Yesterday my email stream included two starkly contrasting approaches to getting links and mentions from bloggers.
One offered me free guest posts, supposedly good quality posts on relevant business topics. The email had links to examples. It’s author said…
Having graduated in International Business and Journalism a few years ago, Ive covered everything from global politics to local news, economics, sustainability issues and a lot in between.
Sounds good, right? But what about this:
I work on behalf of one of my business clients, and as long as I am able to link to them within the content (in a related and subtle manner)
Ouch. No thanks. I’m not an attorney so I don’t know, but I thought the FTC had issued guidelines for bloggers that rule out that practice. If it isn’t illegal it’s still sleazy.
And in contrast to that, yesterday I also received an email from somebody at onlineMBA.com suggesting I should link to that site’s video titled Why Women Make Better Business Leaders. I don’t know that organization, I don’t endorse it, but I do like the fact that they generate good (in my opinion) content and make it available. They don’t offer to pay me. They just do good stuff.
So I posted about the video, and it included it embedded, earlier today on our companion blog Up and Running. And tagged onlineMBA.com on both posts.
And — let me make this clear — I have no deal, no incentive, no financial interest. I just liked the content they offered. And it’s not the first time. I think this is what that organization is doing to win some links.
Content is king? Yes, I think it’s pretty important. And self-serving links (in a related and subtle manner) are not.
What’s the difference between a journalist and a blogger? I see this from both sides because I was mainstream journalist for 10 years in the 1970s, then entrepreneur and consultant, software guy, and lately I blog a lot.
A real journalist tries to tell the objective truth, reports facts fairly, strives for balance, and discloses bias. Technology hasn’t changed the fundamentals.
Real journalists have opinions. Editorial writers and columnists are also journalists, not just reporters. But if it’s real journalism, opinions are framed as opinions, declared openly, and not masked as facts.
So I say lots of bloggers are journalists. And a lot of people writing for or appearing on mainstream news media are not.
Earlier today I posted Are Tech Conferences Distorting the Business News? over on smbplans.com. I linked there to a trio of posts debating the ethics of the New York Times Dealbook conference, which brought tech company leaders together with opinion leaders and journalists.
Dave calls this “access journalism.” He makes it seem sinister. He quotes the New York Times’ own columnist Margaret Sullivan writing, in her column, that the event made her “a little queasy. It didn’t include …
…A great deal of distance between sources and those who cover them — something traditionally thought to be a bedrock journalistic idea.
Dave links back to the early days of Silicon Valley in the 1980s and some run-ins he had with journalists and the dark side of popularity, plugs, and mixing business relationships with news reporting.
And I say that’s been going on forever. There are some very practical natural phenomena related to what Dave Winer is calling “access journalism:” 1.) Good journalism wants to quote legitimate sources to turn opinions into reporting. 2.) You can’t quote people you can’t reach. 3.) Good quotable experts and well-positioned people are good to know; access to those people is good to have.
In fact, tech conferences notwithstanding, What I love about these days in reporting and journalism is that access is orders of magnitude easier today than it was when I was doing it in the 1970s. We depended on phone calls to gatekeepers (assistants, receptionists, etc.) and treasured relationships that have us a direct telephone number, which was as good as it got. Journalists these days, who can easily use email and Twitter, have no idea how good they have it (in comparison to then).
Write good content: Blah, blah, blah! People say this like it’s The Most Important Advice Ever. It’s stupid, vile, and utterly useless, because everyone a) knows it, and b) thinks they do it.
The comments there are Erik’s not mine, but I agree completely.
Obvious advice is just clutter. And it interferes with useful advice.
Here’s another one:
Grow your social network: Really? I thought having my brother and a couple friends from work following me on a Twitter account I rarely use was a guaranteed step toward social media rock stardom.
Yep. More obvious and trite advice. Point taken. And this one:
Find your niche/passion: Okay, this one might not be such a Duh! piece of advice, but I’m tired of it. Anyone who has a barely detectable pulse has heard this one before, so it’s nothing new. Combine this with item #1 — write passionately about your content — and Tony Robbins will personally punch you in the nose.
Once again, I love the way the negative lists are more interesting than the positive lists. I mean lists of what not to do, as blog posts, get more traffic than lists of what to do. Mistakes are more interesting than tips or keys to success. Go figure.
It works for me too. So I clicked on Sian Phillips’ 10 Ways To Create A Bad Blog. The title got to me. And — hooray — the list made a lot of sense.
(Aside: Plus a chuckle: Sian’s list contains only nine points, not 10. Does that bother you? I think it’s just amusing. And it goes with common blogger wisdom, to the effect that 10 points are better than 11 or 9. Magic numbers are 3, 5, or 10. Or so I’m told.)
I like the list:
Bad spelling and poor grammar
Too much sales speak
Too much tech speak or boring content
Hard to leave a comment
Keep your Social Media links secret
Don’t tell anyone about your post
I like Sian’s priorities. I completely agree with her first three points, and in that order.
I was particularly glad to see grammar and spelling on top. That’s reassuring to me because I care about that. And some of the smartest people I know don’t. But I can’t help it, I hate it when a published blog has glaring errors. (I have to forgive small errors and obvious typos because of pots and kettles).
Points like bad formatting, bad links, and hard to make a comment are good points, and common errors.
Her point 4 bothers me a bit. Boring content should be number one, except that our world and our interests have splintered into so many diverse subsets that I wonder if it isn’t a matter of not being boring, but rather, finding the people who are not bored by what you’re writing. Sian uses tech speak as an example but tech people like tech speak, so that’s not a great example.
