Talking about the what

In our last entry, we touched on the need to figure out what to say, to whom it will be said and why it needs to be said in the first place. This time out, let’s look a bit more closely at the what component.

Whatever we read – newspapers, magazines, web sites and, yes, blogs – we do so because the topic interests us. The same thing applies to the folks who write all this stuff: they take the time to write it because it interests them.

Writing about something that interests you is probably the most important thing when you decide to launch a web log. If you’re jazzed by the topic or subject area, you’ll be motivated to share everything you know about it. The fact that you’re jazzed about it will come through in your writing. Passion sells, after all. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to write something that’s of only passing interest to you, as you’ll quickly lose interest…and so will your readers.

If you’re the go-to person among your friends for a particular issue, that might be a good place to start. If you’re still wondering, go sit under a tree for a while and think about what it is that you want to say. Don’t come back until you’ve answered the question honestly, and are confident that you’ll have lots to write in the months and years to come.

I’m not kidding about the tree, by the way. It works. You’ll have to trust me on that one.

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to say, you’ve got a bit more homework to do before it’s showtime. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it unique? Read other blogs, looking specifically for sites that may have similar themes to the one you’re working on. Are you repeating what’s already being said or can you add to the discussion? Don’t scuttle an idea just because other, similar blogs may already exist. You can still succeed if you say it better, or slightly differently, than everyone else. Just make sure you take the time to know what’s out there
  • Can I write dozens or even hundreds of entries on it? Try listing some potential blog entry titles to give yourself a sense of how easy it will be to keep the content coming. If after a week you’re still struggling with this, find a new topic
  • Is the topic hot? Advances in manual typewriter technology may no longer captivate the public’s interest, and may not be compelling fodder for blogs in the 21st century. Steer clear of dusty topics that don’t show up on search engines. Look for those that stand a reasonable chance of being discussed at the water cooler
  • Does research material exist? If the topic is relatively current, you’ll be able to find content out there that you’ll be able to fashion into future blog entries. Great blogs pull interesting bits out of the regular flow of online discussion and turn them into items of conversation: if you can’t Google your chosen topic and find good fodder for possible future entries, you may want to switch topics
  • Do my friends care? Talk through the proposed topic with people you trust. If your loving spouse doesn’t want to hear about it, will complete strangers take the time to read you? Don’t look for cheerleaders: seek out people who will give you honest opinions, even if they risk hurting your feelings a bit in the process

We’ll dig deeper into the who and the why in subsequent entries. For now, your challenge is to start thinking about that one topic that fascinates you above all else. Happy choosing!

Taking that first blogging step

Last time out, we discussed whether or not you should even start a blog. On the assumption that you’ve decided to move ahead with it, you’ll need to go through a number of due diligence steps before your site sees the light of day.

We touched on what you would write about, who would read it, and why. Write these out on a large piece of paper and post them somewhere visible, because you’re going to be mulling them over for quite a while.

WHAT: There are a lot of voices on the Internet talking about a lot of different issues from a lot of different perspectives. Is your voice one among many or do you have something unique to say? Would you be able to sum up your blog’s reason for existence in a 30-second elevator pitch. Stop here and really think this through before you do anything else, because if there’s nothing unique and uniquely compelling about your message, there’s no point in reading – or writing.

WHO: It’s a given that we all want lots of people to read us, but you still need to understand who would be most interested in what you have to say. Separate readers by age range, gender, geography, ethnicity, income level…or any other point of differentiation that makes sense to you. Research your target groups online to see what else they’re reading. And if you remember nothing else, resist the urge to be all things to all people, because nothing is more vanilla than a broadly focused blog.

WHY: This explains why they’ll take time from their busy schedules to read you. It speaks to the value that you’re bringing to the table – to their table. If you can’t articulate it, chances are your readers won’t, either – which means they likely won’t become readers.

Take a stab at answering these. Bounce your responses off of people you trust. We’ll dig deeper into each of them in future entries.

To blog, or not to blog…

Should your company start its own blog?

It may seem like a no-brainer. After all, blogs have established themselves as credible tools to connect with stakeholders in ways that traditional one-way media do not.

But starting a blog because everyone else is doing it is the first step toward failure. If memory serves, this excuse didn’t work too well in high school, and it doesn’t work now, either.

