I recently had the opportunity to present on the topic of blogging at the SMPS Fellows Leadership Symposium, held in conjunction with the annual Society for Marketing Professional Services Build Business conference. The overall focus of the session was better integrating technology into digital marketing, and attendance was limited to Fellows of SMPS. The organization has about 110 Fellows, and they represent the most experienced, senior members of the A/E/C sales and marketing professions.
However, it appears that very few of them actually blog.
I never set out to be a blogger. In fact, it was by necessity. In 2007, my son was born severely premature, and I needed a way to provide a continual stream of updates to family and friends. Fortunately, one of the NICU nurses told me about Caring Bridge, and my career as a blogger began! Of course, those first posts were written in the voice of my preemie (19.2 ounces at birth – really!). Facebook was for college students, and Twitter was in its infancy. Social Media as we know it didn't exist!
I later began blogging for my local newspaper, and my content related to architecture, historic buildings, and general history (my hobby has been researching, writing, and photographing local interest books).
These experiences opened the door for me to begin blogging on my company websites, which happened in 2010 when we transitioned to the WordPress blogging platform. Sometimes I blog under my own name, sometimes I ghost write blogs for other technical staff members, and yet other times I simply suggest topics or act as proofer/editor.
So why should blogging be a critical weapon in the A/E/C marketing arsenal?
According to research by Hinge Marketing, the highest growth professional services firms use blogging at more than twice the rate of typical professional services firms. They've also found blogs to be the second most effective digital marketing tool – behind Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but yet highly intertwined with SEO. Furthermore, Hinge's research has found that buyers of professional services check out company websites and Google firms more than they contact references provided by firms looking to do business with them.
There is little downside to blogging. Yes, many people don't read blogs. Yes, we all struggle with finding time to check out blogs. And yes, the internet is already saturated with blogs. And yet, architectural, engineering, and construction firms always seem to be behind national marketing trends, and our particular slice of the world is decidedly not oversaturated.
Although a blog in concept may be targeted to the masses, the reality is that you only need one great lead to make a blog more than worth your while! In fact, because of the Internet SEO benefits, you don’t even need a concrete lead to justify the value of having a blog.
Why You Should Blog
Blogging does a lot of great things for your firm and staff, including:
- Position Yourself as a Thought Leader. Regular bloggers tend to gain reputations as leaders in their industries – and clients want thought leaders on their teams.
- Build Your Company Brand. Or, help to change misperceptions about the company brand, which may be equally important.
- Enhance Your Writing Skills. Most people wish they were better writers. Do you know how to make that a reality? Write more!
- Maintain Your Relationships. We're always talking about the importance of "touches" in our networks, aren’t we? Blogging is a great way to continually stay in front of your contacts without being a nag.
- Expand Your Network. I've been introduced to many fascinating, talented people that have since become part of my network. But we never would have connected if I hadn't been blogging.
- Provide Information and Ideas for Media. Both print and online media are continually looking for content. A regular blog providing a steady feed of useful information can become a goldmine for getting media placement for your firm and authors.
- Analyze Trends and Stay Current. A/E/C firms do not do enough market research. However, authors of blogs – by the very nature of needing a continual stream of content – are regularly scanning the environment, and finding critical information that may also be of value for their firms.
- Drive Traffic to Your Company Website. Ultimately, blogging is about SEO – driving traffic to your website. Clients check out company websites more than they Google firms, monitor social media feeds, or check references. And search engines love blogs, which essentially prove to the search engines that the websites are continually updated with meaningful content. This, in turn, increases website rankings.
One challenge that potential A/E/C bloggers face is understanding their audience. If this sounds familiar, you are probably asking, "Who will actually read my blog?"