I like Blogger Brad Shorr‘s list of 12 Most Horrible Pieces of Blogging Advice. It’s a good list, well worth reading, good food for thought. More important, in my opinion, is that it’s also an eloquent reminder of the essential case-by-case rule that applies not only to business blogging but also to all of small business, beyond blogging.
Here’s Brad’s list of 12 pieces of bad advice:
Keep posts under 300 words
Stick to a rigid publishing schedule
Blogs are an SEO shortcut
Bloggers need to be edgy
Images aren’t important
Blogs should be monetized
All it takes to succeed is quality content
Cultivate reciprocal links
You must use a custom design
Blogging has been replaced by social media
Corporate blog content can be outsourced
It’s all about subscribers.
In most of these cases, Brad takes a commonly accepted best practice or general rule and points out the exceptions. He sums up most of this with his very first item, for which he explains:
Beware of absolutes. This advice stems from the generalization that all blog readers are in a hurry. However, if your blog’s purpose is to provide information or analysis, and you’re good at it, people will be willing to read five times that word count.
In other cases, advice that used to be good advice has gone stale. For his #8, on reciprocal links, he explains:
This is an outdated SEO tactic that can now do more harm than good if you have links coming in from bad sources. For audience building only, reciprocal linking is OK, but only when you are selective in terms of the relevance and quality of your link partners.
And that, aside from blogging specifics, is the real nugget in this particular post. Attractive as advice and guidelines are, out here in the real world everything is case by case. The only rule is that there are no rules. Best practices only work when applied carefully with a lot of respect for the specifics of context and a lot of flexibility to use not as directed.
I’m sure that applies for small business too, not just blogging. And maybe for life in general too? What do you think?
It’s less than three weeks since the new JOBS act opened the door to exciting new crowdfunding initiatives. This could be a sweeping change, an end to antiquated laws requiring startups to get investment mainly from so-called accredited investors. And it could be another deregulation causing a lot more problems than it solves.
For the curious, here’s a quick reading list I’ve compiled, full of excitement, eager anticipation, fears, contradictions, and contention.
For a scathing indictment of the whole idea, how it’s actually more of the deregulation that caused the great recession, try Why Obama’s JOBS Act Couldn’t Suck Worse, by Matt Taibbi on Rolling Stone. (Don’t you love the title? Nothing ambiguous about that.)
Bob Rice, New York venture capitalist, posted Forget Crowdfunding: Why JOBS Matters on the gust.com blog. A couple other posts on the subject on that blog — which is the major platform for angel investment — are Antone Johnson’s train wreck post, in which he fears the worst from crowdfunding before the bill passed; and then his somewhat-relieved revision in his back on track post a week later.
Last but not least (since we’re on my blog at the moment) is my What Worries Me About Crowdfunding on the Huffington Post. What worried me then, before the bill passed, still worries me now.
I could go on with the reading list, but it’s already too long.
So which is it? All hail the new era of startups let loose from the nasty bureaucratic constraints? Or the opposite, run for the hills because chaos is coming? Obviously somewhere in between the two. Also obviously, a lot will depend on who does what in crowdfunding, and how quickly, and how well. If this new world starts with some very visible unsuccessful but popular deals, for which a lot of people lose money, that’s one scenario. If the regulations manage to control the scams and somebody builds a good crowdfunding site with some reasonable precautions, then that’s another scenario.
This trend really bothers me. Even after the FCC rules on blogging and disclosure, I still get regular offers like this one that was in my email this morning. It was a nicely worded email, with some flattery, but here’s the meat:
I’d love to put together a high-quality article written specifically for the site. There is absolutely no charge for this and no strings attached; the only thing I would ask in return is that I’m able to include two do follow links to the sites of my choosing within the article – nothing shady or unethical, just one of the professional businesses I freelance for …
What do you think? Is this bad business ethics? Working links into editorial content, for money? Wouldn’t the FCC rules require disclosure? (By the way, that grammar errr
I think it’s sad how pervasive these practices are. This morning I was about to write a post about some software I like, but I stopped, worried that you’d think I’m on the take.
I wonder how much of this is going on, all the time, without disclosure.
For the record, I do get frequent emails offering me guest posts for this blog. In 1,500 posts I’ve had two guest posts that I remember. Occasionally I pass one of those emails on to the marketing team at Palo Alto Software, where some have resulted in good posts on Up and Running. But I consider this blog mine. On the days that I don’t post, I don’t look for a guest post.
ignore it completely. The chances of anyone caring one bit about this are extremely small. The chances of this blowing up in an employer’s face by taking action are much greater.
And I like his recommendation too, Jeff the author:
I would ask the employee to delete the post. No matter what the intent, others could take it the wrong way. A good employees who meant no harm will immediately say, “Oh, wow, I didn’t think of that. I’ll take it down.” If the employee really is unhappy with the company, that gives us the chance to discuss what’s wrong and hopefully make a bad situation better.
That doesn’t sound bad either. Actually, I like Jeff’s suggestion better; but that’s just me. Who knows?
I think it’s an interesting problem. Social media is publishing, and publishing is freedom, and employment doesn’t — or isn’t supposed to — limit freedom. And even before social media, did I as an employers get to monitor what people wrote in, say, letters to the editor published in the local newspaper? No. On the other hand, did I have to continue paying somebody who publicly and openly insults me or my company? Probably not, but that gets into some interesting legal issues, and I’m not a lawyer.