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What will a blog do for me? (That’s the question right?)

I spent a couple of hours yesterday speaking with a roomful of lively and smart women at the Professional Women’s Network group in downtown Vancouver. Notice I say WITH not to … it was an interactive exchange of ideas, experience, thoughts and even some skepticism about blogs and blogging and the value – or the Return On Blog (ROB).

There were several women who have obviously drank the Kool-Aid – they see the value of blogs and want to learn more about how to effectively use them for their business or career. Several more seemed interested and I could see the light go on as we chatted and several others I think are still concerned about the value – and the time it takes to blog. After hearing some of their experiences with blogs and blogging, listening to their concerns and their very thoughtful questions – I realized that there is a whole topic for a blog right there. That blog will come next week.

For today, I promised to put up my speaking notes and to provide some reference points to begin checking out blogs, searching to see who is blogging in their industry and getting a feel for the blogsophere. Here they are …long-winded alert – this is a longer than normal blog – so please don’t think a) that all my blogs will be this long and b) that your blogs need to be this long. Happy reading.

Business people, from one person home-based entrepreneurs to CEOs of multinational companies, often ask me if they should have a blog – and what the benefits are to blogging. If you are wondering the same thing …here is some info that might interest you.

Think about having a blog – and of posting on other people’s blogs – as a convenient way to build relationships. It is one great big global (or local, regional or national, depending on your needs) cocktail party that you don’t have to dress up for, where you don’t need to find parking or buy a ticket to attend. And – here is the best part – you also don’t need to put up with any of the pylons or sharks that also attend these events and waste your time trying to “sell” you or “convince” you or find a way to benefit themselves without ever considering your side of things.

The blogosphere provides the opportunity to meet like-minded people, to discuss and collaborate, even to disagree or debate in (for the most part) a respectful, open and incredibly interactive environment. Blogging is much like having a great networking event, where people are pre-qualified in a certain topic before they arrive. In this blog – I talk about Public Relations and PR 2.0 (blogs, podcasts, wikis, etc.) While I don’t have many posts to my blog, I have a strong RSS subscriber list who want to see what I write about public relations. Someone with no interest in PR isn’t going to subscribe to my blog or even get past the first page of our website.

Whether you start your own blog or post on other blogs that are discussing topics you are interested in, you are expanding your network and building positive relationships within your area of interest or expertise. You are having discussions and conversations about subjects that you have knowledge, experience and expertise in. It never hurts your professional relationships to be seen as an expert. As importantly, reading what others are thinking, doing and discussing is a great way to keep up with changes, trends and new paths in your industry.

Being present in the blogosphere – as a blogger, a poster or a reader is important. The truth of the matter is, you can either blog or be blogged. If there are conversations happening in the blogosphere about your industry, your company or your customers and clients and you aren’t a part of that discussion, you are missing out on a huge opportunity. You can’t control what is said in the blogosphere, but if you aren’t out there – you can’t respond, discuss or engage in it either, and I would bet at least a few of your competitors have already joined the online conversation.

According to several surveys, there are more than 57 million blogs with an average of 100,000 more being added each day. By my calculations, that takes us closer to 70 million blogs. That’s a lot of ideas, thoughts, discussions and conversations going on. The great thing about a blog is that it can have an audience of a million or an audience of ten and it still matters.

A blog can let your clients or customers know your approach to business, it can help you showcase your expertise. A blog can be used to discuss challenges in your industry or put out questions to your readers and ask for their input. It can open up a conversation with a potential customer or client – a conversation that might not happen without a blog.

For larger companies, a blog can put a human face to an organization. It can improve the company’s reputation or perception in the industry and the community. If the CEO chooses to blog, it can create dialogue with staff, customers, strategic partners, suppliers and communities.

A blog has to be authentic, with a true voice. The marketing team can’t be the bloggers unless they are willing to drop the marketing copy and the sales pitch and engage on a completely different level with customers, clients, and others. And it’s hard to do when you have spent your life thinking, writing and speaking “marketing.” Companies don’t blog, people do.

When you hit an authentic note with your audience you will feel it. It doesn’t mean you have to put forward every little problem that your company has – it just means that your blog isn’t for “selling” – it’s for discussing, it’s for telling who you are and who the people in your company are and for being authentic and honest. But if a challenge comes up and someone asks you about it on your blog – talk to them. It’s amazing how supportive people will be if you give them the chance and are honest with them. We’ll forgive a person or a company that makes a mistake if they acknowledge it and do their best to make it right.

A blog is a direct connection to your target market. It’s a way to really talk with them and to listen to them. For years, large companies have paid tens of thousands of dollars to hold focus groups to find out what people think. Now, that conversation with consumers is at your fingertips.

I’d be interested to hear if you think it’s worth it, and if you do – to read your blogs.
Great (in my opinion) Entrepreneurial Blogs
http://www.chrisflett.com/
http://www.sethgodin.typepad.com/
http://www.englishcut.com/
http://badpitch.blogspot.com/
http://scobleizer.com/

Great (in my opinion) corporate blogs
http://www.onlyonceblog.com
http://www.blogmaverick.com/
http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/

Resources

Where Do I start? Well, at the beginning, of course.

