This Executive’s Guide to Blogging offers executives a pragmatic, conservative approach to blogging. For years, now, I have beseeched all the executives and “knowledge workers” I know (that’s thousands) to blog, so please consider this as part of that campaign—with benefits (because this is a how-to post). Here’s why: In the Knowledge Economy’s pervasive digital networks, you are invisible unless you come across people’s screens regularly. And, while you are invisible, your potential business partners are seeing people who do flit across their screens. If you aren’t there, you are in a bloody ocean that gets smaller every year. Don’t stay in, the water is not fine. Please understand that I’m stating this as a simple fact. I’m sure you’ve read books like The Long Tail, which describe how we are all publishers now, that is, those of us who decide to use the free tools at our disposal.
Blogging is 21st century thought leadership, which is table stakes in the Knowledge Economy. Your thoughts represent and “scale” you, so they help you to connect with people with whom you can collaborate to do meaningful things. Moreover, blogging software is the ideal heart of your social business ecosystem because blogs’ content is much easier to find than websites’. In addition, all blogging platforms are cloud-based and have RSS feeds for republishing, so it’s super easy and efficient for you to re-share your blog posts elsewhere—on LinkedIn, for example—automatically.
By the way, this post applies equally to individual executives and firms. It’s especially poignant to B2Bs.
The Elephant in the Room
Please feel free to skip this section if you have no mental resistance to blogging.
- Based on CSRA’s experience mentoring executives and knowledge workers in all kinds of social network/blogging activities, I totally appreciate the mental resistance most people have to writing for the public. But blogging can be anything you want it to be— as long as you attract potential relationships and business once you’ve built enough trust with them. You don’t even have to be a good writer, although it helps. Not required, though.
- You can do it. And the secret is starting small. The right kind of people want your insights and thoughts. This means you. I’m emphasizing these obstacles because they prevent most people from starting and benefiting. “Industrial Economy thinking” lingers in too many execs’ heads: “Writing” is for professors, consultants, writers, “smart people.” That’s no longer true in the Knowledge Economy. The important thing is to communicate. I’m not saying there’s no longer a place for formal, educated writing, but to blog, you don’t have to be a “writer.”
- The good news is, blogging is much easier than you think. But you have to get through the mental resistance. It’s okay to be nervous about looking foolish online, but the fear is far greater than the reality. Know this, though: your risk is way higher when you are invisible. Your invisibility is a near certainty if you aren’t hitting people’s screens. Think about it. Wrestle the mental resistance to the ground.
Step One: Set Up a Free Blog
- Use the Blogging: Quick Launch Guide to set up a blog if you don’t have one.
- Don’t let this get in your way; get help if you need it. By the way, blogging platforms all have controls just like office applications, so they are easy to use at a basic level. Under the hood, though, they are CMSs (content management systems), so very sophisticated and robust.
- The Quick Launch Guide explains how to get started very easily, by writing short posts. Here are some examples here on the Executive’s Guide to Social Networks (we do them, too!): Google+ | Facebook.
- Get used to posting; most people find it’s easier to make a schedule and commit to it. Make it realistic. Once you have established a routine and have about a dozen posts under your belt, move to Step Two.
Step Two: Leverage Up
Your blog is the ideal heart of your digital ecosystem, so Step Two gets it pumping to the other parts. Here you will start syndicating your own content (republishing), which will increase your leverage significantly. You set these things up, and they work for you. You can pay them if you want, but that’s not expected. Here are some initial suggestions:
- LinkedIn has two “Apps” that automatically publish the title and first few sentences of your blog posts (link included, of course!), right in your LinkedIn Profile. Check out this page, and look for the WordPress app and the Bloglink app. Look on my Profile to see it (at the bottom). Obviously, the WordPress LinkedIn App only works with WordPress blogs, but Bloglink will republish any RSS feed. You can install both of them if you have more than one blog.
- Among most B2B and even B2C executives, Twitter is still kind of racy. Many have had an account at some point, but few are active. There are many approaches to Twitter, but I mention it here because every blogging platform has plugins that automatically tweet to promote your posts. If you invest a little time creating a high-value Twitter network, they will appreciate this. Head over to the Executive’s Guide to Twitter for how-to guides and our posts that explore Twitter’s enterprise value proposition.
- Share your most relevant posts in LinkedIn Groups, where you can use them as conversation starters. See Triple the Value of Your LinkedIn Network.. for how to use Groups well.
- There are numerous apps to publish your blog posts to Facebook. RSS Graffiti is one of the main ones.
- All of these plugins and apps use RSS. As I wrote in Blogging/Quick Start, you could use categories and/or tags to publish only certain topics to different places. If you’re interested in that, ask about it in comments below.