It's a fair question. The first thing that you need to understand is that there is a very wide audience of potential readers, who may be:
- Potential Clients
- Competitive A/E/C firms
- Friendly A/E/C firms (e.g., teaming partners)
- Peers Within Your Firm
- Peers External to Your Firm
- Members of Professional Societies
- Members of Client Organizations
- Local Community/Business Professionals
- Potential Employees
In light of this, the second thing you need to understand is that you don't need to be limited in the breadth of your blog content. One blog may reach only a small piece of your potential audience – or a significant part of it. Ideally, your firm should have multiple bloggers creating a variety of content that reaches different segments of your audience.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking that blogs are only for your existing clients – or potential clients. The reality is that A/E/C clients often do business with firms that were recommended or referred to them – and your blog may introduce you and your firm to new audience who will become referrers and champions.
Furthermore, members of the Millennial generation are accustomed to reading blogs. So when college students and recent graduates are making decisions about where they want to work, you better believe they are checking out your company website and reading your blogs.
Do you think your missing blog, or infrequently updated blog, leaves any type of impression upon them? You bet it does ... and it is not the impression that you're hoping for, particularly in this era of the increasing war for talent.
"But what should I blog about?" Have you found yourself asking this question?
There are so many potential topics out there. Here's a few:
- Interesting Project. What are you working on right now? What makes it different? Blog about your experience, but be wary of divulging too much information, or violating any NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) that may be in place. But remember that your readers are smart. They understand that in some cases you need to respect confidentiality – it's okay to be somewhat generic in telling your story.
- New Products. Are you specifying or installing a newer product? Why did your team choose it? What are the benefits? What are the concerns? How is it different than other similar products?
- Clients and Vendors. Your clients and vendors are doing cool stuff all the time. Shine the spotlight on them, and tell their story. The blog should not be about you, but about others. Give them PR, and use their stories to help your readers.
- Trends. Readers love blogs about trends. We all need to understand what is happening out there so we can prepare ourselves and our firms for the changes to come. These could be trends in design or construction, or trends in your clients' markets.
- Sustainability. Some A/E/C firms have blogs dedicated to sustainability: products, practices, techniques, certifications, etc. There's a lot of relatively low-hanging fruit in this category.
- Lessons Learned. Beyond lessons learned from project experiences, why not share information gained by attending trade shows or conferences? Guess what? No matter how well attended the conference or trade show was, most of your readers weren't there. Package what you learned into a blog or series of blog posts.
- Repurpose Content. You are constantly creating content, whether you realize it or not. Take a presentation – whether from a lunch-and-learn, professional society, or conference, and create a blog version of it. Or series of posts. Take an email where you explained something, and pull the salient points into a blog post. The content of this blog post had its genesis in a presentation that I gave to coworkers. I later made an animated video of the slides, and then greatly truncated the content for the SMPS Fellows Leadership Symposium. And now I'm blogging about it, again using the same content.
- Your Interpretation. We are all exposed to an unending stream of content. We tune out a lot of it. And we pay attention to much of it as well. Think of a recent article you read, or survey findings that you reviewed. Do you agree with it? If so, why? Right there's a blog post. Better yet, do you disagree with it? Perfect! Blog about it.
- Conduct Research. To really be a thought leader, try conducting a survey, then collect and interpret the results, and present the findings in a blog. Or write a white paper, and then create an executive summary that doubles as your blog (and provide a link to download or purchase the white paper).
Making the Most of Your Time
Alas, who really has the time to blog?
You do. You just need to make the time instead of complaining about not having the time!
So turn off that ball game or cooking show and write! Here's some tips for making the most of your time!
- Find the best time of day. Most of us have a time of day when our brain seems to fire on all cylinders. I actually like writing at 7am. In fact, several of my books have been primarily written over a series of early Saturday morning writing sessions!
- Schedule time to write. They say that "what gets measured, gets done." I also truly believe that “what gets scheduled, gets done.” So if you have a preferred time to write, try to block out some time every week to focus on your writing.
- Multi-Task. When in doubt, multi-task! Although I prefer writing in the morning, often times I actually write in the evening. I like sitting in my comfy chair with my iPad on my lap (with attached keyboard). My wife may be on her iPad or watching TV, my son will be nearby doing homework, reading, or playing on electronics. We'll all be together, but we'll be doing different things.
