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Lots of companies benefit from having a blog. For some, it’s a friendly, accessible way to say hi to devoted fans, curious onlookers and likely a few haters and skeptics. For others, it’s simply the way they communicate important messages. The role of public relations professionals in this chatty puzzle is to help companies build, shape and fine-tune their public voice. In fact, many PR campaigns aren’t complete without a blog strategy. But building a client blog from the ground up can be daunting. So where do you begin?
Start, With Help
When it comes to picking out a blog platform, there are certainly plenty to choose from, but Jeff Davis, who runs the content services team at San Francisco-based PR firm LaunchSquad, generally points clients towards WordPress, a mostly-free, open-source platform. Davis also makes another point: When you’re just starting out, don’t go DIY. “If you’re building something strategic for a client, even if it’s small scale, hire a WordPress developer to handle set up, find the right plugins and design a nice UI. It can be fairly inexpensive and is critical to building a blog that will work the way you need it to quickly and effectively.”
With a bit of help, WordPress’ initial set up process is simple and fast, and yet it offers a huge range of customization and configuration options. And with thousands of plugins, there is one that will satisfy any need that you can think of, often for free. For those who are coordinating blogs for multiple clients, WordPress also offers admin features for easy management across the board.
Optimize, But Not Too Much
According to Rich Brooks, President and “Chief Blogging Officer” at Flyte New Media, your SEO practices should have a very simple goal: rank high in search results for the things that your client’s customers are looking for. He recommends starting with a keyword analysis service like Raventools, WordTracker or Google Adwords’ keyword tool.
You want to pick one keyword topic per post, mentioning it once in the post title and once in the body of the post. Be sure to link important words to past posts as well, but keep it to one or two internal links at most. Beyond that, make sure you’ve got the WordPress SEO plugin installed and place the rest of your focus on working with your client to create engaging content.
Make It Worth Sharing
The company and product news that grace the vast majority of corporate blogs can certainly be both useful and good, but it’s just a tiny snippet of what is possible and inspiring. Arik Hanson, principal at ACH Communications, recommends considering content that is less about your client’s product, and more about the “culture that surrounds” your client’s product.
Hubspot, a company that offers inbound Internet marketing software, is a prime example. Its blog offers up creatively packaged, practical information that appeals to its very own target audience. Readers will find witty, educational posts, videos, guest contributions and even cartoons that cover everything from SEO and lead generation to Charles Darwin and cupcakes.
As you work together with your client to determine the content and focus of the blog, you should ask two key questions:
- Who is going to read it?
- What kinds of topics and issues do they care the most about?
There are tons of ways to develop an ongoing flow of engaging blog content, especially if your client is willing to talk about something other than the company. Don’t be afraid to pull in experts for Q&As, give spots to guest authors, respond to news and timely topics, share the spotlight with partners and customers and provide educational how-tos. And of course, we all love lists.
Think Like a Media Property
Davis says that there are times when a company blog can fill a pretty significant informational void. In 2009, Boston-based PR agency March Communications launched a blog for client TuneUp, which makes PC utilities for consumers. After conducting some market research, the company learned that when faced with PC problems, many people turned to forums and blogs to end up finding unverified and even potentially harmful solutions. The goal of the TuneUp blog was to become a reliable source of information for PC users who want to improve performance. The team brought on an external, experienced editor-in-chief to ensure editorial quality, and it placed the majority of the blog’s focus on helping users solve real problems. Since launch, more than 170,000 people have visited the TuneUp company blog to find answers to their PC questions and concerns.
Build Your Own Newswire
Traditionally, when a company has news to share, the official statement comes in the form of a press release. However, a carefully-written, information-rich blog post can play a similar role. Andrew Sinkov, VP of marketing at Evernote, explains that “your blog can be your own newswire.” A pre-published draft of a blog post, shared with reporters under embargo, is a legitimate source for news. Last month, Evernote used a blog post as the “news announcement” for the launch of its redesigned web app, with an embargo set for the time the post was to be published. Instead of having the information live on a wire somewhere, the Evernote blog is the ultimate source for Evernote news. The announcement post has since been viewed over 17,000 times.
The benefit of incorporating blog posts into your news announcement strategy is that it’s an opportunity to share the news in the client’s voice. “You write a blog post like it’s coming from you. You’re telling a story, you’re talking to someone. If you’re excited about something, that personal excitement comes through,” says Sinkov. This doesn’t mean that blog posts should replace press releases, it simply means that they should not be overlooked. So if you’ve got a press announcement and a blog post all drafted up and set for a big launch, make sure the reporters who cover your news get to see them both.
Turn Your Readers Into Viewers
Some of us and/or our clients might have the luxury of a video-savvy person on staff — but many do not yet. Not having a dedicated video pro doesn’t mean you can’t post videos, which are a great way to engage an audience. Whether it’s a user offering her own how-to, a customer waxing poetic about how great your client’s product is, an employee explaining why people should want to work there, or the CEO talking about his favorite kind of ice cream (or his company vision, for that matter), video tells a story in a way that text often cannot match.
Steve Garfield, author of Get Seen: Online Video Secrets and the first-ever video blogger, explains that video is easier than ever to capture. Any smartphone will do as a start. For example, capture a video on an iPhone, pull it into the iMovie app to trim the clips and layer in photos and sound, upload it to YouTube directly from the app and embed it in a blog post. Keep it short and sweet — 30 to 60 seconds at most. Garfield also recommends the Kodak Playfull, a simple camera with built-in editing and sharing features.
The best advice here is to be ready to experiment. Blogs can be casual, and captured video can be real, authentic and less-than-perfect. Companies are made of people, after all, and all of these same characteristics apply. Pick your device and take it with you when your client is speaking, out at an event, or excited about a new product, and encourage your client to capture video around the office, too.
Some Parting Advice
- Create an editorial calendar that outlines both the types of posts that you would like to see on your client’s blog (video, text, photo), and the post topics. Make sure you’ve got at least two months of blogging covered at any given time, and that there is clear delineation of responsibilities, including someone who is actively maintaining the calendar. And don’t be surprised when the topic pipeline changes, because it inevitably does.
- Come up with a realistic posting schedule. One post per week is a good starting point, and it can go up from there based on time and resources. It is good to be consistent, and it is okay to for some posts to be relatively brief in order to keep things going.
- Determine who your writers are and what amount of time and resources you’ll have at your disposal. Get them to commit to a certain number of posts per month or quarter — and start conservatively.
- Make it as easy as possible for readers to spread your content around and be sure your blog is decked out with all the key sharing plugins.
- Make a list of the top 10 or 15 most influential bloggers in your client’s space. Then, make a habit of sending them a friendly note when a great, relevant post goes up. And be sure to give back to your blogger community by setting up a blogroll and offering “link love” and retweets of great posts that you come across.
- Think like a reporter. Whether you are the main writer of your client’s blog or are working with a handful of people on the client side who do the posting, pay attention to timely topics that come through and share your ideas.
What do you think of blogging for PR? Let us know in the comments below. Share your blogs, as well as your advice for PR professionals who use blogs.
Disclosure: The author works for Launchsquad, and Evernote is one of her clients. Hubspot is a Mashable sponsor.