April 29, 2008

Basic Guide to Business Blogging

by Brian Turner

10 Rules for engaging the Social Web

This is an edited form of a report I recently sent to a corporate client, to help explain the principle of why blogging would be useful for engaging the social web.

I’m not going to push for presentation below or send it out as link bait – it’s an edited client report that others may be able to use to help with their own client relations, either as a reference point, or else as a template for their own report writing.

Basic Guide to Business Blogging

Terms to understand

Blog – a website or section of a website updated by one or more individuals on a periodic basis, which provides personalised commentary and insight for consumption for third-party readers.

Blogger – person involved in writing content to a blog.

Blog post – a page of text created as an entry in a blog.

Blogosphere – general collective name for all blogs across the internet

Ping – a method of automatically informing third-party services that the blog has updated with new content. Also a way of informing other blogs that they are being referenced.

Trackback – A form of notification published on a blog from a third-party blog, showing that the third party blog is referencing a particular blog post.

Spam – Trackback Spam and Comment Spam are methods used to try and gain links and free advertising in an unsolicited manner. Methods are either automated using scripts or by using cheap labour from developing countries.

Introduction to Blogging

Business blogging is effectively the writing of an expert column, very much like a regular newspapers column.

The difference between a newspaper column and a blog are essentially due to the different media formats being used, and the different opportunities for communication.

A newspaper column is subject to printing schedules, space limitations, and ordinarily discussion where it occurs does so offline.

A blog, on the other hand, is not subject to printing schedules, and therefore can be written and updated at whatever pace the writer likes.

Additionally, because there is no specific schedule, the writer of a blog can publish their voice and opinion relatively immediately to news, rather than readers having to wait until the following day until the newspapers are printed and distributed.

Also, because there are no constraints on space, a blogger can write articles which are as long or as short as they wish.

And because the publication of views in a blog occurs online, any discussion online regarding such articles usually also occur online.

The Benefits of Business Blogging

The two main benefits of a blog are:

- Brand promotion
- Brand protection

Brand promotion comes from positioning the blog as a centre for expert industry opinion. By doing so, it focuses positive attention on the company for industry discussions online, generates traffic from other websites as a result of this discussion, and additionally builds links which raise the website’s overall presence on search engines.

The social aspect of the internet has been increasingly developed and promoted over the past few years, which means that companies that are able to tap into this can generate extra brand exposure for themselves, and attempt to leverage this by turning visitors into customers.

Blogging also allows a company to directly promote its Unique Selling Points over rival companies.

While promotional literature is generally frowned upon by internet audiences, informational content is richly digested, and use of a blog platform allows for easy access to such information, so that it can be disseminated by the blog’s readers.

Brand protection is another aspect of blogging that can be leveraged, as part of a public relations exercise. This can be done by trying to spin unpleasant industry news to reduce any potential negative impact on The company.

Additionally, where complaints or concerns are raised elsewhere on the internet, either directly because of customer service issues relating to the company, or else within the industry as a whole, then a blog allows the company to project a voice to address such concerns in both a proactive and reactive manner.

Blogging Content

The core content of a blog is expert opinion for communicating with readers.

While individual blog remits may vary, for business purposes a blog is usually used for positioning the company represented as a leader in its industry.

This can be aimed either directly at consumers or business, or both.

It’s important to note that unlike newspaper columns, where the word is printed and exists in isolation to the world, a blog is directly and indirectly linked via a range of communications methods with the rest of the internet.

That means that while presenting an expert opinion is the primarily content strategy, the internet allows individuals and organisations to be notified via various means (pings, trackbacks, alerts, search) that they are being discussed.

And a founding principle of the blogosphere has been that the presentation of opinion will be subject to dialogue – whether invited or not.

Blog format pointers

Reading on the internet often involves skimming through an article for key pointers to see whether it is worth giving further attention.

Therefore anything to help grab attention will be helpful in retaining reader attention.

This can be done in the following ways:

1. Blog titles

Target readers interest directly with a strong title. For those people accessing the blog via feed readers, such as Google Reader, Bloglines, etc, a strong title will stand out more strongly against other recently updated blogs the reader is subscribed to, and more likely to grab their attention.

2. Headings

Headings and subheadings help break up sections of text into more easily digestible segments.

3. Bullet points

Bullet points helps make the content of the piece easier to access and judge more quickly.

However, bullet points should be used to summarise and illustrate the facts of the content being described – to support the article, and not be provided in lieu of it.

4. Images

Facing long sections of text, readers can quickly lose interest. Therefore a modest use of images to accompany a piece can help make a blog post more visually engaging.