- When you’ve got a few nodes going, move to Step Three. Or break the rules and do Step Three first ;^) – whatever works for you.
Step Three: Create Your Blogroll
Blogging itself is the most important first step, but your influence (and opportunity) expands far faster when you create a network around yourself. Once you have a blog, the best way to create a network to use blogs’ built-in blogroll widgets—and to comment on other bloggers’ posts. Considerate, intelligent interaction trumps all. The “blogroll” will make it efficient for you to keep up on what other people are saying. Again, I’m talking about very targeted people who are geeky in the same way you are and in whom your readers would be interested. Here’s how:
- A “blogroll” is a (usually) short list of people whom you read frequently. If you’re in B2B, they probably won’t be too popular with mainstream people or press. I can guarantee that there are fantastic people writing amazing things about your business or cultural interests. Once you find them (select for complementary cultural/social compatibility, of course), they will give you great insights and ideas, and you can create a network around your blog because they will undoubtedly appreciate what you write, too.
- Most executives I know are fair at searching (i.e. “googling”). If you’re in this camp, set aside some time to experiment. If you’re not, get someone to show you how; this small investment will pay off handsomely. The goal is for you to identify other people who write about things in which you and your “high interest people” are interested. Here are some tips for sourcing your blogroll:
- You need to have a vision for what you’re looking for; I realize that probably sounds silly, but think about it. What posts/articles do you want to see from your blogroll? Papers? Slide decks? Blog posts? What topics would they address? Write these down.
- Experiment by popping the most unusual keyword combinations into Google. Play with this. Aim to get a few thousand or few hundred results (four figures max). Then constrain results by using Google’s blog search (it’s under the “More” dropdown in the main horizontal search bar).
- Realize that this will be an iterative process, it will probably take you some trial/error to find the most relevant people or blogs. Here are some more ideas:
- Pick the top five industry journals or publications that have public comments. Who comments most often about the topics in which you’re interested?
- Search your LinkedIn Connections. In LinkedIn Advanced Search, pop in some of the keywords that are working on Google and add the word “blog” to the keyword field.
In LinkedIn Answers, ask a question in the appropriate forum, “What are your favorite blogs about “very specific topic”? Make sure to use the LI option, “send to up to 200 of my Connections.”
- Realize that most bloggers have blogrolls, so when you find a good blog, look at its blogroll.
- The key is finding the first relevant blog; it will lead you to other bloggers.
- Aim for 3-5 blogs in your blogroll to start with, and plan to expand/tweak your ‘roll later.
- Once you have your URLs, follow your blogging platform’s help to put them into the sidebar. In WordPress, the core functionality is accessible in the Dashboard (management console) under “Links.” You can name each blog title and include its link. Most WordPress themes’ defaults have the blogroll in the sidebar, usually with a bunch of WordPress links in it. You can delete those, or make them invisible.
- Don’t hesitate to use comments under this post to post techie questions.
Step 3.5 Commenting on Your Blogroll
Comment on your blogroll’s posts that are relevant to your topics and readers. Your comments should add value to the post by asking a question or emphasizing to debating a point. Comments are usually brief, but you can wax philosophical if you want, as long as you’re considerate and relevant. Asking the blogger, or another commenter, a follow-up question is a great idea. Sharing your thought (setting the context) before asking a question is even better.
Make sure you comment fairly regularly; it’s better to comment more often on fewer blogs than once in a while on 20 blogs. After a while, other bloggers will start commenting on your posts, too, which will help your readership and help Google find you based on your keywords. Google prizes interactivity, too. It ranks way higher than static text.
When you comment, it’s okay to refer to your posts on the same or related topic and even to provide a link, but when you do this, make sure your first priority is to add value to the other person’s post. You don’t want to be perceived as a purveyor of “link spam.”
By the way, in B2B, some of the voices that are most relevant may be MSM publications (mainstream media), virtually all of which have implemented comments to survive. I encourage you to include them in your blogroll, too, with caveats:
- If you know that your desired readers are committed to that publication. Study others’ comments to assess whether the publication is a good investment of your time.
- Usually, it’s a far less personal environment in which you’ll have a harder time distinguishing yourself, so the trade-off is “I’m part of a big brand” vs. less attention and influence.
- For me it’s a dealbreaker if the MSM doesn’t let me register and comment without moderation (in other words, my comments appear immediately). Otherwise, the trust level is too low.
- I tried to make this short, but I needed to make it complete enough to be actionable. Please let me know how I did and help me address lapses by commenting.
- I hope you understand how important this is. It’s getting more important every quarter. Don’t let the digital knowledge divide happen to you.