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What Happens to Your Traffic when You Stop Writing at Your Blog?

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I taught a Marketing with Social Media MBA course at a fully accredited university in Silicon Valley earlier this year. The class ran from Feb 9 – April 28. There were 73 students enrolled. Just over 50 survived to the end.

During the last day of class I asked my students, “How many of you have been angry at me some time during the past 11 weeks?”

They all raised their hands. Some raised both hands and waved them violently. Thank goodness there were no single digit waves … I think. But it was clear the students had had enough of blogging no matter what I called it – marketing with social media, content marketing, inbound marketing, whatever. They were done.

Indeed I was curious to know what would happen to the traffic to their sites when they stopped writing.

Now I know.

Take a look.

Aggregate After

This screen shot reflects the aggregate traffic to all the students’ sites.

It is clearly visible that the traffic is increasing overall.

Increasing?! When most of them had stopped writing?! And all of them are writing less!

Indeed. The traffic continues to grow.

And be sure to take note where the traffic is coming from. Organic traffic is far outperforming the biggest social network on the planet.

Case Study – Info-Nepal

A look at one of the student’s stats is particularly enlightening. Her site is dedicated to Nepal. It would be a great complement to a travel agent site dedicated to Nepal as a destination.

Not a couple of days AFTER the class was finished, look what happened.

After class

I wrote to her, “Very sudden and very nice jump in your traffic! What’s going on?”

Her reply:

“Yeah it all started about 3 weeks ago. All of a sudden I am getting a lot of traffic. It increased from 40-50 per day to almost 300 per day. I am excited. I need to write more frequently. Thanks for keeping and eye on it.

In other words, she did nothing special. Just plugging away, and even writing less than during the class.
We can see where her traffic is coming from.

Lesson Learned

The crystal clear message: Creating good content results in good residual traffic, sometimes known as the long tail.
When traffic is purchased (think adwords) or pushed via social networks and social bookmarking sites (think referral traffic from other sites) traffic will come as long as it is pushed, driven. But when the buying and pushing stops, so does the traffic.  Not so with good content that is on topic and created at the home site. It’s the content that keeps on giving, um, pulling.
Content marketing is inbound marketing. And it can’t be beat long term.
What is your experience with creating content compared to buying traffic by hook or by crook? Got case study? Wanna share? Feel free to read the students’ firsthand experiences at BillBelew.com. And by all means, reach out to me if I can help you see similar results at your site(s). See you in the comments.

Struggle to Juggle: Three Marketing Kickstarters To Do Right Now

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Multi-tasking Business Woman

National Small Business Week celebrates its 50th anniversary this June on a high note:  According to the Small Business Administration, half of Americans own or work for a small business. While this is a glowing testament to America’s entrepreneurial spirit, one of the biggest conundrums small businesses still continually face is marketing: knowing they need promotion to grow and thrive but often lacking the time, money, and people to do the work. “Of all the classes we offer during San Francisco Small Business Week, marketing courses are the most popular,” said Jane Gong, a City coordinator of the nation’s largest such event.

So what can small businesses do lickety-split to get started, brush up, or recommit to a marketing program? Here are some ways to start or reboot your  efforts: After that, it’s up to you to make it a habit.

#1 Ask, Don’t Tell (When it Comes to Social Networks)

News flash to small business owners: social media is no longer a “trend” or “sexy”– it’s a reality of an integrated marketing plan. “Small business owners need to stop complaining about having little or no understanding of social media and no time to learn it,” said Brian Moran said in an article interview. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If you don’t have the time to do something right, when are you going to find the time to do it over?” Gong said, “When people are starting a business, the questions we get asked most about are social media. They think they need to be on social networks to increase their returns, but if you’re a mom and pop corner store, they are not sure it makes sense.”

Kickstarter: Go where your customers social-ize: Though it seems intuitive to get your target audience’s input to help drive marketing decisions, many businesses don’t, not because of lack of desire, but preoccupation with five hundred other tasks at hand. In the end though, the time you spend upfront getting feedback will prevent wasted time later. Though Facebook appears to be the most popular social network for small businesses, get the raw data from your  customers and prospects: survey in-person, by email, or quickly and free online . They’ll appreciate that you want their insight and the input will help shape your plans.

