Becoming Professional: A Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Publishing


Content Publishing Is Hard

two men sitting behind some vegetables they want to sell

by NeilsPhotography on Flickr

One of the hardest things about inbound marketing is coming up with content, particularly content you hope will rout into sales. The problem is, as Mitch Joel points out at Six Pixels of Separation, marketers want to publish about their goods. We’re like those two men selling fruit. We need to unload our product. The entire point of publishing content is to help us do this. But if all we do is egotistically tout our wares, we’ll bore our readership and they will never come back. Worse yet, we won’t make a sale.

There are a few ways to go about content marketing successfully. You could be like Hubspot, which publishes tips and research like a stripper takes off her clothes. Not all of it, just enough to get you to really want more. Or you could be like Joel, who writes more like a journalist, commenting on industry developments. Either way works; neither is easy. Other strategies are popping up all over.

But not everyone can publish the same stuff. Most of the rules of thumb are agreed upon by this point, and though there is still plenty of debate in our industry, there is not really enough for everyone – all the freelancers, contractors, consultants, and organizations – to each have a large audience. There will be some, like Hubspot, who get the audience, leaving smaller firms without.

Hiring Journalists Could be the Answer…

a person with a camera

by Evil Erin on Flickr

Joel suggests that companies should hire a journalist to publish for them, hopefully creating interesting content that doesn’t just laud the company’s goods or services. This is a pretty good idea, encouraging companies to focus more on the industry than their own profits.

If you look at Joel’s blog, that’s pretty much what he has done. His blog is called “Six Pixels of Separation by TwistImage,” TwistImage being his company. This is something like a sponsorship with the corporation providing hosting. This is probably why he is suggesting that companies that have difficulty cutting out the hard sell from their blog copy should hire a journalist and adopt this set up. He says, “Maybe the reason this Blog has some level of success is because it’s more like journalism than it is about what Twist Image offers and sells (I prefer to write relevant articles about this industry).” The only thing that challenges this rosy picture is that Joel actually is the President of TwistImage.

…But I Disagree

lady in business suit in front of computer

by com2us on Flickr

I would argue about what success means in this context. It seems Joel is taking success to be a large readership. To me a corporate blog is not about the industry, it’s about the corporation’s take on that industry, their perspective and point of view. When job seeking, this is one of the first places I go to see what the company is like. When looking at potential business partners or service providers for clients, the blogs help me judge possible synergies. The number of readers is irrelevant compared to the quality of the leads. Six Pixels of Separation is valuable to TwistImage precisely because it is written by Joel, the company President. The blog shows how he understands the industry, a valuable insight and selling point for possible clients.

If a company hires a journalist, they are really publishing a small magazine or sponsoring a blog. This is advertising, and like advertising, the goal is to get in front of as many people as possible. The company may be better off purchasing sponsorships in existing publications. In Joel’s version, the journalist is taken to be unbiased in order to establish industry street cred, but it’s easier to piggy-back off of someone who already has established credibility, potentially multiple someones. And it would probably be a bit cheaper, too.

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Bangs from Bangs and a Bun

Bangs from Bangs and a Bun

Not too long ago I went to a blogger’s meetup. There were bloggers there who had successfully monetized their blogs and those who were just thinking about starting. All were listening raptly to the night’s speaker, Muireann Carey-Campbell (AKA Bangs) from BangsandaBun.com as she discussed finding a voice, a theme, for her successful blog.

Business Bloggers Have it Easy

Business bloggers do not have this problem. The theme is set: the company and the industry. All that’s left is to find content that is engaging, whether that be examples of the product’s uses, like Kodak’s A Thousand Words, or personal anecdotes from the front lines à la Nuts About Southwest. (To be sure, these companies do blur the lines.)

Personal bloggers have it a bit harder. We think we have to have a theme. This is an easy trap to fall into. We think that we have to have a reason to blog. We can’t just post something online. The idea of a theme becomes a crutch holding us back, not guiding us forward. But there is another way of looking at themes for a personal blog.

