The blogging contest that almost killed my Christmas

I recently competed in an international blogging contest in Dec 2009.  Truth be told… by entering an international blogging contest during year end with the Community Marketing Blog – called Blog Off II or #blogoff ,  I wasn’t aiming for gold so much as I wanted to gain greater insight into what makes for a better blog and how people would determine a best of breed blogger.   And as  I’ve never blogged as a competitive sport,  I did gain a lot of great learning on what to put in a blog post, blog title to maximize readership and interaction.

I submitted four original stories in twelve days, all well researched, carefully crafted posts.  And spent other days just reading the mass blog posting from other contestants, relishing in quality content.  I was judged to be among the top ten bloggers at contest end though I am always skeptical on measurement.  The contest held in twelve days in December seriously threatened my ability to shop before Christmas but it was important for me. With today’s focus on social networking, I find the very powerful world of blogging somewhat neglected.  I wanted to advance my skills here and blogging in an international contest was just the ticket.

The contest itself had an impressive setup – 25 approved candidates, six countries all using Typepad (oh god.. not my choice publisher) and supported by 1 official writer (Conrad Hall from Technorati) and the caveat that some blog posts would make it to the Huffington Post for publishing during the contest.

I captured a number of lessons worthy of sharing here:

1. Blogging is definitely a competitive sport – title choice, image use, linking, seeding has become more intensive, more commercial that I  realized.  My blogging experience is in personal blogs since 2006 and corporate blogs since 2007, aimed at mostly post purchase customers.  Both environments are not competitive per se.  But with the noise of the blogosphere, blog posts are fighting hard with National Enquirer title ferocity.

I gained this insight with my first post called Sex, Statistics and Social Media – a cheeky jest because I know from that popular tags can result in a lot of enduring traffic (not necessarily quality traffic) but this was more of a jest.  Jesting was perhaps inappropriate but I was trying to figure out how to compete when my focus in social media has been on collaboration.   Fortunate for me I received some quality comments from Conrad Hall, a professional writer and technorati writer.

“You can quickly give this article added interest and value by showing readers 2 or 3 ways for managing the time they spend on social media. Thanks Laurie. You have a good post with a solid foundation. Looking at it from the reader’s perspective – what’s in it for them – will make it stronger.” he opines

I countered that I don’t always want to suggest the 10 ways to improve something.. as I get quite sick of commercialized tweets and posts.   And so Conrad responded with a beautiful blog post demonstrating what he was suggesting in his comments.  The title?  On social media, prostitution and bartending.

Which leads to lesson no. 2. Groom the post for those who enter the site by the site door – directly to the post itself and not the blog.  [This is an important web design strategy as well as side door entry is prominent for well connected or linked content]

I really liked Conrad Hall’s personalized photo and short bio in the closing.  A great idea for a multiple author blog.

3.  Your blog post is easily buried and fast.

I worked hard on creating original content for my second post – Keeping the Personal Private. using Facebook Limited Profiles Upon posting it, another contestant added EIGHT consecutive posts.  The contest had a maximum of 12 post entries but no mention of adding eight posts in a row.  I was mildly tiffed at what couldn’t have been original, on the spot created eight posts but then – how is this not like real life?   Of course a day later Facebook announced new privacy rules which dominated the blogsphere on my tags.   I did get a number of great comments.. Ah this is real life.

4.  To spam or not to spam in efforts of securing greater traffic & comments in a contest.

One of the key metrics in evaluating bloggers was the amount of traffic and engagement -as measured by visits and comments – a post generated.   In my mindseye – I saw this as the clever use a tagging, digging, linking, tweeting to broaden the blog post touchpoints.  What I didn’t realize was how much other bloggers would rely on their personal networks to jam up their own posts with comments and traffic.

I’m rather opposed to spamming my network – linkedin, twitter, facebook – with explicit requests to comment on a blog due to a contest.  I value my network greatly and though I announced being in a contest and then tweets my blog posts, I didn’t spam my network.   I just was very nervous about making a request that would affect my fans, friends, followers.  And I wanted to reserve my assertive requests for charitable interests.   So when I received the following linkedin message from one of the winners of the contest, I started to debate blog post measurement.

HERE IS THE LAST BLOG….PLEASE VIEW AND POST A COMMENT BEFORE TOMORROW. THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH!

http://www.communitymarketing.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/12/therranoliphantandtimruffner.html

I also would ask that you forward this message to anyone that you can think of, as of now I think I am still in 3rd place. You know how competitive I am and I really would love to win this contest it will certainly help my career and status in my field. I have already been asked to do seminars and workshops both in regards to Product Development and also Advertising/Marketing so all the help you have done for me already has brought me to a whole new level and for that I cannot thank you enough. Once again THANK YOU. If you have any social media Follow Me the links are under my signature line!

Importantly, these are not new thoughts.  I shared these thoughts with my fellow contestants, including the one above, and we had a lively debate which managed to move the needle on my skepticism dial a bit.  {not all the way but the needle did move].

