Blog the Second Side of the Story

pinkeye

An anecdote submitted by a grandma to Reader’s Digest reminded me of something my own maternal grandmother taught us grandkids: there are at least two sides to every story.

The opthalmologist’s very cute assistant was examining my 20-year-old
grandson, when out of the blue she said, ‘You must really work out.’ ‘Well,
yes, I do,’ said my grandson, beaming.  ‘I run and lift weights. Thank you for
noticing.’ ‘Oh, you misunderstood,’ she said. ‘You have popped blood vessel
in your eyes.  We see that with people who work out.’

As a corporate blogging trainer, I’m always considering different ways of communicating with online readers.  Basically, I think of myself and my writers at Say It For You as offering a sort of matchmaking service that helps our clients “meet strangers” and hopefully convert at least some of them into friends and customers. At the same time, we need to keep in mind that readers’ will process the information we offer in the context of their own past experience.

Part of the secret to avoiding misunderstandings lies in our getting to know our target market. “There’s no hard and fast rule that governs what fields are mandatory for all landing page forms,” cautions Meghan Lockwood of HubSpot.  “Instead, marketers need to review their sales and lead generation goals and balance how much information they absolutely need from their leads vs. how much information those prospects will actually provide on a first form,”

Even with the best of research, different consumers are going to process our content in different ways. That’s not necessarily bad news. In blogging for business, why not present several aspects and opinions on an issue, allowing for the merits of each? In other words, make clear that this business or professional practice has chosen to carry on in a certain way, but that there were other options. Let readers come to their own conclusions about which approach is more in tune with their needs and opinions.

Understand your target market, but don’t be afraid to express a strong opinion. There’s something to be said for blogging the second side of the story!

 

 

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The First Blog Post is Like the First Day of Class

Young teacher near chalkboard in school classroom

“What impression would you like to make on the first day?” asks Elizabeth Natalle, author of Teaching Interpersonal Communication. In fact, the first day of class gets a lot of attention from pedagogues, Natalle explains to teachers, because “what happens that first day demonstrates to students what to expect from your instruction.” Some teachers even forget to introduce themselves before launching into the lecture, she notes.

Like Natalle, Harsh Agrawal of Shout ME Loud stresses the importance of demonstrating to your audience what to expect, except that Agrawal’s referring to bloggers, not classroom teachers. “Get it wrong,” he warns, “and you’re doomed to fail.  But, if you get it right, you’ll lay the proper foundation for success,” he tells those just beginning to post blogs. “People want to connect with you on a deep level, Agrawal says, advising new bloggers to tell readers what their experiences have been in life, revealing who they are as a person, as a professional, and as a blogger. Include pictures of yourself to show authenticity and to help readers connect with you, he advises, cautioning them to “make it clear why you’ve decided to offer a blog”.I couldn’t agree more with Agrawal’s advice.  In fact, the first post for every new Say It For You client is a why-blog-about———– (pet care/ bankruptcy/ tutoring, etc., etc.).

The art of writing a good blog post has dramatically evolved in recent years, as teamtwago.com points out in “How to Write Your First Company Blog Post”. “Readers expect far more in return for their time than an ill-conceived or badly-written blog post, Twago warns. “If you aren’t able to talk authoritatively and in-depth on a subject in your chosen field then you can wave conversions goodbye.”

Just as instructors make clear to students what the syllabus is for the semester and what tasks they are expected to complete before the next session, it’s crucial for us blog content writers to tell the readers what actions we would like them to take when they have reached the end of the blog post.  “Readers actively seek this out; they want to know what comes next,” explains Twago.

Remember – the first blog post is like the first day of class!

 

 

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Every Blog Post Should Have Two Winners

Dilbert

“My philosophy is that every phone conversation has a loser,” says Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams (the implication seems to be that one of the parties on the phone is being talked into buying something or doing something that benefits only the other. A second Adams quote reveals a similarly negative viewpoint: “There’s a gigantic gray area between good moral behavior and outright felonious activities.  I call that the Weasel Zone and it’s where most of life happens.”

Cynics, I imagine, would see blogging for business in the same light – a thinly disguised attempt to attract online readers who must be persuaded to buy “stuff”. At Say It For You, though, we try to come at blogging from a totally different direction and with a win-win attitude.

