Re-posting this blog entry following an email query on the value of blogs for content distribution.

Many have been advocating blogging over the last 18 months – since they realised it was something they had to propose, whilst not necessarily understanding the real deal with setting up a blog – and although it is encouraging to see members of the UK editorial community seeming to embrace the blogosphere, take note.

Before you embark upon setting up a blog, or are advised by your hip, trendy and oooh sooo absolutely fabulous tweeting PR contacts to set up an editorial blog to drive traffic to you online and increase journalistic commissions, consider these Top 10 Questions:

1. Do you have a blogging strategy in place, and does it align itself with your overall Comms plan for the year?

2. Who will update the blog content if you can’t?

3. Who will monitor the stats, trackbacks and site reports?

4. Are you comfortable with being challenged by other bloggers?

5. Do you actually have something to say, on an ongoing basis?

6. Does blogging align itself with the services and products you offer?

7. Have you checked out competitors’ blogs and researched?

8. Why do you want to blog – are there a specific set of reasons, other than you think you should?

9. Are you able to integrate blogging with other activities such as tweeting?

10. Which platform are you using and who will organise the technical elements for you?

If you can answer the above with clarity, confidence and consistency, it’s likely that blogging will be an excellent addition to your Comms mix, particularly when we journos need all the differentiators and original content we can get in struggling newsrooms.

Even with the depressed state of the Nation, editors still need, want and demand News. And we still need to be supplied with excellent content and images to feed our readerships. So how can you guarantee you’re hitting the headlines? Try these tips:

1. Get inside your business and uncover newsworthy stories. Don’t make stuff up, or create spin. Uncover the people news.

2. Make sure you get your content professionally written and supplied to us with professional images taken by a professional photographer – note the word ‘professional’ in there? That’s because you need to give a professional representation of your business to us: saving money and cutting corners sends out the wrong messages to us. Obvious, really.

3. Research your target newspapers, magazines and online sites throughly – you need to know who is writing what, where and when before you try to sell us your PR. Anything less is nothing short of media relations suicide.

4. Be persistent – you may well need to contact, re-contact and re-re-contact before you get the result you’re after.

5. Respect deadlines – always, always, always ask us if we’re on deadline BEFORE you launch into a pitch.

6. Give us what we want, and within the hour. Trust is rapidly built with us by you delivering the goods on deadline.

Even if you maintain the above Tips only, you’ll go a long way to building great media relationships.

How not to use Twitter

December 15, 2009

Interesting article here recently on the potential of Twitter and the use – or misuse – of social networks by certain media across the Pond. It appears that the majority of the American newspapers studied have been using the social media darling as a piece of ’shovelware’, rather than engaging with the audience. They have been pointing their tweets to one place – their Home page.

Blimey, sounds like they’ve been following some of the British regionals’ tepid and shallow attempts on Twitter.

I spotted a regional daily newspaper editor with a new Twitter account the other week – and although I won’t name and shame him, the example illustrates superbly the mis-understanding of traditional media folk regarding social media.

This guy just doesn’t seem to ‘get it’ or maybe he hasn’t been given enough budget by the money men to spend a bit of time researching and understanding the site. The concept of giving quality content to enrich a community without payment is obviously an alien one to grasp. Wake up – and welcome to online publishing. This is how social networks thrive, buddy.

The daily newspaper editor is following nobody on Twitter. He has closed the inbox message facility. So…he is on there for the sole reason of, well, being on there. No engagement. No interaction. No dialogue.

Erm…no point.

And what an insult for an educated, contemporary, media-savvy readership across a UK city to take on board.

One of the main concerns the newspaper number-crunchers in the UK have consistently demonstrated is not the quality of  content delivered online, but whether it can be churned out profitably, irrespective of the effect on intelligent readerships.

We all know that to win points on social media networks, you’ve got to give, give, give. And then give some more – hardly within the comfort zone of the majority of traditional British publishers. In the words of Hannibal, quid pro quo Clarisse.

My advice? If you can’t engage with the audience, don’t waste THEIR time by clogging up valuable social media space.

Put yourself in the shoes of an editorial director or marketing manager for a moment. They are recruiting for new talent.

The challenge is this: to recruit a wordsmith, to deliver content across the business, over a range of publications online and offline, who can embrace audiences in the places they are hanging out and engage new customers without ruffling an editorial feather.

You have two candidates – a Traditional Hack and a Social Media-savvy Content Creator.

Candidate 1 – the Traditional Hack. Here’s how this one shapes up:

10 years’ newsroom experience, on newspapers only

No online content delivery experience or knowledge of CMS

No personal blog, Facebook account or Twitter feed

No knowledge of how online publications work

No experience of liaising with sales teams to increase revenues

No passion or push for digital delivery of content

HMMM. Ok, here’s the basics for Candidate 2 – the Social Media-savvy Content Creator:

10 years’ commercial content production experience, across newspapers, magazines, and online portals

Able to work on a range of CMS programmes

A well-established personal blog, Facebook profile and daily-updated Twitter account

Knowledgeable and conversant on the commercial realities of online publishing

Comfortable dealing closely with sales teams to create increased revenues

Driven to deliver on all things digital, with examples of creating content for multiple platform publication

Which candidate do you employ? No-brainer really.

