The Blog Does Business

Wondering if all the hoopla about blogging really has anything to offer you, the serious business person out there in cyberspace trying to maximize your conversion potential? Then let me put it this way. Want to leverage the power of online content to boost your market exposure or augment your relationships with customers or improve your search engine visibility?

I asked Amanda Watlington, PhD, co-author of Business Blogs: A Practical Guide, to explain the blog-business-and-you connections that can help you make blogging a valuable channel for online persuasion.

So when is a blog more than the sum of its parts? Grab your imagination for this ride!

Blogs: A New Persuasion Tool for Business

Blogs are more than the ranting of political activists, the diaries of teenagers, and the musings of technophiles. Blogs have functional characteristics that promote and support business uses and can enhance your conversion potential.

Blogs:

  • provide simple Web pages that support frequent updates. Unlike formal Web pages that require extensive coding and custom graphics, blogs use simple templates. This means that they can be updated as often as you’d like.

  • are inexpensive to set up. This virtually eliminates entry barriers to having a Web presence. To blog, you need little more than a computer and Web access. The user provides time and imagination. This makes blogs especially useful for small companies (or even large companies) where Web resources are expense or scarce.

  • provide each content entry, or post, with its own unique Internet address. Search engines can spider and index individual posts, and other blog writers or readers can pass on links to individual posts thus expanding readership and search visibility for the blogger.

  • have lots of links. This creates online communities with similar interests. Quality content in a blog post becomes a link magnet. Not only will others link to the post, but they will add their own comments using the comment functionality, thus expanding the discourse.

  • are arranged in reverse chronological order. This places the most recent content at the top of the visible page and provides immediate access to the hottest, recent content on the blog.

  • use RSS, Atom or XML feeds that allow readers to subscribe to updates that can be rapidly skimmed with an RSS reader. Users can subscribe to blog content and easily read it.

  • are usually written from personal or individual perspective. This creates an environment where businesses can carry on more personal and informal conversations with customers and build the relationships that lead to return customers and increased conversion.

Beyond The Technology

How can you use these features to enhance your business? While writing our recent book, my co-author and I posed this question to over 70 business bloggers, from large organizations like IBM, Microsoft, SAP, MIT to smaller businesses like a restaurant, a commercial sign company, web design firms, and a regional winery. Several themes emerged that show how businesses are using blogs to enhance their conversion capabilities. Businesses can use blogs to:

  • Expand their market exposure. Buzz Bruggeman first used his blog, Buzzmodo, to gain greater market exposure for his software product, Active Words. He felt that it was a great product, had phenomenal reviews, but at the same time wasn’t getting needed traction. After starting his blog, his visibility mushroomed. The ActiveWords brand gained significant recognition.

  • Establish a thought leadership position. Judith Meskill writes two popular blogs, Judith Meskill’s Knowledge Notes and The Social Software Weblog; each garners thousands of unique visits every day. These blogs have provided an excellent form of indirect marketing for her consulting work, while continuing to establish her reputation in the marketplace. For example, she receives many more invitations for speaking engagements through her blogging readership.

  • Introduce new products and services. Pito Salas, head of BlogBridge, a blog and RSS reader development company, writes a blog and maintains a Web site. He finds that his blog provides a place to discuss the development of this product offering. He links from the blog to the BlogBridge site and from the Web site to his blog. The two communication channels complement each other. The blog offers longer, more informal conceptual pieces. The site offers facts and other self-contained product information. As his thoughts become more formal, he migrates them from the blog to the Web site. This use of blogs is not limited to IT firms. Rosa Smith is a weight loss coach who runs the paid subscription Web site, Mind Over Platter. She was at first concerned about providing free information on new products through her blog, ThinkingThin. She wondered if it would adversely effect paid subscriptions. She was pleased to find the reverse. Her blog complements her Web site and drives more traffic to it as potential customers get a better understanding of her thought process.

  • Enhance customer relations. Microsoft has actively supported blogging by individual employees. Robert Scoble is the best known, and he noted that blogs are one of the best ways to build relationships with lots of people across the globe. He can link to other bloggers and share traffic with them. He can point out interesting technologies. He can dialog with and get feedback from customers and developers in real-time. Microsoft has created a portal that provides customers with a single place where they can find bloggers who address their specific product questions, greatly improving the customer experience and the impact of employee blogs. SAP’s Net Weaver group also offers a central place on their web site to find bloggers. One of those listed is George Yu, marketing manger, who sees his blog as an essential part of his job. Until now, he could only get customer feedback in live presentations. Now he gets ongoing feedback through his blog.

  • Provide another direct sales channel and acquire new revenue streams. An increasing number of blog writers review products and services, making money on subscriptions and/or advertising. For example, Mark Johnson’s Hotel Chatter offers no-hold-barred reviews on hotels and has developed into a viable business, as well as a trusted source.

Provide Content That Counts

An insight gained from all the bloggers interviewed for the book was the importance of providing meaningful content for readers. A purely commercial, sanitized “voice of the company” will be immediately sniffed out by the blog reading public and spurned and scorned. So too will the fake blog. For example, Captain Morgan rum was resoundingly criticized for its fake blog featuring Captain Morgan. Do not even consider creating a blog for a mascot or brand image unless you want the controversy. Blogs are expected to have a point of view – an authentic voice of the blogger.

Blogs succeed because they are interesting and offer the reader information not readily available from other sources. As you shape your content include an array of content and lots of links. Your content does not have to be long elaborate pieces. It can be a simple as a few valuable links with a brief commentary, a pointer to an interesting site, your comments on an event or a longer more clearly thought out piece. Long pieces should be serialized or blocked into chunks so that the posts are not too long. Remember that your readers will be reading your work online and will not be printing your blog for offline browsing. A varied mix of content will keep your readers returning.

Measuring Success

Blogging takes real time and a strong commitment. Many of the bloggers interviewed for Business Blogs: A Practical Guide did not set specific goals for their blogs – they had a desire and a means to communicate. Although many bloggers have chosen this approach, I strongly recommend setting goals for the blog. Is it to increase product awareness or garner new sales? Whatever the goal set, traffic metrics can provide a hard measure of the results; however, most bloggers gauge their blog’s success on the relationships built and the connections made.

Blogs are at heart a social-networking medium. In a business world where marketers are expected to be in conversation with their customers, blogs provide an ideal medium.  It's a potential we are just beginning to tap.

P.S.  Amanda also performed the herculean task of editing Call to Action for us.  Great book.  Get it here!

Volume 112: 6/1/05


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