Honest Blog Marketing or 21st Century Panhandling?

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Blog creation can be used by businesses for millions of different reasons, and as blog marketing experts, we’ve seen them all. Or at least we thought we had: On Sunday, Mashable.com ran a piece about a company blog set up by its founders to hopefully save the company.

Two years ago, Erin Hopmann and Jess Lybeck started Dabble, an education startup which hosted a series of diverse online and in-person classes for Chicago residents. Fundraising and investments for the startup were moving along just fine and sales have been up this year. However, when it came to get the next round of funding, Hopmann and Lybeck had little to no luck. The crunch has been so bad that the founders stopped taking a salary and cut their staff down from 7 to 3. The pair hopes their blogging campaign, 30 Days of Honesty, will help get investors and consumers alike excited about their brand. The blog, which started on August 26, chronicles the ups and downs of running a startup. 

“The dream would be that our knight in shining armor comes along with a belief in the business to fund it,” Hopmann told Mashable in an interview last week. “I think knowing [that option is] a stretch for 30 days, the other hope is awareness: People that use Dabble love it, so we just need more eyeballs.”

The campaign is not dissimilar to the viral Tumblr blog “My Startup Has 30 Days to Live” which served as an inspiration to Hopmann and Lybeck. While certainly unique, we’re not sure how effective the blog campaign to save Dabble will be. Only time will tell. We do know that these kinds of fundraising efforts for for-profit businesses in blogging aren’t usually received with open arms. In this era, nearly everyone knows of or has been a part of a business that failed or went under. So unless it’s for the greater good or a worthy cause, folks tend to roll their eyes at blogs that beg. Also, the campaign isn’t exactly selling readers on how great Dabble is and why it’s worth saving. Yet something about the campaign must be working, as it is definitely gaining publicity for the brand. 

Readers, what do you think? Is this brilliant blog marketing or smug panhandling? Sound off below!

Blog Like the Big Brands: TOMS

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The terrific thing about blogging for business is that you have a daily opportunity to tell your brand’s story. Blog writing is the fastest and most clear platform for expressing a company’s message. Blogs can become online magazines, portfolios and biographies for businesses willing to get creative and post dynamic material. Hipster shoe manufacturer TOMS is a unique company with a one-of-a-kind business model that uses blogging to tell its ever-developing, fascinating story.

TOMS Stories is certainly a blog, but upon first glance it looks more like the product of a real content provider rather than the newsletter of a shoe company. Filled with videos, travelogues, profiles of company initiatives and human interest pieces, TOMS Stories is an online magazine talking about so much more than shoes, which makes a lot of sense. Founder Blake Mycoskie is committed to social causes, and TOMS has given away more than 2 million pairs of shoes since the company started back in 2006. Fittingly, the company blog features information and news stories on the brand’s altruistic endeavors. A recent post, for example, reported on TOMS’ recent partnership with Save the Children to help, according to the blog, “get kids moving and eating better.”

TOMS’ commitment to global causes is certainly blogworthy, but the blog also talks about the money-maker: shoes. This trendy line of footwear makes the other projects possible. Therefore, the latest boots and shoes and the people and places that inspired them are covered in the blog with photos, videos and descriptions. Glossy fashion layouts and style reports from around the web fit in seamlessly with the rest of TOMS Stories. 

Why can’t our own company blogs be great looking, fabulous reads that defy all preconceived notions? We can’t think of any good answer to that. Blog writing like TOMS Stories gives our brands and blogs the permission to be more. More interesting, more global, more involved. TOMS loads its blog with dynamic content for a variety of readers, and gives readers and followers a blog about shoes but also a whole lot more.

Five Tumblrs You Might Have Missed

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Purchased by Yahoo! in May for a cool $1.1 billion, Tumblr continues to be the blogging for business and social media marketing solution for savvy brands who know how to really rock the platform. Unlike other social media channels, Tumblr is powered by sharing images and interests rather than personal information. Plus many Tumblrs are single topic blogs meaning that brands that use it wisely and specifically can easily reach out to target audiences. In honor of the vast and creative landscape that is Tumblr, we’ve devoted today’s “Five Things” to branded Tumblrs that will hopefully intrigue, delight and inspire you to consider using it for your company.

1.) Los Angeles County Museum of Art: LACMA, as the locals call it, uses Tumblr to give followers an up close and personal glimpse inside the museum. From photos taken at recent events and the installations of new exhibits to art news and museum job postings, the Tumblr is as diverse as the museum’s collection. 

2.) Glamour Magazine: The fashion industry was one of the first to hop on Tumblr and to really utilize its image sharing capabilities. Glamour magazine turns its Tumblr into a visual fashion feast for the eyes. Lush photos right from the runway, delicious fashion-themed memes and arty shots that you won’t see in the print edition are the kind of thing Glamour’s Tumblr does perfectly.

3.) Nabisco: Here’s a great idea from the folks who ingeniously created Oreos. Instead of having a Tumblr created by a nameless, faceless robot, Nabisco uses a real-life correspondent to cover branded events and promotions while posting the expected coverage of products and company news.

