I used to have a normal life like most people: waking, working, dinner, downtime, bed -- you know the drill. That was in the era known as PRSS or "Pre-RSS" which stands for "press" which is what the media used to be called.
It took user-generated content to really put the ME in MEdia -- the narcissism of blogging combined with Ridiculously Simple Syndication (RSS) has turned my life into a well-tagged, keyword-rich, living hell.
I'm a PR guy. I influence the media for a living. Now I have to influence the MEdia. That means YOU, dear reader, dear blogger, dear person-of-the-year. I have to find your blog and register and get a user ID and a password and confirm and set up a profile and search and comment and pitch you by email, and sometimes I even have to read your blog.
I have to endure photos of your meals snapped moments before you consumed them. I have to scroll past your pithy answers to the cyberpoll of the moment. I have to hear what you think about the U.S. Presidential election no matter that your blog is devoted to toothpaste research or natural repellents for garden pests or any of a billion splinter topics that specialists have staked-out online.
For two years, I tried badmouthing blogging at every opportunity, hoping if I closed my eyes it would go away and I would not have to learn how to use del.icio.us.
I hosted the PRSA Convention's first ever panel on blogging in 2004 as a self-proclaimed "blog cynic" and the program delivered blogging's core message in both style and content: This Is All About ME. Steve Rubel vs. B.L. Ochman with me behaving badly in between. Folks got their money's worth.
For two years I avoided having a blog. I practiced what I preached: diplomacy. I contributed to dozens of other blogs instead. Mostly I tried to hang my cursor at IAOCblog, the home of the International Association of Online Communicators. Morty Schiller and Don Dunnington and I roped a bunch of bloggers into stopping by at IAOCblog for a week and suddenly we were getting astronimical traffic (50,000 visitors a month). Why?
Because of Google. Sure, they say, "do no evil," but it is Google who has unleashed the MEdia. Google has given us this oozing, keyword laden sputum that is tagged up one side and down the other and accumulating into a digital landfill of epic proportions.
Google Loves Blogs. User-generated content is free content, for the most part. Google Loves Free. "Free" means an ad for you to see. A context-sensitive, keyword-rich ad. A digital dancing hula girl hyperactively empowered message moment that you get -- FREE -- with your search.
Why should Google care about the PRSS? Google has taken it upon itself to convert their slow media into keyword-rich tagged supermedia capable of delivering a targeted ad to the brain. As thanks, the PRSS has sued Google -- that's right -- the defender of the common voice and free search sued by the copyright barons of the Age of Scarcity.
Google Loves Blogs. It handsomely rewards citizen journalists (the MEdia) who write every day and always original content and keep it short, tag it right, and pack those subject lines with search-friendly keywords. And WE (the WEdia?) eat it up.
WE write frequent short posts. About adult diapers. About ways to remove stubborn stains. About the beloved parakeet who has gone missing. Google eats this up. "Please, could you add a video of your parakeet," Google suggests? "Audio of its call? Would you like to search for a directory of copyright-free birdcalls you can attach to your post and syndicate into Craig's List? Blast that call for your beloved pet into 40 billion search inquiries tomorrow for only $19.95 per click. How much is the life of your pet really worth, anyway?"
Did I mention that Google Owns Blogger?
For decades, I have sold clients my ability to send an intelligent pitch to a select group of media contacts and get an acceptable number of them to ask for a PRSS Kit. That's called PR, which, coincidentally, is the first half of the word "press" because so many "news" stories begin with PR.
For years now, though, the only thing my clients want is blogging. Any kind of blogging. They are desperate for blogging. The word "blog" falls off the lips of celebrities at cocktail parties all over America. If you could somehow relieve them of the daily necessity to relieve themselves online, you would win their undying gratitude and a three-month contract.
So I made a bargain with SATAN ("satan" is the word "google" if you convert it to hexidecimal, cube it, map the coordinates, and zoom in -- try it). I sold clients blogging services and was forced to learn the wonderful, wysiwyg world of Blogspot and Wordpress and LiveJournal and BlogHarbour and our own phpNuke while I boned up on bookmark registries and Digg and Reddit and don't even get me started on the social networking setups, baby, because then we're into Twitter and MySpace and NewsCorp and it's a long, winding circular cyclone of doom.
The first casualties of the blogging onslaught were the print media, also known as the PRSS, poor bastards. They all got sacked because no one could measure whether or not the people who read their stories were buying things because of their stories or exactly what things those people were buying, and when.
Magazines and newspapers everywhere axed their editorial staffs, trimmed their news sections, stopped paying for photos and stories and embraced user-generated (no-fee) content, then embraced paid placements (PayPR or PPR), allowing PR people like me to write unabashedly favorable reviews and pay to have them syndicated to you as though they were editorial content.
We have come full circle. In the great oroboro of the MEdia food chain, Public Relations (PR) has combined with the old press, who now embraces Pay PR and RSS to become The PPRSS! The missing "E" is editorial.
The path from "press" to "PPRSS" -- and from "media" to "MEdia" -- was not without hazards. Since there were no longer any journalists to pitch, clients no longer needed PR people like me to get no results because they were capable of getting no results by themselves. So they stopped buying PR completely and moved all their marketing money into RSS: direct-to-consumer news releases and blogging.
Believe it or not, this is where the story gets emotional. I'm blogging like crazy at this point (2007) and so is everyone working with me because that's all most clients are willing to pay for. I'll take a celebrity, paint a bullseye on them, post their picture on five blogs, then let YOU (the users) hurl insults at them, and see how long they can take it. Five days, usually. We call it a "Blog Tour" but it's really a digital dunk tank.
But that wasn't selling because smart clients could use Google Blog Search to see that other clients were getting slaughtered on these tours and for what? Entertainment? Yes! User-generated, copyright-friendly, keyword-rich cyberlynchings that draw a crowd and sell ads.
So clients who didn't want to be crucified on blog tours paid us to pitch bloggers instead of pitching the old media who had all been fired. So my staff of restless geeks led by a PR guy had to pick through all of your blogs to find out what you write about. It turns out, you write about absolutely anything that comes into your mind regardless of whether it fits or whether anyone cares or listens.
Google cares. Google listens. Google hears you in the RSStle of the RSS feed. It finds your favorite cocktail recipe, it knows that your dog is having trouble with her rear, driver-side leg. You were thoughtful enough to record these private moments online, so people who love cocktails and love dogs can find you and thank you.
Okay, so the first people to find you and thank you are people selling cocktail glasses and hind leg braces. They will soon be followed by comments from dog lovers and sophisticated drinkers. Okay, so the first comments sound like thoughtful dog-lovers but actually they are clever, keyword-laden links to offshore pharmaceutical porn sites.
If you have weathered the storm and managed to produce an intelligent blog with limited amounts of spam that stays relatively close to topic, then I and every other PR guy and gal on the planet is going to pitch you mercilessly. Sorry. You are the only MEdia left.
So publishers paid me to pitch to you. They paid me to find your contact information. They paid me to ask you to blog about them and offer you a PPRSS Kit. But soon there was another bottleneck.
You don't write very often. You mean to. You just don't have time to. Who does? So clients pay me to write the post for you, give you that post in an email, and ask you nicely, celebrity blogger YOU, person-of-the-year YOU, to post it in your RSS feed. For awhile you gamely complied because I got you off the hook for a day with a post. But then, like your email-saturated bretheren before you, the MEdia got tired of blogging and tired of pitches and shut down.
That's where we are today. The press has been replaced by the PPRSS and the media by the MEdia, but the MEdia has tired of their responsibility to endlessly report, rate, and comment on every moment of their existence in keyword-rich, properly-tagged postings so that Google can sell your preferences to advertisers without paying ridiculous copyright baron content-owner fees.
