Archives For Social Media

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the slow evolution of my blogging habits. In Part 2, I focus on other social media efforts that I conduct personally or for our Milestone Documents service: Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Twitter

Like many of you, I’m sure, I was skeptical of Twitter when I first heard about it. I thought that a tool for short posts confined to 140 characters was a ridiculous proposition. Who could ever have time for such a thing?

Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to see the light. Twitter is now a part of my daily routine. It’s both enjoyable and highly instructive: it’s probably my chief source of information about my industry (educational publishing) and about higher education, business, and technology in general. That’s not to say that I’m terribly effective in using Twitter or engaging with others on it. One look at my follower count (some 530 or so at present) will tell you that.

I’m also responsible for managing our Milestone Documents Twitter account, although at present my activity there is really led by the Facebook efforts of Managing Editor Marcia Merryman-Means. More on that below. It’s probably not surprising that the MD Twitter account enjoys about the same level of (mediocre) success as my own, given that the same person is managing both. At present, we have about 550 followers on this account.

You’ve read it before, and it’s true: to be successful on Twitter, you have to spend the time to tweet frequently and be resolute about following people and brands of interest and engaging with them. It takes patience, effort, and doggedness.

Tools I use: For my daily Twitter activity, I mainly rely on Tweetdeck. On occasion, I find it’s useful to do certain activities directly on Twitter’s website. At home in the evenings or on weekends, however, I mostly monitor Twitter via Flipboard on my iPad.

Facebook

Our Milestone Documents Facebook page has likewise been a challenge to maintain and to grow. At present, we have fewer than 200 “likes” on our page. On Facebook, as on Twitter, we have a fundamental conundrum: most of our site is behind a paywall. Social media thrives on links, and what good are links when people who click on them are met with a barrier? To make matters more complicated, most of our social media followers are high school educators, but most of our users are college students. That is a profound disconnect that we haven’t yet solved.

For both Facebook and Twitter, we recently switched to a monthly thematic focus for most of our posts. First, Marcia chooses a sensible theme from our content. (This month, for instance, she is spotlighting famous Supreme Court decisions.) Next, she creates an editorial calendar that shows which documents she will focus on each day of the month; as part of this step, she also identifies outside sites and projects of interest. As the last step in the process, she posts about the day’s document spotlight, and she follows this up with relevant links to other sites. I then use her posts to populate our Twitter feed.

Since adopting this model, we have seen an uptick in the number of “likes” on our Facebook page as well as the engagement with our posts by our fans. Nonetheless, the paywall barrier remains an issue, as does the disconnect between the content we post and the kinds of fans we have.

Going forward, it’s clear that we’ll need to figure out a way to produce content that is more meaningful to the college students who form the bulk of our users. With a new school year almost upon us, we’ve got a few ideas about how to adapt our approach.

Google+

I have a personal Google+ account, and I’ve also set up one for Milestone Documents. (I can’t even figure out how to embed links to those profiles, which says something about the difficulty of using Google+.) However, my engagement on both fronts is even more minimal than on Twitter. I know that some people and brands have had success with this tool, but from what I can tell, very few of our customers are using it. Perhaps it is never going to make sense for a niche brand like ours. The jury is out.

Lessons Learned

  1. You’ve got to commit the resources. Whether you’re working as an individual or on behalf of a company, being successful with social media requires time, effort, and consistency. If you are a small business like ours, you need to carefully weigh the necessary commitment against the potential benefits.
  2. You’ve got to align your content with your audience. This sounds simple, and for many people and brands, it probably is. But in our case, it’s not.
  3. Ultimately, it’s not about numbers. In the end, the goal isn’t really to have a ton of followers on Twitter, Facebook, or any other service. Instead, what really matters is the quality of the followers you do have and how well your content matches their needs.

My hope for our social media strategy is to continue refining our approach, tinkering and experimenting until we find one that works better for us. When we do that, our number of follows will grow organically, and their level of engagement with our content will rise in the same way.

