This was one of the first sessions at the BlogHer ’12 conference, Aug. 2 – 4 in Manhattan, and it was jam-packed with bloggers who wanted to learn how to position themselves to work with brands, find a healthy balance between blogging and professional and personal demands, and promote their blogs on social media.
Here are their 10 tips:
1. Brand Yourself
Social media branding requires “a comprehensive and planned approach,” noted Tamaki. Do it the right way, and your blog can “enhance your public persona and your resume” – whether you’re hoping to blog professionally or seeking jobs in PR, marketing, journalism and related fields.
Step One is a “land grab,” said Lam. “Stake your ground, like in that movie ‘Far & Away.’” This means establishing accounts for your blog/brand “all the way across social platforms,” she explained, “the dot-com, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Blogger.”
“You don’t have to be in all the channels,” she added, “but land-grab your user name so it won’t be taken by someone else.”
The panel also advised businesses to grab user names that have the potential to harm their reputation, such as “IhateBrandX.com” or “@BrandXsucks,” to take them off the market.
2. Choose Your Platforms
Okay, now that you’ve got 20 social media accounts under your blog’s name, what’s next?
DePalma recommends considering whether your social media interactions are going to be mainly text-based or if they’ll have lots of visual components.
“My blog is writing, so it doesn’t make sense for me to be on Pinterest,” she said. “But, subjects like fashion and food are visual, and Pinterest is a visual platform.”
“Choosing your platform can be really intimidating because there are so many out there and new ones are cropping up all the time,” Tamaki said. She recommends trying everything: “Test them out. Watch your analytics. Which are getting good results? Those are the ones you want to put effort into, instead of juggling 20 different social platforms.”
3. Manage Your Time
Once you know where you’re going to focus, you’ll want to develop a schedule, so you don’t spin your wheels in the wrong places, said Tamaki.
Tamaki is self-employed and able to create her own timeline for social media activities. When she began “The Flirty Blog,” she wrote short posts; soon, they expanded to “magazine-length with lots of photos.”
“Now, I focus on balance,” Tamaki said. “Readers enjoy both, and bloggers should never feel pressured to do the same thing all time. Try shorter posts if you feel pressed for time. It’s better to have some short posts than nothing at all.”
DePalma noted that the typical range for social media activities for bloggers is between one and five hours per day. She spends an hour a day covering all of her properties.
When developing a schedule, DePalma encouraged bloggers to study their audience. “Find out when most people are online. In social media, you’re having a conversation, so you want to know when your followers are on there. I get the most traction first thing in the morning.”
She added that small businesses tend to gather on social media on weekdays because it’s “like a watercooler” for them. “Interior designers, architects – they’re online during the day, but not so much on weekends,” she said. Employees at large corporations often are blocked during the day, but jump on Facebook on weekends.
4. Measure Your Efforts
You’ll also want to build time on your schedule for measuring the success of your social media efforts.
DePalma says the two hours a month it takes her to track her blog’s progress sometimes feels like “eating spinach or going to the dentist,” but once she sees the results, she “finds it motivating.”
Google Analytics was the recommended measurement tool, especially because, DePalma stated, brands look at your Google Analytics numbers when they consider whether to work with a blogger.
Here’s what to view in Analytics:
- Most read posts (to learn which subjects are engaging your readers)
- New vs. returning readers
- How readers found your blog – typing in your URL, through search keywords or referral from another site
All of the panelists agreed that using Google Analytics is another way to manage your time on social media. “Which platforms should you be on?,” DePalma said. “Well, what does Google Analytics tell you about social referrals? Which platform is driving the most traffic? That’s where you need to focus your efforts.”
5. Tag Your Target
Is there a way to make your blog visible to a brand or a brand rep you want to work with?
Absolutely, said the panelists. Like the adage in “Field of Dreams,” if you write about brands, they will notice, so take the extra time to make sure you’re getting noticed for the right things, all three advised.
Here are 4 simple steps to get brands to notice you:
- Write about brands and products and take the time to proofread and fact-check. Typos and errors (like spending a whole post on a shoe style that’s discontinued) turn readers – and brands – off. “Fact-checking shows you’re a professional,” said Tamaki, “and it’s most appreciated.”
- Use the brand’s contact and tagging information in your posts – and make sure it’s accurate. In other words, don’t just write about a brand, include hyperlinks that take readers to the brand’s official website, Facebook page and Twitter account. Brands are checking their social referrals on Google An
alytics, and they’ll start to notice if you’re driving traffic their way. “When you’re tagging the company name in a post,” said Lam, “that’s something you need to fact-check; go to official websites or social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook to make sure it’s correct.”
- Connect with brand reps at conferences and brand events, Lam recommended. Share business cards, get in touch, and “touch base with brands again when you write about them. You want to make sure your blog is visible to that brand or that rep, so they see that you’re tweeting about them and that you’ve written three blog posts about their shoes.”