If you’re working with content creators, make sure you get a contemporary solution not a hardened, old-school Hack.

According to this fascinating debate on the future of journalism as digitalisation advances ever further, it looks as if the human-based selection of news and content – particularly online – could transform into something very much based on the reduction of human inputs and randomness, instead surpassed by technical selection and internet-assisted preferences.

I’ve long advocated traditional journalists embrace the digital challenges, stop moaning and start upskilling. To an extent, this is already happening with online Press, as their headlines (for example) are written with keywords attractive to Google news taking priority over emotive human choices. Interesting times indeed.

Part of the debate around the continued industrialisation of journalism – and, for me, the wider structurisation of content production and distribution – is actually concerned more with the shift of power amongst the publishers: look at the ongoing Murdoch vs Google debate in recent weeks.

Here we see an ageing, old-school media mogul firmly rooted in the past and intent on grasping hold of a slipping power struggle in which the audiences are pulling all the punches.

The power of Search and real-time audience requirements will probably be the demise of Murdoch in the end, but it’s the way in which journalists adapt (or not) which will see the final transformation of how content will be produced and delivered both online and offline. Content-producers not monitoring with extreme prejudice this evolution do so at their collective peril.

So, is content production and distribution going to be owned by the machines, or will human Hacks triumph?

If it comes down to the usual method, you flip the coin. I’m calling Heads on behalf of those who welcome digitalisation.

The publication of the annual State of the Blogosphere report by pre-eminent tracking site Technorati usually presents interesting reading, and this year’s addition presents further compelling information to the ongoing debate regarding the value of blogging.

Technorati currently tracks five million blogs across the blogosphere. There have been a few surprise facts coming from the statistics: the majority of bloggers, according to Technorati, are educated and affluent, and with the average blogger interviewed having written a blog for two or more years.

This confirms that blogging is no longer another online trend, but rather a maturing and accepted part of the online media landscape.

There has also been a greater convergence between blogging and the mainstream media. What has come from the Report is that many bloggers feel their medium is ascending – in fact, 69% of those polled by Technorati think that blogs are taken more seriously as sources of information than ever before.

Another interesting fact, however, is that only 35% of the bloggers questioned get their news and information from blogs over other media sources, whilst only 31% think that newspapers will not be able to survive over the next decade. The majority of bloggers believe print will survive into the next decade.

Technorati concludes that bloggers realise they are moving along with the momentum of online media activity, but seem reluctant to claim the throne of print media for themselves.

This could well be due to the fact that so many current bloggers out there – both on an individual basis and the corporate bloggers – have worked as traditional newspaper editors and magazine journalists as little as three years ago.

One of the toughest challenges facing marketers is not only of how to utilise social media tool and techniques to benefit their businesses, but also how to integrate social media into traditional marketing campaigns.

Integration appears to be an issue. I think the subject should be tackled slightly differently. Maybe a more productive way to tackle the issue of incorporating social media tools into the marketing mix is to consider making social media a key platform for all marketing messages, rather than sitting it on top of traditional marketing hierarchies.

Content is still King

One of the ways social media can win for businesses is by placing their content at the very heart of their marketing. We all know that audiences, including Google, value content and regularly uploaded fresh content above all else. The content dominates the relevance and positioning.

Producing quality content, however, takes time, expertise and experience – many London-based agencies have invested heavily  in ensuring their clients get the very best content production and distribution services possible – both online and offline. The Bristol media creatives do not seem to have embraced social media marketing methods with the same vigour and passion.

Effective, quality, timely content integrated across a range of social media platforms represents one of the most powerful ways our clients can gain attention online, win engagement from a number of different sources and sites, as well as providing a cost-effective, multi-channel distribution method for their marketing content.

But how to manage effective integration? And without considerable time and money investment?

This is the issue which many marketers seem to think blocks them from integrating social media into their marketing today. And I have some simple suggestions to assist here. One of the ways social media can deliver for businesses is by placing social media content at the heart of their marketing campaigns.

Work the networks

One of the most confusing and intimidating elements of social media to uninitiated marketers can be the sheer number of networks – faced with integrating marketing campaigns, it may appear to be a time-consuming job without any tangible return on investment. Not so, on both counts.

For example, taking content distribution: how powerful would it be for your company’s marketing efforts if you could post one set of content, but instantaneously, across a number of social media networks, with the click of a mouse? This is easily achieved with the right social media software.

Get clever with content

Think of the effort, time and resource which goes into producing and distributing a specific DM mailer, an e-shot, a newsletter, a promotional product advertising campaign – all have different messages, different tones, and reach different audiences at different times. Very expensive.

