Corporate Blogging – The Harsh Truths

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Paul Boag presents an excellent post on corporate blogging over at Smashing Magazine.
I completely agree with each of Paul’s points. However, what do you think?

1. A blog does not magically generate traffic

When companies first started launching corporate websites, they perceived them as a marketing channel that would generate leads. They had a “build it and they will come” mentality. Over time they realized that a website is more like a storefront. A few people might wander in off the street, but most of the time you need to advertise to attract trade.

Many marketing departments are making a similar mistake with corporate blogs. They perceive them as a way to generate new traffic, when that is not their primary role. Admittedly, the keyword-heavy nature of a blog will help your organic rankings, but that is a secondary benefit.

To generate traffic, you need to sincerely commit to your blog, establish a relationship with your readers and engage them in conversations. And, as Rand Fishkin’s article 21 Tactics to Increase Blog Traffic suggests, you also need to use some strategies to build up the traffic over years.

The real goal of a corporate blog is to generate recurring traffic which is considerably more likely to complete a call to action. A successful blog has a regular readership that is being constantly reminded of your brand and products. And yes, of course, building up a readership takes time.

 

2. Good corporate blog requires long term commitment

Building a readership is a long term commitment. It can take months for users to recognise your blog as a consistent source of useful information. Only then will they start visiting it regularly and recommending it to others.

It doesn’t just take time, it also takes commitment. That means posting regularly and to a schedule. Users are more likely to visit your blog if they know you release a post on a certain day each week. Of course, ultimately you want them to subscribe, so they don’t need to continually check your site for new content.

 

3. Teaser feeds are a wasted opportunity

Users can subscribe in a couple of ways. Usually they can either sign up to receive email notifications or subscribe to an RSS feed. This is a crucial step in engaging readers. That is because users are effectively giving you permission to remind them about your site and brand.

However, it is remarkable how many organisations fail to grasp this opportunity. Instead of using the chance to push content to users, they only provide a teaser of blog posts. This means users have to click through to view the whole post.

This practice is born out of a false belief that users need to see your site. They don’t. Unless your revenue is driven by site advertising, there is no need for users to click through to read your blog.

McDonald’s blog doesn’t get it right: teasers in feeds aren’t useful in corporate blogs.

The purpose of most corporate blogs is to build and maintain brand awareness while motivating users to engage. None of that needs to happen on site. The blog post itself builds and maintains awareness, while requests for comments or calls to action motivates users to engage. Users do not need to see the rest of your site to respond to the blog post. Of course for that to be true, posts need to be engaging.

 

4. You are not “engaging” anyone

The most successful blogs are more than a broadcast tool. They are a dialogue between the individuals within your organisation and your users. It is important to listen, as well as speak. Unfortunately, the most corporate blogs fail to engage.

Instead they focus on telling readers how great their products and services are. Rarely do they ask for feedback or ask questions. In fact it is not unusual for companies to disable comments for fear of criticism.

Nokia Conversations blog does a great job of engaging users in conversations, asking for their opinions and starting discussions that generate many comments and gather many opinions.

Instead you should be encouraging users to contribute to your blog through comments and constructive criticism. It is a superb opportunity to get free feedback from your customers, something many organisations pay market researchers for. Part of the problem is that most corporate blogs offer nothing more than rehashed press releases.

 

5. Press releases shouldn’t appear on a blog

Let’s set aside the debate over whether press releases have a role in today’s web centric world. Whether they do or don’t, you need to realize that a press release preforms a different role to that of corporate blog. As the name implies, a press release is meant for professional journalists. It is designed to encourage journalists to write about your product or service. It is not designed for your customers.

A blog, on the other hand, is meant to be read by prospective and existing customers. It should be engaging, informative and helpful. When writing a blog post, you should always have the end reader in mind. What will they learn? What insight will this give them into who we are? How will it help build our relationship with the reader? You should never simply copy and paste press releases or news stories.

The other problem with press releases is that they are corporate statements. A blog should have a more personal tone.

 

6. You sound like a faceless corporation

People don’t like interacting with organisations, corporations or machines. People like talking to people. One of the things I have learnt about selling web design services is that once people have established that you offer a good service at a reasonable price, the next thing they care about is you. Do they like you? Do they trust you? Do they think they can work with you?

