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Quality Vs. Volume: The Traffic Spectrum, and How You as Bloggers Can Harness It

As web usage grows, and we all become more connected more of the time, it could seem like getting traffic to your blog should be getting easier.

But as connectedness increases, so does competition. There are only 24 hours in a day, and the blogger’s job is to convince readers to spend a few precious minutes with us.

motorway_traffic_trail

Image courtesy stock.xchng user ansmedia

Attracting more readers to your blog

A lot of the time, it can seem like we have two options for attracting readers to our blogs:

  • entice them in, one at a time
  • “explode” your blog with “viral” content or promotions.

You can imagine these as two extremes on a spectrum; for most of us, traffic growth usually sits somewhere in between. Though for bloggers at the beginning of their careers, the one-at-a-time scenario is very real. And occasionally, any of us might hit on an “explosive growth” moment where our blogs get a massive volume of traffic for a brief moment (comparatively!) in time.

Of the traffic that comes once, only a portion will ever come back, and even fewer will subscribe. No wonder it can seem like an uphill battle to build a tribe around a blog!

I’ve found the best way to make the most of both kinds of readers is to cater to both.

Capturing attention—and holding it

If a blog has strong, targeted content that really gives value to readers, it’s off to a flying start. The design should also be easy to use, and attractive to the target group—that goes without saying.

So what is it that captures and holds the attention of individuals arriving at your site either as one-offs, or as part of a massive stream of traffic that you’ve generated through, say, some viral content, or great search positioning?

Let’s look at some of the tactics that suit each group.

The hard-won, single visitor

Perhaps this person’s found your site using a very specific search phrase, or they were having coffee with a friend who mentioned your blog. They might have seen the column you write for the local paper, and typed in your blog’s URKL out of curiosity, or had a contact share a link to a particular article on your blog that they thought would help this new visitor.

I think of these kinds of visitors as pre-engaged. When they arrive at your blog, they’re open-minded about what it has to offer, but they also have an expectation that it’ll solve a problem or answer a need that they have.

What can we do to capture the attention of these readers? Things like:

  • links to further reading on the same topic
  • signup forms/newsletter subscriptions
  • a contact form for questions they might want to ask
  • a free download targeting their need
  • an active community of commenters or forum members
  • links to social media/rss subscriptions.

The generic, viral visitor

By “viral visitors,” I’m talking about people who arrive at your site as part of a crowd sent by a viral piece of content you’ve published somewhere, or a big-name blog making mention of you.

We know that this traffic traditionally spikes and plummets soon after, and while the traffic can be strong for a short period, the majority of those visitors tends not to come back.

Every blogger wants to capture a larger slice of the viral traffic pie. How can we? I think that the answer here is a little more complicated. When I click a shared link on social media, I’m in either “entertainment” or “intrigue” mode. I’m wanting distraction, or a quick fix of new knowledge in an interest area. I’m not looking for a long-term relationship with a blog!

If I’m coming from a contextual link that’s on another site I’m reading, my motivation is usually a fairly specific kind of curiosity related to the topic in question, and my level of engagement will depend on how much I trust the site that linked to you, and the content I was reading when I came across the link. I’d guess that viral traffic that comes through contextual links is likely to have higher expectations of your blog than that coming through social media—I know this is true for me as a user.

So how can we capture viral readers with such different levels of engagement and motivation?

To be honest, I think that if the landing page for viral traffic convinces them to re-share the link, you’re probably doing a pretty good job. The fact is that a lot viral traffic coming through social media isn’t often strongly targeted.

If you can go one better and entice them to follow you on social media as well, you’re doing very well. To achieve this, you’ll need prominent social media buttons that allow them to follow you on every post. If they can also reshare the content direct from the page, so much the better.

To capture those coming through links from another site in your niche, you might consider extra tactics like:

  • making comments on posts prominent
  • offering a free download or subscription related to the content on the same page
  • following up with the linking site to see if they’ll accept a guest post, so you can further build your profile with the site’s readers
  • offering the linking site an exclusive piece of quality content (e.g. a whitepaper or report that links back to your blog) on the same topic, or one that’s related, that they can share with their readers.

How do you capture different kinds of new visitors?

These are just a few ideas that I’ve used to try to capture different kinds of new visitors to my blogs. Do you target different kinds of new visitors differently, or use specific tactics to try to grab their attention?

I’d love to hear how you’re handling things—and what’s working for you—in the comments.

Tap User Psychology to Build an Indestructible Community Around Your Blog

This guest post is by Richard Millington of FeverBee.

Many blogs attempt to build a community, but few succeed.

At best, they build an audience. They build a following that reads and responds to posts, but those readers don’t meaningfully build relationships with one another.

If you want a blog that solely distributes information, this is fine. However, if you want your blog to be the hub of a major community, then you need to develop a strong sense of community.

There is decades of advice about building a sense of community. To simplify, we’re using McMillan and Chavis’ 1986 Psychological Sense of Community summary.

In this post I’m going to highlight how you can apply proven research concepts from social science to build a strong sense of community around your blog.

To build a strong sense of community, you need four elements:

  1. membership
  2. influence
  3. integration and fulfilment of needs
  4. shared emotional connection.

Let’s go through each of these in turn.

