Blog Basics: What’s a Gravatar and Why Would I Want One?

Comments are an integral part of having a blog, and they are essentially what help make blogging a form of social media—by facilitating conversation back and forth between a blog’s author and their readers.

If you are not familiar with what a Gravatar is, maybe this will help—have you ever left a comment on a blog and next to your comment you notice a box has appeared with a grayed-out silhouette of a person?  Sadly, that means it is a Gravatar-enabled blog, and you, my friend are sans Gravatar. :(

What’s a Gravatar?  It’s a small photo that accompanies your comments or posts on blogs around the web.  It allows millions of blogs, sites and forums to grab an avatar for the person who is commenting, without them having to upload their pic every single time.  (It uses the emails of people who comment on your blog to display their Gravatar.) Plus, it’s just nice to relate to someone’s face rather than a mysterious and anonymous gray guy (or gal).

So don’t be shy, let us see your face when you come by to comment.  You can get your own Gravatar here.

Oh, and if you use WordPress and want to enable your own blog to show others’ Gravatars, here’s a link to a plugin for that.

My 6 Steps to Social Media Success

These six steps were born out of common frustrations I hear from people about understanding how to market online.

Does this sound familiar? “I know I need to figure out all of this social media stuff, but it’s all piecemeal now and I just don’t know where to start!”

You may have noticed how some small business owners seem to attract clients and customers online almost effortlessly—while others struggle to keep their business afloat. The reason is that they are following a proven business model to market their business.

The six steps outlined here not only incorporate that proven model, but show you how you can supercharge it by adding social media tools and techniques—leading to more clients, customers and sales.

Without further ado…

Step 1: Understand what social media is and the benefits of using it.

It was important to me to make this first step the foundation of the entire system. Social media marketing is not “hard selling.” It’s businesses having conversations in the online communities where their prospective clients and customers hang out. Why is this so beneficial? In a nutshell, it’s a no-cost way to connect with your customer or client base, establish expertise, drive traffic to your website, and communicate your value.

Step 2: Get a blog.

Think of your blog as your social home base. You can be out utilizing all of the social media platforms in the world, but if you don’t have anywhere to send your friends and followers to outside of those platforms, your efforts will be in vain. Blogs are ideal because they tend to rank higher in the search engines and help foster a sense of community around your business.

Step 3: Build your social media profiles.

You don’t need to have a presence on every social site under the sun! There are only a few sites that I encourage most business owners to have a presence on: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. You may find that some of these are not a good fit for you while others are. That’s ok! Know that if it is working for you, then you should continue using it. These sites are simply the ones that my clients and I have had the most success with and the ones I feel are a good representation of the social media landscape.

Step 4: Make your blog social-media friendly.

Having a blog is a great step in the right direction if you are looking for ways to dive into social media. However, there is a lot more that you can do once you’ve got your blog up and running. You can think of your blog as a hub connecting all of your social media activities—and you’ll want to encourage visitors to interact with you socially in as many ways as possible. Some of the ways you can do that include badges, buttons, widgets, an RSS icon, commenting tools such as Disqus, and of course—good, share-friendly content.

Step 5: Build relationships with your target market.

Ok, you have at least one or two social media profiles set up and you’re ready to rock—but what now? The next step is to start using social media as a way to facilitate relationships with people who might potentially become your clients or customers or your strategic alliances. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the technical details involved in social media, but you want to remember that at its heart, it’s really all about people.

Step 6: Show me the money: turning friends and followers into clients and customers.

Twitter and Facebook are not the only game in town. To achieve the best results, you will want to have a varied mix of marketing tools in play all at once. Online, much of your job centers on driving traffic to your site so that prospective clients or customers can find out more. One of the best ways to increase the chances that someone will eventually buy from you is to build an email list. Essentially, you want to have a way to capture a person’s email address and name so that you may keep in touch with them, build trust, and make offers in the future.

Social media is only one way to drive traffic and build your list. The idea is to be a “well-rounded” marketer. Using sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube along with the other online marketing strategies will maximize your results—and more traffic, more subscribers, more clients, more sales and more money will certainly follow.

