Conrad Bennett, technical services director at WebTrends explains how a carefully considered blog can boost your business.
Tim Berners-Lee recently stated that blogs embody his original vision for the internet, where "anybody who used the web would have a space where they could write."
True, blogs do represent a step towards a deconstructed form of internet communication, where complicated hypertext is eschewed and in Berners-Lee' s words we all " just write text".
However, from a business perspective at least, there's more to blogging than just writing text.
There are, of course, inherent dangers in sharing personal views over the internet. Foreign Secretary David Milliband had his blogging fingers burnt earlier this year when responding to Arsenal' s Champions League defeat at the hands of Liverpool.
He lambasted a "dodgy" Swedish referee, accused a Dutch player of falling over "rather too easily " and said Philippe Senderos, a Swiss defender for Arsenal, "left half of north London cursing that he was ever let into the country."
Although fellow Gooners may have applauded these comments, they failed to provoke much humour among the European nations on the receiving end.
On this occasion Milliband forgot that a blog should not become a vehicle for emotional outbursts and thoughts better kept to one's self.
Even more lately a Tesco ‘Fresh and Easy’ marketing man’s blog, written following Radiohead’s much anticipated return to the stage, stated: "What an amazing performance! They sounded just as fresh as ever… They're impossible to categorise. In our own small way, that's what customers say about us. We have the quality and interesting selection of a speciality market, but also the brands and convenience of a supermarket. And the prices of a big box retailer! Take our assisted checkouts…"
And you don’t need to be a blogging expert to see why this little gem will have had readers ‘checking out’ of that particular blog as quickly as possible.
Waitrose CEO Mark Price's endeavours make for a better case study. Capitalising on his food-loving image, the blog catalogued Price's struggle with weight gain, while cross-promoting Waitrose foods as he described his calorie intake.
Mr Price's efforts - supported by commentary from a Waitrose nutritionist - demonstrate how a blog can deliver product messaging without becoming impersonal and 'salesy', and follows less-than-successful executive blogging efforts by the likes of Carphone Warehouse co-founder Charles Dunstone.
Last year he gave up his blog, which was intended to promote his broadband offering but subsequently became a running apology for poor service.
Key to success
The key to success is using blogs to drive engagement and involvement with your products or services.
To do that, they need to be interesting, useful and regular. Visitors like the idea of the 'inside track' they can get from a blog, but it needs to be more than just fluff, and must be updated consistently.
Nothing kills engagement like content that's not posted on a predictable schedule.
Business blogs fall into two broad categories. The first, 'internal contributors’, are where people within your operation generate the content. Intended as a communication tool with the outside world, they provide a controlled environment in which to establish a closer and / or less formal relationship with customers and prospects.
The benefit of using insiders to generate the content is that of easy editorial control: you get to choose the subjects, frequency and length. The downside of this is the risk of appearing too formal or stilted.
At its heart, blogging is intended to provide a simple publishing forum for all, and it's important not to lose sight of this.
The second category, 'external contributors’, is where you provide an environment where customers can blog about you.
Businesses are understandably nervous about opening up to this kind of feedback, but it's a good way to create a community feel by soliciting and encouraging contributions directly. The benefits here include free content and publicity, and a genuine platform for the discussion of your brand.
You get immediate feedback on everything from new campaigns, services and products to the state of your website - and all shot straight from the consumer's hip.
The downside comes with the considerable resources required to monitor and control the content. Do you allow anyone to post, then edit or delete posts after the fact, or does everything get approved before it gets uploaded?
Considering how your blog will be measured and what success looks like are fundamental. For example, a post regarding a new product or service may be expected to drive additional visitors to your site, with a subsequent increase in conversions.
As the site owner, only you can decide how much more likely a conversion is compared to the headline in the weekly customer email, a standard internet banner ad or a paid-search keyword.
Once you've got the groundwork nailed, it' s down to making sure that the blog postings resonate with readers, and faster than Berners-Lee can say, " just write text"; it could become one of the must effective communication tools at your disposal.
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