- Ask brands to add you to their media lists. “Often you’re invited to events for media only,” noted Tamaki, “and that’s something you wouldn’t know about if you were just following the brand on Twitter.”
6. Your Personal vs. Professional Voice
Each panelist had a different approach to this. As Tamaki observed, it really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with your blog.
Tamaki started out with a professional tone to her writing “because I’m a private person, and I’m not comfortable putting my personal life online.” In her efforts to advocate for causes related to cancer, she recognized that her more personal approach was garnering plenty of positive feedback, and that led to a more relaxed, personal style.
Lam was “a lot more casual at the beginning. I was tweeting up a storm.” Now that she works in a corporate setting, “I don’t tweet as much as I used to.” She continues to use a personal voice on her blog and goes out of her way not to mix up her personal social media efforts with her company.
DePalma said she prefers to maintain separation of church and state. Her name isn’t on her blog, but she does use her name as part of her company branding. She’s professional in her approach to social media and careful about the informality of platforms like Twitter. “It’s far easier to mess up on social media than it is when you’re blogging,” she noted. “The mouth engages before the brain does.”
7. Know Your Influencers
Influencers are the people, organizations and publications that can help you learn more about the practice of social media.
DePalma, who’s influenced by Mashable and MarketingProfs, recommended sharing information from influencers and thanking them on social media when she’s learned something. It’s another way of tagging a target; “you come to their attention,” she said.
Tamaki encouraged bloggers to go beyond the social media “big shots” and look for people who have something you can learn from. “Look everywhere, and don’t just go to the major sites,” she recommended. “Then analyze blogs. What is it about this person’s writing style? Maybe it’s a way to engage on your site, as well. Check for smaller details – in a post or how they’re using a theme – find those gems that you can use for your own blog.”
8. Listen to Your Audience
“Social media is about engaging. It’s Communications 360,” noted Lam. “It’s a conversation, a back and forth, not always a push.”
Listening to the audience is just as important in creating readership as posting, the panelists said, and offered these ideas for engaging your readers:
- Ask questions in your blog posts – these can trigger comments and ideas for future posts.
- Offer a Facebook poll.
- Use voting buttons on your post.
- Get a discussion going around a topic, cause or event using a Twitter hashtag.
- Comment on other people’s blogs so they see you’re listening to them.
- Use SurveyMonkey to find out who your readers are, just like magazines do.
- Go off-topic and write about something interesting or meaningful to you – Tamaki found a hummingbird nest in her backyard and posted a picture on her blog once a week about the developments in the nest as the eggs hatched. Her readers were so enthralled, they insisted she post a new photo every day. “So I’m out there making videos,” she said, “and it doubled my workload. I was a little relieved when they left the nest, so I didn’t have to blog about them every day, but the hummingbirds brought new people to my blog.”
9. Understand the Fine Print (Terms of Service)
You want to attract attention for your blog, but not the wrong kind of attention. “There’s nothing worse than having a blog pulled for violating the service agreement for your platform,” Tamaki said.
Lam commiserated that “reading Terms of Service is like reading IKEA directions,” adding that the responsibility is primarily the blogger’s for getting it right.
Some important service agreements to review:
- Your blogging platform’s
- Facebook’s policy on promotions, contests, sweepstakes and raffles
- Photo- and image-sharing sites (basically any image that you didn’t create)
- Pinterest’s guidelines for pinning any content you didn’t create
Don’t assume taking down something, like a photo or a pin, will resolve an issue over proper attribution or usage, Tamaki said. “Archive sites show how long you were using an image.”
“People assume they’ll just get a ‘cease and desist’ letter before anything happens,” she added. “Sometimes the first contact is a request for a big pile of money” for damages.
“On the positive side,” DePalma said, “we all want credit where credit is due for our content. Using the proper attribution gives you a reason to reach out and get in touch. It gets you on a brand’s radar…”
“So, if you write a favorable post, they’re likely to share it,” added Tamaki. “And once you get the brand behind you, it will drive a lot of traffic your way.”
10. Teach…and Keep Learning
“There’s no better way to establish yourself as an expert than by teaching someone else,” Tamaki said. “What’s in your head is of value to others.”
The panelists encouraged the audience to think about how they could use their expertise to teach others as a way to gain professional status and give back to the blogging community.
DePalma added that teaching can happen through writing (for folks who are uncomfortable with public speaking), as well.
Lam, who got her first social job through Twitter, teaches people how to use social media in job search.
“It’s great to teach something,” concluded Tamaki. “It can help your resume, it gives you a chance to be philanthropic and give back to your community.”
You’ll find the slides for this session here. Follow the panelists on Twitter:
Stacie Tamaki @TheFlirtyGirl
Chris Lam @thechrislam
Nora DePalma @noradepalma
Image Credit: BlogHer ’12 panelists (l to r) Stacie Tamaki, Nora DePalma and Chris Lam