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Business Blogging 101

I’ve had an increasing amount of readers writing to me over the past few weeks asking questions on the topic of how to develop a business blog as opposed to a commercial or entrepreneurial blog.

Here’s one reader’s question to help flesh this out a little:

“Hi Darren, can I ask you a question that I can’t find an answer to anywhere?

I have just been hired by XXXXX (ed – a well known company) to develop a blog for them. I’ve had both a personal and a more commercial (advertising and affiliate programs) blog before but haven’t ever written on a business blog. The more I look into it the more I realize that many of the things I’ve learned about blogging previously are just not relevant to this new venture. Can you give me any tips?”

This question is typical of a number of emails that I’ve had over the past month. It seems that businesses are catching onto the power of blogs (or at least are perceiving them to be powerful) but both they and some of the bloggers they are hiring are unclear on how a business should use blogs.

Disclaimer – I’ve never written a ‘business blog’ and am not really sure I’m the person to be asking these questions as any expertise I might have is more in the type of blogging that earns income from ad or affiliate programs. As a result I’m looking forward to the opinions of readers who have more direct experience with business blogging – please feel free to share what you know in comments.

However having being asked the question numerous times – let me attempt to shed some light on the topic from my perspective….

Get Objectives Clear – the advice that I find myself giving to bloggers of all types is to think ahead of time about a blog’s goals and objectives. If I was being hired by a company to develop a blog I would work very hard at finding that company’s expectations for the blog out before starting it (actually – I’d find them out before accepting such a position).

My sense in many of the questions that I’m being asked by bloggers and by business people wanting to hire bloggers is that many business blogs are being started simply because they seem like a good idea and because everyone else has one.

While they can be a good idea and many people do have them, these are not good enough reasons to start one in my books. The most effective business bloggers that I’ve come across seem to know what their job is, know what the boundaries for their blogging are and stick within these boundaries.

What should a business blog’s goals be? (I can hear the questions already).

This is a difficult question to answer as a business blog’s goals will vary incredibly depending upon the business, it’s overall goals, the personality and style of the blogger etc.

Business Blog’s goals could include any of the following (or a combination of them):

  • Driving Sales – directly promoting products and services – for example announcing new products.
  • Public Relations – management of crisis situations, promoting company vision and developments etc
  • Customer Relations – fostering customer loyalty, building relationships with clients and customers etc
  • Research and Development – garnering feedback and suggestions from clients
  • Information and Education – giving customers information on how to use products
  • Internal Communications – password protected blogs for staff – for training, communications, work-shopping ideas etc
  • Community Development - developing client community around a product.

The above goals are just the initial ones that come to mind. Many business blogs combine elements of the above together into single blogs, some companies have multiple blogs for different goals.

Beware of the Propaganda Trap – one of the dangers that I see some business blogs falling into is using blogs simply to spin a PR message that is quite one dimensional and quite obviously propaganda.

The blogging space (and I’d say the wider community) is increasingly cynical of company ‘spin’ and businesses that blog in this way run the risk of having their weaknesses exposed (possibly with significant consequences) if they don’t blog in a transparent way that is willing to not only acknowledge and highlight a business’s strengths and achievements but also it’s failings and areas that it needs to improve upon.

This is of course a fine line to walk (no one said business blogging is easy) but is something to be clear about in the early days of defining the goals of a blog.

Blogs as Interactive Spaces - blogging is an interactive medium. Whereas traditional business websites tend only to get interactive to the point of having a ‘feedback’ or ‘contact’ form – the blogging space is a much more interactive space – whether you want it to be or not.

The most obvious interaction on most blogs is in the comments section where readers are given freedom to have their say on what the blogger/business has written.

This is something that freaks a lot of businesses out. The idea of giving their customers a voice is quite threatening to many companies and I’m sure is one reason why many avoid having a blog at all.

Of course one option to soften the impact of comments is comment moderation or even not having comments at all – however this does not always solve the problem as the interaction that blogging brings goes beyond comments sections. Bloggers regularly comment on one another’s blogs on their own blogs and while this can open up some amazing opportunities for publicity it of course can be the downfall of some companies also if they are not willing to hear both the positive and negative opinions of their customers.

I don’t have an easy answer for businesses thinking through the interactivity of blogging except to say that as user generated content becomes more and more prevalent that people will use the medium to talk about your company more and more whether you have a blog or not. My opinion is that rather than ignoring it, having a presence in the space at least shows your willingness to interact.

Blogging Takes Time - another of my pieces of advice for bloggers of all kinds is to make sure that they are putting aside enough time to do their blog justice. I suspect many businesses just think that they’ll start a blog, post something to it once a week and that it will solve all their problems – but unfortunately this is just not the case. Writing posts is just one element of a blog and as it becomes more established and grows a bigger readership the time needed to run it at a professional level can become quite significant.

Time will be needed to interact with those leaving comments, monitoring what other bloggers are saying about your company (and responding), reading and interacting with other bloggers in a niche, learning about blogging etiquette, tracking trends within the blogosphere etc

Good businesses seek to bring professionalism to all aspects of their business and a blog should be no different.