Think global – but act regional

With social media techniques, it is possible to reach a global audience on different networks, easily, quickly and cost-effectively.

And this is just one example of how social media can be integrated into your overall marketing campaigns.

How powerful would it be for your company if you could post one set of content, instantaneously, across a number of social media networks?

I realised the other day that it’s been six years since I managed content for my first client’s blog in the UK. How the blogosphere has changed since then – and in some ways, it has remained exactly the same. Here are a few thoughts, hints and tips around blogging, and why (I believe) blogging will always be one of the most effective online content tools available.

Blogging has become synonymous with online communication in the modern marketing mix, but for many marketing managers, setting up a blog can still seem to be a risky, unprofitable decision. The main reasons to set up and run a blog include:

* Become the established authority in your sector: an effective blog can, over time, give a company or individual market share and set them up as the thought-leader in their industry through the blog posts and direct interactions with customers.

* Blogging enables the marketing department or individual to identify opportunities: a well-monitored blog can offer insights into forging new customer relationships online, and via great content, to also convert interested readers into raving fans.

* Search engines love bloggers: because content is updated regularly on blogs, the search engines value blogs and will reward page rankings accordingly – as well as generating inbound links to a blog.

* Search keywords can be placed: regular content into a blog is the ideal opportunity to place industry keywords into the content, adding further value to the microsite and assisting your positioning online. And for free.

* Great blogs all point somewhere: and this is usually to the company’s or individual’s main website, where readers can find out more about services and products. This saves a huge amount of time, effort and budget on less- effective methods of attracting visitors to an online presence.

* Your competitors are doing it: it is likely that your competitors are either blogging, considering blogging, or are watching your blog and wishing they had been the first to dominate the niche online.

Blogging history

Given the scope and power of a well-managed blog within your marketing efforts, it’s worth a potted history of blogging. Context is everything. The rise of blogging merits attention.

Back in early 2000, American corporates such as General Motors and IBM started looking at ways of engaging their customers more directly, and also to utilise a huge online resource in the shape of customer feedback and insight.

Companies such as GM and IBM lead the way, introducing corporate blogs packed with information, one-on-one dialogues with the audience, and increased their online readerships rapidly.

These corporate blogs became significant online presences in their own right, attracting thousands of clicks per week and generating an incredible pull back to the main websites of the blogging parent firms. More importantly, as reputation-builders, blogs were unrivalled.

Different audience, different message?

The movement of corporate blogs from America to Europe (and the UK) has been of the slow and educational variety. It wasn’t until 2005 that British firms got on board the blogosphere and started to experiment with instant, relationship-enhancing blogs.

The pick-up of UK blogs remains uneven, largely due to the perception by marketing managers that blogging as a marketing tool requires a huge input of time and effort for very little tangible return. This is not the case.

A well-written, engaging, transparent, honest, reader-centric blog is one of the most dynamic and powerful tools available.

Measurable, dynamic, powerful

Blogs, like any other web-based marketing medium, are painless to monitor and measure. The main platforms, Blogger and WordPress, offer analytical tools which provide a huge amount of information to marketers regarding visitor stats, page links, trackbacks and associated detail.

Blogs have taken off since 2008, and the proliferation of company blogs currently in existence is mind-boggling: according to Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2008 report:

‘The blogosphere has continued to expand, and we are now beginning to learn more about what powers the blogging community. Though growth has slowed, bloggers are apparently becoming pretty savvy at making money while pursuing their blogging interests.’

In terms of statistics, 133 million blogs have been tracked by Technorati between 2002 and the end of last year. This number is almost double the 72 million tracked as of March 2007, and it appears that the growth of new corporate blogs has slowed alongside the rate of new blog posts on blogs. As is so often the case, audiences are favouring quality not quantity.

Blogging enables the marketing department to identify opportunities.

Quality not quantity

Quality is always linked to content, and the most popular corporate UK blogs such as Innocent Drinks and Virgin remain focused on providing their readerships with innovative, up-to-date, engaging content – regularly.

The result is that a well-written, engaging, transparent, honest, reader-centric blog is one of the most dynamic and powerful tools available in the online arsenal of communications mediums.

Conclusion

Blogs provide an important element to any online marketing campaign, and due to the nature of their conversational, open, transparent format, many customers find them of significant added value in their perceptions of the parent blogging company.

Are you ready to blog?

As I’ve mentioned before, amidst the ongoing crisis in media-land, the only way to rise above it and stay positive is for meeja-types to get out there, promote themselves, and take the work as it comes – no room for mopers and whingers. Let’s face it, there’s enough of that on every site and paper at the moment.

So, the motto of ‘stop moaning, upskill and get on with it’ starts at home: and here it is from me, too.

The start of a new weekly column for me on the excellent portal www.bristol247.com for Bristol Editor – you can read it here.

Any thoughts or feedback, either contact me directly, or via the post on Chris Brown’s fantastic hyperlocal news venture.