It’s a Blog, Not a Commercial

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The biggest crime we see in branded blog creation these days? Heavy-handed promotional messages. This unfortunate trend has businesses littering their blog posts with boring, pushy promotional posts that are both off-putting and no fun to read. Blasting ads for company seminars, annoying product profiles and poorly-written posts begging for folks to sign up for your newsletter are but a few examples of blogging in promotional hell. Yes, we get it: You need your company’s blog to pull its weight and sell your company’s products and services. But you can still do this while creating a blog people will actually enjoy reading. In fact, you’ll sell more products and services this way. We promise.

Blogging is all about audience building. The most successful blogs on the planet — branded and otherwise — offer readers dynamic, interesting and entertaining content on a consistent basis. Think about the blogs and websites you yourself enjoy. Whether it’s for goofy pictures of cats, the latest tech news or celebrity gossip, you go back to these sites because of the promise of something fresh and fun to read. Your company blog can be the same way. Nellie Aklap of Mashable.com explains it like this:

“If the bulk of your posts are company or product-centric, you’ll need to change the way you think about your blog. Focus your content so it offers information that’s useful and relevant to whatever your particular community cares about.”

Educational posts are a terrific way for businesses to offer readers something valuable while giving them a break from commercial messages. Aklap recommends a mixture of informative, how-to posts and promotional information.

“Some experts advise on keeping a 90:10 or 75:25 ratio when it comes to educational vs. promotional content. You don’t necessarily have to stick to some magic equation, as long as you keep your audience’s needs and interests at the forefront of your blog strategy,” she writes.

Teach them something, give them how-to tips or share creative ideas and your readers will come back.

Blog Like the Big Brands: Sharpie

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Blog writing, even when it’s for your business, should be fun. Using a blog as a daily platform to talk directly to consumers, followers and friends about your brand doesn’t have to be a boring or dry affair. In fact, many major companies use blogging as a way to express their brand’s personality, style and sense of humor. This week, Blog Like the Big Brands looks at the blog-styles of Sharpie, a company that really knows how to make blogging and content marketing fun.

A favorite among stodgy secretaries and tagging teenagers alike, Sharpie markers have been a staple of our collective office supply drawers since they were released in 1964. For nearly 50 years, consumers have associated Sharpie marker pens with being permanent, long-lasting and very smelly. Yet thanks to digital marketing, the company is now trying to inspire consumers to use its products more creatively. The Sharpie Markers Official Blog is filled with mind-blowing ideas for budding artists, organizational junkies, graffiti fiends, students and everyone in between. Posts like this one, which shows readers how to make cool psychedelic coasters, are the kind of crafty innovation readers can find on the blog. The site also has feature articles with renowned artists using Sharpie, new product profiles, contests and even more DIY craft ideas for kids of all ages. Also stunning are the photos, videos and bright graphics which make visitors to the blog not only want to stick around but to grab a Sharpie and start doodling. Sharpie has taken a traditional blog and turned it into an art magazine, an inspiration site and, most importantly, a powerfully-branded platform. And the best part about Sharpie’s blog? It’s fun to read!

Infusing our blogs with a little fun and personality is something we can all do. By sharing the things, ideas and inspirations that we ourselves like with our readers, we’re inviting light-hearted and positive engagement from our readers. Without the amount of negative information on the web, blogs’ positive, fun and upbeat message can’t help but stand out. Add to it some terrific images and helpful videos and you’ve got a blog that will brighten someone’s day.

So, readers, now it’s your turn. How do you put your brand’s personality into your company blog? Sound off below!

 

Stuck? Blog More!

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Title of the Post Goes Here

It’s a common tragedy. You’ve been cooking right along with an amazing and inspired blogging-for-business campaign. Your company’s blog thus far has been filled with inspired ideas, informative posts and really dynamic content. And then just like that, you’re dried up and run out of ideas. Call it blogger’s block or creative brain freeze but whatever you call it, the sudden inability to write blog posts is definitely a downer. The automatic impulse when we’ve run out of creative steam is to just stop and hope we’re struck magically with great ideas. But when it comes to blog writing, quitting is the worst possible thing you can do when you’re stuck.

Greater minds than ours have pondered for ages about the curse of writer’s block and how to move past it. But when it comes to blogging, we’ve certainly had plenty of experience getting stuck and powering through it anyway. Blogs, especially branded ones, should really be published several times a week in order to be effective. And this is fantastic news if you’re wrestling with writer’s block. No, really! Using blogging’s tight deadlines and never-ending schedule of new content as a motivator is a sure-fire way to squish stuckness. Short posts with pictures, reblogged posts from blogging idols and contemporaries and posts with videos instead of text are all terrific blogging solutions to help push through it. By continuing blogging, even when it’s hard, you and your company are working toward something instead of just surrendering. If you can just write through the tough, uncreative, blah times, you are sure to find that your blog will be all the better for it.

