Thursday, October 1, 2009

Congratulations! It's a Blog! Part 1

If you've been anywhere online these days, you know that blogs are one of the most popular segments of the Social Media world. And if you are running any kind of business, you've probably been told, "You should have a blog!"

As with so many pieces of good advice, this is really quite useless unless you know what that actually means to you.

Let's back up. Blogs started about 10 years ago. The original idea was that a "web log" would be like a diary, only instead of it being kept in the back of your desk drawer with an ineffective lock, it would be available online for other people to read.

And, for about 4 years, that's where they stayed.

Blogs through the early part of the 00's were mostly written by young people. They often included information like "Mood" and "What I'm listening to." From OpenDiary through Xanga to LiveJournal (which is so far off the radar of most Social Media gurus that few have ever heard of it...but it is nonetheless quite popular) and right on up through MySpace, which became popular precisely because it combined the popularity of diary-like blogs, real-time communication and multimedia.

Although blogs are often still perceived as being no more than kiddie diaries, almost as soon as they were taking off, they were being turned towards more business-oriented use. Reviewers, subject experts, small businesses, artists, musicians all turned to this new technology to reach out to a thinly and widely-spread audience. An uploaded MP3 could reach listeners who would never make a local gig; a book review might be read by anyone, anywhere in the world; and someone looking for custom-made shoes might happen upon your blog about...custom-made shoes.

So, now let's take a look at your business. You don't really want to blog about your mood (unless you are therapist) or what music you're listening to (unless you run a record store.) What you want to write about is *your business.*

Before we begin to talk about WHAT to blog, let's talk about WHY you should blog.

You should blog if you have something to say.

I get this alot, "I know I should blog but...."

Should you blog? Don't assume you should just because other people do.

Blogs are work. They take time - even short blogs take time. If you want to represent your business, starting a blog then never updating it looks worse than having no blog. It casts doubt on your ability to follow through with a project. It looks half-assed.

You should definitely blog if you have a unique perspective that you want to share with people. For instance....this blog, SocialOptimized. There are a zillion "experts" in the field of Social Media. Most of them are so caught up in trends and jargon that it's impossible to understand them without a MBA. Worse, few of them remember that you have *no idea what they are talking about.* On this blog I walk back to where you are and guide you forward into Social Media without jargon or delusion. It's a completely unique perspective that I wanted to share. So...I started a blog! :-)

Right now, think of three things about your business you might want to talk to someone about. The process of mixing a perfume, the challenges of video editing, the joy of teaching someone to read. If you can think of three things, you can probably blog. If you stared at that sentence and came up with nothing...then maybe a blog just isn't for you. There's many other ways to get information across - you can have a gallery, a video, a podcast....don't worry. Not everyone's meant to blog.

Once you'd decided that you can make the time commitment to blog regularly, the next question you might have is WHERE should you put the blog.

The real answer is - it doesn't matter. But again, that's not helpful to you.

Look up "blog" on Google and you're going to hit the two big blog hosting sites right away - Blogger and Wordpress. Blogger is a little easier to set up, I think. As a downside, it has less customization, less "widgets," available. Wordpress is a little bit more complicated, but there are more things you can do with it.

People will tell you that one or the other is better for Search Engine Optimization. Do not listen to them. That is useless information when you are deciding where to set up a blog. And, more importantly, good content will provide good search engine results. We'll talk keywords later...right now, just pick the site that you like best because, for the moment, customization isn't the point. Your point is the point.

Register for an account.

This one is easy - just follow the steps on the site.

Pick a name for your blog

This step is not easy. You can be clever, use your business' name, your own name, whatever you choose, but you must recognize that this blog is part of your brand identity now. Choose carefully.

Pick a focus for your blog - i.e., know what your blog is about.

This step is also not as easy as it sounds. It's tempting to come up with a vague idea, i.e. "The life of a printer," but then you don't really know what you are blogging about. This blog is an expression of your brand and it should, at the core, support and promote your business - especially if your business is you.

Go ahead and write about the life of a printer, but remember not to give in to temptation and badmouth clients, or talk about that wild party you went to last night unless you are the premier printer for rock bands and it'll help, not hurt.

Pick a look for your blog.

All of the major blog hosting sites have standard designs, and you can choose from some custom designs. (These usually live under the name "Templates" in the Formatting section of your blog setup.) It's as easy as clicking a few buttons to get a new look. If you want a format that is more integrated with your business's overall look, you'll need to bring in a designer to help you figure out what you want.

Whether you choose Blogger or Wordpress or LiveJournal or any blogging platform, read the step-by-step instructions on how to set up your blog. There are also many Blog Tutorials out there that you can access easily through a search engine of choice.

To sum up, first think - then rethink - WHY you want to blog. Then decide WHERE you want to blog. And to finish off today, consider WHEN you will have time to blog and HOW OFTEN you plan on maintaining it.

Once you have these before-the-basics down, congratulations, it's a blog!

We'll move on to WHAT and HOW to blog in Part II.
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