Sunday, January 15, 2006

un-business blogs


un-business blogs

is a topic I've been concealing for many months, and now it's time to de-lurk it, get it out in the open, into a textual reality: a blog post, here.

For a business blog to succeed, in many cases, it must proceed in an unbusiness-like manner.

It must be casual, laid back, self-parodying, a little uncouth or rough (not vulgar or filthy language) when warranted by flames or downstepping. Not all prim and proper.

All the blogologists and blog consultants seem to agree: a heavily edited, highly polished, calm and "dignified" blog prose is going to be suspected of being ghost-written by a PR writer or ad agency...unless that's *really* the way you always talk with your friends and family.

Blog style should generally be "friends and family" language, at ease, professional but casual, sharp thinking in simple terms, easy to skim/scan/read. Fun even. If you can make your serious business blog both fun and informative, easy and profound, fast and accurate, you'll be ahead of the pack by many millions of miles. Trust me. Most blogs are miserable to sludge through. Usually, too many personal details with no universalized application or insight, boring relentlessly interminable trivia...yes, even in business, CEO, and marketing blogs.

Seth Godin's blog is a shining example of what to do if you can write concisely. I can't do that very well. But if you can, I bet you'll increase your readership.

Increase your blog's post frequency, brevity, originality, quirkiness (idiosyncratic eccentricity) and fact-based authority (researched and referenced sources with links embedded in the post editorial or in footnote links).

Short, brilliant, pithy, profoundly wise or provocative or hilariously funny analysis that makes sense, occasional surprises, new design templates, valuable URL recommendations, personal anecdotes that benefit others, and rich, relevant content are key to a successful blog in any application or environment.

A business blogger should strain to be candid, modest, self-effacing, self-mocking, near hysteria if something incredibly dangerous is being welcomed with open arms. You must be tough-minded, fair, objective, sincere, courteous. And you must know how to fight flamers, comment spammers, and email address harvest bots.

I met a gentleman recently who was thinking of retiring, becoming a consultant, and starting his own web site.

I suggested a blog. He was interested. I explained. It will probably happen now, with my guidance and best wishes. Another project that will embellish the blogosphere as it faces the fast-arriving future.

But how business-like should this, or any other business blog, be?

It varies, but generally the answer is: not very, yet remain professional.

Not stuffy, corporate fluffy, press release type writing is what I'm driving at. That old school approach will repulse the net savvy users and younger crowd. Old hard sell text is totally inappropriate for the jaded and well-informed blogosphere.

I'm not saying be different from what you really are, or that you should pretend to be a coffee-pizza-buzz head to have an effective business blog.

Your blog should be what your audience needs it to be. This is determined by interacting with those who post comments at your blog.

Blogs are more a marketing research platform (or public relations vehicle), than a sales or advertising channel. Without fast, complete, friendly interactions with comment posters, a blog is pretty much a waste of time.

And, as Robert Scoble and Shel Israel proclaim in their new book Naked Conversations, blogs eat up enormous amounts of time. Writing posts. Visiting other blogs. Posting comments at other blogs. Staying up to date with blog software, hosts, functionalities, strategies, trends, pitfalls, legal considerations, political dimensions, and social reactions is hard, time-consuming work.

It's hard being a blogger.

It's also perhaps harder being a meta-blogger, a blog analyst, blogologist, as I am.

I have to write, edit, maintain my own fleet of blogs, PLUS: create blogs for clients, explain blogs to the public, defend blogs from attackers and haters, and spend large amounts of time at other bloggers' blogs, reading, pondering, posting good comments to enrich them.

But realize that in the midst of all this frenzied blog activity, you can still be professional and relaxed, and do it in a casual, low-key, helpful, and non-money-grasping manner.

Sales talk in a blog is, in most cases, unseemly. Subtle hints, clear link to order information page, sidebar graphic link buttons to Amazon dot com or other distributor sites, all these are highly recommended. But avoid pushy, splashy, self-impressed hype.

Even business blogs are more enjoyable when there is a unique character behind it, a distinctive voice, a special resource that is not commonly found in random surfing.

Let's dive into a good, accurate, smart introductory blog article that appeared today in The Houston Chronicle.


[QUOTE--w/VASPERS running commentary in red bracketed type]


Jan. 14, 2006, 7:31PM

Blogs can promote a business, but should be subtle

http://www.chron.com/disp/
story.mpl/business/3587171.html

By JACQUELINE TAYLOR

Q: One of my younger employees suggested that we might want to start a blog to augment our company Web site. What exactly is a blog and what can it do for us?

A: Blog is short for Web log, and refers to a Web page with short posts, or pieces of information, that can be updated or added to frequently.

[VASPERS: Splendid definition, we are off on the right foot, we have sure footing here.

We can tentatively trust this writer and article, since it nailed the most simple and direct definition of "blog", and I like how "diary" and "journal" are rightly not mentioned.

I always like to add "digital art and photos, podcast links, video, audio, and other media" to "information" or "text entries" when defining the potential content of a blog. Blogs are not just text. Many of the new super blogs are edging rapidly toward multi-media, giving users more things to do, more reasons to return frequently.]


