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Yes, Blogs Really Work. Here’s Proof…

10 Oct

If you have a small business or provide professional services like accounting, financial advising or legal representation, you may have read that you “must” have a blog. Maybe you thought that writing all those blog posts was a waste of time that would be better spent, well, doing business. While it is true that blogging is a long term strategy and is a less direct way of marketing your product or service, it does actually work.

Hubspot recently did a study on small businesses and found that those with blogs generate 55% more traffic to their websites than similar businesses without blogs. Not only that, but they also got almost double the number of inbound links to their sites and over four times the number of indexed pages, increasing the likelihood of getting found on the search engines. Check out the research for yourself.

So, if you don’t have a blog, get one. Regardless of your type of business, there is something you can write about. Have a clothing store? Write about the latest fashions. Have a restaurant? Give recipes and write about the type of food you serve. Have a law practice? Write about the law and people’s rights and responsibilities.

But what if you are a professional and charge hundreds of dollars per billable hour? Does it still make sense to spend valuable time blogging? Yes, and no. It still makes sense to blog, but it may be smarter to contract out your blogging to someone else. If you provide your information and research to a qualified professional writer, she should be able to write blog posts on your behalf. Just be sure that the ghost blogger is aware of any regulatory or industry restrictions. For example, state Bar Associations forbid lawyers to use advertising, including websites and blogs, to boast of past successes or promise positive results to prospective clients. Financial advisors must obtain approval from FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) before publishing any blog posts. If you don’t dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s,” you could be in hot water.

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6 Steps to Outsource Your Blog

1 Sep

Today, I will be sharing a great article I read titled “How to Outsource Your Blog…Or Part of It.”  It outlines what you need to do and what you should keep in mind when you outsource all or part of your blog (design, writing, research etc.).

Pro Creative provides ghost blogging services. Depending on your needs, we can do the research and writing or just the writing. We always maintain your confidentiality and provide quality, original content that makes you look great. If you know you need a blog, but don’t have the time, contact us!

Here’s the link to the article. Enjoy!

Eeek! I’ve Seen a Ghost (Blogger)!

25 Aug

The ghost at the machine

Let’s say you have a company that provides a service or product. You’ve been in the business for a number of years, you may even have a degree in it, it is a huge part of your life. Your clients love your product or service and really appreciate the insight and expertise you are able to give them when you interact with them. Now you want to take your business to the next level by sharing your expertise and thereby attracting new clients to your business. Everyone has told you that you need a blog. Not only will it allow you to spread the word about your company, but it will help your website climb organically in the search engines.

There are just a few problems: you don’t like writing (or are not good at it) and you have no time. If you are a lawyer, consultant or other kind of professional who charges by the hour, it may not make economic sense for you to spend unbillable hours writing a blog.

What to do? Should you put your blog ambitions on the shelf? There is another option and it’s called ghost blogging. Most people are familiar with the concept of a ghost writer. If you have a story to tell or information to get out and you want to publish a book, you may look for an experienced writer who will work with you to take the information out of your head and get it on paper in a coherent way.

Ghost blogging is basically the same process. First, a plan and schedule are determined by the client and blogger, to decide what the goal of the blog is, what topics should be covered, the style of writing, and how often content will be posted. The blogger then interviews the client to extract the person’s expertise on the various topics, and may supplement this information with books, articles or white papers provided by the client or found online. Once the post is written, the client reviews it to make sure it is factually correct and adequately covers the topic. Then the blogger posts it online.

It is critical that the client be involved in the process, and reads each post not only to make sure it is sending the right message, but also so that he or she can speak to it with clients. I also recommend that the client be the one responsible for responding to comments on the blog, so that he or she can establish a relationship with the readers and potential customers who care enough about the topic/company to make a comment.

But, Is It Right?

Some people have been going off on a rant about how ghost blogging is just not right. They feel it’s sort of like hiring someone to write your term paper in college. The thing that made the bought term paper wrong was that the person didn’t do the work of learning what he was representing he was learning. You, however, have invested years learning your business or trade. You’re the real deal.

No one raises a stink when celebrities use ghostwriters to write their memoirs. And it is commonly accepted for companies to outsource their newsletters to PR agencies. It’s my feeling that as long as the client, whether as an individual or a company, actually has the expertise that the blog is communicating, it is perfectly fine to hire someone to do the writing.  If the client is using the blog primarily as a personal branding tool, to get speaking engagements or a job, then it is even more important that the content honestly represent the client’s knowledge, experience and style, because that will all come out eventually. But even in that situation, I don’t think it is that critical for the client to be the one actually writing the posts as long as he or she can communicate the essence of the content to the ghost blogger.