People don’t like, trust or want to work with corporations. We associated those feelings with individuals, not companies. It is therefore important that a corporate blog is about the people within your organisation, not the organisation itself. Your blog should focus on different people and the role they perform within your company. They should be able to demonstrate their personality as well as share their expertise.

A blog is a place to let readers see behind the marketing spin and glimpse the real people within your organisation.

 

7. You need to show the warts and all

If you are a marketeer this may all sound a little scary. Its hard to control “the message” when you are blogging. You have multiple bloggers from across your organization who are effectively becoming corporate spokespeople, and you are allowing users to publicly criticize you on your own blog. This is a long way from traditional marketing.

However, today”s consumers are very savvy. They are distrustful of traditional marketing and can sense when they are being sold at. A softer approach is required, one that is more “real&” and less managed. One part of that is admitting when you make mistakes.

Dell consistently ignored criticism they received about poor customer service. They ignored the voice that the web provided their customers, until eventually a single disgruntled user stirred up a major PR nightmare with a single post entitled “Dell lies. Dell sucks.

Contrast this with the “warts and all” approach adopted by photo sharing site Flickr. When faced with community criticism over the poor performance of their website, they wrote a post on their blog entitled “Sometimes we suck.” They acknowledged the problem and laid out a plan for correcting it. This non traditional approach to their brand image allowed Flickr to quickly defuse a situation that could have grown out of control. Perhaps when it comes to corporate blogging, marketing is not always best equipped to handle the task.

 

8. Marketeers often make bad bloggers

Let me be clear. I am not saying that all marketeers should be banned from blogging. What I am saying is that traditional marketing skills are not always best suited to the medium. Because blogging should be personal, transparent and not shy away from the organisation’s flaws, it can seem an uncomfortable communication tool for some marketeers. Also the traditional writing style of many marketeers does not fit well with the informal style of a successful blog.

If you are a marketeer responsible for the corporate blog, look for ways to encourage others within your organisation to blog. Think of yourself as an editor rather than an author. Target people who are particularly knowledgeable or already act as spokespeople for your organisation. Encourage them to blog and act as a copy editor tweaking and refining what they write. And don’t forget to give them raise once in a while, encouraging them to write more high quality content.

You may find it hard to encourage others to blog. If that is the case try interviewing them instead. You can then turn those interviews into blog posts and hopefully encourage them to respond to comments. But remember, whether you are posting an interview or an article, do not expect too much from your readers.

 

9. You expect too much from your readers

Most of the corporate blog posts I have read are long, really long, text heavy and boring. They take considerable commitment to wade through. In short, they ask too much from readers.

With so many blogs online you need to make your posts stand out from the crowd. Always ensure that users can get the gist of what you are saying by just scanning the post. This can be achieved using a number of techniques…

  • Summarize a post at the beginning and in the title. Don’t leave users guessing what the subject is.
  • Be controversial to grab users attention.
  • Use headings as a way of grabbing attention and summarizing content.
  • Use images to break up the copy and communicate key points.

Do not feel all of your posts need to be an essay. Short posts that propose a question or draw the reader’s attention to another site are just as engaging. Anything that is of value to the user is worth posting.

Finally, remember that not all blog posts need to be textual. Consider buying a flipcam and recording some video interviews with people around the company. Record an audio interview or post some photographs of corporate events. Just don’t expect users to read lots of copy. The only people who do that are your competitors.

 

10. Your competitors will read your blog – Get over it!

I am amazed at how many organisations will slow down the growth of their corporate blogs because they are worried that their competition will read it and rip off their expertise and ideas. Although it is true that your competition will do exactly this, what is the alternative? One the primary opportunities a blog provides is the chance to demonstrate your expertise. People will be motivated to buy from you because they understand that you “know your stuff.” However, if you don’t talk about your expertise, how will they know? You might be the best in your field, but if nobody knows it then what is the point?

I write about my knowledge of web design all the time. I know that many of those who read my posts are competitors and learn from what I share. However, I know that a lot of prospective clients read the content too. Should I silence myself for fear of being copied or should I prove to my clients that I am a professional who knows what he is talking about? I think the answer is clear.

 

Conclusions

Many organisations are still finding their voice online and corporate blogging is one way to achieve this. It is not surprising that they are still making mistakes. The secret to success is accepting that a blog is not a traditional marketing tool. In my opinion, it has more in common with a customer service. Once you realize that and release it from the shackles of press releases and corporate news, it will start generating return on investment.