Building a sense of membership

Membership is how members know who’s “in” and who’s “out.” How would one member identify another? Membership comprises of four elements:

  1. Boundaries: these are the skills, knowledge, interests, experiences and assets that allow members to be accepted into the community. Communities with higher boundaries have a stronger sense of community. If you want to increase the sense of community, raise the boundaries. Write and talk about the elite people in the field.
  2. Emotional safety: in the community, members have to talk about their most difficult issues. You need to initiate and facilitate discussions about the most hardcore topics. Discussions about whether it’s best to use the ZT451.4 Transistor or the ZT452.3 instead are terrific for increasing the sense of community. So are skewing discussions to the most hardcore, deeper levels of self-disclosure. Your community has to be the place for members to discuss the most emotive and hardcore topics. Members have a social fear about discussing these matters at first, so you have to help them feel comfortable enough to do so.
  3. Personal investment: successful communities solicit active contributions from every member. It’s not enough to ask members what they think and respond to a few comments. You need to establish challenges, set goals that members can contribute towards achieving, and call for support on future topics you’ll tackle. Co-ordinate events with your members.
  4. Common symbol systems: members identify each other by their shared symbols. In the physical world, these relate to the way we dress, speak, and style ourselves. Online, these symbols include the words, images, ideas, and signs that have unique meaning to our audience. Identify these (interview your members if you have to), then use these within your content.

Give your members influence

To build a strong sense of community, your members need to feel they can influence that community. Most brands get this wrong: they give their members no influence. Our need for efficacy is at work here. We like to be able to shape the environment around us. You can encourage this.

  • Create opportunities for members to be involved: proactively provide members with opportunities to influence the community. Frequently call for opinions and ideas, and solicit actions. Have a Be more involved tab, recruit volunteers to send in the latest news, interview popular people in your sector, and actively recruit new people to join the community. Mention the opinions of members by name in your content—let members contribute their own content, as opinion columns, advice pieces, interviews, and more.
  • Feature contributions from members: prominently feature the contributions of members on your community platform. If a member makes a great contribution, mention it in a news article and encourage other members to respond.
  • Write about your members: use your content to write what members are doing. Talk about their milestones—it might be a work achievement, a topic-related success, or even a lifestyle success. If a member is getting married or has a child, congratulate them. This individualises the community. It makes it about the people who are interested in the topic, rather than just the topic itself.

Integrate and fulfil members’ needs

What needs does your community satisfy? If your blog is just trying to satisfy someone’s informational needs, that’s fine. However, it puts you amongst a lot of tough competition with little loyalty. If instead you try to satisfy users’ social needs, you attract members for life.

There are three key elements to this:

  1. Ensure your community is a status symbol. To be a member of your community should be a status symbol. You need to raise the profile of your community outside of the community itself. Ensure it’s featured in other channels—especially channels your members are engaged with. Set goals that your community can achieve. If you can’t think of any, then make it a simple fundraising goal. It’s important to give the impression of momentum around your community. It might also help, if the community is exclusive, to have a badge/Twibbon that members can display elsewhere.
  2. Attract and promote great people. We all want to participate in the community that the most talented, knowledgeable, popular people participate in. So you need to attract these people. Appeal to their egos. Let them have weekly columns, interviews, and other opportunities to feature. Write about their latest contributions to the field. Document the best practices your community has shared and uncovered. Make these documents sharable—ebooks where members share their best advice work well here.
  3. Shared values: Write down a statement of what you believe in, or what your blog stands for. You should attract others who share your values. If you like, let members sign a pledge committing to those values if they join the community. Proactively seek out and invite people to join that share these values.

Foster a shared emotional connection

The final element is to develop a shared emotional connection amongst members. Strong communities oscillate at the same emotional frequency. They think and feel the same things at the same time. They feel a sense of connection through those shared emotions.

Developing a shared emotional connection is perhaps the hardest and most important element of the four listed here. It comprises of several elements.

  • Regular contact: to feel a shared connection, members must regularly interact with each other. You need to provide a tool for that to happen. You need to sustain and drive those interactions. Events, challenges, and highlighting popular discussions within your community are good ways to do this.
  • Increase the quality of interactions: it’s okay for members to share information, but you also want to encourage bonding and status-related discussions. Introduce and highlight discussions that encourage high levels of self-disclosure from members. For example “What was your best experience in {topic}?” might sound like a simple question, but it creates a terrific way for members to bond.
  • Create experiences your members can share: Shared experiences breeds a stronger community. Organize regular events and activities. This doesn’t have to be an offline meeting (although those are terrific)—it can be online live discussions, quizzes, challenges, campaigns to change something in your sector, and so on.
  • Write your epic shared history: Ensure that the community has an epic shared history, not just an About page. Document who founded the community, who were the early members, and what were the big and controversial discussions and events. Imagine this as a story to tell new members, then send it to them!

You will notice with many of these tactics that you’re narrowing your audience. You’re deciding not to reach everyone but to turn the audience you have into a strong community. That’s a good thing, as it’s the more closely knit communities that are the most enduring and successful.

Have you built a community around your blog? How did you do it? We’d love to hear what you did—and how it worked—in the comments.

Richard Millington is the Managing Director of FeverBee.com and author of Buzzing Communities: How To Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities.

4 Simple Steps to Get Sponsorship from Media Agencies

This guest post is by John Kelly of www.company.com.au.

When bloggers think about monetising their content, most will turn to Google AdSense for advertising revenue, and some may think about releasing an ebook or enrolling in an affiliate program. 

While these channels work for a few blogs, most will realise that the returns are frustratingly small for the amount of effort they have invested in their content.

The real advertising money is spent by media agencies. According to the IAB, in Australia alone, over three billion dollars was spent last year on online advertising, with the vast majority traded through a handful of media agency groups.

