Blogging: Is It Still Relevant?

blog

BLOGGING |

I have been blogging since 2009. That might sound like a long time, but in the early days, my blog was more akin to a journal entry; I recorded daily happenings, thoughts, lists, and whatever else struck me. Many of the entries didn’t have pictures and visitors to my page were rare. Such was my start, but also a reflection on the still-morphing existence of weblogs.

While Justin Hall is noted as the first person to ‘blog’ back in 1994, many more have come after him. Hall’s early ‘personal homepage’, begat many blogging platforms within a few short years, and the growth of this new phenomenon has only grown from there. Blogger and LiveJournal launched hosted web tools in 1999, and WordPress, arguably one of the most popular blogging platforms today, joined the fray in 2003.

I happen to have blogs on both Blogger and WordPress, but there are plenty more sites you can turn to today, from Medium to Squarespace, Tumblr to Drupal, Type Pad to Weebly, and so many more. The platform might change, but the concept remains the same—sharing content with others in a setting where it can be commented upon and shared at will. It is a great medium for writers, people with hobbies or specific interests, and businesses who want to establish a voice for themselves on the web.

Changing Face of Blogging

Like anything though, the face of blogging is changing. Where people once shared stories of their personal days and challenges—Mommy bloggers are still a huge part of the blogging world—topics have exploded from there. Whether it be politics, journalism, art critique, travel, dating, or food prep, you can find a blog for that. But where some people avidly read many blogs a few years ago, nowadays the average person’s attention span is so torn by the constant influx of social media content, that the influence of blogging is changing.

No longer will your take on Grannie’s home remedies be relevant, when your humble blog goes up against trusted big-name websites. You have to have something relevant and unique to say, and it has to be presented in a visually appealing way, not to mention that it be well written. If you are touching on current events, they have to be timely too, not to mention accurate in detail. And even if you write a fantastic post that draws in readers, that’s still not enough. Today’s bloggers need to consistently create good content on a regular basis, promote it to the hilt, and interact with readers to make sure they are a part of the experience.

Tall order? Maybe, but that’s the name of the game, especially if you are a small business who is trying to get your voice heard in the echo-chamber that is today’s social media world. I have talked to people in person, discussed the relevance of blogs with folks on Twitter, read umpteen numbers of articles across the web (yes, I still read blogs), and pondered how best to get the biggest bang for your buck with blogging.

  • regular posting
  • quality content
  • maximize shareability
  • vary the style of posts (graphics, words, pictures, videos, lists, long posts, short posts, podcasts, etc.)

Are blogs still relevant? You bet they are. How you make yours relevant is the key though. It can be a lot of work, but still worth the effort, especially for small businesses looking for more people to find them amongst all the online chatter. Think smarter and reach out to those in the know. Ask questions, talk to experts, and don’t forget the darn SEO, headings, keywords and alt tags while you’re at it.

While this go viral? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter. It helps me to write it down in a cohesive manner and understand it better myself. It also adds content to my stream. And hopefully it will strike a chord with my readers. Do you have anything to add?

I wish you good writing and longevity in your blogging endeavours!

Worthy Expenses

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Purple Finch

My lense caught this little guy when I went outside looking for a squirrel. He was kind enough to sit still for a few pics with my new camera and I’m thrilled with the shots.

I can tell I’m going to have a great love affair with my new Lumix. Why did I wait so long to replace my old point-and-shoot? I can use it for work, capture pictures of the kids for photo albums, and snap nature shots to my heart’s content now. Plus, because I use images I capture on the camera for work purposes, I should be able to use it as an expense come tax time next year. I’d say that’s worth the cost!

And the squirrel was a little more elusive sitting way up high in the apple tree, but I got a pic of him too for a client’s blog post.

Do you use a camera for work purposes?

 

Stumped

What am I going to write about today? I have been blogging for one of my clients for almost five years. In that time, I have crafted a post once a week, missing only weeks when I’ve been on holidays. That a lot of posts! And as much as I seem to always come up with something, there are still plenty of days when I seem to be at a loss.

Today is one of those days. Dare I whisper the words “writer’s block“?

What do you do when you are stuck for a blog topic? Ideas??

