Review: Born to Blog by Mark W. Schaefer and Stanford A. Smith

Born to Blog

Any book that comes with a tagline from Copyblogger Media’s CEO, Brian Clark, is a book worth picking up for a Social Penguin:

“This book shows how anyone can harness the power of blogging to create irresistible content”

So when I was offered the opportunity to read and review Born to Blog by McGraw-Hill Books, I welcomed it with open arms. Authors Mark W. Schaefer and Stanford A. Smith are well placed to be giving advice on the subject, with two great blogs under their respective belts, {grow} and Pushing Social. Not to mention Schaefer’s success with The Tao of Twitter and Return on Influence – these guys know what they’re talking about.

The book takes the reader on a journey of discovery, starting with the question: were you born to blog? Spoiler alert – you were. Apparently we all fit into five blogging specialities: storytelling, dreaming, persuading teaching or curating. We’re taken through each skill, shown examples and told stories. With three years of research behind the book, including 500 blogs and interviews with over 150 bloggers, I know I can trust this book. Then a sentence like this kind of makes me doubt that:

“A person who cannot dream will die”

Whoa! That seems a bit tough to back up – how many people have died from ‘an inability to dream’?

There’s then a handy quiz, where you score a number of statements about each skill out of five, to determine where your strengths lie. I was a bit dismayed when my top score was 13, since “Areas where you scored 16 or higher indicate a strong preference for that skill.”

The book uses a lot of great sources, like Larry Weber’s Marketing to the Social Web and and The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. But there’s also a lot of plugging for Schaefer and Smith’s own work, and – surely not – a story backed up by Wikipedia? That’s a pet hate of mine left over from my days at university. As a crowd-sourced site, it’s not the most reliable reference.

But then I started to think, maybe I’m expecting too much of these guys. As chapter two tells us, writing and blogging are very different beasts, and these guys are definitely great bloggers. Personally, I always struggled with writing until I discovered the beautiful, unrestricted world of blogging.

And that’s how the book is written. It’s a book about blogging, by bloggers, in the style of a blog (how many times can I fit ‘blog’ in a sentence?) And online, Wikipedia is a perfectly solid reference, and you need to plug your own work – in fact, it’s expected.

Born to Blog addresses familiar blogging issues, from what kind of content you should be posting, how to get up and running, how to keep momentum, why you should blog as a business (which Emperor Penguin Mike covered recently here), and how you should blog as an individual. There’s even a chapter on monetising your blog – kaching!

My favourite bit is Chapter 12: The Minimum Viable Blog. A minimum viable blog (MVB, a la Eric Ries’s minimum viable product) strips all the complication from getting a blog started. All too often, businesses and individuals spend too long in the planning stages, and let the blog get too convoluted before it’s even off the ground. Schaefer and Smith’s advice? Just do it. Just get out there with a soft launch, and make tweaks and changes according to what’s working and what isn’t.

It’s a great book for novices, or the blogger who’s hit a plateau; and there are some great tips and advice in there for the experts too. As they say, “blogging is simple” – and it certainly seems so after reading this book.

You can buy Born To Blog here (affiliate link).

Will you be buying the book? Leave a comment or tweet Dave the Penguin @social_penguin, and let us know what you think.

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Friday Freak Out – Review Sites Are Ruining Customer Service

Mike had little to rant about this week (shock!) so our pal Rob decided to vent instead. Enjoy!

Rob drew this.

I have good reason for saying this. Review sites are a great resource for customer decision making. I use them myself when finding places to check out. They have also, however, become a forum for passive-aggressive criticism. Many of the complaints you see on these sites could easily have been resolved if customers would simply grow a pair and say “Excuse me, waiter, my soup is cold” or “Hello manager-type person, I received poor customer service and I’m unhappy about it.”

Instead, people put their head down, stew over what made them unhappy, and write a scathing review on a website later. There are two severe problems with this.

1. The perceived anonymity of writing online reviews (without a person’s face to look into) allows people to say things they’d likely never say if they were addressing their complaints to a real person. This makes the reviews much worse and the situation often blown out of proportion.

2. Many owners/managers/etc simply do not have time to keep up with online reviews, so the complaints either go unaddressed or the company is in a perpetual state of damage control. This mars a company’s reputation with something that could have easily been corrected on the spot.