The Writer Is the Theme

a person writing with a pen and paper

by Orin Zebest on Flickr

During her talk Bangs tackled this issue and provided what I think is a pretty good answer: Don’t care about themes. Just be yourself. A blog is not carried by the subject matter. It is carried by the blogger’s personality.

Particularly in the beginning, bloggers can take advantage of the fact that no one is reading the blog to find their voice. Once this voice is found, the readers will start coming. The key is that if a person is real, not a persona, the blog is that much better. People do not have themes. We have interests. And so it is perfectly acceptable to write on variety of topics. The real person behind the topics, the tone of voice and personality, is what ties it all together.

Don’t Forget That Pesky Audience

audience clapping

by open hardware summit on Flickr

This is the reason I have two blogs, this one and The Masked Geek. Put simply, I have two pretty distinct audiences I want to talk to. Sci-fi and fantasy geeks may use social media, but chances are, most don’t really care about the finer points of content publishing on social channels. Social media marketers may like going to see superhero themed summer blockbusters, but I highly doubt the vast majority want to discuss if Batman is really Bruce Wayne or if Bruce Wayne is just a front for Batman.

You may go into blogging knowing what the target audience is, as business bloggers do. You may just want to write and not have a clue what you will eventually be writing about. But, as a marketer, I just can’t help but think that you have to know who you want to talk to. Even Bangs agrees with this point. During her talk, she said that you have to develop common ground with the readers in order to get traction. This target audience may change as your interests morph. For instance, this blog started out meant for fellow young people entering the workforce, thus the post on where to wear a name tag. Now I talk to fellow digital marketers. That’s fine. It’s okay. The key is to use yourself as the theme, but find common ground with those you want to talk to.


We have fewer rights to do things with our digital purchases than our physical ones, even though digital is supposed to offer us more freedoms. If there was ever an argument not to buy digital goods, that one is probably it. Just because you handed over your hard earned cash or credit card debt does not mean you actually get to use the product or service you just bought as you see fit. Not by a long shot.

Your Login Details Are Not Yours to Share

Netflix on a Television

by MoneyBlogNewz on Flickr

Let’s suppose that you want to share your Netflix login with your friends and family. You’re thinking that you bought it, so it should be yours to share if you want. If you live in Tennessee, though, don’t.

Tennessee just passed a law that makes it illegal to share your Netflix login information. The law is meant to target people who sell logins in bulk, but it is worded in a way that if you shared your login with your dormitory floor, or even just your extended family, you could be in trouble to the tune of $2,500 plus jail time if you take $500 or less.

What this basically means is that your digital purchases are not yours. If you want to share movies, buy them on DVD. You do not have the same rights with digital goods as you do with physical ones.

Your Books Are Not Yours to Share

me holding up my Nook

My Nook

Books, the paper variety, have been one of the most shareable items in the world. Sharing books and other printed material has spread the ideas necessary for political and social improvement, such as Thomas Payne’s “Common Sense” prior to the American Revolution.

Yet, if you own a digital book, you do not have the right to pass it to a friend. Yes, there are systems such as the Nook’s LendMe feature which allows you to pass a book to a friend’s Nook for two weeks, but I honestly have a book on loan from, oh, two years ago (Sorry, Aunt Julie. I promise to return it, eventually).

Besides the Big Brother company watching over your activities, there is a platform war. Because the ebook sharing is based on Nook technology, not the universal epub, I can’t share any books with my father, who owns a Kindle. And he can’t use the Kindle version of this feature with me. This is not an attempt by the book sellers to mimic the freedoms we had with paper books. This is an attempt to get more readers to use their platforms by providing the benefits of the network. It’s more like the Betamax vs VHS wars than going back to visiting a friend’s library.

