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7 Keys to Building an Effective Blog

Blogging is all the rage, but effective blogs are still few and far between. Don shows how to use your blog to make a name for yourself and establish yourself as a market expert.

We’ve talked a lot lately about the importance of taking a holistic view of your marketing. This means not just sending direct mail, but taking a step back and developing a marketing plan that encompasses many different methods of reaching prospective clients. These include public relations, strategic networking, sponsorships, mass media advertising and more. Some of these methods cost money; others are practically free or require an investment of time and energy.

In the last few years, the Internet has spawned a new opportunity that can fit within your holistic marketing plan: the “blog” (a contraction of the words “Web” and “log”). Blogs have agents excited due to the perceived promise of generating more business by simply posting regular blog entries on their personal web sites. But it’s not quite that simple. There’s a big difference between blogging and effective blogging.

Building an effective blog can build your name recognition and strong allegiances with homeowners throughout your community. A frequently updated and highly visited blog will also increase your search engine ranking. A blog is a great opportunity to keep clients and prospective clients informed of market trends, build rapport and engage people in your world through online discussion. Only once you get people to know who you are and to be drawn to you will your phone begin to ring as a result of your blog. But when it does, it’s a great feeling and another inexpensive addition to your marketing mix.

So without further adieu, here are my 7 Keys to Building an Effective Blog:

Key #1: Devote Sufficient Time to Your Blog
For many agents, blogging’s fatal flaw is that you must be consistent. Many blogs I see have not been updated for weeks or months, and therefore quickly become irrelevant. Blogging is a product of the instant gratification culture, so as soon as your blog shows signs of its demise, people move on to something else.

Agents often have the best intentions and are full of energy when they start blogging. But like any marketing venture, results cannot be expected overnight. Building a well-known blog takes time and effort. Often times, when agents don’t see an immediate result from their blog, their energy for it wanes. For other agents, once that initial spark of inspiration wears off, it becomes easy to say, “I’m too busy today to update my blog. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

So before you start your own blog, you must make a commitment to it and to yourself that you will devote sufficient time and energy to make it successful, no matter what. What is “sufficient,” you ask? I recommend that you block out two to three hours weekly to focus exclusively on brainstorming topic ideas and writing your blog entries for the coming week. This is time spent completely free of distractions and working on your blog. Then you need to reserve a minimum of 10-15 minutes per day to post your entry and reply to any comments that warrant replies. Consumers will perceive a neglected blog more negatively than no blog at all, so before you begin, make sure you are committed to the time and energy your blog will require.

Key #2: Have a Point of View
While all seven of these tips are important to building an effective blog, this one is the most essential element to truly creating a blog that compels people to visit your site and read it consistently. Here it is: You cannot approach your blog from the desire to simply provide news and information to readers. They can and already do find that information elsewhere. The most successful blogs, whether from the world of politics, sports or real estate, are written with a strong point of view. A good rule of thumb is to think of blogging in terms of being a newspaper columnist. The columnists don’t report the news; they comment on it. They analyze it and predict how it will affect us. This is your job, should you choose to accept it, as a blogger.

To develop your point of view, take careful consideration of your target market and tailor your blog to the collective likes and dislikes of this group. Hopefully you’ve chosen a target market that you can identify with strongly anyway, which will make this an easy task. If you feel yourself censoring your true feelings in order to appeal to your chosen target market, it might be time to reevaluate the people to whom you’ve chosen to market yourself. As long as you are authentic to yourself and write your blog entries based on your own beliefs, you will attract like-minded people who will make great clients because they feel like they already know you and like you.

The more you think of your blog as a method of stimulating discussion rather than a resource to disseminate information, the more effective it’s going to be.

Key #3: Spread the Word
The whole point of blogging is to get your name into the marketplace. This cannot happen unless people know about your blog. Therefore it’s up to you to promote it in every way possible. Here are a few tips for spreading the word about your blog:

* Direct mail: Send a Powerkard to your direct mail farm overprinted with a message announcing the launch of your blog. On every subsequent Powerkard you send, include a one-line call to action encouraging people to visit your blog daily.

* Email: Send an email blast to your past clients, your sphere of influence, local friends and family and everyone else in your email farm announcing your blog and providing a direct link to it. Ask for feedback to immediately engage the readers in your world.

* Word of mouth: Always try to mention your blog to the people you talk to in your strategic networking efforts.

* Community resources: If your city or community has a web site, ask them if they will post a link to your blog somewhere on their site. Also, if your city or community has an online message board, you might consider registering and linking to your blog in each of your posts.