In the early stages of creating a new blog, the blog content writer and the client (the business owner) are trying to strike precisely the right “tone” for the blog.  I’ve discovered one very interesting thing I’ve in dealing with different content writers in Indianapolis and with the client businesses they serve.  Whenever there’s a “disconnect” between the two parties, it’s almost always about how “sales-ey” the blog should or should not be.

Generally speaking, as I often stress when I offer corporate blogging training, blog posts are not ads, and there should never be a hard-sell or boastful tone to the content.  When asked to provide business blogging help, I explain that blogs are closer in nature to informative “advertorials”, positioning the company or practitioner as helpful, well-experienced, and knowledgeable.

Primarily, the blog post has to add value. Not just a promise of value if the reader converts to a buyer, but value right then and there in terms of information, skill enhancement, or a new way of looking at the topic. The best blog posts are never about yourself, your company, your services, or your products, but about why you see things the way you do.

Does every phone conversation have a loser? I don’t know, but what I do know is this: Every blog post should have two winners – the business owner (or professional practitioner) and the online reader!

 

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Effective Blog Titles Emphasize Effects

 

Pointed List Five blank business diagram illustration

 

Mental Floss Magazine chose a good title, I believe, for its financial planning article:

“How These 7 Money Moves Can Affect You Down the Road”

What’s good about that title, and what can we blog content writers learn about creating effective titles for our clients’ posts?

It contains a numbered list.
Lists spatially organize information, helping to create an easy reading experience. The point of using numbered lists, I explain to blog content writers, is to demonstrate ways in which your product or service is different, and to help them organize the valuable information you’re giving them to help solve their problem or fill their need. “If your service or product is highly complex,” says Whale Hunters’ sales trainer Barbara Weaver-Smith, “it may turn off buyers, who might seek simpler solutions elsewhere to avoid having to deal with a many-step, high-commitment process.” Numbered lists are a good way to keep things simple for blog readers.

The advice is offered in terms of how decisions today will affect you “down the road”.
Discussing “down the road” is less threatening to readers than being told that what they are doing right now is wrong. While debunking misunderstandings is a good function for blogs, people generally don’t like to have their assertions and assumptions challenged. Putting things in terms of “down the road” softens the effect of the implied critique.

It’s not promoting a product or service, merely promising to offer helpful tips.
One point I’ve consistently stressed in these Say It For You blog content writing tutorials is how important it is to provide valuable information to readers, while avoiding any hint of “hard sell”.  Providing tips and hints may very well be the perfect tactic for accomplishing that goal. “While blogs can be used as a tool for selling, they are at their best when they are relational, conversational, and offer readers something useful that will enhance their lives in some way,” Damon Rouse of problogger.net advises.

The title mentions how the information can affect YOU.
The implication is that readers are in control of their own outcomes; there’s no “listen-to-me-and- my- wisdom” approach.  There’s no hint of “scare marketing” in the title, either.

Effective blog titles emphasize effects!

 

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Go Ahead – Blog About Your Misplaced Oscars

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Winning an Oscar is a big deal, but still old news; losing your Oscar – now that makes for more attention-catching copy. I think that’s the appeal of the Mental Floss Magazine story about ten award-winning movie stars who actually misplaced the statuettes they’d been so excited to win in the first place.

“Owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them.” Apparently, that’s not the case:

  • Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home.
  • “I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.”
  • Colin Firth nearly left his new trophy for “The King’s Speech” on a toilet tank the very night he received it.
  • Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, but in the confusion of a flood in his apartment while he was out of town, Damon isn’t sure where his award went.
  • Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty.

So how does all this apply to blog marketing for a business or professional practice?  It brings out a point every business owner, professional, and freelance business blogger ought to keep in mind: Writing about past failures is important.

True stories about mistakes and struggles are very humanizing, adding to the trust readers place in the people behind the business or practice. What tends to happen is the stories of failure create feelings of empathy and admiration for the entrepreneurs or professional practitioners who overcame the effects of their own errors.

Blogging about mistakes has another potential positive effect: it can turn out to help with customer relations and damage control.  When  complaints and concerns are recognized and dealt with “in front of other people” (in blog posts), it gives the “apology” or the “remediation measure” more weight. In fact, in corporate blogging training sessions, I remind Indianapolis blog writers to “hunt” for stories of struggle and mistakes made in the early years of a business or practice!

Go ahead – blog about your misplaced Oscars!

