For small consultancies that can’t afford traditional or online advertising, vertical market blogs are proving to be a very effective way to launch and grow their companies.
Alice Marshall’s blog, Presto Vivace Blog is proof that blog business models can hinge on quality rather than quantity. Marshall has built her successful PR practice largely from her blog — which gets only about 100 unique visitors a day and 53 more subscribing to her Bloglines RSS feed. But don’t think for a minute that Marshall lacks influence, or reach in her tightly focused market.
Since Feb. 2004, she’s been the Go To blog for the vertical market of government technology standards and related events in the Washington, DC area where she is based. “I am the only PR blogger read by the Federal CIO counsel.” So far, three major clients have come to her through her blog for her “regular flacking” guidance.
Marshall, who handles PR for the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute and clients in document or content management, couldn’t afford trade magazine or online advertising, brochures or snail mailings when she set up shop. And she hates cold calling. She thought she could attract business by tightly focusing the blog’s content, and, so far, she’s been right.
Her primary target audience, she says, is “people who would be my clients. Her secondary audience is journalists as a way of persuading them that there is an audience for these topics, and the third is fellow PR people.
She spends four hours a day, “and up” and sometimes all day, blogging. “You have to like this in order to do it,” she says.
Pointer Number One: Focus tightly on a vertical market in which you are expert.
If you write about what you know best, Marshall says, you won’t lack content. She covered an IRS presentation to NCC AIIM on how the public IRS website was designed. Marshall sent it to people who’d been too busy to attend the meeting and many of them passed it on.
“Don’t confuse the world with people who care about your life,” Marshall says. “Most people don’t care. You’re not Diana, you’re not Bono. I’m trying to give people specific ideas to make money. I can’t imagine people want to know what Alice did today.”
Pointer Number Two: Push as Well as Pull
While there are purist bloggers who say blogs are a pull medium, building audience requires push. Purists are not always realists. Marshall goes to industry events and writes about them in the blog. She sends links to the posts to anyone who could have an interest.
Marshall doesn’t send out press releases or mass emails, but she will sometimes notify other bloggers of a post if she thinks they would enjoy it even if they don’t link to it. She often sends information to civil service blogs in effort to court that space. Contractors read those blogs and they’re potential clients.
Pointer Number Three: A link from a specialized blog can be worth more than a link from an A-list blogger
Marshall is building a network with other tech bloggers in the mid-Atlantic area. A link on One Nomad’s Blog is a bigger deal for her than a link from A-list blogger Robert Scoble. Dot Net Banana is another really valuable to me. Sometimes he links to her posts about meetings she covers. A link from an A-list bloggers “would be a huge shot of ego, but don’t think it would bring me business,” she says. ”
Pointer Number Four: Use Blogging Software Meant for Professionals Right from the Start
Marshall is using Blogger and suffering from its lack of professional blog features. She will, therefore, soon move Presto Vivace to Moveable Type, much the same way Scoble moved his blog when Blogger couldn’t grow with him.
Moving a blog database is rarely a smooth transition. Even if data isn’t lost, punctuation often is replaced by question marks and mysterious symbols.
Pointer Number Five: Post daily and post carefully
Post daily, at least three or four times a day. On a corporate blog with your name and your company’s name on it, everything you write is important. “It’s like exercise, like shooting baskets; you just have to keep doing it,” Marshall says.
Pointer Number Six: pay a copy editor for long pieces.
Marshall selected a copy editor, who is highly intelligent, intellectually curious. The editor has no tech background whatsoever. “My feeling is that if my copy editor can’t understand it then I need to re-write it. ”
Pointer Number Seven: Original Content Makes for Well-Read Posts
Original content is the most popular, and readers pass it on to others, spreading Marshall’s name.
One thing that people should keep in mind, Marshall says, is that nobody knows where blogging is going, despite widespread pontification. “The Internet will change our society as much as the Gutenberg press changed Europe and nobody knows yet how it will play out. Marshall says. “There will be a spontaneous reaction to who is good and not and the people who are really talented will rise to the top.”