Blogging Blunders, Part 1

Your last entry is dated April 17. Most of your entries are press releases. Your headlines are dull as dirt. Your articles are devoid of links. And you wonder why no one comes to your blog.

Failed house designI’ve done many content audits of clients’ blogs over the last two years and found the same shortcomings cropping up again and again. Most businesses don’t use blogs to their full potential. Often, they treat them as just another channel to distribute information they’re already distributing by other means. It’s not surprising nobody comes.

A successful business blog uses the unique characteristics of the medium and engages in a discussion, not a speech. Pay attention to details and give it some time. Over the next couple of newsletters I’ll look at the most common failings of business blogs and how to avoid them.

Let’s start with three big mistakes:

Handing it off to PR — When businesses start a blog, they often designate the corporate communications/PR department to maintain it. This almost never works. Communications professionals are skilled at delivering messages, not promoting conversations. When presented with another channel, they tend to use it to push out a message. In the worst cases, these messages are nothing more than press releases. Lacking interactivity and insight, they fail to generate any reaction. Worse, they make the company look clueless about the medium.

Communication professionals should be actively involved in a company blog, but mostly on an advisory basis. Contributors should be the experts within the company. They are most likely to be the ones who will have meaningful dialogue with the audience. The communications people should focus on big-picture issues like voice, topic selection and quality of writing. They should also sweat details like copyediting. Like orchestra conductors, their role is to bring out the best from the individuals in the ensemble.

It’s All About Me — A publishing mentor once recommended that editors find a picture of someone to represent their target reader and paste it on the wall of their cubes. The purpose was to constantly remind them that they were working on behalf of somebody else, not themselves.

Blog contributors would do well to heed this advice. Too many blog entries are self-serving and egotistical. They talk about awards, sales wins and accomplishments as if somebody actually cares. In reality, few people do.

What attracts people to your blog is useful information. The key word is “useful.” You should constantly ask yourself what insights or valuable information your visitors will take away. Blogging is a “give to get” strategy. The more information you share, the more goodness will come back to you in the end. If you don’t believe that, don’t start blogging. If you’re just looking to push out a PR message, here’s a list of free PR services you can use.

A Look That’s Boooooooring! – Blogger, WordPress and TypePad all offer small selections of default templates for your blog. Ignore them. It’s difficult enough to distinguish yourself among the millions of sites that are already out there. Don’t make it worse by looking just like them.

All the major services support third-party templates. There are literally tens of thousands of free templates for WordPress alone. Pick one that’s distinctive. If you’re willing to spend a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, you can get one designed to your specifications. I strongly recommend a custom design if your blog is tied to a company website.

While you’re at it, get rid of the default wording and links that these services impose on your site. There’s nothing like scrolling down a blog page and finding links to the WordPress developers forum. This just indicates that the blogger isn’t paying attention to details, which doesn’t do wonders for your credibility.

These are just three of the most common mistakes business bloggers make. In the next issue, we’ll look at links, multimedia and other frequently overlooked features. (Thanks to Fail Blog for the photo.)

Your Name in Lights (Or At Least in E-mail)

BtoB magazine has a new weekly newsletter called Inside Technology Marketing, and this is your chance to be featured there. Editor Ellis Booker is always looking for examples of successful marketing programs by technology companies. I’m always looking for good case studies to write about. So if you’re a marketer for a technology company and if you have a recent campaign that you’re especially proud of, drop me a line and let’s get your story in a forthcoming issue. Just send me your contact information and a one-paragraph summary.

Tip of the Week: Yebol Humanizes Search

There’s a new entry in the search engine race that I think is worth more than just a casual look. It’s called Yebol, and it claims to combine human intelligence with algorithmic processing. According to the 10-minute video introduction on the site’s home page (note: that’s way too long, guys), Yebol’s algorithms are imbued with knowledge sources such an encyclopedias, medical journals, popular magazines and other records of human knowledge. These are combined with algorithms to deliver results that recognize the type of information you’re looking for. The founder is a computer scientist with Yahoo credentials.

For example, the search results for the 60s rock group the Monkees features a list of Monkees songs, members of the group, lyrics, Twitter messages, news headlines and links to other social networks where Monkees information can be found. Regardless of whether its search engine is better, Yebol’s results display is the best I’ve seen.

Just for Fun: Free Entertainment

This recession of ours has lost its novelty. Yes, we’re all eating out
less and shopping at discount stores, but we all still want to have fun
and enjoy the summer without shelling out hefty entrance fees. Luckily,
we’ve found some options to enjoy your Saturday afternoon (or Tuesday
evening or whatever free time you can wiggle out of your schedule),
which range from “take a hike!” to “plant an herb in a waterspout.”
There are even some rainy-day and geekyish fun options.

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