How to Begin Blogging, Even if You Don’t Know Where to Start

Recently, someone asked me the simple question: “How do I begin blogging?”  That question reminded me that sometimes, we get so wrapped up in the details of online marketing that those of us who teach it forget to get back to basics.  However, oftentimes those basic building blocks are exactly what our audience needs.  Blogging is a perfect example of this.

There is a ton of information out there on blogging tips, how to make money with your blog, how to publicize your blog, how to link up your blog with social media sites and on and on.  But what if you just need the bare essentials so you can just get started?  Sometimes those basics end up lost in the sea of info.  Here’s what you need to know to be on your way. (You will of course find others who say there are other ways to do it.  But in my own experience and from helping others get started, these few steps will get you set up right.)

1) Pick a blogging platform. This may sound scary if you are an absolute blogging novice, but there are essentially two types of choices: hosted by you (often referred to as self-hosted), or hosted by someone else.  You may have heard of Google’s Blogger.com, which is very easy to use.  It may be a good choice in terms of its simplicity, but I recommend going with a self-hosted platform such as WordPress.  This can be downloaded for free at WordPress.org.  Self-hosted options like this allow you to have a lot more control over your blog and they give you a lot more flexibility, which you’ll want in the long run.

2) Pick a name for your blog. When you are getting started, the only real costs associated with a blog are the domain name and the hosting (which we’ll talk about next.) You can get a domain name from a site like GoDaddy for under $10.00 a year.  But first, you need to think about what you will name your blog. A few tips: a .com extension is always preferred over others such as .net or .biz, and your blog’s name should reflect what the main focus of your blog is going to be.  Also, try to stay away from really long domain names, or those with hard-to-spell words if possible.

3) Pick a web host. With a self-hosted blog, you will need a web host to provide server space to access your website from.  Usually this service is relatively inexpensive for a smaller site; the average cost is around $60-$100 per year.  If you already have a website and just want to add a blog to it, then you can remain with the host you have been using for that site.  In many cases, people who add a blog to their site simply have their web administrator make the blog another page of the website, accessed from your domain—for example, www.mywebsite.com/blog.  If your blog stands alone and is not connected to another site, you would install the blog software on your domain via FTP—I use Filezilla, which is free.

4) Start writing. By this point you will have hopefully taken some time to get pretty clear on what you want to talk about on your blog.  Commit to writing your first post–it doesn’t have to be long, the important thing is just to get going.  Don’t worry about getting a bunch of readers, submitting your site to directories, setting up an RSS feed or customizing your theme.  Those things are important, but can be investigated with time.  Continue writing posts on topics that you think will be helpful to your market, and before you know it, the whole blogging thing will be old hat.

What is RSS and How Can it Help Your Marketing?

RSS iconYou’ve most likely heard of RSS feeds, but you might still be wondering exactly what they are. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” RSS itself is just the format for delivering regularly updated web content. Blog feeds allow readers to keep up with the newest info posted on different sites, and people “subscribe” to the feeds of their choice.

Enter the “Feedreader”

For example, there are 25+ blogs out there that I enjoy reading on a regular basis. I want to keep up with them because they help keep me up date with all of the latest information in my niche. However, I don’t want to have to go out to the web and pull up each blog individually every day just to see whether they have been updated. The solution to this is to use a “feedreader” to see all of my favorite blogs’ latest content all in one place. Feedreaders allow you to access new content in two main ways: through the actual reader itself or via email updates. One of the most popular feedreaders and the one that I use is Google Reader.

The Business Use

Why is this important for marketing? Two reasons: 1—It’s a great way to stay current and educated on the things going on in your niche or market through blogs; and 2—It provides a simple way for people who are interested in you and what you have to offer to stay informed. You want to remain on people’s radars consistently so that even if they are not ready to buy from you now, you are able to stay top of mind for them when they are ready to. Just like an email newsletter helps to build and strengthen a relationship with its subscribers, a blog does the same with those who subscribe to its RSS feed.

By its very nature, social media allows content to be shared and spread far and wide across the internet, resulting in more exposure for you and your business. Therefore, it’s crucial to be able to share your blog’s content through multiple channels. For example, many social media platforms and services such as Facebook require you to provide an RSS feed address in order to syndicate (publish) your content.

