4 Reasons Why Every Startup Needs to Create Its Own Blog

– Originally published through Voices of The MSU Hatch – 

As an agency-experienced PR student at Michigan State University, I’ve grown to understand and appreciate the many benefits that well-groomed blog content can offer organizations both big and small. In fact, I came up with the idea for this blog channel you are reading now and act as its editor.

It’s rather easy to start a blog — create a new tab on your company’s website or make an account on Medium. However, you’ll need to give people a reason to spend time with your brand, and there’s only one way to actualize this phenomenon: by creating appealing content.

For a startup, blogging comes in many shapes and sizes. But the process begins with determining who your audience includes and thinking critically about the topics they’ll find most intriguing. For example, our blog’s primary audience consists of young entrepreneurs and early-stage startup owners, as well as anyone who’s involved with entrepreneurship at Michigan State. The goal of our blog is to not only provide useful insight and ideas about starting a business, but to tell stories from The Hatch and MSU Entrepreneurship that readers will find interesting. In the end, we want to increase student and alumni involvement in campus entrepreneurship, as well as position our organization as a fresh source of startup-related guidance.

A glimpse of what some of our readers may look like. Pictured are the winners of the 2018 GreenLight Michigan Business Model Competition, hosted by Spartan Innovations. (Photo: John McGraw Photography)

Thought leadership, employee profiles, how-tos, features, company news and updates, opinion pieces, and more are all popular forms of writing that your startup’s blog could embody. Among these, thought leadership is one of the most widely adopted themes. It involves exploring trends throughout the larger industry landscape that your business competes in and providing original insight regarding these attitudes or behaviors. (This blog is considered a thought leadership piece.)

One effective way to shape your content focus is to do some research and explore your competitors’ blogs to discover what they’re writing about.

~ Scroll down to discover an outstanding list of blog post options. ~

Now that you have some sense of where to start when producing compelling blog content, you may be wondering, “Why should I make such an effort in the first place?” Here are four reasons to consider.

1. To Increase Site Traffic and Generate Leads

First and foremost, blogging will increase traffic to your site or other owned page and generate leads and sales opportunities. As a consumer, do you frequently visit a brand’s site unless you’re interested in learning more about the company and what product/service it offers? For most, the answer is no.

A well-written blog can change that.

Although there are plenty of marketing tactics focused on generating leads, very few are more organic than a blog. This kind of content marketing will allow you to capture attention through a distinct avenue and engage individuals using something more unique than boring product information. If readers are intrigued by your writing, they’ll be enticed to browse your site and discover what else is available.

To ensure you reach the right people, however, it’s critical to craft blogs with the interests of your audience in mind.

2. To Shape the Image and Voice of Your Brand

As a startup, differentiating your brand is of the utmost importance.

Entrepreneurs need to do everything in their power to positively position their brand in the mind of a consumer, whether it’s the first or fiftieth impression. This is especially true for a young business attempting to enter a highly competitive industry. By blogging in a consistent and genuine manner, you can shape the image and voice of your company to reflect its ideas and values.

Look at the attitudes that summarize your company’s culture and implement some of these aspects into your blog content. If you’re a more serious, down-to-earth team, your writing should reflect these beliefs. If your team is unconventional and somewhat goofy, don’t be afraid to give readers a sense of the way you collectively think and act.

Lastly, try to focus on subjects that will strengthen and reflect various elements of your mission. Understand the mutual convictions you share with your audience. In addition, make an effort to write in an understandable and friendly manner, and avoid using a lot of generic industry buzzwords as these won’t truly distinguish your ideas.

3. To Demonstrate Industry-Relevant Knowledge and Insight

As I mentioned earlier, thought leadership is one of the most popular blog themes for businesses of all kinds — and for good reason. Demonstrating an attitude of forward-thinking shows that your business is actively exploring the premier trends and next big innovations within your industry. Not only does it reflect in-depth knowledge, it positions your brand as a leader and your blog as a progressive source of information.

Plus, as a young startup owner, developing thought leadership pieces will help you learn more about trends and top-of-mind topics that are shaping your industry. By refining your own perspective on best practices and important shifts, you’ll be prepared to answer tough questions about how your startup is prepared for the future when it comes time to pitch your idea to potential investors or participate in an interview.

To gain a better comprehension of thought leadership content and what it looks like, check out these 10 awesome examples.

