Monday, August 3, 2009

Book Blogs and Branding

A few days ago I read this article online, about the importance of building a personal brand for yourself (and your business, if you have one) online, to create a consistent online presence, market your product or service and make a name for yourself in the online world.

I started thinking about how the idea of personal branding might apply to blogging in general, and book blogging particular. We all choose a particular way to present ourselves online, through our blog layout and color scheme, the choice to use or not use custom graphics and how or if we use those graphics and color scheme on other social networking platforms like Facebook or Twitter. We also make decisions about how to represent the content we create; some bloggers let it be known that they specialize in certain kinds of books, like young adult or faith-based (whatever that faith may be) or science fiction or romance or whatnot.

My own blog branding grew slowly over time; when I started my blog, it had a different name, a Blogspot URL and a generic layout. Soon after I started I realized I needed a better name than the one I started with, so I changed it and decided to buy a domain name and with it a matching email address, so I could start to develop that consistent, branded presence. After that came the long search for graphics that suited my vision of the blog. I wanted something snappy and (somewhat) cool, something that wasn't on every other blog. I spent a long time searching for templates, then searching for someone who could make a template for me, then finally ended up doing the DIY thing and buying a license for pre-made artwork which I could customize.

After I got the look of the blog down I had to figure out how to promote it better, and started doing memes and getting involved with other online tools, starting with MySpace and going from there. Meanwhile I continued to write and post (even though for a long time I was the only person reading) and work on figuring out my blog's identity. The license I have for the logo artwork allows me to use it on business cards and other promotional items, so I've been able to use my online identity off-line as well. And of course it's always evolving, as long as online trends come and go and today's essential tool ends becomes tomorrow's has-been.

Now as I approach two years of book blogging this month, I'm trying to figure out where to go from here, and I'm wondering what you all are doing to build and promote your personal brand- or if you think it's even necessary, given your own goals and reasons for blogging. I know we all blog about books because we love to read, but what are some other reasons- what else keeps you going, and how do you work towards meeting those goals? Is your blog your business card? Your resume? Your calling card to friends and family?

My family doesn't read my blog (as far as I know) so mine has evolved into a combination of personal hobby and professional calling card. I'm constantly trying to figure out if it's more personal or more professional. On one hand, I review pretty much everything I read, which makes it more personal- I'm not just reviewing books I read for work, or books in a particular category. On the other hand, I try to keep the tone at a certain level and I don't talk about myself or my personal life much because I publicize the blog to people I know professionally and I don't want to be too casual or familiar.

It's hard to know where the balance is sometimes, and it's something I'm always working on. In the end I think because I'm genuinely interested in the work I do the personal and the professional blend together quite well, and I know that even when I'm no longer working where I'm working, I'll keep reading what I'm reading. Maybe something new will be added to the mix, and the blog will change too. We'll see.


jlshall said...

Great post, and it should garner some interesting responses. As for myself, I just blog for the fun of it (there's a bumper sticker there somewhere) - I've never thought of it as creating a "brand" for myself. My book blog gives me a chance to spout off about what I'm reading – in a slightly more organized fashion than, say, in a dinner party conversation. I have another blog that I started so I could have a venue for writing about other, more personal things – more like an online journal; but I haven't really kept that one up – my book blog definitely gets most of my attention.

However, since I'm not actually selling anything and I don't think of myself as a professional reviewer, I don't feel compelled to worry too much about goals. I try to be civilized, courteous, and fair in my reviews and my dealings with the rest of the blogging world. And being a definite minimalist, I try to keep the look of my blogs as simple and uncomplicated as possible – you're not likely to find much "bling" (or "blang," for that matter) on any of my spaces. So while I guess I do have something of a personal style, I wouldn't want the pressure of becoming a brand – I think that would take all the fun out of it. And if that should ever happen, I'm pretty sure my blogging days would be over.

Alexis Grant said...

You bring up some points we should all be thinking about! I went through a similar transition with my blog as I learned what was important -- it's funny how differently I look at blogs now that I'm a blogger in addition to a reader of blogs.

I'll be back to check out your site again. Thanks!

Ana S. said...

Ditto to what jlshall said. Though I completely respect the goals other people have when it comes to blogging, as well as their efforts to publicize their blogs, I never did consider having a personal brand, getting business cards, etc. In fact, I try to keep my blog as separate from my non-internet life as possible. Of course, that might change after I go to library school. When you do work in the field, bringing your blog and your professional life together makes absolute sense.

On the other hand, I do try to use the same avatar/colour scheme in different sites, just because it makes it easier for people to recognize me. One of my first online communities was a music message board where we all had little avatars. Sometimes people would joke around by changing their avatar so it was the same as someone else's, and though they didn't change their actual user name it became incredibly confusing!

Susan Cross said...

