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Can you outsource a blog?
2010-12-17: A colleague of mine who runs a small events company wants to create a blog but is concerned that they may not have enough to say and wonders whether a blog can be outsourced. A social media expert has said 'definitely not, it has to be your authentic voice'. Here's the advice I gave.
I agree about the authentic voice to a point, but that can go too far, I've done it myself. If you start to blog your political views (and you're not a politician) or what you ate for tea (and you're not a chef) then you're in trouble.
On the other hand, one company that built its brand on great writing and lost its way when it changed is Lush. From memory, about 15 years ago or so, they wrote so very well about their products you could just dive right in and rub it all over. I don't think that was the company founder writing, it was a great copywriter. It was never the same after whatever happened happened (but something did, and it was never the same :-) ).
Of course, writing is a skill, too. If you're great at writing, fabulous, play to your strengths but with the caveat "are you going to write and perform the company song and design the logo too?" If not, perhaps the most efficient and effective thing to do would be to brief a writer and approve what they write. Alternatively you really can just outsource the whole lot. 9/10 times it'll be rubbish, but the 1:10 times it works, it's fabulous .. you just have to be careful who you use and how you guide them and of course you get what you pay for.
Those rubbish blogs: they still work. You get three things from a blog. 1) your blog page appears in Google because it's the only piece of text on the web about how to predict the weather from the number of times Holly Willoughby blinks per minute that morning .. someone clicks, reads it, and clicks through to your money page to buy something .. so, traffic is one benefit. 2) The link from your blog to your money page raises your money page in Google search, and 3) those who read your blog should find themselves more motivated to buy from you because you've addressed their exact needs. If the text isn't the best thing you've ever read, it's still delivering links to your money pages, so it's still worth something. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that. I'm saying .. if you look around at some top performing websites you'll see they sometimes have snoringly boringly blogs. Don't start thinking you should copy that. A better blog is better. A great blog is seriously good. But a crap blog still delivers some benefits. The other take-home from that is, as with many things online .. just start. You'll improve.
Anyway, I digress, I wanted to make two key points, so here goes:

Important point #1: the fine line

There is a very, very fine line to tread. What you want is to be useful. To be useful you really must know your customers and to do that means listening .. I'm sure you're with me on that. So actually a blog is about answering your customers' questions before they ask them, anticipating their needs. Inspiration comes from having a pad beside the phone to jot the questions new enquirers ask, from carrying a dictaphone when you're out to note any client-led inspirations .. it's for when the wedding photographer tells you that the diffuse light from a marquee makes for great pics and you think .. aha!. It's also from watching the keyphrase traffic on your website and through Google to see what people are looking for that you can write about. It's from watching your market. It's usually better to write about your customers than to write about you, and in that there is probably infinite inspiration.

Important point #2: blogging isn't everything

Blogging isn't everything. If you find something you might want to blog about, you could do a youTube video about it. Podcast it. Press release it. Write a website page about it. Tweet about it. Photograph it and put it on your Facebook Page. And yes you could blog it. You could do all of those things with your one story. Or, you could take your story and do with it what you are comfortable with or what suits your product. So if you can't quite get the blog thing together but you are happy to talk to a portable video camera .. you've got yourself a YouTube channel.
Start with whatever medium you feel most comfortable with and get used to watching for stories and developing them. Do it regularly.
If it comes to blogging, and what you're most comfortable with is briefing someone over the phone while driving .. then it's your story, but you're just asking someone to put the words together.
As for an authentic voice, I think that's about branding. With a relatively small company that can be one person, but of course companies like McDonalds or Volvo hire writers and actors all the time and, like professionals, they stick to the brand character. You may not have that triffically well defined, but a good writer will listen for your brand values and deliver them to your audience and could do that even better than you. Of course, though, a £5/hr writer won't be doing any listening for brand character so you get what you pay for.
I may have given a slightly flippant view of blogging. That's not how I feel about it though. I think it's a powerful way to the top of Google, and a fabulous way to develop your business, to convert browsers into customers and customers into lifelong advocates. Actually, it's my favourite online marketing strategy, so yes, do it. Then do it well. Then do it fabulously. If you need any help, just yell.

By John Allsopp
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