Managing Your Own Feed

Blog platforms such as WordPress come with feeds already built in and it’s pretty easy to find the RSS feed of your own blog. Just type your site’s address into a browser and add /feed right after it. I use a service called Feedburner through Google to manage my feed and give me detailed statistics on my site’s subscribers and traffic. I suggest you “burn” your feed as well to keep track of your subscribers at http://feedburner.google.com.

Now you know a bit more about RSS feeds and why they are such an integral part of having your own blog—or keeping up with the ones you like to read the most. I’d like to know—do you use a Feedreader?  How many blogs do you read on a regular basis?  Let me know your thoughts in th comments.

Using Posterous as a Social Time Saver

posterousPosterous is a super-simple blogging platform that’s been around about a year now.  With social media’s popularity at an all time high, I thought it would be helpful to look at how Posterous can allow you to better manage your social networking activities.

They bill themselves as “the dead simple place to post everything” and they’re not kidding. You don’t even have to create an account to use it–you simply email your content to post@posterous.com.  You can include attachments like videos, photos, files and MP3s.

Not quite a tweet and not quite a full blog post

Now, I happen to love WordPress and use it for the blog you are reading now.  But sometimes you want something even more convenient—not to mention that many people don’t care to run a full-on blog, but still want an easy way to get their content out there (and in more than 140 characters on Twitter.)

But the coolest thing about Posterous is its implications for those of you who know social media is something you should be using regularly—but still can’t see past what you see it as being: a ginormous time-suck.

You may have heard of sites like Ping.fm which allow you to update multiple social networks simultaneously from one place.  This service is great as well, and appears to do many of the same things that Posterous does.

I asked the co-founder of Posterous, Sachin Agarwal, on Twitter what he saw as the main advantages of his service as compared to others.  He replied:

“Posterous is not only a way to broadcast out. We are your presence on the web with all your media, hosted, and your domain.  There’s no limit to what you can post to us, we handle all rich media perfectly, by email and twitter clients. And it’s yours.”

Anytime, anywhere, anything

The main reason I think Posterous is so cool is that it is a way to have a blog and update that blog from anywhere with anything.  It can be your home on the web for posting content and a tool for updating all of your social sites—all of which you can do from email.

For example, say I find a video I want to share.  I would email the video URL along with any text or commentary to post@posterous.com.  If I have my Posterous account set up to update Facebook and Twitter, my status updates there will post a link to the video as well. The link will then take people to the video on my Posterous blog.

posterous twitter update

my posterous

Another cool feature is if I just wanted to send the video to Twitter and nowhere else, I would just send the email to twitter@posterous.com.  Want to send a picture to just your main blog and Flickr?  Email blog+flickr@posterous.com.

See how this could save you serious time?  With one quick email you could autopost and update all of your social networking sites without having to go to each one separately.  Plus, you’ve got a nice little repository of all of your shared content in one place on your own Posterous blog.

There’s also the feature that allows you to use it as a private site where you grant access to someone else or as a group site for multiple people.  Because you can do all of this by email, you can even update Posterous from your mobile phone or text message very easily.  Cool stuff.

Are you still trying to figure out how to handle the social media time suck—i.e., finding time to post to a blog, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc. and run a business and have a life?  Have you checked out Posterous yourself?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Product Review & Giveaway: How to Get Great Press & How to Give Good Blog by IndieBizChicks.com’s Crissy Herron

ibc-logoCrissy Herron, the owner and founder of IndieBizChicks.com has recently released two new products: How to Get Great Press and How to Give Good Blog.  Crissy describes her site as a place that provides information to women (and cool men too!) that will help them start and grow their own businesses.

Crissy is the person who created my blog header and designed some of my buttons.  She’s great at what she does and her site is so full of great stuff for both small business owners and wannabe-biz owners alike.  She’s asked me to review her new products here and I was more than happy to do so.

She really sweetened the pot when she said she’d like to give away a copy of each product to one of my lucky readers. 

