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Should I have a blog?

A blog can help you rev up your business. But it can also backfire, unless you use it in a way that makes sense for your business and the folks who keep your wheels on the road.

Think of a weblog as an alternative vehicle for conveying information, apart from your website. You could consider creating a blog if you are:

  • A business owner looking to expand your company's web presence and reach more potential customers
  • A marketing strategist seeking another way to promote your clients on the web
  • A community manager interacting with the people who've gathered around your brand or cause

A weblog is easy to update and easy to read. Blogging software such as WordPress or MovableType makes it a snap for an author to create and manage content, and to update the blog frequently -- even multiple times a day -- without any help from a webmaster.

A Blog Gives You a Different Voice

DvorakDesigns.com uses its blog to keep customers up to date.

Most business blogs are written in a less formal, more conversational style than the company website. A blog gives the owner freedom to talk to one specific audience, be it customers, community members or software developers. An organization's main website has to serve all of the above, in addition to current and potential vendors, the news media, investors, job seekers and industry analysts.

Because it's so informal, a blog can kick-start the cycle of communication through features such as commenting or sharing -- features the company website doesn't typically offer. A blog that invites people to participate can help a company build trust with all its audiences.

Blogs are great for sharing news that's different from what is reported on a company's main website. Note that web design firm Dvorak Designs uses its blog (pictured at left) to communicate timely news -- in this case, that the company's sites are back up after some down time. Corporate milestones such as a funding, a prestigious new customer or industry partnership might be mentioned on the blog, but are typically showcased on the company's main website.

A Blog is a Commitment

A weblog requires time and focus. Readers expect frequent, well-reasoned postings full of rich information. You should plan to update the blog at least twice weekly, or your audience could lose interest.

Your organization's credibility can be jeopardized by frivolous or unprofessional blog posts. You must establish a consistent voice, research your content, and carefully edit out the execu-speak before publishing a post. If you don't want to write the blog yourself, designate the person at your company who most enjoys writing about topics that are important to your business and your audience.

Choose Your Blog's Theme and Audience

BeadBear.com offers jewelry care advice on its blog.

Decide what business purpose your company's weblog will serve. If you cannot identify any business value, then perhaps a blog isn't right for you at this time.

Selecting the audience is part of determining the blog's value to your organization. Ask yourself who will be reading the blog: Competitors? Customers? The board of directors? Reporters?

You should write your blog for the audience that's most critical to your business. If you care most about reaching your customers and news reporters, then choose topics that will appeal to these groups, and use language they'll understand.

Companies use their weblogs to:

  • Communicate timely company news
  • Demonstrate company culture
  • Showcase community activities and outreach
  • Build trust in staff expertise by exploring industry issues
  • Demonstrate writing skills
  • Attract talent
  • Share new ideas and solicit feedback

Let's say you sell custom-designed jewelry online. You may have had customers email you, asking how to take care of the pieces they've bought. To satisfy them, you could make jewelry care the theme of your blog. Teach people how to wear, clean and store different metals, semiprecious stones, wood, glass or ceramic beads and delicate hand-wrought settings. A.R.T. Precious Collectible Jewelry does exactly this on its blog, AnneTheBeadBear.BlogSpot.com, educating customers in a lighthearted manner.

You might find your blog's theme changing naturally as the conversation with your readers takes new turns.

Write for and Interact with Your Blog Readers

Once you've decided on your blog's purpose, audience and theme, you're ready to start the update engine. You might find it difficult to write the first few entries, so create -- and then maintain -- a backlog of two or three completed posts. That way you'll always have an entry in the hopper when you get busy, or a new topic requires more effort than you expected.

As you get feedback from your readers, you'll find it easier to write for them. Close each post with an explicit invitation to comment, and respond to their thoughts promptly with your own comment, so they know they are being heard. That helps you build and reinforce trust in your cause or brand.

The comments section of your blog is also a potential gold mine for new post ideas -- even new product ideas.

Negative Blog Comments are Not Spam

Inevitably, you'll get negative comments on some blog posts. Just as inevitably, you'll want to delete these on sight.

It's worth restraining the itchy trigger finger, though. Every unpleasant or critical blog comment is an opportunity. After all, that person cared enough to bother. You are now in a dialogue with someone who wants something from you, so go ahead and try to find out what that is -- without being defensive.

You'll have an audience of people watching all this unfold. Dealing well with negative comments gives you the opportunity to generate good will with this audience. If you keep a cool head and demonstrate that you care, your angriest commenter can become your biggest advocate.

Quick Blog Tips

Quick Tips
  • Do update your weblog on a regular basis.
  • Don't air grievances on your company blog.
  • Do add sharing functions and allow readers to comment on your posts.
  • Don't be provoked into an argument by inflammatory comments, or daunted by spam.
  • Do respond to comments with comments of your own, so your readers feel heard.
  • Don't close commenting on posts when readers leave negative feedback.
  • Do provide an RSS feed so people can subscribe to your weblog updates.

Read Name Your Blog for tips about promoting your blog through its domain name and tag line.

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