The world of blogging: Just how does it operate?

wbMost people in business know at least one or two people who publish a blog. Chances are, they know people who blog on non-business topics as well.

Have you ever wondered what are the common practices followed by these bloggers? Speaking as someone who has published blog posts since 2009, I certainly have.

Now the “wondering” is over, because Chicago-based web design firm Orbit Media Studies has just published its 2016 Blogger Research Study, which presents the results of surveying ~1,050 bloggers about how they go about their blogging business.

Here are some of the most interesting highlights from the study:

Where do bloggers write their articles?

According to Orbit’s findings, the vast majority of bloggers are creating their content at home or at their home office:

  • At home/home office: ~81% of respondents cited
  • At the office: ~32%
  • Coffee shops or other foodservice establishments: ~19%
  • Co-working spaces: ~4%
  • Other locations: ~7% (primarily on trains or planes, or at a library)

What is the length of a typical blog post?

From the Orbit research findings, it’s pretty clear that the most popular blog post length is 500 to 1,000 words. (This one is, for instance.)  Anything longer than that quickly migrates into the “feature story” mode:

  • Less than 500 words: ~21% of respondents cited
  • 500 – 1,000 words: ~61%
  • 1,000 – 1,500 words: ~13%
  • 1,500 – 2,000 words: ~4%
  • More than 2,000 words: ~1%

Do bloggers use editors, or act as their own editor?

There’s little differentiation in behaviors here; the vast majority of bloggers report that they edit their own work. An even greater ~91% of the survey respondents either edit their own work or use an ad hoc review process.  Bottom line, most blog posts have never been seen by anyone other than the author before going live:

  • Edit own work: ~73% of respondents
  • Show it to one or two people: ~30%
  • Use a formal editor: ~12%
  • Use more than one editor: ~3%

How long does it take to write the typical blog post?

The responses ranged widely, but the most common length of time is between one and two hours:

  • Less than 1 hour: ~17% of respondents cited
  • 1-2 hours: ~37%
  • 2-3 hours: ~20%
  • 3-4 hours: 13%
  • More than 4 hours: ~13%

Are bloggers writing for other people besides themselves?

Generally speaking, bloggers are writing for their own publication, but there are many instances where bloggers are writing for clients as well.

  • 75% – 100% of blogger’s posts written for clients: ~9% of respondents cited
  • 50% – 75%: ~6%
  • 25% – 50%: ~9%
  • 5% – 25%: ~13%
  • 1% – 5%: ~18%
  • 0%: ~47%

How are bloggers driving traffic to their posts?

Two words: social media.  Direct e-mail marketing is also a common technique, as is search engine optimization:

  • Social media marketing:  ~94% of respondents cited
  • Search engine optimization: ~51%
  • E-mail marketing: ~35%
  • Influencer outreach: ~15%
  • Paid services (SEM/social media advertising): ~5%

The high SEO figure is hardly surprising, considering that bloggers are, by definition, focused on writing inherently interesting, newsworthy content.

More details from the Orbit survey can be accessed here.

What types of word terms perform best in social media?

Words that sell in social mediaEver since the rise of social media platforms, marketers have wondered if the terms and phrases that generate the best response in direct marketing also perform as well in the social arena.

One reason why:  There have been plenty of experts emphasizing how consumers don’t wish to be “sold” in their social interactions, but instead prefer to develop a relationship of give-and-take with brands.

Dan Zarrella, Social Media Scientist at HubSpot
Dan Zarrella, Social Media Scientist at HubSpot

Now we have some empirical analysis to guide us, conducted by Dan Zarrella, a social media scientist at SaaS inbound marketing firm HubSpot based on reviewing ~200,000 links containing tweets.

Mr. Zarrella found that the tweets that contain more verbs and adverbs experience higher clickthrough rates than noun- and adjective-heavy tweets.

Zarrella’s research also found that when social media posts ask for an explicit action on the part of the recipient, that tends to increase clicks and engagement.

For instance, retweets are three times more likely to happen when people are specifically requested to do so.