This is a source of revenue most bloggers neglect. But, with a bit of research and persistence, you can start to capture a small part of this expenditure.

What does a media agency do?

The role of the media agency is to buy media space on behalf of advertisers.  They research the brand’s target audience and match this up with advertising placements.  At the same time, they will be trying to negotiate the best rates and positions for their clients.

Once the campaign is live, the agency will track results, and optimize creative and placements in order to achieve the campaign objectives.

4 simple steps to sell ad space to media agencies

How can the humble blogger sell his or her ad space to media agencies? Follow these four steps.

1. Do your homework

Life in an agency tends to pass at a frantic pace. Many agencies are understaffed and often, the detailed planning and buying work falls on a junior.  Getting through to the right person can be a challenge.

Firstly, you need to decide which brand you are targeting.  Determine which brands have products that they would like to sell to your audience.  Concentrate on brands that are actively advertising and have money to spend.

To work out which agency handles your target advertisers account, do some research online.  A search of the local ad industry trade sites will normally tell you which agency handles the account, and buying team members are often quoted in press releases. In Australia search the ad industry sites: www.mumbrella.com.au and www.adnews.com.au.

Call the agency reception and ask who manages the buying for the account.  While media planners are bombarded with cold calls and emails, if you have done your research and put together a compelling proposition, most planners will be willing to speak to you.  Don’t be discouraged if this takes a lot of calls. It’s not personal—that’s just the nature of the business.

2. Know the planning cycle

Each brand will have its own marketing calendar of activity, with the budgets normally planned two to three months before the live date. Seasonality is a good indication of planning times; many B2B advertisers will run tax time promotions, while consumer goods businesses typically spend heavily before major holidays and avoid the summer months.

You are far more likely to get on the schedule if you pitch your ideas during the times when the media is being planned.

If you are interested in the details of the planning and buying cycle, Ad School has excellent, detailed content available for free on their website.

3. Play to your strengths

Most blogs can’t compete on reach, and shouldn’t be competing on price with mainstream publishers.  Your strength lies in the engaged and passionate nature of your audience.  Emphasise that you are offering depth over breadth—and a depth that can’t be found elsewhere.

Put this together in a short proposal, clearly highlighting your audience, readership numbers and a breakdown of costs.  Keep it simple and compelling.

Also, be reassuringly expensive.

One of the biggest mistakes bloggers make is pricing their content and audience too low.  Media agencies typically deal with three kinds of digital buying models for advertising:

  • Performance-based: This is where they pay for each action taken, such as a click or a sale.
  • CPM: Cost per thousand impressions served.
  • Sponsorships: A fixed price is charged for integrating a brand into a website.

Unless you have a blog with very high traffic numbers, the first two buying models should be avoided. At a $15 CPM, 100,000 impressions would only generate $1,500. While that’s nice to have, it’s not enough if you’re to become a pro blogger. And the returns on performance-based agreements are typically a fraction of a CPM buy.

Brands will buy on a sponsorships basis when it allows them to use engaging ad units and to integrate their message into your content.  With major advertisers dealing with budgets in the millions, media planners often think any buy below $10k is not worth the effort.

You may be asked make some changes to your blog template to accommodate the creative.  Your answer should always be “yes.”  If you are not technically minded, you can hire a freelancer to do this for a nominal fee on one of the many outsourcing sites (such as www.freelancer.com).

Then, expect to be asked to aggressively discount your pricing.  Media agencies are evaluated by their clients on the savings they achieved.  Your initial price should be higher than the price you’re comfortable selling at.

4. Remember the three Ps

  1. Be professional. As a blogger, you own valuable content and access to an engaged audience that many brands will want to tap into.  Treat your site as a product and market it professionally.  Any hint that you run your site as a hobby will lead to failure.
  2. Be prepared: You need to be prepared to demonstrate why dealing with a relatively small site is worth the effort when media planners are used to six-figure buys with the likes of Google and Yahoo.  Know your key selling points at all times.
  3. Be persistent: Many bloggers quickly become frustrated with dealing with media agencies.  Phone calls go unanswered, emails are unreturned and initial interest often goes cold.  These are issues major publishers also face.  Resolve yourself to spending one hour a day researching agencies and contacting buyers.  The hard work will pay off over time and can lead to significant revenues.

Check out how professional blog sites market themselves. Kidspot is a great example of a once-small site that’s gone on to be acquired by News Corp. 

The blog Mendel.me also has some more tips on how to write a sales proposal for bloggers.

Have you sold ad space on your blog to a media agency? Tell us how you handled it in the comments.

John Kelly is the editor of www.company.com.au a blog that provides small business news, advice and resources.

5 Fatal Mistakes Your Paid Content Marketers *Are* Making (and How Much it’s Costing You)

Businesses wanting to reach users in more subtle ways are jumping on the blogging bandwagon. Well and truly.

In a recent Australian study, 62% of respondents said “blogs are the most appealing medium for business to promote a brand.”

If you’re in a business that’s paying an agency to create content on your behalf and place it on niche- and audience-appropriate sites around the web, you might be surprised to learn how far short your chosen agency is falling.

As Content manager at Problogger.net, I see agency pitches all the time, from marketing shops large and small. Just this week, I turned down content submitted by a global digital marketing agency. Why? Because it managed to achieve four of these five fatal mistakes.