Blogs can help you communicate with your employees and customers, and might drive more traffic to your Web site.

[VASPERS: I caution clients to not think of a blog as a servo-mechanism, robot, or compu-slave to the conventional static corporate website.

"Driving traffic to a web site" is, in most cases I've seen, a possible secondary objective, but an inferior primary goal for a blog. Blogs make lousy vending machines, because

A blog exists to enable your organization to present a sympathetic, humorous, intelligent, caring human face to the public, customers, colleagues, potential employees, detractors, supporters, and suppliers.

Think of candid conversation first, and consider sales impact strategy after a loyal online community has accumulated at your blog, thanks to the many relevant benefits it provides them.

"Drive traffic" is making the blog subsidiary, subservient, subordinate to the web site. Forget the web site for a moment, and think of the blog's power to develop two way conversations about your product or cause.]


Information about your company's products or services, or anything else you'd like people to know about your business, can be posted to the blog, with readers invited to respond with comments.

[VASPERS: Well, yes, but this is a rather unenthusiastic way of putting it. The exciting aspect of blog two-way communications is that readers will typically post honest, gut reaction, non-subservient remarks, with no concern for your feelings or approval.

This candor and immediacy, this grass roots intelligence about your customer persona, is highly valuable to net savvy companies.

For example:

If most mp3 downloaders seem to like reggae music and techno tracks, then a record label could find a reggae or techno artist to blog about topics related to those styles of music, perhaps two separate blogs by two separate musicians, writing about issues related to downloading music, legal file sharing, mashups and modern mix technology, club DJing in the big cities, new artists on the label, music-making or music scene in general, sound recording tips, or just life from the artist's viewpoint.

An entire fleet of individualized artist or fan blogs could be started along these lines. Any company, entrepreneur, or individual can adapt these ideas to their own sphere of interest and work.

The great benefit of the blog is not that you'll get reactions to your posts, in the form of comments, but that the comments enable you and your audience to connect in an intimate and immediate way.

Once this voluntary, highly informed coterie has developed around an extension of your brand, you may then proceed cautiously with fantastic offers and products, but only when these products are sturdy and beneficial, at fair prices.

The slightest stench of hype, and the customer base will vanish. Relevant benefits and honest appeals will win the day.

That's the Blog Communication Revolution.]



A blog typically costs less than a traditional Web page and requires little know-how or training to set up, allowing you to enhance your online presence even if you're unfamiliar with Web site design and development.

New information can be added to your blog quickly and easily, and consumers can provide immediate feedback.

On the downside, a blog is open to any kind of comments about your company and its products or services, and you will need staff to review posts on a daily or even hourly basis to respond to readers in a timely manner.

Although blogs are becoming more popular for business use, many more are used for personal or political commentary.

Blogs are created using blog software, which is readily available free or at a very reasonable cost.

Although the following is by no means a comprehensive list, you can look at some popular software at www.movabletype.org, www.blogger.com, www.blogstream.com, and radio.userland.com.

Go to www.bloglightning.com to purchase a step-by-step tutorial for $79 on how to create a business blog using the TypePad Blog Hosting system.

If you decide to create a blog, think carefully about why you are setting it up and how you will use it.

Also evaluate the key words you need to use so that your blog will show up in search results.

Be sensitive to the content and presentation of your blog.

Although you may intend for your blog to help promote your company, the best blogs are subtle in their approach, offering such information as expert advice and links to relevant Web sites, rather than a hard sell of your products or services.

[VASPERS: This is the golden nugget, the sparkling gem in the article. How correct this is, this warning against high pressure sales hype.]

You can find more tips on setting up and maintaining a blog at weblogs.about.com.



Jacqueline Taylor is associate region director of the University of Houston Small Business Development Center, a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration and the UH C.T. Bauer College of Business Administration.

Information is intended to provide general information.

Send questions to: Small Business Houston Chronicle P.O. Box 4260 Houston, TX 77210


[END QUOTE]


This is I think only the third MSM report on blogs that I have approved. The other MSM venues that also received my unremitting praise and prose were Business Week, New York Times (their internal blogging memo), and CNET.

[signed] steven edward streight aka vaspers the grate

3 comments:

Sheer-Sumptuosity said...

Hello,

I found your blogg very useful as I have just started to blogg and was using it as a means to ask people questions about my new business venture and as a general diary of events. I was worried about the extent that I should mention the business or ask questions/advice as I did not want to seem too pushy or to give the impression that this was the only reason why I had posted the blogg.

I will be going part-time from my day-job (I teach in Higher Education)so that I can concentrate on the business. I am really looking forward to this and wanted to share some of the scary but exciting feeling of leaving (well partly) a 'proper' job to go into business.

So any more comments on the un-business blogs will be most welcomed!

Cheers.

Pokerman77 said...

I enjoyed reading your blog on business blogs. I have started a project of my own to make some money off of blogging and a small shop online. I outlined it in my last blog post if anyone is interested.

WebtrafficJunkie said...

This is an awesome article. I learned a lot of great tips and pointers. Thanks for the information!!