4.) Animal Planet: Tumblr users love cute photos of animals, and cable network Animal Planet wasted no time joining the social network to contribute to the never-ending stream of aww-inducing pics. Animal Planet is a fantastic example of how honing in on Tumblr’s single topic blog searches really pays off.

5.) HarperCollins: The book is not dead! Long live the book! Or that’s the impression one gets when visiting the Tumblr of HarperCollins. The brand uses the site to tease covers of new releases, quote famous authors and give the sort of dirt book lovers are nuts about.

Your Blog Can Handle More

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The art of blog creation is always evolving. Beyond posts that sell your brand, way past posts of crazy videos and even further past posts with incredible images lives infinite possibilities for your blog. Our blogs need content, so why not burst outside of the bubble and use it a variety of ways? Here are six other ways your blog can serve you and your company:

Blog as PR Maven: Blogs make great places to house press releases, articles, interviews and official statements for your company. Not only do publicity-based posts solve a content crisis, they also direct members of the media to your website. Brilliant.

Blog as Bulletin Board: Changes in hours? New location? New staff? Hiring new staff members? Return of beloved product? Use blog posts to give the skinny on all the happenings at your business. Encourage employees and customers alike to visit your blog for the newest information on your business. 

Blog as Polling Place: Polls are increasingly simple to post to blogs and, with the cooperation of social media, can be popular and fun ways to gather market research and opinions from your customers.

Blog as Bookseller: If you’re in the advice/how-to business, blogs are a terrific place to push your e-book. Same goes for romance novelists, travel writers, poets and sci-fi authors with tomes to promote. Publishing excerpts, hosting book giveaways and posting reviews are just a couple of ways your blog can help you have a bestseller.

Blog as Catalog: For e-commerce companies, blogs can double as online catalogs. With more room for more copy and bigger images than your online store, blogs can profile products like shoes, furniture and gift items with stunning detail.

Blog as Employee Hub: Big companies like airlines, soda makers and toy companies alike are using inner-company blogs for their employees to help train one another, share experiences and problem solve. Why stop there, though? Industry videos, live feed from conferences, interviews with employees and tutorials all make for terrific inner-office blog posts.

Blog Like the Big Brands: Frito-Lay

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Brands dive into the blogging-for-business waters for many different reasons. Some companies find blogs to be the perfect place to post photos of new products. Others use blogging to talk about all the behind-the-scenes action happening at a busy company. And even more take up blogging to explain the services and products they offer. Yet smart brands like Frito-Lay use blogs for all those reasons while pushing the latest promotions and events.

Snack Chat is Frito-Lay’s blog, but really it serves as a visual press release and bulletin board. A busy brand like Frito-Lay, with its dozens of subsidiaries, has hundreds of PR statements, social media events and new product releases in any given month. Therefore, it makes sense that Snack Chat is given the task of reporting on each and every one. Frito-Lay also sponsors events around the globe and those too are covered here. Blogs are terrific platforms for companies that generate news stories on a regular basis. Blog posts can go further in-depth than social media posts while saving room on website front pages.

Frito-Lay also uses blogging to create excitement around social media promotions. A recent post, for example, detailed “Get Fired Up.” This Twitter party celebrates the snacking (I mean, football) season with live game day recipes, special hashtags and product giveaways. The collection of diverse posts covers everything from WWE and a health fair to National Potato Day and a profile of a recent contest winner. Snack Chat doesn’t bother with a fancy layout or ultra-modern look which could be distracting. Its simple design reinforces the direct intention to talk about Frito-Lay’s many products and promotions. 

Promotions, events, fundraising campaigns and contests are the kind of thing blogging was made for. By using social media to promote these things and to direct folks back to the blog is even more powerful and amazing for your page visits. Special promotions are fantastic bait to reel in readers to a new company blog, too. There’s no limit to the promotional ideas and specials you can create, and your blog can be an integral part of each and every one. So how will you use your blog to promote the latest and greatest happening at your business?

The Lazy Person's Guide to Making an Editorial Calendar for Your Blog

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We’ve all heard the benefits of setting up an editorial calendar for organized and well-planned blog creation. But how many of us have actually done it? *crickets* Yeah. That’s what we kind of figured. And we get it: Planning out a month’s or even a few weeks’ worth of blogs seems like a drag and terribly time-consuming. But it doesn’t have to be! We boiled down your blog editorial calendar to some simple basics so you can get back to the important things in life (like searching for cricket noises on the Internet).

Any old calendar, whether printed or online, serves just fine as an editorial calendar. We like Google Calendar for this kind of thing, given its awesome sharing capabilities. When glancing at the month coming up, we ask ourselves what we want to write about, what we haven’t written about before and what topics are worth revisiting. Also, we take into account what time of year it is and see if the month’s holidays or events can inspire posts. Answering these questions alone often inspires a week’s worth of posts. And when it doesn’t, just dig a little deeper. See if the blogs and articles you read can fire up your creative engines for several days’ worth of posts. Devoting an entire week to one topic, product or service is another easy way to bust out some content. Ditto with days of the week; this blog, for example, publishes a Top 5 list and Blog Like the Big Brands every week on Fridays and Mondays, respectively. But make sure the calendar serves just as a flexible guide to provide direction for your posts. You’re the boss, so if you want to deviate from the calendar, no biggie. No one will scream at you. It is here to make blog creation easier, not more stressful.

