Blogging strategies for publishers

Like most publishers, you may have been watching the growth of the blogosphere for some time, wondering when to jump in, or whether indeed it is all too late. With your editorial experts and breadth of content, says Carolyn Morgan, you are in a perfect position to exploit the immediacy of blogging, and engage your readers in between print editions.

By Carolyn Morgan

I won’t rehearse the hype about the number of blogs out there, as you have heard it all before, but here are just a few examples of businesses that have used blogs to their advantage:

* Dell have used blogging to counter negative feedback on their products, and are now viewed as a business that listens to its customers.

* Andrew Carton’s Treonauts blog (blog.treonauts.com/) is now a more authoritative source on the Treo smartphone than its manufacturer’s website.

* Thomas Mahon, a Savile Row tailor, used his blog, www.englishcut.com, to develop a reputation and a strong US-based clientele.

* PJH Law, a small law firm, (www.pjhlaw.co.uk/blog/) uses blogs to provide its clients with useful updates on employment legislation. It also forces the partners to keep thinking up new topics to post.

A few publishers are testing the water:

* www.nme.com hosts some provocative bloggers on music and entertainment who attract plenty of comment.

* I’m particularly impressed by www.brandrepublic.com, which spans the Haymarket media and advertising portfolio. “Gordon’s Republic” is always thoughtful and topical and inspires relevant comment.

* The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk) is always a leader online, and the majority of its commentators and its columnists both post regularly and get lots of comments.

* www.livefortheoutdoors.co.uk includes video tests of outdoor gear on its site, and promotes this on the home page

Why blog?

So what are the advantages for a publisher in embracing blogs? The main value is in driving traffic to your site, and building your brand, but with the added benefit of getting closer to your customers. There are some special advantages to blogging as opposed to just adding news articles:

* Blogging cuts through to your audience; the RSS feed avoids the cluttered email in-box. The flip side of this is that if you stop being relevant, then it is just as easy for subscribers to stop the feed.

* Search engines love blogs as content is frequently updated. So, as long as you stay on topic, they will enhance your listing.

* Blogging can establish your brand and your editors as experts in your field.

* You can get instant feedback from your readers through comments.

Blogs can also become your competitors in specialist markets, so getting closer to other bloggers can help you understand their content, and ensure that you offer something distinctive to your readers.

Before you start

1. Research your market. Spend some time looking at your competitors’ sites; also search Technorati and Google for related solo bloggers. This will give you a view of the kind of content that is most popular in your market.

2. Decide what you can bring that’s new. Find a specific angle that is different. Beware of egotistical diary blogs; people will only return to a blog that entertains them, or provides useful information or ideas they can use. Here I’m mostly talking about expert blogs by your editorial team on your own publishing topic, but it’s also worth considering a blog by the publisher or MD about the plans for the business as a whole, and inviting comments from customers. This can put a more human face on a business, and could prove a clever strategy for smaller, independent publishers. I haven’t yet seen a blog by a marketer or an ad sales head, but if someone on your team is particularly articulate it may be worth a try.

3. Choose your bloggers carefully. They need to be expert in their subject, and they need to have the right writing style; blogs are short, informal and open. Most of all, they need to be able to make the commitment to post regularly – at least weekly but ideally more frequently than this. Better to ask for volunteers than to pressurise people to blog, and make sure they have the time to build up their content.

4. Get the technology sorted. There’s a wide choice of blogging platforms. I use WordPress which easily integrates into a custom-designed website. The most important factor is making it easy for your bloggers to post – ideally from a web-based interface so they can add content from home or in the field and not just when in the office. Also make it easy for bloggers to add tags as they go along.

Dos and don’ts

Once you have the topic and the people and the software, you need to set the guidelines on what they will write. Here’s a simple list of dos and don’ts.

* Post regularly – the most crucial. Choose a frequency and stick to it. Don’t set a target you can’t meet, but do post at least once a week.