How much do I think this probably cost their client? Between pitching, concepting and writing the posts (let’s say a total of four hours), keyword research (an hour?), and client and legal approvals (two hours), at $300 an hour (global agency rates!) we’re looking at $2,100, at a minimum. That’s without any back-and-forth revisions. I really hope that client had these guys on retainer…

If you pay an agency to create and post content to promote your business, now’s the time to ask yourself: how many of these mistakes are they making?

1. They hit sites with spam pitches

ProBlogger has a pretty unambiguous name, and if you’ve ever visited the blog, you’ll see immediately that it has a clear mandate.

Yet every day I receive pitches for “relevant”, “unique” posts on topics like:

  • insurance
  • furniture
  • mattresses and bedding
  • home decorating
  • mortgages
  • and so on.

Sure, this is a complete waste of my time, and bad news for your brand in the relationship-focused blogosphere.

But if you’re paying your agency to make these pitches, automated or not, you’re throwing money out the window.

2. They don’t read the submission guidelines

If your well-paid content marketing “expert” is pitching a post on bedding to ProBlogger, they obviously haven’t read the guidelines. But that’s not the only way their wasting their time and your money, nor the only way they’re swiftly undermining blog-industry respect for your brand.

Many agencies pitch us topics that appear relevant to our readership, then send us vaguely relevant articles containing backlinks to businesses that are completely unrelated to either the topic or our readers.

Our guidelines clearly state that we only include relevant links in posts. So if you’ve paid an agency to carefully research your keywords, and craft the posts, and maybe even had your lawyer approve the posts themselves (which many businesses do), and the host blog has rejected those posts, you’ve wasted some serious money.

If only your agency took a more thorough approach to targeting content. Oh wait, that’s what you’re paying them for, isn’t it?

3. They target host sites on the basis of PageRank, not audience or topic

Of course, most of these mistargeting issues arise because content agencies assess potential host sites primarily on the basis of PageRank, traffic levels, and similar factors.

What should they assess host sites on? Their appropriateness to your product, and relevance to your audience.

If your content marketing strategy is positioned as an SEO tool, you’re doing it wrong.

4. They’re unwilling, or unable, to make editorial changes

Let’s be honest. There are plenty of people in the world who can string a few sentences together and call it a guest blog post. Only a small (or, looking at the agency submission we receive, I’d say miniscule) percentage of them have ever written to a brief, or know how to work with an editor.

Writing to a brief—even one you’ve set yourself—is an art.

So is taking in feedback on that draft to make it better suit the readers of the site you’ve pitched it to.

To say that not all people who present themselves as pro writers can do this is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. This stuff is hard. It takes practice.

And if your paid content marketer can’t do it, you’ve blown your dough.

5. They’re unable to write for the medium

I know: blogging looks so easy. Most people in this industry haven’t had professional training in either writing or marketing. The people in your shiny marketing agency have been to grad school, for crying out loud! They know how to put a pen to paper! And really, how hard can it be anyway, right?

Well, pretty darn hard, judging by the paid-agency drafts I receive every day of the live-long week. An ability to write a media release, radio script, print ad, ebook, whitepaper, or essay does not naturally translate to skill in writing for blogs.

For example, your agency might be submitting “blog posts” that look like this:

"Blog post"

What’s wrong here? Ask your content marketing agency. If they can’t tell you, find one that can.

Finding good help

How can you find a good agency? First up, I’d say: stop looking for an agency.

You know who wouldn’t make any of these fatal mistakes? Any actual blogger worth his or her salt. If you want to make an impact using blogs as a medium, it seems that right now, you should hire a blogger.

It’ll be interesting to see how this situation evolves as the industry matures—I have a feeling agencies are eventually going to have to hire actual bloggers before too long, but from what I’m seeing, that’s not happening yet.

That’s the whole problem.

Whoever you’re considering, ask to see these things:

  1. Their blog. If they don’t have a current, engaging one, run.
  2. Five guest posts they’ve had published on other relevant blogs, as well as:
    • the comments and sharing stats for those posts on the host sites
    • evidence of the impact of the guest post publications on the blogger’s own traffic levels
    • the search positioning of those posts for the relevant topic keywords.
  3. The details of, say, three independent bloggers or blog editors they’ve worked with, so you can contact these people and find out how well the blogger’s writing is received by “peers.” Blogging is a relationship-based industry. The better your blogger’s relationship-building skills, the more successful your content marketing efforts are likely to be.

Your chosen blogger doesn’t need to be a big name with a massive following. Far from it. All they need to be able to do is write blog posts that have an impact on the target readers, and work effectively within this rather unique industry.

Too few agencies can manage that.

Use Word-of-Mouth Promotion to Boost Blog Traffic

This guest post is by Jeszlene Zhou of First Communication Job.

I love the idea of using a blog as your personal hub, and how it creates a centralised space for all your social media sites, your portfolio, and more.

Most bloggers and social media professionals promote a link to their blog or website, and shamelessly direct traffic towards their personal hub. Yet interestingly, they do not promote their personal hub via word-of-mouth in the “real world.”

Here’s a true story. Over the past few months, I’ve attended a few social media conferences, and met dozens of social media professionals. However, in all that time only one person invited me to view her blog.

What a pity, as the events were filled with bloggers and social media practitioners with great online influence—perfect for the community engagements we spend hours seeking to build behind our little screens. Great opportunities to increase blog traffic were wasted. In fact, paying hundreds of dollars to attend industry conferences without telling the people you meet about your blog is like having a trade show booth that doesn’t display its marketing materials.