Atlas has shrugged. YOU got tired of being the MEdia after only two years since gracing the cover of Time magazine.
Today, because the MEdia has failed to sustain an interesting infostream for us PR types to hang quasi-commercial pitches onto, I have been forced to do your job for you. I now produce about a dozen newsblogs for clients. We blog every working day with an intelligently-written news summary and a piece of YOUR copyright-free art or video. The posts are keyword-laden, content-rich, properly linked, platform-neutral, and devastatingly effective. Why?
Google Loves Blogs.
Our posts go through a professional copy-editor -- a journalistically-trained human link-checking machine. The headlines, categories, and tags are search-engine optimized for maximum topic penetration. These genetically-engineered newsposts are timed to go off early in the morning so they'll hit your Alerts by breakfast.
And hit they do -- like ringing a bell. After one week, we'll be in your alerts. After a month, we will own keyphrases. Few amateur blogs can compete against a professionally-produced, relentlessly daily, strategically optimized, visually appealing, platform neutral newsblog.
Now you know why I say blogging has ruined my life. The pace is unending. All day long, we gather news and turn it into stories. At night, our little blog factory edits and optimizes those posts and drops them in the queue. Everyday, all day, the RSS snakes through cyberspace, picking up and depositing our messages at the end of your searches. The news never sleeps anymore and neither do I.
Who do I hire to write this enormous pile of special-interest newsblogs? Journalists who got canned by newspapers and magazines and want to work from home. Seems there's no shortage of them right now.
Ask people what a blog is and you will get a variety of interesting answers, including: a diary, a web site, a personal statement, a community, a bully pulpit, a news magazine. Technically, a blog is a "web log," or a log that appears on the web. Here's my definition of a blog:
A blog is a categorical, chronological publishing system.
I know it's a mouthful, but it's accurate and will help you to stop thinking of blogs as diaries. Blogging software makes sharing published content easier by forcing the content into a modular framework. Every blog entry or post has the same basic elements: a date, an author, a headline, body text, images, captions, categories, tags, etc.
If everyone publishes their content using this same system, you can design crawlers and readers that make it easy to search and aggregate this content. This is referred to as RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, the technology underlying blog architecture. When a site publishes an RSS stream, people find out when you have posted new content on that site without you having to tell them.
With a standard web site, when your content changes, you have to tell people or they have no way of knowing. Search engines will find the new content eventually, but they won't tell anyone about it until they ask -- by searching. RSS allows people to subscribe to your web site (or web page or blog or podcast), so that whenever your content changes, your subscribers are notified about the change and given a headline and link to the changed content. RSS improves search engine results by categorizing content using the same measuring standards. RSS provides a notification service through subscription.
RSS allows for aggregating content by integrating information from a variety of RSS streams into one reader or page. This is the "build your own newspaper" capability of RSS that many have predicted will become the newspaper of the future. The idea is you get your sports from ESPN, your news from CNN, your weather from The Weather Channel, your favorite cartoons, your favorite columnists, plus top blogs, newsletters, and trade journals, all customized to your location, poured into a template of headlines, links and images and updated in realtime: The New Newspaper.
In reality, few people have the patience to set up these customized readers. Instead, we use a variety of tools to get our news, including email, web sites, blogs, and newsreaders. But some enterprising individuals and organizations have set up "aggregator sites" -- for profit. Today, I can build an online magazine about, let's say cooking, and I can assemble that magazine with sumptuous artwork, top industry columnists, recipes, cooking videos, and other syndicated content, all provided free through RSS streams. I can hook all these streams onto one page that updates automatically. I can then sell advertisements or links on that page and pocket the money. See Figure 8-1 for an example of a cooking aggregator site.
Figure 8-1: An "aggregator site" for cooking. This page automatically updates the top 6 videos on cooking from YouTube, Yahoo Video, and MSN Video. An ad to the right for Carrabba's Italian Grill generates revenue for the site owner. By clicking on the Blog tab, you get the top blog posts on cooking, which also update automatically through RSS feeds.
So you see, a blog is much bigger than a diary. I've read a dozen books that say blogs are diaries and must be written by an individual and have a personal voice and allow for conversation. Hogwash. Blogs are publishing machines. They don't have to be personal, individual, or even conversational. One of the most popular business blogs ever is "Seth's Blog" by my mentor, Seth Godin, and he doesn't allow comments. A blog is a categorical, chronological publishing machine and it's most significant marketing uses have little to do with personal diary entries.
Why has blogging become so popular? In 2004, I predicted the term "blogging" would disappear by 2006 as blogs were absorbed into the web. In fact, the trend has gone the other way, with the number of new blogs far outstripping new web sites, and with companies migrating more and more of their web content onto blogs. Right now, that's a pretty smart thing to do. You can slowly transfer your web content to a blog, thus generating a daily blog post and making your web content easier for search engines to categorize and for searchers to find.
Figure 8-2: A post from Deepak Chopra's blog on The Huffington Post, illustrates state-of-the-art blog architecture. Most popular blogs have these common elements: Masthead, Navigation, Advertising, Blog Posts, Copyright and Other Notices.
Figure 8-2 shows a post on Deepak Chopra's blog at The Huffington Post, a top current events blog. Most blogs have a similar architecture, including:
In the upper, left-hand corner is the name of the blog: The Huffington Post, and the date of the visit. The masthead is much larger on the home page of the site, but top-of-the-page ad space is so valuable, the masthead is kept to a minimum on posts.
The navigation on most blogs used to be on one side of the post, the ads on the other side. More blogs are moving to a two-column format now and providing the navigation horizontally at the top of the page. Starting from the top, Huffington offers:
- Teaser links to featured content: "Big News"
- Log In or Sign Up: for registered site users
- Search box. Searches site rather than Deepak Chopra's blog.
- Facebook Sharing button.
- Topical and geographical text links to sections of the site
- Image crawl with links to other stories: The three faces below the topic bar are image links to other sections of the site.
A top-of-the-page banner ad in Figure 8-2 offers email marketing services. Next to Deepak Chopra's post is a health care reform ad. These ads would probably be more targeted to my location and preferences if I were logged-in. The advertising goes on and on, all the way down the page. Deepak Chopra has a bookstore built into the page offering his books. There are Google text ads midway offering drug rehab services. There are dozens of ads linking to other content on Huffington. Some blogs have annoying ads that pop up or dance across the page or float or endlessly rotate. It seems the trick with commercial blogs is to find out just how little content you can put on the page and keep your reader engaged in the ad display.
- Blog Post
The post or content is usally displayed as a jewel in the center of the page with all this navigation and advertising floating around it. Deepak's post in Figure 8-2 starts with Meta Data (name, plug, date, photo), a headline, a stack of keywords, and no less than a dozen social sharing buttons.
- Copyright and Other Notices
Anatomy of a Blog Post: Front View
Figure 8-3 shows a sample post from one of the first and still one of the most popular blogs, BoingBoing. This site grew out of a magazine called BoingBoing that was published briefly in the 1990s. Many of the folks who started BoingBoing online were also involved with another magazine called Mondo2000 and an online community called The WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link -- from the makers of The Whole Earth Catalog -- now owned by Salon, another hugely popular web community).
Figure 8-3: A post from the popular, hip blog, BoingBoing, illustrates the anatomy of a blog post: author, date, categories, tags, headline, embeds, body copy, credits, links, comments, and social networking features.
Here, then, courtesy of BoingBoing, the anatomy of a blog post. From the top:
Features the title of the blog. In this case, it is followed by the blog categories in the horizontal stripe at the top of the page. Technically speaking, the masthead is part of the page, but not part of the post.
- Meta Data
Author name: Lisa Katayama. Date and time posted: 12:24 p.m. on December 15, 2009. Category: science. Tags: history, japan, snow.