Once you establish your social media direction, get educated for free online. Also, check out what your competition is doing and get inspiration from the  brands you admire. Start small by offering something of value to get fans and followers, such as a Facebook-only deal, a discount for Twitter followers, or showcase customer photos on Pinterest. But start something and do it consistently as you build and fine-tune your social media program.

#2 Give Your Blog Nine Lives (or At Least Five)

Chances are if you’re reading this article, you already have a blog or want to: as most bloggers will attest to, it’s one of the easiest and straightforward ways to promote your business. Did you also know there are at least five things you can do to transform a stale blog to fresh content? The best place to start is to check your stats (or tags and categories) and determine the best performing ones. If you don’t have a blog yet, come up with a popular industry topic and use that as a starting point.

Going through the stats exercise for my own blog, I found a piece from a year ago about J.C. Penney’s rebranding disaster was my third top-read post of all time. Upon further research I found out why: On a Google search of “JC Penny Branding Disaster”, my blog comes up fourth, below PRDaily and Forbes and above Huffington Post. Even though the position could change, I got great SEO by writing about a popular topic when the story was blowing up in the media. Now, to use it for my own purposes…

Kickstarter: Repurpose. Repurpose. Repurpose. Did someone say repurpose? For the J.C. Penney blog, potential ideas are: 1) Update blog to reflect the recent booting of its CEO and apology ad and republicize on all social networks; 2) Use as partial content for quick blog countdown “The Five Worst Branding Disasters of All Time”; 3) Turn blog into online story and publicize; 4) Reformat with some quick visuals and create Slideshare and blast out to social networks. 5) If I were feeling particularly ambitious, I could create a short video that tells the story of what happened (a search revealed just one interview.) People are hungry for online information in different ways to learn about big events, industry trends, and practical tips–you can be the expert, go-to source no matter which they choose.

#3 Putting the Cure in Curation: the Multi-tasker Extraordinaire

Content curation for your business can be  a great marketing Swiss Army Knife, but it’s a lot of work. There are services that  do the legwork for free, collecting relevant content in your industry, monitoring your competition, and  even prepping a targeted customer newsletter. “I use the analogy that people really are looking for water,” said Scott Scanlon, CEO of You Brand, Inc. in a content curation video.” …ultimately they don’t want to drink out of a fire-hose–they want a glass of water. If you can be there providing that glass of water on a consistent basis you’ll begin to garner their trust.” Bonus: Content curation services enable topic discovery for your blog, web site, or email marketing campaign–the possibilities are endless.

Kickstarter: Max out a free curation serviceScoop.it paper.liCurata, newcomer Swayy and other services specialize in online curation from thousands of online sources to slash time and effort. Take advantage  to get information compiled, organized, and leverage for your own purposes. If you use a curation service for customer newsletters, put your own brand stamp with commentary or tweaking a headline for your audience.

Too pressed for time to try any of these? Break down kickstarters into baby steps and do one part each week.

Image Credit: Bigstock

The Top 12 Sites in the Marketing with Social Media Course

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speaking-workshops Below is a list of the top 12 sites by unique visitors, visits and page views (they are different) upon completion of the Marketing with Social Media MBA course taught by Bill Belew (that’s me writing about myself in the 3rd person).

The course focused on content/inbound/social media marketing and was taught at the graduate level in an accredited university in Silicon Valley. Here are the details:

  • The students had different blogging rhythms – 1-3 times daily and wrote various lengths of posts – 200+ to 600+ words.
  • All actively created internal and external links and fished, legitimately, for back links.
  • The students guest posted twice each week at BillBelew.com and at a classmate’s site of their choice.
  • The students also wrote evergreen/anchor/pillar posts weekly.
  • Finally, some students actively worked their social networks if they had a presence.

