Over the past several years, "blog" has become one of those commonplace terms with which everyone is familiar. The blog, a portmanteau derived from its original name, "web log," has become so common that it seems that web related conversations no longer include the question, "Do you blog?" but rather, "Where do you blog?" How many of these often opinion driven, sometimes business-related online columns are there? So many that it's impossible to maintain a consistently accurate count. According to Nielsen's tracking website, BlogPulse, as of 1 p.m. Eastern time on June 1 (the numbers are constantly changing), there were 126.9 million total English language blogs that it had identified, having added 42,000 over the previous 24 hours.
Given all the information, misinformation, and plain hot air that's obviously being disseminated, why bother adding yet another blog to the Internet? Isn't this a train that's already left the station? Well, no. The fact that blogs are proliferating at such a furious pace indicates that there are obviously people interested in reading them, and past experience has proven that a well thought out and well delivered blog can help businesses maintain contact with their customer base, and just as importantly, attract potential new customers.
Does this mean that you should start feverishly writing blog entries about everything under the sun, from your upcoming sales events to the fortunes of your favorite baseball team, to the misadventures of your dopey brother-in-law? Not necessarily. While there are plenty of blogs dealing with those very subjects (as well as just about any other topic conceivable), and the whole "Wild West" aspect of the Internet is what some consider its most attractive characteristic, producing a business-based blog that serves the interests of both your company and your customers requires the observance of a few simple rules.
1) Have a reason for blogging. As with most business practices, simply adding a blog, "Because everybody else is doing it," is not in and of itself a valid purpose. Such a careless attitude will likely lead to unremarkable postings, or even worse, few or no postings at all. As with most things web related, a blog should be viewed as a living, ever evolving part of your website. It's all about engaging your customers. Featuring a blog that hasn't been updated since its initial, "Welcome to our blog," post of three months ago isn't going to impress anyone, and may make them wonder what other parts of the business you neglect.
2) Develop a voice. If you already write regularly, you've probably developed your own "voice," something that can be charismatic, informative, humorous, subjective, or perhaps all four at the same time. Your writing should reflect your personality, at least to a certain degree. This will allow your customers to feel they're getting to know you, and (at least with time) should become a more natural practice. Trying to sound like the President of the United States delivering a speech to Congress will yield results that read as strained, and are even more work for you to maintain. Unless, of course, that's how you always sound. If so, remember that midterm elections are fast approaching.
3) Have something genuine to write about. Too often company blogs come across as sales pitches. It's an easy trap to fall into, but it's not really what your blog should be about. After all, most of your website is focused to varying degrees on driving sales. Instead of hammering away at that ten percent discount that's already being trumpeted on your home page, use your blog to discuss trends you've noticed within your business (or even beyond your business, but which may have applicable lessons all the same), what products and/or services you've recently added, and the potential benefits/uses of same; even a recent business-related book or article you read that you think your customers would also find of interest. Such entries can result in ongoing online discussions between yourself and your customers, and even between the customers themselves.
4) Link often. With the above point in mind, include links to those new products that can be found elsewhere on your website, and to Amazon.com for books under discussion and the relevant URL of the publication for the article that intrigued you. Requiring your readers to search through your website or Google for the title of a book or article can be time consuming and cumbersome. Providing readers with the tools to quickly access such info will help drive home the point that you're looking to engage with them.
5) Post often. Blogs that sit there gathering dust are soon forgotten by readers. If you have a reliable pool of employees to draw from, let them take a turn once in awhile, or even in a regular slot (every Tuesday or every afternoon at 4 p.m., etc.); again, such a practice helps build communications between your company and your customers, and if an employee turns out to be a talented blogger with an attractive personality of their own, so much the better. If you do allow others to blog, make sure they're aware of your rules. You'll probably want to see their first couple of efforts before allowing them to publish on their own.
How "often" is often? That will depend to some degree on the size of your business and the amount of relevant activity going on around you. Once or twice a day should suffice. Less than that can raise the "gathering dust" specter, while more than that may leave customers wondering if you're just sitting there spouting off all day.
6) Encourage interaction. Blogging is considered to be a part of social media, which by definition means it's a two-way street. Your blog should allow for comments and even recommendations, so that readers can feel they are participating in a real conversation. Ending a blog entry with, "What do you think?" won't always get readers off the fence to respond, but it does show you are interested in their opinions.
7) Avoid vendettas. Though it should reflect your personality and can be used as a platform to voice your opinion on a subject, a company blog isn't the right place to trash your competitors, no matter how sneaky and/or slimy they may be. Bashing Company X for selling inferior products at a cheap price may feel good, but can easily go astray and leave your customers with the impression that you're either a crank, a spoilsport, jealous, or some other negative. Likewise, ranting about poor service you received at the hands of a restaurant, airline, government employee, or some other non-business related entity can be a slippery slope. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind: If you wouldn't write such vitriol in a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, you shouldn't be doing so on your blog either. This is one of the rules to make your blogging employees aware of, as well.
8) Choose a blog name and look, wisely. Tying oneself into knots coming up with a name for your company's blog can be aggravating. A pun on your company's name (or even your own) can get across the idea that you're an easy going business. Likewise, naming the blog for something you sell (especially, perhaps, something relatively obscure) can add a touch of fun. But spending endless hours on trying to find, "le mot juste," isn't the best use of your time, either. Simply calling it, "Our Blog," or, "Inside Company X," may not be sexy, but it'll make the point, at least until something better suggests itself.
How your blog looks is also a matter of some debate. Many experts say that using a template like Wordpress, familiar to many regular blog visitors, is a no-no, as it makes you look like everybody else. While that's true to some degree, it's also not necessarily in your best interest to blow next quarter's marketing budget on a designer to come up with a high-end concept that may ultimately be at odds with your company's stock in trade. Most likely you'll want to go with something that looks a bit like a blog you've seen and admired for its design, not necessarily for its content. A talented web designer, perhaps one of your employees, should be able to work something up without too much fuss.
In general, blogs are inexpensive to set up. Some companies like Blogger and WordPress offer free setup and hosting. And if you feel you and/or your employees can keep the above rules in mind, you may be surprised at just how quickly blogging can aid your company's success.
Some resources to check out:
How to make your blog stand out: www.howtomakemyblog.com
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