This is the second of my two-part series on business blogging. Today: getting started. My previous column dealt with the pros and cons of launching a blog (see BW Online, 05/15/06, "Does Your Small Business Need a Blog?").
I own a small service firm, and I've been advised to create a blog as a marketing tool. What are the pros and cons of this new medium, and how would I get started?
--C.A., Portland, Ore.
A small business which decides to enter the blogosphere should set specific goals and expectations up front. For instance, a goal might be to bring customers into a discussion about your company's products and use their feedback to inform your development efforts. Your expectations for the project might be to expand your online presence and enhance your site's status in search engines.
"A blog can be a great part of your marketing effort, but it should be planned appropriately with strategy in place," says Ruth Bielobocky, president of Ion Design, a design and branding consultancy based in Frederick, Md. "A blog should position you as an expert and demonstrate your experience. But don't forget the true needs of your target audience. If the information from the blog doesn't directly help them solve a problem or address their wants and needs, it will not work."
Once you've got an idea of what you want to accomplish with your blog, read other peoples' blogs and get a handle on what they're doing, advises James Governor, a technology analyst with Denver-based RedMonk. Reading blogs within your industry will give you a sense of what niches are underserved and will help get your own creative juices flowing so you can write authoritatively when it's your turn.
ONE TRUE VOICE. "One other reason to read blogs, particularly those with an active readership, is that other bloggers are your best friends, from a readership perspective," Governor says. "Initiate conversations with other bloggers by commenting on their blog entries. When you set up your own blog, [they will be] more likely to link to you, and send their readers...your way to check out what you're doing." His blog, redmonk.com, has helped position his consultancy as a place to find savvy advice on technology issues, he says.
You'll want to find someone in your company who's willing to blog regularly, under their real identity and with an authentic voice, says Jeneane Sessum, a communications and social-media consultant. "The role of corporate blogger can be filled by a passionate employee...or [through] a concerted effort that encourages all employees to blog...or it can be the CEO, the development team, or the courier," Sessum says.
And you'll want to be sure that your blogger has something personal and interesting to write about. "If small businesses are thinking of reiterating internal news or press releases on the company blog, they would do well to save their energy and avoid the wrath of the commenters who have been known to swarm on lame entrants into the blogosphere," she warns.
GETTING HELP. Small companies that have formed alliances with other businesses could launch joint blogs that would help them share the work with others and deliver more interesting content to their readers, Bielobocky suggests. "An interior designer, furniture store, and painting company could form a blog to share current trends in their industries and cross-promote each other. [Just make sure] all parties are equally dedicated to the effort," she says.
Contact your Web master or Web-site designer if you want to add a blog to your existing Web site, suggests Rex Hammock, who owns 25-employee Hammock Publishing in Nashville and has been blogging for six years.
If you would like to start a standalone blog or one that links to your Web site, "there are some very inexpensive, even free, Web log platforms. If you don't know where to start, go with one of the big names, [such as] Yahoo! Small Business. I also like the open-source platform WordPress, and host my company's Web log on a server running it. Also, for experimenting with a blog, there's nothing more simple than setting up one on Blogger.com, operated by Google (GOOG)," Hammock says.
TECHIE TIME. Susan Kitchens, a technical writer and blogger, cautions that some of the free blogging platforms have begun to attract spam blogs, known as (what else?) "splogs." "Because of the ways that blogs work for getting links and [search-engine] ranking, there's a whole underbelly of fake blogs that will use certain Web log features to post comments or trackbacks on your blog. The upshot is that the ills of e-mail spam are repeated for the blog," she says.
Most blogging software is set up to include your blog in search engines like Google. You may also want to use a "tagging" service, such as that provided by Technorati.com, to help advertise your blog, Governor suggests. "A tag is basically a label you give your blog -- say 'professional services.' Anyone who uses Technorati and has subscribed to that tag will receive a notification of your new blog entry on that subject," he says.
While it gets a tad more technical, Hammock recommends that you also encourage your customers to subscribe to your blog's RSS feed. "It's one of the few techie things I encourage even my most un-techie small-business friends to learn about," he says.
Some additional resources: Blogging evangelist Andy Wibbels has written a book, Blogwild, focused on small-business blogging. He also sells an e-course on blogging, called easybakeblogs, that walks clients through setting up a blog using TypePad.com. Governor's company has put some how-to guides up on its Web site, including advice on how to get started reading blogs, and easy-to-follow graphic instructions for how to set up a blog.