Quitting or swearing off blogging every time we run out of ideas or feel uninspired isn’t really a solution, anyway. In order for our blogging campaigns to remain effective and powerful, we have to continue to produce content. Sounds hard, huh? It doesn’t have to be. Besides, we’re here to help. 

 

Just Right: What’s the Perfect Length for a Blog Post?

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Some say 400. Others swear up and down that nirvana exists at 750 and under. And still more claim that 500 is the magic number. But, honestly, when it comes to dynamic and interesting blog writing, is there such a thing as the perfect length? As usual, it all depends on who you ask.

According to Ben Austin of SearchEnginePeople, bigger might just be better.

“According to tests carried out by many a blog, rankings improve when the length of the content is increased. Anecdotal evidence seems to support this too, and if you look at the length of most posts on the more successful blogs they tend to be slightly longer and average around 700-800 words,” Austin writes. “It makes sense that Google would reward that bit of extra length too – for one it suggests an article that provides more depth and detail rather than just breezing over the topic, and at the same time it punishes content farms that almost always have a word limit of around 300-500 words (with writers almost always providing the very minimum amount of text). Apart from anything else, more content means more potential to capture the long-tail keyphrase.”

Yet others, like Susan Gunelius, blogging guide for About.com, thinks super-long posts might hurt brands rather than help.

“Most people who read blogs don’t have a lot of time or patience to read thousands of words of content,” she says. “They’re looking for quick access to information or entertainment. Therefore, you should try to write succinctly and use headings to break up long blocks of text. Make sure your blog posts are scannable and consider breaking posts that reach the 1,000 word mark up into a series of posts (which is also a great way to encourage people to come back to your blog again to read more).”

Gunelius believes that under 600 is the magical blogging sweet spot.

Personally, we think the perfect blog post length truly depends on the brand and audience. Some industries (like legal blogs, technical support blogs and medical blogs) do just fine with longer posts, while others excel with shorter, easier-to-read entries. Since we’re in a highly-scannable news industry, we like to stay under 700 words, as do most marketing blogs. Analytics are really helpful in this matter, actually. By watching what blog posts get more hits, become viral or flop miserably, we can gauge which of our blogging practices are working and which ones aren’t — and this includes post length.

But when all is said and done, it isn’t so much about how much we say but how we say it. Well-written, smartly-planned and creative content always wins readers and helps our search engine results, regardless of how big our posts are.

 

 

 

Blog Like the Big Brands: Patagonia

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Some of the most powerful companies in the world use blogging for business to reach out to new customers, communicate with employees and help create powerful web content. And every Monday, we profile one of these bigwigs in hopes of inspiring you to start an amazing blog marketing campaign of your very own. This week, we look at how outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia elevates blogging into something pretty amazing.

The byline at Patagonia’s blog simply reads, “The Cleanest Line: Weblog for the employees, friends and customers of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia.” Yet this company blog is more than a corporate newsletter or boring product pitch disguised as a blog. The Cleanest Line transforms our old ideas about corporate blogs by creating an online magazine that reads more like NPR or GOOD then a commercial for hiking boots. Journalistic in style, the writing at The Cleanest Line is high-quality, interesting stuff. By blogging about the things that are important to them — like mountain climbing, responsible clothing manufacturing practices, independent documentaries and environmental causes — Patagonia tells us more about itself as a brand in a few posts than a billion press releases ever could. While the blog does feature images, clearly the point here is to read and get Patagonia’s message.

In addition, the simple design and layout make it easy to kick back and read several posts. Again, this is surely intentional. The Cleanest Line is company blogging built on a brand’s message and philosophy and, best of all, it’s actually interesting to read and enjoy.

Marketing magazines and SEO blogs have long shouted the praises of The Cleanest Line and Patagonia’s blog creation innovations. We can easily see why. What Patagonia does so brilliantly is use its blog to provide a company narrative. This smart move is something all of us can use blogging for. Try not to think of daily entries as “Ugh! Another blog post!” but as more opportunities to using blogging to spread your ideas and beliefs. Let The Cleanest Line inspire you to take blogging to new heights.

Blog Like the Big Brands: Bigelow Tea

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Each Monday, we take a look at the blog writing and blog marketing habits of some of the world’s biggest brands. From airlines and luxury jewelers to social networks and toy companies, we’ve seen how brands of all kinds use blogging to connect with a global Internet audience. Even brands thought of as “old-fashioned” are taking to blogging with resounding results. This week one such brand, Bigelow Tea, is using blogging to take the company into the next millennium.

Constant Comment is the tea flavor that put Bigelow on the map, and still is the company’s top-selling product today. To pay tribute to this fact while nodding to the very nature of blogging, Bigelow has cleverly named its company blog “Constant Comments.” The cleanly-designed and image-rich blog has more of a food magazine look and feel than a boring old blog blabbing about tea. As tea is often associated with relaxation, the uncluttered design and short, easy-to-read posts are surely intentional. That isn’t to say the blog posts are uninteresting, though. The company is obviously passionate about tea and it shows in the varied and entertaining posts. Customer contests, recipes, tea-themed party ideas, profiles of Bigelow-sponsored events and behind-the-scenes videos are the kind of dynamic posts featured on Constant Comments. Bigelow has taken a lot of care in curating the kind of posts its audience will like to read.