One in a hundred

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I’m deeply humbled and honoured to have made into the UK’s Top Marketing 100 Blogs.

This blog was originally designed as a place to store my Web 2.0 research for my MBA dissertation last year. However, due to the support of fellow MBA cohorts, and loyal readers I decided to keep the blog going. Indeed, through the “magic of the web”, I’ve met some amazing people and shared in a great many conversations.

I’m deeply passionate at how ‘disruptive technologies’ are changing the world. This blog allows me a way to express that passion.

I hope The Web Pitch continues to inform, educate and inspire you.

To all my readers, supporters and critics

Blogging Success in 90 Days

Picture Credit: Wisebread.com

Rohit has just posted a great article on how to reach blogging success in 90 days. Successful blogging takes a lot of hard work and time. However, Rohit provides some great tips for new bloggers on what you may want to focus on in your first 90 days of blogging:

DAYS 1 TO 15:

1. Find a good niche. Think hard about what you want to write about. It has to be something you are passionate about and interested in, otherwise it won’t work. The more specific you can get, the better. You can also broaden it later, but in the beginning you need to find a subject that you can own.

2. Choose a name and URL. This is a tough thing, but just as many companies these days do, you should let available URLs drive how you name your blog. If you can’t get the URL, don’t use the name. And make sure you plan to put your blog on a specific URL, whether you are using Typepad or Blogspot or any other service. Trust me on this, you’ll eventually wish you built your blog on your own URL, whether you think so today or not.

3. Grab a template and launch quickly.
The biggest paralysis new bloggers have is wanting to get their new blog just right. In the first few weeks of your blog, the most important thing is to find your voice – so forget about design just launch it with a ready made template. Chances are remote that search engines will list it that quickly, and you’ll have a few weeks to get it right.

4. Add Google Analytics. Google has a free tool called Google Analytics which gives you some great metrics on your blog all for free. It requires you to do a bit of tricky cutting and pasting to add certain code to your blog, but it is totally worth it to do it early so you’ll have metrics from the first days of your blog to compare to and see how far you have come.

5. Create an editorial calendar.
Some football coaches head into games scripting out their first 10 plays as part of their gameplan. You should do the same. Figure out the topics for your first ten posts, and then write them steadily. Not only does this get you thinking ahead, it also gives you a sense of how many posts per week you can realistically write.

DAYS 15 TO 30:

6. Reevaluate your blog title. At this point, you will likely have several blog posts to look at and a better sense of what you enjoy writing about. It’s the perfect time to check the title of your blog and theme that you set earlier and make sure it still accurately describes what you want to write about. If it doesn’t, now is the perfect time to fix it.

7. Design your blog brand. Now that you have your theme and several posts, you can design your blog. At this stage, you may just want to add a logo to an existing template or do something more custom. Either way, by having your blog brand set and several posts in your archive, you can really see what your design will look like.

8. Get your blog listed.
It’s also time in these two weeks to get your blog listed on all the search engines by submitting it. You should also claim it on Technorati, and submit it to any other sites in your particular industry or area of focus. Remember, you don’t need to focus on promotion right now, this is just about getting your site listed.

9. Set up your feeds. Many bloggers today (including me) are using Feedburner to syndicate their RSS feeds and offer email subscriptions to their blog. Whether you choose to use Feedburner or not, setting up your feeds and making them available to readers will be important as you start to grow your blog.

10. Learn the art of headlining. In blog posts, titles make a big difference. Particularly because many readers will be accessing your content through RSS and the title may be the only thing you see. To deal with this truth, you need to think like a copywriter and treat your blog post titles like headlines. Learning to write good blog post titles will be a major skill you will use all the time.

DAYS 30 TO 60:

11. Set your targets. You’ll probably be getting close to finishing your first ten posts by now, or at least worrying about what you’ll write about next. Based on what you’ve been able to do in the first month, set a target for yourself of how many posts you will try to write per week. My target is three and I usually stick to it.

12. Learn the 25 styles.
More than a year ago, I wrote a presentation designed to answer the common question from bloggers of what to write about. To help you fight "bloggers block" – view the presentation and learn the techniques. They will help you figure out what to write about, as they have helped me.

13. Contact your influencers. Now that you have a month of blogging experience, it’s also time to start asking for advice and introducing yourself to those who inspire you. Create a list of bloggers that you look up to and then religiously email one person from that list after you do a post. Ideally it will be someone who would be interested in your post and likely to respond to it.