- Social Networking
These buttons make it easy to rate the post, bookmark the post, share the post. They also show the Digg number, the number of people sharing the post on Facebook and the number of retweets for the post on Twitter. Some sites offer dozens of ways to rate, share, or bookmark a post. Often, the number of comments on the post is also shown in this section of the post.
Usually optimized with keywords. Notice the words "japan" "snow" and "science" are in both the tags and headline.
- Body of the Post
This post includes text and a video embed from the video sharing service, Vimeo. You can embed almost anything two-dimentional into a blog post, including images, audio files, video files, animations, widgets, polls, avatars, etc. This post includes a link in the credits to a news source. While there is little text in this post, blog posts can be very long and elaborately formatted using a full array of graphic design tools.
- Citations and Credits
This post includes a citation crediting the source of the story as Neatorama. The citation is linked to the source story. When artwork is used, an image credit usually appears in this area as well, with a link to the source of the image.
This post had accumulated eight comments since being posted. In this case, the full comments are shown below the post. Some blogs require you to drill down into the comments, others provide only the most recent comments or highest rated comments.
The words in italics in the above list give an idea of how RSS works and how search engines navigate blogs. The RSS sends out a message every time someone posts saying, in effect, "Here is the title, the categories, the tags, the links, the text, the citations -- come read me." The search engines are evaluating: "Do the tags match the text? Is this exact post duplicated elsewhere online? Is this video protected by copyright?"
You might be surprised at that last question. Yes, search engines are now able to execute visual, audio, and text searches of your blog posts and identify segments of content that are copyright protected. You might want to brush up on the rules regarding copyright in blog posts and what you are and are not legally allowed to put in posts. Even if your blog posts are 100% legal, if the search engines see your images and text don't match the tags and titles, or if they suspect you are trying to trick them, they'll punish your visibility, authority and rank.
It's a lot easier for search engines to evaluate and compare blogs than it is web sites because everything on a blog has this same architecture (author, date, headline, tags, images, embeds, etc.). You are forced to summarize and categorize all your content when you produce a blog or when you migrate content from a web site to a blog to make it more visible.
Anatomy of a Blog Post: Rear View
Figure 8-4: The backend of a Wordpress blog, showing the window for creating a new blog post.
We've seen how blog posts are structured from the browser's end and how they are integrated with advertising, navigation, notices, and other content into a blog. Now let's look at the blog from the writer's view. Figure 8-4 shows the page for creating a new blog post using the popular Wordpress free blogging service. Let's take a closer look at this page to see how a blog post is created.
- Body Copy or Post Content
Let's start in the middle box where you see my name. This is where you input the content of your post. You can embed text, images, video, audio, polls, and other media. You can add links to the copy and embeds, too. The buttons above the entry box provide a variety of formatting choices to accent your text or facilitate embeds. A tab allows you to toggle between "Visual" and "HTML" or code view. You can blog without knowing any HTML, but knowing just a little will help you improve posts and save time by tweaking the code.
- Headline or Title of Post
It's best to write the headline after you've written the post, or after you've chosen artwork for the post which might suggest a clever headline. Headlines are optimized by comparing them to a list of target keywords, a list of the most popular posts on the blog, and by analyzing the results of alerts for target keywords.
- Author Name
Not shown in Figure 8-4, an author's name is almost always attached to each post. It might be assigned when you log in, or you might be able to choose from several accounts to post under. Most blogs provide a way for you to hide your name or not display your name automatically on your posts.
This window allows you to create a teaser for the blog post, for those sites that prefer to display teasers and a link rather than the full post. We stopped using teasers on our blogs because search engines were having difficulty indexing the content behind the teaser (or "after the jump" in blog lingo).
Categories are sort of global keywords or tags. They provide a level of heirarchy above tags or keywords. In use, we would try to limit the total number of categories to about a dozen. By comparison, there might be thousands of keywords or tags. We would try to not cross-post to more than four categories per post.
Tags are called keywords or keyphrases on some blogs. You can go crazy with tags and add hundreds to a post, but the reigning wisdom is that search engines penalize for that and you should try to use no more than a handful of tags per post.
Blog posts can be saved, posted immediately, or scheduled for release at a future time. These choices are shown in the "Publish" section of Figure 8-4. Scheduling posts can lead to PR problems if something important changes before the post goes live. A famous sports journalist once got caught commenting on a game that had not been played. However, scheduling greatly facilitates proofreading, copyediting, and optimizing posts and provides safe distance before you say something publicly and forever that you will soon regret.
Not shown in Figure 8-4 are the commenting choices for this post. You can choose to allow comments, not allow comments, or require moderation before comments appear. On many blogs, these choices are set globally for the blog, but Wordpress allows you to toggle your preferences for each post you create.
Also not shown in Figure 8-4 are the trackback controls. Trackbacks notify you when someone has linked to your post. However, trackbacks are a notorious breeding ground for spammers and are often turned off or tightly moderated.
Starting your own blog is easy. You can begin a free blog in a matter of a few minutes by going to Blogger, Wordpress, LiveJournal, or other blogging portals. You register for a username, ID, and password. Then you're given a free blog and you can begin posting entries immediately.
When we set up blogs for clients, we produce three core documents to start with. For large organizations, the first two should be reviewed by legal counsel before being used:
This is where you explain such things as who owns the copyright to blog posts and comments. You may want to include a comments policy, such as whether anonymous comments are allowed and whether comments are moderated. The terms usualy contain the blog's rules of etiquette, such as the policy toward profanity or other prohibited content.
It is considered wise to explain to people what data you are keeping about them and how that data is used.
This is the most enjoyable of these stock notices to write. They don't have to be dry boiler plate. You can use the About Us page to pump people up and to provide additional contact information or links.
Is it better to have your blog hosted by someone like Blogger, or should you host the blog on your own web site? If you have the staff to integrate the blog into your web site, you are much better off hosting your own blog than having it hosted by someone else. You get greater control over the blog and the backups. In the early days of blogging, blog services were notorious for losing posts, losing entire blogs, running slowly, or not being available when needed. These services have improved greatly in recent years, but there are still many complaints.
One benefit of being on a shared host is that you get some traffic from the community, where you are easier to find for people doing site searches. If you're blog is on LiveJournal, for example, you'll get traffic from other LJers just for being there. You lose some of that automatic visibility when you host your own blog.
Whether you host your own blog or use a shared hosting service, please figure out how you are going to back up the blog right away. I have learned the hard way that backing up blogs on different services can be difficult, and there's no protection if the site loses your blog. With some blogs, we display all the posts for a month, then make a PDF just in case. We also export the blog content when that option is available. However, the exports can be impossible to import into other platforms. When we migrated the IAOCblog to Wordpress, we lost the names and user IDs of people making comments on the old blog.
Personally, I am still shocked at how casually people protect the content of their blogs. In most cases, you own the copyright not only to your blog posts, but also to the posts or comments anyone else makes on your blog. Edited properly, these blogs make excellent books or ebooks, FAQ files, white papers, special reports, etc. For many years, I wondered why no publishers were out there mining the scores of chat transcripts available online. You could easily assemble a book like, "Conversations with Fifty Architects" out of edited chat transcripts or blog posts that would be a significant contribution to the field of architecture. Someday, these old blogs and chat transcripts will be mined and the nuggets of wisdom they contain will be separated from the filth that clogs chat streams and comment threads. So back up those blogs, please!
Settings and Permissions
Most blogging software provides a fair amount of control over how the blog works and how it operates through user-controlled settings. Here are some of the more common options, with any suggestions I have for your settings:
Look and Feel
The layout of the blog, including typestyles, colors, columns, and the location of things like links and comments is controlled by a blog "skin" or layout. You can use the layouts provided by your blogging service, hire someone to design your blog, or try making your own. The layout can make your blog look more modern or old-fashioned, friendly or authoritative. For better branding, many large organizations design their own blog skin.