Implications

The worst thing is that these laws and gimmicks are highly unlikely to cut down on piracy. Rather than getting the movies through a semi-legitimate source, many who used to use a friend’s Netflix login are more likely to turn to pirate sources than buy their own accounts. And the inability to pass books on to friends with different platforms is more likely to limit people’s exposure to more material, and you can’t buy what you do not know about.

More than this, however, it’s the question: Who owns these digital goods? Not you. Even though digital opens the opportunities for more freedom with your purchases and information, you actually have fewer rights with digital products than physical ones. You just paid a one-time only renting fee to use them.


What Does Successful Content Look Like?

the book cover of Content Strategy for the Web

Image from BarnesandNoble.com

It is rather tempting to start pumping out content on the web. It’s way too easy to press send. Who hasn’t made that Tweet they later wished they hadn’t? Raise your hand. You know you’ve done it.

But just because it is easy to publish content doesn’t mean that content can’t be a useful tool if handled correctly. I’ve already discussed the elements of a successful content strategy, so this time I’ll discuss what that word “success” means in terms of content.

Content Can Have Different Kinds of Goals

As Kristina Halvorson says in her book Content Strategy for the Web, the first thing you should think of when going about measuring success is what your goals were in the first place. There are two types of goals: those of the business and those of the audience. What is your website’s goal? What is your company’s goal? If this is a personal project, what is your goal in engaging in this activity? What is your audience’s goal in consuming this content?

Once you know your goals, you can decide how to measure them.

The Metrics to Use with Content

When you go about measuring the content, there are a few categories of metrics. They are:

A graph of traffic for a website

by dannysullivan on Flickr

  • Reach This can be measured using page views, shares, traffic volume, and the number of new visitors.
  • Acquisition Measure this by looking at how often new visitors return to your website, how many pages they viewed, and how long they stayed on the page.
  • Conversion The trick here is to measure all activities that lead to a goal in a conversion funnel. This could be looking at how many people click on an ad versus how many sign up for more information versus how many eventually did what you were asking them to do, for instance purchase.
  • Retention: Look for how many visitors return to your site and how often, how many customers are returning versus coming for the first time, and how often they view content that is geared towards retained customers.

Bruce Clay has a good tutorial on the different types of metrics (Reach and Acquisition, Conversion, and Retention) and how to use them.

Always relate your metric to your gaol. For instance, if a user is on your site to buy something, then the metric to watch is conversion. If they are on the website looking for customer service, then the metric is retention.

Don’t Take Snapshots. Shoot Video.

It is important to realize that content has a life-cycle. How is your content behaving in regards to these metrics over time? This is an important part to monitoring your content. If something is broken, you’ll find it this way. If an environmental factor is affecting how people react to your messages, this is how you’ll know. And by tracking how your older content is doing, you can even write better content in the future.


If you work with content online, you need a strategy. A content strategy is straight forward, but not easy, so here are 5 tips to help.

What the Hell is a Content Strategy?

The cover of the book Content Strategy for the Web

Image from barnesandnoble.com

Too often, marketers and the rest of humanity stick content online half-hazard, and, frankly, this doesn’t encourage sales or get people to sign up to your newsletter. It frustrates them. It makes it hard to find what they want, and people are not patient. They will leave your sight quickly. This is what a good content strategy avoids.

The Key Elements of a Content Strategy

There are a few elements that must be in your strategy. Kristina Halvorson goes into great depth about them in her book Content Strategy for the Web. Here’s my distilled understanding:

  1. 1.       Less Is More

Some SEO “experts” suggest loading your website down with content. Please ignore them. Too much content will confuse you and your audience.

Keep in mind that content has two purposes to fulfill: either a business objective or customer service. If your content is just cool, fun, or pretty, axe it. It will drain your resources when it comes time to update everything.

  1. 2.       Know What You’ve Got

    Website map

    by Veribatim on Flickr

This part is tough but necessary. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so know what you already have on your website and use that – or get rid of it if it isn’t doing anything.