For good or bad, take a look at the top 12 sites. I encourage you to let the students know what you think of their ongoing product.

Visits Uniques Page Views
Soccer Roundup 1,764 1,260 4,732
UI Design 1,134 437 3,053
Arts and Crafts* 2,789 2,393 14,691
Saumya’s Kitchen 1,887 1,163 4,329
Techno Evolution Leads Revolution 1,594 1,308 3,083
Rph at Work 1,542 1,081 5,722
Info-Nepal 1,901 1,422 4,984
Migrated Mouse 1,455 1,147 2,477
Colors n Spirits 3,076 2,115 20,907
Social Media Buff 2,453 1,726 4,855
Jinie’s Kitchen 5,332 3,419 14,284
World of Dance 2,047 1,843 3,413
 *the first month of data is missing
Course aggregate 43,599 28,376 122,680

Out of the 60 active students that finished the course, these top 12 (20%) students received:

66.5% of unique visits

61.9% of visitors

70.5% of page views. 

Where is Pareto when you need him? Indeed, 20% of the class clearly did generate the majority of the output.

Some of the questions I have at this point which I will address in future posts …

1. Does blogging pace make a difference? Multiple times/day of short posts vs one ‘meatier’ post daily? How about a combination to this approach?

2. Could the students generate organic traffic without relying on keyword research?

3. Does content have to be grammar perfect? For many of my students, English is their second and even 3rd or 4th language!

4. What about cheating and duplicate content? Does it work? Some of my students went that route and in a future post I will tell you how that worked, or didn’t work for them.

5. What is an average bounce rate? Time on site? Page view to unique visit ratio?

6. Do my instructions work in other languages? 2 of my students wrote in Chinese and one in Japanese.

7. What was the hardest part for these newbie bloggers?

8. How did they keep themselves motivated or not?

And and and …

9. What questions would you like to ask? What answers might I be able to dig out for you from this experiment?

I have a ton of data that I will share here in the coming months and at my home site – BillBelew.com and at NMX 2014. Will you be there? I will.

BTW, how’s your blog working for you?

The Single Most Important Step to Getting Good Conversion from your Visitors

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I have for the past couple of months been posting here about an ongoing MBA class on content marketing called Marketing with Social Media. The class is being taught by me, Bill Belew, at a university in San Jose (Yes, I know the way).

I don’t know of anybody who has been able to gather a lot (73 MBA students) of bloggers and put them in a controlled setting (controlled inasmuch as they do what I tell them to, which they don’t always) in an academic environment. The students pass or fail based on whether they do the work or not. It is an international university and many of the students’ immigration status is dependent on their final grade. In other words, they are motivated. If they fail, they literally get deported.

The class is a marketing class. The end result of the blogging, aka content marketing, aka inbound marketing is not just traffic. It’s conversions. Business. Clients. Paying customers or in some cases, leads are just enough.

conversion The Single Most Important Step to Getting Good Conversion From Your Visitors

Not the only step mind you. But the most important step.

By chance–I didn’t plan it this way–this past week I attended a Conversion Conference in San Francisco, right up the street from me. We get a lot of that sort of thing in my area. Search Engine Marketing, adTech and and and …

The Conversion Conference was all about, well, converting visitors to web sites to paying customers. Analyzing the people who show up at your site and how they got there from whence they came (I am reading a book that currently has me in the middle ages) and turning them into buyers. Finding the leak in the funnel. That sort of thing.

Before I tell you the first let me tell you the second most important thing I took away from the Conversion Conference: Most, can you say nearly all, marketers, market analysts don’t know what they are talking about.

One of the keynote speakers quite aggressively asked all the attendees by show of hands to answer three marketing questions. Is A better than B, type questions. Out of the 200+ people in the room, only 6, count ’em, got all three questions right. And, I was one of the 6! So, make that 5!

These are the, um, marketing analyst experts! And they barely get 1 or 2 out of 3 options right. Whoa!

But that’s not the most important.

First you have to get people to your web site in the first place. And get the right people to your web site. Driving traffic is no good. That equals pushing people to a site whether they might want to go there or not.