Key #4: Focus Your Topics
One of agents’ most frequently asked questions since blogs’ rise in popularity is “What should I write about?” Of course, this is the $64,000 question. Developing content for your blog is not something that can be taken lightly. I’d recommend you keep a note pad with you at all times. During the course of your day, you will inevitably be asked questions or engage in discussions that could lead to potential blog topics. The key is to write them down immediately rather than hoping you remember them later. Even if you pride yourself on your memory and think you’ll be able to remember them later, write them down.

The bigger concern is that if you have to ask what to blog about, it may signal a greater weakness in your marketing message. If you are not known for anything, you need to define what niche you want to tap. If an agent who went by “The Condo Specialist” started a blog, she wouldn’t have a hard time deciding what to blog about. The same applies to anyone with a well-defined marketing message or niche. Even if you aren’t doing niche marketing, you can still tailor your blog to those things that your target market is interested in: lifestyle, community, family, national and local real estate news. You want your blog to be equal parts fun, informative and credibility building.

One potential pitfall to avoid is unfocused blogging. This is typically a result of an agent who doesn’t have a strong writing ability. They decide they’re going to write a blog, so they sit down at their computer and write out anything and everything they’re thinking about. This, too, is actually counterproductive. You need to have distinctive topics for each blog entry you post. This is why those two to three hours each week are so vital to the success of your blog.

Key #5: Get Personal
The knock on blogging is that it’s simply a bunch of self-absorbed people writing about mundane things that happened throughout the course of their day. While this element does exist in the blogosphere, this is not where you want to be. Your blog is a reflection of your real estate business and therefore, should focus on distinctive and valuable real estate topics.
Here’s where the line gets blurred, however. The more you can inject your own personality and personal stories into your blog in a meaningful and relevant way, the more effective your blog will become. You want people to achieve familiarity with you after reading your blog. Regular readers of your blog should almost feel like a friend and understand your values even if they’ve never met you in person.

The way you achieve this is by weaving personal details into the larger topic being discussed. Talk about the way something will impact you, or include personal stories about yourself and your family to illustrate a point you’re making.

Key #6: Elicit Feedback & Discussion
The most effective blogs are those that engage the readers and give them a forum in which to voice their opinions, whether or not they agree with you. You can encourage this by writing about the right topics and asking the right questions. For instance, as of press time for this article, the White House has just signed off on the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This is perfect fodder for writing a blog entry about how it’s going to affect you and the people in your target market. In your blog, you want to establish yourself as a trusted advisor and a resource full of valuable, local tips and advice. Explain to people your feelings on how current events and real estate news and trends will impact them and ask them for their feedback.

You can also inspire feedback by sharing your values and asking readers for examples of what you cherish. For instance, you write a blog entry about how you’re a fan of great service and how you strive to provide it to each and every customer you work with. Then explain how you’re always looking for companies and services that provide that level of service you’ve just described, and ask people to weigh in to cite great service experiences they’ve had from local businesses.

You might write another blog in case study form, showing how you helped someone get the right loan or helped homeowners stage their house effectively. Open it up to questions at the end and be sure to answer every reply you get.

I know of one real estate blog in San Diego that focuses on the decor and social circles of high-end properties and their owners. It reads like a gossip magazine, full of juicy details and snarky comments, but it’s a compelling read and it proves to strongly attract a desired segment of the market.

Whatever you write about, make it provocative and ask open-ended questions that inspire the reader to comment on your blog. Then, be sure to follow-up and participate in the discussion you ignite.

Key #7: Be Flexible
The final point is both the beauty and the curse of blogs. Due to their DIY format and immediate response time, blogs can evolve and change very quickly. The key is to pay attention to what type of entries elicit the most response, and then continually hone your message based on that feedback. You want the readers to have input on the big-picture direction in which your blog will grow and evolve over time. The more you can meet those needs, the better your chances for building a resource that leads to more hot leads and stronger relationships with your clients.

So don’t get your ideas too set in stone. Create your content a week at a time and consider what garnered the most response in previous weeks when determining content for the coming week. Then simply let it evolve and start reaping the rewards. If done correctly following these seven keys, a blog can become an integral component of your marketing mix and have a major impact on your ability to generate leads.

I want to hear from you: Do you have a blog? Why or why not? What’s the biggest question about blogging that this article didn’t answer? Send your feedback to Don.Hobbs@HobbsHerder.com.