Self-centered foodies and wannabe food critics aside (there’s no pleasing you guys anyway), if there’s an issue with a business, give them a chance to fix it. If they don’t, then take your review to the people of the world and rant away.

We know this post could hit a few buttons! Did it hit yours? Leave a comment and tell us whether you agree, disagree or would like to leave us a cheeky review! 

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How to Deal With Online Reviews

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Let’s face it, online reviews are a staple now. Often times, if you Google a storefront business, apartment rental company, or service industry company, the first page is bound to turn up review results. Be it from Google Places, Yelp, Apartment Ratings or others, people are taking the recommendations of others to judge your business. What previously would have been only local word of mouth is now quite possibly the first thing prospective customers will see representing your business. If someone searches “Your business name reviews,” it is highly likely that the reviews will even show up before your own website’s listing in the results, depending on the depth of your SEO. If you fall into the category of a company that has a customer base of raving fans, this will certainly only help you. If you are a company that has inadvertently provided poor experiences to some very vocal customers, this could potentially stave off new customers, even if those few instances do not reflect the typical experience of your customers. So what do you do? You make your presence known and join in that conversation! Let’s talk tips on responding to online reviews. The slow, painful decline from red to yellow: 

Responding to bad reviews

Don’t over react! How you handle bad reviews and criticism is crucial, but is also the toughest part. Someone is criticizing your life’s work, your passion, your well-thought business practices, and that can hurt. You can NOT, however, get into a screaming match online. If you can’t step back and look at the situation objectively, get someone else to handle the responses for you. This is especially important if the response has to be public (which is the case for all Google Places reviews and some user-designated Yelp reviews). Arguing online never gets anyone to a better place, EVER. You WILL indefinitely come out looking like the bad guy. Remember, people are checking these reviews because they aren’t familiar with your business, and they will inevitably side with other customers. Humble yourself, thank the customer for visiting and reviewing, and try to reel them back in. With the ability to post reviews via mobile devices, they may have hastily posted a review in the heat of the moment. Perhaps with some reflection and your calm response, they may change or remove their review entirely. Even if they don’t, you’ve shown that you care enough to make the effort, and that goes a long way in the eyes of someone who knows nothing about your business.

Responding to good reviews

Don’t ignore them! Sure, you may be thinking, “It’s already good, why do I need to do anything else?” This is where many business owners go wrong. These good reviewers are your fan club, your brand advocates, and they ought to be commended. They didn’t have to go online and tell everyone how great of an experience they had. In fact, many people don’t. Many simply expect to have good experiences and don’t feel the need to boast about them. So few businesses respond to good reviews that people are shocked when you do. Literally. I’ve seen so many people come back with “Wow. It’s so awesome to see a business owner who actually cares what people think. I’ll definitely be back now!” And that, my friends, is good old fashioned loyalty. Most reviewers just want to be heard, so stroke that ego a little. It can pay off.


Don’t make it your first line of defense! Often times, the knee jerk reaction to bad reviews is to give something for free. I say don’t do this unless you absolutely have to. Refer back to two things I just mentioned.

1. People sometimes write reviews in the heat of the moment.

2. People often just want to be heard.

Responding to a negative review and asking the customer to give you another opportunity to WOW them can sometimes be enough to encourage another chance. Feel customers out. After an initial response, if they are still hesitant, then perhaps offer something. However, if in their review they specifically state that they would never come back to this establishment or never do business with you again, you may try upping the ante right off the bat. Most importantly, ask the customer to revise their review to reflect their new experience if they do in fact give you a second chance.

Working with Yelp’s filtering system

It’s like trying to find sasquatch riding a unicorn over a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’ve yet to meet anyone who completely understands the secret sauce to Yelp’s filtration system. Some reviews that get filtered are obvious. Things like “posted by the business owner” or “violates terms” make sense. Sometimes, however, completely legitimate reviews from completely legitimate customers get filtered, and it sometimes seems the reason is lack of engagement with Yelp itself. There’s a great article here that offers up some tips on ways to potentially get around Yelp’s system and get some of the good reviews to be unfiltered. The thing about filtered reviews is that they don’t count toward your overall rating. If you have 2 good reviews and 10 terrible reviews showing up, with 8 more good reviews filtered, your rating is awful, even though you have 8 completely legitimate customers who gave you great reviews.