Word-of-mouth promotion, despite its bad reputation, does not have to be shameless and annoying. There are many soft-sell methods to bring your message across. Here’s a basic Who, What, Where, When and How for using word-of-mouth promotion to increase your blog traffic.

Who?

You—and everyone! If blogging is the home of your core business, your blog should be shared with as many people as you can possibly reach—even if they are not heavy internet users.

You’ll never know who might visit out of mere curiosity, or if they will share your site with others.

What?

What is your blog about and why it is different from others? Communicate your blog’s URL and unique selling point to create interest in those your speak to and eventually drive traffic there.

Sometimes it is wiser to connect first in your target audiences’ preferred social media platform—in certain contexts, communicating your LinkedIn, FaceBook or Twitter profile might be more appropriate than giving out your blog URL.

Just make sure that all your social media profiles have links back to your blog, so that these new connections can flow through when they’re ready to find out more.

Where?

Everywhere appropriate! I would list industry conferences and networking events as the top venues for word-of-mouth promotion. But as long as you’re having a conversation with someone, why not bring up your blog?

When?

When people ask “what do you do?”

Instead of listing your day job, which you might be dragging your feet to on a daily basis, why not mention your blog? It makes you sound more interesting and can be a fantastic chance for you to generate interest and traffic to your online presence.

However while being opportunistic is important, be patient and wait for an appropriate opening so you don’t appear pushy—which can have the reverse effect on your sales and promotion efforts.

How?

The elevator pitch is a great tool many sales people use on a daily basis, and Harvard University has created The Harvard Elevator Pitch Builder for novices to use.

You can also bring up an interview request or a guest blog invitation when appropriate, instead of limiting those queries to email engagements. And if a sales pitch isn’t your style, why not let your business card do the talking? While many consider cards to be increasingly obsolete in today’s digital world, a physical piece of information still serves to reinforce that first contact. Furthermore, if everyone else is stopping using traditional cards, carrying one will definitely help you stand out!

Improving your word-of-mouth promotion

There are many great sales books that will help to improve both your face-to-face communication techniques and online engagement skills, one of them being Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

I highly recommend this book to get a better understanding of successful networking through building mutually beneficial relationships—lessons that are applicable in both off and online interactions.

However, the best word-of-mouth promoters are people who practice, practice, and practice some more. So the next time you meet someone face-to-face, give this a go!

What are some of your experiences at networking events? Do many of the people you meet tell you about their blogs? What are some offline methods you use to encourage friends, family members and others to visit your site? Have you visited a blog through word-of-mouth?

Please share your thoughts, ideas and stories in the comments section below!

Jeszlene Zhou is a communications practitioner. Her blog, First Communication Job discusses tactics for entering the fields of media and communications, including professional blogging and social media. Be friendly, say hi to her on twitter too!

Branding Your Blog: You’re Doing it All Wrong

This guest post is by Julie Cottineau of BrandTwist.

A while ago, on this very blog, I read a post about how to make a five-dollar logo for your blog.

There were a few things about that post I disagreed with, but chief among them was the assumption that a cheap logo was somehow all you needed to brand your blog.

A logo does not make a brand.

Logos are important, but what’s most important is to have a crystal clear brand promise. This is important in every line of business, particularly in blogging, where competition is brutal and securing a loyal readership is the only way to make your overnight success last more than a few days.

Your brand promise should be felt in every single post

The most important part of your brand is largely invisible—at least, at first.

It’s the promise you make to a visitor the first time you meet.

It is more than just a half-hearted promise to try and be interesting and entertaining. It is a promise to deliver a specific and predictable result every time.

Whether you commit to always making your reader laugh out loud or go into deep thought, to giving her investment advice she can act on immediately, or a gluten-free recipe that her children will like, your brand is the one aspect of your blog or business that people can always trust that you will never compromise on.

Don’t try to do everything yourself

It should be said that DIY brands rarely look as good, or work as well, as the owners think they do. On the contrary, 100% homemade brands often look unprofessional and unreliable.

Unless you’re an expert marketer, designer, copywriter, and web developer in addition to your day job, there are lots of things you don’t know and skills you don’t have. You should admit that to yourself, and invest in some outside expertise. It doesn’t have to break the bank. You can pick one area and start there, but please do make building your brand a priority.

It’s what sets you apart, helps readers quickly understand what you are about, and creates loyal followers.

If you really only have $5 to spend

If you really don’t have more than $5 to spend on design, you’ll be better off spending your fiver at Starbucks. After all, you’re not very likely to get a good logo and visual identity for that kind of money.

So sit down with your grande latte and your free wifi, and be sure to take in your surroundings, because there aren’t many who do brand as well as Starbucks.

What’s special about Starbucks is not just the coffee. It’s that they stand for way more than that. Their brand promise is about community and you can feel that in every single touchpoint, from the comfy chairs, to the online community.

Think about how your brand can show (not tell) what it stands for, like Starbucks does. Even if you exist only in the online world, the types of topics you cover, the products you offer, and the other blogs you link to all serve to create an impression for your brand.

Color can be a great differentiator

Another thing you can learn from Starbucks is the effective use of color. You can see that green from miles away, and instantly recognize the store as a Starbucks.

So take a few minutes to pick a fresh color scheme for your brand. Something that really makes you stand out in your space. Your colors shouldn’t conflict with the promise you’ve made—for example, a site promising inner peace and a site promising playfulness should probably choose different colors—but that’s the only rule.

