Is your blog on life support?

(This post originally appeared on the Aartrijk blog.)

Do you have a blog that you haven’t posted to in a while? You’ve been meaning to write something, but you just haven’t gotten around to it. Or maybe it’s a company blog, and no one has taken ownership. There are a few posts from that marketing guy who left last year, but nothing much since.

You’re not alone. Every once in awhile, I stop by The Wayward Journey to check on it. I’m still getting visitors, even though I haven’t posted anything new in about 18 months.

When I got the blogging fever about eight years ago, I was a regular writing machine. I would sometimes post two or three times a week. I kept it up for a good six years. Then things started to peter out. Lately, I’ve been embarrassed to give out the link. I keep telling myself I’m going to get back to it. Soon.

Here’s the sad truth: an estimated 95 percent of all blogs are abandoned. That’s an oft-cited statistic from a 2009 New York Times article, and not much has changed in the intervening 10 years — although I would guess even more bloggers have given up with the advent of newer social media tools.

It means if you recently started blogging, the odds are you won’t be doing it for long. You’ll lose interest. You’ll discover it’s a lot of work. The top reasons given in surveys for bloggers quitting usually include lack of time, not making any money and not enough followers.

Some social media watchers say blogging is dead anyway. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn are more immediate and easier for building a following. So goes the reasoning.

Except that companies with blogs produce 67% more leads per month than those without blogs, according to Demand Metric. In addition, marketers who have prioritized blogging are 13 times more likely to enjoy a positive ROI, and companies that blog receive 97% more links to their website.

The folks at the content firm Codeless compiled “101 Blogging Statistics for 2019” earlier this year. Here are a few other attention-grabbing facts about blogs:

  • 60% of consumers feel engaged/positive with a brand or company after reading custom content on their blog.
  • 47% of B2B buyers read 3-5 blog posts or content pieces prior to talking with a salesperson.
  • 59% of B2B marketers consider blogs the most valuable channel.
  • 2% of companies say content marketing increased their lead quality and quantity.
  • 69% of marketing professionals say content marketing is superior to direct mail and PR.
  • 70% of consumers prefer learning about a company through custom content than through paid advertisements.

Okay, so blogging is a good thing. But how do you resuscitate a blog that’s on life support? Here are a few helpful tips:

Planning is key. It starts with creating an editorial calendar and setting firm deadlines. I have to give kudos to the Aartrijk team for keeping the Brain Food blog going, especially Roni Acord, who gets on our case to contribute to it and stay on schedule. So make sure your blog has a calendar, and then stick to it.

Post consistently. Pick a day and time to post that works for you (e.g., every second Tuesday at 9 a.m.). Readers reward bloggers who keep to a schedule. Followers especially appreciate receiving posts on time. Not every post needs to be written by the same person. Many blogs lighten the writing load by featuring guest bloggers or curated content.

Add photos, video and infographics. Including images and infographics can increase your traffic. They also make your blog more interesting and more likely to be shared with others.

Use social media. You should definitely be integrating your blogging with your other social media platforms. It’s easy to share posts on your Facebook and Twitter feeds. You can also post content to LinkedIn. Use quotes or excerpts or push readers to your blog. As marketers like to say, amplify your content!

Measure your results. Make use of the free analytics that come with your site or set up Google Analytics. Over time, you’ll start to see trends and can tailor your content to what your readers respond to best.

With my own blog, I’ve seen steady growth in traffic through what are called compounding posts. These are posts that continue to bring more traffic to your site long after they are published. HubSpot says one compounding post generates as much traffic as six regular posts combined. In fact, they generate 38% of all blog traffic.

Last year was my best year ever for traffic, yet I didn’t post a thing. It turns out that several compounding posts have become the gift that keeps on giving. Most of my traffic now comes from just two or three posts that date back to 2012! It’s one more reason to take the long view when it comes to blogging. Even if you’ve been on an extended break, it’s never too late to fire up that blog and get it going again.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

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Email and echo chambers

I’ve been doing some work for Aartrijk, a content marketing firm in the property-casualty insurance space, for the past year or so. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I met Peter Aartrijk years ago when I was working at the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and he was at the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America.