The most important part is that you are engaging with your customers and being part of the conversation. Be sure that you’ve claimed your business on Yelp and Google Places, engage users online and encourage those that visit you or use your services to give you a review. People are going to talk about your business, so you might as well be part of the conversation. The downside is that this can be very time consuming. At Main Street Hub, we can help you with online reviews and work to get your online reputation back to where it belongs by responding to reviews and working to help you get filtered reviews to show up. This is just one of the services that we offer. Check out our website for more information. Right now, U.S businesses only.

What are your experiences with online reviews? Any horror or success stories? Anything else you’d add to the list above? Chime in below!

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Is Amen The Future of Consumer Opinion Gathering? (Apps)

Take a look at Twitter at any given moment and you will see vast amounts of people sharing their opinions on everything from the latest celeb gossip, to the pizza they’ve just eaten. This is all well and good, but it can be hard to pull this opinion together and also to gauge the reaction from others to said opinion. Well, a new iPhone app called Amen may well be the answer. Amen works on a very simple premise – it allows you to give an opinion on anything and share it with other Amen users and of course, key social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Once an opinion has been posted, the community can then ‘Amen’ (endorse) the opinion or give it a big fat ‘Hell No!’ if they believe the opinion to be wrong. If the user contests the opinion, they can also suggest an alternative.

Looking Good!

The mechanics of this application are very simple and this is augmented by a pretty sexy (yes, I said sexy!) interface:

Starting the opinion giving process...

The app will search for possible for entries for each of the sections you have to fill in, however, if it doesn’t find anything, you can add your own:

Our biased opinion of course!

Once you have created your opinion, it’s very easy to share it with your peeps over on Facebook and Twitter. Browsing and inputting to other people’s opinions is a simple and enjoyable:

Users can add photos to their opinions too.

A Potential Opportunity/Threat for Brands?

Amen is in its early stages, however with peer recommendations being such an important factor in the consumer decision process, apps like this may well play a part in the consideration process for an eager consumer. I wonder if Amen may start to use the data from within the app to create charts of the products, services etc that are getting the most positive (and negative!) feedback? One to watch for sure!

Are you using Amen? Enjoying the experience?

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Friday Freak Out – The Stupidity of Brands Like Claire’s

As larger brands and business get more involved with social media marketing, I’m starting to notice a theme: big names making some big PR mistakes.

The latest example of poor social behaviour is Claire’s Accessories. The fashion accessories chain was recently called out by Tatty Devine for its blatant plagiarism of several of their designs. So far, Claire’s has yet to officially respond to the accusation but that hasn’t stopped scores of tweeters, facebookers and the like to unleash a swarm of unfriendly comments on the matter. So much so, that Claire’s is now a trending topic. So, how has Claire’s reacted to the sudden attention of consumers everywhere? By deleting all negative comments and burying their head in the sand. Big mistake, Claire’s!

Word to the wise – social media is a two-way medium, so either get with it or get off it!

This comment was deleted a few minutes later

Do brands and businesses really think that they can receive all the benefit of social media marketing without needing to be held accountable? Social media is an amazing forum for staying in tune with your customers but it also gives those customers significantly more involvement in the way your business is viewed. Brands that ignore this really need to get a grip! All plagiarism issues aside, here is what Claire’s need to do today:

Be honest

There is a problem. They know it; we know it, so there’s no point in pretending it doesn’t exist. Be honest and at least say that you’re looking into it.

Speak up

Instead of trying to silence your customers, use your voice to address their concerns.

Say you’re sorry!

You were wrong to rip off the designs. You were wrong to not immediately respond to the issue. You were wrong to try and control negative comments on public forums. I think at this point, an apology is more than appropriate.

Save face

Now that we’re clear there is problem, you’re talking about it and you’ve apologised, tell me what you’re going to do to fix it. This is your chance to recover your public image. Make the most of it!

Do you have a take on Claire’s response? How would you handle this situation? Please add your comments and get in on the debate!

Stay tuned for more Friday Freak Outs!

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