Have you noticed a drop in the reach of your Facebook posts? You might soon, and if you do, it’s likely that your Facebook strategy involved a lot of promotional content. New algorithms for Facebook’s News Feed aims to decrease the amount of outwardly sales-oriented posts a user sees, in order to improve their experience on the network.
While there is no shame in using social media to promote your business, it’s important to tailor your promotion strategy to the demands of each social network. Facebook’s new approach to branded content calls for timely posts about information that provides value to your social media audience. In other words, sophisticated content marketing.
Businesses with a solid existing content marketing strategy have a leg-up on the shift in Facebook’s algorithm, since they only have to look at the content their readers found valuable on their blog. However, if your business doesn’t have a blog and wants to maintain a successful Facebook presence, it may be time to begin blogging. To help you organize a smooth launch, here are the first steps on how to start a blog.
How to start a blog: 4 first steps
Step 1: Find your focus
Before you write your first post, brainstorm a selection of topics that your blog will cover. You want to make sure the scope of your blog is not too wide, to avoid appearing disorganized, a “Jack of all trades”—remember, the second half of the popular figure of speech is “master of none,” not an ideal perception of your business. However, you also want to cover topics that appeal to an audience wide enough to make it a shareable, high-value post. To find that golden middle, you need to ask yourself: what interests my social media audience, and what kind of unique insight can I provide for my audience?
A good place to start looking for a blog post topic is to recall different kinds of questions asked by your customers, either in-person or online. Let’s use our favorite example for a small business, a neighborhood coffee shop. A coffee shop owner can provide insight on coffee beans from different regions; or, if they roast their beans locally, talk about the benefits of different kinds of roasting techniques. While this kind of information is not vital to every customer, demonstrating the in-depth knowledge of your business can earn you credit with the connoisseurs in the field. And that’s precisely what you want to achieve with your blog—you want to strengthen the relationship with your customer by establishing yourself as an expert in your field, and help them connect with your business online as well as in-store.
Another win-win content marketing strategy is to offer valuable resources to solve common customer challenges on your blog. In our coffee shop example, let’s say you want to help your customer choose the perfect roast for their tastes. Your blog can offer a resource guide in form of an infographic or a checklist for different flavour combinations and regional specialties of the coffee bean in order to help even the pickiest coffee drinker find their poison.
Now, as a small business owner, you may think, “Sure, all these sound great in theory, but most of my customers come in to my coffee shop/retail store/print shop just to get their morning coffee/new shirt/business cards—why would I waste resources on an in-depth look to the industry?” Your blog is not an online store—you want to offer valuable product, but that product is different from the one you sell, and it’s meant for online consumption. The same way you can’t pour someone a cup of joe over Facebook, you don’t always have time to connect and offer valuable insight over a five-minute cash register transaction.
Step 2: Discover your content marketing platform
If you don’t know anyone with coding skills who owes you a favour, and don’t have a CMS developer on staff, or , the Internet offers an abundance of different easy-to-use blogging platforms. Before you set out to look for the perfect fit for your business, make a list of all the must-haves for your blog. Do you need a platform that lends itself to sharing high-quality images? Do you want your CMS to do all the coding for you? Do you need fast access to blog analytics? Can you invest money into a paid host, or are you looking for a free tool? This will narrow down the list, so you can save time and begin blogging sooner.
For example, Blogger links directly to the rest of your Google accounts, and gives you easy access to Google Analytics to see how your posts are performing. WordPress is a good option for people who are not very familiar with designing a publishing platform, and want to get straight to posting—their WordPress.com service allows you to choose from dozens of free themes. Tumblr is a great publishing choice if your business offers opportunities for rich imagery. If you’re not too familiar with the benefits of Tumblr as a content marketing platform, you can take a look at our beginner’s guide; or, if you already know the basics but need to hone your skills for using Tumblr for business, review our recent advanced techniques.
Take sufficient time to shop around for a publishing platform that meets your blogging needs. And don’t despair if you have to settle for one that doesn’t meet absolutely all of your needs—remember, new ways to manage your content are developed on a regular basis.
Step 3: Do your research
In order to establish a niche for your business, you need to offer value where your competitors are missing out. To be aware of where that value is, you first need to get familiar with the niches already taken up by other businesses in your field. Subscribe to the blogs of other businesses in your field, or set up an RSS feed that notifies you every time new content appears on your competitors’ blogs. Note the focus you think their business might have, and the customer personas they may be targeting with the content. It’s inevitable that some of these factors will coincide with your own, but the important thing here is to find something your business can do differently—even if it’s a new angle on the same topic.
In order to offer value to your customers, your content should always be informed by several sources—either case studies from your own customers, research you find in the brainstorming stage, or an expert opinion from a prominent figure in your field. Think of it as writing a college research paper: unless you have several external resources listed in the Bibliography section, expect a grade of B or lower.
There’s another kind of research involved in creating a successful blog post—one that may not be familiar to you, but that is a crucial element to get your content the attention it deserves. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m talking about SEO research. With the most recent algorithm changes to Google’s search, valuable content on blogs is necessary for high pageranks. Find a writer who specializes in SEO, or enroll in a Google Adwords course yourself—either way, ensure that your content marketing and social media strategies are supported by SEO.
Step 4: Start off strong
Now that you have your list of topics, it’s time to write your inaugural post. Use the steps above as a checklist to help you choose a timely but evergreen subject matter that appeals to your customers. Invest some time into research to help you develop a unique, informed perspective on the topic—you want to establish voice and value for your readers from the get-go.
To see if our own blog strategy stood up to the test of time, we dug up our very first Hootsuite blog post. My verdict? It’s brief, unformatted, and lacks any media resources (except for an outbound link). However, it discusses a topic we felt passionate about six years ago, and we are still passionate about now: how successful businesses use Twitter to meet their goals, and how others can learn from their example. In my mind, that’s the most important part of a blog post—after all the bells and whistles and bolded text, it’s the content that really matters. If you want to see more recent examples, check out the social media success stories in our resource library.