You know those articles that tell you how to use social media to good effect for yourself or your company? This is not one of those posts. Rather, I thought I would come at the topic from the opposite end: failure. Or at least, mediocre effect. In today’s installment, I’ll focus on blogging. In the next post, I’ll focus on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

How Not to Be a Successful Blogger

I started this blog several years ago, when our company was only just beginning to create our own content (after years producing content for other publishers). At the time, our intention was to stick to the market we knew best: library reference publishing. As a result, my early blog posts tended to address that sphere. However, I made several mistakes—the kind that all the experts warn you about:

  1. I focused too narrowly. That is, most of my posts focused on our company, our products, and our market. If I were the CEO of Google, this would have been a minor problem. As the head of a tiny publisher in a niche market, the result was predictable: a serious case of parochialism, aka “posts that no one else cares about reading.” Sensing that this was the direction my blog was heading led me to the next mistake.
  2. I lost interest. Alternately, I got busy. Behind these excuses, however, is a more fundamental one: I failed to properly plan and manage blogging as a part of my daily routine. Even as our business took some interesting twists and turns, migrating away from library reference publishing and into educational publishing—a dynamic industry in the midst of upheaval (i.e., one filled with no shortage of blogworthy topics)—I failed until recently to reassess the blog’s role in the company and in my position as CEO.
  3. I didn’t blog enough. This is related to #2, obviously, but it’s important enough to call out on its own. You can’t have a successful blog if you blog only every few weeks or months, even if your posts are fantastic and have broad appeal (neither of which was true in my case).

Turning Things Around

Recently, I made the decision to restart this blog. I have always felt that the act of blogging can be an important creative endeavor for any business owner. It can help you not only generate ideas but also think deeply about issues important to you and your business. In resuming the blog, I made a few key changes:

  1. I started using Windows Live Writer. Blogging live directly in WordPress was always a challenge, but switching to Live Writer has made the practice far easier. It lets you create and save drafts with no hassle, and it shows you exactly what the blog will look like when you publish it. It’s made my blogging life far easier.
  2. I made use of the talent on my team. It’s always best when you can show your writing to another person. In my case, I had a terrific sounding board already in place: Managing Editor Marcia Merryman-Means. Now, after I write each draft, I send it to Marcia for editing. She returns it with corrections and comments.
  3. I broadened my focus. Rather than writing relentlessly about our company and our products, I am trying to pitch these posts more broadly—not just to the larger publishing community but also to small-business owners and creative professionals, many of whom now run their own enterprises.

The turnaround is very much a work in progress, one that will surely undergo refinement the more I blog. There are still elements I need to put in place, such as a more formal editorial calendar. Also, I badly need to upgrade to a newer version of WordPress, one with a more appealing design theme. I plan to do that within a few months as part of switching the blog to a new domain, neilschlager.com. All in good time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Role Models

Want to build a successful blog, for yourself or your company? First, you need to define what “successful” means to you. It might be getting a huge number of followers, ultimately allowing you to monetize your blog. But it might be something different, such as crafting a strong voice that adds depth to your business profile and garners you a higher level of influence within your industry.

Second, follow the leaders. Here are some links to people who do it right. These are people whose blogs I myself subscribe to:

  • Six Pixels of Separation: Mitch Joel’s blog is crazy-successful, and he doesn’t need any shout-outs from me. Still, I find his posts to be uniformly interesting, beautifully written, and engaging, even though he operates in a very different industry (marketing). I learned about Windows Live Writer from his blog, and the savvy reader will notice a similarity in how our blog posts are structured (a few headlines form the spine). You can guess who copied whom.
  • Small Biz Lady: Yeah, she doesn’t need my endorsement either. Melinda Emerson has created a vibrant network via her blog and her other social media efforts (especially Twitter). She happens to be writing a series on successful blogging this week, and she’s recently started blogging for the New York Times’s “Your the Boss” section, which I follow religiously.
  • More or Less Bunk: I mention my friend Jonathan Rees often, and with good reason. His blog wasn’t created to have the mass appeal of Mitch’s or Melinda’s. Still, it succeeds brilliantly thanks to Jonathan’s bold, authentic voice; targeted subject area; and disciplined work habits—he posts almost every day and backs it up with a strong Twitter presence.

There is no shortage of other incredible examples in any number of industries. (Here’s a timely blog post by an academic blogger, Jason Heppler. His rules apply broadly.) They all do many things well, and they all provide a great road map for the aspiring (or existing) blogger to follow.