You can add quite a few "widgets" or features to your blog to improve navigation. These include calendars of archives that show which days you posted; a list of the most popular posts, the highest rated posts, the most commented on posts; a list of the most recent comments or, yes, even the most popular or highest rated comments. You can list your blogs categories, tags used, or add a "tag cloud" that indicates how popular a subject is by the size of the type the tag is rendered in. You can add a blogroll with links to other blogs. The variety of choices is impressive.
Social Networking Hookups
You can add a variety of social networking connections to your blog. These make it easier for you to blog in one place and have it appear throughout your network. For example, you can tweak your settings and software to migrate your blog post to your Facebook page and to tweet the headline of your post through Twitter. Our research has shown fantastic increases in blog readership when the social networks get hooked up. These features also make it easier for people to tell others about your site, by providing social networking buttons next to posts that allow people to review, rate, tag, bookmark, or share a post.
Wordpress offers five levels of users: administrator, editor, author, contributor, subscriber. People who are added as "authors" cannot edit the posts of other authors. Editors can access posts but can't access blog management features. Only administrators can change the basic parameters of the blog and assign permissions. More than one person can be an administrator. On most blogs, you cannot post unless you are given posting privileges from an administrator. Unlike online discussion groups, where all members of the conversation are essentially on equal footing, with a blog only the chosen are allowed to post and the public must content themselves with commenting.
Privacy and Email Settings
You have the choice of having a private blog that is not listed in the site directory. Some software provides the option of excluding search engines from indexing your blog. You might want to use a separate email address for the blog from your primary email address. You can choose to reveal your email address or add an email link to your name on your posts. You can ask to be emailed whenever there is a new post or comment or trackback.
These are maybe the most important settings on your blog. They channel the flow of discussion, making it easier or more difficult for the public to participate. People can use the comments to attack your organization, to praise you, to advertise their products, to blow off steam, or in other imaginative ways. If you allow comments and don't monitor them, they will fill up with spam of the most vile description in no time at all. A lot of blogs simply don't allow comments, and that's a valid choice. If the majority of comments add nothing to the discussion, it's probably not worth grooming them.
If you allow comments, you have myriad ways of restricting them to protect the blog from nasty people. First, you can require that people register before commenting. I'm guessing about half the blogs I encounter require registration to comment. I'm also guessing that requiring registration will cut your comments down (both good and bad) by at least half. Second, you can hold comments for approval. This will also cut your comments down. In an immediate gratification culture, the two-step of registration then moderation really slows down the dialogue.
Another comment control is not allowing HTML code in your comments, which slows people from advertising other sites but also makes it hard for them to point to content that is important to the discussion. Some software includes profanity filters, that hold comments for moderation if they contain profanity, or post the comment with the profanity covered-up or deleted.
Commenting is such an important part of blogging that even more elaborate controls have been devised to move good comments up and bad comments out. Many blogs allow you to review, rate, or flag comments, so that the highest-rated comments rise to the top. Reders help police comments by flagging anything commercial or abusive. Some sites grant authority levels to certain commenters, so that their comments are posted without moderation, or are ranked higher.
Be prepared to revisit your comment policy and tweak the settings from time to time to keep up with improvements in the software.
Styles of Blogs
You've got your blog all set up, looking pretty, permissions tweaked, and you're ready to blog. What do you blog about? My best answer: you blog the news. "Newsblogging" is what we call it at the shop, and I describe it in detail later in this chapter. What else can you blog about? Anything you want. Let's take a look at some of the more popular styles of blogs, several of which might work for you.
You, an individual, write about whatever you like. A personal blog is different from an employee blog, where you are representing an organization. Usually, people feel free to express their opinions on a personal blog. However, you can lose your job, be arrested, or suffer other difficulties for what you post on your personal blog, so it's not like there are no rules. An early example of a personal blog was The Drudge Report, by Matt Drudge, now one of the most popular political blogs.
Employee blogs are written from your perspective as an employee representing an organization. CEO blogs are an example of this, where a principal of the organization posts under his or her own byline. What you say on these blogs is governed by your organization's policy (if it has one) as well as the law. Regulations against forward-looking statements by corporate executives result in CEO blogs being a little more stiff than most blogs.
Employee blogging is a subject way too big for me to cover here. It brings the benefits that every employee of the company can be a sales rep and can engage in conversation with their peers that improves their productivity while marketing the organization. On the other hand, it exposes the organization to a tangle of liability and privacy concerns that are only getting more confusing with new disclosure laws. I highly recommend Debbie Weil's The Corporate Blogging Book for a more thorough discussion of this dynamic topic.
Company blogs are slightly easier to cover than employee blogs, even though most company blogs are collective employee blogs. An early example of this is Google Blog, which is the company's official blog and which many employees post to. Employees tend to stick to the facts and express fewer personal opinions on the company blog than their own employee blogs. Some company blogs try to warm-up the organization by sharing news of birthdays and babies while encouraging movie reviews or book reviews.
Many company blogs are now written by professional journalists hired to blog. They gather news from throughout the organization and blog about it, adding artwork or videos to keep it lively. They might videotape interviews with employees, or produce live chats with employees on the blog. One nice thing about professionally producing a company blog like this is it lets the employees off the hook; they aren't pressured to blog, they can just be employees. And the blog gets published every day, which is important to visibility, authority, and rank.
Most blogs are individual blogs, where there is one person posting and everyone else comments. Group blogs have several people posting, usually unified around a single theme. You increase your clout by having several people involved, plus you make it easier on each of them compared to maintaining their own blogs. The prototypical example of a group blog is The Huffington Post, which features celebrity bloggers such as Bill Maher and Eve Ensler. The Huff is really in a category by itself now, though -- a sort of opinion portal.
In 2006, I produced a group blog for BK Currents, the current affairs imprint of Barrett-Kohler Publishers, known for their hard-hitting, left-of-center exposes including David Korten's When Corporations Rule the World and John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. We put five authors together for the BK Currents Blog and gave each one a week at the helm. Then we promoted it all over the place.
Everything went extremely well -- until their week was over. We thought once the authors had embraced the blog, they would take one day a week to post to the blog, and we could keep the ball rolling. But the authors are like everyone else -- they mean to blog, really they do, but they just can't find the time. Underneath that, the authors are more interested in promoting their own brands than the publisher's brand. Most of them now have their own blogs -- which they also mean to post to.
I've set up several group blogs, several company blogs, and dozens of individual blogs. In my opinion, at the end of the day, you should hire a pro. Blogging is simply too important to leave to amateurs. You cannot rely on their accuracy, punctuality, ethics, or attitude. When you hire a blogger in-house, or hire a blogging service, you can hew to a professional set of standards. I think the biggest benefit of my blogging work for organizations has not been the traffic or sales that resulted, but that their employees learned how to blog time-effectively; it made them better ambassadors for the organization online.
I will briefly mention these blogs because I think they will play an increasingly important role in your online efforts. In Figure 8-1 at the beginning of this chapter, I showed you the video page of a cooking aggregator site. As link farms are to search engines, so aggregators are to blogs. Some people call them "fake blogs" or "spam blogs," but they provide an important sifting and sorting mechanism for the web and it is increasingly difficult to draw the line between a "real blog" and an aggregator.
Aggregators simply subscribe to all those RSS streams people are creating, and display the results on one combined page. BlogCatalog is a great example of an aggregator that adds real value by gathering together all the RSS streams it can find on any given topic. Those streams include videos, audio podcasts, images, blogs, discussion groups, and social media. These new topical supersites threaten to suck up all the traffic now going to blogs, then they deposit that traffic to favored blogs.