Choosing blogging software

To get started, visit a site like Blogger.com or WordPress.com and sign up for an account. TypePad has a nominal monthly fee, WordPress and Blogger.com are free.

They’re out there talking …

Check out what is being said about you, your industry, your mother on the blogosphere.

http://www.technorati.com/
http://www.icerocket.com/

There is so much more to talk about … We are also developing short one-hour seminars that will be held in a series over a 5-week period on PR 2.0 and using the online world to promote your business, your career, your association, your passion. Let us know what you would like to see in these seminars. We will be posting the content of the first series shortly – so send me an email ruth@ahacreative.com or put post your two cents worth to the blog!

Thanks for stopping by and checking out what we have to say.

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I am often asked why an entrepreneur, small business, CEO or multinational company’s employees should blog…is it worth the time and effort, does it have a return-on-investment or a ROB (return-on-blog)?

YES!

According to a wide-range of surveys, it is estimated that there are more than 80 million blogs on the Internet. That’s a lot of communication going on. And either you are a part of this conversation or you aren’t. I would bet that several of your competitors are out there.

If you aren’t blogging, and that includes reading and posting and linking to other blogs, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to connect with an audience that has similar interests, that wants to know more about what you do, how you do it and wants to tell you what they need.

Blogging gives you:
• An informal way to talk about your company.
• A place to ask for feedback – about your service, products, promotion and your approach. (Marketers used to, and still do, pay huge amounts for focus groups for just such information. Create an audience for your blog and you have an incredible opportunity to hear directly from your stakeholders.)
• The opportunity to showcase your expertise, knowledge and know-how. Give away some of your knowledge on your blog. Prospective customers or clients will love you for it and come back for more information – and to work with you when the opportunity arises.
• Sales tools – send a link to your blog out to everyone you can think of. Hopefully, they will see the value in it and sign up on your RSS feed so that they can receive new content when you upload it.
• The opportunity to create an authentic conversation with your readers. (Don’t just talk at them, listen to what they have to say as well.)

For decades, companies have worked hard to generate media coverage and while it’s still very important – a blog gives you the opportunity to have your own media. And along with your blog, you can produce a podcast or a vodcast. This gives you a huge opportunity to start the conversation with your consumer base.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting “how to” information about blogs – from who should blog to when you should blog and what you can write about. I will include some insider tips on blogging. Let me know if you have anything you would like me to write about. Or if you have tips you would like to include, send them to me! I would love to hear what you are doing at your blog!

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There is a bit of a debate going on about creating a blogging code of conduct. Tim O’Reilly, one of the visionaries of Web 2.0 and blogging has put a draft code of conduct on his site.

It is a question that we are often asked by clients – what happens if someone comes on a blog and posts negative, derogatory or nasty comments? We feel very strongly in free speech and the right to disagree, agree, provide feedback – good and bad – and discuss, converse and engage with each other. BUT – what happens when it gets nasty? I’m not talking about passionate, engaged, smart exchange, discussions and even disagreement. I’m talking about personal attacks, corporate attacks – postings that have no objective except to bully, embarrass or threaten.

To me, this is blogging gone wrong. What is incredible and amazing – and has the power to change the world – is the open, easy and respectful exchange of ideas, the opportunity to discuss, disagree and debate. It is collaboration, support and inspiration. But – there are a lot of people out there with issues. Their whole focus is on attacking and in many cases, they feel completely justified in doing this. And it scares me. Nasty attack postings on blogs are painful, frightening and upsetting. Often these people will hide behind being “anonymous” – and that makes it even worse.

The debate on creating a blogging code of conduct is hot. Some bloggers really don’t like the idea and feel that it is censorship. I can see that. But after having watched some pretty nasty attacks online, I think that a code of conduct is a good idea.

When we work with a client to engage them in the idea of blogging, we put it on the table – and in the blog – that discussion, debate, opinions (good and bad) and even disagreement are welcomed in the postings. And our client has to agree that they will answer the tough postings and respond to the negative comments with as much focus as they do the positive ones. But – personal attacks, obscenities, and mindless rants are posts that will be deleted. And we will explain in the blog why the post was deleted.

It can be nasty online, as anyone who has ever had an attack posting focused on them or received an email full of anger and hate. In our experience, these postings and emails usually say more about the person writing them than the person they are attacking. They are often full of inaccuracies and errors and the point of them isn’t to create a discussion to find a resolution to a problem. We know that along with freedoms come challenges – and we are incredibly grateful that we live in a world of freedoms. With this freedom, comes the opportunity to choose what we will and will not accept as discussion. For us, that means that anything based in discussion, dialogue and respectful communication is an incredible opportunity to hear from our audience.

You don’t have to agree with us to make a great conversation – in fact, most growth comes from speaking with people who don’t think the same things you do. A great discussion is one of the best things in life! So tell us what you think – is a blogging code of conduct a good thing or a bad thing?