Every detail is thoughtful and well-executed here, and that’s inspiration any size blog can take away. Thinking about your brand’s image and personality before you start blogging is a wise idea and really helps your blog’s message be clearer. Consider your branding, your logos, your other ad campaigns and images and then integrate those idea into your blog. Using already existing ideas and language also helps alleviate the stress of creating a blog language from scratch. Bigelow’s brand thoughtfulness in regard to its blog pays off in a well-written, great-looking and fun-to-read blog which lines up perfectly with the rest of the company’s image.

4 Essential Blogging-for-business Tips

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As blog writing and content marketing gurus, we are quick to dish out expert advice when folks ask about launching blogging-for-business campaigns. Not to toot our own horn, but having launched corporate blogs for a diverse and large group of clients, we feel qualified to talk about such matters. Nevertheless, it’s always a wise idea to get tips from other blogging and content professionals. With that in mind, here are four of our favorite blogging tips from around the web.

Length Matters: Abidemi Sanusi wrote a terrific column yesterday for The Guardian about business blogging, and the best piece of advice featured in the article was about length. Sanusi recommends keeping posts short and we agree. “As a guide, a blog post should be about 400 words. If your post is longer than this, think about serializing it. People tend to scan web content, so make every word count,” he writes.

Remember Your Audience: Knowing who you’re blogging for is key before you get started. Or, as Elizabeth Saunders told Mashable awhile back, “Your blog content should appeal first and foremost to your customers and potential customers. Think about what they would want to read and form your content around meeting their needs in a unique way. To increase readership, you can include links to these articles in your company email newsletter.”

Get the Picture: Images, photos and videos make for blogging gold, and several posts a week should be rich in these things. “I highly suggest all posts have some kind of graphic,” writes Jacqueline Wolven. Wolven says “go crazy” when it comes to blog images, just play by the rules. “A note about photos and images — PLEASE use your own when possible or give credit when you are using someones and a link to their site.”

Spit it Up and then Clean it Up: Nothing slows down the flow of creativity and great blogging than the endless (and mostly ridiculous) pursuit of perfection. Getting the words and ideas down first is paramount. You can always fix the boo-boos, bad spelling and weird sentences later. “When you try to edit as you are writing the post, it can stifle creativity and take longer to produce. Get everything written and then go back to make the necessary modifications after you are finished,” writes Matthew Brennan for B2C.com.

Those are some of our favorite blog creation tips. Readers, now it’s your turn to tell us some of yours!

 

Five Things You Might Have Missed!

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Can blog writing lead to a book? Is crossdressing on Facebook a sign of good marketing? And which shoe brand made a major Boston blunder? The answers to these and other questions can be found in our weekly list of Five Things You Might Have Missed.

1.) Not Skirting the Issue: Want to draw attention to a hot button national issue and raise awareness? Use Facebook marketing and do it in a dress. Or at least that’s what seems to be working for men in the Kurdish community in Iran who are showing their support of women and gender equality. Photos of Iranian men in traditional women’s clothing started popping up online yesterday on Facebook. The page currently has 10,000 supporters and over 150 photos of guys in women’s clothing. Meanwhile the campaign has made international headlines.

2.) Meat the Burglars: Kent’s Meats and Groceries of Redding, Calif., solved two problems with a new online video. By using real-life footage of a recent the bungled burglary attempt by a portly dude in a bandana, the store turned a headline into a potentially viral video hit and put its brand name on the map. Plus, the stranger-than-fiction comedy features that awesome theme music from Benny Hill.

3.) From Nightmare to Dream Come True: If you’re still wondering about the power of brilliant blog creation, the story of Shane Burcaw should convince you to start blogging. Burcaw is a 20 year old with spinal muscular atrophy and he blogs about his daily life with humor and heart on his Tumblr “Laughing at My Nightmare.” Publishers took notice of the truthful and highly-followed blog and Burcaw just got signed to Roaring Book Press.

4.) Tougher Twitter: Worried about security breaches on Twitter like the disastrous one that happened to the Associated Press this week? So is Twitter. On Wednesday, the social media giant announced plans to make future attacks even more difficult. The company promises it has new ways, including a two-step verification process, to thwart Twitter hackers as outlined in this article from The Consumerist.

5.) Boston Boo Boo: We wrap up this week with an unfortunate t-shirt from Nike which read “Boston Massacre” and was splattered with fake blood. The shirt, which was made long before the tragic events at the Boston Marathon earlier this month, was meant to “reference the Bronx Bombers sweeping the rival Red Sox during a key regular season series in 1978 and in the 2006 MLB Playoffs. The phrase itself was borrowed from the notorious 1770 incident in which British solders opened fire on civilian protestors in Boston, killing five and wounding six,” according to AdAge. Nike quickly pulled the shirt and apologized profusely for the t-shirt.