One way to play the aggregator game is to join in. On your own blog, in addition to your own news, you can subscribe and display RSS feeds from others. You magnify the content on your site and increase your online visibility for target topics. If you add video, audio, or image streams from others to your blog, you will visually improve the experience and attract and retain more readers. You can go all the way and build your own aggregator site with dozens of RSS streams hooked together, but you'll have to compete with some pretty well-financed, advertiser-supported portals. You're probably better off adding a few selected RSS streams to your site and making sure that your blog is included in aggregator blogs such as BlogCatalog -- they can send you an enormous amount of traffic.
Daily Blog Management
Once the blog is set up, the daily maintenance is routine. It takes about two hours a day to post daily to a blog. You can get it done in less time, but only if you phone it in (you can, literally, create a daily audio blog using voicemail). But if you "phone it in" all the time, who wants to read it? We've tried every which way to cut our time down on daily blogging, but two hours a day is about the best we can do to produce something other people want to read or watch or listen to.
Comments and Spam
Other than posting, you have to police the comments. You need to remove spam and profanity or your blog will soon be blocked out of search engines. If you have filters or require moderation, you have to clean the filters and approve or remove comments and trackbacks held in moderation. This activity usually requires just a few minutes every day. That could stretch into hours a day if you choose to reply to comments and your blog gets a lot of comments. Most professionally-produced blogs for organizations to not generate a number of comments that would be a burden to respond to -- unlike some news organizations or entertainment blogs.
Traffic analysis and tracking is also part of managing the blog. Most blogs provide fairly thorough analytics, including where the traffic comes from, what people are looking at while they are at the site, and raw traffic numbers and graphs. Analyzing the stats can be addictive. We try not to obsess about them because, in the long run, the numbers are misleading. What counts is focusing on putting good content on the front end and not measuring the back end. Eventually, good content wins out over gimmicks and the traffic takes care of itself.
RSS creates real difficulties measuring the readership of a blog. More people could be reading your blog at an aggregator such as BlogCatalog than are coming to your site. If you hooked your blog into your social networks, the readers could be on Facebook or Amazon.com or LinkedIn and you have no idea how many there are. So you don't focus on the number of readers; you focus on trends. What is causing your traffic to spike or drop? What were the most popular posts and why? Who is sending traffic your way and why?
The gathering and analysis of statistics is a Friday ritual in our shop. It is not enough to pull the stats off the blog. You want to combine them with other ways of measuring your reach, such as whether your blog's position in search engines is improving? Are your inbound links from other blogs increasing? How many other blogs have mentioned your blog in a post? How many blogs have you commented on?
For my clients, a key measure is how often their blog posts are making it into Google Alerts or other alert services that track the "top five" blog posts on any topic on a daily basis. A top-five blog slot on key topics means a dominant position as a thought leader or source of information on that topic. Making the Google Alerts means more to my staff than any other metric, yet we have no idea how many people subscribe to those alerts. A traffic report for the Health Care Reform Now Blog is in the case histories for this chapter and shows some of the things we track.
Promoting the Blog
Blogs tend to promote themselves, to a degree, by building up keyword-searchable content that enventually accumulates to a size where it gets noticed by search engines and starts to draw traffic. As content grows, first-time readers grow, and through proper grooming you can convert a certain percentage to repeat visitors and keep the whole thing growing and moving forward. So literally, the most important thing to do is to keep posting and accumulating content every day, even if you are just posting one page of a book every day.
When you are ready, you should conduct a Blog Registration Campaign to get your blog listed in search engines, directories, catalogs and aggregators. There is a Registration Form template in the Search Engine Optimization chapter, along with a Blog Registration Report with links to some important sites to register at. These templates are also available at the companion site for this book. Don't register until the blog has been up and running for a few days or weeks, so there is content for the directories to evaluate. A blog registration campaign usually doubles blog traffic within a week. That might not be true with mature blogs, but it is with young ones.
Blogrolls and Links
You can solicit links from other blogs. Most blogs contain a "blogroll" with links to favorite blogs. By adding a blogroll to your blog, and linking to others, you are more likely to get them to install a link back. This is called "blogrolling," and accounts for the ponderous long blogrolls on some blogs. Good SEO suggests the more of these inbound links you have, the better your search visibility. But Eric Ward and others would suggest it is the quality, not the quantity, of those inbound links that matter. You might want to be selective about who you link to, and aggressive in soliciting links from credible, high-traffic blogs in your subject area.
Social Networking Hookups
We have already mentioned that hooking your blog up to your own social networks will significantly boost traffic. The idea is to blog in one place, but have the post or a link to the post appear throughout your network. Please see the Social Networking chapter for information on how to set up your social networks. There are more socnets than you likely realize. Anywhere you have a profile online is part of your social network, whether that's Facebook or Walmart.com or your phone company or your bank. All of these profiles are increasingly interconnected and willing to host your blog posts or tweets. When you publish a post, it could instantly appear in anywhere from 5 to 50 places.
News Digest Email
An often overlooked way to promote your blog is to provide a weekly summary of the blog via email. This news digest teases people back to the blog and provides good content for company newsletters or ezines. It's similar to what people see when they subscribe to your RSS feed. However, a lot of people don't use RSS feed aggregators and prefer old-fashioned email. Plus, when you get a subscriber to a news digest, you get an email address. When someone subscribes to your RSS, you have no idea who they are or how to contact them.
Beyond the basics of registration, blogrolls, socnets and content accumulation, the most effective way we've found to promote a blog is to go out and comment on other blogs in your subject area. If you comment intelligently, people will notice, and will check out your blog. If your blog has decent content, they'll say something about it. There is nothing like recognition by your peers to suddenly escalate traffic. When one client got mentioned on the popular Freakonomics Blog, his newsletter signups went from two a week to 2,000/week. That's what I call substantial! Freakonomics didn't stumble on my client; we first commented on their blog, then asked them to review our blog.
It is kind of humorous how the subject of the proper way to pitch bloggers has generated so much controversy online. The Bad Pitch Blog is one of the most popular PR blogs as it chronicles one really dumb pitch after another. You can go there if you want, or Google it to find many similar sites. I recommend these sites for entertainment purposes only, though, and not for guidelines on how to pitch bloggers (unless you are studying how not to pitch bloggers, in which case, these sites present a Titanic full of disasterous pitches).
The problem with the Bad Pitch Blog and similar sites is that journalists, as a whole, act like a bunch of whining primadonas. Since they are the conduit to media coverage, they delight in setting up elaborate guidelines for how they want to be pitched. They expect you to know who they are, what topics they cover, what topics they've covered recently, their writing style, their slant (heaven forbid you pitch a "liberal" topic to a "conservative" journalist -- or vice versa). Your pitch itself must salute them by name, come to the point immediately, not contain any attachments, not contain any hype, not contain any graphics, and be fascinating, well-written, and genuinely newsworthy. They don't want releases before 9:00 a.m. in their timezone, never on Monday, and they prefer new pitches on Friday.
You can follow all the rules and still be pilloried for poor pitching just because you caught a "journalist" on a bad day. One reason for this animosity between pitchers and bloggers is blogging itself; it invites immediate response. If a blogger likes your pitch, they'll post it immediately. Same goes if they hate your pitch. Print and broadcast media stopped getting their knickers in a bunch about bad pitching a long time ago. Could you imagine if a newspaper took time after each stupid fax received in the news room to write a scathing review of the release and fax it back? Can you imagine writing nasty letters back for every piece of junk mail or spam you receive? Isn't it easier to just delete bad pitches and forget about them? Do you really think humiliating people who pitch poorly is going to do anything to reduce the number of bad pitches you get?
