Ten reasons to blog – even if nobody reads it

Building an engaged community through a business blog can be extremely difficult — sometimes impossible. Look at companies like General Electric who do an amazing job with their blog and yet have almost no “community” or comments at all. There must be some good business reason they do it, right?

There better be. Every corporate marketing activity must somehow be tied to creating shareholder value and blogging is no different. Let’s look at ten legitimate business reasons why your company should be blogging — even if you can’t seem to build a community of active readers.

1) Search engine benefits — This may be the most obvious business benefit of blogging. Search engines give preference to websites that have fresh, relevant content. Hubspot research shows that sites with blogs get 55% more traffic than sites without blogs — even if there are no readers!

2) Marketing differentiation — Finding a way to stand-out may be the most difficult chore a business faces. Do your competitors have a blog? If not, this might be an opportunity to establish the voice of authority in your industry and enhance your brand image with customers.

3) Infinite search life — A few weeks ago I received a call from a potential new customer in the Middle East looking to me as a possible marketing consultant.I had to wonder how in the world they found me! Turns out they were looking for somebody who could help explain where the future of social media was going and when they entered this into Google, a blog post I wrote a year ago popped up!  Your content keeps working for you month after month!

4) A cost-effective sales call — You might not be able to visit your customer every week or every month but a blog is an excellent way to provide a constant drip-drip-drip of communication to remind them of your products, services, and why you’re special.  If they don’t read your blog, re-purpose the content in customer newsletters and sales materials.

5) Your content engine — Your investment in a consistent stream of quality content can be leveraged in many ways to support a content marketing strategy. I use links from blog posts to answer customer questions, as the basis for speeches, newsletter content, and as reading assignments for workshops.

6) Direct sales — Sure, you can sell through your blog!  SAP does a great job advertising training services in a sidebar on its blog. This is valuable real estate! Why not use it?  Wegman’s grocery store employees blog about seasonal recipes and show how to use their food products in new ways.

7) Indirect sales — Featuring blog-only promotions and offers or opt-in content can expose new sales leads.

8) PR – Blog posts have the opportunity for massive reach. When one of my posts gets picked up by an aggregation service like ragan.com, my message has a chance to be heard by hundreds of thousands of people. That opportunity would not occur with a press release or status update.

9) New product development — Many companies use blogs as a way to engage customers to solve problems and create new ideas. Caterpllar has blogs dedicated to each major product line. Starbucks blogs about customer ideas as a way to crowd-source new product innovation.

10) Crisis management — A blog is an essential channel to explain the facts amid chaos. In less than an hour after the earthquake hit Haiti, The Red Cross blog had news of their activities and information on how to donate.  Company responses through blogs are often quoted by mainstream news sources.

So when your company has seemingly unrealistic expectations about building an online blog community, pull this blog post out as a reminder that there are many solid business reasons to have a blog, even if the crickets are chirping in the comment section!   Is a commenting community important to you and your company or do some of these benefits make sense?

Pushing beyond the comfort zone

When was the last time you experienced a moment that made you pause and consider your approach to life?

I had one of those rare experiences last night when I attended a concert by the eclectic Sufjan Stevens. I am admittedly a huge fan of this incredibly talented performer but was unprepared for the onslaught that occurred in the intimate confines of an old vaudeville theater.

Stevens is best know for his quirky, banjo-infused tunes and an angelic voice that lifts up songs about the darkest and funniest sides of human nature.  His music is usually categorized as folk or folk-rock but last night the acoustic instruments were put aside for a computer and synthesizers as every corner of the room was filled with pulsing space-rock bleeps, pops and crackles.

Like most fans, I was looking forward to hearing his old acoustic songs but the concert instead blazed through epic new anthems. At first it was dis-orienting, maybe even a little disappointing, but slowly his musical vision was peeled back song by song and I was moved by his courage and artistry.

He told a story of experimenting with electronic sounds so deeply he felt he couldn’t get out.  He described the kinship he felt with an Alabama primitive artist who struggled to create through bouts of insanity. It was a centuries-old artistic struggle to create something entirely new out of uncomfortable places.  I didn’t like every song. Some seemed monotonous and repetitive. But others soared in epic beauty. What music could I compare this to?  There is none.  And that is the achievement.

His music reminded me of a Jackson Pollock painting. Drips and drops filling every space, lush colors spilling over a canvas. Sometimes difficult to understand, but undeniably unique.

The other signature element of Sufjan’s music is his deeply personal, spirtual and courageous lyrics.