Interestingly, the most “retweetable” words in the HubSpot analysis turn out to be the same terms that do well in e-mail marketing and other forms of direct marketing:

  • You
  • Please
  • Post
  • Blog / Blog Post
  • Free
  • Media
  • Help
  • Great
  • How To
  • Top
  • Check Out

In a parallel research endeavor, a recent evaluation of blog posts by writer and software analytics specialist Iris Shoor reveals how much a post’s title impacts on the volume of “opens.”

In her analysis, Ms. Shoor studied posts on 100 separate blogs, using an evaluation technique that rank-sorted blog posts from the most read to the least shared.

What were the words that resulted in the most opens?  Shoor calls them the “blood in the water” terms:

  • bleeds leadsKill
  • Fear
  • Dark
  • Bleeding
  • War
  • Dead
  • Fantasy

Translation?  Negative terms are more powerful for shares than more ordinary terms (e.g., positive ones).

It’s very much like the old adage in the newspaper world:  “If it bleeds, it leads.”

That’s another takeaway from the most recent research:  What’s worked in the offline world over the years appears to be working very much the same way in the online space today.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose …

Oh, S#\@*!! Facebook’s Not for Prudes

Profanity on Facebook:  More than you might imagine.In the “anything goes” world of social media, it stands to reason that the language we find there isn’t exactly reserved for polite company.

And now we have some quantifiable data that confirms those suspicions. Reppler, a Palo Alto, CA-based social media monitoring service, recently scanned some 30,000 Facebook members’ walls … and what they found wassn’t exactly the language of choirboys.

Here are two interesting stats from what Reppler discovered:

 Nearly half of the Facebook walls contain some form of profanity.

 Four out of five users with profanity on their Facebook wall have at least one comment or post from a friend that contains profanity.

What’s the most common profane terms used? Not surprisingly, the “f-word” comes out on top. That’s followed by various derivations of the word the French know as merde. Runner-up among the top three is the “b-word.”

It’s important to note that people don’t have complete control over the language their Facebook friends use. But the prevalence of profanity on Facebook walls comes at a time when many employers are increasingly looking at the online presence of their prospective hires and noting the degree of professionalism – or lack thereof – that they see.

And there’s a related issue that’s becoming increasingly significant as well. With more companies and brands creating Facebook pages and other social networking sites, monitoring the discussion that takes place on them takes on even more importance.

It’s critical for brands not to offend even a small percentage of their customers. But with the general “race to the bottom” in what’s deemed acceptable language, there are real differences in what some people think is legitimate expression … and what others would consider to be gross indecency.

These differences are a factor of not only of age, but of acculturation.

Third-party tools from Reppler and others that automatically flag certain language or phrases can alleviate some of the problem, but there’s really no substitute for good, old-fashioned site monitoring. Which is why so many companies are finding the whole social media thing to be pretty labor-intensive, when done properly.

Twitter’s World: Click … or Clique?

Twitter traffic:  dominateed by a tiny fraction of users.
Half of all tweets are generated by fewer than one-half of one percent of Twitter accounts.
What’s happening these days with Twitter? The micro-blogging service continues to light up the newswires every time there’s a civil disturbance in a foreign land, because of how easily and effectively it facilitates planning and interaction among the dissidents.

But what we’re also finding out is that Twitter is overwhelmingly dominated by just a small fraction of its users.

In fact, Cornell University and Yahoo recently published results of an evaluation of ~260 million tweets during 2009 and 2010, which found that ~50% of the tweets were generated by just 20,000 Twitter users.

That is right: Fewer than one half of one percent of Twitter’s user base accounts for fully half of all tweet activity.

Just who makes up this “rarified realm” of elite users? It turns out that they fall into four major groups:

 Media properties (e.g., CNN, New York Times)
 Celebrities (e.g., Ashton Kutcher … Lady Gaga)
 Business organizations (e.g., Starbucks)
 Blogs

Even more interestingly, these “elite” users aren’t interfacing with the rest of us “regular Twitter folk” as much as they are simply following each other: Celebs follow celebs … media companies follow other media companies … bloggers follow other blogs.

The Cornell/Yahoo research report, titled Who Says What to Whom on Twitter, can be found here.

