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Dan Blank

The Biggest Challenges in Maintaining and Growing Blogs

Dan Blank Editorial - 05/10/2010-12:55 PM

Recently, I surveyed 300 bloggers at Reed Business Information to find out the challenges they face in blogging. I received responses from 73 external bloggers and 44 editor/staff bloggers.

Blogging is different for editors/journalists than it is for industry professionals who are in the trenches, writing about their experiences and insights. Here’s some of their feedback, from each group separately.

Challenges for Business Media Editors

For a business media editor who spends their day creating content for a variety of media channels (print, anyone?), blogging gives its own unique challenges:

■ Finding time to blog.
■ More analytics.
■ Feedback from readers.
■ Technical issues.
■ Coming up with ideas for content.
■ Finding readers.

While these aren’t surprising or necessarily unique to business media editors, an additional challenge came through in the write-in responses:

How to juggle blogging with a full load of other high priority tasks.

This speaks to the need to prioritize the variety of tasks on the plate of your average editor—from print, to Web articles, to events, to social media, to blogs and so on. The key is to have an overarching editorial strategy that not only moves the brand forward but allows the editors to have a clear sense of what to do and the value it brings.

This is where marketing, editorial and business analysis come together. It's where you assess ROI, performance and the one thing that is often not discussed enough: GOALS. For example, do editorial teams have weekly and monthly goals in terms of performance or connection with their audience? Because this would help set priorities, help align a business to common objectives, and help bring the customer closer to the producer.

Challenges for External Bloggers

On the other side of the coin are external bloggers. The specific challenges don’t change, but their ordering & priority do:

■ Knowing who their audience is.
■ Finding time to blog.
■ Getting & understanding analytics on what’s working and what isn’t.
■ Strategies & tactics on how get more feedback & comments.
■ How to grow engagement and return visits.
■ Ideas for content.
■ Marketing tips to grow readership.

Here are some specific write-in response about the struggles that bloggers have in generating ideas for new content:

■ “I strive to give my readers fresh, unique content that cannot be found anywhere else. Sometimes an idea will percolate for a month or more before I'm ready to write about it.”
■ “There is so much to say and such little time to put it together.”
■ “Sometimes there is nothing new to write.”
■ “Sometimes I get "writer's blog." I make lists, and put tips on my iPhone to write about later. I'm doing OK, but I wish I had more ideas, more often.”
■ “Perhaps if I knew [the brand’s] editorial direction, that is features during the year, I could be more in sync with the magazine on certain issues.”

What you often find with experts who blog is that their intentions are golden, but that there is a learning curve, and that you need to support that idea and information. For external bloggers, this can mean that no two are alike, as one could be a business owner, another an engineer who works in the field, and another who is a consultant—ALL in the same industry. Some will prefer scheduled phone calls, others just raw data, and some will want full training from technical knowledge, to editorial knowledge, to marketing knowledge.

Overall, the feedback was incredibly insightful to understand how to better serve editorial teams and external contributors who blog. Each have different needs due to the nature of their roles and everyday lives.

Business media editors have many other channels to create great content and reach their target audience. Because of this, blogging needs to have a very specific value and purpose in order to be added into the mix.

For external contributors, one must remember that these people are not trained journalists, and may never before had to push a ‘publish’ button on the web before their blog was created. They need more support to further their understanding of who they are reaching, how they are doing, and how they can improve.

For further reading: Why People Blog and What We Can Learn From It

Dan Blank

The Benefits of Twitter for B-to-B Media Brands

Dan Blank B2B - 02/18/2010-10:48 AM

Twitter is becoming an essential tool for business media editors, as part of their reporting, shaping their products, and connecting with their markets in new ways. Recently I analyzed how editors are using Twitter across Reed Business Information, and I heard some really interesting stories. Today I want to share three of them.

Twitter: Making Our Products Better

Library Journal Managing Editor Heather McCormack launched an e-newsletter in October 2008 called BookSmack! Since that time, she has used Twitter to continually shape the content of BookSmack!, calling on her mostly librarian followers to be involved in the process.