Almost everything is allowed, and bravery is usually rewarded.

Start out with a single, strong color you’d like to use, then use a tool like Kuler to find other colors that go well with it. 

Ideally, you’ll put together a palette of colors that is uniquely yours, instantly recognizable to anyone who knows it, and that you can find ways to implement on your blog, across your social media properties, and in your product designs, both online and offline. Be creative.

Watch your tone of voice

It’s no coincidence that Starbucks has its own language (including words like barrista, grande, frappe, and so on.). This vocabulary helps support the brand’s promise that this is not your run-of-the-mill coffee shop.

Think about your blog’s tone of voice. Is it authentic, distinctive, and consistent? Are you falling into the trap of over-complicating things with big, boring words, and overused jargon? Are you conveying your personality and making it easy for people to understand what you are offering and why they should care?

There is a lot of brand power in the way we say things, not just in what we say. Have someone else look at each of your posts before it goes up and make sure you are choosing words wisely. We all know how hard it is to edit our own work.

Invest in your brand—with money, time, and creativity

Now, these are some quick tips. There’s a lot more to learn about brand. But the key message is that it’s always a good idea to invest in your brand. If you don’t have the money to invest, at least invest the time and energy to learn, and the thought and creativity to do a good job with what you have.

How’s your brand looking? Share your ideas for blog branding in the comments.

Julie Cottineau is former VP of Brand at Virgin and executive at Interbrand. Recently she founded her own brand consultancy, BrandTwist, to help small businesses and entrepreneurs, and will soon launch Brand School, an online course about building, growing and monetizing a brand.

A Community Starts with 1,000 Members

This guest post is by Jeremy Miller of www.StickyBranding.com.

It’s easy to see the successes bloggers like Darren Rowse and Chris Brogan are having with social media and think, “I want that.” Darren’s ProBlogger Facebook page has over 43,000 Likes, and Chris has over 103,000 people following him on Google+.

I’m not in their league, but in less than two years my LinkedIn Group, Sticky Branding, grew to over 22,000 members.

People see these successes, and want to replicate them for their businesses.

But cruise the social media highway, and you will find countless Facebook pages and LinkedIn groups that are floundering or abandoned. They’re virtual ghost towns. They were set up with good intentions, but failed to ever get off the ground.

For example, there are over 1.3 million groups on LinkedIn, but only 3% of them have 1,000 or more members. And less than 0.017% of groups break 10,000 members.

Vibrant, engaged and growing social media communities are not the average.

The reason so many groups fail is they don’t achieve a critical mass. They don’t reach the starting point of 1,000 members to form the seed of a community.

Communities start with 1,000 members

Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus, argues that groups function best between eight and 16 people, or more than 1,000 members. He writes, “Being a participant in a midsize group often feels lousy, because you get neither the pleasures of tight interconnection nor the advantages of urban scale and diversity.”

A few hundred followers isn’t enough. You’ve got to break 1,000 members to get your group off the ground, because as Shirky explains, “Better than 99 percent of the audience members don’t participate, they just consume.”

Only 1% of an online community are active content creators, the rest are not. 90% of a community is silent. They don’t forward articles, respond to comments or even press the Like button. They simply consume.

The remaining 9% are curators. They share the community’s content through retweets, shares, and Likes, but they aren’t actively creating new comments or engaging with other members.

To carry on a group conversation, you need at least ten active content creators. They’re the kernel of your community. They keep it going, and make it a fun, vibrant place.

So without 1,000 members it’s very hard to foster and sustain conversations and engagement.

Grow your community through your network

Getting your first 1,000 members is hard! There are no silver bullets to achieve this milestone. It’s hard slogging.

The first 1,000 members will come from your network. They will be people you know, and they’ll join because you ask them. They are there because they like you, trust you, and want to support you.

I chose to build the Sticky Branding Group in LinkedIn because I was very active in the platform. At the time I had around 700 connections, and it made sense to build a group where I could invite people I was already connected to. When the group launched in May 2010, I invited all my connections, and 300 of them joined. This was a good starting point, but the next 700 members came one invitation at a time. And that was eight months of hard work.

I made a point of being an active networker. I attended conferences and events, followed up with old clients and colleagues, and reached out to people far and wide. It was a good opportunity to connect and meet people, but it was also the touch point to invite people who shared in my interests of branding, sales, and marketing. They joined because they were intrigued, and they joined because I invited them.

Avoid using promotions to grow your community

It’s easy to get frustrated with the invitation process, and try to find shortcuts like promotions and giveaways to grow your group.

Avoid this temptation.

If your goal is to grow a community—a place where like-minded people engage, share ideas, help each other, and carry on conversations—you need a specific type of member. You need members that buy into the purpose of the community, and share similar interests and values.

You need members who want to be a part of a community.

Promotions and giveaways don’t attract people seeking a community—they attract people seeking free stuff. You may get a surge of new members from a promotion, but it’s not likely they’ll stick around and become active members in your community.

Take pride in your community

People can spot a promotion-driven group from a mile away. The content is all about the group owner (the brand), and not about its members. These aren’t communities, they’re marketing platforms. The best groups have engaged group owners that love connecting with new people and sharing ideas and content.

Above all else, enjoy the experience of organizing a community. Have fun growing your group, and take pride in it. If you love your group it will be easy to ask people to join, and it will be easy to go out into the real world and talk about the exciting new group you’re building.

Your passion and excitement is infectious, and it will accelerate your group’s growth beyond anything else. It will be the most effective way to get your group past the 1,000 member mark, and enable it to grow into a community without boundaries.