Before you reserve a domain name, install the software and tell all your friends, you may want to take some quiet time to consider what you hope to accomplish with it. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why are you considering starting a blog?
  • What’s the value proposition for people who might read it?
  • Precisely who’s going to read it?
  • What kind of resources will you be able to devote to your blog?

If you’re not able to come up with solid answers to these basic questions, take the time to think them through. Talk to your stakeholders, solicit feedback from them on what you’re doing well – and not so well – from a communications perspective. Use their feedback to identify where you could be doing a better job of keeping them in the loop.

That last piece – finding ways to improve the way we communicate with our stakeholders – is critical. Blogs are only one of the many tools available to today’s businesses to reach out and engage the people who matter. Depending on the outcome of this early, informal process, you may or may not decide that launching a blog makes sense at this time.

In subsequent blog entries, we’ll explore this prep process more deeply. For now, take the time to think the blog rationale through, and feel free to share the results in a comment.

Facebook, banks and, possibly, you

Fascinating things are happening in the world of social networking. While the MySpaces and Facebooks have attracted legions of younger-demographic users, they have been viewed with a certain sense of detachment by mainstream business.

Until now, apparently.

Canada’s TD Bank and Royal Bank have initiated their own initiatives on Facebook. I spoke with Toronto Star business reporter Rita Trichur about what motivates them and what it means for the banking industry. The article, TD reaches out with Facebook group, was published in yesterday’s paper.

The use of social networking resources as marketing tools will only grow as businesses in all sectors begin to realize the value of reaching out to clients and potential clients through these non-traditional avenues.

Is there a Facebook plan in your future business plans?


When I was scheduled to attend a conference in Shanghai a couple of months back, I took a plane. Soon after I returned home and recovered from the jet lag, I got on my bike and rode to the nearby grocery store to pick up some milk. Later, I used the car to pick the kids up from camp.

For these three different journeys, I used three very different vehicles. In some cases, I could have chosen differently – take the car for milk, for example. For the China trip, though, I doubt anything but an Airbus A340 or Boeing 777 would have done the trick.

I tend to view communication in a similar light. Every time I have a message to deliver, I start by thinking about my audience – the destination – and the method I should use – the vehicle – to reach them. Just as it is with my somewhat hackneyed travel analogy, sometimes I have a choice of communication vehicles, while other times the choice may be somewhat narrower.

Regardless, I always start by thinking about the vehicle. It influences how we travel, and it influences how we communicate with each other. The proliferation of new media types makes vehicle choice more critical today than it’s ever been. Make the wrong call and you could find yourself in the messaging equivalent of cycling a high-end mountain bike across the ocean.

We’ll explore vehicles in greater depth in future entries. For now, I hope you’ll take a quick moment to think about the vehicles you use in your day-to-day communication.

Communicating online — not your father’s print

Once upon a time, the morning newspaper was our first and most detailed means of consuming the days news. We killed trees to keep on top of local and world news. When we were done, we shoved the yellowing, fraying results into the bottom of the bird cage. We didn’t call it recycling back then.

Today, breaking news no longer comes on paper. Sure, many of us still subscribe to our local rag. It lays out nicely on the kitchen table, and you can’t take a laptop to the beach. Not safely, anyway. Convenience aside, rapidly delivered interactive online media have changed the way we consume content. They’ve also changed the way we communicate. The impact extends far beyond the breakfast table. It changes the way we work, making the modern office a very alien place to people rooted in paper-based memos and, gasp, fax machines.

Whether we’re sending an e-mail to a colleague across the hall, preparing a PowerPoint presentation for company leadership or designing in-store signs for the next sales campaign, we can’t forget the one overriding truth: the Internet has fundamentally changed how we interact with others, and how we absorb and respond to messages.

But what to do about this. Start by knowing which way is up in this chaotically evolving world. Writing for online consumption is a necessarily different process than writing for print. Readers have ever-shorter attention spans. They scroll through a page and hover the mouse pointer over a selection of text, fingers to click on whatever link next tickles their fancy. They don’t have time to read War and Peace. They may not even make it to the War part. Be quick, be decisive, and get to the point. Now.

Speaking of which, we’ll leave the rest for the next entry. We said to keep it short, and that applies to us as well. And we’ll continue the story tomorrow.