The only way to know what you have is to look. Don’t estimate. Truly know, in detail, what kind of content is currently living on your website. In general there are two types of audits. The quantitative audit is a list of content you have online and how it’s all related. It tells you who published what, who is responsible for what, and what the content contains. A qualitative audit is more judgmental. You have to read the content and decide how well it is achieving its goals, what those goals are, and if it needs any work. You really have to do both types of audits, but a quantitative audit is probably the place to start.

  1. 3.       Shut Up and Listen
Man shouting in another's ear

by Orange_Beard on Flickr

There are several people involved in content creation. If certain individuals in that group balk at taking up an idea, it dies. You have to know who those people are.

Just as with any group of people, everyone has their roles. There are people who request content. Know why they want the content, what they want it to do, and when they need the content by. Then there are people who source the information that goes into content. These are what Halvorson calls “providers.” You have to know how they go about sourcing content and how they judge what they find. There are also creators who, well, create the content using what providers have given them. Really listen to these folks. Know how long they need to finish a project and what kinds of materials they need to do a good job. Reviewers are the people who fact-check content. Closely related are approvers, who give that coveted stamp of approval. The key thing to know about these groups is what they are looking for. How do they judge the work they see? And finally there are the publishers. They are responsible for making sure that content goes live. They have a technical position, so a content strategist must know how they need the materials (pdf, Word doc, or email text?) in order to make work go quickly.

  1. 4.       Give Someone a Crown

    a child's crown on a child's head

    by deb roby on Flickr

With this stable of participants to pull from, the content strategist must know whom to crown king. Someone needs to own the content, be the editor-in-chief. This is actually much harder than it seems, since usually no one wants that responsibility; they have to manage that rag-tag bunch I just described.

But no matter what you think, you are in the content publishing biz, and so you should mimic how the traditional publishers work. Crown someone King. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s the project manager. This is a key part to developing a workflow, a how-to process for your content. If you don’t have this, you’ll have a lovely list of goals and ideas, and no one to do them. You need to make a project road map for how to manage the content you are making.

  1. 5.       Don’t Let It Become a Zombie
zombie attacking a small car

by Dave Hogg on Flickr

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons Halvorson teaches in her book is that content doesn’t go away. Once published, it doesn’t disappear. It does die, however, and turn into what could possibly be called a content zombie- a monster of old content that keeps attacking but no longer lives.

Keep content zombies at bay by monitoring your content once it is published. Is it up-to-date? Is it accurate? Or is it a zombie, misleading your customers and damaging your reputation? Monitor your content with any one of the numerous analytics programs, such as Google Analytics. Ask questions about how people are using your content. See how people are sharing your content on social networks. Most importantly, make sure it is updated.

Not Easy But Worth It

Content is a big beast. Like an elephant. As with the proverbial blind men, there are definitely different ways of seeing this creature. But if you are going to tame the beast, you have to see it from all angles.

Know how much content you need to produce. Be aware of what type of content you have and what it is supposed to do. Be on top of the people element – who is involved in the content. Get a good grip on how the content is produced. And finally know what it is doing after you’ve released it on the web.

If you can do these things, you’re content strategy will have good legs to stand on. Maybe even elephant legs.


What if all content were free?

Free Wifi logo

by Wayda Dreamscape on Flickr

With all the discussion going on about pricing in my Digital Publishing course at Hult International Business School, I had to ask this question. There are people, like Cory Doctorow, who maintain that content should be free. He publishes his books for free online using the Creative Commons license. I actually agree with him since I think that piracy in terms of entertainment materials is just too rampant to fight, and who would want to? Often the pirates are the publisher’s biggest fans, and fighting fans is just weird.

But I can’t lump all publishing together. Entertainment is one thing while business, news, and other more factual writings are distinctly separate. When this information is provided for free, does it maintain an intrinsic value or gain the value of its price – nothing?