Heather would dig into the performance metrics for her newsletter every three to six months, and would use that data to ask questions of her Twitter followers. For instance, one update was something like: "You all like Books for Dudes. What else would you like to see Douglas write about?" This led to a suggestion from one follower for "read-togethers," that is, books that couples can literally read together. Heather added this to BookSmack! This gave her readers the ability to shape the newsletter.

Heather has used Twitter to announce column launches like Graphic Novels Prepub Alert and Book Cheer, as well as to give followers a heads-up about forthcoming coverage. Sometimes she gets feedback that shapes the columns she is working on.

She has also used Twitter as a primary research tool, often asking her readers questions. She tries to ferret out a certain segment of followers, asking who works a certain role or is focused on a certain topic. Then she would ask those people specific questions. This allows her to interact with her audience in small ways each day, even though she is actually sitting in a gray cubicle in New York City.

She may ask a question like: "What are your views on ebooks, librarians? Why are you all so quiet on this?" This allows her to shape how she covers ebooks in the newsletter. For that topic in particular, librarians had a lot of concern, which caused Heather to work more closely with Digital Book World to address the needs of librarians in the ebook debate. She felt that the feedback she received via Twitter was more honest than she had seen elsewhere.

But one experiment didn't work at all. Heather tried to create a Twitter focus group, organizing a group of 10 or so librarians to agree to discuss topics that she posted for them. A great idea, but it is hard to organize folks via Twitter, and there are no threaded conversations. This is one benefit that a service like LinkedIn has over Twitter - plus the ability to archive and find content easily.

She is even working on an article that will be authored by three of her Twitter followers. Overall, it was really nice to see how Heather used Twitter as a tool that can be integrated into the larger process of product development.

You can follow Heather McCormack on Twitter here: @hmccormack

Twitter: Bringing Media Brands Closer to their Audience

The editorial team of Packaging Digest used Twitter to meet up with their readers in person. It was the last day of a big tradeshow, and the eve of editor Linda Casey's birthday. After the show ended, she and editor David Bellm decided to go out and celebrate.

Linda polled her Twitter followers to find the location, then Tweeted again saying they should come meet the editors of Packaging Digest at the LAX Nightclub. As she tells it:

"That night, LAX had a wait time of at least an hour, and the club was a virtual sea of people. I still remember our surprise and delight to see the first follower seek us out. Once the first PD reader reached us, he tapped me on the shoulder and introduced himself by holding up his badge from the trade show and pointing to the PDA I was using to tweet. He was the first of many readers who spent the last night of show with Packaging Digest."

In addition to the many other benefits of Twitter, this is just a small but meaningful way that social media has can bring a media brand closer to their audience.

You can follow the editors of Packaging Digest here: @PackagingDigest

Twitter: An Essential Reporting Tool

Calvin Reid is a senior news editor at Publishers Weekly, where he has been for more than 20 years. He now finds Twitter to be an essential tool in reporting for a variety of reasons. Calvin tells it in his own words:

I use Twitter to follow a wide variety of professionals in book and comics publishing at a time of great change and new ideas. It allows me to get insights into the activities and thoughts of a wide range of professionals in the areas that I cover. In addition I'm able to build an audience by broadcasting my own responses to the issues in the areas that I cover. I believe Twitter identifies me (and my publication) as someone involved, knowledgeable and engaged with the industry. Twitter is excellent for getting an early sense of what groups of professional are thinking and it's usually the first place you find out about breaking news.

The recent battle over e-book pricing at Amazon is a good example. I heard about Amazon removing the buy buttons from Macmillan titles on Twitter first and we were able to respond quickly with our own story.

At the recent Digital Book World, you could get instant reaction to a speakers presentation from a wide range of professionals that I follow. Much the same this past summer when it seemed that Gay and Lesbian books were being removed from Amazon, I heard it on Twitter first.

You can follow Calvin Reid on Twitter here: @calreid

The lesson is this: Twitter has moved beyond the hype, and is being integrated into the fabric of media in nuanced ways. What is intriguing is how well suited it is to niche markets and B2B communities.