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First off, I owe the readers of this blog an apology – my last entry was too long ago and I have committed the worst blogging sin possible … NOT blogging!!! This is exactly what we tell our clients not to do…and here, I have gone and done it. Being too busy is no excuse. My apologies. It won’t happen again.

There is a great article in the April issue of Wired Magazine entitled The See-Through CEO written by Clive Thompson. In it, Mr. Thompson writes about the power of blogging – and the challenges. He also put his money where his mouth is, so to speak – and put the article idea out there on his blog before he wrote it, creating a dialogue of what the piece could and should be. This is the true value of blogging. Some of the most interesting content in this article comes from the comments from readers of his blog. This article is a great example of the dialogue that can come up from putting your ideas, thoughts and concepts out there.

A lot of articles, including this one, often put forward the idea in this new world of online transparency, of blogging and openness – that you no longer need a PR person or publicist. That we “spin doctors” don’t like the idea of putting it all out there … that with Web 2.0 and the movement to online communications, PR becomes redundant. To that, I say … HA!

Great public relations has always been about engaging in conversation, dialogue, constructive and open feedback – talking and listening. In my opinion, blogging is one of the best things to happen to companies in the past century. Great PR doesn’t spin, hide or bury information, and with the new openness online – great PR people are invaluable. There are very few CEOs who, at this moment, would feel comfortable putting it all out there in a blog – the good, the bad and the ugly. A great PR person can show that CEO the value of this. A great PR person can identify the leading bloggers – and create the schedule for the CEO to reach out and speak to these bloggers and their audience by posting to their blogs. A great PR person DOES NOT write the blog, but can work with the CEO to ensure that he or she consistently delivers the straight goods on their blog. After all, who among us doesn’t want to sugar coat bad news just a little, who doesn’t want to soften a negative story when it is about us or our company. …a great PR person maintains the integrity of the blog and the message – and challenges the CEO to step out of their comfort zone.

We’re talking major corporate culture change here. And to do this right, a visionary CEO needs a strong PR professional with integrity, who has been empowered to open the door to true communication. Like just about everything in a Web 2.0 world, a great CEO and a great PR advisor collaborate and work as a team to create accurate, honest and authentic relationships through a blog.

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Work and Life on the Sunshine Coast…it’s as good as you would think! (Maybe even better.)

When anyone learns that AHA’s head office is on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, they either grin and give us a smart aleck remark like, ”Oh, and I’m sure you do a lot of work on the beach and the trails out there…” or they say it’s their dream to be able to live somewhere like this without sacrificing their career ambitions.

For those who grin and think we might be putting something over on the tax man, we really DO work out here – our office is 1,000 sq feet with a brainstorming area, televisions tuned into the news, a production office and four full-time staffers. (We also have some incredible contractors and strategic partners who work out of their home offices or business offices.) But – it’s also a pretty amazing place to work and live. We are surrounded by beaches (Sechelt means land between two waters) and we have a view of Porpoise Bay from our office – and access to some of the best nature trails around.

We also have an office in Vancouver, but we made a conscious decision to locate our production studio and head office on the Sunshine Coast. There are several reasons: quality of life; room for the dogs to run; and the ability to offer our clients the opportunity to get out of their office and meet here to brainstorm, media train, and for other business-related activities that need space.

We even have an “after work” fun space called The Naked Cowboy Bar & Grill named after the Naked Cowboy in New York City – who is one of the best entrepreneur PR success stories I have ever seen. The Naked Cowboy has a pool table, foosball, darts…it’s a little beach bar crossed with a Texas Honky Tonk. Clients love to go and spend an hour in there, have a cold drink and hang out after an intense afternoon of media training or messaging development.

Our office is not far from downtown Vancouver, but because we take a ferry to the city, perception is that we are far, far away. We’re not!! The ferry only takes 40 minutes – and we work on the ferry. From the Horseshoe Bay terminal, depending on traffic, we can be downtown in 20 minutes. Not a very big deal for us – and we are in Vancouver several times a week or more, depending on client needs.

With our Sunshine Coast and Vancouver offices, we have the best of all worlds. We have access to a great city with lots of culture, a large business population combined with the more rural beauty of the Sunshine Coast and the space to grow our business.

And, these days our clients are all over North America and the world so that where we are really doesn’t matter. Technology allows us constant contact – emails, Instant Messenger, telephone, online video and online conferencing allows us to feel like we are in the same room even when we are thousands of miles apart. And for those times that we need to be in the same room, we are only a drive or a plane ride away. The world is a big, wonderful, expansive place – but our ability to connect makes it seem like we are all right next door to each other.

I wonder how many others are making a choice similar to ours – molding their lifestyle and business together, instead of having one or the other. Have you? How has technology freed you to do business from where you choose? Or do you think that to be successful you need to be in the heart of a large city? Let us know what you are thinking – we’d love to hear from you. Even if you’re the taxman – because we really are working out here. Ask our clients!!

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