Blogs are not a traditional marketing medium. Blogs written like extended brochures (in promotional language) don’t get read. They’re boring. A blog is rather, a place to share useful content. Instead of saying “We’re the leading producer of widgets…” or some other such self-promoting statement, demonstrate your leadership by writing about the many creative uses of widgets, what to look for in a widget, recent developments in the widget field, or whatever. Certainly you can promote your company and product in your blog, but this should be more in the form of sponsorship than selling language. The Marketing Eye blog once recommended an 80/20 rule for content; spend 80% of your words sharing knowledge, and 20% on promotion. I’d recommend more like a 90/10 ratio of interesting content to self-promotion.
A blog is not an ad, a traditional Web site or an online brochure. It is rather a place where your employees can speak to customers and prospects in their own unique voices. It is a place to demonstrate the collected knowledge and expertise of your company (that is, your people). And, through comments, it is a place to have a conversation with your customers and prospects, informally and openly. Compared to other marketing media, a blog is closest to a (well-written and informative) newsletter, but easier, faster, cheaper, and with the benefit of interaction.
To get started, select a blogging platform such as Blogger, TypePad or WordPress. All are easy to use, but each has its own quirks and advantages. Factors to consider include the option of hosting the blog on your own existing Web site, RSS feed capabilities, Trackback functionality, and of course personal preference. Personally, I’ve found Blogger to be the easiest, but WordPress to be the most powerful.
Who should write for your blog? Anyone in your company with 1) halfway decent writing skills and 2) knowledge of value to your customers and prospects. This means customer service reps, consultants, engineers, technicians (as well as, yes, marketers and executives) – anyone with in-depth knowledge of your product/service and who has direct interaction with customers. While your marketing group should have overall ownership of the blog, contributions should be open to those closest to the product and the customer, with interesting information or stories to share.
Make it easy to contact the author(s) of your blog. Most blogs have a contact link somewhere on the site; a few don’t provide any contact information at all (a pet peeve of mine). If you want to drive business with your blog, MarketingSherpa recommends adding a contact email link at the bottom of every posting. (To avoid being picked up by automated email address extraction programs used by spammers, write the email address as something like “nameATcompany.com” or “name-at-company-dot-com.”) Adding contact information to each post is particularly critical when you have multiple authors contributing to a single blog. Include each author’s Twitter link as well.
How often should you post to your blog? A good general rule to keep content fresh, yet not over-stretch your resources, is at least weekly but no more than daily. An exception to this is in the case of breaking news (for example, an insurance company tracking the progress of a hurricane, a company announcing a merger), where several posts in single day may be justified. Two to three posts weekly is decent frequency for a business blog, with Monday and Tuesday posts generally drawing the best traffic.
Avoid being derivative. Commenting on an industry news article or a post on another blog is fine, but devote most of your effort to creating unique and interesting content; after all, you want your company to be seen as a thought leader and expert in your field. Excessive use of content that been posted or reported elsewhere may generate search engine hits, but it doesn’t add value and so won’t make your blog stand out. An exception is periodic “best of” posts from other industry bloggers, which are often popular with readers and search engines alike.
Keep your posts related to your business and industry. Granted, this can be wide-ranging (such as posting on specific new laws or government regulations affecting your industry), as long as the topic is both relevant and of interest to your customers and prospects. Avoid off-topic postings, general musings and rants.
Keep in mind the nature of blog traffic; according to research firm comScore Networks, “Because blogs often source their visitors from search engines or links from other sites (often other blogs), many draw relatively large audiences that visit infrequently.” This means that each post has to add some value in and of itself. If you refer to a previous post in your blog, provide the link to it. Posts don’t need to be long, they just need to be useful.
Provide an RSS feed of your blog. (RSS stands for “really simple syndication.” You can find a useful and not overly-technical explanation of RSS here.) Information consumers have embraced RSS because of the control it gives them over the information they receive (generally without spam).
In addition to an RSS feed, allow visitors to sign up to receive your new posts via email. This also gives you some insight into who is visiting your blog.
Should you accept outside advertising on your blog? If the purpose of your blog is make money itself, ads are a potential revenue generator. Ad programs such as Google AdSense are popular and easy to integrate. But if you’re building a blog to promote your business, the only “ads” should be promotion of white papers, special offers or other information specific to your company.
With a well-crafted blog in place, you can turn your attention to promoting your blog (the subject of another post in the near future here).