Since I'm writing a memoir about a person of note, Ray Charles' bandleader and baritone sax player, my blog is dedicated to excerpts in the book, people I've met while writing it and tips about writing memoirs. My intent is not to sell, sell, sell. I want to provide informative info to people who are considering writing celebrity memoirs and also share some of my experiences with my subject. Since at 78-80 years old, he talked a lot about the changes in America, I find some of his stories to be worth sharing, even with a person who may not be a fan of Ray Charles, or even music of any kind.

Elena said...

As a relatively new book blogger, it's really interesting to hear what you've done in the last two years with your blog. The branding is something that I love looking at with other people's blogs. I recently upgraded to a new URL with mine, too, and while I've swung around a bit wildly with my book choices, I'm starting to find my niche market, but I think it's something that takes time.

I think niche markets are particularly difficult, if you're reviewing books that aren't particularly well known, because it doesn't draw as many comments, unless you tap into the 'market' the right way.

I think blog branding is different to regular branding because there's much more two-way communication and networking involved. I like the way your blog has tapped into all sorts of blogging communities and come to create its own community. Something I'm striving towards.

As someone trying to get into journalism and publishing, my blog is very much a resume, which makes me think twice about the kinds of posts I write haha.

bermudaonion said...

I don't think I'm all that well branded, but I'm happy with where I am with my blog. When I started it, I thought family and friends would be reading it, and that's true to a certain extent - a few old friends read it, but it's mostly read by new friends I've found because of it.

Karen Harrington said...

Very interesting to hear your blog journey. It's interesting to hear your goals and thoughts on branding a blog and what you've done. You mention a few things I hadn't thought about doing, which I might try. Thanks! I, of course, started my blog to create a dialogue about my book, but it has evolved into an ecclectic discussion about books and writing. Strange to say, but I feel less solitary in my writing experience because I've "met" other writers/readers via blogging.

Tracie Yule said...

This is something that I've been struggling with since I started blogging. My day job is in marketing, so I know the importance of branding. But I have a very, very difficult time thinking of a brand for myself and how to market that brand. It's much easier to tell others how to do it, then do it for yourself. Don't ask me why! I'm still trying to figure it out as I go (like you), but slowly I think that I am getting there.

Serena said...

great post about your blogging journey. Wow, two years, just like least at the Savvy blog.

Thanks for sharing with us your thoughts.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1. consistent images/logos in business cards and online presence

2. develop content around a niche, keep the postings consistent to keep readers engaged in that niche and content

3. feed your blog into as many social networking platforms as possible--facebook, twitter, etc.

4. formulate a consistent Twitter handle.

5. always have a signature line that links to your blog, etc. for emails.

6. if you evolve, modify, or completely revamp, make sure to change all outlets to match.

I think that's all I have for now. these are just some of the things I learned.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

First, congrats on two years of blogging, and blogging well. Yours was one of the first blogs I started reading regular\ly, based on quality of content (the writing itself, and the types of books you tend to review.)

When you said this post was coming, I knew you'd have good insight!

I noticed that for a short while you changed your twitter avatar, but you're back with the readily-recognizable Boston Bibliophile we know :) I have my photo on Twitter, but I know I should make the change and be consistent across platforms; I just haven't taken the time to do it.

Zibilee said...
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Zibilee said...

I haven't really been that conscious of the branding of my blog, but I think it would be helpful to start. The only thing I have done is to give myself a personalized web address. I originally started the blog so that I could share what I was reading with the people in my family and friends, but that's not how things turned out. Now I mainly share my content with other bloggers and a few outside readers. I think it would be really helpful to develop more branding and be able to rely on my blog as more of creative and semi professional endeavor. I mostly do it because I love to write, and I love to be able to delve into what works for me as a reader. Like you, I don't post much personal information on my blog. Mostly it is a place for my ideas.

BurtonReview said...

Your blog is nice.. its simple and flows well. I also beleive in the whole branding thing, it is not important to go hog-wild with it but just to have something that like a gravatar or specific image that goes with your blog is helpful.
As far as Facebook & Twitter goes, any amount of publicity is good but I don't live on either site. Luckily my tweets post to facebook so that my little status updates coincide at one time. And my blog posts are automatically twittered, therefore goes right to facebook.. so it's pretty easy for me.
I agree with Nymeth about the color schemes being important as well.

Marie Cloutier said...

Marie- thank you. And it sounds like you've got the online thing down what with your autoupdates, so you can publicize yourself elsewhere without doing extra work. Nice! :-)

Bonnie said...

Marie, your blog was one of the first blogs that I started reading when I started blogging a year ago. I am impressed by how you have set goals and accomplished them. I am still in the process of figuring out where I want my blog to go and your post has given me some ideas to ponder. I have thought of changing my blog name but I am recognized by the name now and wouldn't want to start over. I would like to work on self hosting and figuring out how to change templates to have the look I want. It's a process that takes time, that's for sure!