One of the great things Peter does is keep up with his blog. That’s something that I admit I’ve slipped a bit on The Wayward Journey. Okay, I admit, I’ve slipped a lot lately. But then, Peter has folks like me and other Aartrijk associates contributing! I highly recommend that you give the Aartrijk blog, Brain Food, a peek.

Here are two posts that I’ve contributed recently. My thanks to Roni Acord of Aartrijk, who edits the blog and keeps us all on track.

Email. It’s Red Hot!

November 21, 2017


By Jay Morris

If you’re a baby boomer, you probably remember this gem of a marketing slogan from the 1980s: “Radio. It’s Red Hot!” It was radio’s claim to relevancy and continued clout at a time when advertisers were salivating over new media like cable TV and consumers were falling in love with CDs and videocassettes. But as an Esquire magazine headline announced in March 1984, “RADIO LIVES!” In fact, radio experienced a renaissance of sorts in the 1980s. It was portable, it was immediate, and it was local. [Read more…]

Are You Caught in an Echo Chamber?

August 8, 2017

Escape the Echo Chamber - Aartrijk

By Jay Morris

Have you ever been in a large room or somewhere outdoors where every word you say is repeated back? Such echo chambers are an amusing diversion, especially for kids who delight in hearing the same words over and over. But when it comes to news and social media, echo chambers can have a polarizing effect on the way we receive information and perceive the world. [Read more…]

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NAFCU turns 50

This past week, the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions turned 50. Given that I’ve been associated with NAFCU since 2000, first as a vice president and in recent years as an independent contractor (one-third of NAFCU’s existence!), I’ve developed an affinity for this organization that supports America’s federally insured credit unions.

In an article I wrote earlier this year for NAFCU’s magazine (“NAFCU Turns 50: Celebrating a Half-Century of Service“), I noted that NAFCU remains just as nimble, just responsive to its members and just as innovative as it was when it was founded.

Credit unions have come a long way since 1967 when they had 19 million members and $13 billion in assets. Today, credit unions have over 107 million members and $1.3 trillion in assets. They’ve made a difference in the lives of countless Americans, and NAFCU has been a major part of that.

In my estimation, NAFCU has been successful for three reasons:

  1. Over the years, it’s stayed true to its principles of federal advocacy, compliance assistance and education.
  2. It’s built a culture of member service that its employees embody in everything they do.
  3. It is unswervingly committed to bringing the benefits of credit union membership to consumers.

So hats off to NAFCU and 50 years of serving America’s credit unions!

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What we need is a little optimism

optimist-citationI was going through some dusty old things the other day and found a “Youth Appreciation Week Citation” I received in 1969 from the Optimist Club of Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Wow, I thought, that’s a long time ago!

What was ironic is that I had just written a blog about the importance of optimism for Aartrijk, a content marketing firm here in the DC area. If ever there were a time when we needed a little optimism, 2017 would be it. Can you think of a more fractured, divisive or uncertain time than today?

Well, yes…1969, as a matter of fact. The year the Optimists gave me that citation was not exactly a tranquil moment in our nation’s history. Nixon was sworn in as president, and the Vietnam War and protests against it were in full swing. The Woodstock music festival was that summer. It was a time of sexual experimentation, counterculture politics, long hair, drugs and psychedelic music, pop art (remember Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup can?), feminism, environmentalism, radicalism and revolution.

I suppose if I wanted to be glib, I could say that it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. If you had just been drafted or were fighting for equal rights, you might have thought it was the worst of times. But on July 15, 1969, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and everyone in America cheered, you surely thought it was the best of times.

Having lived through Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, the Reagan revolution and the Clinton impeachment, I take the long view. I don’t like this era’s vitriol, the intolerance and the downright meanness of our discourse. But I remain optimistic. I can’t explain why, but I think we’re going to be okay. And so I give you the Optimist’s Creed, written by Christian Larson in 1912 and adopted by Optimist International in 1922:

The Optimist’s Creed

Promise Yourself…

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature you meet.

To give so much time to improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud word but in great deeds.

To live in the faith that the whole world is on your side, so long as you are true to the best that is in you.

