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The Ongoing Blog Debate

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Most of us, by now, either visit, write or know of at least one blog. Blogs fill the void between websites and social networking by providing an open forum for anyone and everyone to discuss just about any topic that interests them. And that’s how they started – as open forums for the expression of opinions and discussion. With the dynamic nature of a blog’s content, it didn’t take long for search engines to take notice and begin to give blogs the same, if not at times better, rankings than their web counterparts. Of course over-saturation can change any market, and that’s where this blog picks up.

The New York Times recently published an interesting article, “Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter,” examining the relevance of blogs in today’s market. Although the article focuses on blogs in a social context, I consider the data and points to be equally relevant to business blogging. After all, the line between social and business is very thin where the web is considered.

Targeting an audience is one of the biggest steps of marketing, and the divide between age groups is a key component. The article focuses on this, pointing out that blogging on a whole has decreased in the 18-33 age group. One of the main reasons cited was that social networking accomplished what a blog used to in less time and more efficiently. On the flip side, the article pointed out that blogging has increased in the age groups over 33.

Instead of continuing down the data analysis path, I’m interested in looking at the “why” of blogs. Why are blogs created? For businesses, the answers vary, but the desired outcome is the same; to increase internet traffic and attract new customers. Now the bigger question: is it working?

It’s easy to watch the analytics and track the performance of a blog. But the breakdown begins to occur is whether or not those visitations translate into serious potential customers or casually interested passer-by’s. In my professional experience with the blogs I have been a part of creating, maintaining and tracking, I have yet to see a single financial transaction occur on a bog (outside of those with ecommerce components, of course.) So I don’t believe in the potential of blogging, right? Wrong.

Simply put, a blog, on a professional level, is a component of an overall marketing effort, and should be viewed as a method of illustrating the knowledge and expertise that a individual or entity possesses. On top of that, it is also a way to connect a consumer to a business on a more personal level. After all, isn’t that what consumers want – to feel secure in knowing that the product or service they are purchasing is done so through a knowledgeable, reliable, and expert source?

And that’s the key…a business that publishes a blog can’t simply post a few times a month and ignore it. Efforts must be given to stay relevant and personal, which means putting thought into what is written and investing time into comments and feedback. Post snippets of a blog on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Make sure the website links back to the blog. Ensure that the blog is noticed in as many ways as possible. By doing so, over time, a company will begin to see the pieces come together, and their relevancy and potency online increase.

As my own blog comes to an end, I’m forced to look at my own hypocrisy…after all, my last blog entry was back in July, so how good a job am I doing staying relevant and visible?!  But that’s my point; easy and quick is easily forgotten. It’s the efforts we take that define our businesses, so make your time, and words, count.

Dallas Snow: An Exercise in Whitespace

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Yesterday, February 11, 2010 marked a historic day in Dallas / Fort Worth – it was the snowiest day in recorded history for our part of North Texas. I have been a resident of Dallas for just about my entire life, and although we’ve had our share of winter weather, I can’t remember a snowfall like this. By that, I mean the fluffy, crunchy, fresh powder type of snow that I have only experienced in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado on annual family ski trips. We Texans usually receive sleet and freezing rain, or the big fat wet snow that either melts within a day or turns to straight ice overnight.

My point of mentioning that fact is precisely why I write this article. Ice and sleet don’t tend to inspire the creative mind. It messes up traffic, crashes cars, and closes schools, but it doesn’t inspire. This…this 12.5 inches of crunchy, fluffy, marshmallowy white snow that we are experiencing…takes me on a dorky artistic adventure that I just have to share.

Tonka DogLast night, at around 10:00pm, I was out walking my black lab, Tonka. A light flurry of snow was still dusting the neighborhood, and his antelope leaps and my Sasquatch steps (my size 12 boots leave quite an imprint) were making the first tracks in most of the places we travelled. Our neighborhood has large sections of empty land scattered throughout, so fields of fresh snow were easy finds. And we took full advantage.

And as we were walking / bouncing, I began to take note of all the changes in the scenery – more so all of the scenery that was seemingly erased. 12.5 inches of snow can do that to well-manicured lawns and sporadic trees, especially in a place as flat as Texas. It’s literally like that old Daffy Duck cartoon where the artist begins to erase and redraw Daffy, each time with a different outcome.

Then I began to think about design, and the single word that polarizes most designers: whitespace. It is either the bane of a designer’s existence, or their lifeline. Rarely, if ever, is it treated with apathy. No, whitespace is a hot topic, and not one that I wish to draw a line on in this blog entry. There just isn’t enough time.

What I can say is this: whitespace, as an artistic notion, can hold something very powerful for us designers. It is easy for us to get static in our work – the demands of the modern advertising world require quick thinking, light switch creativity, and immediate results. So there usually isn’t much room to experiment, play, or simply sketch. But when it comes time to experiment, to create something new, it can be a challenge. And that’s when whitespace, and snow, have something in common.

snow-ccovered-treeTake a tree, for example. A tree with leaves, or without, is still a tree. But cover it in snow, and somehow it becomes so much more. In certain lights, it becomes a striking example of positive versus negative space – a sketch artist’s core exercise. And then there are the snow-covered houses, with stark white roofs and sidewalks that blend with the grass. All of the sudden the architectural lines become more pronounced; the contrast of brick, stone, glass and wood. You get the picture.

So where am I going with this? Simple: as designers, sometimes it is necessary to erase what we know. Take preconceived notions, and throw them out the proverbial window. Much like the neighborhood I live in, and the path I walk every night with Tonka, my voice and approach as a designer can get caught up in the dangerous spiral of comfort and safety. And before I know it, I am producing the same thing over and over, without even realizing it.

How do we just erase what we know, you ask? Well, that’s a question I can’t answer right now. Every designer is different. Much like our creative process, there is no right or wrong answer. The point, though, is to try. Don’t get comfortable for too long. An artistic voice is nothing to be ashamed of. But creative complacency is. It is our jobs, as designers, to keep our ideas fresh. Challenge ourselves to do more, learn more, experience more. And in so doing, we will be benefiting not only ourselves, but our clients and fellow artists alike.

So as I sit here and look out the window at a Dallas I wasn’t sure I’d ever see, I am inspired. Inspired by something so simple as frozen rain, something that northern residents of our country see more than they may like to. But for me, for us Texans, it’s magical. And although I’ll be sad to see it go, I’ve learned something that will hopefully energize a new idea or approach that I may never have tried before.

©2010 Bryan Lester