Jan 06, 2012

How to Write For and Manage a Blog: #ConnectChat Recap

In this week’s #ConnectChat on Tuesday, Jan. 3, we featured blogging expert Nathan Burgess (@prcog), who explained “How to Manage and Write for a Blog” with advice for company and personal bloggers on coming up with story ideas, managing guest bloggers, scheduling posts, working as a team and more.

Natan Burgess (@prcog) is the editor/publisher of PR Breakfast Club (#PRBC)

Burgess is a senior account executive and digital strategist at BlissPR, a B2B PR and marketing communications firm in New York City. In this role, Burgess advises client companies on the development of social media and digitally based marketing programs

Nathan is also the editor/publisher of PRBreakfastClub (#PRBC), a group-run blog dedicated to all areas of marketing and communications.

ProfNet: Nathan, thanks for joining us!

Burgess: @ProfNet Happy to be here, looking forward to the discussion

ProfNet: Feel free to jump in with questions and comments! And remember to include the #ConnectChat hashtag so we can all see your input.

KelByrd: My first #ConnectChat. Glad to be here to discuss writing/managing a blog, especially as a #PRBC contributor.

ProfNet: Now let’s get started and have some fun!

Nathan, what’s the main goal of PR Breakfast Club (#PRBC)? How did it start?

Burgess: The main goal of PRBC is really to provide a forum for PR pros (and all communicators) to discuss industry issues ranging from techniques and tips to handling working relationships. Anything really that could be of interest.

Burgess: The blog itself was derived from an informal Twitter chat we’d conduct (usually in the mornings, hence the breakfast reference).

Burgess: Eventually it got too large and the topics too heady to be kept in a Twitter chat, so started a blog, on a whim.

Burgess: I’m pretty sure none of us were really sure how long it’d go on, but we just decided to start it. Seems to have worked out :)

Burgess: We take the blog as basically an extra-curricular activity — related to our work, but not client-work related (necessarily).

John_Trader1: I know I learn a ton on the #PRBC blog and make many new connections with #PR industry pros.

JasMollica: One thing that #PRBC does very well is create and foster great #PR conversations. Testament to @PRCog and founders.

@ngtoo: @PRCog Please give link to your blog, Nathan.

Burgess: Good question — we’re at prbreakfastclub.com

How do you come up with story ideas?

Burgess: Since we’re mostly in the biz, story ideas come from anywhere: interactions with coworkers and clients, reading other industry blogs, researching materials for clients or new biz, etc.

Burgess: Like any good blog, we also get inspiration from random sources: conversations with non-communications people, daily life, newsworthy events — you never know what’s going to inspire a good blog post.

Hoovers: Some of the best blog topic ideas come from comment threads.

Burgess: @Hoovers Very true. Listening to the audience is an excellent way to gauge their areas of interest.

@John_Trader1: @JasMollica @PRCog Inspiration does come from odd places. My most recent was a photo of someone and his wife.

@John_Trader1: Creative minds allow inspiration to come from everywhere! :)

@Hoovers: Quora, Focus and LinkedIn group discussions are always great fodder for blog content!

jaymes_bee: I love the “PR is like (golf, sailing, etc…)” series. Makes you think of it in a new light

How do you find guest contributors? What qualifications do they need?

Burgess: Mostly we’re approached by contributors and occasionally remind folks that anyone is welcome to pitch us.

Burgess: We also have a pretty obvious ‘How to Contribute’ tab on the site (prbc.biz/y).

Burgess: Occasionally on hot topics, I’ll ask someone I think is well-suited or informed to write a specific post. Those tend to be very successful posts.

Burgess: We try to be mostly a “platform,” so our guidelines are pretty loose. Essentially, they need to be “touching” the biz in some way, and the post needs to be non-repetitive, non-self-promotional and provide something for our audience.

@John_Trader1: Don’t be afraid to approach commenters as part of your research for a blog post. Most are very willing to help.

@KelByrd @John_Trader1 Great point! Those that are engaged in the conversation are happy to share their opinion/keep it going.

How do you organize guest contributions? Do you approve their story ideas? Do they pitch or write first?

Burgess: Guest contributors are added to the mix with other posts.

Burgess: Timeliness is the primary factor across the board when deciding schedules. Obviously, we don’t want to be days/weeks late (without a good reason) on a hot news item.