Advertising on Business Blogs - a common question that I’m often asked by businesses starting up blogs is whether they should run advertising on their blogs.

To be quite honest the question always surprises me a little. In most business blogs that I’ve come across the primary objective is to build their own business up in some way or another. Advertising can obviously benefit a business by the revenue it brings in – but generally it promotes other people’s businesses also and sends your readers away from your site to someone else’s.

Before running ads on a business blog I’d suggest thinking long and hard about why you’d want to do that. Again this will come back to the blog’s goals but my recommendation in most cases would be to avoid running ads on a blog and if you want to use your blog to make money to do it by driving traffic into those aspects of your business that generate an income rather than those aspects of other people’s businesses that make them money.

Advertising on blogs is by no means a bad thing (in my humble opinion) but if you’re going to do it make that your primary goal and develop a commercial blog that is less about your business and more about a topic or niche.

I’ve seen some business blogs try to both run ads and promote their business but in most cases that I’ve had anything to do with they generally don’t work to achieve both goals.

Basic Blogging Principles Apply – While business blogs might differ in some ways to other types of blogs there are many general blogging principles and skills that still apply ranging from SEO skills, to being able to write useful content, to being able to overcome blogging apathy, to being able to build a readership (the list could go on). Read more on the basics of blogging that will apply to most styles of blogging at my blogging for beginners series.

As I say – I’m definately no business blogging expert and I’d now like to hand this post over to those of you who have a little more experience in it than I do.

What advice would you give new business bloggers and businesses wanting to get into blogging? What is unique to business blogs that is different to other forms of blogs? What should business bloggers avoid? What are blogs most useful for when it comes to business? And lastly – give us a few examples of business blogs that you think are doing a good job.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. It’s important not to blog on endless promoting your company. Talk about industry issues, related topics, hints on using your products & services, etc. — in other words, offer value, not marketing drivel.

    Some take this a bit too far and never mention their company or products at all, except in the sidebar and perhaps title. It’s fine to occasionally weave in your products and services into your posts – I suggest you do. Just don’t sound like an infomercial!

  2. Grokodile says:

    I think you provided some very good advice. Readers are not going to come to a company blog because they really care about the company itself.

    They are there because they want or need something. Maybe it is information, perhaps entertainment, possibly support, or maybe it is simply to complain about a horrible service or product experience.

    As you said, I don’t think a company should be afraid to sell itself, but it shouldn’t let it get it’s sales efforts ahead of the real reason that the user is there. Again, just as you stated, the blog and it’s readers may have many purposes in mind, which should also be fine as long as it isn’t confusing.

    Nice post!

  3. A good example of a business blog is the Dreamhost webhost blog at http://blog.dreamhost.com/. That blog is actually one of the main reasons I decided to switch to Dreamhost for my blogs.

    Their blog, while it’s a business blog, is very loose and personal. It isn’t like most business blogs that come off as more of a formal PR website. With them making their business blog have a more personal and “real” tone to it, I felt like I could trust them a bit more and listened to what they had to say. It also helped make the posts be more interesting to read.

    Obviously many businesses will probably need a more formal type blog, but it’s refreshing to come across ones that don’t take themselves too seriously.

  4. Jim Logan says:

    You touched on what is the most important of all business blogging decisions: having a clear objective.

    As with all marketing efforts, businesses need to have a clear objective of what they hope to accomplish before they begin. It continues to amaze me how many companies start a website, blog, direct mail campaign, etc. with no clear idea of the result they’re hoping to achieve.

  5. I recommend that your emailer get a copy of Naked Conversations, a book about business blogging by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. Rough drafts of some of the chapters can be seen on their website at:

    http://redcouch.typepad.com/

  6. Brian Clark says:

    Great post Darren. Although I may take issue with differentiating between a business blog and an “entreprenurial blog.”

    I’d advise anyone starting any type of business to start a blog as the foundation of their promotional plans. Now, I know that’s not how you were using the phase, but a blog can be directly responsible for selling services and even products from businesses that are not technically “problogging.”

    Blogging may be the best thing that ever happened to small businesses and solo professionals who are willing to put some time and effot into it.

    And Jim, you’re absolutely right. If you don’t have a clear objective before you start blogging, you had better take a step back and figure it out before you go any further and wrongly determine that “blogging doesn’t work.”

  7. Two thoughts came to mind while reading this post. 1. Scoble’s book, which Blaine already mentioned, and 2. Debbie Weil and her blog and ebooks on the subject of business and corporate blogging. http://www.debbieweil.com/

  8. Ken says:

    I think the GM Fastlane blog is an example of a good business blog. They’re very GM-centric, but don’t go overboard on sappy PR.

  9. Rich Owings says:

    I think Garmin has an interesting and useful blog.

    http://garmin.blogs.com/

  10. David Bain says:

    I think it’s also important to empahsise that a blog doesn’t have to look like a seperate entity to the business’ existing website. It should be part of an overall promotional strategy that blends into one corporate image.