My company, Pro Creative, provides ghost blogging services to companies or individuals, so if you like this blog and would like a blog of your own, contact us. We would be happy to help you join the blogosphere.

Getting Started with Facebook: Setting Up a Business Facebook Page

17 Aug

Get all you can out of Facebook

If you are one of the 300 million Facebook users, you probably use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, play games and access new, information and videos of dancing babies on YouTube.

You may not be getting everything you can out of Facebook, however, if you have not yet set up a Facebook page for your business. While it is true that most people go on Facebook in order to connect with friends, they do also find business sites that their friends recommend or that they find by doing a search. But doing business on Facebook is a much softer sell than on your own company website or advertising, so it pays to do it right from the beginning.

First, the basics…Here’s how to set up your business page on Facebook:

  1. Go to www.facebook.com, and log in if the system has not already automatically logged you in.
  2. Go down to the bottom of the page and click on Advertising, the click Pages and the Create a Page.
  3. Select the type of business you have. The choices are a) local, b) brand, product or organization, and c) artist, band or public figure. Choose the first one if your business is bound by a geographic area, like a dentist, attorney, or restaurant. If you have an online business or a business that can serve customers across the US and/or multiple countries, choose the second one. The last choice is self explanatory.
  4. Fill in as much information in the next fields and screens as possible, including your company logo. If your company has any RSS blog feeds, relevant videos, images, or other content, include it. Google will reward you with a higher rank, the more information you have on your page.
  5. Add Facebook applications to your page. One of the most popular is Social RSS which will feed your blog content into your Facebook page. See “5 Essential Apps for Your Business’s Facebook Fan Page” on Mashable.com for more with instructions about how to use them.
  6. If you don’t have a blog (and if you don’t, shame on you! You need one!), then you will need to populate your page with information that is useful and interesting to your target audience. If possible, the content should be yours to show your expertise, but you can also augment it by adding links to other people’s articles that are on topic.
  7. Now it is time to promote your page. You can only directly promote it to your own contacts (which you can mine from your personal page), by clicking the Invite Friends link on the left side of the page. Write a little promo telling people what they can get from your page.  As you add more friends on your personal page, remember to send out more invitations to your business page. Facebook will automatically give them a link to get there. You can also promote it via email, on your website, printed marketing materials, business cards, advertising and other social media like Twitter and LinkedIn.
  8. Once people have signed up by “liking” your page, give them a reason (like your fantastic content, freebies and discounts) to pass it along to their other colleagues or contacts.
  9. Update your page often, whether it with a feed from your blog or other status updates to keep your fans’ interest.
  10. Try to involve them in your little mini-community by starting discussions on the Discussions tab and asking them to interact with you. Inject your personality in your page, and don’t be afraid to include some interesting or funny posts that are not entirely related to your business (as long as they are in good taste).

Are You Contagious? Starting a Viral Campaign About Your Product

11 Aug

Psst! Pass it on!

Psst! Pass it on!

Everyone has heard about how the Internet, and social media in particular can help your product or brand go viral, with people passing it along to their communities like a summer cold. But with so many marketing messages out there, how can you spark enough interest to get people to post or retweet your message?

1. Be outrageous – When you do something shocking, people want to share it. An example would be Blendtec’s “Will It Blend” series on YouTube. Blendtec makes high powered kitchen blenders, and put out a series of YouTube videos where they put all sorts of things into the blender, including a golf ball, marbles, and an iPad.

2. Be funny – People love to share a good joke, and if you can use humor to spread your brand name or features, that much the better. Check out the Heinken Walk in Fridge Commerical on YouTube as an example.

3. Present astounding facts about something everyone is already interested in, but don’t know much about – Everyone loves to look like the smartest guy in the room, so if you can provide people facts they can casually drop into cocktail conversation, they will pass it along. In order to really be viral, though, it must be packaged in a cool way. A great example of this is the Socialnomics video on YouTube.

4. Be controversial – When you aren’t politically correct, tongues are sure to wag. An online t-shirt site, T-Shirt Hell carries this to the extreme, with hundreds of humorous, but offensive, prejudiced and racist t-shirts. Their twist, of course, is humor, and they started a viral avalanche when they announced that they were closing the site down because they were tired of all the people giving them a hard time. Everyone got to talking, and on the day they were scheduled to close, they announced that it was all a joke and they weren’t closing after all. Sales went up from around 3,000 t-shirts a week to 100,000 a week for the next few weeks.