Burgess: The pitching process varies. If we’re pitched just the topic — yes, I’ll approve (or recommend changes) first.

Burgess: But sometimes complete posts do come in. Mostly they’re well-written, but we’ve had to reject some on occasion.

Burgess: Telling contributors why you’ve made changes let’s them know you care and they can write more appropriately next time around.

So do you schedule posts with the other #PRBC writers to keep the site’s content up-to-date?

Burgess: I schedule all posts for the site, so thankfully we don’t run into any issues with post schedules.

Burgess: Having a single point person on those kinds of items ensures there won’t be any crossed signals.

kharacz: We are launching a client’s blog that will feature four points of view. Any do’s/don’ts?

ProfNet: To add onto @kharacz’s question, what’s it like working as a team on one blog?

Burgess: @ProfNet @kharacz Good questions. We have some basic guidelines on areas where there could be major conflict.

Burgess: It’s definitely important to try to foresee where there could be problems — posting frequency, traffic generation — and do what you can to head them off at the pass.

Burgess: Regarding “do’s” — an editorial calendar/schedule is immensely helpful, and depending on frequency of posts, etc., building in provisions or queued posts for time off or busy times can help.

Burgess: Thankfully, we try to be mostly a platform, rather than an entity putting forth one point of view — we all realize that and know that differences of opinion will necessarily be part of that mix.

@Hoovers: Make sure you can “feed the content monster” regularly and well — for all four personas.

@John_Trader1: “Do”: Have the contributors cross-promote each others posts in their channels to increase exposure.

@Hoovers: Get a commitment from blog contributors or internal client stakeholders to comment on blog posts they don’t write.

@kharacz: Thanks for all the great ideas! I’m taking notes!

 

What was your most successful blog post, and why?

Burgess: Our most successful blog post so far has been @shellykramer‘s post on the Etsy problem last year prbc.biz/hf  It produced quite a bit of traffic and comments.

Burgess: Usually successful posts are those that speak to either the entire PR community or have more general relevance outside the PR world.

Burgess: Another great one that produced quite a bit of traffic and was valued across the board was @elizabethsosnow’s performance review prep (prbc.biz/gu) [disclosure: @elizabethsosnow is a managing director at @BlissPR — hi boss :)

@Hoovers: Many popular blog posts have an element of controversy in them.

@John_Trader1: @Hoovers Very true. Controversy gets eyeballs and tons of traffic as long as it’s done in a tasteful way.

@Hoovers: Mix the unexpected in with a good story (that evokes emotion in your audience), and you’ve got a winning blog post!

How do you come up with headlines? Any analytics to prove that certain headlines work better than others?

Burgess: A decent amount of our traffic comes through tweets and our mailing list, which only shows the headline, author and a teaser.

Burgess: So, headlines really are vitally important. It’s been said before, but frequently the best headlines mix controversy with info.

Burgess: A prime, recent example is my own, on “Why I’d Rather Hire a Liberal Arts Student Than a PR Student” bit.ly/wvGBTN

Burgess: It wasn’t precisely accurate, but we had enough PR students see the headline to read the entire post.

Burgess: Another great one was @John_Trader1′s “Put Away the Toys, It’s Now Time to Be Accountable” prbc.biz/o6

@John_Trader1: @PRCog Thanks for mentioning that post… it was fun writing and thinking about!

sgirl73 What are your thoughts on multimedia blog posts (photo or video only) vs. text only? More/less engaging?

Burgess: Good question @sgirl73 Video is great from an SEO perspective, and both can provide more content than you’d get in a similar amount of time spent on site.

Burgess: I would encourage a transcript (not teaser) below the video/audio player. Some people aren’t fond of video, have bandwidth restriction or read posts while not connected, so giving the content in alternative ways gives your readers every possible way to digest the content.

How do you drive traffic to your blog? How important are analytics to the PR Breakfast Club team?

Burgess: Traffic comes in from a number of sources — editors tweet and cross-promote the post of the day, Facebook shares, LinkedIn updates, even occasionally Google+. A few of us also include the blog in our Livefyre/discus profiles.

Burgess: Search also plays a pretty key role and we pay attention to the search terms that are driving traffic and try to structure posts so they drive home the point and hook the reader (and encourage sharing).

