What would’ve happened ten years ago if you’d told a keen writer they could get published for free? You pay nothing, you receive nothing. But you get your words, your story and your name in front of people.
The reaction would probably have been similar to tonight’s, in the downstairs bar of the digital design company Tequila. As Ben Afia stands and introduces tonight’s talk – “What’s so special about blogging?” – the 26 members and their guests hush to a bubbling anticipation. “Blogging,” says Ben; “surely it’s just scribbling random thoughts on pieces of paper and throwing them over a wall?” A roomful of chuckles says Ben’s not alone in his fears.
Mark McGuinness takes the talk. Poised before a crowd of over 40 writers, designers, producers, execs and other word addicts, Mark (writer, blogger and creative coach) introduces his subject. So what is so special about blogging? First, let’s step back. What is blogging?
Mark introduces us to his two blogs – wishfulthinking.co.uk and lateralaction.com – before he asks the audience who regularly blogs. Who writes their thoughts, loves, hates, fears, feelings up on the internet and hits the “publish” button for the world to devour? Over 50 per cent of us do. OK, so who blogs for business? Who employs their voice to promote their company? Two hands creep up. So the idea of blogging excites and engages many writers. But before commerce and industry joins the movement, blogging could pass its golden age without realising it.
Blogs offer free content. “The content, whatever the blog is about,” says Mark, sipping from his water, “should be entertaining and informative. It’s not sales spiel. It should never be sales spiel.” Mark has a wonderful ability to talk on a subject he knows the world about with a delivery that allows the world to understand. A designer leans in to me: “I love how he makes it sound so simple.”
Alongside Mark sit three guests who understand blogs well enough to earn a living from them. As the talk progresses, and questions begin to float in from the floor,Chris Garrett, Rachel Clarkeand John Dodds offer their thoughts. All four agree on what makes the difference between a successful blog and a crumpled-paper-wall-throwing one. Inform, entertain, teach, solve problems; be unique, be remarkable, target. And make the time to look after your creation.
“People always say to me, ‘Mark, how do you find the time to blog regularly?’” There’s a murmur in the audience – nodding heads, smiles. “It’s not easy – something always seems more urgent. But your blog is your own personal printing press. It’s just as revolutionary. Short posts, long posts? It’s up to you.” John Dodds agrees – he can knock out a pithy post in 15 minutes.
Tonight, we’re all learning something – the experienced, the experimental, the novices and the virgins. We all feel we can go away and attract new readers, gain subscribers, excite and cajole. But how does this work for business? Surely business writing is flat, mundane, impersonal?
In front of his slideshow, Mark brings up the “attention funnel”. Web readers don’t pay money to read free content, they pay their “attention dollars”, their time. So bloggers have a huge responsibility to make their posts great value-for-attention. If the content isn’t there, the reader will fall down the tunnel and straight through. No subscription, no comment, no return visitor. So for a business blog to work, it needs a voice that captivates a casual web user, a window shopper. The best blogs provide value.
Mark concludes the evening with an explanation of how effective blogging benefits big and small business. What’s the pay off? “Firstly, you gain readers. Readers can become new clients, new friends, a new community. And this all leads to great business opportunities.” It makes sense – a blog can become an online portfolio: a place to show people what you can do.
A warm round of applause thanks Mark for his overview of the transforming world of social media and self-publishing, before lively discussion creates a writing community in Tequila’s late evening half-light. Is Twitter the new blogging? Does a business blog require a corporate voice? How is industry – professional, often distant, cryptic industry – changing with new media?
As answers met their questions, I fell under the spell of social media at its best: connecting people from across media, across counties, countries. The experts in front summed up with a united message. Blogging brings people together. Through his blog, Mark met Ben. Through my blog I met Mark. Then Colin. Who met Dan. Business is changing; industry today is morally obliged to respond to people. And if we can find our niche, blog in the ways the experts suggest, we’ll meet the people we need to meet. If a brand is what people say about us when you’re not there, as John Dodds suggests, a blog helps put us there.
But one last message – a little warning from Mark, as he sips the last drops of water from his glass. “Remember, a blog isn’t a business. A blog is a business tool that delivers value. Write well, give it at least a year, and you’ll catch the readers at the bottom of the attention funnel.”
Thanks to Robert Self-Pierson for the review. You can read his blog here.