Christian D. Larson

In my post for Aartrijk, I noted that optimism is good for your health, too. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Studies show that people who look on the bright side have fewer heart problems and better cholesterol readings. “Even more impressive is the impact of a positive outlook on overall health and longevity,” notes the Harvard Medical School “Research tells us that an optimistic outlook early in life can predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years.”
  • The Mayo Clinic catalogues a host of benefits from positive thinking, including lower rates of depression, better coping skills during hardships and times of stress, and greater resistance to the common cold.

Would you like to put more optimism in your life? The folks at the Mayo Clinic recommend that you cut down on negative thoughts and focus on positive ones, be open to humor, follow a healthy lifestyle and surround yourself with positive people.

Seems like a good prescription for our times.

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Writing: the fundamental building block of communications

Last month, I was interviewed by Jimmy Minichello for the Public Relations Society of America – National Capital Chapter’s Insider newsletter. I talked about the basics of good writing in this video.

I firmly believe that good writing is the fundamental building block of communications. It takes a passion for storytelling, a keen sense of curiosity and lots of practice! For more on writing, see these previous posts:

Does writing still matter? Let me count the ways

Can’t think of a good lead? Try writing a story

Tips for making your writing plain, clear and scrupulous

Strunk & White’s little book on style still packs a punch

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How to succeed in business the ‘indie’ way

idea-1855598_1280Last month, I invited Ami Neiberger-Miller and Sandra Wills Hannon to speak at our Independent Public Relations Alliance meeting about what it takes to become a successful independent practitioner.

Both Ami and Sandra are long-time members of IPRA and have built thriving businesses. Ami’s company, Steppingstone LLC, provides communications and graphic design services to nonprofits, associations and small businesses. Sandra’s The Hannon Group LLC helps clients engage consumers through research-based public information campaigns.

The points that Ami and Sandra made were good advice for anyone thinking about starting a business—or wondering how they might take their business to the next level.

Here are the five main takeaways from Ami’s presentation:

  1. Network with people, not with computers or Twitter handles. “Find a water cooler crowd. I my case, it was IPRA—people  who would celebrate success with me, give me advice when I needed it, and support me when life didn’t go well.”
  2. Learn from others the things you don’t know and keep striving to improve. “One of the challenges I faced is that I didn’t come from a PR agency. So I had to learn how to market myself, compete for business and service clients. I learned through trial and error, read a lot of advice online and had coffee with wonderful people like my co-presenter Sandra. I partnered with others who knew things I didn’t know.”
  3. Be shrewd about your time. “I did a lot of networking early on. But I became more shrewd about how I invested my time. I’ve dropped my membership in organizations that don’t lead to the type of clients we want or take too much time. I’m also shrewd about my work time. I’m aware of the time I spend on deliverables, billing or marketing. So efficiency is important.”
  4. Invest in building a public persona and good systems. “My first website and business cards were awful. I made them myself. Lucky for me, my husband is a graphic designer and he joined the firm. Today, I have a much better website, a well-developed blog, a LinkedIn profile, a business Facebook page and a very active Twitter feed with about 7,000 followers. It’s important to have sound financial management tools, too. I use QuickBooks Self-Employed, and I love it.”
  5. Persevere and keep a cushion. “I always advise people who are self-employed to keep a cushion, a cash reserve. It gives you options.”

About four years ago, Sandra started landing large contracts and needed to staff up to stay competitive. She now employees 50 people and has done work for NIH, General Motors and the White House, among others.

Sandra advises solo practitioners to identify their niche, i.e., what they’re good at, and to develop that market. By creating a virtual agency of specialists who complemented her skills and experience, she was also able to offer more to her clients than she could possibly offer on her own.

“Collaboration is important in growing a business,” she says. “By collaborating, you can expand your subject expertise, extend your capabilities and enlarge the scope of your business. You can attract new clients and offer them more.”

She credits the success and growth of her practice to building good teams, sharing the work and delivering superior customer service. She has taken as her business model the PR agency approach, assembling teams based on client needs and projects, and focusing on client satisfaction and retention.