A good site pulls people in. In Europe it is called pull marketing versus push marketing. And pull wins hands down.

Social networking is push marketing.

Sites built on solid search engine  optimization principles is pull marketing. Search engine optimized is content that is appealing to real people (first) and search engines (second) but definitely to both.

My students have been working the SEO principles of good titling, images, captions and descriptions, plus linking and so on.

After 8 weeks, three of them are already over 10,000 page views! And the top 10 students are averaging over 5,000 page views … that have been generated by pull marketing. Guess who gets to stay in the US!

So, tell me … which converts better for you, people you asked to come to your site, people who have been sent to your site by hook or by crook or people who have come looking and found that you have what they want?

I know the answer. Do you?

How Often Should I Blog?

Author:
Find your blogging pace

Find your blogging pace

One question I get asked a LOT is, “How much do I need to write at my blog?”

The question needs clarification.

How much does a blogger need to write to do what? Have an online platform? Get readers? Make money? Make money from traffic alone? Make money by offering display or affiliate ads? Make money by offering a service? Make money by some combination of all of these?

The answer to how much a blogger should write at their blog will differ depending on why the blogger writes? Depending on what the blogger’s end game is.

That being said, there is one thing that is absolutely foundational to making money with your blog. You have to have traffic = eyeballs of people specifically interested in the content at your site.

The traffic can be minimal, as in only those people you tell to go there. The traffic can com via referral, as in those people who are told to go there by hook or by crook. Think through social networking. The traffic can come via search = somebody dropped something in a search engine box and found you. The traffic can come through some combination of these methods.

In my Marketing with Social Media MBA course, I am teaching my students how to get people to find them via search engines.

Believing that is cheaper = a better of use time spent, for people to find me than it is for me to find them, I am teaching my students that they need to write in such a way that they become visible to the search engines without compromising the quality of their content.

The question again, “How much does a blogger need to write at their blog to get found by real people via search engines?”

Here are the weekly guidelines I am giving my students:

1.  Each student must write a minimum of 600-750 words daily. Those words can be in the form of 3 posts that are 200-250 words long, one post that is 600-750 words long or a 200-250 word post and a 400-500 word post.

2. Each student must guest blog (400+ words) at my site on a subject that I give them. And in this guest blog, they link back to their own sites. After guest blogging at my site, as one of their daily posts they must write about their experience of guest blogging at my site and link to it.

3. Each student must guest blog at a classmate’s site. They are free to pursue which site they will guest post at and the rules are the same. They will write 400+ words about something relevant to their classmate’s site, providing a link back to their own web site. And as one of their daily posts they must write about their experience of guest posting with a link.

4. Finally, each student is required to write an anchor/pillar/evergreen post at their home site. (400+ words) that they would be particularly happy with AND they are asked to share it with their social network IF they have one.

There are 73 students enrolled in the class. More than 50 of them are very active. A few of them are wasting their money and my time. I can’t help that latter group.

So, how is this working?

I will delve into the analytics as the weeks progress. But for now, the interested reader can see how the top 10 sites are performing after weeks one, two and three.

That question one more time: “How much do I need to write at my blog?”

My answer: “How much traffic do you want at your blog? Keep writing until that many people show up.”

The above guidelines will get you started.

5 Beginner Steps to Creating a Blog that You Can Monetize

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Last week, I wrote Follow 50+ MBA-level Case Studies in Content and Inbound Marketing about a 48-hour class that is happening at a university in Silicon Valley.

In the first week, my students wrote a combined 750-ish posts of varying length and purpose – daily posts, guest posts, link bait posts. At Top 10 Content Marketing Sites in the Social Media MBA course I listed up the best performers. You’re welcome to take a look to see just how many unique visitors, total visitors and page views that much effort can produce in sites that are starting from zero.

In this post I want to articulate the 5 first steps my students and I had to take BEFORE they could think about making money with content marketing and the challenges I faced to get them there and how I, ahem, overcame those challenges just to get the students online and writing.