Andrew Ballenthin, the organizer of this blogging contest, discussed active vs passive loyalty of people’s networks.  He considered the open solicitation for network loyalty (action) as a desirable action.  That this comment/traffic spike is something natural expected from bloggers.  Certainly, if one looks at the top ten retweets words – you will find ‘my blog post’ as one of them.  Andrew carries and important message here.

I did debate whether or not spike traffic would be sustainable traffic – likely not if there is little value in the spike.  Nonetheless, Andrew put a lot of time into considering the angles I put forth and came up with a recipe on measuring bloggers and their posts tactics should be evaluated.

5. It must be nearly impossible to control for a contest in a blogging environment. [ or anything goes..]

Okay so during the actual contest, Conrad promoted several blog posts and a specific blogger .   I challenged this in the comments:

I can’t help wondering how traffic can be used objectively as a measure of success in this contest when this post is now promoting some posts and not others. I say this more out of curiosity than anything else – given my nod to other deserving posts. – Laurie

and it sparked a very good debate with Conrad and Sam, one of the winning bloggers, on blogging metrics – which I’d recommend people to read the comments.

At heavy risk of sounding like a sore loser here and god, who wants to pick a fight with someone as eloquent and sharp witted as Conrad, the professional writer – I don’t really get the promotion of blog posts during the contest by a judge of the contest, during the contest.  More importantly, I think it very important to debate metrics – to make sure what measured truly matters.

6. There is wonderful community found in competition

I’ve made some wonderful contacts and blogging among some greats who do, in all their deserved colours of the win, get traffic that shames a website.  I enjoyed the contest and look forward to seeing Andrew Ballenthin and his Community Marketing Blog release a third contest.

Incidentily – my third and fourth posts were

Six visualization sources you should know about

Using twitter? Then you’d better understand the twitter list.

Laurie Dillon-Schalk is the Chief Marketing Strategist and founder of Social Wisdom – a Toronto based digital marketing agency that helps firms and individuals use social media and the web wisely.

You can find Laurie on Twitter at twitter.com/Ldillonschalk or on her blog at Socialwisdom.ca

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3 thoughts on “The blogging contest that almost killed my Christmas

  1. Conrad Hall

    Hi Laurie,

    Thank you for the ping-back, and a well written article. I think you’ve captured #blogoff2 in all its glory and with its warts.

    There is one – and only one – correction to be made. I participated in #blogoff2 as a sponsor rather than as a judge. It was also intended for me to serve a second function as a coach, but that changed quickly.

    After the post you mentioned where I gave coaching comments and used one of the contestants as an example, other sponsors made forays into providing the same sort of feedback. Since this was something we were not prepared for, all coaching and commenting from sponsors had to stop.

    Andrew was well prepared to track my comments and links. Subtracting the impact I would have on traffic would have been a fairly simple matter. Subtracting the impact of several people would have been a daunting task to say the least. For future Blog Off Competitions, we’ll make sure the other sponsors are clear that only one person is in a coaching role.

    I’ll also be using bit.ly for all my links in the future. They’re tracking of stats is hugely valuable for a situation like this.

    Laurie, the LI message you received is a perfect exmaple of crossing the line. You are quite right to disagree with that action.

    Yes, I think it’s acceptable to contact people with whom you have a relationship and ask for their support. I think it is wrong – yes, wrong – to directly ask for support based on wanting to win.

    It’s a more pointed infraction when you’re asking someone against whom you’re competing.

    By all means, tell people you are competing. Ask them to read your post and leave a comment. That’s all you need to do.

    When you include a “hey, I want to win” component with your request, you’re short changing yourself. Now you’ll never know if your friends left a comment because you had a good post.

    All you know for certain is that you asked for a comment and got it.

    Laurie, I admire your honesty and candor. I’m also glad to see you’ll be around for #blogoff3. Your character, honesty and observations are essential to growing and improving the Blog Off Competitions.

    Thank you, Laurie.

    Sincerely,
    Conrad Hall

  2. twinpower Post author

    Conrad – thank you so much for your comment and pointing out that you were a sponsor, not judge. I wasn’t aware of other sponsor coaching – and interesting situation indeed. My greatest learning came from our online commenting debates (including Sam) which makes me feel like I achieved my learning objectives. Thanks for your part in this.

    Too bad you couldn’t make it to the post-contestant meet up – I would have liked to compare notes. Maybe another time?

    I did some work for Capital C this past fall and had the delight of meeting the creative director who helped architect Nissan’s cube contest. As you may or may not know – the cube contest received quite a lot of attention for how it was judged etc. (to find this google controversy cubed article in marketing magazine). This and blogoff2 leaves me to expect online social contests are wonderful complex and need heavy day to day management. All of which makes Andrew B good value now as he will have completed two major blogging contests now. I see a reality show coming – survivor blogger!

    I agree the solicitation for support is a delicate balance. I think this is where my opinion has changed from black & white to grey – that asking people to read a post is required today to break through. How that is done can be contentious as we’ve seen above.

    Thanks again for the comments. Hope we can share a java at some point.
    Laurie.

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