Friday, July 18, 2008

Company Blog Checkup: Newcastle Square Realty

My friend Ann Handley vacations there, and they also gave us Hawkeye Pierce, so I'm a fan of the state of Maine. And so are the people at Newcastle Square Realty, who are using a blog to connect with their customers in coastal Maine. But how effective are their efforts? Let's find out.

Whenever I look at a blog for the first time, I am immediately drawn to the content and positioning of the blog's posts. What I'm looking to see is if the blog is being positioned from the business' point of view (heavy on self-promotion), or the reader's (posts provide information that the reader can find value in). Upon arriving at the Newcastle Square Realty Blog, I am greeted with a post about a Reggae music festival this weekend in Damariscotta, Maine. From there I find posts on local events such as a fire on the river, a 4th of July parade recap, and a picture of a resident making a deposit at a local bank, from a horse-drawn carriage.

The blog does an amazing job of letting you see the beauty of coastal Maine. All you have to do is scan the pictures and you quickly discover that the area is full of gorgeous scenery, festive events, friendly people, and a diversity of wildlife. And if you are considering a move to this area of the country, this is what you want to see. You want to learn more about this area, and what it has to offer.

But you also learn in the process, that Newcastle Square Realty understands this area. By providing blog readers with information and content they can find value in, NSR has also established themselves as being credible realtors, by showing their knowledge of the area they service. Also, notice how the realtor positions itself in this post that updates blog readers on the real estate market for coastal Maine. The post gives readers a recap of how buying and selling is trending in the area, and what the outlook is. Only at the end of the post, does NSR offer a plug for their services, which is completely acceptable. In short, NSR has just nailed the content.

Now let's move to comments. Most company blogs, especially those for smaller businesses, have few comments, and the blog for Newcastle Square Realty is no exception. As I have written about countless times, the best way to grow your blog, is to leave it. Spending time interacting with potential customers on other blogs, forums, Twitter, and other social sites, will help drive them back to read, and comment on your blog. NSR's blog does have a few comments, and the blog's authors do seem to attempt to reply to readers, although I did see a few chances for interaction that weren't acted on.

Now let's examine the blog's posting schedule. The frequency of posts for the blog is fairly lax, averaging about one a week. I'd like to see at least two a week from the blog, as a post a week makes it much harder to build a consistent readership. The blog seems to do a great job of highlighting local events, perhaps the writers could commit to one post a week related to local events (perhaps for the weekend?), and another post to cover other topics. My guess is that if the blog were to consistently have a minimum of 2 posts a week, that the blog would enjoy a bump in traffic of at least 25%, likely much more.

Finally, let's move to the sidebars. First, I see no pictures of the writers. Anyone that's read this blog for ANY amount of time knows what a sticking point this is for me. A business that blogs HAS to have pictures of their writers on the blog. Why? Because it helps us trust you. And that's vital for a realtor, whose business is so dependent on establishing trust with their customers. I see that Jim Cosgrove has his picture on his posts, but that needs to be moved up to the top of the left sidebar, right under the About Us section. I'd like to see a link to Jim's bio right under his pic, as well as the same for Tom and anyone else that works for NSR, that writes for the blog.

Otherwise, the sidebars are very solid. You have all the likely suspects; categories, subscriber buttons, archives and recent posts. Additionally, the blog adds a section highlighting recent comments (and commenters), and a very robust and varied blogroll. Finally, and I absolutely LOVE this, the blog has a link to videos on YouTube that the realtor has created that give customers an aerial view of the coastal Maine region. Brilliant!

Overall, the Newcastle Square Realty Blog is a decent effort. The blog just crushes the content portion, which is incredibly important. I'd like to see more posts and better interaction with readers, but all-in-all, this is an above average effort.