Step One: Get a Domain Name and Hosting

More than 2 weeks out my trusty TA (teacher’s assistant) and I started sending emails to the whole class via the school’s learning management system. No response. What do you do when you can’t get a response and the only way to contact the students is email? You spam them until they figure out they had better do something.

About half of the 60+ students showed up with a domain name and hosting.

Another one fourth showed up thinking, “What’s the difference between having a domain and hosting? Aren’t they the same?

And still others said, “You emailed us? When? You want us to do what?”

There was no easy answer. My trusty assistant, Kevin, came to class and they drove him ragged getting everyone a domain and hosting. It wasn’t pretty. But over the course of the first 2 days and 16 hours of in-class time and a ton of emails, we got everyone in the class online with a domain, hosting and WordPress installed.

If any reader here has a better solution to this problem…by all means let me know.

Step Two: Get the Right Plugins and Set Up the Back End

With a group of students who don’t even know what WordPress is, much less a plugin, there was no easy answer to this either. Throwing something up on the giant screen and having everyone follow along just wouldn’t work. Besides I had to spend a LOT of time on Steps 3-5 and couldn’t afford the time.

I nearly killed my local and overseas staff. They were spending about 1-2 hours per site setting the permalink structure I like, getting the right plugins in place – SEO, sitemap, etc. Creating webmaster accounts for each and installing Google Analytics so we can track the results. 60+ websites at various stages of coming online x 2 hours each = a LOT of time.

Again, I knew of no simple way to do this other than throw food under the door to keep my staff happy, or at least well fed, while they brought all the sites to an equal footing. Suggestions?

Step Three: Decide What to Write About

Unlike the first two steps,  at this point I finally had everyone on the same page, in the same room, doing the same thing. I could get all 60+ students to look up and follow along.

I had all students create a tagline. My specific instructions were for them to tell me what they were going to write about in 10 words (not a magic number, but definitely less than 12) or less what they planned to write about. They were NOT to use adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions or articles. They were to come up with 3 different iterations and show them to five other classmates for feedback and pick the best one. Focus for a site from the get go is critical

Other instructions:

  • Write about something you are interested in
  • Write about something you can create an interest in
  • Write about something you have a lot to say about.

In my world, if a blogger doesn’t have a 1,000 things to say about their topic they will have a hard time making money with their site.

Step Four: Use SEO to Ensure Posts are Found

What is SEO anyway? Search Engine Optimization. But what is that?

I define Search Engine Optimization as content that appeals to real people (first) and to search engines (second). But it must appeal to both.

If a blogger only considers readers they might get read but only by the people the blogger tells to go their directly. They will not be found as well by search engines. If the blogger considers only the search engines they are likely to come up with stuff that is just unreadable. There is an ideal balance for the content. Ideal balance = optimization.

I have learned that there are some 220+ parameters that can go into an ideal post/page. I have also learned that pages can be overly optimized. But what I find of particular value is that I have also learned that there are about 20 ‘things’ you can do to a blog post that will get you 90-95% of the results you want. I will write about them in a future post.

If you can’t wait, you can buy the book – Marketing with Social Media. It’s the text book, first draft, that I wrote for this course.

Step Five: – Make a Plan and Work the Plan

For every hour of classroom work, I can require 2 hours of work outside of the class.  I am requiring my students to write 600-750 words DAILY. How hard can that be? They are permitted to adapt to their own style.

Some like to write multiple short posts.

Some like to write one long post each day.

Some like to do a combination.

It doesn’t matter to me.

Additionally, the students are required to guest post weekly at my home site about their progress (you can read their posts at Bill Belew Guest Writer AND guest post at one classmate’s web site that is relevant. Lots of link love happening that will only get better and of more value as the sites mature = get more content. Lastly, they are required to write one relatively higher quality post – link bait style.

Ongoing:

All 5 of these steps were done in the first 2 days of class, each a full 9-hour day, counting lunch. The students are off and writing at this point. Some get it, some don’t. Every educator knows that just because you tell somebody something, it doesn’t mean they learned it.

