“Sure, I know we need a company blog, but nobody has time to do it.” I hear this a lot. It’s the No. 1 pain point of clients who know they need to start a blog—but are time-starved and resource constrained. The short answer is that any company can pull off a successful blog, even a smaller company, but there needs to be a strategy and process in place to make it work.
A case in point is the Captains Table blog by Captains of Industry, which was ranked by BostInnovation as one of the top five blogs in Boston—even though our company is a fraction of the size of other companies on the list, such as Hill Holliday and Mullen. How did the Captains get ranked in the same league as the titans of Boston advertising? Here are the basics of our plan of action, a blueprint that any good company can follow.
Tip #1. Make it a company priority. Politely urged on by our colleague David M. Scott (who basically said we’d be idiots not to do it) we decided to start our own company blog, and we made sure everyone here knew that it was important. This is a crucial first step for any organization embarking on this journey.
I guarantee there will be some level of resistance to any blog effort. It takes time. It requires resources. Managers who are experts in their field, always busy professionals, may balk at spending their precious time blogging. Others might complain at the notion of sharing ideas—your intellectual capital—in a free online forum. For all these reasons, the initial blog directive must come from the top of the organization. So, when you announce your company’s blog initiative, have it come from the CEO.
We focused on our audience, which we determined to be marketing managers, colleagues, and talented people we could hire down the road. We thought a lot about what they would be interested in reading, and how those topic areas matched against areas of Captains’ expertise: web video storytelling, branding, content, social media, and technology trends shaping the industry. And because we, as a company, believe that work and fun are not mutually exclusive, we threw in a healthy dose of comedy and what blog-watchers have labeled “sass.”
Tip #2. Do some research on your customers. Find out what they care about and what they are searching for on the web. Also, dig a little to see what blogs they read, what movies they like, and what TV shows they watch. When you know what your audience likes, and what they choose to experience in other media, it helps shape your messages and writing tonality.
We kept SEO in mind. We highlighted topics we knew we could add some valuable insight based on our experience. But we also knew that having continuously published content on our site would help elevate the agency in search engine rankings, especially when other blogs linked to ours.
Tip #3. Research the key words and phrases your audience searches for most often, and build them into your writing. This way, search engines find them. But keep the focus on writing good stuff that’s genuinely helpful to your readers. Fake sentences designed strictly to enhance SEO are obvious and obnoxious. Keep it real.
We opened the doors of our knowledge base. In the pre-blog era, clients would only be able to benefit from our expertise if they paid us first. We threw that out the window and have consistently erred on the side of giving away everything we’ve learned over the years. In other words, we lost our fear of getting our ideas ripped off.
Tip #4. You need to go into the process understanding that a percentage of readers will simply take your ideas and run with them, without ever contacting you. And that’s OK because a larger percentage of readers, typically ones with money to spend, will in fact hire you for your expertise. An example of this is an e-book that the Captains of Industry created and published titled Branding and Marketing for Renewable Energy Companies. We were visited by a renewable energy startup recently that had found the ebook online, and then called us. When they arrived at their first meeting here at Captains, we saw that they had actually printed out the e-book so they could use it as a guide. They didn’t have enough money to hire us at the time, but they eventually will. Other companies have found us and hired us based on the e-book, not because they actually read the book, but because that e-book and our blog made us rise higher on Google. (We are on page one of Google when you enter “Marketing for renewable energy.”) My takeaway is that some companies, often due to budget constraints, will always do everything in-house. But there really is no risk to us for giving away our ideas.
We made sure it wasn’t all about us. Nobody wants to read a blog that’s just another form of advertising, with the agency blowing their own horn. That’s why we frequently publish examples of work created by other agencies that we dig. This is not only good business, it reflects the reality that we don’t have all the answers, and that there are lots of great agencies doing interesting, innovative things in the industry. And if we do say something negative about someone else’s work, I hope we’ve done it in a way that’s respectful.