14. Actively share your posts. In addition to emailing them to your influencers, you should start finding appropriate social networks and sites on which to share your blog posts. This could mean submitting them to Digg, or posting them onto del.icio.us with keyword tags. Essentially, you want to try a few tools to get your blog posts out there tagged and saved.

15. Integrate your blog into your profiles. At the point when you start your blog, you are probably already using other social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn. After the first month when you have some good activity on your blog, you can add the URL to your profiles and make sure that your network knows you have a blog.

DAYS 60 TO 90:

In these days, your main focus should be on content and connections. Try to create the best blog posts you can. Those that have insights, a strong point of view, and are highly shareable. If you can really succeed at having this great content, people will pass it along and your blog will have the greatest chance of getting passed along too. At this stage you should also make sure that you are using all of your social networks to also spread the word about your blog and your posts. The reason I don’t have specific lessons at this stage is that you’re starting to get into the point where you will probably be finding your own way and techniques that work for you. The best advice I can offer at this stage and moving ahead beyond 90 days is to try and stay as consistent as possible, and continue to create the best content you can, and share it with people in your network most likely to help you spread the word.

IM here! Messaging brings business benefits to your blog

During a conversation earlier today, I was still surprised to find that many executives still fail to see the business benefits that Instant Messaging (IM) can bring to the workplace. Or, as an additional way for your potential customers to contact you.

IM is wildly popular with home users, but in a business environment the ability to communicate with colleagues in real time can derive real benefits. However, corporate managers and network administrators still remain divided over its utility in the business world.

IM presents some of the same benefits to business users as to home users: it allows you to communicate with colleagues, customers and partners at a distance in real time, like the telephone, while avoiding expensive long distance charges that apply during normal business hours. The growing popularity of Voice over IP (VoIP) services is taking some of this advantage away, as firms can now use the Internet to place telephone calls at a substantial savings over the traditional phone system, e.g. Skype 

Nevertheless, IM continues to be the communications method of choice for many because it provides more of a “personal” link than email, while being a bit less intrusive than the telephone. IM is handy for dual communications. For example, you can get information from a colleague via IM while you’re on the phone with a customer, without having to disrupt the telephone conversation.

For the small firm, IM can provide many benefits which are listed below:

  • Allows for "instant" communications between people. This can save time and money as you can resolve questions or problems immediately.
  • Transmits messages fast enough to allow for natural flowing conversation. Once you get he hang of it, you can easily hold simultaneous IM sessions with multiple people!
  • Eliminates long distance phone charges. Use of the IM over the Internet can eliminate costly long distance charges.
  • Reduces the amount of email sent and received throughout the day. Many people want an answer to a simple question quickly. IM provides this capability to facilitate quick and easy communication.
  • Ability to determine who is online and ready for a message. The ability to set a presence indicator is a standard feature of IM applications. You can easily see whether someone is available to chat with you.
  • Gives you another method to stay in contact with your customers and improve their shopping or support experience on your web site. The benefits are unlimited when you integrate IM with your existing web site or blog. The IM tool can be used to assist in sales on e-commerce sites. It can be used to answer support questions and even to push content (URLs or web pages) to the customer.

If your business is already using Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger) You can embed Messenger IM controls directly on your site. This will allow potential customers on the Web to reach you in Messenger by showing your Messenger status on your web site, blog, or social networking profile (Very Cool)

The IM Control runs in your web browser and lets your site visitors message you without installing Messenger first. Windows Live IM controls support IE6, IE7, and FireFox 2.0 on Windows and FireFox 2.0 on Mac OS with support for 32 languages.

I have embedded the code over at my other blog. http://www.jasdhaliwal.com.  Feel free to IM me when I’m online.

To embed Windows Live Messenger controls on your own web site or blog, follow the instructions below:

(Hat Tip to Andy Logan)

1.Go to http://settings.messenger.live.com/applications/websettings.aspx. Sign in with your Windows Live ID, or create a Live ID if you don’t already have one

2. Turn on your Web settings to show your presence and receive IM from the Web.  (Note that if you turn on Web settings, anybody on the Web can see your presence and send you IM messages.

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3. Pick a way to show your presence.

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4. Copy the HTML from the page and post it on your Web site.