In the meantime, in about 10 weeks, this class will wrap up with some 15-20,000 posts being written over a large variety of niches and at various paces and different lengths and with different intensity and interlinking. How cool is that?

What do you think I can learn from this?
What would you like to learn?

What you can do:

Step 1 – Subscribe to the Bill Belew.com/blog to get more immediate updates from me at my home site. You will also be able to read the inbound and content marketing student experiences first hand

Step 2 -Subscribe to this NMX blog to get updates when they come out here.

Thanks for reading.

The Unintentional Thought Leader: Seven Steps For Small Business Blogging

Author:

When I launched Marketing Sparks three years ago, “thought leadership” was not a goal. Discuss issues I care about? Yes. Stoke my desire to write? Absolutely. Maybe even attract new business as a bonus? Of course.

Over time, though, I discovered that a certain style of writing could help position my small business blog as an authority and go-to expert. That said, I use the term “thought leadership” hesitantly and humbly—it tends to sound lofty—and there are no hard and fast rules defining it. When it comes to blogging, my definition revolves around having expertise on a topic, shedding light on issues, offering a point-of-view, and sharing innovative thinking…and doing this is easier than you might think.

Here are seven steps you can take to start your own thought leadership blog or tweak your current one to elevate your content from standard fare to superior must-read.

1. Write About Your Passion

It starts with a cliché we’ve all heard: “Write from the heart.” Nothing could be more true in a thought leadership blog. That doesn’t mean pontificating or talking down to your audience, it means sharing your interest and expertise and giving that information to your audience freely. In the process, your readers will feel smarter too. Spreading insights through a blog that excites and energizes you—the kind you can’t wait to share with the online world—is contagious, and your readers will ultimately share with their own networks.

2. Choose Your Audience and They Will Choose You

As Daniel Rasmus said, “Go vertical or go home.” Pick an area to cover and stick with it. Let’s face it, we can’t all be experts on everything, and frankly, generic information is pretty useless. Think of it as a marketing campaign: Who is your target audience? Who will care about your knowledge base? What can you offer them that they can’t get elsewhere? Once you start adding value to your audience’s professional or personal life, you will slowly be viewed as a trusted source and develop a loyal following.

3. Get A Hub With Spokes

Now that you found your audience, it’s time to stimulate, educate, and even entertain them with your expertise. The key is to write on a variety of topics from your knowledge base and cast the widest net possible. When I take on my “hub” of marketing, there are a lot of “spokes” in that wheel: I write about branding, advertising, social media, events, technology—the list goes on. I also sprinkle in a diverse range of blog styles so that unpredictability is the only thing my audience can count on. That means:

  • Opinion
  • Interviews
  • Breaking news
  • Guest blogs
  • Follow-up pieces
  • Evergreen/timeless topics (my PowerPoint alternatives blog post from two years ago still garners steady hits)

Click to tweet this quote!

4. Circle-Slash Vanilla Views 

Rehashing a trending hot topic—say, Apple’s court battle with Samsung—is more about content aggregation than delivering any meaningful insight to your readers. You might get a lot of Google hits, but are not illuminating anything new. Blogging as an authority means taking a stand and doing it authentically. One of the keys is not just to understand a topic fully, but to offer readers an alternative point of view or additional insight. In other words, content that makes your blog worth reading and stand out from the crowd. As Jessica Northey said at this year’s NMX in the  panel session How To Build Your Blog Community: Three Top Bloggers Share Their Secrets, “Tell the truth, make it matter, and never be boring.” Amen to that.

5. Do Your Homework

Having earned a living as a reporter early in my career, I’ve always had a nose for news, curiosity, and a desire to ask questions. And when my reputation is at stake, I take that very seriously—and your readers will too. They count on you to do the background and research for them. Make sure you are using the best and most current information before you hit “publish.” If an important data point is missing or there is sloppy attribution, your credibility suffers. Conversely, if you get corrections from readers, cop to it, update your blog, and even thank the person for pointing it out. We’re all mere mortals…even those gunnin’ to be a thought leader.