If you work for a business media brand, and you are tiptoeing into social media, and just using Twitter broadcast your own articles, then I imagine you are doing your competitors a big favor. Let them build personal connections with your market, let them evolve their products to meet a world engaged online, let them not just experience the challenges, but the benefits.

Want to know more about how to leverage Twitter, check out "The Pros and Cons of Twitter." Have questions about Twitter in business media? Give me a call, I'd love to chat: 973-981-8882. You can also follow me on Twitter: @DanBlank.

Dan Blank

Editorial ROI: Going from Good to Great

Dan Blank Editorial - 11/19/2009-15:18 PM

[EDITOR’S NOTE: You can read the complete version of this post on Blanks’s blog here.]

I have been swimming in the Web metrics for several of RBI’s brands recently, and am constantly amazed at the insights that pop up. The question I am given again and again is: "How can we increase performance?"

Sometimes this question is with regards to an entire editorial strategy, other times it is focusing on just one content channel such as blogs, or it gets into focusing on one particular blog, newsletter, video series or Twitter account.

When looking for improvements, you try for the straightforward solutions first - tried and true tactics for online content:

■ SEO training
■ Structure content so that it is scannable
■ Use images to engage readers
■ Use links to connect great content
■ Focus a lot of effort on headlines
■ Etc., etc., etc.

Most media brands are no longer amateurs in online media. They have been doing this for years, and have long ago realized that this it’s not a choice of print vs. Web, but of serving readers wherever they are.

What this means is that the answers to the question "How can we increase performance" are no longer simple. Why?

■ Because it's not easy to serve experts, what b-to-b markets consist of;
■ Because audience behavior is changing quickly;
■ Because there is more competition nowadays;
■ Because revenue models have shifted;
■ Because search has changed the media landscape;
■ Because media brands are expanding their product lines to include a variety of revenue models;
■ Because while tactics can be quick, strategy takes time to analyze, implement, measure, and iterate.

In my recent diggings to answer the question about increasing performance, I find that every answer leads to another question, and then every question leads me to a better understanding of the needs and behaviors of the audience and product I am focusing on.

I have become mildly obsessed with a four part interview with Ira Glass, host of NPR’s "This American Life" radio series. (Here, here, here and here.) When Ira discusses the challenge for him and his team, he talks about how hard it is to find a great story, and how valuable it is to not be afraid to throw out "good" ideas, "good" stories, and considerable effort. Ira says they end up ditching half of the ideas that they actually moved forward with, meaning that they are willingly throwing good stuff in the trash.

His reasoning is that, when you throw something "good" out, it gives the chance for something GREAT to be born.

For b-to-b media, what this means is moving beyond simple answers, beyond adding on one more tactic to an existing strategy. It means focusing on two things:

■ Understanding and serving the needs of the markets that one is focused on, and always willing to rethink what those needs are and how audience behavior evolves and changes.
■ Constantly refining the products & solutions that you are offering.

In the media world, some are making a big play in the "content" space by churning out a huge number of articles.

Demand Media paying $15 per article from freelancers.
AOL is ramping up its low-cost content strategy in a similar way.

Will such a strategy work for b-to-b markets—those filled with highly experienced experts who need advanced solutions to move their business forward? Will "good" be good enough for these markets? Will "good" put smiles on the faces of those deep in the trenches? Will "good" grow media revenue models?

Click here to read the rest of Blank's post.

Dan Blank

The Reverse Transition from Digital to Print

Dan Blank emedia and Technology - 08/21/2009-10:47 AM

[EDITOR’S NOTE: You can read the complete version of this post on Blanks’s blog here.]

While many bemoan the changes that are occurring as our culture moves from print to digital media creation and consumption, I wanted to consider the value of digital media if we were experiencing the opposite transition:

 “What if we were moving from a digital media world to a print media world?”

