By Andy Coote

Content, in the form of blogs (weblogs), articles and the threads in clubs and forums, is an excellent way of getting noticed. The Internet is the global equivalent of Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park, where you can hear and present ideas on any topic to an audience that will make its views known, often forcefully. If your content is placed well, at high-volume sites, it will be picked up readily by the search engines plus blog consolidators like Technorati and Google Blogsearch, with a resultant increase in your visibility.

The focus of Internet activity has moved from web sites to web content. Whilst a website is probably still important for most businesses, it is no longer enough. Businesses can and do use a variety of other sites, social networks, blogging sites, Flickr and other photography sharing sites, del.icio.us and Digg for sharing bookmarks, to put across their message. This is known, in the technical world (and increasingly by businesses) as Web 2.0.

The Internet picks up and amplifies good content in a very similar way to audio feedback. Audio feedback is caused when a microphone picks up speaker noise (maybe just a hum) and it is amplified, fed through the speakers, picked up by the microphone, amplified … and so on. The bloggers are the microphones, sites like Technorati and Google Blogsearch provide the amplifier by making the feeds from blogs available using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and other methods. Bloggers then find items of interest from other bloggers and blog them and those blogs also find their way to the consolidators. Frequently, conventional newspapers and magazines pick up the latest net buzz. To make this work, two things must happen — new, original and interesting content must be posted and bloggers have to pick up and blog about other people’s content. Make sure you do both and you will be noticed and, whilst there is no guarantee, your content may be boosted by the Web’s feedback loop.

Some call this ‘word of mouse’ marketing.

Social and business networks that permit content will have their own rules about what can and cannot be posted. Generally speaking, the larger public forums, like the Ecademy blogs page, need interesting material, preferably original, or signposts to such material, on a range of subjects that might engage the community. Be careful not to make your blog into advertising copy. Its purpose is to inform, educate or entertain. Your profile with commercial and contact information is accessible one click away and most sites allow a signature to include a few lines of links and information as part of the blog.

Smaller more intimate audiences in the clubs (on LinkedIn and Facebook as well as Ecademy) will be looking for content that develops an argument or provides relevant information to the topic that the club discusses. Be sure to check if the club allows or encourages commercial content in postings. If they don’t, leave your advertising material outside the club.

Whatever the rules of the site, you are responsible for your content and must ensure that it doesn’t break the law.

External blogs (using facilities like Blogger and Wordpress) are used for a wide range of purposes, from personal journal entries through to corporate public relations. Business blogs vary widely from single, often personal, blogs through to multi-author blogs that provide significant knowledge, information and insight. Blogs are often conversations between the blogger and those who add comments, and also quite frequently between bloggers who use each other’s blogs to develop a discussion or an argument. It is this interaction in real-time that makes blogs important in developing, shaping and publishing ideas.

In such a large marketplace (Technorati now monitors over 70 million blogs), getting noticed will require a number of factors — a good network for word-of-mouth promotion, and good reciprocal links with other key blogs in your sector and, above all, great content that is insightful and authentic. Corporate brochure-speak is not enough. It will not be picked up and spread in the way that genuinely insightful and original content will be. In their May 2005 article, ‘Blogs will Change your Business’, BusinessWeek commented, “Go ahead and belly ache about blogs. But you cannot afford to close your eyes to them, because they are simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself. And they are going to shake up just about every business — including yours. It doesn’t matter whether you’re shipping paper clips, pork bellies, or videos of Britney in a bikini, blogs are a phenomenon that you cannot ignore, postpone, or delegate. Given the changes barrelling down upon us, blogs are not a business elective. They are pre-requisite.”

An increasing number of corporates are now using blogs to communicate. In some cases, this is as a defence mechanism to counter blogs that question or attack them, whilst in others, it is part of the overall marketing activity. Once you could control your message, issue press releases, manage the press, spin any bad publicity until its effects were minimised. Now the cost of publishing has reached practically zero. “How does the business change when everyone is a potential publisher?” asked BusinessWeek. “A vast new stretch of the information world opens up. For now, it’s a digital hinterland. The laws and norms covering fairness, advertising, and liability? They don’t exist, not yet anyway. But one thing is clear: companies over the past few centuries have gotten used to shaping their message. Now they are losing control of it.”

Keeping track of what is written about you is important, but getting your story out there is perhaps more so.

Andy Coote is a professional writer and publisher and co-author of A Friend in Every City (2006), a book about Social Networking and Business. As a commentator on leadership and networking, Andy provides writing support and services for a number of Business Leaders. You can reach him at andy@bizwords.co.uk .

This article has been adapted from A Friend in Every City by Penny Power, Thomas Power and Andy Coote. Book available from Amazon and Ecademy Press (www.ecademy-press.com).

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