Review of Problogger’s Guide To Blogging For Your Business
Before looking at the book, written by Mark Hayward, in detail, it’s worth pointing out what the book is, and is not. It is, as the title implies, concerned with blogging in order to promote your business. It is not about blogging as a business in itself. It’s an important distinction, not least because once we take money out of the equation then “business” can be used as shorthand for any type of enterprise, including a charity, a cause – and a school.
The book is written in a style which is friendly without being patronising, and without appearing to try too hard to be the jovial host of the party, as it were. The structure of the book is well-considered too. Each chapter explains what you have to do or think about, and then leads on to a tutorial in which you have to to put your new-found knowledge into practice. It’s a good approach, although now and again it seems a little laboured and repetitive of the chapter itself.
I’ve read or browsed through quite a few books on this subject, and this one stands out in a few important respects. For example, it considers the issue of whether your blog should be separate from your website, or one and the same. Now, that may sound like a piece of trivia but it’s actually an important business decision. A website is a place to go for information that doesn’t change or need to change too often, such as what the business is about, or an online catalogue. A blog, on the other hand, really should be updated regularly, and preferably frequently, to keep people coming back. In other words, it is not immediately obvious how one should go about squaring this particular circle. I was both pleased and relieved to learn that, in keeping the ICT in Education website and blog as one entity, I made the right decision for my business!
How might this be applied in a school context? Well, if you are wondering whether you should have a school blog, a school website, or some combination of the two, this book should help you make the right decision for you.
Hayward also looks at how to use Google’s Keyword tool, and makes it sound easy and straightforward. Which it is, but some writers seem to delight in making it appear like rocket science (possibly because that’s how they earn their living? Oh such cynicism in one so young!).
There is a lot of good, practical advice scattered throughout the text. For example, you’re advised to look out for discounts on domain names. Now, that may sound obvious, but to the uninitiated even just the mention of the term “domain name” can cause the onset of a cold sweat. It’s very easy to pay over the odds for a domain name because you’re too frightened to look for bargains. Fortunately, there are a few suggestions for reputable web hosting companies, and inexpensive domain name sellers, so the reader is not left entirely on her own. Oh, and that’s another thing: there are several useful links sprinkled throughout the book. This section may not be relevant to every school, but if you are looking to use a special domain name for your school then this book does a good job of demystifying the process.
If you are convinced of the need to blog but are not sure what to blog about, you don’t have to look too far to glean some ideas. Hayward has provided 52 topic suggestions, including “Draft a helpful post or tutorial specifically to help others in your industry”, “What are ten ways money donated to your non-profit is spent?” and “Describe any improvements or upgrades you have made to your business”. You can see immediately how these ideas could be adapted for a school blog, although not all of the suggestions will be useful. However, 52 suggestions outnumber the 7 things to blog about back in school I suggested a while ago. There is also a simple mind map to help you generate more ideas of your own.
I do have a couple of niggles, though. The biggest one is the devotion of two chapters to Wordpress. Now, for all I know, Wordpress may be the most popular blogging platform. It may even be the best, according to some criteria yet to be revealed to me. However, there are other platforms out there, and in my opinion it would have been far better for the author to have provided a list of links to books or online tutorials concerning blogging with all the widely-used platforms available.
Apart from anything else, that would have left him room him to do something about my other criticism, which is the absence of exemplars for some types of blog post. For example, I for one would find it hard, despite years of practice, to write a blog post on the topic of “What makes your business different?” without making it sound like an advertisement. OK, I tell a lie: I could write an engaging article along those lines, but it’s not easy. Given that this book is aimed at people who are new to blogging for business, I should have thought some guidance on this would not come amiss. I have to say, though, that I think this sort of idea might work better in an educational context. A post entitled “What makes our school different?” sounds slightly less potentially obnoxious to me (but only slightly!).
Similarly with “Why do you love doing what you do?”. How do you overcome the sense of “why on earth would anyone be interested?”, and then how would you write about that in a way which didn’t sound hopelessly self-centred?
In fairness, Hayward does come up with some reasons that such posts may be worth penning, such as :
“People love to read about other people.”
Even if you accept that sort of statement (I don’t necessarily), it doesn’t help you actually write the darn thing: knowing that others find it hard to write about themselves does little to help me write about myself.
Here again, though, this sort of thing would work well in an educational context. A series of blog posts by teachers along the lines of “Why I love teaching history” and so on could be incredibly inspiring, not just to potential pupils but also currently enrolled pupils and potential staff.
On the whole, there is far more in the book to like than to dislike, and I have found myself coming back to it several times to look up the odd thing or to gain some inspiration and ideas. It wasn’t written specifically for the education market, so not all of the suggestions will be able to be used out of the box, as it were, and you would need to try and adapt them. The price is $49.99 USD. However, if you buy it and decide it isn’t for you, there is a 30 day money back guarantee, so you have nothing to lose by purchasing it. Definitely one for the virtual bookshelf.
This review first appeared in Computers in Classrooms, the free e-newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT. Please also see the review on the Writers’ Know-how website for a slightly different perspective.