A blog or Weblog is a public online diary that features the author's comments, announcements, and recommended links. Blogs are now becoming an important form of business communication as they provide a fast, cost-effective way to share information such as project updates, research or test results, product news, or industry headlines—inside and outside your company. Business blogs provide your business with an opportunity to share your expertise and knowledge with a wider audience, creating a community, and building trust and understanding among prospects and customers.
Many companies are now positively encouraging their employees to publish blogs and supporting them with blogging tools. They recognize the value of open communication and understand that good blogging content can help to develop thought leadership. However, there are risks—employees may unwittingly disclose confidential information or make remarks about customers, so companies issue guidelines to prevent serious problems. It is important for blogging to remain informal and not closely controlled as part of a corporate communications policy.
A blog is an interactive Web Site or Web Site page that features a series of articles, together with links to other related articles or other Web Sites. Like a Web Site message board, a blog has a main content area with entries listed in chronological order with the latest on top. The articles or posts may be organized by category, and there is likely to be an archive of earlier articles arranged by date or category. Blogging is a rapidly increasing growth area of the Internet. There are currently some 40 million blogs on the Internet, with new blogs appearing at the rate of 75,000 a day. A growing number of these are business blogs, also known as b-blogs.
A blog enables you to create, publish, manage, share, and syndicate communications to new and existing customers cost-effectively. With the right content, you can reach new audiences and build a loyal Web following. Because it is simple to use, blogging can give smaller companies a strong presence on the Internet for a minimal investment. Blogging gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your company's expertise, promote products or services, provide customers with news, announcements or updates, and build community.
A blog is not a place to publish your press releases, product sheets, or corporate brochure. The objective is to provide content that is relevant and interesting to your readers. This might be a comment on industry issues, new legislation, or people in the business. You can also talk informally about developments in your own company, but the emphasis is on "informally." You can also comment on issues on other people's blogs, helping to continue a debate or offering a fresh perspective. A good blog will become a source of valuable and up-to-date information for visitors. So, concentrating on good content allows you to showcase your expertise and establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry.
Commentators believe that companies are now less guarded in their sharing of intellectual property or thinking in a field. Blogging is therefore an accepted channel of open communication.
Although blogging appears to be an informal medium, planning can be important if you are using a Weblog as part of your thought leadership strategy. If possible, you should produce a publishing calendar to ensure you add new content at regular intervals. This will encourage visitors to return to your site to look for new content.
Blogs are designed to encourage interaction. At the end of any entries, there is a link that allows readers add their own comments. Readers can also look at other comments, building a thread of discussion and participation. You can also increase participation by building traffic between your blog and other blogs—a process known as "blogrolling." You can do this by placing links on your site that identify other sites on the Internet, related to your business, industry, or expertise, which you find valuable. These links keep visitor traffic moving between different sites. They increase awareness of your site and help to enhance the value of your content by providing other perspectives and valuable information.
Although informality is a key element of blogging, careful planning and management are essential to getting the best results from your site. There are three important content management tasks:
- Create categories. Your blog should follow a logical structure of categories that will be relevant and interesting to your target audience. Ideally, the content within each category should be consistent. A category with just one or two postings looks weak compared with one that has twenty or thirty postings.
- Review structure. To maintain the balance and ensure that content remains relevant, you should review your categories regularly. Where necessary, you can add, delete, or update categories. It is also worth reviewing the volume of traffic to different categories. Categories that attract low interest may be worth deleting.
- Keep content fresh. To be effective, it is important to update your blog frequently. Readers do not visit blogs that do not feature fresh content regularly. It takes time and commitment to keep on creating new content, but, if it raises your company profile, the investment is worthwhile. Do not forget to notify your audience of new content using feeds that display the new post with a link to the article.
Experience indicates that business bloggers with interesting content are achieving good search engine rankings because of the relevance and organization of their content and the popularity of their links. To optimize search engine rankings, make sure you make full use of keywords in your headlines and content. If, for example, your blog is about computer security, the words "computer" and "security" should appear as frequently as possible, and your links should point toward blog sites with similar content.
A blog is an effective way to communicate with clients and prospects regularly, building trust and strengthening relationships. The informal style of blogging can make readers feel comfortable before you make more formal contact to sell products or deliver services. By writing about events and people in your company in a conversational style, customers and prospects can get to know your company, understand its culture and attitudes, and decide whether they want to work with you. Blogging takes place in a "relaxed atmosphere" away from the pressures of the sales situation.
Blogging also allows more frequent interaction than you would find in a normal sales situation. Good blogs that are updated regularly keep visitors coming back. If they find the content valuable, that can increase satisfaction and build long-term loyalty. Your company will become recognized as experts in the field, reducing the risk for a prospect who is considering buying from you.
Blogs are a valuable source of feedback from customers, allowing them to leave comments or make inquiries about your company and its products and services. The feedback gives you a useful insight into customers' thoughts and feelings and can provide you with ideas for improving service or developing your products. Feedback from blogging should become an integral part of your decision-making process.
Industry experience indicates that employees, managers, and executives at every level are using blogging. For senior executives, blogging can be a valuable tool for building thought leadership and demonstrating capability. Some executives find that their blogs are proving a useful source of information for the media, spreading the message even further. Many companies are also encouraging their employees to blog. In technology companies, for example, employees blog about projects they are working on. This can give customers a valuable insight into the company's working methods and also encourage a degree of collaboration. In this more open environment, companies are providing the networks and the facilities for blogging, rather than trying to control or limit the process.
Despite the benefits of this more open approach, there are potential risks. Blogging can be difficult to manage. A blog that goes wrong could embarrass your company and risk alienating customers and prospects. In a worst case scenario, it could lead to legal action. Companies who allow their employees to blog issue guidelines to minimize the risk. It is essential to avoid:
- libeling anyone;
- insulting customers;
- misrepresenting the company;
- revealing confidential or proprietary information.
This can make it difficult to issue guidelines on blogs about work in progress or new product development, where an open attitude has clear benefits.
The essence of blogging is that it is informal. A blog is not a sales pitch, although it can contribute indirectly to the sales process by building trust and strengthening relationships. Your blog should therefore concentrate on issues that are of interest to your visitors, but should not include content taken from press releases or other company and product publications.
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