Many bloggers are simply not used to being journalists yet. They are not used to being on the receiving end of PR pitches, which is one of the reasons I love pitching bloggers. They haven't yet learned to let bad pitches sink without a comment. Fortunately, they haven't yet learned to be cynical, either, or to make PR people sit up and rollover and otherwise beg for coverage. The ultimate example of journalist arrogance in this regard is The Jay Leno Show's "Earn Your Plug" segment, where he tries to compel celebrities to perform tricks before Jay will play their clips. How about a segment called "Who's Your Daddy," where you reveal all the product placements and brand bombs on the set and in the dialogue during the show? Maybe you could play a cash register "kaching" sound effect every time there's another paid placement during the show?
For the bloggers our there who don't like getting bad pitches, you might want to chill for your own sake, delete the bad pitches, and focus on the best pitches you get. For those of you pitching bloggers, I'll show you how to craft pitches that bring positive results.
The Blog Pitch
I use Steve's Four Part Pitch for blog pitching, which I've covered in other chapters. Since dozens of students have reported that my Four Part Pitch was the most valuable thing they learned in my class Tulane, I'll refresh your memory and show how it's tailored for a blog pitch.
- Stroke: Say something nice about their blog. It shows you did your homework and this is not a radom pitch.
- Pitch: Quickly state your request: Please review my site. Please post an announcement. Please link to my blog. Please post news about this event. Etc.
- Credentials: Briefly state your qualifications.
- Action Alternatives: Don't force a "yes" or "no" answer. Provide several alternatives: Let me know if you would like an interview. Is there someone else I should send this pitch to? Would you like artwork to go with that story?
Figure 8-5 shows the blog pitch that we created for a promotional campaign for the new WeightWatchers web site. It is a little longer than I prefer, and contains a lot of language required by the client which slows the pitch. For example, the trademark symbol is used only once in the release; the client wanted it used every time a brand was mentioned. But those ® and © and ™ symbols are distracting to journalists and don't travel well online. Non-ASCII characters often turn into "ASCII equivalents" (aka gibberish) when pushed through email or a comment form. A blog pitch is like a letter to a journalist. Polite people don't put trademark symbols in their personal letters.
Otherwise, though, this pitch hews pretty close to the formula. A template for this Blog Pitch is available for free download and use at the companion web site for this book. Let's examine the pitch from the top.
Client: Krupp Kommunications
Project: Weight Watchers Online
Subject Line: NAME, write about Weight Watchers on BLOGNAME?
I'm writing to ask if you will please write about Weight Watchers® Online on BLOGNAME? I can provide a free one-month trial for you to test drive the site first.
Every January brings another round of fad diets targeting people concerned with their weight. Weight Watchers Online doesn't offer fads -- just over 40 years of solid science, now backed by some of the best tech on the Internet. Based on the Weight Watchers approach to weight management, the online plan helps subscribers stay on track with instant access to state-of-the-art and easy-to-use interactive weight-loss tools and advice.
Looking for inspiration? The millions of visitors to WeightWatchers.com post over 59,000 non-spam comments a day on groomed message boards. Looking for flexibility? Weight Watchers Online has separate tracks for men and women, for usually-home or never-home eaters, and for other lifestyle needs. Looking for variety? Weight Watchers Online describes over 31,000 food options with over 1500 recipes. Looking to drop 100 pounds in a month? Look elsewhere! Weight Watchers Online is about living healthy and eating healthy, not dangerous weight drops or drugs.
We hope you're inspired to blog about your experiences with Weight Watchers Online during the free trial -- but you're not required to write about it. I've included a sample announcement about the program at the bottom of this email. Please feel free to write about the site in your own words.
For your free trial, reply to this email and I'll send the access info. Let me know if I can answer any questions. Thanks for your consideration.
for Weight Watchers Online
Phone: (504) 342-4806
I've been asked to post an announcement about Weight Watchers Online. This customized convenient online plan makes it easy to stay connected anywhere at anytime. Based on the Weight Watchers approach to weight management, the online plan helps subscribers stay on track with instant access to state-of-the-art and easy-to-use interactive weight-loss tools and advice. There’s access to video workouts, over 31,000 food options and over 1,500 recipes, and more -- all to guide you through living a healthy lifestyle.
Weight Watchers Online has offered me a free one-month trial and has asked me to write about my experiences on this blog. I'm considering it.
For more information, visit Weight Watchers Online at:
Figure 8-5: A blog pitch for Weight Watchers Online. It's a tad long, but follows classic pitch protocol: stroke, pitch, credentials, action alternatives. Cut-and-paste announcements are provided for story-hungry bloggers pressured to post every day.
We use the blogger's name and the blog's name in the subject line of the pitch to personalize the pitch and avoid spontaneous deletion. That subject line is 46 characters. Use 50 characters maximum. People only see the first portion of long subject lines; you want them to see their own name or blog's name.
We usually start with a compliment about their blog or a specific post. The person pitching might very well add a stroke into the top of the pitch when using it. In this case, the subject line is a "generic stroke" because it shows we know who the blogger is and the name of the blog.
It doesn't get any blunter than the opening line in the blog pitch in Figure 8-5: We want you to write about us! A typical news release would have started the way the second paragraph starts; that is, with a story instead of a pitch: "Every January brings another round of fad diets...." Journalists punish you for not coming to the point immediately by deleting your release. If you let them know it's a pitch up front, even if they're not interested and delete it, they'll credit you with saving them time by coming to the point immediately, and usually won't send you hatemail or banish you from their in box.
There are two long paragraphs of credentials here when we only need one -- preferably, the second one, where we tell them why they should write about the site: active groomed comments, thousands of recipes, customized for men and women, etc. These were likely whittled down from 20 paragraphs in the client's printed news release. This is not a direct-to-consumer pitch that needs to be loaded with keywords and links. It's a personalized email and needs to be streamlined to work.
We have the luxury of being able to offer something interesting and valuable: a free trial membership. In addition, we ask them to write about their experiences with the free trial, to write about the web site, or to post an announcement about the web site. We provide them with the announcement we want below the closing signature.
The signature contains just a name, phone number, and affiliation. Spammers seldom use phone numbers, so including one helps distinguish email from spam and provides yet another action alternative: call. Now think of all the crap left out of the signature (you don't need it and it makes the pitch longer and less friendly): mailing address, fax number, job title, department, pithy quotation, confidentiality notice, CAN-SPAM disclaimers, graphics, links, etc. Because you are asking a "journalist" for coverage, your request is protected First Amendment speech in the U.S. and you are not required to provide the CAN-SPAM disclaimers that are required for unsolicited commercial pitches.
We end this pitch, as we do most of our blog pitches, by providing a cut-and-paste announcement for the blogger to use. Now that might seem a tad insulting to a veteran print or broadcast journalist, but blogging is different. Bloggers are under tremendous pressure to blog every day to maintain visibility in search engines. If you give them a post, you may have solved a problem for them: what to write about today. Very often, we see our announcements come back to us, word for word, in the Google Alerts. In some cases, bloggers have posted the entire pitch, to show how transparent they are. So I never put anything into a blog pitch I wouldn't want to see on CNN, and I never start pitching bloggers "in advance" because they blog now or never.
Finding bloggers to pitch is more difficult than you might think. Most of the blog catalogs are worthless -- vastly incomplete or out of date. And who can blame them? The number of blogs grows by the thousands every minute, as do the numbers who stop blogging. The top blog spots are still very much in flux. It is almost impossible for a catalog such as BlogCatalog or Technorati to keep up. Even though I love Technorati, I don't use it to find blogs because their blog ratings aren't very helpful and I miss too many important blogs relying on Technorati.
The search engines are not much better than the catalogs. Google Blog Search gives excessive weight to currency rather than authority. Google Blog Search results give undue preference to how new a blog post is, and undue weight to keywords appearing the URL of the blog. If I'm searching for "cooking school," Google Blog Search doesn't bring me the biggest, best, or most popular blogs but instead the blogs who posted today or have the words "cooking school" in the URL. Microsoft's Bing! doesn't work any better and the blog search feature is hard to find. I expect the search engines and catalogs to eventually get better at blog search. But for now, you have to use a variety of tools to triangulate on the blogs that matter. Here are some good resources.