After two hours of bombastic music filled with two drummers, a horn section, three keyboard players and every electronic gizmo in the music industry, he stood alone on the stage, playing a guitar, singing his hauntingly beautiful “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” — yes a song about a serial murderer who raped and tortured young boys.  But the song is not about this criminal horror. It is about himself. The last lines of the song had some in the audience in tears:

“In my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

And with a look of humility and exhaustion that punctuated the song, he looked into the audience, waved, and exited.

Sufjan Stevens leaves nothing on the stage.  He pushes his craft to the edge of every comfort zone … and beyond.

What would it feel like to live like that?  To WRITE like that?  Is that even possible?  What’s next? I am unsettled.

If you would like to hear the John Wayne Gacy song, click below:

Social media was the engine for America’s Tea Party “revolution”

It’s Election Day here in the United States and we appear to be on the brink of a significant social change.  Fueled by outrage over the financial meltdown, economic stimulus attempts, government bailouts, and the election of Barack Obama, The Tea Party Movement is upending incumbents in the name of fiscal conservatism.

Many are pointing to the role of social media channels in spreading this movement.  Did social media create the Tea Paryt Movement, and if so, does this prove that the social web CAN enable dramatic social change?

Today, just two years after a sweeping Democratic victory, the tea-party movement is poised to redraw the landscape again. Nurtured by online networking, it helped disparate activists across the nation link up and already push aside high-profile incumbent leaders in multiple states this year.

A thorough history of the Tea Party Movement in The Wall Street Journal is peppered with references to the use of social media in building a national movement.  Let’s start with a brief summary of how social media played a role in these sweeping changes:

Blogs

The genesis of the Tea Party Movement may have been a blog by Stacy Mott, a stay-at-home mother fed up with the government’s economic policies.  Enraged by the government bail-outs, she started a blog for conservative women called “Smart Girl Politics” and launched a social networking site at the same time.  This and other conservative blogs were catalysts for live rallies. The content caught the attention of influential blogger and political commentator Michelle Malkin who started to write about the rallies.  After a dramatic online television rant calling for a modern-day Tea Party movement by CNBC Commentator Rick Santelli, the Smart Girl blog went viral.  Hundreds of other blogs popped up, creating a grassroots cry for change.

Social networking

Facebook pages started springing up locally and then nationally, uniting disparate activities. The movement initially had no budget, so Facebook served as the central directory for the party’s activities.  Within a year there 2,000 Tea Party-related Facebook pages. Eventually one of the founders created a website and social networking site called The Tea Party Patriots.

Twitter

Many believe the first seeds of the movement were planted on a list of top conservatives on Twitter, dubbed #tcot” for short. This list spawned other lists and within weeks #tcot  grew from 25 names to 1,500. Twitter was used to unite disparate voices and organize conference calls, town hall meetings and rallies.

Wikis

As the movement grew, organizers established wikis to provide protest advice and organizing techniques.

Fueled by these social platforms, general disenchantment coalesced into a cause, and in just a few months the movement enjoyed a stunning victory when Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts won Senator Ted Kennedy’s long-time Democratic Senate seat.

The social media revolution?

Undoubtedly social networking unified an idea among disparate interest groups with no organization and no budget.  Does this amazing success discredit the much-discussed Malcom Gladwell article claiming that the weak links and lack of hierarchy could not promote such dramatic social change?

Yes and no. If you look carefully at the brief history of the Tea Party Movement, it may actually SUPPORT Gladwell’s contention.

The WSJ article shows the initial loose organizations created on social networks were eventually dismantled by in-fighting, controversy and hurt feelings. Once the euphoria of the initial change began to wear off, the social networks could not sustain the change and even the early pioneers united by blogs and Facebook became bitter and divided. Relationships among the loosely-based coalition deteriorated so quickly members began suing each other.

The real catalyst came from coverage by the traditional media. News programs on the Fox Network and articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal fueled interest in rallies. Live conference calls to organize the initiative seemed to be the linchpin between chaos and unity. Town Hall meetings and live rallies kept the momentum alive.  Embarrassing content, like a racist photo-shopped images of the president, quickly went viral on the social web and actually created more divisiveness among the members.

The other important point was that Gladwell was addressing revolutionary change that requires risk to personal safety.  Voting for the Tea Party Movement in the privacy of a voting booth carries the same risk as clicking a “like” button on Facebook so this is not exactly a test case for his theory.

In any event, there is no doubt that the Tea Party Movement could not have coalesced with this speed and forcefulness without social media. What are your thoughts on this Social Media Political Revolution?

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