- Planes, Trains & Automobiles. I've written blogs on plane rides and train rides. Remember, you need to make time, and sometimes these periods of "down-time" provide the perfect opportunity to blog – or at least to compile your thoughts for a future blog.
- Repurpose Liberally. Repurposing is both ideal for generating content as well as for minimizing time. Don't recreate the wheel! Not long ago I was invited to speak about low-hanging fruit for energy reduction in buildings. I subsequently took each of my recommendations, and created a blog post around them. After the series of blogs was published, I packaged them into an ebook! Right there is three uses of the same content.
- Interview Others. Have a topic on your mind? Develop three questions, and email them to three people. Then use their answers as your content! These are interview blogs, and allow you to provide meaningful information while helping position the three people you interviewed as thought leaders. And it provides the added benefit of saving you time!
- Work at a Realistic Pace. Don't push too hard. Don't think that you are going to blog daily or weekly. Start with a blog a quarter or a blog a month. Once you've mastered that frequency, increase it. But never let yourself overcommit, because you have a million other things to do. Blogging should be part of your job – but not your only job!
- Don't Get Too Wordy. We're not talking about War & Peace here! Blogs can be concise and informative. Four or five hundred words may be enough! But blog the length that your topic needs to be, just don't be overly long or overly short. Note, however, that Google likes blogs of 1000 or more words. There are a lot of content farms pushing out meaningless 200-300 word posts, so Google now assumes that a higher word count means higher quality information. This blog is about 2500 words – probably a wee bit too long, but yet also the length that it needs to be. I could also have chosen to break this into two (or more) posts.
- Trust Your Writing Ability. Don't let concerns about your writing ability keep you from blogging. Ask colleagues to proof your work. Or, better yet, get your company marketing department to help! (Hint: they will love you for it!) It's always good to have a proofreader, but don't use your writing ability as an excuse to avoid blogging.
- Invite Guest Bloggers. Sometimes it makes sense to let someone else carry the load. So invite guest bloggers. If you are just one of many contributors to your company's blog, then you already have back-up. But if you are a solo blogger, it's nice to take a break and share your audience with a guest blogger. It could be a co-worker – or even someone outside of your firm.
Blogging is not dead and is not going away. Smart A/E/C firms know this, and use it to their advantage. Clients are looking for you – and one of the best ways they can find you is through your blogs. Seven of my company’s top 15 landing pages (the first page a visitor lands on after using a search engine) are blog posts. That tells me that blogs drive a lot of traffic to our website.
Content is everywhere – all you need to do is take the time to look for it! You’ve written emails longer than blogs and, incidentally, educational emails that could probably double as blogs! Your audience is not narrow – it is wide. But you’ll of course want to stay within certain parameters. If your company offers environmental engineering, a blog about the latest trends in office furnishings is probably not the best use of your blog!
Don’t stress about time commitments or use lack of time as an excuse to avoid blogging. Most of us can make the time. Who doesn’t have 30 or 60 minutes a month? If your work day is too busy (and who’s isn’t?), blog early in the mornings or use evenings and weekends. If you don’t make the time, no one else will!
Ultimately, blogging is a major weapon that is being underutilized by A/E/C firms. And hey, if you are too lazy to incorporate this powerful tool into your integrated marketing program, that’s great. Your competitors will certainly thank you!
If you are already blogging, what other suggestions do you have for fledgling bloggers?
The Method to My Madness: This Post
The morning after I presented about blogging at the SMPS Fellows Leadership Symposium, I had a brief window of time, and began writing this blog. I had intended to complete the blog on the flight home after the conference; however, I actually wrote another blog for a different forum. Plus, the airline wasn’t a fan of me using a wireless Bluetooth keyboard! The Sunday evening after conference, my body still wasn’t adjusted to the change in time zones. So rather than just sit there, hoping to get tired, I wrote the balance of this post – sitting on my recliner, iPad in my lap, with pre-season football providing white noise in the background. During lunch break Monday, I edited it and uploaded it to ENR.com. All you have to do is make the time!
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