To be entered in the contest, simply leave me a comment here on what you think makes a great blog or something you have done to successfully get press.  You will get a bonus entry if you tweet about the contest using the hashtag #ibcwin and let me know about it.  I’ll pick a random winner a week from now on April 20th.  Good luck!

How to Give Good Blog Review

This is a 17-page workbook that also comes with a bonus workbook entitled 50 Ways to Promote Your Blog. The price is $14.95 which is extremely reasonable for what you get.

Crissy also offers a discount on her one-hour business consultation for $45 when you purchase this product.  (Regular price is $60.)  As someone who has used Crissy’s service for this a few months ago, I can tell you first hand that this price is an outrageous steal.

The workbook is divided into 5 main sections: blogging basics, good design, good content, good promotion and making money with your blog.  These topics are geared mainly toward newer, less experienced bloggers.  However, there are a lot of good tips in here that a person who has been blogging a bit already can also benefit from.

Some of the strongest sections in this workbook are where Crissy explains the importance of narrowing your niche and gives examples, and the pages on ideas for content.  In my opinion, these are two of the areas where new bloggers get stuck the most.

Overall, there are lots of good methods offered here on how to build a successful blog which consistently draws readers and subscribers.

The bonus report is a nice companion with its 50 different techniques for driving traffic to your blog.  I was glad to see offline as well as online ideas included.  Implementing a handful of these will definitely get people to your site and many of the methods are completely free.

How to Get Great Press Review

This product comes with an 11-page Guide to Writing Great Press Releases as well as 3 video segments you can watch right from your browser totaling approximately 24 minutes.  As a bonus, you also get a 4-page workbook called 15 Tips for Building Buzz Around Your Business. The price for this product is also $14.95.

Again, incredibly reasonable considering the bonus and the fact that you are getting video content.  This could have easily been priced 3 times what it is.

As with the blogging product, Crissy also offers a discount on her one-hour business consultation for $45 with your purchase.

The press release guide and videos walk you through exactly how to construct and write a great press release to generate interest in your business and reach potential clients and customers.   Included are tips on formatting and style, building a list of media contacts, the best online distribution sites to use, responding to media queries and how to put together a press kit and electronic media room.

I found the guide and videos to be thorough and the steps easy to implement.  I like the fact that video is included in case you enjoy learning visually in addition to reading.  Crissy knows her stuff and it really comes through.

The first video discusses what a press release essentially does and how to tie it in with a news story.  The second video is instructional regarding what exactly goes into a press release and an example is shown.  My favorite part of this video are the tips that are given for making it easy for a reporter to write a story about your topic.

The last video addresses the process of sending out and submitting the press release, using the Help a Reporter Out service (HARO) and what to do if you are chosen to be featured.

The bonus on building buzz gave me ideas I hadn’t even considered and when used in conjunction with press releases, will really help boost the visibility of your business.

I would highly recommend both of Crissy’s products because they are “fluff-free” and contain so much information for such a small price.  Here are the links if you’d like to purchase them:

Learn How To Give Good Blog

Learn How To Get Great Press

Don’t forget to enter the contest by letting me know in the comments what YOU think makes a good blog or by sharing ways that you’ve gotten press in the past!

Why Blogging is No Longer Optional if You Do Business Online

bloggingMany of you already have a blog and understand how important it is for gaining visibility for your business.  But I know many others are still resistant to it.

You think it takes too much time and effort, you don’t feel you are a good enough writer, you’re not sure how to set one up, you don’t have a clue what to write about….I get all of the reasons that might be holding you back.

If you already have a traditional, “brochure” style website for your business, then great. Keep it as a place for prospects to visit and find out more about what you offer.  I use my blog as my main site, and don’t have a separate, static website.  It’s a personal choice. Many people have both, with the blog being linked to from the main site.

Don’t have a blog? There are several important reasons why you should:

Visibility

If you are doing even just some of your business using the web then obviously you need an online presence. Having a blog that you post to regularly is a wonderful way to capture and keep the attention of potential clients and customers.  When they see that you are writing consistent content, they are more likely to return.

Community Building

Having comments on your posts encourages feedback and promotes conversation. It can help you to find out what your target market wants from you.  This feedback can even help you come up with ideas for future posts.