5. When a visitor comes to your page, they can click on “Begin a conversation” to start sending you IM.

    Note! The IM Control lets anybody on the Web to IM you. If somebody you don’t know sends you a message, you will see a warning like below in Messenger. The IM Control lets people you don’t know reach you. If you don’t want people you don’t know to send you messages, then don’t allow messages such as this one. If you want to always enable new users to IM you from the IM Control, then allow messages from unknown senders.

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Caveats:

Children and family safety setting users cannot turn on the settings for the IM Control

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The Blogging Tailor: An interview with Tom Mahon of English Cut

 

Savile Row is home to some of the greatest tailoring of gentleman’s suits in the world. The blogging tailor, also known as Tom Mahon is an ambassador for the craft with an honest and insightful blog known as English Cut. Initially, I read about English Cut from Scoble and Israel’s excellent book called Naked Conversations. I really wanted to interview Tom and I was lucky enough to do so a little while ago. Tom is truly a great bloke, the type of guy you’d happily have a pint with at the local pub. Tom blends charisma and elegance and was completely unlike my pre-conceived stuffy images of Savile Row tailors! What makes Tom so different? He’s a wonderful, passionate story teller.

Tom launched English Cut back in 2005 and operates from both Saville Row and his Cumbrian workshook. Tom and English Cut set a great example for others to follow. On his blog, he shares with us about his business trips, he talks about the cutting process of the suits he makes, his past searches for an apprentice as well as the best pubs in and around the Row. I can’t see Gieves and Hawkes doing this, can you? English Cut has helped Tom build his business and for many years he has been showered with work. Tom is an advocate of blogging and firms believes that blogging can help any business, as long as you are passionate and have a great story to tell.

Please find below a mini excerpt of my interview with Tom Mahon

What difference has technology made in communicating business messages?

“In the distant past everyone had a horse and cart and everyone was living by candles. How did you find out about things and get things done? You had to talk. The only way was to find somebody and ask them, where can find this? There was two-way communication going on. There’s wasn’t a book you could open up in the 17th Century to find where to find people you needed. In those days, people communicated through talking. Then, in the 20th Century we were bombarded with billboards and signs and effectively, people stopped talking and started telling! This is the best drink in the world! Why? Because that’s what the sign says”

“All of a sudden technology comes along allowing for people to communicate faster and quicker than ever before and nobody is aware of it. You suddenly realise that everybody is talking again. So, the sign isn’t going to tell me that Guinness is good for me, I’d rather ask someone if Guinness is good for me. Today, I can ask millions of people quickly and efficiently and that’s all it is. It’s a bit weird, its using technology but its gone back to communicating in the old way!”.

How did the other Savile Row tailors take to you blogging?

“They think its good, though some of them think I’m mad! The thing about blogs is, that you’ve got to tell the truth. I don’t say anything bad about anyone, because that’s a pointless exercise, I just tell the truth. So, there’s never any criticism, because there’s nothing to criticise You can’t criticise the truth can you? It might upset you, but you can’t criticise it, you just have to accept it. If blogging has worked for us, it will work any business as long as you have the right ingredients. Passion, devotion, honesty and a great story to tell. It’s probably especially well for me, because I’ve revealed how lovely the bespoke tailoring business is. I can put hand on heart and recommend all of the people I work with. That in itself adds an extra string to Savile Row’s bow”.

What benefits do you find from blogging?

“Blogging is a very good way of subconsciously examining your business. Because you talk and write about things, all sorts of things. People say to me, why do you do that? Sometimes you’ll say, I don’t know really. So, in a very informal way, I think you can actually improve the business because you are getting feedback. Not only customer feedback but from outsiders too, who can act as ‘sterile inputs’ into your business. In the past, it was difficult to answer all the feedback because I was always trapped in a realm of customers and tailors. So, blogging is quite a fine tuning tool. In simple terms it’s the best market research tool ever”.

“Often, I’m thinking about a new country or a city and I’ll say, I wonder if I could sell any suits there? The old way was to get all the results on which businesses were there? What their turnover was and what the average person earns there etc etc. Today, it’s totally different. I’ll write a post that I might go to Wichita Falls, anybody fancy a suit? If I get a response from people who say yeah, then I go! If they say no, then I don’t go. How fantastic is that? The blog gives me such a big voice”.