4. To Encourage Creativity Among Employees

Although there are plenty of business benefits to blogging, it should always act as a fun, creative outlet where founders and employees alike can express originality and hone their writing skills. Being an entrepreneur or working for a startup can involve many hectic and tedious activities, but taking the time to create a unique piece of writing is a perfect way to remain productive while refocusing energy.

Not only will this help your startup achieve its content goals, employees will feel an enhanced level of satisfaction and creativity. They may even feel inspired to share their work on their own social media.

Furthermore, writing is a powerful skill in business communications. Consistent blogging will significantly advance your writing ability and, therefore, further the success of your startup and your career.

Read more about why writing in business is so important.

It takes time to realize the full potential of your startup’s blog, but remember to enjoy the journey and celebrate symbolic milestones.

Now, get to writing!

~ Over 70 different blog content options to spur your motivation ~

Fast Company and WIRED Offer Top-of-Mind Takes on Tech Trends and PR

Breaking down a Silicon Valley ‘Inside the Newsroom’ event featuring three prominent journalism figures and a discussion about tech, society, PR, and the elements of a great story.

This piece was originally published on the blog Ishmael’s Corner.

Fast-paced business, sky-high valuations, innovation-driven individuals and unlimited opportunity; a few of the ideas that came to mind when I pictured Silicon Valley nearly three months ago before moving here sight unseen. Although I may have relied too heavily on the fantastical experiences of Richard Hendricks and crew to shape my initial beliefs, I was nevertheless attracted to these enterprising qualities as a 22-year-old millennial Michigander who has spent his entire life in a mitten. However, surrounded by a sudden sphere of unfamiliarity, my eyes were quickly opened to a personal yearning for one thing — relationships.

Fitting then that I find myself immersed in a professional field where building relationships is the essence of the job — public relations. Critical to every aspect of our profession, especially at The Hoffman Agency, relationships flow throughout the pipeline — starting with the client and ending with the target audience. But press releases don’t typically serve as a means to the end, so there is a key relationship to be cultivated in between.

I’m referring to PR’s ever-evolving bond/battle with the media, of course. A storied juncture fostered by mutual understanding and effective collaboration, but at times held back by poor communication and a lack of invigorating material. In an ideal world, PR and journalism enable each other to do their best work, and upholding our end of the bargain requires much more than a daydream. To develop a better understanding of the types of client stories that will resonate, we need to consistently interact with editors, journalists and influencers to discover the trends and ideas shaping specific beats and industries.

Recently, several Hoffmanites and I attended an Inside the Newsroom: Media Talk Tech PRSA event focused on hosting this very type of conversation as it relates to technology. After a series of wrong turns, mostly due to my poor directional intuition, we arrived at Highwire PR’s office in San Francisco to listen to James Wilson, managing editor at GamesBeat; Sean Captain, tech editor at Fast Company; and David Pierce, senior staff writer at WIRED, share their thoughts on society and its shifting relationship with media and tech, the foremost tech topics and what elements embody an awesome story.

1. Tech & Society: Inextricably Linked

While I expected that the conversation would eventually shift to the election and President Trump, the panelists began venting their ideas on the subject within a matter of minutes. Whether involving little-hands-turned-big-Twitter-fingers, the Democratic Party email hacking or the facilitation of fake news across the Web, one thing is for certain — technology played a major in role in determining the outcome of one of the most important political competitions in the world. To add some perspective, David said, “WIRED is built off this idea that tech and society are inextricably linked,” an unavoidable truth that seems to grow every day, for better or worse.

Similarly, tech continues to revolutionize the overall media landscape by impacting the ways in which people consume information. David reiterated that the opportunity to connect with people is greater than ever before due to social platforms, video and the expansiveness of the internet in general, but this presents a complex situation.

In one sense, detailed journalism has gained a reinvigorated significance as more and more people feel overwhelmed by confusing news, i.e., anything having to do with the White House. And although statements such as, “Come for the list, stay for the investigative reporting,” contain some truth (Sean admitted he was guilty of this behavior), the panel was in consensus that the public is using widely accessible information to try and figure out what in the world is going on — literally.

Unfortunately, as the opportunity to communicate has grown, so has the amount of misinformation. Fake news and hate speech have emerged to become toxic factors in shaping public opinion, and the panel was adamant about the increasing pressure on Facebook and others to control this phenomenon. Sean summed up this issue by saying, “All platforms facilitate hate speech.” And while no one had a specific answer about what it’s going to take to stop, the point is that its effect is undeniable.