John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing has outlined 5 pitfalls of free content for a business. Hartley Brody with the Inbound Marketing pros over at Hubspot posted a reply defending free content. This exchange made me ask some very important questions about the value of free content:

How Much Value Do People Get from Free Content?

Jantsch points out that show-up rates for free events are around 25-30%, much lower than would be expected to a paid-event. I can’t speak for everybody, but I can say why I don’t show up to free events I RSVP for: I just can’t be bothered or something else comes up. That something else has more value in my eyes than a free event, and nothing happens to me if I don’t show up. No lost revenue without a gain, for instance. And if I do show up, how much attention will I pay? Will I be more likely to skip out if I hear a friend is having a party nearby?

snow and a person walking through it

by dickuhne on Flickr

Brody’s reply to this issue was to say that the event holders (or newsletter senders or whatever flavor of content you produce) should include a coupon or other incentive for people to do what they said they would, such as show up or read, but this isn’t always possible. Newspapers can’t necessarily give out coupons when all their content is free, for instance. And this coupon must be pretty valuable to outweigh my laziness before an event. After all, it’s a gain, not a loss, and humans react more strongly to potential losses than potential gains. They will trudge through snow when sick to attend an event if it means they would have “wasted” their money if they don’t go, regardless that the cost is sunk. This is hard to duplicate with a coupon.

This lack of effort to attend or gain the benefits of free content versus paid means that when someone has actually paid for content, they will actually get more value out of it. If I have paid for a NY Times online subscription, you betcha I’ll be reading most of those articles! When I pay for a single magazine, I go through each page not to miss anything, even when most of it is uninteresting. I feel I have wasted money when I don’t. Do I read all my RSS feeds with such zeal? Nope. I lose nothing by doing so, even though my feeds routinely pump out great information.

How Can We Judge the Value of Free Content?

the tabloids rack

by brownpau on Flickr

Jantsch also raised the point about “eroded value.” In his words, “How good can something that’s free really be?” He was more worried about the lack of differentiation between quality content and slapped-together “pitch fests.” When all the prices are the same, telling the two apart is hard. This probably contributes to the lack of effort people will put into attending a free event. Without prior experience, it’s hard to tell if the event is really worth going to.

Brody counters by suggesting that publishers need to build a reputation for quality and then show that reputation off by displaying how many other people have signed up for your content. This still doesn’t display how much the content is worth, however, since it doesn’t answer how many of those newsletter recipients are actually reading the e-mails or have just forgotten to opt-out. With the Internet being so huge, it isn’t that hard to get a large following. Just look at some of the “gurus” on Twitter.

A higher price signals the higher value. The retail industry has known this for ages. They have known that if you want your store to be considered high end, make the scarves expensive. Even though they are really rather cheap to produce, the price gives the items caché and the brand, value.

Prices Might Help

dollar sign painted on some bricks

by Jim Legans, Jr on Flickr

Pricing your content will help you avoid these pitfalls. If you charge for your events, people are more likely to show and truly listen to what you have to say. The price can be used as a way to judge value, too, so the more expensive – to a point – the more valuable.

Now, like Jantsch, I am not suggesting hiding behind a paywall. For instance, displaying ads for expensive items would associate your free content with the value of the displayed merchandise. You can encourage event attendance by having people pay with digital currency received through a game experience. Perhaps a more common and direct system, however, is the freemium system. A newspaper could have its more general reporting up for free and its in-depth coverage behind a small paywall. Longer reports and such could be paid for one at a time. eConsultancy does something like this with their varied level freemium memberships.


Have you noticed that people are saying “blogs and social media?” Heck, I’ve probably said it a few times. But, the plain and simple truth is blogs are social media, most of the time.

What is Social Media?

