Amanda MacArthur is CEO of BuzzFarmers, a blog management and content-marketing company based in Providence that helps startups and publishers build up their Web and social media presence.
Before BuzzFarmers, Amanda ran the research arm of Mequoda, a publishing company for magazine publishers, where she was hired to teach workshops to editors at Harvard, F + W, Time Inc. Condé Nast, Dwell Media and Bonnier on how to blog effectively.
MacArthur spoke with Providence Business News about how small businesses can better equip themselves to engage audiences online and how BuzzFarmers helps them do that.
PBN: Why should small businesses consider hiring a professional blogging service like BuzzFarmers instead of managing their business or marketing blog themselves?
MACARTHUR: No kidding, over the holidays I had to explain to someone for the first time what a blog was. I stuttered a little, like, “Oh, uh, have you heard of the Huffington Post? No? Well have you ever read The New York Times online? It’s like that.” Then I told him I blog for businesses, knowing I was in for it. He legitimately furrowed his brow at me and asked that same question, “Why would someone pay you to blog for their company? Can’t they do it themselves?”
My answer is yes, definitely. And there are lots of businesses who do an amazing job running their own business blogs. For example, our friends at Wistia up in Boston run one of my favorite business blogs. I model some of our clients’ blogs after them, actually. In fact, if they came and asked us to help them, I’d probably laugh and just bow down.
The type of client that comes our way is a funded startup who wants to blog, but wants it with all the bells and whistles. We’re not writers who fake an expertise for a buck. Our writers are experts in the niches they blog about and offer more than just blogging. We build and manage a monthly editorial calendar, we develop a style guide, we write the posts and we optimize them for search engines. We also design or provide images for each post, and are constantly testing social media strategies to promote the content in a way that their readers, users and customers have proven to enjoy.
Another big benefit for our clients is that they’re able to hire an entire digital marketing team for the same price as one employee, without needing to worry about payroll taxes and health insurance. Many of our employees work virtually but we’re big advocates of “shopping local” which also means hiring local. In fact, we’re looking for illustrators right now, if anybody is looking for a sweet gig.
PBN: What information does a “BuzzAudit” provide for a small business owner, and how can they use this information to improve their web presence?
MACARTHUR: Most of the CEOs I talk with say, “I have a startup, I’m funded, I know I’m supposed to blog, can you do it for me?” A BuzzAudit basically answers that question and it also teaches them about the market they’re in, how their competitors are doing, where their competitors have succeeded and failed online, etc. The 20-plus hours of research it takes to put together a BuzzAudit can save months of their time and money on trial and error.
For companies who already have a huge blog and presence, it tells them how to improve, get more traffic, boost leads, etc. “Wow” is the response we get from them almost every time.
We’ve made the BuzzAudit a required first step for our monthly blog management clients, but we credit the fee toward their monthly retainer if they decide to proceed. The BuzzAudit alone carries a tremendous value, as they can take the information in it and implement everything themselves, or they can wave the white flag and let us do all the work for them.
PBN: What do you find are the top three misconceptions among business owners about how to run a successful blog or social media campaign?
MACARTHUR: 1. Your blog isn’t supposed to be your soap box, it’s supposed to be a resource. Find out what people are looking for in your niche, answer those needs with great articles written by someone who knows what they’re talking about, and then have the website architecture in place to convert all of that traffic into customers and users when they get there.
2. Don’t publish just for the sake of publishing, just to “get something out there.” If you’re not proud of what you’re publishing, and you wouldn’t promote it to your own personal social media followers, don’t publish it. This year we’re putting more emphasis on visual storytelling; we’ve hired a few illustrators and I am thrilled about the quality of what we've been producing.
3. Finally, blogging isn’t a quick fix, it’s a long-term branding, loyalty and lead strategy. For one of our first clients, who is still with us three years later, we posted five days a week for the first six months and went from zero to 14,000 unique website visitors per month. It’s a lot of work to build an online audience, but what’s nice about optimization is that even if we stopped blogging today, they’d continue to receive traffic from all of those posts.
PBN: How has the rise of video content changed the way businesses promote themselves online, and how does BuzzFarmers integrate video and other visual content in its service package?
MACARTHUR: Video can be expensive, but it’s so worth it. One of our lead illustrators got a job as an art teacher across the country six years ago based on a video blog he started where he taught art lessons. They didn’t even ask to meet with him in person before offering him the job because they felt like they already knew him.
Apply that logic to business and you have customers who want to buy your product or sign up for your site just because they like you and what you portray in your videos. There’s a level of loyalty that’s built through blogging, but video blogging just goes above and beyond.
I’m lucky that my business partner ran a video production studio before we started BuzzFarmers, because it’s a primary focus for BuzzFarmers in 2014. And we work directly with the super-talented Tyrone Campbell of TyTy Works in Providence for motion graphics. Our add-on for 2014 is video blogging, where we’ll shoot a series of videos, transcribe them and turn them into articles that accompany the videos. I am nuts about search engine optimization, so we can’t have videos without copy!
PBN: How much do BuzzFarmers’ monthly retainers cost, and what services does that fee include?
MACARTHUR: Our lowest monthly retainer today is $2,500 and our highest is $6,000. The major variables are how often the client wants to post and if they want custom illustrations or video. Everything else (blogging, search engine optimization, social media, and a designated managing editor) is included.
You might be surprised to know this, but most of our clients are very hands-off and really trust us to act as their virtual “content department.” One of the best compliments we’ve gotten was from a new marketing director who was hired by one of our clients. He said that he was surprised at how well the blog performed and that he’d never seen a third-party integrate so well with a company. Right before Christmas, a newer client, who actually has an entire team of writers and marketers, said that the content we’ve been writing is the best content they’ve ever had.
I’m really proud of what we’re doing here, everything we publish is a labor of love, as it should be.