2011 marks my eighth year of blogging. In that time I’ve logged over 2500 blog posts, acquired around 143,000 subscribers and had this blog named by the likes of Forbes magazine as their favorite for both marketing and small business.
If this asset has delivered any measure of success I can tell you that the primary reason is that in that same time I’ve also read some or all of approximately 120,000 blog posts written by others.
I’ve stated repeatedly that anyone that wants to start a blog, get better at blogging or make their blog a serious marketing tool for their business must first and foremost get very good at reading blogs.
Why I devour blogs
Learn how to blog – Any writing course you’ll ever take will tell you that great writers read a ton. Reading how others blog, what they blog about and even how they interact with their community is an essential step for anyone that is serious about using this tool. I get countless ideas for ways to say things and cover ideas that might never bubble up without reading other blogs. I get ideas for what software to use, what plugins work well and how to promote and display content in ways that make it more valuable to readers.
Keep up on competitors and customers – Every business should be keeping tabs on what their competitors and customers are saying and doing and increasingly this includes following their blog posts. Even a casual scan of what’s on the minds of customers and competitors via blog posts will make relationship building and selling, or outselling, a more informed activity. I would take this a step further and suggest that if you’ve been successful at launching and maintaining a blog you should offer to show your customers how to do the same, no matter what industry you’re in – help them use this tool more effectively and everyone wins.
Get smarter about your industry – You’ve probably already discovered that it’s a good idea to commit to learning what’s going on in your specific industry as a bit of a survival and competitive play. Blog reading is one of the easiest ways to do this in near real time. You may still choose to wait for you association magazine each month, but making a daily habit of getting the news and insights of industry players is just plain smart.
Get smarter about any industry – Sometimes your business selling efforts will take you into serving clients in industries you know little about. One of the fastest ways to get really smart about a customer or prospect’s business is to create a quick list of blogs in their industry and start scanning them for news and information. Sharing this content with them might also prove valuable and eye opening.
Keep tabs on what’s new – A lot of people that read my blog state that I am bit like their R and D department in that I filter and share the things coming down the road that they might need to pay attention to and make it easier for them to ignore the noise and focus on what’s important. I spend a great deal of time filtering, aggregating and even curating the content I read on blogs in order to do this.
How I devour blogs
Find blogs that make sense – The first step to getting really good at using this approach is to find blogs that you should be reading. You can do this by searching for industry related blogs using Google Blog Search, Technorati or an industry and topic aggregator like Alltop. This is a good start, but none of these services are perfect and you will want to take your time and seek out your own list as well. And don’t forget to find the blogs written by journalists that cover your industry as well.
Use an RSS reader – Once you find blogs worthy of your attention you need to make it easy to check up on them. An RSS reader is a tool that allows you to subscribe to a blog’s RSS feed and then read all the new content from all the blogs you follow in one place. I’ve used Google Reader for years for this as it does a fine job and it’s free. Make sure you use the folder feature that allows you to create and group blogs based on subject. That way you can create groups for journalists, customers, competitors and other topics for quicker scanning.
Consume with tools – While Google Reader is a great tool for the basic plumbing of RSS reading I add a layer on top that makes my reading better organized, more visual more easily interacted with in ways that suit my marketing objectives. My tool of choice for this is app call Reeder. I do most of my feed reading these days on an iPhone or iPad and Reeder is a thing of beauty. It syncs my reading and has an incredible list of ways for me to share and interact with posts from within the app. I can send a link, tag to delicious, email the post, tweet and share on Google Reader all from within the post I’m viewing. Reeder is a Mac tool, but PC users might like Feedly, an online app that has some of this same functionality.
Put the content to work – The last step is to thing about ways to get some additional mileage from your reading habit. As stated in the last point, I often tweet great content I find because my followers like that I find and share good stuff with them. I’ll bookmark certain posts in delicious or pinboard and use the content for future blog posts. I tag content in delicious and use the custom RSS feed each unique tag creates to make custom news feeds and display them on web pages using Feedburner’s Buzz Boost. (Here’s an example of a page using this RSS technique from mentions on the web of my book The Referral Engine)
So, time to get out there and make or up your blog reading habit.
Any tools that you’ve found that make this even easier?