Tip #5. Direct your staff to spend 10 minutes each day reading leading blogs within your industry. Not an hour. Not a half hour. Just 10 measly minutes. It’s a small change that adds up to big change organizationally. By focusing on the work of other companies, you learn from them, and that learning helps make your company smarter, sharper, and more competitive. In the process, you’ll also have a lot more to blog about. From my experience, those other companies really appreciate your interaction with their brands, and they will reciprocate in time. And when other companies link to your blog, your SEO relevance improves.
Tip #6. Get organized and assign roles. Who’s going to make sure that a new, interesting post gets published daily (or almost daily)? We put someone in that lead role. But, understanding that leaders are often incredibly busy themselves, others on the team were empowered to jump in and make sure the posts got written. Our goal is to have a bunch of posts in the queue ready to go so we’re not scrambling on any given day to get a post done. We also have the flexibility to switch out posts in the cue for new posts that relate to timely news. In addition to the editorial leader, there’s also a core group of bloggers within the company who are constantly thinking up new post ideas, writing and editing. While it’s possible for one person to write the blog daily, we’ve found that having a range of voices mix together over time creates a unique flavor. Plus, having multiple writers helps share the workload.
Tip #7. Only hire people who are good writers, and let them know up front in the interview process that their participation in the blog is not only welcome, it’s required.
Like the Ford Motor Company, we made quality job No. 1. It’s more important to post something good than it is to post frequently. We’re always striving to post daily, but we’re not going to compromise on quality. If something’s not ready, we’ll skip a day or two until it is.
Tip #8. Establish a set of criteria that your posts have to meet. Make these clear, so your writers understand. For example, you might have three key requirements for every post: 1.) It has to shine a light on an issue that’s relevant to our readers, 2.) It has to be no more than X# of words, and 3.) It needs to tie in somehow with our core strengths as a company.
We engage with other blogs on a regular basis. They call it a blogosphere for a reason. It’s like some kind of huge organism made up of individual cells that are all connected. Commenting on other people’s blogs and participating in those conversations not only demonstrates that we are part of a larger community, the process also adds to our own knowledge.
Tip #9. Assign staff members to read specific blogs that are of interest to them, and share what they find with the team. We keep feeding our brains. We determined that finding something interesting to write about requires constantly looking outside the company, searching blogs, watching the news, checking out trends, and just plain listening. By getting input from lots of different sources, we’re able to cross-pollinate our thinking and come up with original ‘takes’ on industry themes and campaigns. That said, there are still plenty of days when we feel stupid when we can’t think of anything to write. This is normal.
Tip #10. Have everyone on the blog team read a different book on a regular basis that relates in some way to your industry. When they find noteworthy ideas, have them share those with the team. This generates a lot of great thinking within the company and leads to more interesting posts overall.
We add web content to spice things up. While good writing is the core of any blog, adding content such as original videos gives people something extra to engage with—like this video we made to show the difference between big and small agencies.
Tip #11. For a great guide on how to make content, check out the Content Rules book. We get social with our posts. New blog posts on a regular basis give us something to tweet about, allowing us to build connections with people who are interested in what’s cooking at Captains and in the industry as a whole.
Tip #12. Be sure to have a retweet button and other share options on your blog. In addition to sharing the posts on your corporate Facebook page, individual company members can also link to the posts on their own personal Facebook pages. But this should never be forced on employees.
We keep experimenting. Over the past year, we’ve added new types of content and themes, including “Products We Wish Existed” and Friday Candy, which is basically a post that’s reserved for Friday afternoons when everybody’s in the mood for something sweet and funny.
Tip # 13. When you’re working with your blog team, make it clear that they are the ones in charge of pushing the boundaries and making the blog better and better. It’s like a shark; if it stops moving, it drowns.
Partly as a result of our focused blog strategy, Captains has grown 40% within the past year. Clients are finding us more frequently on the web, lowering our cost of customer acquisition. And more clients are hiring us to work with them to implement their own blog strategies. It’s a constantly evolving process, and we continue to learn more the longer we’re at it. But trust me on this: If a smaller agency like Captains of Industry can be successful with a blog, anyone can. It’s really just a question of starting.