What if digital media was invented first, back in the 1400’s , and then in the 1990’s, print burst onto the scene? What if thousands of startups began developing print-centric business models, and businesses started converting their processes from digital to print? What if teenagers stopped texting, and started passing notes in class? What if letter writing took hold, replacing email? What if blogs found their business models in shreds as print advertising grabbed all the dollars?

In our bizarro scenario, perhaps these are the reasons that people rejected the web, finding more value in print:

An Appreciation for Slowness
Fewer information channels—less overwhelming.

A Personal Connection With Media
New rituals being created—picking up a newspaper with your coffee in the morning, holding a book as you cozy up in bed at night, appreciating the hand written notes from an old friend.

Appreciating media that makes choices as to what is worth reading. Instead of a nation of freelancers all vying for attention to their Web sites and blogs, professionals band together to create magazines and newspapers—groups of the most talented people, coordinating to produce only the very best content.

Beautiful Packages
Designers rejoice at the beauty of print media and the ability to create beautiful products that will sit in the center of people’s homes and desks. And of course, people quickly understand that a well designed and edited magazine is a joy to read—something to look forward to in the mailbox each week.

Businesses Find Value in Paper Records
Tired of the data farms of information that are expensive to maintain in massive computer systems, businesses begin transitional digital files to paper—storing them in cabinets that are within an arms reach of employees. They feel more secure that proprietary data cannot be stolen by hackers or exposed by a mistake from an employee. The need to memorize dozens of passwords is now a thing of the past - you either have the key to the file cabinet or you don’t.

Privacy Advocates Rejoice
Tired of story after story of confidential information leaking to the Web, privacy advocates embrace print as a means to better protect and control information. The benefits to businesses, government and individuals means less scandal, and less fear of hitting the wrong keystroke on the computer.

Communities Become More Local
Quickly, each town sets up their very own newspaper—reporting only on news relevant to their region, and serving business needs of local owners. A sense of identity and shared purpose abounds, at mere pennies a day. The local classifieds become the source for anything you need in town, connecting you directly with neighbors. Local communities no longer need to compete on a global stage with larger brand that are managed by those who don’t understand the values, needs and customs of their specific town. The world is no longer flat.

Environmentalists Cheer the Move from Silcon Chips to Recyclable Paper
Tired of gadgets and technology that are obsolete every few years, environmentalists cheer the use of paper as a renewable resource that can also be recycled.

The Rise of Print Gurus
Like any big transition, executives and print media gurus are created nearly by the minute. New theories and books are published that explore the changes and how they will shape our culture. It becomes an industry in and of itself, creating thousands of new jobs.

More Meaningful Targeting
Google is too big of a pool to swim in for niche markets who want to be close and feel the personal connections that can’t be intruded upon by other industries. Finally, the local shoe store can afford to advertise to their target audience without being edged out by Zappos in Google Adwords.

Tighter Circles of Friends
Instead of huge online social networks with hundreds or thousands of connections, people choose to have fewer "friends," focusing only on in-person connections. They are tired of the obtrusiveness of the Web and the voyeurism it encourages. Weak ties are shunned for deep connections.

Communities Create Libraries
Tired of being left to their own devices to find and understand information, students flee from Google, and instead flock to new institutions called libraries. Here, they are given one-on-one help by an information expert, and are less overwhelmed by a tidal wave of information, instead given topic specific books.

But we should also consider what our society would lose in such a transition from digital to print. Journalism. Distribution. Creativity. The end of a business model. (Just to name a few.)

Click here to read the rest of Blank's post.

Dan Blank

The Future of Media, One Panel Discussion at a Time

Dan Blank Consumer - 06/19/2009-08:57 AM

A recent series of panels attempted to answer the question plaguing newspaper, magazine and book publishers: How do we engage readers online, and create sustainable revenue models from this digital relationship? While the panelists had many examples of the first part of that equation—engaging an online audience—there were scant details on how to monetize these Web strategies.

In the past few weeks, I attended three: Future of Celebrity Media, featuring panelists Martha Stewart, Bonnie Fuller, Mark Golinand others; Jumping Off a Cliff: How Publishers Can Succeed Online featuring Chris Anderson; and the Future of Media, featuring Craig Newmark, Nick Denton and Jack Dorsey, among others.

