Blogs are Hard!

Six things our content company learned while creating our own content

By: Marc Acton, Associate Creative Director

If you’re starting a blog, each of these tips will save you money, earn you visitors, or help your boss know how awesome you are.

I’ve heard it said that plumbers have the worst toilets. Let’s assume for the sake of this post that this is true—that when you do something all day for other people, it’s hard to get motivated to do it for yourself. In fact, plumbers’ pipes notwithstanding, doing something for yourself for free is definitely not the same as doing it for someone else for money. Sometimes it’s easier to get motivated to go through the hard work of content creation when you’re earning a big fat check at the end of it.

But! Creating for ourselves is also invigorating. There’s freedom in being our own client! The world is our oyster! And we love oysters! This is going to be awesome!! That’s what I thought to myself when iostudio’s content team was handed the reigns of an important section of iostudio.com (this one). We were finally going to get to do for ourselves what we’ve done for our amazing clients. They get our best work, after all, so shouldn’t we get some of it too? Answer: yes. You should always save some of your best work for you. You deserve it.

I was right about it being fun, but over the last 6 months, we’ve produced several magazines’ worth of words, maybe even a young adult novel’s worth, releasing one or two posts every week since July 31, accompanied by a slew of images, and even more social media posts pointing people our way. That’s a loooot of work. It’s also a great way to learn a bunch of lessons. Here are some of the biggest ones.

It’s most likely going to be harder than your bosses think.

To be fair, unless you do this all the time, it’s probably going to be harder than you think, too. This is of primary importance because unless you just got hired as your company’s blog writer, or you just got promoted from mail clerk to blog manager (or, maybe you really pissed somebody off and got demoted—‘cause nobody volunteers for this kind of thing) this is going to be an additional duty for you. It’s important that you manage expectations, both your own and your bosses, regarding how much time and effort it’s going to take to do this.

Tip: Depending on how quickly you work, and how much of the effort you outsource, you should probably plan for roughly one to one-and-a-half day’s work for yourself, plus whatever support staff you’re using (project manager, proofreader, etc.) for each blog post.

You have contributors all around you.

You just have to help them see it. Let me save you some trouble here—let’s imagine you walk up to 10 people in the office and say, “Hi, Bob. Great day, isn’t it? How would you like to write a blog post for our company blog?” You’re going to get seven noes, two hell noes, and one answer that’s not fit to print in a corporate publication. That’s a lot of noes out of ten. Instead, ask them these questions:

  1. What are you excited about at work this week?
  2. What problems have you solved for our clients lately?
  3. What piece of technology or software have you just started using?
  4. What emerging trend are you interested in learning about in your area of expertise?

If they answer any of those questions with something even vaguely resembling interest or intelligence, pounce. If you dig a little deeper, there’s probably a blog post here.

Tip: Don’t rely on your coworkers to come to you with great ideas. Suss them out yourself using some simple questions. Then, pass the content outline off to a writer to fill in the blanks and make it pretty. 

The first rule of content club is to tell everyone about content club.

It’s critically important that you have great content—not only because today’s consumer expects to receive value in everything they read, but also because every single piece of content you put out says something about your company. Crap companies do crap work, including on their blogs. But, if no one’s reading it, then you can put out all the crap you want, and nobody’s going to notice.

Tip: Great content needs a great distribution plan. Getting your coworkers to share your stuff is huge, but so is an actual plan for reaching outside your own networks. Remember, all of your employees already know who you are and what you do, and probably their friends do too—for your blog to be successful, you need to get past that already-in-network barrier. Do this by boosting posts, or by tagging individuals outside your networks.

Don’t assume you know what’s going to work.

We’ve been in the content business for a long time, and, still, some of our best posts have been sleeper hits that we didn’t see coming. So, while it’s really important that your blog is cohesive, with a clear point of view that matches the business key performance indicators you think you can affect, you need to branch out at least some. Within whatever your framework of purpose is (ours was to build our company’s visibility by developing our reputation as an industry thought leader), there are lots of different ways to implement.

Tip: Try things. Explore what resonates with your audience. Then: Do something about it. If you find a popular topic, make it into a series. If you find a popular hashtag, craft more content around it.

Remember rule #1 of duck hunting: Go where the ducks are.

This is really about figuring out what your purpose is. There’s a really great book called Start With Why that talks about the overriding importance of purpose. This is also a very practical way to look at your blog. If you’re trying to just “get your name out there,” then your content will look very different than if you’re trying to prove that you’re the most reliable surgery center in the Midwest. Figure out where your ducks are first, and then grab your figurative shotgun.

Tip: Right up front when you’re planning this thing, ask yourself, “What is the business dial we’re trying to move?” Then, “How are we going to measure that?” Then, use your two answers to steer your content strategy, your editorial strategy, and your distribution strategy.

You’re going to need help.

You can’t do this yourself. Even if you’re the best writer around, it takes a village to raise a real content program. Great writers need great editors. Great content strategists need great creative directors to bounce ideas off. Great graphic designers need…well, I guess mostly we just leave our designer as much alone as possible, and he keeps cranking out killer art. But, I think he’s an outlier, and you get the idea.

Tip: There are a lot of great freelance writers out there—in fact, I’d be happy to introduce you to a couple of my favorites, who I love to hire and who will absolutely murder (in the good way) any assignment sheet you put in from of them.

 

Or, you could just hire us, and we’ll do it all for you. We’re pretty proud of our work, after all. Even the parts that we did just for us.


 Marc Acton

Marc Acton was born at a very young age in a moderately old town in Florida. Some other stuff happened, and then he became iostudio’s Associate Creative Director. For us, he proudly pokes and prods projects for the Army National Guard including social media and web, writing and strategizing content that converts. He is a fan of the Oxford comma, saying more with less, and helping write bios for extremely talented iostudians. He also flies helicopters for the Army National Guard. Which reminds us, how can you tell if a helicopter pilot is at your party? (He’ll tell you.)