Blog communications

The main method of dialogue with a blog is via comments sent a blog. This shows a readership feels adequately engaged enough by the blog and content to provide feedback and commentary.

Additionally, where other blogs also discuss the blog content, trackbacks can be sent to inform the original blogger that their content is being discussed.

Using tools such as Technorati and various blog search engines can help discover where any further discussion is taking place, and engaged with.

The blogger is not restricted to only posting information on their own blog – they are also welcome to seek out other blogs covering similar topics and industry events, to make relevant comments as required.

However, blog comments and trackbacks have been extensively leveraged by people looking to spam unsolicited advertising at blogs, not least for perceived search engine advantages, so care is required in ensuring that all comments are moderated, common spam methods identified and dealt with, and any repeat offending IP’s be blocked.

Pitfalls of blogging

Blogging well is not easy, and there are a number of simple pitfalls that can befall the business blogging experience:

1. Too promotional

A blog should avoid being used directly as a promotional channel, and instead focus on being an information channel.

The promotion comes from brand marketing and recognition, by centring the blog as an authoritative industry voice, which is to be read and referenced across the wider internet.

2. Lack of diversity

While the blog would provide further information on the company’s products and services, it also needs to be able to offer an authoritative industry voice on wider events in the financial services industry – even where such news has no direct impact on the company’s trading.

A company blog should seek to centre the company as a leading source of information and commentary on the relavant industry.

3. Frequency of posts

A blog does not need to be posted to daily, but unless a blog is updated at least weekly, the danger of potential readers losing interest increases.

By posting relatively frequently, it invites visitors to become return visitors.

In doing so, a The company blog would continue to invite return visitors to both spread a positive message about what they are reading to other potential visitors, and in doing so, invite those visitors into becoming customers.

4. No protagonist

When reading a novel, it’s usually essential to have a protagonist whom the reader can associate with, sympathise with, and empathise with to some degree.

Even when the protagonist is involved in ordinary everyday activities, our association with them as readers keeps us engaged.

A blog should carry the same principle – the blogging voice should be personal, not impersonal. Where possible, use personal experience and anecdotes.

5. Dialogue

A blog isn’t a one way communication – it’s an opportunity for dialogue. While Press Releases give journalists a chance to communicate a company message to a wider audience, a blog allows the ability to communicate directly with that audience.

Therefore it is usually recommended to allow comments to be posted, and where the blog is found to be discussed elsewhere, post comments there, too.

Doing so allows the building up of a loyal readership – a loyalty that is directly and indirectly being associated with the company brand.

6. Moderation

Where comments are allowed, it is essential to ensure comments are moderated. This is because while there will be sensible and engaging readers, there will also be people whose responses are clearly inappropriate.

Blogs are also a major target for comment spam – automatic scripts trawling the internet looking for places to post advertising, especially links, supposedly for search engine benefits.

Inappropriate and spam content is potentially damaging to any brand represented by a blog publishing such material, and is a simple way to create a poor user experience for dedicated readers.

Further information and examples on blog spam will be provided, as comment spam is increasingly sophisticated, in order to attempt to appear normal, and therefore be published.

7. Editorial & Legal

The danger with large corporations is that every single piece of text published to the outside world must undergo legal review before being approved.

This legal approval process can significantly slow down discussion pieces. This is detrimental to communications because a discussion piece about today’s news should be published today.

If there is a delay of 1 or 2 days, the danger is that the potential audience has already commented and moved on from what has become “old news” completely cutting the company out of the discussion loop.

Additionally, legal review should be largely unnecessary in most instances. So long as basic editorial guidelines are followed, such as avoiding comment on third-parties, issues such as defamation/libel can ne relatively easily avoided.

Therefore it is recommended that the company apply the following:

1. A non-intrusive disclaimer that opinions expressed in the blog section are personal opinions and may not reflect the corporate policy of the company
2. A dedicated editor or editorial process that can otherwise allow opinion pieces to be fast-tracked into publication.

Summary

Business blogging is a way to reach out to existing customers, potential new customers, and widen the public relations influence of the company through engaging in the rapidly increasing active social web.

With a properly co-ordinated blogging remit, the company should not simply be able to improve its traffic and links, but more importantly, increase the strength of its brand, attract more customers, and convert more of its traffic into sales.

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Story link: Basic Guide to Business Blogging

 

One Response to “Basic Guide to Business Blogging”

  1. Rob Davison on August 7th, 2008 12:16 pm

    Good article, I think that Blogging is included in the Marketing Agenda of many companies. Some event have a section in their Contract of Employment close to the Email policy. So Blogging is another valuable tool in getting the branding out there.

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