But one wonders if the report should be retitled Much Ado About Nothing?

What Social Media is Teaching Us (Again)

Social MediaSocial media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and all that – burst onto the scene only a few years ago. Because of this, we’re still learning daily how these tools are impacting and influencing attitudes about companies and brands … as well as the propensity for people to buy products and services as a result.

But some aspects are coming into pretty strong focus now. One of the interesting insights I’ve drawn from social media is that it spotlights the “disconnect” that exists between marketing and sales personnel.

This disconnect has existed for decades, of course. In my nearly 35 years in business, I’ve heard a common refrain from sales folks. It goes something like this: “I have no idea what those people in marketing do all day long!”

On the flip side, the marketing pros have a few choice words for the sales personnel as well: “All they ever think about is the next order. Unless it delivers instant hot prospects who are ready to buy immediately, they’re not interested in any of our marketing programs.”

This is why so many B-to-B companies have tried to cross-pollinate between marketing and sales by moving staff back and forth between the two areas.

But what company is inclined to gives up its star sales performers to marketing? What happens more often is that the underperforming sales people are the ones who end up in marketing … where they then achieve only middling success there as well.

Conversely, so many of the best sales performers aren’t “God’s gift to strategic thinking” at all … while the marketing people who are so creative and insightful when thinking about markets are woefully inadequate when it comes to keeping up with a Rolodex® full of dozens of sales contacts.

Another part of the problem is the approach to metrics. Marketing personnel have historically been focused on reaching wider audiences. To a salesperson, things like “creating awareness” and “building a brand” are frustratingly fuzzy. Instead, salespeople focus on individual customers, sales quotas and other quantifiable information – real “bottom line” figures.

Today, social media is bringing all of this into sharper relief. To be most effective, social media demand that marketing and sales personnel work together. It’s no longer possible for the two groups to employ different approaches, different interactions and different metrics for success.

To my view, it’s going to be harder for marketing and communications personnel to get their heads around new expectations for metrics and analyses when compared to the sales folks. There are many new analytical tools to be mastered – and that’s probably a source of fear for many a marketer.

For salespeople, who live and die by facts and figures, this is duck soup by comparison.

And if you really think about social media, it’s about audience (customer) engagement in a direct and personal manner. Who’s been doing that for years? The sales force, of course.

So does it make any sense to “silo” social media activity and content development within the marketing department? Generally speaking, no.

In fact, many sales personnel have already embraced social media activities because they see it as another useful tool to leverage customer engagement. This is an environment they already know well, because they’ve always been in the business of building relationships.

So the times demand that marketing and sales team up as never before. For marketers, that means opening up the social media initiative and structuring it to include sales personnel as well the marketing staff. Redlining these tasks won’t work.

And here’s another idea: Have the marketing staff hang around with the sales force. Put them out there at trade shows and other industry events where they are forced interact with customers and behave like … salespeople!

[This is especially true if a company’s marketing staff comes from collegiate or administrative backgrounds – a common weakness in many mid-sized B-to-B firms where the most lucrative upward career paths take employees through engineering, R&D or sales, not through marketing and communications.]

Social media reminds us, once again, that the key to success in business is “mixing it up” with customers and prospects. We need to make sure we do the same inside our own companies.

Facebook’s Hidden Bombshells

Facebook's hidden bombshellsAs Facebook has been busily turning itself into a web powerhouse – challenging even the likes of Google for dominance – some people are beginning to question the fundamental aspects of how Facebook treats users and the content they post.

Last week I came across an interesting article by Douglas Karr, a social media consultant and author, who has spent thousands of dollars advertising on Facebook for himself and his clients. Karr summarized recent experiences he’s had with Facebook accounts that now make him extremely leery of using it as a central rather than an ancillary platform for promoting companies and their brands.

Facebook somehow became suspicious of entries posted by one of Karr’s clients. Facebook then proceeded to disable every administrator’s account that was associated with this client’s Facebook page. Because Karr was one of the administrators, this action disabled all of his Facebook pages and applications as well.