“I was traveling abroad on a particular occasion and was sitting in a hotel room updating a blog entry. I found an old post that I had written a year or so earlier. I started reading it and became fascinated! When I wrote that post, I was different person to whom I am now. The business was also in a different place. It was interesting to see how my thoughts had developed over the months and how the business had also grown. It was both weird and exciting in reading that post that I had written earlier. I didn’t want to go to bed!”

“With a blog, you can write if you feel like writing, or don’t write if you don’t feel like writing. Believe it or not, my blog was never written to impress anybody. It was not written to gain more sales. Hugh [MacLeod] said to me, just write down all your great stories Tom. Once you soon start blogging, you’ll find that you want to share your thoughts with everyone”.

“Blogging does have its dangers. You can start a blog and say all sorts of things. But sooner or later, if you tell any porky’s, oh boy are they going to be found out and your business will be destroyed! So it keeps you walking a very straight line. We had a tailor once who was a bit of a rogue on the road. He thought he had a command over the Internet as many of the other tailors were older and didn’t use the Internet. He thought no one was paying any attention. He thought he had this captive audience and basically he was telling lots of lies. He lied about other tailors, about his own business and his own credentials. It lasted for a while but then he came down with such a crash because the truth will always out in the end, he’s bankrupt now”.

 

English Cut has taken a unique approach to marketing by using a blog. Tom has broken with tradition, developed new customers from around the world and has changed the norms of the bespoke tailoring industry. It is essential for small businesses to develop a marketing strategy that corresponds with the changes taking place in the marketplace today. This is why English Cut sees continued success.

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UK Business Blogging Still Rare – eMarketer

Only 5% of UK corporations use blogs on a regular basis, according to the WebTrends-commissioned “Marketing in the Dark” report, conducted by Loudhouse Research in January 2007.

WebTrends contrasted this finding with the 85% of marketers who thought an effective Web presence was important in achieving sales and marketing objectives.

“Blogging is much more than a ‘nice to have’ in business today,” said Nick Sharp, vice president and general manager of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at WebTrends, in a statement. “Corporate blogs can be very effective communication tools within or on behalf of a corporate community.”

But business blogging is different from other parts of a firm’s Web presence, and companies may have good reason to think twice before pouring out their corporate souls online.

For one, although WebTrends seemed bullish on the idea of business blogging, less than three in 10 UK marketers surveyed were satisfied with blogging’s results. More than one-quarter were dissatisfied, and the remaining respondents were neutral. Many companies aren’t blogging because they are not convinced it works.

There are plenty of business-blog skeptics in the US as well, according to studies by Socialtext and eMarketer. Less than 6% of the Fortune 500 and 2% of the Forbes 200 Best Small Companies blogged in April and June 2006, respectively.

 

Businesses do not have to publish their own blogs to make the medium work for them. Many companies that do not blog still monitor the blogosphere to keep tabs on their reputation.

Companies can also work with existing bloggers to get press for their products or services. Providing content to blogs requires the same respect for tone and forthrightness as would be needed if the company were blogging itself.

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Are you Ready To Escape The Rat Race?

 

I met Sarah Rourke a little while ago at a Punch Above Your Weight Workshop. We got talking about blogging and how the platform can be used to tell your business story. Sarah’s an entrepreneur and runs a number of businesses. She’s also very passionate about coaching. 

Well, I’m very pleased to say that Sarah started her blog! Its called the The Rat Race Escape Artist. The blog is dedicated for all souls looking to escape the 9 to 5 of working life and the Rat Race.

Welcome Sarah, to the world’s largest conversation!

Please go check it out

Playing The Meme Game

Following on from Sarah blog, join in on meme game!  I’ve posted my five top web resources.  Why don’t you join the game?

There are Five Rules:

1. MUST be clean. No R rated sites.
2. Only FIVE links.
3. MUST tell 5 people.
4. An active link back to the person who tagged you
5. Laras Place is the meme originator.

My Five Links:

  1. Digg – The place I go for all my tech news
  2. Facebook – The place I go to catch up with the people in my world
  3. BBC – The definitive site on the web
  4. YouTube – For those moments of fun
  5. Apple – Beyond products. A business site that inspires me on so many levels. 

When gardening meets Web 2.0 – An interview with Heather Gorringe

 

I interviewed Heather Gorringe from a delightful company called Wiggly Wigglers a little while ago. Heather and her team are avid podcasters and blend a unique mix of home gardening and online promotion through podcasting and blogging. 