* Don’t sell – your readers can choose to unsubscribe, so don’t sell. Keep your content useful. However it’s fine to have a link to your home page, or mention offers that may be of interest.

* Keep on topic – decide upfront what you will write about and stay on topic.

* Demonstrate passion and authority – if you know your subject intimately and love writing about it then this will shine through. The flip-side of this is, don’t write about something you don’t know well or don’t care about.

* Include lots of links – this is the joy of blogs, the way they can reference other websites and other blogs. You can also link readers back to content on your main site.

* Be topical – react to the news and big events in your market.

* Be useful – make life easier for readers; direct them to the best places, recommend or offer simple tips.     

* Be opinionated – even be a little provocative – you want to encourage comments and debate. But do check your facts and apologise quickly if you get it wrong.

* Offer RSS subscription – make it easy for readers to subscribe to your blog.

* Include bookmarking – links to Delicious, Digg etc are easily available.

* Add tags and an archive – include a tagging system so that authors can tag their posts, and readers can search for linked articles. Most blogging software automatically archives all past articles chronologically.

* Keep it short – I’d say 300-500 words is perfect. This means your audience can read a blog during a coffee break, absorb an idea, follow up a link and move on. Use your blog to tell a story that will interest your audience.

* Include images and videos – make your posts as fun to read as possible.

* Make it personal – include a short bio of the blogger; if they already write for your magazine, they may be a bit of a celeb in any case.

* Monitor comments – most platforms allow you to moderate comments before publishing, so you can check for spam, and edit if facts are wrong. The general etiquette is that you should publish as much as you can, but there is no obligation to publish abusive content.

* Review what is most popular – and evolve. Most analytics packages will show you which topics are most popular, as each post is its own page and URL. Google Analytics does this and it’s free! Be humble, learn from the feedback, evolve and improve.

Extra tips for MD or publisher blogs

Be aware of the time commitment before you start. Adapt a less formal, more conversational tone, avoiding management speak and marketing jargon. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, then choose someone else to blog. Read comments and respond to them, ideally in a new blog if they make significant points. Be aware of confidentiality issues, especially if you encourage other staff to blog. A great book on general business blogging is Naked Conversations by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.

Promote your blog

Once your bloggers have got into the swing of things, and you’ve got a range of content, you can start to promote your blogs:

* Add links across your site. Cross-promote your new blogs from your other editorial content and in your e-newsletter.

* Include keywords. Work out your keywords and include in the copy so they come up in Google searches.

* Promote in print / offline. Make the most of your offline assets – feature your bloggers in your publication if they are not already there. Get them involved in reader events or shows.

* Encourage comments. Find ways to get your most loyal readers to comment, to get the ball rolling. If there are big points on comments, don’t reply in your own comment; start a new post. You may want to moderate comments so that you can filter out irrelevant posts or spam; this is time-consuming but makes it more relevant to readers.

* Post on related blogs with a link back. Seek out blogs that cover related content, and when they post on a topic you have covered, add a comment – and include a link. This is a great traffic driver.

* Swap blog rolls. Create a “blog roll” (ie a list of related blogs and swap with similar commentators). This is useful for readers and the links help your Google ranking.

* Register with search engines. Make sure your blogs are listed on Technorati, Google and other blog search engines.

* Monitor who comes to your blog. Most packages have a referral tracker so you can see which are the best sources.

Keep it up! It will take time to build a following, and you will need to encourage your authors and give them the time to promote their blogs.

So what are you waiting for?

Blogging is a great way to make your site more lively, communicate your values and the expertise of your team, and encourage comments and feedback from your readers. All this will grow traffic and strengthen relationships with your customers.

Publishers have a great advantage if they have an expert and enthusiastic editorial team. Smaller publishers can use an MD or publisher blog to create a direct link to their customers – advertisers as well as readers – and build a sense that they are listening to them and reacting to their needs.

Good luck – and do let me know about your successes – see my website address below.