Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Blog, Newsletter, Brochure, or Social Network Article?

Today's post will begin a series on how to use blogs and other articles to your professional advantage.

Every business should regularly provide some written item that falls outside the category of "sales material": it keeps stakeholders informed, reminds past and potential customers you exist without seeming pushy, and--especially if you talk about things besides yourself--provides information worth passing to others who wouldn't heard of you otherwise. But many such projects die in utero or prove more bother than help, because of poor planning.

The first thing to plan is what form your "helpful written information for the public" will take. Blogs offer the advantage of being both concise and frequent. Traditional newsletters project the image of a conscientious business that takes itself seriously. White papers or e-brochures, posted on a social networking site and/or a business's Web site, work well for businesses that prefer not to keep a strict schedule. Many companies use the integrated approach, including all of the above.

If, however, you're picking just one to add to your marketing mix, consider the following before jumping in.

With blogs and newsletters, the length of each installment should be inversely proportional to the frequency with which installments appear. Blog posts run 1-5 times per week and less than 1,000 words. Newsletters equalling 8 or fewer printed pages are best produced monthly. Magazine-length newsletters should come out on a quarterly schedule. You want to give subscribers time to read one installment before the next appears!

Start small. Many newsletters don't get past the planning stage because a business tried to make them too long and ran out of information to fill them--or of time to assemble the information into a coherent, well-written product. For the same reason, if you want to make your blog/newsletter/articles an effective public relations tool:

Seriously consider outsourcing the work--or hiring a full-time writer. Don't fall into the "anyone can do a decent job of writing" trap and assign the project to whoever can scrape enough time from other duties to throw it together. No less than computer maintenance or building inspection, this is a serious part of your business and deserves professional treatment.

Don't post one of those "hiring blog writers for 10 posts a week at $20 each" ads, either. Top-quality writers who work under such terms are rarer than dollar menus in five-star restaurants, and even capable amateur writers won't do their best work at such high speed--not if they need to leave time in their schedules to earn a real living. You might as well assign the job in-house and at least save the $200--though you'd be better off using it to hire a real professional for one post a week. Quality definitely trumps quantity here.

Consider your audience. Who, exactly, do you hope will read this? What age, gender, religious, and ethnic categories do they fall into? What are they already reading regularly--print newspapers, social networking sites, trade journals? How much time do they spend online? To ensure an interested audience, keep your new product close in form to what they already use or enjoy.

The next post will talk about what to expect--and not to expect--from a written-information project.

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