OK, so now you have a great video or campaign put together. How do you get it out there?

1. Make sure your content is easily accessible from your web page, on your social media networks and in your email signature. This will reach into your community, and maybe beyond if it is compelling enough.

2. In order to turn your viral campaign into an epidemic, you need to get it into the hands of the major influencers: the top bloggers, analysts and mainsteam media folks. Send them an email with a link to download your content (don’t attach it unless asked).

3. Seed it on social bookmarking sites like Delicious, Reddit, Stumbleupon and Digg. Provide links on your website next to your viral content that make it easy for people to recommend it on these sites.

4. Don’t give up – Your viral campaign may not become catching right away. Keep promoting it, and you may accumulate enough eyeballs to really start something. If it doesn’t catch on, try something else; not every campaign will go viral.

Now, go out and start your “word of mouse” campaign!

Coloring Within the Lines: How to Keep Social Media from Backfiring

10 Aug

Coloring within the lines

Don't cross the line!

Whether it is the FCC fining CBS over half a million dollars for Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction or the CAN SPAM Act, the government or someone else always feels the need to step in and establish some rules around media, and social media is no exception. With social media, however, you have an added incentive to play fair; if the online community feels that you are being dishonest, misleading or insensitive to their needs, watch out! The social media community is not shy about making their feelings known.

At the end of last year, the Federal Trade Commission instituted new rules regarding social media marketing, and sites like Facebook have begun to self regulate as well. Here is a recap:

Don’t : Pay people to “like” or endorse your product without disclosing the fact that they have been paid to do so. This goes for bloggers plugging your company as well as sending out a request for testimonials sweetened with a payment or reward. It’s just plain deceptive. One of the nice things about social media is that people trust people to be honest and speak their mind. If it eventually gets out that you have put someone up to endorsing you and didn’t disclose, it could seriously damage the trust you have built up with your community.

Do: Ask your best customers to write reviews and act as brand ambassadors, but don’t pay them off for doing so.

Don’t: Include deceptive topics into your promotional tweets or posts. Habitat, a furniture manufacturer, was caught putting misleading trendy topics like #iphone in front of its promos to add people to its list. Twitter users squawked, and Habitat had to backpedal and issue an apology.

Do: Be upfront about what you are talking about.

Don’t: Require Facebook users to “like” your page in order to enter a contest or sweepstakes. It may give you some more fans, but will cast doubt on your whole fan base.

Do: Use contests to bring people to your page and let them decide for themselves if they really like you.

Don’t: Only send out a steady stream of promotional messages to the exclusion of all else. Last year, the train service Eurostar continually tweeted about its ticket promos, but totally disregarded followers’ questions about the service. This blew up in their face when their trains became stuck in the channel and their silence on the issue was deafening.

Do: Keep a reasonable ratio of useful/interesting/valuable content to promotions, recommended at 4:1 so your users don’t feel spammed, and make sure that you are addressing their real concerns such as customer service and quality issues.

Don’t: Hear only what you want to hear. Sometimes you may launch a product that is roundly panned by your audience. When this happened at Honda with its new Crosstour car, Honda’s product manager was the lone dissenter, loudly praising the car. Not only didn’t he listen to the people, but he neglected to identify his role in the company, another no-no.

Do: Resist the urge to defend yourself. When faced with criticism, thank people for their feedback and tell them that the company will take it into consideration. Then, really do what you said and come back to the community with some kind of resolution to the issues. Domino’s Pizza did a good job of this when confronted with the poor quality of their product. They used TV and social media to admit that their pizza was bad, but that they had improved it and were asking people to give it another try. The campaign was a smashing success, and their stock soared by 50%.

Remember, social media is all about building trust, and if you cross the line and get caught by your community, it could set your company and your social media strategy back for a long time. Before social media, a person who had a bad experience with a company would tell an average of 7 friends about it. Now, the number of people who will instantly hear of a company’s misstep has gone up exponentially. So, be honest and transparent, and treat your community members like they want to be treated, with respect and human dignity. You know, like you would want to be treated by someone else.