“I am constantly looking for new ways of partnering,” she says. At the same time, she has become selective in responding to RFPs, mindful of what her niche is and what her firm can offer prospective clients.

Both Sandra and Ami believe in giving back and have been active members of IPRA and other professional groups. They have made the indie life work for them and are good examples for others who might want to take the plunge.

Says Ami, “Having an independent practice has allowed me to balance my work and home life. My husband and I work mostly from our home office on the third floor of an old house we are renovating in western Loudoun County. Our practice supports our family, and we are on the leading edge of the new economy—one where people work for multiple clients and on their own terms.”

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Instead of time management, consider energy management

runner-888016_640Time is something that we constantly obsess about. An army of business consultants and self-help gurus has made millions with countless time management courses, day planners, books and apps that we eagerly devour.

Organize your day, get through all your emails, conduct efficient meetings, tackle big projects, eliminate distractions, carve out time for family and personal fulfillment—you can do it all if you just learn to master time!

Yet we may be stressing about the wrong things. A new generation of consultants now says we should focus more on managing our personal energy—not our time. I have to say, there’s something to it. There are only so many hours in a day that we can be productive. The human body just wasn’t made to go full-bore for 12-16 hours straight. Energy management recognizes that your day has its ups and downs—energy peaks and valleys. It suggests that you build in breaks where you can rest and reenergize.

Personal energy expert Tony Schwartz notes in a New York Times essay, “Human beings aren’t meant to operate like computers—at high speeds, continuously, for long periods. Instead, we’re physiologically designed to pulse, to move rhythmically between spending and renewing energy.”

Drawing on research by sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman, Schwartz explains that our bodies need a break about every 90 minutes. Unfortunately, he says, we override those signals with coffee, sugar and stress hormones.

“In a workday devoid of real breaks, we don’t think as clearly, logically or creatively in the eighth hour as we did in the second,” Schwartz says. “We don’t listen as attentively in the third hour of an endless meeting as we did during the first. Put in too many hours, too continuously, and collateral damage eventually ensues, in the form of disengagement, broken relationships, sickness and a lower quality of work.”

There are many sources for learning more about managing your personal energy, including Schwartz’s 2007 Harvard Business Review article, “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” where he talks about his research with employees at Wachovia Bank. The employees in Schwartz’s control group practiced energy-renewing techniques and performed better in a range metrics, from engagement and personal satisfaction to customer relations and loan production.

Managing your energy starts with eliminating those things in your life that can deplete your energy levels. It isn’t hard to figure out what those are:

Are you working too many hours without any clear boundaries?

Are you getting enough sleep?

Are you eating properly?

Are you exercising?

Do you let too many things worry you?

While you work on removing these energy zappers, you can also begin to rearrange your day to maximize bursts of peak energy and build in time for renewal. Here are a few tips:

  • Make a list of activities that give you energy. Examples might include taking a short walk, sharing ideas with a friend or colleague, listening to music or meditating. Make sure you are doing these every day.
  • Schedule your work so you “sprint” in blocks of 90-120 minutes. Try not to have interruptions during this time so you can totally focus on your work. Do not multi-task during your peak energy times.
  • After each sprint, relax and do one of your energy-renewing activities. Make sure your breaks are long enough. Most people don’t allow themselves nearly enough time to recover.
  • Resist scheduling back-to-back meetings or an impossible travel schedule. Give yourself enough time to unwind, breathe and enjoy yourself.
  • Break down big projects and goals into smaller steps. Reward yourself and your team when milestones are achieved.
  • Stay positive. Learn to avoid or minimize the amount of time spent with individuals who are a drain on your energy. Encourage your employees to bring you solutions, not just problems.
  • Get your family and friends to help you prioritize your time so you can spend quality time with them. Allow them to hold you accountable for your downtime.
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Credit unions are proving to be a smart alternative to banks

sept-oct-tfcuCredit unions are on a roll. In March, I wrote about the gains they’ve made in auto lending (“Credit unions rev up for growth”). In the most recent issue of The Federal Credit Union, I write about their equally impressive progress in the mortgage-lending space (“Credit unions gain ground by focusing on member needs“).