I highly recommend that you have a listen to the podcast. Subscribe to the iTunes link here! The highlights of the interview are blogged below.

Q. Why does your business blog and what benefits do you see from blogging?

"Wiggly Wigglers blogs as a direct result of starting a podcast in September 2005. We originally started a conversation via an audio file, and felt that a blog would be a really good backup to our podcast. The blog allows our listeners to post questions and also to get involved with the company. In fact, it brings us innumerable benefits. First of all, it raises our Google rankings. Secondly, we have people connecting to us from all over the world, which gives us global word of mouth marketing. But also, it enables us to update our website really easily, efficiently and helps us to be much more user friendly. So, we can put up answers to questions that would previously have been dealt with on an individual basis and still can be. But there’s the added resource online for people to delve into. Perhaps, for those who aren’t likely to ask questions but who do actually want to know the answers".

Q. How has the Web today changed for small businesses?

"I think the web has often been used as a tool to disguise the size of your business. For example, when I first started online in 1996, we missed off the word farm in our promotion. In those days, it was all about small companies being able to compete on a level playing field with the corporates. Almost as if, to be big made you better. But I think it’s now completely around the other way now. I think that niche, is the way that people want you to be and it’s perfectly acceptable however small you are. In fact, transparency and honesty to me are the revelations of Web 2.0, compared to what I call the ‘conventional web’. It makes everybody level on the playing field. You know all about the company and where they are. But, you don’t necessarily judge it on size any more. You are judged on customer service, communication and great products. So, we have come full circle and instead of not mentioning farm as we did in the early days. Now, the farm is used as a serious marketing tool. Mainly because its part of us and people want to buy from people, not just buy products as far as I can see".

Q. How do you measure podcast downloads that translate into direct sales?

"Everyone always asks this question! What I do know is that my podcast is being downloaded all the time and I figure that if you are going to download it, you are probably likely to be interested in what I’m doing. So I already have a warm relationship and a warm prospect there. Regarding direct sales, I just can’t tell you. Mainly, because our customers reach us from a variety of different ways. So for instance, they’ll say I listened to your podcast, but I read about you in the Daily Telegraph. Over the past two years, I’ve smashed my advertising budget and my job is to get between two and half to three thousands prospects a month. I’m still achieving that without spending much extra money. I’m spending time, effort, ingenuity and having genuine conversations with people like you".

"I’m trying to engage people, so that our customers go out and tell other people about our business. I know that what we are doing, is working very well for us. Maybe it will dry up? Maybe it will change? But I think the way people buy, is to get them to be enthusiastic. I’ve always thought, people don’t buy on price. They buy on whether or not they care about what you are doing. So, all I have to do is to make you care and hopefully we will get your business! I don’t think people care about advertising anymore".

"What used to make products great used to be the advertising budget you had. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I do think it’s all about goodwill. Our job is to keep goodwill with our customers, readers and listeners. Not only does that involve encouraging a conversation to find out what others think. But also, to make sure that if we have got that goodwill, that they bother to tell other people and that’s the difficult thing".

Q. Apart from podcasting and blogging, what other tools do you use?

"We use Google Adwords to promote the company. Over the past two years, I have gradually reduced our conventional advertising budget to virtually nil. It did stand at over £110,000 per year, which is a very considerable change for this company. We’ve achieved this process very gradually, month by month. People say to us that must have put £110,000 on your bottom line. I wish I could say it had, but it hasn’t. Its not like we’ve saved that money completely, but we’ve certainly made major differences to our profit and also our spend. It’s completely changed the way we operate".

"With regards to the other tools that we use, a lot of what we do is to comment on other people’s blogs and use social networking in that way. But, we also send out a regular e-newsletter. I haven’t got a Squidoo lens but that is next on my list. I think they are wonderful. We have recently setup a Facebook group and we are in the very early days with that. I have found that to be really exciting! We have just started our first two videocasts, the most recent one has so far had about 7,000 viewings, which I’m really pleased about".

"Regarding the expense, compared to any other form of marketing that I can think of including normal word of mouth marketing. This new media, just doesn’t even compare. It’s so inexpensive compared to other forms of communication because it’s just so efficient. Our commitment to this form of media is such, that from next week we’ll have one of our team dedicating three hours of her day to blogging".