Substance and Style

20 Jul

The old paradigm

In the old days, marketing was much more concerned with how it looked. It primped and designed, hoping to catch the eye of some promising prospects. Now, while your company still needs to look professional, there is much more emphasis on substance, as opposed to style. It’s like the boy (the customer) has grown up and now is looking for someone to spend the rest of his life (money) with, rather than a cheap thrill.

Substance

The Triumph of Substance

What does it mean for your company? It means that you now have to compete not only on the basis of the superficial (cool brochure, ad or website) but also on the basis of substance, otherwise known as content. What does your company have to offer its prospects and customers other than the actual product or service you sell? What advice can they get from you that will solve a problem or make their lives better in some way. We all need to make the shift from merchants to problem solvers and educators.

There are so many other ways to get your content out there. Here are a few:

Blogging – This is a great way to educate and entertain your customers and prospects if you a) like writing, b) are good at writing, c) there is a lot to say on your subject matter and area of expertise, and d) your prospects and customers like reading. You can also hire someone to blog for you, but make sure that if you do, the blogger’s style is compatible with your company and its intended audience. For example, you wouldn’t want a laid back, surfer type of style if you had a financial services company.  Blogging is a service that we do on our clients’ behalf at Pro Creative, so if you are considering starting a blog but do not have the time and/or talent to do so, then you can contact us.

The ideal situation is if you have a lot of information about your subject matter that you or your contract blogger can pull from for posts. Otherwise, there will be additional time and expense doing the research for topics and information to write about. However, aside from the cost  of either your time or someone else’s time, there are very few costs involved in starting a blog.

You can use one of the two major blogging sites, WordPress or Blogger to begin. They both are free and provide ready made template designs, widgets and automatic archiving. The more posts you have, the more your blog and associated (linked) site will climb in the search engines, so it is a good idea to keep all of your posts together there. I have used (and continue to use) both. This blog is on WordPress and my personal blog, I’ll Take Five, is on Blogger. They are fairly similar in functionality. I decided to use WordPress for this blog rather than sticking with Blogger because I read that WordPress regularly pings (notifies) search engines whenever you post a blog, so it helps your site climb in the rankings faster. With Blogger, it will still happen, but you have to wait for the search engine spider to see and catalog your newest post.

Video Blogging – Some people just love being on camera, and video blogging is great for them. If you a) have an engaging personality, b) are not horribly unattractive, c) are a good speaker, and d) have products or subjects that need to be shown or demonstrated, then video blogging is the way to go. Examples of video-worthy topics would be cooking, performing, or new and improved gadgets. The nice thing about video is that it allows the prospect to see you and relate to you as a person, thereby building trust and a solid relationship. You can also upload your videos to YouTube to get extra exposure.

Most digital cameras on the market today are suitable for video blogging. Just make sure you have enough light. In order to make sure that you don’t lose your train of thought, make sure to put together a script, but do not, repeat do not, read directly from the script, as this will look awkward and stilted and will immediately torpedo your credibility. Some video bloggers place a computer behind the camera with a PowerPoint presentation that they can refer to (like a teleprompter). Don’t feel you have to do the entire video in one take. Do a part, stop it, gather your thoughts and then continue on if that helps you stay calm and focused. If you are “on a roll,” then keep rolling.

You can upload video to both Blogger and WordPress, and can also embed it into websites and social media sites like Facebook.

Presentations – Let’s say you have a great PowerPoint presentation that you want to share with the world. You can upload it to Scribd and/or SlideShare.  Make sure to include links within the presentation back to your site. Some aspiring authors upload a teaser to one of these sites, and then when people download it, they get the first few pages and then a link to buy the whole thing. There are also a number of sites that can help you convert PowerPoint into a video, where you can add sound and other effects. Here’s a video showing you how to do it.

Social Networking – Social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are mostly used for participating in communities of people with similar interests and networks, and you can definitely use them to get some content out to your audience. However, they are really better suited for smaller, bite-sized chunks of information such as tips, thought of the day, and links to your content powerhouses (websites, blogs, etc.). Look for existing gathering spots of your target audience. For example, if you sell educational material, you may want to search for teacher groups or homeschooling groups. Then, participate in the conversation, offering relevant and helpful tips and information. Be on your guard not to sound too “salesy,” or you risk turning off the group. If done correctly, social networking can establish your position as an expert in your field, which is a very, very good thing.

P.S. If you need help formulating a content strategy or help in putting your content in a form that is accessible and attractive to your target audience, I’d be happy to help you. Just drop me an email. 🙂

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