Positions You as the Expert

Once you begin posting useful content regularly and attracting readers, you become seen as a thought leader in your niche.  This leads to more relationships, business and opportunities.  It’s one of the best ways to communicate the value of your offerings to prospective clients and customers.

Search Engine Optimization

This doesn’t mean you need to become an SEO guru.  But blogs by their very nature are dynamic.  In the eyes of Google, this is a very good thing.  They want their users to get updated information. A blog can help get your business ranked well in the search engines.

Personality Sharing

Blogging gives you a chance to be seen as a real person behind the business. Don’t be afraid to express opinions and share things about yourself.  This will go a long way towards humanizing you in others eyes.

The best thing about blogging is how easy and quick it is to send out a post at the push of a button.  It’s also great to be able to track exactly who is coming to your site and from where. Use Google’s free Analytics tool and you can see detailed statistics on your traffic and visitors.

Just get it going.  Try to set a goal of one post a week.  They don’t have to be long and they don’t have to be earth-shattering.  Just like anything, you’ll get better at writing the more you do it.  Jot down any ideas for posts as as they come to you.  I keep a file of ideas and find this helpful to refer to if I get stuck for what to write.

Just as you would any other marketing activity, blogging should be something you carve out time for.  Really feel you would have nothing to say to people who may want to hire or buy from you? Maybe it is just not for you. But I encourage all small business owners who are doing business online to give it a shot. Who knows, maybe there are people out there just waiting to hear your voice.

What about you?  Would you agree that blogging has become one of those must-dos for biz owners?  Do you have any tips for those who are still feeling intimidated?  Please do share.

Photo Credit: Annie Mole

Why Integrating Blogging with Social Media is a Great Combination

BloggingHaving a blog is not only a great way to create community through the comments, but it’s made up of dynamic content that is always changing which Google of course loves.  I happen to prefer WordPress, which is a very powerful platform for several reasons.

WordPress has a huge community of developers behind it who are constantly creating new plugins and themes which gives WordPress tons of functionality.  This community involvement has also led to an enormous amount of documentation which is readily available to users.  Additionally, its rapid development cycle means features are cutting edge and security and bug issues are quickly taken care of.

Add to that the fact that it’s super simple to use, it’s free and inherently SEO-friendly and you’ve got a great way to get your writing out there.  And why do you want it “out there” if you are in business?  Because solid, regular content is king.  The more quality content you create on the web, the more you are seen as an expert in your particular niche and the more you improve your search engine rankings.  In terms of rankings, you also want to get lots of links coming to your site but that is another post entirely.

So how does social media play into this?

There are some great ways to integrate your blogging activities with your social media activities, kind of like a one-two punch for upping your visibility. Here are a couple of my favorites:

The Notes feature within Facebook. This application allows you to import the RSS feed of your blog. Every time you post to your blog, the post will pop up automatically as a Facebook note.

The Facebook Networked Blogs application. Once you haved “claimed your blog” this is an easy way to promote and invite your friends to become readers.  I like to think of it as a “fan page” for your blog.  This application organizes blogs by utilizing geographical locations retrieved from Facebook’s demographics.  Your blog is also listed in a directory where it is organized by tags and popularity.  This is a nice way for others to discover your blog. Many people still do not use or understand RSS Feeds for receiving content, so Networked Blogs is a good alternative for encouraging blog reading within the Facebook community.

Twitter of course is a great way to (sparingly) let others know about new blog posts. If you blog a few times a week I’d suggest you not tweet about every single one, but rather the posts you feel have the most value.  This way you are not seen as being overly promotional.  There are also several WordPress plugins which feed your latest Tweets into the sidebar of your blog.  One of the better ones is called Twitter Tools.

Lastly, FriendFeed is really useful and I don’t think a lot of people realize its power yet. I like to share my blog posts using the “Share” feature of Google Reader which feeds them into my FriendFeed stream.  I plan on writing another post all about why I think FriendFeed is an underrated killer marketing tool in the near future.

Let me know your thoughts.  Are you using both blogging and social media in your business?  Have any tools to suggest?

Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for my free social media e-course.

Photo Credit: Foxtongue