Jeremy Miller is the President of www.StickyBranding.com, a sales and marketing consultancy specialized in brand-based demand generation. Jeremy recently published Nobody Likes To Dance Alone: How to grow a social media community. It is a free ebook based on his experience growing one of the largest branding groups on LinkedIn with over 22,000 members.

Use Product Promotions to Add Value on Your Blog—and Others

We get a lot of requests for co-promotions here at ProBlogger, and at Digital Photography School as well.

Sale sign

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Thoursie

No matter what niche you’re in, if your blog has a reasonably engaged audience, you’re probably the target for others who want to promote their new products. On the flip side, you may well target other bloggers when you want to promote your own blog products.

But negotiating coverage can be tough—and making sure the product’s promotion reaches the host blog’s audience in a meaningful way can be even tougher.

Today I want to show you how to do just that, using a great example from Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income.

The post

The post is How a Part-Time Blogger Landed His Dream Job—an Interview with Leslie Samuel.

Now, let me say up front that I have no idea how this interview came about, although Pat does say at the beginning of the podcast that he a Leslie have been friends for some time.

I do know that a lot of bloggers who’d love coverage like this for their products wonder how it’s done—even if they’re not personal friends with any A-list bloggers. So let’s pull this post apart a bit and see how you could replicate this kind of coverage for your next product launch—or to make the most of someone else’s launch on your own blog.

The post introduces a podcast—Pat posts regular podcasts on his blog—which contains an interview with Leslie, who tells the story of how he came to enjoy online success.

The post points out what’s covered in the podcast, and links to the services mentioned. It also links to the podcast, then mentions a special offer that Leslie’s making exclusively to Pat’s readers for his product.

What’s so good about this post?

Sounds simple, right? We all see posts like this all the time online. What’s so good about them?

  • The post provides valuable information independently of the promotion: The podcast is free. Anyone can listen to it—you can do it right there on Pat’s blog if you don’t want to download it. So any of Pat’s followers can access the valuable information Leslie has to share, without spending any money.
  • The information in the post isn’t focused on the product offer: Throughout the interview, Leslie tells a rich, deep story that’s packed with advice and tips. He gives it all away. Sometimes you’ll come across posts whose authors constantly refer to their new product or promotion, and some references aren’t always bad—often they’re necessary. But to make the product the focus of the post (or in this case, interview) can turn off more readers than it entices.
  • The offer comes at the end of the post: Pat makes mention of the special discount separately, at the end of his post. Leslie gets to it at the end of the interview. It’s clear, and obvious, which draws it to readers’ attention, and simultaneously lets them know that if they’re not keen, they can skip it.
  • The offer is provided independently of the host blog: While I have nothing against affiliate links (as you’ll know if you read ProBlogger or DPS regularly), promoting an offer in which you have no personal stake can be a great way to add credibility to the product, and communicate to your readers how much you’re focused on them.

From the guest’s point of view—Leslie, who has a product to promote—this super-credible approach to his story is great. He gets excellent coverage, which builds his profile regardless of whether people actually take up his offer or not. He also gets to make a great offer to a massive audience he might have trouble reaching otherwise. And he boosts his reputation as a guru without risking being seen as too salesy.

Pat, meanwhile, gets excellent content for his readers, and an exclusive deep discount on a product they’re likely to be interested in. This reinforces his position as a guru, too—again, without seeming salesy.

The message for host bloggers

If someone contacts you about a promotion they want you to mention on your blog, look at the potential value it can give your readers—and not just through the promotion itself.

See what gems you can get the blogger to “give away” in an interview, rich guest post, or infographic. Think about free value for your readers, not pushing a product.

The message for product promoters

Don’t see the opportunity as one for selling—see it as a chance to build authority with a new audience. What can you tell them that the host blogger can’t? That’s what you should share.

Focus on what’s unique about you, translate that into advice and help, and readers will automatically be motivated to click through to your blog, and take up your offer.

How to do it

This post presents great, unique information in a format that’s familiar and interesting to the host blog’s audience. While not all blog hosts will want to run hour-long interviews with product promoters, the path to the best opportunities is to match the key elements of the product that’s being promoted with the key needs of the host blog’s audience.

For the product promoter

For the product promoter, this means taking your product offer, and focusing on the aspect of it that’s central to your brand.

For Leslie, it’s about his journey to become a blogger—what it’s taken for him to build a popular blog from scratch. That’s what he wants to focus on in his coverage on the host blog. So he might come up with a few different ideas for exposure (through a post, a recorded interview, a series—the sky’s the limit when you’re proposing to help another blogger by providing content!) and pick one or two that seem to suit his brand and the host blog’s audience best.

Now as I say, I have no idea how this interview came about, but let’s suppose Leslie initiated it. He might approach Pat about the coverage, explain what he has to share, how it’ll help Pat’s audience, and mention the offer he’s willing to give Pat’s listeners if Pat’s open to that.

For the host blogger

For the host blogger, the challenge is to match that central element of the product promoter’s brand with the needs of the audience. So Pat would need to make sure that Leslie’s focus could be framed in an appropriate and really compelling way for his readers and listeners.

Of course, since Pat’s podcasts often include interviews, he may have approached Leslie about the interview himself, having spotted the solid fit between Leslie’s site and his own. He might have been the one who came up with the ideas for the interview coverage, including topics and questions, and approached Leslie with them. We bloggers are always looking for great content, after all! An hour is a lot of time to take out of a busy blogger’s week, so Pat may also have offered the opportunity for Leslie to promote his product as part of the interview.