Stumped
Stumped

 

A Taste of CK: A Tour Through Organic Farming Practices

A Taste of CK

This summer I was invited to participate in a #foodblogtour in Chatham-Kent, Ontario. For those who follow my writer’s Facebook page, you may have seen a few pictures from the day. We started at the Retro Suites Hotel, got lunch and a history of the area at the Crazy 8 Barn, had Chris Knight‘s organic farming practices explained, as well met some of his Angus beef cows, heard even more about the merits of organic farming and crop rotation from dairy farmer Rudy Zubler, toured Highgate Tender Meats with Mark Clark and learned about the necessity for local abattoirs, plus were spoiled with a meal from Chef Chad Stewart made from Chris’s beef and other local, organic fare. The day ended where it began, with a tour of the Retro Suites Hotel in downtown Chatham, before I headed home under an August blood moon with my mind swirling with thoughts of all I had learned that day.

What did I learn though? Plenty, of which I’m not sure I can do the day justice.

Alfalfa crops on Rudy Zubler's farm have long taproots which return nitrogen to the soil for improved health of future crops
Alfalfa crops on Rudy Zubler’s farm have long tap-roots which return nitrogen to the soil for improved health of future crops

The purpose behind the day was to showcase Chatham-Kent, but more importantly to highlight the growing farm-to-table movement in Ontario. CK Table is the group behind the local initiative to reignite a relationship between farmers and consumers. There is a growing disconnect between the food we eat and the knowledge of where it comes from. Food doesn’t just come from the grocery store packaged in cardboard boxes and shiny cling wrap. Real food is grown in soil, raised by farmers and far better for us than the processed stuff many families subsist on nowadays.

The problem is, how many urban people nowadays know actual farmers? When families rush from school to work to extracurricular activities at an ever-growing pace, where is the time to make a proper meal, let alone take the time to buy food from a direct source? With the ease to buy milk, eggs, vegetables and meat at the grocery store, a trip to the farm seems arcane. Rising obesity rates across North America suggest that perhaps it is worth the time to reconnect with the people who feed not only themselves, but the rest of us in the cities.

The farmers I met in Chatham-Kent are going one step further. Not only are they raising animals and growing crops, but they are making the effort to produce them in an organic and ethical way. And the crazy thing is, is that the way they are going about it not only improves the taste, but makes it better for the environment.

Chris Knight's Black Angus cattle anxiously await being let into the next lush field
Chris Knight’s Black Angus cattle anxiously await being let into the next lush field

Chris Knight has approximately 130 certified organic Black Angus cattle, which he raises on 50 acres outside of Chatham. The cows are born on the farm, allowed to graze the pesticide-free and herbicide-free fields daily, and fed hay grown on the farm in the winter. Cattle are moved twice a day from field to field on a 45-day rotation, so that fields are allowed to replenish themselves. In this way, the grasses are never eaten to the ground, thereby allowing the carbon in the bottom third of the plant to stay in the plant and return to the soil. It seems simple, but is a lesson in biology and environmental conservancy at its best.

Down the road, Rudy Zubler owns a dairy farm where he grows organic crops. His crops are on a eight-year rotation, with alfalfa being the star player. Not only does he avoid problems of pests by getting away from the general practice in the area of growing a GMO monoculture—corn, soybeans, wheat—but the alfalfa is a nitrogen super-power plant which helps to improve the other crops he grows in future years. I understood enough of the science behind it to make me wonder why more farmers don’t return to this style of farming. Of course the makers of pesticides and genetically modified seeds have a lot of money behind them and pour it into research claiming their superiority, so organic seems a harder field to plow. Not so, but habits can be hard to break for farmers who think they are practicing the best techniques, even when their organic counterparts are getting higher and healthier yields. More importantly though, taste is where the difference lies.