Q. How much feedback do you get from your readers/listeners?

"I think we are probably the first company who put their podcasts on their answer phone. So, if you are on hold to Wiggly Wigglers, you will hear a little bit of the podcast. We have over thirty reviews on Apple’s iTunes UK podcast page and they are all 5 five stars. So, we do get feedback but personally, I don’t take too much notice of it".

"I figure that the feedback you are going to get is probably from one extreme. I don’t want us to become diluted by the loudest voice. So, we carry on in our own sweet way really. We are on a mission rather than trying to react to every bit of feedback. We do generally try to acknowledge it however".

Q. What have been the major barriers in the adoption of Web 2.0 tools?

"I’m the founder of the company. So when I listen to my first podcast that was in June 2005. I found out about the Podcast conference in September 2005. I went on the Saturday, I made the podcast on the following Wednesday and I put it out on the Friday. So it was within days. I got the help from our web guy, who had been a sound engineer in a former life. Therefore, there were no technical problems for me to overcome. If I hadn’t had him, I would have had no clue about how to work out the RSS feeds etc. I guess I was lucky in that sense. I then went to the team and said, I want to divert some money from our advertising budget to this, because I believe that it will be miles better. So we did ten shows, I figured I needed to give it a proper chance. So there wasn’t really a barrier".

"The barriers that I find now are getting people to understand the importance of social media within the company. I find it is important for me to keep up with it all. But things like Facebook are so user friendly, that it gives me a real heart. Because I think that those things will win through. If I can work them, then it’s likely my audience and my customers can also work them. If I can’t work them, I figure they probably can’t either".

Q. What are your concerns in using Web 2.0 tools?

"Well, as in everything else in life, if you put yourself up, you are more likely to get shouted down. If there was someone who wasn’t in agreement with what you were doing, there may be a risk of exposing yourself and your business globally to nutters. My concerns regarding Facebook as a platform, are that the people who run Facebook have got a lot of statistics regarding people’s political views etc".

"As a company and as a leader, your whole point is to change the way people think. My passion is to change the way people think about their gardens and the spaces outside their houses. So, the more ways I can change people’s thinking, the better. I guess if you Google Wiggly Wigglers, you’ll probably get perhaps a thousand positives and maybe one negative about something. A further concern is that there’s so much good stuff out there. I have to cut down the podcasts I listen to, because of time".

"I don’t worry about competitors because I figure, as we have a fairly loyal base, they will always stick up for you and so I don’t worry about that at all. If a competitor starts blogging, that will just raise the profile of the whole thing. Rural businesses and farms have a great story to tell. There are tons of ways now to get your message across, whether it’s through a podcast or a YouTube video".

"It makes me laugh so much when the corporates say we don’t believe in it, we’ve got nothing to say, it’s too difficult to do, we have to get approval or, we’ve got the lawyers to think of. I think fantastic, don’t do it! Because there are tons of small businesses out there that are better than you, but haven’t got the large corporate advertising spend. Small businesses can use Web 2.0 tools cheaply and get a foothold in the market. I don’t care about the corporates, I care about people who have a passion for their business and that’s usually the smaller people. So, I just think that its completely going to change that way that we operate, as long as the small business gets to understand it quickly enough".

Time to get serious about blogging.

Biz Cards-Jas2  New business cards coming soon! Inspired by Clayton, with another great cartoon from MacLeod.

A Blogger’s Nirvana – Windows Live Writer

If you are new to blogging, or even a seasoned professional, I highly suggest you take a look at Windows Live Writer. Even though it is still in beta, the application simply ROCKS!

Writer, integrates with a number of different blogging platforms including, Windows Live Spaces, Sharepoint, WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, Moveable Type, Community Server, and many other blogging services.

The application, is very easy to use and makes publishing blog posts easy.  There are a growing number of plugins available, to enhance your blogging experience. Already, there is support for Flickr, Technorati, Delicious, Videos, ScreenCapture, Snagit, tags, maps and tables

As Writer is still in beta, there is only support for an  American English dictionary. However, Scott provides an unsupported workaround, that will allow you to use a British dictionary for spell checking. Remember, this is an supported tweak though!

One of my favourite features is “offline blogging”. I can now blog anywhere, as Writer stores my posts locally and then publishes them directly to WordPress when I have an Internet connection! 

One Final Thing…  Its a FREE download

Download Windows Live Writer