer audiences (now) spend more time consuming or participating in social media than they do consuming editorial media or vendor content.” Blog coverage helps increase awareness, build credibility for your brand, and helps with SEO.

Yet many PR people stumble badly when reaching out to bloggers, with blog outreach efforts a mix of good, bad and ugly. As previously noted here and elsewhere, making pitches both personal and relevant is the first step to getting a blogger to write about you. It’s also helpful to provide bloggers with useful assets such as images, video, audio and research findings (with original source links if it’s not your own material) that they can incorporate into posts.

But how do you get beyond the basics? What really motivates bloggers to write about whatever it is they write about?

It’s not about money—at least not primarily, for most bloggers. Therefore, outright bribery is a bad idea all the way around (that generally includes free products too, although there are a few exceptions to this rule, such as books).

Bribery is bad for you because you don’t want your company to become known as a firm that has to pay to get coverage. If your product is unique and interesting, it should be blogworthy in its own right.

It’s bad for bloggers. The vast majority of bloggers don’t want to ruin their credibility by accepting money to write positive reviews. And the minority who are willing to write pretty much anything they’re paid to write aren’t the ones you really want covering your product or service.

And it’s bad for readers. Blog readers want to be able to rely on bloggers for objectivity. Marketing brochures they can get from the vendor.

So what do bloggers want? While there are a wide variety of motivations for blogging, at some level with virtually every blogger it comes down to ego. Bloggers write to be respected and read. Respect is shown by practices such as personalizing communications and providing bloggers with access to key executives and internal experts.

Readership is an even bigger issue. Help bloggers increase their audience through writing about your product or service by linking to posts about your company:

  • from your website (e.g. your online media room, “in the news” section or dedicated blog coverage page);
  • in your company newsletter;
  • in your own corporate blog (if applicable); and
  • on any social networking sites where your company is active (e.g. Digg, Sphinn or Searchles).

In contrast to bribery, focusing on respect and readership creates a win-win situation. The blogger benefits from increased traffic; has a strong incentive to write a well-crafted piece (which is good for readers); and by helping increase traffic to that blog, you increase valuable third-party exposure for your own company.

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Good, Bad and Ugly Blog Pitches

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Note: this post originally appeared on the WebMarketCentral blog in June 2008.

In How To Pitch To Bloggers, Laura Moncur tells PR and marketing people what she really thinks regarding what works, and what doesn’t, when trying to persuade her or any other blogger to write about your product, service, organization, announcement, cause or candidate. Among her advice: “no one kicks my butt” (understand that most bloggers don’t have deadlines they have to meet or space they have to fill); “press releases are useless” and “be prepared for the truth.” Laura provides excellent and timely advice to anyone trying to pitch to bloggers, to which I can only add: keep pitches personal, relevant and compelling (and read Cece Lee’s blog).

What’s a good pitch?

I get a mix of good, bad, and awful pitches in my inbox on a regular basis. Among the good ones I’ve seen recently were notes from Lauren Barrows at Flimp and Dean Levitt at Mad Mimi. Lauren’s pitch:

    Hi Tom,

    I was recently researching marketing blogs and after reading a few of your blogs I would love if you could take a look at our company. Flimp Media Inc. is a rich media marketing platform developed for online direct marketing, sales and communications – not advertising. Using Flimp, anyone can quickly launch engaging audiovisual email marketing campaigns that automatically track and report detailed viewer engagement and response data and by individual email address in a clear reporting dashboard. I would love for you to take a look at our website.

    Best,
    Lauren Barrows
    www.flimp.net

Her pitch meets the criteria of personalized, relevant and compelling, and in addition has the very important virtue of being concise. Flimp competes with several established and emerging video email/marketing platforms, and Lauren clearly knows how to get coverage.

Dean’s pitch was a bit longer, but also really well done:

    Hey Tom,

    We launched Mad Mimi 4 weeks ago and we have over 400 new accounts since then.
    We had a killer mention by Ajaxian (possibly the web’s biggest software-tech blogs).

    We’re a well funded New York based startup that provides an entirely new way of creating emails. It’s free for small accounts, and works a little like 37signal’s “Backpack.”

    Needless to say, it’s an exciting application that your readers should know about.

    Here’s a pitch:
    Mad Mimi is the “Backpack” of email marketing. It’s simpler, the technology is state-of-the-art, and it works in a fresh and completely unique way in building and sending emails.

    Mad Mimi’s “modules-based” interface allows users to add picture and text fields, drag them around and add captions, links and dividers. Embedded constraints gently guide the layout, keeping the “designer” from getting into trouble, but providing more plasticity than templates.

    The result: a fluid, flexible user interface, and clean, fashionable “Mimi-generated” promotions that represent a fresh approach to email marketing – at a subscription price that trumps the competition.

    All my best,
    Dean Levitt

Notice how quickly his message gets to the point of what this is, why it’s interesting and (most importantly) why it’s different from other email marketing platforms. One other thing I should note in Dean’s favor: when I bounced him back with a question, he responded within 90 minutes. I can’t honestly tell you that I know his platform is better than everyone else’s, but I’d certainly advise any small company that’s in the market for a simple, affordable email marketing platform to at least check out Mad Mimi. At the least, they are responsive.

What’s a bad pitch?

Anything irrelevant obviously, but also any message that assumes why I would know your news is important, that is too long, or that uses a generic (e.g. AOL, Yahoo, HotMail, Gmail or MSN) email address as a return.

What’s the worst pitch of all?

Sending a message that reads “Dear (blogger name): Here’s our latest press release, which I thought you might be interested in.” ARGH! Do NOT do this; far better that you have no contact with a blogger at all than just send a press release. A blogger who’s never heard of you at least won’t write anything bad about your company or offering; but if a blogger gets a straight name-plus-press-release message from you, he/she will forever view you as a PR spammer, making your odds of ever getting favorable coverage virtually nil.

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