This mouth-watering brisket came from Clear Creek Farms and the rest of the dishes served were gathered from local organic farmers
This mouth-watering brisket came from Clear Creek Farms. The rest of the dishes served were gathered from local organic farmers

The folks at CK Table didn’t want to just tell us about the theory behind organic farming. They know that the proof is in the pudding, or brisket in this case. After visiting Highgate Tender Meats, where we learned about the ethical manner in which this scarce local abattoir processes livestock and the importance it has for farmers who rely on their services, we were treated to a taste of it back at Chris’ farm. He opened his doors to us and Chef Chad Stewart, with the help of two students in the Artisanal Culinary Program at Fanshawe College, who took centre stage to showcase the difference that organic food makes. We were served dish after dish made from locally sourced ingredients, each one more delicious than the last. From free-range eggs atop of Chris’ heirloom tomatoes for a fried green tomato salad, to ricotta gnocchi made from locally milled, organic grains with foraged milk cap mushrooms, to a cleansing melon gazpacho, and finally to the star of the meal, a 12-hour smoked brisket served on Yukon gold mashed potatoes from Eco-Logic farms. I barely saved room for the decadent local berry crumble, with wonder berries from farmer Paul Spence’s farm, who incidentally had taken the time to ferry us all over the countryside all day with running commentary about organic farming practises.

With 33 rooms to chose from and another dozen under construction, the Retro Suites Hotel is a unique and must-visit destination in Chatham-Kent
With 33 rooms to chose from and another dozen under construction, the Retro Suites Hotel is a unique and must-visit destination in Chatham-Kent

You would think that would be enough for the day, but there was one more treat in store. After pushing away from the table and thanking all those involved, Paul drove us back to the Retro Suites Hotel. Before heading home, we got a tour of the building originally built in the 1800s. The quirky hotel has been a hardware store, Baptist church and now houses a lovingly restored hotel with a flair for the unique. From retro milk and popcorn vending machines in the lobby, to original circus prints and movie posters from decades gone by, every inch of the hotel holds a gem of intrigue. Each of the 33 rooms are custom designed in a different genre, from Nantucket to Cowboy, and Easy Rider to King William, each more intricate than the last. Luxurious beds greet guests, but the visual displays are enough to keep one’s eyes awake as you take in all that is on display. I would happily have wandered the halls oohing and ahing over the miscellaneous bric a brac  that filled the Retro Suites floors, but for an early morning meeting back in London the next day. I thanked Jamie for the tour of the hotel and begrudgingly stepped into my vehicle to head home.

You cannot beat the difference in taste that organically grown food has
You cannot beat the difference in taste of organically grown food

Home to some of the finest and largest producers of many forms of agriculture in Canada, and in some cases the world, Chatham-Kent is still a relatively anonymous market. Area farmers are the number one producers of tomatoes, carrots, seed corn, cucumbers, and pumpkins in Canada. You won’t find more quail or green pea producers in Ontario, and sugar beets, brussel sprouts and field peppers all rank as number two in production from Canadian and Ontario markets. Yet Chatham-Kent doesn’t even host a farmers market to sell its wares locally. How do we promote this amazing bounty that is right on my doorstep, when local residents seem to be unaware of their good fortune? For Paul Spence, Chris Knight and the rest of the people who tirelessly promote CK Table, it is through events like the one I was privileged to attend. It certainly makes me value the hard-working farmers who toil in their fields so that I may eat locally grown food. And also makes my trip to the farmers market in London, On that much more appreciated.

If you would like to visit or sample locally grown food, why not take the opportunity to talk to your local farmer and see what they have on offer. Chris encourages farm visits and sells his certified organic beef via his website. Personally, I think my kids are about ready to get a closer look at a working farm to better appreciate where their food comes from. Who’s with me?

Talking Social

CLC Feast
Great food is an excellent start to good conversation

This summer I attended a staff appreciation barbeque for a client. The hosts are great people and I had a lovely evening, chatting with guests, enjoying a campfire and dining on a sumptuous meal. Yes, I had seconds of everything, including dessert. It was that good.

As I am a sucker for delicious fare, I had to ask the chef about the yummy dishes he had prepared. Well, one thing led to another and the conversation swung around to social media. Chef Chad was in the process of setting up a new catering business. He had worked in several upscale restaurants over the years, but was hungering for a change. Starting his own business was great, but getting the word out about it was a different matter entirely. He was curious about what I did for CLC Tree Services. I don’t think he realized what he was getting into when he asked.