In the previous post in the Company Blog Checkup Series, I unveiled a new scoring system for the blogs that I profile. The system scores the blog on four areas; Content (35 points), Comments (35 points), Posting Schedule (15 points) and Sidebars (15 points), for a total of 100 points possible. Here's how the Newcastle Square Realty Blog fared:

Content: 34 (Out of a possible 35) - The posts are completely positioned with the reader's best interests in mind. Pure gold.

Comments: 19 (Out of a possible 35) - A weakness, but this score could easily be improved if the writers spent a bit more time interacting with readers on other blogs and social sites. This would drive them back to the blog and boost the number of comments left.

Posting Schedule: 5 (Out of a possible 15) - Again, a weakness that could easily be improved. If the blog had averaged just one more post a week, I would have given it a 10.

Sidebar Elements: 10 (Out of a possible 15) - If this blog had pictures with links to the bios for each writer on the sidebar, I would have given it a perfect score.

Total Score: 68 (Out of a possible 100).

If anyone from Newcastle Square Realty wants to discuss this Company Blog Checkup with me, feel free to leave a comment here, or email me. If your company would like to hire me to do an extensive checkup of your blog, you can click here for more information on my blogging and social media consulting services.

Next week I'll profile another blogging company, and if anyone can think of a company blog that they want me to do a checkup on, feel free to email me! For a list of all the blog that have been profiled so far in the Company Blog Checkup series, click here.


Jim Cosgrove said...

Thanks for reviewing our blog. I greatly appreciate your helpful comments and insights. Also your kind compliments. However, just as I was feeling pretty good about myself and our blog my teenage son put it all in perspective for me when he said "Way to go, Dad, a D+"!
I've been a little frustrated in not being able to get more of our 15 brokers to participate in writing for the blog. It's something new (even though we've been at it for 2 years) and "it's not the way things have always been done". But as we see fewer and fewer clients coming from print media advertising and more and more from various internet sites it doesn't take a genius to figure out where the future lies.
So even though we are real estate brokers and not bloggers it is a skill we think we need to develop and we will keep working at it.
Thanks again and I hope you keep checking in.

Mack Collier said...

Jim thanks for stopping by! I should point out that a 68 for your blog isn't quite the same as a 68 on your son's final. Honestly, most business blogs aren't very good. But that's because this space is still so new and businesses are still learning how to use these tools properly. Dell and LinkedIn have two of the best company blogs around, and I would probably grade them both around a 90 on this same scale. Every blog has room for improvement.

Now having said that, what I like about your blog is that many of its trouble areas, can be easily corrected. By just averaging one more post a week, adding a picture to the sidebar (along with link to bio) for yourself and Tom, and making a greater point to reply to comments would raise your score up over 80. The biggest problem area I see for most blogs, is the posts are thinly-veiled promotions for the business, and offer little to no value for the reader. But you guys have just nailed the content portion, and have it completely positioned from the reader's point of view.

I think you and Tom are doing a fine job, and with a few simple tweaks, Newcastle Square Realty's blog could be stellar!

Drew Stauffer said...

"the best way to grow your blog, is to leave it."

This is a great line:) I started a blog at my 9-5 job, ( needless to say it's been a little slow. Usually I'm the only one that posts anything.

I wrote a post about commenting for traffic and I'm willing to bet that only a handful or people in the company have read it. But yet I still get asked in meetings how were going to drive more traffic to it.

MichelleBB said...

Great post. Thanks for the link.

Jim, excellent blog. As a frequent visitor to your fine state - we just returned from the Yarmouth ClamFest -I love being reminded of the reasons we visit...and you do that well with a mix of video, images and a very visual writing style.

Keep it up!

Anne said...

I love these checkups, Mack; I always learn so much from them.

The comment from your son made me laugh, Jim. It will be a long time before you hear the end of that...:)The good news is that most of Mack's suggestions are relatively 'easy' to implement. Love the visuals on the blog...makes me so homesick for the East Coast---and for a Maine vacation!

Mack Collier said...

Anne thanks for the compliment, and if you like the Company Blog Checkups you're in luck, as they'll be a new company blog featured every Thursday!