Ten years ago, business leaders were forced to scramble to define their “Internet strategy”. These days the question making the rounds is, “Should we get a blog?” To help you answer that question, let’s review what a blog is, and look at the different ways that a blog could help your business.
What’s a blog?
At its essence, a blog, short for weblog, or web log, is a website. Blogs differ from most corporate websites in three important ways…
Blogs are Updated Frequently
First, unlike most corporate websites that don’t change often, the content on the front page of a weblog is updated frequently, usually several times a week, and sometimes several times a day.
Blog Posts are Attributed
Second, blogs usually have specific people behind them. Who writes what you see on most company websites? Who knows? On a blog, you almost always know who the author or authors are. Their names are attached to specific articles or postings, or background information is provided about them in an About section.
Blogs are Interactive
Third, blogs are often interactive – they may invite private feedback or, in many cases, public comments from their readers, which are then published alongside the original article.
Most weblogs are created with special blogging software that makes it easy to publish new content quickly and to create professional looking web pages, and allows for the public interactivity that make blogs so unique. Consumer blogging services like Blogger and MSN Spaces offer blogs for free to millions of users. Corporate blogs are usually hosted in-house using software like Movable Type or WordPress, or are hosted by a professionally-geared service such as Typepad.
Blogs in Business
Now that we’ve covered the basics, why would you want to use a blog in your business? That depends on your specific needs. Weblogs can be either private, seen only by a pre-selected audience, or public, viewable by the whole world. Private blogs in business are used primarily to facilitate internal workgroup communications. Public-facing company weblogs are used for many purposes, most falling within the realm of PR and Marketing – company news, brand development, product information, generating buzz, community development. Weblogs are just a vehicle for communication. So whether or not your business needs a blog depends on what and to whom you need to communicate.
Many companies host blogs that sit behind a firewall for workgroup productivity and communication. Intranet blogs allow for a way of communicating that can be a welcome alternative to the mass emails, and the responses to those emails, that clog most of our mailboxes. Individuals and workgroups can easily post project updates to a blog. Others can comment on the entries, and request to be notified of updates, thus turning the blog into a powerful collaboration tool.
Unlike email boxes that get cleared out every so often, and with them all the information they contain, blog entries and their comments are stored to a database – a scalable, efficient, and searchable database, helping companies hold on to the accumulated knowledge of their employees. Blogs really are knowledge management systems, yet unlike commercial knowledge management packages, are easy to set up, easy to use, and ridiculously inexpensive. No wonder their use in the workplace is taking off.
Press releases are an important method to get the attention needed for major announcements, but what about smaller stories that might be just as interesting to your loyal customers? A blog is a perfect vehicle for everyday news items and other things that might be of interest to your customer community. An example of a large company blog used for general interest items is Google’s blog. Another is Adobe’s Photoshop News for news specifically about one product in the Adobe product line. If you have a small business, a blog may be the very best way to get timely information out to your customers. Kuhlman’s Auction blog keeps its customers well informed about upcoming auctions.
Some products have more tips and tricks associated with them than could possibly fill a product manual. A blog can show off a product’s features in more depth than a typical product manual would allow. AutoDesk Lynn Allen’s Blog focuses on AutoCAD tips and tricks. Microsoft has released several product-focused blogs recently, for example the Microsoft Excel 12 blog, the PowerPoint blog and the OneNote blog.
Helping Customers, Beyond the Product
In the 1980s, Geoffrey Moore introduced the concept of “Whole Product” marketing in his acclaimed Crossing the Chasm book. The idea was basically that customers consider the “whole product” – installation, training, support availability, and the product itself – when making a purchase decision and when deciding to stay loyal to a company’s products. Blogs can help deliver on this whole product principle and provide customers with information they need to get the most out of your products. An example of a corporate blog used for this purpose is is Salesforce.com’s CRM Success Blog, which highlights ideas, features, and case studies that can help Salesforce.com’s customers get the most value out of their CRM service. Another example is Monster.com’s blog which offers useful career advice to its job-hunting customers.
Do you have customers or partners who would love to hear more from you? Would you like a more direct channel for feedback from your customers? Use a blog to help build and nurture communities of your most influential customers and business partners. Various executives of General Motors write to GM’s Fastlane blog, covering all aspects of the GM line of cars, and actively engaging the community of auto enthusiasts. Toy maker Lego community evangelist Jake McKee uses his blog Bricks on the Brain to reach out to avid Lego collectors. Scooter manufacturer Vespa sponsors fan blogs such as Vespaquest. The Quickbooks team at Intuit uses the blog Quickbooks Blog to reach out to its user community. Quickbooks product managers share news and insights while receiving feedback from their viewers. Christian Cantrell of Macromedia (now Adobe) has an active blog aimed at the Macromedia developer community.
The ability for readers to comment in blogs like these allows you to present information and get immediate feedback from your best customers.
Are you writing a book? Filming a documentary? Putting on an event? Sailing around the world and in need of sponsors? Writing to a blog as you go about your work can help build a following, and raise anticipation for your book, film, or event. Blogs can help you develop an audience so that when your book is finally published, it’s an instant hit. A good example of a blog helping to launch a book is John Battelle’s Search Blog about the Search industry (Google, Yahoo, etc.). His book released as an instant best seller among business books – The Search.
Who Should Blog for My Company?
Sometimes the best spokesperson for a business is a company’s President, CEO, owner, or VP of Something Important. A blog allows a company executive to communicate directly to customers, partners, and investors, without going through days or weeks of marketing polish and approvals. This can be both a blessing and a curse as Seth Godin relays in his blog post – Beware of the CEO blog. Whether a CEO, VP, or product manager, the best person to blog for your company is someone with a deep knowledge of your products, someone who likes to talk with customers and won’t get unduly defensive when the feedback isn’t all positive, and someone who likes to write, and writes well.
Before representing your company via a blog, ask yourself, “Are others really interested in what I might have to say?” And, “Am I the best person to be saying it?” Not everyone is cut out for the fine balance between diplomacy and candor that a company blog requires. Excellent executive blogger examples are Sun Microsystems President Jonathan Schwartz and Six Apart President Mena Trott. A more edgy, but entertaining example is NYC Fairway Market’s Steve Jenkins’ blog.
The most important thing to keep in mind about creating a weblog for your business is that blogs, by their nature, are authentic. A blog that is just a bunch of promotional marketing speak will get nothing but derision from viewers. Blogs are highly personal; a blog is written by a real person, who can stand by her words. A good blog reflects the values of the business, and doesn’t fall into a trap of meaningless corporate speak or fluff. Blogs are best not used explicitly to polish a company’s image, although a well-thought out and executed blog will do just that. Think of using your weblog more as a way to reveal the human faces behind your company. When your blog expresses a natural enthusiasm for your products and a genuine interest in the needs of your customers, you’re on the right track.
Top 10 Reasons Your Company Shouldn’t Blog – a different perspective.
Elise Bauer is a partner in the Pacifica Group Consultancy, a strategy and marketing consulting firm focused on driving revenue growth for technology companies. In her spare time Elise publishes a number of blogs including Learning Movable Type, a highly acclaimed tutorial site for beginners to Movable Type blogging software, and Simply Recipes, a popular cooking and food blog.