Between them, the traditional media of magazines, books and newspapers were well covered, as was the world of online media.

Everyone talks about capturing attention online, of engaging with the audience, of leveraging online tools to reshape what media is—but let’s face it—the one element of engagement with the audience that is severely lacking is this one:

How to extract revenue from the relationship between media and its audience.

What the sessions did was give a fascinating perspective on how the power is shifting from media brands to communication channels. That the Wall Street Journal would be lost online, without Google; that journalists would be out of the conversation, without Twitter; that People magazine is competing with newer upstarts that have a fraction of People’s overhead.

I left these sessions with the following conclusion:

This is the most exciting time to be in media and publishing that I can imagine.

There were plenty of high-minded quotes like this one:

"Trust is the key factor for the survival of news media and journalism.” Craig Newmark, Future of Media panel

Which is nice conversation, but offers no answers. An inherent problem with trust is that the moment you monetize it, that trust is in jeopardy.

The panelists shared honest perspectives that indicated just how much their world is changing, and how difficult simple answers are. As newspapers try to find massive audiences online, journalists are left in interesting conundrums:

"Newspapers mistake their most popular content with their most important content." WSJ's Allan Murray, Future of Media panel

“There is a community trying to reach out to them, so how does CNN work to connect to the community? It's not just about content, it’s about community.” CNN's Dave Levin, Future of Celebrity Media panel

“The magazine is a catered affair—the menu has been selected for you. The Web is a buffet—you can feed any size appetite that you have.”'s Mark Golin, Future of Celebrity Media panel

Amidst a revolutionary increase in the amount of content being created and shared from anyone with a Web connection, opportunities still remain:

"The value of producing something original has gone up dramatically." Gawker Media's Nick Denton, Future of Media panel

“My Twitter followers are not my core audience. This is a tool to become friends with a new audience." Martha Stewart, Future of Celebrity Media panel

“Media companies need to realize the Web is not a place to broadcast, it is a place to listen.” David Carr, Future of Celebrity Media panel

All-in-all, these are some of the concepts I walked away with:

Broadcast media is dead. Media is not longer a one way relationship, with content creators reaching out to fans. As traditional media companies evolve, as journalists rethink their roles, and as new ventures take hold—a common thread will be a close relationship with those they serve.

Print revenue is supporting online strategies. One comment at the Future of Celebrity Media panel was that the kids of those in attendance think it’s laughable to read a newspaper. This started an interesting back-and-forth until someone mentioned how pathetic we were sitting here talking about our kids.

In either case, there was confidence when talking about audience engagement, and moments of silence when talking about sizable online revenue. For many of the panelists, print revenue was keeping their online products afloat, giving a false sense of confidence as to whether digital strategies can really support their business in the future.

Media companies need to rethink their roles and make hard choices. Many traditional media companies seemed to be riding out the digital revolution, waiting for things to get “back to normal.” Now it is apparent that won’t happen, and they are only now realizing that their audience no longer needs them as they once did. Power has diluted. The risk is not slow growth—the risk is becoming irrelevant.

There is a huge opportunity for journalists. The opportunity might not have as much financial value as it once did—but in terms of pure reporting—of serving the public and reaching niche audiences—the tools and reach are now available to all.

This reminds me of the current state of education: college courses are now available for free online from the likes of MIT, Harvard or Stanford; the knowledge is free, but the diploma costs $200,000.

The advertising model is not dead, but it is fragmented. With so many ways to reach an audience, advertisers are understandably unimpressed by some ad strategies, such as run of site banner ads. The examples of what is working—from the likes of Gawker—is custom ad campaigns with a bold mixture of content and sponsor message.

One thing is certain: The the Web is being taken very seriously by upstarts and traditional media power-players alike. There is little doubt that the future of media lies in the digital realm—the real question is—which businesses will find audience and business growth—and which will continue to find diminishing returns on their efforts.