You probably already have a good idea of some of the top blogs in your industry. We often start our blog outreach campaigns with lists of top blogs our clients want to target.
For me, Google Alerts summarize the entire PR paradigm. If I'm a journalist or legislator or consumer or business or nonprofit and I care about global warming, I might set up alerts to notify me when there is any important news about global warming. You can do that at Google Alerts, and receive an email every day with the top five stories.
What causes a story to be a top five story? An algorithm. Just as with SEO, if you learn the algorithm, you can make the top five stories. Making the Google Alerts is like having an ad for your organization included in the news briefing your target audience receives every morning. I don't know how many people subscribe to Google Alerts for the phrase "global warming," but I have pretty good evidence that it's enough to light up your site traffic if you make the Google Alerts for that phrase. So I target blogs that consistently make the Google Alerts for target keywords.
Web Search, Blog Search, News Search
One thing I look for is blogs that break out of blog search and into web search and news search. The Huffington Post is a massive blog with tremendous authority that hits the top of web search results and news search results as well as blog search results. If you do a web search for a term, and there are, say, five blogs in the top 100 results, I would target those five blogs. Same goes if you do a news search for a term and ten blogs show up in the top 100 results; you want to target those ten blogs. You can't always tell if a site is a blog, but the URL is a tip off if it includes words such as "blog," or "wordpress." You may have to conduct these searches using several different keyphrases and note which blogs pop again and again -- those should be targets. This research will also help you learn which keyphrases are most important to track.
Many blogs contain a long list of links to other blogs, called a "blogroll." At one time, blogrolls were links to similar blogs or recommended blogs. But then SEO ruined that by putting us through the era of the ponderous blogroll. Under SEO theory, correct at the time, these outbound links, combined with linkbacks from sites linked to, would cause search engine rank to skyrocket. People started installing blogrolls with links to thousands of sites. When the invevitable Google smackdown happened (see the SEO chapter), these sites were left with useless blogrolls that provided neither guidance nor search engine visiblity.
When you find sites that have a compact, useful blogroll, those links are probably more important than Google Blog Search results. When you're doing a blog outreach campaign, you'll be seeing a lot of blogs over a short period of time. When you see the same sites popping in the blogroll over and over again, those are blogs worth targeting.
The Blog Outreach Report
Figure 8-6 shows an excerpt from the Blog Outreach Report for WeightWatchers. You'll see that, just as the bloggers insist, we actually do investigate who they are and what they write about. In fact, we reviewed all these health and fitness blogs to see who was already using Weight Watchers and who was not before we pitched them.
Excerpt from Blog Outreach Report
Client: Weight Watchers Online
Topics: weight loss, fitness
Notes: "Living lean and loving it."
Additional Notes: Has already lost 50 pounds, but is maintaining. Does not mention Weight Watchers.
Once A Fat Guy
Email: No email. Must comment.
Topics: weight loss, men
Notes: "Sir Chubalot's quest to maintain a healthy weight."
Additional Notes: Used Weight Watchers in the past. Has not updated since September. Can re-motivate?
Gotta Keep It Off!
Topics: Weight Loss, Weight Watchers
Notes: "I used to be morbidly obese. Now I'm at a healthy weight, and I'm trying to keep it that way. Let the fun begin!" Used Weight Watchers to lose weight.
Dr. Fitness and the Fat Guy
Name: Dr. Adam Shafran (aka Dr. Fitness)
Name: Lee Kantor (aka Fat Guy)
"Dr. Adam Shafran and Lee Kantor co-authored the book You Can't Lose Weight Alone. The Partner Power Weight Loss Program." They also co-host the Dr. Fitness and the Fat Guy (Internet) radio show. Dr. Shafran (aka Dr. Fitness) has spent decades training professional athletes and has helped thousands of people lose weight and get in shape. Lee (aka the Fat Guy) has owned sports and personal fitness training businesses since 1990."
Kevin, M.D. - Medical Weblog
Name: Dr. Kevin Pho
Topics: Health Care
Notes: "A practicing primary-care physician tells it like it is." The site "has been featured or mentioned in both mainstream and physician newspapers and magazines, including The Wall Street Journal, British Medical Journal, The Detroit Free Press, and American Medical News."
Lose the Buddha
Name: Erin Shea
Topics: Weight Loss, Body Image
Notes: Female. Weight loss blogger and co-author of "Tales from the Scale." From her profile: "This site has been featured in a number of publications, including, just to name a few, O Magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, plus countless of Web sites such as MSBNC.com and Lifescript. I've been on Good Morning America and WGN-AM radio, too." Quit using Weight Watchers in 2006 for personal reasons, but thinks it is a good program.
Figure 8-6: A excerpt from a Blog Outreach Report for Weight Watchers Online. This report was prepared in order to evaluate which bloggers to pitch and how to pitch them.
Pitch the Blogger or Post a Comment?
I won't bore you with the full history of how we developed our blog outreach procedures, but you should know they change with technology. At first, we pursued campaigns where we would post intelligent comments on other people's blogs. That's what Web 2.0 is supposed to be about, right: read and contribute. But none of our work showed up in search engines because blog comments were buried in the recesses of blogs.
Blog comments weren't showing up in web search, blog search, or in some cases, even when searching the blog the comments were on. Blog comments are great if you want to chat one-on-one with the blogger. But if you want some visibility for your effort, you're better off pitching the blogger and asking them to post something. Anything the blogger posts gets distributed through the RSS feed all over the place and is discoverable through search engines.
So we switched from posting to pitching, providing bloggers with a cut-and-paste announcement that contains the content we would have posted ourselves. Then, at the end of 2009, Yahoo announced "real time search" that promised to parse blog comments, and Google immediately launched it's own version. Now comments on popular blogs are suddenly showing up in search results. The very next blog outreach campaign we did, we switched back to posting comments on high-traffic blogs in addition to pitching key bloggers. Lo and behold, within a matter of days we had half the blog search results pointing to our comments. You gotta love the Internet!
The smackdown on comments is coming, so don't go crazy on blog comments and ruin it for everyone, please. If you make your blog outreach campaigns an intelligent mix of pitching bloggers and posting comments, you'll get good results no matter what algorithm the search engines switch to next week.
"Newsblogging" is a term I more or less invented to describe a style of blogging we stumbled onto in 2007 and then refined at the online PR firm, Patron Saint Productions. Our process was innovative and our results were extraordinary, so I spun the service off into a separate company in 2010. I partnered with a former employee to create SixEstate Communications, a newsblogging firm. I believe there's a chance that newsblogging will spread like wildfire, and the coming years will see an increasing proportion of news stories being originated by private organizations, not media outlets. Let me show you how this works.
We stumbled into newsblogging when we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place with the new technology. The rock is blogging. It enables what PR people call "principals" -- CEOs, celebrities, spokesperson, political leaders -- to communicate directly with their constituents. So those constituents no longer want to hear from me, the PR guy, the intermediary. They want the Big Kahuna herself or himself. But the hard place is that the Kahunas don't have the time or skills to blog effectively.
The answer some PR firms came up with was to hire ghost bloggers. But ghost blogging defeats the whole point of blogging, according to the digeratti, which is to hear from the Kahuna directly. If you don't disclose you are using a ghost blogger, you violate all kinds of ethical guidelines regarding transparency, authenticity, disclosure and you risk being outed in a potentially embarrassing way. If you do disclose you're using a ghost blogger, than people lose respect for the credibility of the blog.