You may be wondering how all of this relates to PR and, to be honest, I think the answer is still unrefined. However, as people increasingly allow the media to shape their opinions, it’s important for PR professionals to recognize our potential impact. After all, our goal is to influence audiences, so we need to ensure that the standard of our storytelling remains high, while prioritizing honesty and credibility in everything we do.

But enough about what may be holding us back; let’s look at what’s pushing us forward.

2. Foremost Tech Topics — The Three A’s & IoT

Somewhat unsurprisingly, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, autonomy and the Internet of Things drove the conversation surrounding hot tech topics. Sean showed particular interest in AI, noting he is keen on the companies and people pushing this machine forward. He also went as far to say, “Every company is an AI company,” using the spell check tool as an example of how some forms of AI may be overlooked.

Meanwhile, David said he was looking forward to diving deeper into IoT and how people will live in a fully connected world. When asked how far away we are from a connected future, he offered an insightfully dim response, saying, “The sad answer is it’s going to be amazing someday, but it’s way further away than we want it to be, and it’s going to be super messy getting there.” Looking at the nearer future, he said that augmented reality will be “the story of the next six months,” singling out Facebook as a leader in the field.

In tech PR, it’s important to understand these overarching trends because they can be used to amplify the relevance of seemingly small advancements, therefore helping to define media relations strategies. David offered an example of something small effectively being connected to a larger trend in the form of Dropbox and its decision to leave AWS in 2016, recalling, “I actually cannot think of anything more boring than Dropbox leaving AWS.” But the author of the piece, Cade Metz, recognized that this supposedly insignificant news contained compelling context and represented the apex of a widespread shift in cloud computing — resulting in an incredible article.

At The Hoffman Agency, I’ve witnessed this approach be successfully deployed time and again, i.e., aligning an announcement with a broader trend, yet keeping the company at the center of the story and attracting coverage. I’ve also seen this type of creativity boost enthusiasm across account teams, helping us to more deeply comprehend how our clients are innovating within certain industries, creating a sort of win-win situation.

3. What Makes a Great Story? + PR’s Role

Finally, to kick off what was the most PR-focused portion of the overall conversation, Sean was quick to remark,

“In general, the best stories aren’t pitched.”

This comment, which elicited some polite laughs and simultaneously debilitated the aspirations of attendees scheming to secure a feature in Fast Company, made for a questionable start. Yet, hope was eventually restored as he began to outline some positive aspects of working alongside PR professionals. He focused on the idea that conversations with instrumental individuals can go a long way in developing a potential story, warm to the offering, “Come in, chat, and see where it goes.” Additionally, he knows PR contacts to be very useful in acting as a helping hand, assisting with requests and providing resources; a relatively dated opinion, to be sure.

David, on the other hand, let the audience dream a little by diving right into the elements which he thinks embody the best kinds of stories. He brought us back to the basic concept of a story, encouraging us to think about the question, “Who is the main character?” Along this line, he understands the worth of the fundamental storytelling arc, noting that conversations where the subject can provide some sort of narrative tension and venture outside of their comfort zone prove to be the most fruitful.

PR-shaming comments or not, the common theme bridging these ideas is that most intriguing, well-rounded stories require more than just hard news. Adding a human element is necessary to provide a genuine narrative. This reminded me of Lou Hoffman’s blog post in which he breaks down the vital importance of sourcing sessions, offering tips on how they can be utilized to unearth the best client-centric content before crafting a potential story pitch. So, if we are to disprove Sean’s opinion regarding the nature of outstanding stories being separate from pitches, re-examining the people involved with a business and gathering distinct background information is an essential first step.

Having never attended an Inside the Newsroom event before, I enjoyed learning from these influential media figures and conversing with them afterwards. An experience much more powerful than, let’s say, following them on Twitter or introducing myself via email. It may sound cliché, but journalists are people too; ones who thoroughly enjoy sharing their ideas and meeting interesting people. In turn, PR professionals need to continue to capitalize on these intimate networking opportunities as they allow us to gain knowledge, differentiate ourselves, and build a foundation for future working relationships.

I know The Hoffman Agency will.

Side Note: A lot can change in a couple of years. Compare current themes at the intersection of PR, tech and media to ideas stemming from a similar PRSA event which took place in 2015.