Twitter bird chirping

by ivanpw on Flickr

This is the best place to start, but the definition is changing. Brian Clark over at Coppyblogger wrote an article on how blogs are social media, using a Wikipedia definition of social media to support his point. Now, Wikipedia has changed since Brian’s article. I’m going to use the current definition in acknowledgement that definitions are changing. This is probably a good thing since it means this discussion is evolving and Wikipedia is our benchmark of where it is at today.

According to Wikipedia (today, at any rate), “Social media can take on many different forms, including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, microblogging, wikis, podcasts, photographs or pictures, video, rating and social bookmarking.” But Wikipedia also says that, “Social media are media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques. Social media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.”

These two definitions are on the same page, but the second one is in the introduction while the first is down in the Examples section. While both definitions are right, the first definition, that Brian used, has the word “can” in it. Not to quibble with words, but basically blogs can be social media, but it is also possible for them not to be.

When Is a Blog Social Media and When Is It Not?

On an earlier blog post I discussed if blogs were publishing or not and if comments on social networks were, too. I concluded that an item is only considered publishing (in the traditional sense, not the “send this off to the world sense”) if the idea contained within it did not require a response to have meaning. Publishing and social media overlap, as with this blog, which is both social media and publishing.

But is all publishing social media? Nope. As the second Wikipedia definition clearly says, social media is media used for interaction meant to make communication a two-way street. This does not define all publishing, that’s for certain. Even if we disregard all off-line publishing, there are still plenty of online newspapers that do not allow comments (like I explore in my discussion of my hometown’s AZcentral). Even many top bloggers do not allow comments, such as Seth Godin.

Without the comments, are these forms of publishing still social? Even if blogs are generally social, are they always? I think without the comments feature on a blog, the blog is in essence the same as that newspaper’s website, not social media, though it is still “media” in the sense that it is published.

But Isn’t the Web Social by Definition by This Point?

Seth Godin's Blog Logo

Social or not?

Now Adam Singer at the Future Buzz does make a good a good point when he says that all content on the web can easily be social. I just copy past from an old-fashioned brochure website, post it to this blog and comment on it, forcing it to be social. Any presence on the web whatsoever is social to at least this degree. But I don’t think this satisfies Wikipedia’s definition. Yes, I would be using technology to turn communication into a dialogue, but I’m changing the platform. The website I copied from isn’t the technology that’s being social. Wherever I paste the content in order to add my comments is where the social element is coming from. That static website is not social at all.

The same goes for Seth Godin’s Twitter and Facebook plugins that allow readers to share his writings on those platforms. Those platforms are what are being social. Seth is making that social element easier, not contributing to it as a meaningful dialogue. After all, it could happen without the plugins, just as with my fictional brochure website.

It’s Not a Clear-Cut Definition

A blog is social if it welcomes dialogue. It is not if it doesn’t. But does that dialogue have to happen in a comments section? No, not really. I’ve linked to three other bloggers in this post. It is quite possible that linking like this could be considered social enough. Perhaps the blog post itself is the dialogue, without the comments, just that it takes a bit longer to occur.

I don’t think I’ve come up with a definitive definition of blogging as social media. I do hope that I’ve pointed out an interesting element to the discussion. Just as the Wikipedia definition has changed between my writing this and Brian Clark’s article, I expect it will again change shortly. We’re still discovering this world and testing its limits, after all.

What do you think? Is a blog social by merely being a blog or is it how the platform is used that makes it social?


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Who Am I?

I am a Digital Native who is trying to puzzle out what exactly that means. I share my thoughts on social media, digital business models, and PR here on this blog.

I am currently getting my Masters in Digital Marketing from Hult International Business School, having gotten my B.S. in Marketing from Arizona State University. Everything is on track and I am making headway towards my dream: World Domination... or being a productive, helpful citizen and marketer. Whichever comes first.

Don't hesitate to get in touch. I Tweet daily at @KateDavids and also have a science fiction and fantasy blog (maskedgeek.wordpress.com) and Twitter (@Masked_Geek).

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