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Mar 18 2009

Should every business have a blog?

I was reading one of Chris Rand’s steady stream of posts at Online marketing: An article a day last week in which he suggested that, just as almost every business now has to have a website, now “every business should have a blog”.

Thirteen things to think about

I have some sympathy with his view (thinking about website traffic and customer engagement), but would urge businesses to think carefully before taking the plunge. Can you answer ‘yes’ to all, or at least most, of the following questions?

  1. Have you identified your niche, your target community? – Why are you blogging? Do you have a clear idea about what you want to discuss and how it relates to your business and its objective(s)? Research your market. If you can define your target – even down to particular decision-makers’ job titles – then you can start to think about what they will potentially be interested in reading. It is not about casting the net widely to talk once to 100,000 readers who don’t care; it’s about building a conversation with the 1,000 who do.
  2. Do you know your main themes, messages or categories of information? Following on from no.1 above, you need to be able to categorise your proposed content into a small number of distinct themes – keywords – that you can monitor via Google Blog Search or Technorati, for instance, and then enthuse about. Include your organisation name in these keywords – it can be surprising how much it is already being talked about! Too many categories could mean that you risk losing regular readers by publishing too much that is irrelevant. Too few categories could mean you struggle to find things to write about. If your competitors are blogging, look at what they are writing about but don’t replicate it. ‘Me too’ marketing rarely succeeds; delight in doing something different.
  3. Is a blog your most appropriate online initiative? – Depending on your market sector(s) and objective(s), there may be more effective alternative means of starting conversations with people in your target audience(s). You may find that many people you are trying to contact are already using Facebook or LinkedIn, for instance, or maybe there is an established social network or event talking about the same things you want to discuss on your blog. If so, it may be better to join these groups, listen to and participate in their discussions – this may, in turn, also help guide any future blogging or other web 2.0 activity.
  4. Are you ‘sociable’? Even before you start blogging, you should be ‘listening’. You can start to build an online profile by monitoring what other people are talking about and then commenting, engaging in conversations via Twitter, or using bookmarking tools such as Delicious. Such activities require you to be comfortable writing frequently, being happy to associate your name with your words, and being prepared to accept occasionally critical comments from others. Fundamentally, it is also about switching from the one-way ‘broadcast’ approach common in many marketing communications to the two-way conversational or dialogue mode that is a characteristic of social media.
  5. Can you be passionate about those themes? Without passion or enthusiasm, it will be difficult to motivate yourself and maintain a regular stream of fresh, opinionated and informed updates. But, however enthusiastic you might be about your organisation, or its services or products, you must also be prepared to limit company- or self-promotion. Readers (and search engines) will quickly see through thinly veiled attempts to boost your keyword visibility, solicit sales or inflate your ego.
  6. Can you be authoritative about your topics? The business blogger should also have a distinct role within the organisation, to give credibility and perspective to the posts he or she produces. This doesn’t always have to mean a director or senior manager, but it clearly helps if you have a hands-on role in day-to-day business activities that are related to the key blog themes, so that your posts are topical and grounded in reality.
  7. Are you happy to be have an open online identity? To reiterate part of the previous point: while some successful bloggers remain anonymous, blogosphere legitimacy is increasingly dependent upon openness. This means being prepared to have your name, role, photo (you are going to show people what you look like, aren’t you?) and some personal information available online.
  8. Have you got the time and space to blog? Sometimes initially regarded as ‘free’ or cheap marketing or PR, blogging and other web 2.0 interaction is time-consuming. You may need to learn some new skills and knowledge. You might want to practice producing some posts privately before going public. You will also need time, self-discipline and some writing ability to review and comment upon what others are writing about your niche subject area, and to research, write, proof-read and publish your own regular posts.
  9. Have you got the freedom to blog? You also need some freedom to write – which is where having appropriate ‘light touch’ corporate blogging policies can be invaluable. Stay honest, stay ‘on message’ (point 2 above) – avoid politics, religion, sport – but be wary of giving away your organisation’s ‘Crown Jewels': don’t share your best new strategies with your competitors or talk about topics that might compromise your reputation or market position – or your own role.
  10. Will the blog be integrated with other public relations and marketing communications? For me, this is a key point (see also no.4 above). To be credible, honesty and consistency of messages across all communications is vital. Ensure core themes are echoed across company brochures, advertising, in media relations, on the website and/or intranet, and on the blog. Integrate your various marketing communications. How about an RSS feed from the blog to your company website (and a website link from the blog)? You could write about blogging in the customer magazine or staff newsletter, set up a company Facebook page, and add a link to your email footer.
  11. Are you happy to learn new technological skills? Successful use of web 2.0 tools and techniques requires a combination of both ‘social’ – ie: interpersonal – and ‘media’ – ie: internet and software – skills. Some internet knowledge is vital (for me, RSS would fall into this category), but, probably more important, is a willingness to learn. The blogosphere is constantly evolving, and even well-established bloggers are constantly learning about new ideas that might be incorporated into their output (search engine optimisation, SEO, is a useful area to learn more about).
  12. Will you measure the impact? What gets measured, gets managed. There will be no point in embracing blogging and web 2.0 unless you can show some positive benefits for your business. Blogs can boost traffic to your website; put mechanisms in place to assess that impact (Google Analytics is good for this). Blogs can increase the frequency of internet mentions of you, your company and/or your products; use simple tools such as Google Alerts to monitor the internet ‘buzz’. When you get new business leads ask:  ‘how did you hear about us?’ and record the response.
  13. Can you be patient? It takes time to build awareness and to get regular readers. Early readers may wait to see how often you write, and about what, before adding you to their RSS feeds, blog-rolls, etc. You may therefore need to persevere and maintain commitment for some weeks, even months, before other bloggers, websites and search engines find you.

While I like the alliteration of “13 things to think about”, does this list cover most key points about starting a business blog? Do you think I have missed something? Let me know.

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