It then took a Herculean effort to repair the damage, during which time Karr learned quite a bit more about the customer service side of Facebook – if you could even call it “customer service.” Here’s how he summarizes it:

Facebook lacks a meaningful customer service process. There’s no phone number to call … or dedicated e-mail address specifically for support. So good luck trying to get any sort of satisfaction. Karr was asked to submit a form in order for his account to be turned back on. But that communication only resulted in an automated reply message to verify his identity.

In the meantime, with his accounts disabled, there was no way for Karr to log in and retrieve any of the now-hidden content.

What Karr learned is when all of what makes a Facebook presence so valuable – postings, photos, video and other content, fans, applications, etc. – goes by the boards, there’s essentially no recourse for a business.

Luckily for Karr, his account was re-enabled after a few days – with no notification from Facebook. But then he still had to republish all of the pages.

[It turns out that Karr’s client had a “friend of a friend of a friend” at Facebook who was able to pull a few strings to set things right … but how many of us should be so fortunate?]

This experience revealed another distasteful reality: The content you post on Facebook may be yours, but Facebook owns the access to it.

Yep. If you look closely at Facebook’s fine print, this is what you’ll find: “You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.”

So much for keeping proprietary control over anything that may go viral and ends up on Facebook.

Karr’s word of advice for companies considering employing Facebook as their primary means of generating online traffic and revenue: “Don’t.”

Instead, he suggests adopting other tactics such as developing a blog, investing in search engine optimization and search engine marketing, using Twitter … and owning all of your content on your own domain.

That’s pretty smart advice from someone who speaks from experience.

The Big Dig: Scraping and Scooping the Web

Data ScrapersI’ve blogged before about how the Internet is making people’s lives pretty much an open book.

Most people who are online are pretty aware of how their reputation can be affected by their Facebook or MySpace pages and other public or quasi-public online information. But The Wall Street Journal has been publishing a series of stories on how much more pervasive than that digital snooping has become.

The series is titled “What They Know” … and it’s well-worth checking out. The most recent article appeared on the front page of the October 12, 2010 edition of the WSJ, and focuses on the phenomenon of “data scraping.”

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “scraping” is a method by which sophisticated software is used to access and scoop up information that has been posted anonymously on sites that are supposed to be closed to prying eyes. One example cited in the WSJ article of a site that has been scraped is PatientsLikeMe, which has message boards and forums dealing with mental disorders, depression and other issues that most people would prefer to keep private.

People who post on discussion forums like these do so using pseudonyms, and the identity of the posters is carefully guarded by the host sites.

But it turns out that these sites are little match for the sophisticated IT capabilities of companies like Nielsen and PeekYou, who are in the business of matching psychographics as well as demographics to individual people for purposes of serving up relevant advertising — and goodness knows what else.

Think of it as the “lifestyle” direct mail lists of yesteryear – but now on steroids.

PeekYou has applied for a patent on a system whereby it matches real people to the pseudonyms used on forums, blogs, Twitter and other social media outlets. Taking a “peek” at the company’s patent application reveals the great lengths their systems go to ferret out and cross-analyze small, innocuous bits of information that, taken together, find the “needle in a haystack” match to the actual individual:

 Birthday match
 Age match
 First name match
 Nickname match
 Middle name match
 Middle initial match
 Gender match
 e-Mail address match
 Phone number match
 Physical address match
 Username match

When you consider that the same type of powerful computers that are used to analyze and process search engine queries are the ones processing millions or billions of information bits and instantaneously testing and slotting them based on relational patterns … it’s not hard to understand how, over time, eerily accurate portraits of individuals can be drawn that not only correctly reflect the “demographics” of the person, but also a host of psychographic and behavioral aspects such as:

 Shopping habits
 Recreational pursuits
 Personal finance profile
 Health information
 Political leanings
 Hobbies and interests
 Spirituality/religiosity
 Sexual preference or sexual proclivities

The WSJ articles detail how web sites are attempting to stay one step ahead of the “scrapers” by employing software that alerts them to suspicious “bot” activity on forums and other password-protected areas. It’s often a losing battle … and is that particularly surprising?

These days, not even the Orthodox monks at Mount Athos are protected, probably!