To blog, or not to blog?
Is that still the question? Despite millions of blog posts about the value of blogging, this is still a thing vexing a number of organizations interested in achieving “inbound” success. Yet many organizations still approach blogging with the mindset of using the owned media outlet as yet an additional place for marketing copy. The results for that are likely to be less than desired. What is an organization to do? The answer isn’t always as simple as we would like it to be. Even if blogging is the right option for your organization - and it just might not be - there are some choices that need to be made in order to set any blog up for success.
Perhaps most important among these choices is to determine what role you want your blog content to play in serving your communities. One way we have discovered to help organizations determine that role is to have them ask themselves the reason they are writing the blog - both in general and even for each series or post. For example, is the reason you are blogging in general to be a thought leader? Is it to be a trusted curator of valuable information? Is it to build community or share culture? Do you know the difference?
Blogging has a great story to tell. On the surface, the history of the humble weblog seems to be a bit of a Cinderella story. The increase in access to web publishing technology seems to have democratized content creation simply by making it possible for literally anyone to create and publish content on the web. That, coupled with an increase in the perception of value and trust that a blog can command (not to mention authority in a search result,) has made this “rags to riches” journey appear miraculous in scope.
The way that blogging has been able to challenge traditional mediums and modes of mass communication even makes it seem the perfect underdog. Stories of outliers of performance like The Huffington Post or Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight have proven that this once humble medium can now match or surpass the reach of any “old media” powerhouse, and the landscape continues to change.
HubSpot itself reports, for example, such tasty data nuggets as:
- Marketers who blog get 67% more leads than those who don’t,
- Companies who blog get 97% more links to their website, and
- Blogs have been rated the 5th most trusted source for online information.
All this may make it seem like the answer for “to blog or not to blog” is clear and compelling, but there are some hard truths that every one of these statistics must face.
Your blog is not Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.
Despite some great data about the potential value created by blogging, the natural consequence of open access to web publishing tools has led us into a bit of a content conundrum. There is simply more content created every day than can possibly be digested - or even properly sorted through. Many have proclaimed this the age of “content shock” and that makes deciding to blog or not to blog a lot harder than it did in the “golden era” of blogging (a whole two or three years ago.)
One of the ways we’ve helped organizations overcome the consequences of “content shock” is by having them ask what their content can do for their communities. You can start this process by examining some of the common reasons for a blog (or even a blog post) to exist and figuring out which one will be most likely to add value to your community. This can come from a lot of varying places and that’s part of what we help organizations go through in our Intelligent Inbound process, but let’s look at a few common examples of types of reasons to have a blog.
The Thought Leader Blog
The phrase thought leadership gets thrown around a lot on the internet - but what does it really mean to be a thought leader, and what does it mean for that to be a reason to blog? As mentioned above, nearly anyone with an opinion and things to say can have a blog and claim to be a thought leader, but using your blog for thought leadership takes time and patience. You are not likely to see instant results with a thought leadership blog unless you have an already established reputation for thought leadership across other owned or earned media platforms. The long-term benefits of establishing this trust, however, have been proven and are well worth the effort as long as you have bloggers who are willing to participate in the relevant conversations to establish your organization as an authority over time.
Establishing that authority takes a willingness to do something many may find difficult. Thought leadership involves understanding the current conversations that are natural parts of your communities and providing insight or research that adds value to those conversations. It also requires the thought leaders to be willing to be on the cutting edge of leading - not just following - the conversation. Sometimes leading the conversation requires new ideas and perspectives that can prove uncomfortable to some organizations, so make sure to set your internal barometers accordingly before beginning. Either way, the thought leader blog requires more than just a clever masking of your marketing copy to be successful and add value to the community it serves.
The Trusted Curator Blog
As far back as 2011, the role of human curation was establishing itself as a vital component of modern digital communication. In his book from that year, Curation Nation, Steve Rosenbaum painted a picture of the internet that required a whole new set of specialists to navigate. Curators who, like their museum namesakes, have a unique ability to sort through the massive amounts of information available on the web and assemble it according to specific topics or contexts, would be the native guides to keep us from being crushed by information overload. In many ways, the rise of platforms like Pinterest, Scoop.it, and Paper.li emerged in response to this curatorial trend. The trusted curator is still a vital role in the information ecosystem and providing value to your communities by practicing good curation skills can be a great reason to have a blog. Evidence of this is all around us from the “buzzfeed” style “5 best of these that do that” structure in many blog titles to to the “listicles” nature of the content itself.
Not unlike the thought leader blog, however, establishing yourself as a trusted curator takes time and patience. Sorting through the internet to find the relevant content that your community is too overloaded to find on their own is a tremendously valuable service to provide and goes a long way toward building affinity and brand loyalty. It also does a great job of ensuring engagement, especially when you involve the community in the process of determining what mounds they need you to sort through the most.
Also as above, it takes more than a loose veiling of marketing copy in thin listicles and snappy attention-grabbing headlines, so be prepared to put some solid work into building that trust while curating. Luckily, for many organizations, there are internal subject matter experts who - aside from being able to serve as potential thought leaders - often have treasure troves of useful curatable information locked inside their hard drives or intelligence for how to find useful content sources elsewhere. Who do you trust to curate content to you? That’s a great place to start.
Being a trusted curator doesn’t always mean just curating out things you found that other people created. Having a curator blog can allow you to curate your own material too, like some of that content trapped deep in your website on pages nobody visits, for example. The important thing to remember for a trusted curator blog is that, no matter what you are curating - your content or content from someone else - make sure to give proper attribution and to put it all in a context that provides the most value to your communities.
The Community Builder Blog
We place a lot of value on community for Intelligent Inbound at WSOL. As a result, it should be no surprise that we see community building to be a great reason for a blog (or blog post) to exist. One thing we’ve learned in our time working with clients, however, is that community building through a blog can be a difficult process without someone at the center who can serve as a community manager. Blogging for community building requires more effort than just about any other kind of blogging because the content (and engagement with it) relies much more directly on the community itself. A community manager can actively engage the community you are trying to serve by stirring up conversation in comments, encouraging comments actively in other owned media properties like social media, and even emailing community members to ask them directly to participate in the conversation around the blog posts.
Of course, in order for any community manager to successfully navigate this process, organizations really need to go through a detailed process to know their communities and the micro-communities they belong to. This goes deeper than your standard marketing demographics for persona building and really gets at the heart of what kind of content your communities will find most valuable. Not every community you serve will be best served by having a community builder blog, but likely there is at least one. That community, when properly served, becomes a tremendous help in signal boosting your content and allowing it to perform the functions any “inbound marketing” campaign needs to include - attract, convert, close, and delight.
The Culture Sharer Blog
Almost a subcategory of the community builder blog, the culture sharer blog takes your internal community and makes it external. Where a community builder blog is focused externally on defining and sharing the culture of the communities you serve, a blog can also be a great place to manage your employment brand and share your company culture. Sharing your internal culture can build affinity with your communities, especially when you take the chance to illustrate any aspects of efforts for social good that your organization enjoys.
This kind of blog is a far cry from just rehashed marketing copy, and - despite the nuance required to make solid sales-related calls to action - can still serve a valid role in a successful inbound marketing effort. One good example is to use this kind of culture sharing blog as a platform to talk about some customer service wins or lessons learned. This allows for natural inclusion of strategic keywords in a genuine way that can also add a lot of value to your communities.
So - to blog or not to blog - is that still a question? Maybe you’d like the chance to have someone step you through the process a little more personally. Either way, we hope we’ve created something of useful for you that might demonstrate our value as thought leaders!