Burgess: Analytics are somewhat important, more to know what’s popular and what’s not since we don’t have any cash-flow/monetization from the site. It’s not a make or break situation on the analytics, but we do keep an eye on it, especially to see aberrations.

PRFlipside: What blogging platform would you recommend for someone not so savvy?

Burgess: Good question @PRFlipside I’m a fan of WordPress. Even though it may be a bit “high end” for non-savvy users, once set up, it’s relatively pain-free and can easily be added to when that horsepower is needed. The open developer base is great, and they can even start on wordpress.com (and even use a custom domain) and move to self-hosted when/if needed.

@PRFlipside: Thoughts on Tumblr? Have you tried it?

Burgess: I’ve tinkered with Tumblr and like it quite a bit in the right circumstances.

How important is a blog for marketing purposes?

Burgess: Depending on overall goals — in my humble opinion — vital. Blogging provides a platform for the company to produce and host their own content.

Burgess: They own the bat, ball and playground and can decide how “far” or how “safe” they want to play it, which can be of particular concern for highly regulated industries.

 

SummerHandzlik: One goal for 2012 is to start a blog. Should the address of my blog be my full name, and what host site would you suggest?

Burgess: A full name can be helpful and good for branding, but you also want it to be memorable. Initials work well.

prdude: Or be anonymous. RT @PRCog: @SummerHandzlik A full name can be helpful, but you also want it to be memorable. Initials work well.

Burgess: As far as the host site, that’ll vary based on needs: how many sites you’ll be setting up, tech ability and budget.

 

@PRFlipside: How important is a company blog and does it hurt the brand if there are no comments (meaning no readers)?

Burgess: If it’s the ideal platform — then vital. For some companies, it’s just not a good platform.

Burgess: As far as lack of comments, well, you won’t get comments until it’s promoted/open and if the posts don’t ask for commentary/opinion, etc.

 

How can bloggers walk the line between making readers aware of their services/products and blatant self-promotion?

Burgess: Being an industry leader/thought leader is more than just “me me me” — it’s about the whole industry.

Burgess: Discussing issues that are of a more general concern for their audience and keeping their own content to about 20 percent helps keep the balance about right.

Burgess: If the audience just wanted self-promotional materials, they’d subscribe to the company’s press release feed and be done with it. By discussing more broadly than the needs the company serves directly, it demonstrates their awareness of the marketplace as a whole.

@Hoovers: Good blogs foster conversations. Reading egocentric blog content is like going on a date with a narcissist.

What are common mistakes your clients make? What is typically the biggest challenge/problem?

Burgess: The biggest challenge is ensuring that bloggers cultivate a bigger digital footprint than just the blog.

Burgess: If you build it, they will come only goes so far — you still need seats for the audience, not just the field.

Burgess: Complete LinkedIn profiles, participation on other industry blogs, LinkedIn forums/Q&A and, for the right companies, Twitter chats or Facebook groups can also provide a good foundation to bring people to a blog.

Burgess: I give a bit more detail in a Bliss blog post here: t.co/ajtcALyU

@KelByrd: And, of course, “If You Build It, Keep It Up” bit.ly/o5A3nE (shameless promotion)

heidiraff By “clients,” do you mean clients of PR firms?

Burgess: Yep — clients of agencies/firms. At @BlissPR, the great majority of our work is with B2B companies.

 

Do you encourage clients to find guest posters?

Burgess: Most definitely. This broadens the circle of individuals who will see the blog.

Burgess: Guests will share it with their own network, and it exposes the regular readers to a new viewpoint. It’s very much a win-win-win (blogger-contributor-readers).

Does anyone have any final questions or comments?

@JasMollica: Great #ConnectChat today! Looking forward to the next one!

@prdude: Thanks. It was a great first #ConnectChat of the year. It’ll be a tough act to follow.

@KelByrd: Thanks for the great #ConnectChat. Looking forward to participating in more.

@Hoovers: It was our pleasure to participate! #ConnectChat is fast becoming a ritual around here. :-)

profkrg: Students: If you aren’t following #PRBC, do it now! Subscribe to the blog feed and follow it on Twitter.

ProfNet: That’s a wrap! Thank you so much to everyone who took part in #ConnectChat. Hope you found it informative!

ProfNet: Thank you @PRCog! This #ConnectChat was a great way to kick off the year. Hope you enjoyed it!

Burgess: My pleasure. It was great “speaking” with everyone. :)

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