While today’s online media are abuzz with the latest and greatest social media tactics and tools, for many of us that have been around a little while, it was blogging that started our social media careers.
It’s funny to think that in 2002 a type of site called “blog” came up on my radar as a possible marketing tool. At the time, many blogs were personal diaries posted anonymously or by people with a little tech savvy and plenty of opinion. Writing personal thoughts on a public web site was absolutely the last thing I would ever consider doing. However, it was a curious thing and I started a few blogs anonymously to see what it was like. Unfortunately, the excercise was so foreign, poorly executed and without feedback, that I deleted them.
In mid 2003 I began looking for online content outside of forums and started reading several SEO blogs including Search Engine Blog (Peter Da Vanzo), Search Blog (John Battelle) and Search Engine Lowdown (Andy Beal). Interestingly, only Search Blog remains what it was.
In December 2003 after using Blogger.com as a group blog software for a few collaboration projects I finally decided to start a blog under the blogspot.com domain for TopRank Online Marketing, which by then, had been in business about 2 years.
As you can see from my “Hello World” post in Dec 2003, I had humble goals to post news and information related to online marketing. We had a web site that pulled in a lot of search traffic, why would we need a blog? The reason was simply to see what blogging could do to get the word out about our expertise and to share information. Blogging was very new territory and there wasn’t anyone to demonstrate best practices, so I set out to find what those were while sharing links, news and resources.
I suspect there are a good number of companies that treat other social media services the same way, whether it’s Twitter, Foursquare or building a social mobile app. It’s new territory and they want to find out whether those applications or sites would make sense in their marketing mix. The problem with that perspective is that it’s about the most inefficient and unproductive way to go about finding the right online marketing channels for a business.
The biggest mistake I made 6 plus years ago when I started blogging was not creating a strategy. As a marketer, I knew better than to chase a tactic, but I had no idea at the time how much of an impact blogging would have on our business. In other words, despite a lack of strategy, we were able to use our marketing savvy, curiosity and interest in connecting with the online marketing community to achieve many of the goals we set out to reach in our business. It just took a lot longer without that strategic plan.
Companies starting down the path of becoming more social in their culture to better connect with customers and to realize the marketing, PR, and customer service benefits from social media participation don’t need to waste that time. Doing the homework of researching customers, setting goals and developing a strategy are essential steps towards a successful social media marketing experience.
Back to why I started blogging. The SEO community was a lot smaller in 2003 and 2004. Writing a post about anything to do with search engine optimization would be noticed and commented on by the small number of SEO bloggers. There were plenty of cross links and “hat tips” (whatever happened to those?) and openly shared opinions. Blogging even made a number of SEOs very popular, very quickly.
Blogging to get popular is the goal for some people and there certainly is some relationship between notoriety, awareness and credibility with the ability to attract sales. The key (for me at least) is that creating awareness of oneself is simply a proxy to gaining visibility for your business. It’s not a goal in itself. As a result, Ive been open about using visibility to help others and make connections.
The turning point for me in blogging was due in part to learning to liveblog at conferences. Steve Hall of AdRants provided my first opportunity to liveblog at a ad:tech event - an absolutely humbling experience for anyone that isn’t a natural writer. I met people like Frank Gruber and David Berkowitz at that event in 2004. I did some liveblogging for Barry Schwartz and Search Engine Roundtable after that which also provided great exposure and connections. Matt McGowan brought even more exposure opportunity by having Online Marketing Blog as a media sponsor for SES conferences. There’s a huge list of people that have been very helpful over the years, especially our longtime readers.
Since then we’ve published a lot of content and provided a lot of insight into holistic SEO and online marketing topics. During that time I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to find your voice and stick to it. Don’t try to be what you’re not. It simply doesn’t resonate with readers or with the goals you’ve likely set.
Whether it’s blogging or other types of content and networking, I think the real value from online publishing in a social context is of course, being social. Blogging has been a great experience in terms of developing relationships with people I would have never connected with otherwise. It has definitely served as a platform for making connections in the industry that have led directly and indirectly, to a lot of new business.
I started blogging personally as an experiment and found a process and strategy along the way that has helped grow our business and the online marketing/sales performance of many of our clients. Long time blogging provides ample opportunity to make and learn from mistakes. Blogging also allows us to continue to be a resource while sharing our expertise with potential customers, partners and employees.
We’ll be going through yet another evolution with Online Marketing Blog in the next month or two and I wonder about the experiences of our readers that also blog:
If you’re a blogger, why did you start? What’s your blogging story? Did you start as an experiment? Did you start with a strategy? What was your biggest mistake? What have you learned?