 

 

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We’ve All Heard the Naysayers

Outdated technology concept.
“We’ve all heard the naysayers – they argue that speechwriting is losing relevance in a world of unscripted comments and 140-character attention spans”, reads the invitation to the 2017 Speechwriters Conference. The reality, Ragan explains is that organizations need thoughtful communicators more than ever.

Importantly, all three skill areas on which the speechwriter’s conference promises to focus are highly relevant for us as blog content writers.  (We’ve all heard the naysayers, haven’t we, arguing that blogging is losing relevance?)

1. Ensure strategic messages get through
There are two kinds of goodwill that can be conveyed through messaging, as business valuator Lindon Kotzin puts it: ”Personal or professional goodwill attaches to a particular individual, while enterprise goodwill is derived from the characteristics of the business itself, regardless of who owns or operates it.” Both those types of strategic messages can be conveyed through our blog content, which is frequently updated and thus relevant to the current climate in our industry.

2.  Use humor appropriately to capture your audience’s attention
Hope Hatfield of LocalDirective.com points out that humor is a hook, having the same impact as a strong headline to grab the audience’s attention. Humor’s an icebreaker, she adds, but only so long as you carefully consider your target market, focusing the humor around a problem your company can solve. No matter how funny your marketing messages are, don’t forget that the goal is to educate your prospects about your products and services. “You want to make sure that you don’t lose the message in the humor, Hatfield cautions.

3. Develop an authentic and trustworthy voice
Successful content creation consists of capturing the unique style of the business owners, practitioners, and employees who will be delivering the service and products. Business coach Donna Gunter calls it the WYSIWYG approach (what you see is what you get), referring to authenticity in advertising and promotional materials.

Yes, we’ve all heard the blogging naysayers, arguing that blogs are losing relevance.  The reality, though, is that professional practitioners and business owners need thoughtful communications more than ever!

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Basically, We Bought Their Car For Them

Buying a new car

 

At a recent study session for financial planners, Waypoint Residential’s Todd Patterson made it really easy for us in the audience to understand exactly how excellent a return Waypoint had managed to generate for its investors over the last two years. After comparing dollars invested and dollars realized, Patterson summed up the situation in these simple terms:  “Basically, we bought their car for them.”

Let’s face it – most business blog posts make claims, either outright or implied.  The claims may be understated, exaggerated, or exactly on the money, but still – a claim is a claim is a claim. And when you make a claim, the problem is, blog visitors probably don’t know how to “digest” those claims you’ve “served up”.  They simply don’t have any basis for comparison, not being as expert as you are in your field. What I’m getting at is that every claim needs to be put into context, so that it not only is true, but so that it feels true to your online visitors. That’s precisely what Todd Patterson did so well in talking to us financial planners.

One core function of blogs for business is explaining yourself, your business philosophy, your products, and your processes.  An effective blog clarifies what sales trainers like to call your “unique value proposition” in terms readers can understand. And one excellent way to do just that is by making comparisons with things with which readers are already comfortable and familiar! Even those financial planner “numbers people” assiduously taking notes on their laptops, intending to share those stats with investors, needed something more.  That “more” was the “sound bite” about investors making enough money in two years to fund a car.

There are tens of millions of blog posts out there making claims of one sort or another, even as you’re reading this Say It For You post. Based on my own experience as an online reader, I’d venture to say fewer than 10% of them attempt to put their claims in context; and only the very top few manage to convey to their blog visitors what those claims can mean for them!

Basically, blog content writers, ask yourself what benefit your product or service “buys” for your customers and clients!

 

 

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Did-You-Know Blogging for Business

Book of the Bizarre
The Egyptians wore eye shadow to prevent blindness, and lipstick to keep the soul from leaving the body through the breath, Varla Ventura informs readers in The Book of the Bizarre.

What a great lead-in that sentence might make for a blog on the website of a beauty salon, cosmetologist, cosmetic surgeon, or even an ophthalmologist, I couldn’t help thinking. And Ventura’s book offers 300 pages’ worth of just such fascinating tidbit fodder!

I think the reason I’ve always liked “tidbit blogs”, just one of the dozens of blog “genres” we writers can use to lend variety to our posts, is that they put the blogger and the reader on the same side of the presentation. In other words, in a typical marketing blog the business owner or practitioner is presenting something to the reader, trying to forge a connection and engage interest (and, over time, convert lookers to buyers, of course).