Finding the right fit

As you can see, getting great coverage of a person and/or their product on a blog is a matter of fit.

The two brands need to align on some level, and the two bloggers need to work to make that alignment work in the best way possible for the host blog’s readers.

If you can do this as a product promoter, you’ll find it much easier to get really deep promotion on others’ blogs.

And if you can do this as a host blogger, you won’t have much trouble coming up with posts that really provide massive value to your readers, and position you as your niche’s go-to guy or girl.

Have you promoted someone else’s product through a post on your blog? Or had your product promoted through another blog? Tell us how it came about—and why it worked—in the comments.

How to Handle Guest Post Rejection

This guest post is by Tapha Ngum of MyAppTemplates.com.

So, you agreed on a topic to write about for a blog with the blog owner or editor, and you’ve just spent eight hours writing and editing it. You’ve done all the right things—read the submission guidelines, and double-checked your post for spelling mistakes, and you’re sure you’ve done a good job. You’re confident and excited, though a little apprehensive about sending it over. Because, after all, it could still get rejected, right?

But you send it out anyway.

Two days later you get an email back from the blog, and it tells you that the post has been rejected. Inevitably, you feel terribly deflated.

I know this feeling—and if you’ve been guest blogging for a while, then I’m sure you know it too. It’s really frustrating.

People don’t often talk about this aspect of guest blogging. But it’s a very real part of the equation. The fact is, you can spend hours working on a post and just like that, it can be rejected—deemed useless by the site you wrote it for. All that blood, sweat and tears for nothing. Even after you have discussed your post idea with the editor!

So what do you do?

Well, in most cases, that post that you wrote would probably end up locked away in some random folder on your computer. And with your confidence dented, you would probably not be too eager to write another guest post for a while, let alone make any revisions to the current one. But this, in my mind is the worst possible way to deal with guest post rejection.

The right way to deal with guest post rejection is to treat it as a stepping stone.

Guest post rejection, just like any other form of rejection, has within it the seeds of an equivalent benefit, if you know how to spot and effectively use those seeds. In each case of rejection, there will be some variability, and the benefits that you can take out of the situation will differ. But in the main, there are some key benefits that I have seen and used to good effect every time one of my guest posts has failed to be accepted.

I specifically mentioned the word “seeds” above, because the benefits that can be gained from guest post rejection are not always immediately apparent. A lot of the time you need to dig them up for yourself.

So, to help you along with that process, here are the three steps that I take when a post of mine has been rejected. You can use them to help you unearth the benefits for yourself and ultimately get more of your posts published.

Step 1. Get specific feedback from the person who rejected your post

Getting your guest post rejected is a brilliant opportunity to find out how you can improve your guest posting approach. Was it the way you wrote it? The lack of references in your article? In some cases you can even find that it was the way that you approached the person in the email that put them off and caused them to reject you.

Don’t be afraid to ask why your post was rejected. More often than not you’ll get useful feedback that will help you in your future guest posting endeavours. When you’re armed with this knowledge, your future attempts will only be more successful.

Quick tip: In your first email with the person who accepts the guest posts, let them know that you are willing to make revisions as necessary. This makes it easier to request a second submission later on if the post is rejected.

Also make sure that you do your research and find out how the blog that you’re dealing with likes to accept submissions. Often, you will find that your post has been rejected because you failed to discuss the ideas with them first. ProBlogger, for example, prefers bloggers to send their pitches over to them before you go ahead with your guest post.

Step 2. Try to resubmit the guest post

Once you have had a chance to analyze the feedback that you have been given and implement it into your post, send the guest post in again. Try your best to make sure that you have incorporated as much of the feedback as you can.

I’d also suggest you read the last ten guest posts that were accepted onto the site, to get a feel for what they like to publish.

Step 3. Try another blog

If you have really made an effort to make the post great, but are still not getting through with it, then maybe it is time to see if it can be placed on another site.

You should understand that every objectively well-written post is an asset, and even though it may not be valued by a particular site, it still has a lot of inherent value if it is used. So don’t let it end up on a folder, unused on your computer just because the rejection of it decreases your perception of its value. Not all posts are necessarily the right fit for all sites. So you have to accept that in some cases, your post will just not work for a particular site—and move onto another one.

A rejected post is not a useless post, although initially it can feel that way. In fact, if you have gone through the first two steps outlined above, and you’ve edited the post and submitted more than one revision, the chances are very likely that you will get accepted by another blog of similar standing.

Quick tip: Again, make sure that you know how the blog that you are dealing with likes to accept submissions. If you have to discuss the pre-written post with them before you send it in, make sure you do that. In the end, you want to make sure that you give yourself the best chance of having your guest post accepted and published. So complying with the host blog’s guidelines is a must.

Rejection can make your post better

A lot of people who have experienced rejection of their guest posts end up thinking that it’s just not worth the effort—it’s just too risky for them to put in the all that work for a chance that it may not even pay off.

But in my mind, that’s where the value in guest posting lies. If you learn to deal with this uneasy part of the guest posting process, then it will become an asset, not just to you, but to your business as well.

Have you ever had a guest post get rejected? How did you deal with it? Let me know in the comments!

This is a guest post from Tapha. Founder of MyAppTemplates.com, a site that provides custom iphone app templates to people who cannot afford to spend $1,000′s on their iphone app design.