If you have multiple bloggers contributing, an editorial calendar can help serve as a schedule as to who’s posting what on which day. Assigning posts or type of posts to a group of bloggers will help eliminate writer’s block and confusion. Plus it gives your readers a variety of voices on different days, which is always a good thing. Interviews, video posts and other non-traditional blog posts can also be put on the calendar. Does your company have any upcoming events, promotions, contests or conferences you’re attending? Put those on the calendar, too, as that stuff makes for excellent blog posts.

If this looks like it could provide you with a lot of potential content, good. That is a good thing. You want your calendar to be full. In order for content marketing to really work, you must have lots of content. Go figure. But this mountain of content can all add up to less work. All of this planning takes about 30 minutes once a month, maximum.

Readers, do you use an editorial calendar for your blog? If so, please enlighten us to your organized and insightful ways in the comments section below! 

 

Blog Like the Big Brands: Fandango

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153909350Fandango 

This week for BLTBB, we’re going to the movies! You know, those places with the big screens and the crazy-priced popcorn? Even if you haven’t caught a film on the big screen in a while, there’s no denying that people love the movies — so much so that there are dozens of popular sites that help moviegoers get everything from reviews and tickets to showtimes and directions. We took a look at Freshly Popped, Fandango’s movie blog to see how one of the first online movie ticket sites uses blogging.

And what did we learn (besides the fact that Ben Affleck will be playing Batman in a new movie)? Beyond covering top movie news, tickets and showtimes, Fandango is also an entertainment brand. Therefore using a blog to report all of the biggest news stories from Hollywood is a wise move. In addition to movie news, the blog features the sort of witty and trivia-filled posts and polls about film that movie lovers can’t get enough of. “What’s the Scariest Horror-Movie Mask of All Time?”, “Hollywood Reacts to the Passing of Elmore Leonard” and videos of the latest movie trailers are the sort of posts you’ll find on the Fandango blog. Wisely, the blog has ample coverage of movies opening soon (a good idea for site that sells tickets to movies). Considering what a crowded market movie blogging is, Fandango does a good job of having its own voice and not ripping off hipper, younger blogs. Freshly Popped sets out to excite readers and casual ticket buyers with more information about the movies they’re considering seeing, and we think it succeeds.

As long as you can find interesting content, we think using your blog, like Fandango does, to report on the latest news from your industry is a great idea. It makes sense that the folks who visit your blog would also be interested in other happenings in a related field. Relaying news is an old blogging trick you also can use to help fill the void when original posts aren’t exactly flowing. Just make sure to not overdo it and to always credit your sources. To elevate your blog’s news sharing ideas even more, try posting interviews and exclusive stories not carried anywhere else. Lastly, when reporting business news, make sure you’re still keeping the focus on your brand and what makes your company a blockbuster.  

 

Is What We Read More Important Than Who We Are?

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For a brief minute, social media marketing seemed to be a golden ticket into giving marketers a better look at who consumers really were and what they really liked. Facebook pages filled with “likes” for favorite brands, tweets mentioning interests and Pinterest boards chock full of lusted-after items give the illusion of really getting to know a consumer. Yet many think when it comes to content marketing, we should really be asking consumers what they’re reading instead of analyzing their status updates.

The webpages we visit, the blogs we read and the things we search for say far more than social media ever could, says the Guardian’s Jonny Rose.

“By tracking consumer interactions as they browse and engage with content, brands can begin to reveal current and evolving interests, inclinations and needs — sometimes before the individual knows themselves,” Rose says.

Technology referred to by Rose as “content analytics” gives brands access to invaluable insights — but how?

“Content analytics technology analyses pieces of text and makes it understandable and readable for computers. It allows computers to understand the topics, people, places, companies and concepts in the content, sentiment towards aspects of the content, and the language of that content,” Rose says. “This, in turn, means computers can track an individual’s interaction with a piece of content and collect and draw trends about that individual’s tastes and interests.”

If this sounds Big Brother-ish or a little creepy to you, you’re not alone. A lot of folks are startled by the amount of information that advertisers have access to. But others would argue that content marketing analytics helps companies get a more truthful look at the person they are trying to reach. These analytics have also been a long time coming; by now, most people know that when they’re online, they are communicating with brands, whether they want to or not.

Regardless of opinion, these kind of analytics are unavoidable.

“Whether you are browsing to kill time, entertain yourself or researching for a friend, what you are reading right now is incredibly indicative of who you are as a person — and this is immensely useful for brands,” Rose concludes. 

But what do you think, readers? Are content marketing analytics helpful or a borderline invasion of privacy? Tell us in the comments section below.