6. There is No “Self” In Promotion

Ever heard the old saying, “Let someone else say how great you are”? Don’t promote your business or anything that smacks of it in your blog. Readers will sniff it out and run the other way. With so many choices on the Internet to spend their precious time, readers come for new ideas and practices, not thinly-veiled or overt pitches.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t market the heck out of your blog on a regular basis: Promote it to your personal and business network, leverage your social media channels by sharing and starting conversations, and of course reciprocate with other bloggers in your field. Don’t forget to mention your blog to clients and prospects when a related topic comes up. And, yes, in case you were wondering, I have gained new clients from my blog posts. Not only do prospects get a shortcut to your knowledge and skill set, it builds instant confidence in you before you’re even hired.

7. Leadership Versus Readership

There are so many blog styles: newsy updates, opinion blogs, branded blogs, affiliate marketing blogs, mommy blogs, and on and on. Choosing to do a thought leadership blog is a quieter and narrower path—dare I say “quality over quantity.” It takes time to grow your audience and build credibility, so be patient.

For most small business owners, blogging is a “sideline” to the busy life of running a company and does not pay the bills. Yet if you stay the course on the slow but sure path, you will be rewarded handsomely in personal gratification, respect, and potentially new work.

How could your blog be changed by adding a thought leader slant? What benefits would you gain from doing so?

Follow 50+ MBA Level Case Studies in Content and Inbound Marketing

Author:

I, Bill Belew, wondered to myself, what if I could get a bunch of, say 50+ MBA-level students together in a classroom setting and have them take content and inbound marketing serious? Could I learn something? What would I learn?

More prone to acting than just sitting around and thinking about things, I approached a university in the Bay Area of Silicon Valley about offering a course on content and inbound marketing in their MBA program. They hopped right on it and a class called – Marketing with Social Media – was born.

On the first day of class 65, count ’em, of  74 enrolled students showed up. The other nine students missed class for one reason or the other and are playing catch up.

There were some 16 hours of instructions over two days on the first of three weekends for a full 48-hour course.

The university allows that students be given two hours of outside-the-classroom, I think that’s called homework, for every one hour in the class room

Think big smile! I gave my students 96 hours of work EACH to do on their web sites.

Calculator says – 96 hours x 74 students = 7,200 hours of dedicated effort to creating good, meaningful, original content on brand spanking new web sites.

Give or take a few dropped students and some overachievers and I am reasonably expecting at least some 5,000-6000+ hours of, ahem, quality (more on the challenges in future articles) work to be done in a variety of niches on different blogs by business-minded content creators who have a vested interest in their sites. Vested interest = they will fail the class if they don’t do what I require or they really want to launch a business idea that they have been mulling over and they are using the class to do that.

15 questions I want answered:

  1. Are short articles better than longer ones? And for whom or for what?
  2. How long should articles be?
  3. Is it better to post once a day, multiple times a day, weekly?
  4. What about linking internally to one’s own site?
  5. What about linking externally to other quality sites?
  6. What’s a good reasonable strategy for acquiring back links from other sites?
  7. Can my students get mojo if they link to each other and there is a relevance to the sites that are linked together?
  8. What about images? Captions? Descriptions?
  9. Do some niches perform better than others when starting out? When already established?
  10. What about traffic from the other social networks?
  11.  Inbound traffic – is it better coming from search, referrals, direct, paid or the social networks?
  12.  What are some of the challenges, lessons learned when going from zero to 65 people online working on creating quality content for marketing purposes?
  13.  Is content marketing a good strategy to generate revenue from impressions, for selling affiliate products, for offering services, for local, national or global traffic?
  14.  Is getting a group like this together to create a network even copacetic?
  15. And what about plugins? Are some better than others? Are there some that are more important than others? Are there some that are essential?

I expect to KNOW as oppose to guess at the answers to many of these questions above as well as to questions I haven’t even thought to ask yet, which is why I’ll end this article with some questions for the reader.