When I have the opportunity to speak about the merits of social media with people not overly familiar with it I have been known to go on, and on, and on… It apparently is a bit of a passion. So when Chad asked, “What’s a blog?”, I launched into my spiel.

As you are reading this, you probably already have some idea, but if you are new to blogging, give me a moment to share my passion. Old forms of advertising are falling by the wayside. The Yellow Pages have shrunk and their circulation is being curtailed. When people want to find information on something or locate a business, they pull out their smartphones and google it. Companies who do not have a presence online are losing out on this huge market where not only can you advertise that you exist, but you are can establish yourself as an expert in your chosen field, whether that be tree services, real estate, plumbing or junk removal (yes, I have worked for all of these clients). If you have a business, you need that market of people who want your goods or services. Social media helps them find you.

So how does it work? For starters, you can set up a website. Websites serve as a great place to let people search for what you have to offer. They want baby clothes? You’ve got them! Their children want to take an art class? You’ve got classes starting next week. In theory, it gives the public easy access to what they want to know.

BUT what about your competition? There might be dozens, hundreds or thousands of other companies out there who are offering the same or similar services/products. When people go searching for something and turn up a million hits, typically they will only peruse the first page or two of results. Where you want your business to be is on that first page. You have to be, or else consumers will never find you (unless they already know you exist and are specifically seeking you out). How do you up your chances of getting onto that all-important first page in search results? Search engines have to find you searchable.

Have I lost you yet? Stay with me. I’m getting to an important point here.

So search engines are constantly scouring the net for information. No easy task, as there are over 4.7 billion indexed pages out there. Mind-boggling in scope really. Finding your business on the web is equivalent to searching for that proverbial needle in a haystack.

Don’t be discouraged!

There is a way to increase your chances of being found. Most search engines tend to return local sites first (if you allow them to know your location or keep some cookies). That helps. Having a current website gives them a landing space too. The fresher your content, the more recently the web crawlers will visit your site. But if all you have is a website that was updated months or years ago, then I hate to tell you, but the search engines won’t have visited. And if they forget you exist, they aren’t going to be informing those desired customers you want that you exist either. You have to remind them that you exist.

“How?” you ask.

You have to be active. No one experts your website to be a constantly changing thing, so that is where social media comes in. The best way to be remind those search engines you exist is by publishing fresh content regularly. And there are lots of ways of doing that. I bet you can think of a few without me even having to tell you. There’s Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, not to mention the humble blog. Every time you publish a status update, picture, tweet or whatever, the search engines immediately visit. The more you do that, the more often they visit.

Are you getting it yet? I think this is where overwhelmed people often have light bulbs start to glow in their heads. In order to be noticed, you have to make yourself noticeable. Makes sense, right?

I should note that quality is still important. It is one thing to make a presence and have web crawlers visit, but who you really want to visit are those customers. And in order for them to visit and convert to a fan and customer, you need to impress them with your quality of service and expertise.

If it seems like a lot to process, it is. And I realize it can be hard to find the time to jump into social networking, when you already have a company to run. I get it. But every little bit helps. And sometimes that means asking for help. Hence how I got involved in social networking myself. I understand enough about it to play the game. I am not necessarily active everywhere nor even on every social platform, but I do what I can. And as I am a writer by trade, I can help companies who would like to create a bit more presence do that. I blog. And I blog for others who need someone who is a bit more of an expert on the platform than they are. I have the time to research, write and edit articles on a wide variety of topics.

There are a few people who appreciate that enough that I have been working with them for a while. Now Chef Chad is interested too. I don’t profess to be an expert on everything, but I can manipulate words well enough to make an impact. Some people call me wordy, but when I start talking social media, I’ve had more than one audience interested. And if that gets me a few new clients at the end of the day, I guess we can all be happy about that.

After my conversation with Chad this summer, it got me invited to a #FoodBlogTour in Chatham, so I don’t regret a thing. More delicious Field to Fork meals for me makes me plump and happy. And happy to keep talking social media to whomever wants to listen.

If talking about social media gets me brisket like this, than I'll never shut up
If talking about social media gets me brisket like this, then I’ll never shut up

Are you talking? Who’s listening?