Consumers are catching on that these member-owned institutions are a smart alternative to banks and finance companies. Credit unions are increasing their market share and beating out bigger competitors because they’re in business to serve their members, not make a profit.

As I note in this most recent piece, mortgage lending dipped across the board for all lenders during the housing crisis. But credit union lending rebounded in 2010 and began to increase; lending at other institutions, however, continued to fall and then leveled out.

As a result, credit union mortgage growth rates have outstripped bank mortgage growth rates every year since 2008. Credit union market share grew from 1.9 percent of originations in 2005 to nearly 8 percent in 2015—a fourfold increase in just 10 years!

It’s ironic that at about the same time my mortgage story graced the cover of TFCU, news accounts began surfacing of widespread illegal practices at Wells Fargo Bank. The bank was fined a record $185 million by regulators for secretly opening unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts to boost sales figures. Apparently 2 million sham accounts were opened, and 5,300 employees were fired for ethics violations.

After looking at my article again the other day, I think some of the words carry even more weight in light of the Wells Fargo scandal:

Credit unions were formed to serve the needs of their members, not private investors…Their members-first approach has become a winning formula—superior products and competitive prices, coupled with a high degree of service and loyalty.

If you don’t belong to a credit union, maybe you should. They offer the same products and services you’d get at a large bank but with fewer fees, higher returns on your savings, and lower rates on loans and credit cards. And chances are no one will illegally open an account in your name just to collect a sales commission.

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Start your day in a good mood and get more done

Meditation FaceHow does your day start?

Meditation? Exercise? Reading? Or maybe you have to get the kids ready for school, solve a family crisis or battle traffic.

Arriving at work with a positive attitude isn’t always easy—especially if your day starts with an argument or an accident on the freeway—but there are things you can do to eliminate stress and begin your day in the right frame of mind.

First, it’s important to understand that mood affects productivity. This is especially true with creative endeavors such as writing and design, or in those instances where you interact with customers or work on teams.

A few years ago, researchers Nancy Rothbard and Steffanie Wilk studied the work habits of call center representatives at a Fortune 500 company. The representatives who started the day in a good mood delivered superior results and felt more positive after their calls. Colleagues who arrived in a bad mood suffered a dip in productivity of up to 10 percent.

Writing about their research in The Wall Street Journal, Rothbard noted, “Many organizations wrongly assume that employees dealing with things like stressful commutes or worrisome family problems can simply check their emotions at the door. Most can’t. But there are steps that both employees and employers can take to reset the bad moods that compromise job performance.

“One important way employees can reset a negative mood on their own is by creating a so-called intentional transition. That might mean stopping for a coffee, listening to a favorite piece of music or taking a more scenic route to the office. As our findings show, it’s more than just a feel-good strategy—it can set the stage for making a better impression at work.”

Adds Jo Miller in a Daily Muse post, “A positive mood lifts your brain’s dopamine levels, resulting in improved cognitive performance. So build a mood-lifter into your commute, whether it’s listening to music, calling a friend for a virtual coffee chat, watching an uplifting TED talk or catching a highlight from your favorite late night show, and enjoy the resulting boost in brainpower as you arrive at your desk.”

I have to admit that I am rarely early for an appointment, but I find that when I build extra travel time into my schedule my mood is much better. So another simple strategy is to just leave your house 10 minutes earlier than you normally would for work or a meeting.

Having a mantra—a favorite quote, saying or prayer—that you can say to yourself in stressful situations is helpful, too. A mantra keeps you centered and focused on what is important in your life and helps you recognize and eliminate those things that are distractions.

The interesting thing about Rothbard and Wilk’s research is that employees who started their day in a good mood tended to stay that way throughout the day. They felt better after talking with customers and provided better service on subsequent calls. Unfortunately, those who arrived in a bad mood also tended to stay that way.

Managers and organizations can help facilitate better moods by creating a culture that encourages a positive start to the day. Fairly easy tactics include building in time for socializing at the beginning of the work day, having food available (cookies, for example), holding quick motivational meetings and sending emails that contain positive messages about the company’s goals.

How about you? How do you get yourself or your staff in a positive frame of mind?

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