5 questions I want to ask you:

  1. What if you were me?
  2. What would you do with this class?
  3. Where would you start?
  4. What would you teach?
  5. What kinds of requirements would you make of them?

Please meet me in the comments and let me know your answers.

Consider following this series as I provide insights, lessons learned, victories and failures (if you promise not to judge) from the case studies generated in and out of this class.

3 Steps for those who want in on the content marketing discussion:

Step 1 -Subscribe to this NMX blog to get updates when they come out here.

and/or

Step 2 – Subscribe to the Bill Belew.com/blog to get more immediate updates from me at my home site.

Step 3 – Read the inbound and content marketing students experiences first hand. The students are giving weekly updates in the Guest Writer category. Oftentimes, you might read about their experiences BEFORE I do. That’s right. My editors might push them through before I see them.

PLEASE: If my students blast me in one of their posts before I see it, let me know. 😎

Marcus Sheridan talks about Content Marketing

Author:

One of my favorite people in the social media space right now is Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion. He’s reinvented his life–thanks to content marketing–and is an insightful blogger and enthusiastic podcaster.

In this exclusive NMX video interview, Marcus talks about the value of your business providing content, how to translate your social media efforts into sales, the value of listening and answering questions, how numbers can be deceiving, and growing your audience by introducing a different medium.

Want to learn more about using social media for your business? Join us at BusinessNext Social in Las Vegas this month.

Telling Instead of Selling: How Smart Brands are Using Social for the Holiday Season

Author:

With all of the banner ads out there promoting holiday shopping, how do businesses stand out online? How do they get their products under the tree? Smart businesses are finding new ways to reach consumers without distracting them from content they enjoy. They’re becoming a seamless part of the online conversation and, as a result, stay top of mind for consumers as they shop for their holiday gifts. Smart brands tell stories that create a connection to their brand.

So how are companies connecting with their consumers using storytelling in social media?

Here are a few examples of companies that are getting their story out there this holiday season.

jcpenney

jcpenney gets it right with creating stories about their products that are relatable and interesting to readers. They even do it in Spanish. One example is their social campaign to showcase a new clothing line from Liz Claiborne. They worked with bloggers like hablasfashion to create three different outfits from their fall clothing line. The readers then voted on their favorite outfit and commented on the line. This is a perfect example of social done well. By working with an influential blogger, jcpenny was able to create a personal story around their products that was authentic and engaging to readers.

Udi’s Gluten Free

Udi’s makes products that are gluten free for people with celiac disease or who just want to live a gluten free lifestyle. Their community page is a perfect example of how they are staying top of mind for consumers. This season, Udi’s is telling stories that relate to the holidays. They highlight stories about gluten-free living and how to survive the holidays.  The content creates an emotional connection with the brand because they talk about a personal experience, living gluten-free. It makes shoppers feel like Udi’s cares about them and their lifestyle.

Operation Christmas Child

This charity organization packs boxes full of toys and personal items for children in need that are delivered around the holiday season. They worked with bloggers like 2wired2tired to create narratives about packing boxes for their programs. The stories were first hand accounts of bloggers teaching their own children about social good and the needs of others around the world by packaging boxes for social good. The stories are personal and heartfelt blog posts that drive readers back to the Operation Christmas Child website where they can also begin the process of packing a box for charity.

Storytelling works because it is the natural way that people communicate. When you hear a heartfelt story about a personal experience shopping for the holidays, read about a recipe that someone created, or learn how someone taught their child to care for others, you feel an emotional connection with the writer. Brands that join the conversation and tell stories that mean something to the reader become more relatable. When consumers connect with a brand, they buy their products. Nothing connects consumers to a brand like a good story.

Editor’s Note:  Want to hear more from Jennifer Beaupre? Be sure to come hear her speak at BusinessNext Social, collocated with NMX, this coming January! She’ll be interviewed along with Sam Fiorella of Sesei Marketing in a session titled, “A Look Into The Future Of Influence Marketing.” Register today!

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