In contrast, when I’m sharing that tidbit about Egyptians believing lipstick kept the soul from leaving the body, it’s as if I’m “on the same side of the table” with the reader, with both of us experiencing wonder at how religions have evolved over thousands of years and how customs change. (Well, it feels that way to me, anyhow…)

The function of tidbits in business blogs is to serve as “triggers” or jumping-off-points for blog posts about any subject.  In corporate marketing blogs, tidbits help:

  • educate blog readers
  • debunk myths
  • showcase the business owners’ expertise
  • demonstrate business owners’ perspective

    We blog writers, I’m convinced, need never run out of ideas if we just keep a file (or, as I do, collect books the likes of The Book of the Bizarre) of “did-you-know” tidbits!

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Cover the Blog Genre Gamut

VARIETY -Realistic Neon Sign on Brick Wall background

“Don’t be afraid to write in tried-and-true blog genres,” Gary DeAsi and Evan Stone advised their fellow financial planners as part of the FPA Practice Management Solutions Magazine almost three years ago, listing eight kinds of blogs they called “proven attention getters’”:

  1. Advice
  2. Collections and top lists
  3. Reviews
  4. Predictions
  5. Motivation
  6. Trouble-shooting
  7. Interviews
  8. Editorial/ Personal reflection
  9. Now, five years later, I’m inviting each of you Say It For You blog readers to come up with titles you’ve written or found that fit into each of these categories. If you submit your favorite titles, I’ll publish them here, along with some tips on flesh out those ideas to suit your own business. More important, ask yourself whether you’re lending variety to your blog by including all these genres.

    Meanwhile, over those same five years I’ve come up with at least four blog genres I believe ought to be added to the list to round out the “blogger’s dozen”…:

    9.  The tidbit blog uses a piece of trivia to spark interest and help readers understand a concept or product.
    10.  The comparison blog uses a metaphor to explain a complex idea in terms of a tangible object.
    11.  The “confession” blog tears away the “stage curtain” between the business owner and the reader, humanizing business or practitioner and hopefully generating feelings of empathy and admiration.
    12.   The “brag blog” shares accomplishments of which the business owner or practitioner had every right to be proud – a product breakthrough, an award, a milestone reached, an unexpected success.

DeAsi and Stone were telling financial planners not to be afraid to write in tried-and-true genres. As a business blogging trainer, I’d go a few steps further, advising content writers to keep it fresh, saying “Don’t be afraid to keep creating new blog genres!”

 

 

 

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Finding Before Solving in Blogging for Business

 

Find the Answer - Magnifying Glass
“Unfortunately,” reflects my friend and admired sales training expert Tim Roberts, “traditional salespeople are tethered to ‘what we know’”.  Roberts is well aware that it takes many years of trials and tribulations for a salesperson to develop good problem-solving skills, yet he’s here, he says, to challenge and encourage finding before solving. In fact, finding a problem that your customer hasn’t considered, is what makes a salesperson valuable, he stresses.

There are two required skills needed for an effective inquiry conversation with a prospect, Roberts explains:

  • vulnerability
  • transparency

Are there lessons here for business owners and professional practitioners “conversing” via their blog with readers? As a Say It For You blog writer and blogging coach, I think so. Last summer I made mention of what Stav Ziv of the Moth storytelling organization had to say about the two elements of successful storytelling:

  1. there’s no “wall of artistry” or stage curtain between storyteller and audience (transparency)
  2. storytellers share their own human failures and frailty (vulnerability).

The lesson I drew from Ziv’s description is that true stories about mistakes and struggles are very humanizing, adding to the trust readers place in the people behind the business or practice.

What I think is important for blog writers about Tim Roberts’ “finding-before-solving” concept is that it opens up a whole new content direction both for us as writers and as a conversation starter with readers.

Wait a minute – isn’t answering readers’ questions what blog posts are designed to do?  Searchers turn to the Internet because they’re looking for something – a product, a service, or information.  When the query relates to what you sell, what you do, and what you know about, those readers find your blog. But, what if your blog post was raising questions and inviting input from readers, rather than offering answers?

Blogs, as I so often stress to business blog writers, are not advertisements or sales pieces (even if increasing sales is the ultimate goal of the business owner).  Whatever “selling” goes on in effective blogs is indirect and comes out of business owners sharing their passion, their special expertise and their insights in their field.  When blog posts “work”, readers are moved to think, “I want to do business with him!” or “She’s the kind of person I’ve been looking for!”

Finding may well belong before solving, not only in selling, but in blogging for business!

 

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