You’ve heard a lot about web logs or blogs. That’s because during the past six years blogs have evolved from a highly personal form of communication on the Internet to a powerful new medium for business. Not since Procter & Gamble invented branding back in 1931 has there been so much excitement about a fresh model for doing business.
It’s working for ecommerce sites as well. More than a few e-retailers have jumped on the blog bandwagon. But, should you start a blog?
The answer is yes if you want a low-cost, high-results tool for competitive differentiation, marketing, customer relations management, media contacts, and sales. Plus, the software platform is much simpler than what’s required for websites, so any business can afford to set up and maintain a blog.
There are some things to consider, however, before engaging in this exciting new marketing model. Here is a “top 10” checklist:
First, you need to understand why you want to use a blog.
Don't do it because it's the latest Internet trend (notice I did not say “fad”) or just because everyone else is doing it. Have some sense of your specific purpose. For example, are you using the blog as a marketing channel, or will it be more for company news and updates?
Online retailer Bluefly (Bluefly.com) uses its blog specifically for marketing purposes. The company asserts its blog has had a positive effect on sales, even stating that visitors who click to the blog “have been more likely to make a purchase than those who visit Bluefly directly.”
Second, consider its core message.
What are you going to write about? What topics will be covered? What "tone" will you give the blog? Should it be warm and humorous, or more straightforward and informational?
Your approach will largely be determined by the audience you're attempting to target. Obviously, when writing any blog your primary consideration needs to be your readers, at least the readers you hope to attract. They will have the most bearing on the nature of the content and the way it's presented.
Third, determine who is going to write it.
If there is a pain point in blogging, it's this. Blogs, especially business blogs, take time and forethought. They need someone who understands how to write "blog style." Invariably, the blogger will inject his/her own personality, so it's incumbent upon you to find a writer who understands what makes your company tick and can accurately reflect its persona.
Obviously, the best person for the job would be someone inside the company. You need to consider whether or not you have in-house talent you can afford to assign this task. One Internet retailer, Stone Creek Coffee (Stonecreekcoffee.com), uses employees to write entries for the blog.
You might even consider following Stonyfield Farms lead (Stonyfieldfarms. com) and hire someone full-time to write your blog. Stonyfield has four blogs written by Christine Halvorson, a full-time employee. The company has become a model example of how small businesses can use a blog for marketing purposes.
Fourth, determine whether they are prepared to engage the conversation without attempting to control the communication.
The “blogosphere” is a no-holds-barred free-for-all means of communicating. It's a two-way street. Using the comments option built into most blog platforms readers can respond to what you have said. Their responses may not always be kind. In fact, depending on their experience with your company and its products or services, they may even be caustic. Not every organization is prepared for such raw unedited content to show up on their public website (blog).
Before your company makes the decision to deploy a blog, it must be willing to accept the good with the bad and have a plan for addressing those less than congratulatory comments if and when they occur.
Don’t be alarmed however. Most comments won't be of the negative variety. Many will come in the form of questions, while others will have a positive spin to be sure. From a PR standpoint, blogs can serve you well as they lend credence to the notion that you do value what your customers and others have to say. They put a human face on your company that no other form of internet communication can.
Fifth, determine a company blogging policy and establish posting guidelines.
Susannah Gardner's book Buzz Marketing with Blogs For Dummies contains an entire section on this subject including such guidelines as:
- I will be accurate. When I make a mistake, I will correct it as quickly as possible. -I will post only on the following topics: [List your topics] and
- I will respond to comments and emails quickly.
Sixth, monitor what is being said about your company and your industry.
There are a number of reasons to do this, the most obvious being to find out how people view your company. You may find no one is talking about you at all, or that what is being said has negative connotations (or positive for that matter). If you are not being talked about, even to a small degree, a blog can help change that. If your company is being viewed negatively, you can use a blog to challenge misperceptions.
In addition, monitoring your industry helps you to know what is being said about your competitors. Observing industry trends might help you find a niche worth exploiting or a marketing avenue others are overlooking.
A panoply of online tools have been created to assist you, BlogPulse.com, Bloglines.com, Technorati.com, PubSub.com and IceRocket.com just to name a few. (Oh, and don’t forget good old Google!)
Seventh, decide on a blog platform.
This is not difficult as many good platforms are available. If your blog is going to be selfstanding separate from your company website, Typepad.com is a good solution. If you want to include it inside your overall website structure, Movable Type or WordPress are good options. (One platform not recommended for business purposes is Blogger.com. Though many small businesses use it, the platform lacks some of the most elemental features included in others, such as the ones mentioned above.)
Eighth, determine ways to market your blog.
If the blog has marketing ramifications, getting the attention of search engines is vital. There are a variety of ways to do that, including submitting the blog to a number of search engines and blog directories.
Ninth, develop a plan to track statistics.
This is an area where bloggers have not traditionally paid much attention. However, when using blogs for marketing purposes, it is vital to know the effect they are having on your bottom line. Blogs are just like any other website in that their effect should be tracked in terms of unique visitors, page views, and conversion rates.
Tenth, be sure to know your keywords.
Blogs can help customers find your business when they are searching on Google or other sites. Therefore, it is important to know what words customers most often use to find you via the search engines, and what words show up in competitor or industry blogs on a regular basis that help place them high in Google's index.
Knowing which words to drop into your posts on a regular basis will help boost your search rankings. Writing frequent, keyword-optimized entries can help boost search standings, which goes a long way for a business owner on a tight marketing budget. Don't overdo it though. Readers will see right through any obvious attempts at self-promotion.
I hope you find these 10 items helpful. While blogs are all the rage these days, using them for business demands forethought and a strategic approach. Taking time to consider these points before you jump on the blog bandwagon will help ensure a positive outcome.