For my firm, the biggest problem became that blogging is too important to leave to the principals. If the Internet is going to be how people discover and learn about stuff, and the main way of driving the Internet is using search engines, and those search engines display a strong preference for content on blogs, then you'd better be blogging, whether the CEO is good at it or not, because otherwise you will become invisible over time. It's not that blogging is a good idea; it's blog or die. We found a way out of this tight jam with newsblogging.
Enter Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson. Kaiser is one of the largest HMOs in the U.S. and Halvorson is the company's outspoken leader. In 2006, he put together an outline of what he thought was a compelling plan for health care reform, published it in a book called "Health Care Reform Now!," and hoped to push it to the center of the health care debate as U.S. presidential candidates took their stands leading to the 2008 election. We wanted to push this same agenda online.
I had stopped doing blog tours after the fiasco with Goldman Sachs vice president Robert Hormats (see the Touring chapter). If folks think there is no civility at town hall meetings, they should see the comment streams when controversial figures do blog tours. The ugliest side of America is revealed in the anonymous nastiness that passes for "discussion" on the net. There was no way I would recommend a top CEO try to engage in open debate on the Internet on a subject as supercharged as health care reform. The conversation becomes dominated by rude and profane people who chase the intelligent commenters away.
So we suggested a compromise. We would produce a blog, but instead of being ghost written by someone pretending to be George Halvorson, we would hire a journalist to blog the news, and George would add the "color commentary" when he had time or when the news begged for it. At the time, I had George "Loki" Williams on my payroll. George runs the blog SocialGumbo -- a top social media blog -- and has a long history of investigative journalism on the local level. So I put him on the healthcare beat.
Every day, Loki would comb the news for the biggest story in health care reform, then write it up on the blog. His job was to find good journalism on the issue, summarize it, and point to it. Rather than adding one more voice, the blog was a survey of other voices, and as such it became quite successful. How successful? Figure 8-7 shows the Google Blog Search Results for the phrase "health care reform" thirty days after we launched the blog. We are the number two "related blog" behind Alan Katz' amazing health care reform blog. We also had the number one related post that day. In thirty days, we had a top-five health care reform blog. We didn't lost that position for a year, and only then because we stopped blogging. The contract was up. The experiment was over. And a whole new way of blogging surfaced in its wake: newsblogging.
The way we newsblog, we're not covering news about the company. Our focus wasn't reporting on Kaiser Permanente. Our focus was to report on health care reform and generate awareness for Halvorson's prescription for change. By hiring a journalist, we could be sure to get a daily post onto the blog, which is essential for search engine visibility, but is difficult for principals to commit to. To give an example, Loki would set a Google Alert for "electronic medical records" and see who is covering that issue. Electronic medical records, or EMRs, are a major part of Halvorson's platform and have been adopted as a major plank in virtually every health care reform proposal, in part because of Halvorson's compelling evidence about the efficiencies and improved care they generate. If Loki finds someone at a credible news source has written something about EMRs, then he'll cite it on our blog.
What makes this a process for us is when we hook the hired gun journalist in with the rest of the team. Loki suffers from spellus atrocious, which not only results in typos but also an aversion to spell-checkers. So his posts were outsourced to an editor, the amazing Rachelle Matherne at FiveByFivePR. Rachelle wouldn't just fix the spelling, though. She'd fact check, link check, grammer check, then optimize paragraph length and sentence length and keywords, categories, and tags. Finally, she'd tweak the headline and schedule the post for release. We got so used to Rachelle's treatment that none of us blog without a net anymore -- it's too dangerous.
Then there's the art department. We decided right away that every post had to have a piece of artwork that somehow went with the story, and that we had to have permission to use the art. We quickly expanded the definition of artwork to include a video embed, slideshow, or any visual component. Most of the art we found through Flickr's Creative Commons section, but we now have many sources, both paid and free, that we draw from. We also created rules for artwork credits and citations. It is still stunning to me the number of blogs that use copyrighted artwork without permission or citation. They are begging for trouble.
As time went on, we refined the formula based on watching the stats. Every post had to have a news citation from a "credible news source" and a link to that source. We noticed that any time we mentioned a celebrity, say a country music star supporting health care reform, our numbers would double. That's because if you are a top-ranked blog, you show up in the Google Alerts for a celebrity's name.
It's very seductive to analyze traffic results and engineer blog posts that pop in the alerts, but the focus has to stay on good journalism. One of the main benefits of a newsblog is that it gets your viewpoint across to the media. If a journalist visits the blog and sees the posts are nothing but a bunch of keyword-laden references to celebrities and news stories, it doesn't advance the cause even though it brings the traffic.
At one point, I stepped back and looked at the beast I had created: the newsblog. What amateur blogers could compete against a professional journalist, an art department, proofreaders, copy editors, optimizers, and traffic analysts? Some amateurs can compete, but there are only five top spots for any keyword or phrase. If you run a top-five blog, you not only are at the top of the blog search results for your term, but you make the alerts for that term that are sent via email to other people watching those terms.
The reach of a top-five blog is stunning. You don't only make the alerts for your target keyphrases. Because you are a "top blog" you make the alerts for almost anything you say. If you mention a healthy restaurant on your health care blog, you will hit the alerts for the restaurant's name because you are a "top blog." Your reach is magnified by the format -- RSS -- which makes it easy to parse your content. That's why I say blogging is too important to leave to chance. RSS is the new key to discoverability. Whatever you have to say, if you aren't saying it in RSS, you aren't being heard.
Does this newsblog thing sound like a juggernaut to you yet? Let's add gasoline to fire and hook the newsblog up to Twitter, Facebook, and the other social networks. The newsblog we created for the radio industry, Radio 2020, was our next big experiment. Figure 8-8 shows the blog traffic graph when we added the social networking hookups at the end of 2008. When you hook the blog up to your social nets, you can blog in one place and have it appear throughout your network, as a tweet or status update or post.
If you are like me, your head is spinning right now. How could this be possible? How could corporate journalism outscore conventional journalism? Where is the credibility? The reliability? The transparency? In newsblogging, they're all there. We don't originate stories so much as call attention to them. That turns out to be a very valuable service. In fact, that's what a good news anchor does, isn't it -- guide us through stories rather than be the story? Our journalism wins out because it is better produced, more accurate, more "fair" than conventional journalism because we can't really take a stand. We're hired guns. Our news doesn't have the slant of the pundits or the authority of the CEOs. It's just the news. Told well. From an organization's perspective transparently revealed.
Is newsblogging good journalism? Why is Rupert Murdoch's journalism any better than say, the United Auto Workers' journalism, when it comes to covering the auto industry? Both publishers have an agenda. Ratings is an agenda. The question is whether or not the agenda is revealed and whether or not the news is any good. After seeing what passes for journalism these days -- video news releases provided by corporations who pay to have them inserted as news stories in newscasts without disclosure -- I would say our private news hews to a higher standard. If you are good and you're transparent, there's no reason your news shouldn't have market share because it's produced by a private organization.
Going one step further, I would add that search engines prefer news made this way to news made the old fashioned way, with gatekeepers to stories who charge a price for admission. Search engines want to point people to the best, most authoritative matches for their searches, but if they are prohibited from scanning the contents of your news, it makes it difficult for them to know what you have and send readers your way. On the other hand, if you produce your content in RSS essentially copyright free, the search engines can see it, index it, and point to it. Search engines like and reward people who produce good news copyright free and in RSS. They reward those news providers with traffic.
Do you think Google should help people find news sites that are suing Google for stealing their news? The search giant has no choice but to send traffic to people who are willing to make their content available on generous terms, and to avoid indexing content that others claim copyright to. This has always been a factor driving online citizen journalism. It turns out that corporations, nonprofit organizations, religious groups and political campaigns can also be journalists, and that their journalism can have just as much influence as citizen journalists or media moguls if it is well crafted.
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