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Seven Lessons From a Blogging Year

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Last January 19, MarketingProfs Publisher Allen Weiss sent me an email from his office in LA.

"Hi Ann," Allen wrote. "Just want to confirm your interest in the blog concept? If so, I'll buy the software, license, etc. and start the installation process. Should be done within 7 days with a basic layout and then we need to start the customization of the look. Just give me the go ahead."

I wrote back from Boston within a few minutes, "Are you kidding...??? YES!"

So began the MarketingProfs blog, the MarketingProfs Daily Fix.

The truth is, it took longer than seven days to get it to lift off. Launching as we did on March 29, 2006, it actually took over two months to roll it to the ramp. So after a year in the blogosphere, from conception to now, here's what I've learned:

1. Blogging is a high...

With a little sweat and elbow grease and a cadre of fabulous thinkers as contributors, the Daily Fix has enjoyed great success. Our initial expectation to have 20 or so contributing writers quickly changed... and the number mushroomed to almost 60. We are No. 6 in the list of the Top 25 Marketing Blogs. Our weekly newsletter is mailed every Thursday to 8,500 readers. And our ranking in Technorati has climbed to 3,592, with links from close to 600 blogs.

2. ...except when it's a downer

Launching a blog may be as painless as getting hitched in Vegas, as my friend David Armano says. But like the actual marriage, the real work comes later. In June I wrote, "For some reason, I was under the ridiculous impression that launching a blog and building its traffic and profile would be little more than plug-and-play."

MarketingProfs already had all the necessary components in place: an established brand; a successful newsletter and busy parent Web site to help drive traffic; enthusiastic and talented writers; and the support of management. "So," I wrote, "let's pull up the shades, unlock and door, and open the bar... and get this party started!"

Only—the ceiling chandelier didn't quite shake. In fact, the blog's launch was more like a ladies' luncheon than a Godsmack house party. Pleasant... but nothing to tell stories about later. The chief reason: Blogs really aren't widely read by marketers. At least, the marketers who subscribe to MarketingProfs. That's changing quickly as blogs gain credibility and exposure, but it's slow going.

3. I'm amazed at who I've met

Almost half of the people now writing for the blog, and many of the names in my inbox on any given day, are blog friends I've made since last spring. I knew some of the contributors prior to the blog launch, and those relationships have deepened. Or not.

Blog friendships—even those forged on a business blog like ours—are in a special category, because the immediacy and intimacy of blogging begets the same with the people who practice it regularly. By "intimacy" I don't mean in a dreamy romantic sense. Rather, I mean that regularly reading a blogger's posts and comments, seeing whether they play well with others, and gauging how they react to those who don't play well with them, gives you a deeper sense of an individual than most casual business relationships are usually capable of delivering.

My non-blogging friends and colleagues don't really understand this—"How can you be friends with someone you've never met?" But there's a reason that bloggers always hug when they meet, because they already, well... know each other.

4. Knowing customers/clients better

Prior to the launch of the blog, I thought I had a pretty good sense of the MarkertingProfs audience of 200,000+. But a year into it, I have deepened that understanding. In my attempts to introduce them to the blog and convert them to blog visitors, I've developed a more textured and nuanced understanding of their needs, wants, frustrations, and measures of success across many of the various MarketingProfs properties.

And, in turn, that's helped me understand the limitations and shortcomings they have sometimes experienced with MarketingProfs. Finally, it's helped me accept that we can't be all things to all people.

In other words, the blog has helped me do my job better, because I have a better sense of what my job actually is.

5. Blogging has made me a better writer

Blogging's loose parameters and informal style has made the process of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) much less anxious for me. Like many writers, I have a particularly severe and unforgiving inner critic, which often made me give up a piece of writing before I'd really begun it. Blogging hasn't made me a less accurate—or more articulate—writer, but it has helped unfreeze some of my creative concentrate and, to borrow a phrase from Nike, "Just Do It."

6. Blogging begets a life observed

The very act of coming up with a regular supply of relevant blog posts forces bloggers to look a little more carefully at their life experiences, not necessarily to simply vet for post material but try to see the context and the larger meaning, the subtext and what's left unsaid, and the connections among experiences. Not to get to heady about it, but it's a great way to engage more fully with life.

This may not be the case for every blogger, but I've spent a year training myself to not just do my job, be a parent, walk my dogs, and so on... but to also observe and analyze all that, and more. In other words, it's helped me to lead an "examined life." (Which leads me to believe that were Socrates alive today, he'd be a kick-ass blogger!)

7. And finally...

Bullet points are ALWAYS a good way to break up a blog post into bite-sized chunks!

* * *

So—in closing: A huge thanks to all of you who have been part of this blogging year. That includes all of the writers—a thousand thanks to you!—but also the readers, those who comment, and the wallflowers, too. You all make the Daily Fix the vibrant and alive place that it is.

And to those of you who have been considering launching or improving your blog as part of your own business in 2007, well... there's no time like the present.

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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