  11. razib says:

    Great post Darren. I just finished reading a great post by Scoble titled, “Why Wall Street didn’t believe Steve Ballmer (and what he can do about it)” (http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/2006/06/14/why-wall-street-didnt-believe-steve-ballmer-and-what-he-can-do-about-it/) in which he has talked about the power of grassroot (bloggers) people. I like to quote from his post:
    “That’s an easy one. Cause he didn’t convince the grass roots influence networks first. Why have Google and Apple done so well in the last three years? Cause the grassroots loves them. That’s the powerroot of the industry. Ideas here don’t come from the big influencers and move down. No, they start on the street and move up. Anyone miss how Google got big? Not by throwing a press conference.
    Ballmer should not listen to his PR team and instead should live the blogging way.
    Huh?
    Did you miss that I turned into an international news story that has gotten more attention than everything Microsoft announced at its big TechED conference this week?.”
    (Sorry for the long quote. )
    So, every company that wants to start a business blog should focus on blogging instead of trying to do business. Only then, blogging can become helpful for a company. Otherwise, the idea of business blogging will only backfire. Attitude is very important here.

  12. Bill says:

    Great post (as always) Darren.
    I work with an international finance company and have suggested we use a blog for customer service issues. I think the interactivity would be very useful and create a strong link between the company and readers.
    There are a number of issues though that need to be considered in addition to what’s been posted:
    1. Reputational Risk: how will the information be used by readers? This isn’t “opinion” anymore when it’s a business blog it’s the corporations “view” and as such can be taken any which way. Therefore, there needs to be a sanity check on the content.
    2. Timeframes: corporations tend to talk long term but operate short term (shareholders being what they are!!) so a business blog needs to be seen as a long term issue and allow the ups and downs that we all experience as we get started to be catered for in the strategy. For example, the comments may start off being quite negative but if the corporation sees this as a “venting” issue and only moderates a little, they will build a very loyal readership because they are ‘not’ censored. (think of controversial journos who people love to hate but would never stop reading their columns)
    3 It ‘is’ about PR: no two ways about it. I don’t mean PR in the sense of advertising but in the sense of opening up to the public and allowing a two-way conversation that the public will find engaging. I believe the business blog to be so powerful it could actually be a ‘point of difference’ and one that is sustainable because it would be written by a unique personality/ies that people would gravitate to.
    4. Personality: if the blog is purely ‘business’ it won’t work it MUST have a personality and that means a there needs to be one or two people managing and writing for it. (it would be posssible to have more who write under one or two assumed names but over time I think this would lose it’s uniqueness.)

    The points I’ve made are in addition to Darren’s post and other comments. It will be interesting to see how this goes. I’ll look forward to more comments and ideas.

  13. If you fill a business blog with promotional copy, no one will read it.
    If you fill it with interesting stories, written by interesting people—maybe or maybe not related to the widgets you sell or your bottom line–you will attract readers. If it’s well written, you’ll attract even more readers. Use a blog to tell the stories about that busines that you would tell to your families at home at the end of the day, or to your best friend over drinks. Talk to your niche markets. Ask readers to tell their own stories. Begin a conversation. It’s that easy.

    (chief blogger at Stonyfield Farm and, now, business blogging consultant)

  14. John says:

    Hey Darren,
    One of the guys over at http://www.abestweb.com tipped me off about you and this blog. It looks like I can learn a ton here.

  15. Darren Rowse says:

    nice to have you here John.

  16. Darren:

    Once again you arouse the blogging community with your excellent article about business blogs. I would have to ad to the great comments above, that a business blog is a chance for a company to step from behind the corporate veil and let its people shine. For example, I purchased a MINI COOPER and found great information on their website before and after the purchase. One can even physically go to England and tour the facility. Anyway, they introduced some people behind the scenes, but what would have put the icing on the cake, would have been the ability to post back and forth with Jon Cowan, the test driving coordinator, and ask him all kinds of stuff about putting the rubber to the road.

    Enjoy your upcoming “vacation.”

  17. Darren:

    You covered everything so thoroughly, gosh darnit, that this comment is just an aside” to your brilliance.

    One of the first pages I visit when I go to a company’s website is the “About Us” section. Small companies tend to be great about putting up this type of information, although, with many throwing up sites now just to make money, this is less and less so. BUT, I digress.

    I think companies — big and small — need to let more of their people shine through in their blog. Eg, meet Sherry, the executive assistant to the president. She’s an avid snowboarder and always keeps the office informed about where to find the best powder during ski season.

    This could be a section of the blog, of course (eg, our “Spotlight Employee of the Week”); not the whole blog. Most companies tout that their employees are their most valuable assets — well, give them a chance to shine.

    This would accomplish two things — one, create employee loyalty; and two, scale even the largest corporate conglomerate down to a “human” level.

    Once again, fantastic topic.

    P.S.: I do heed my own advice; I’m retooling my site, so the About Us section will be back soon.

  18. Brian Brown says:

    May I humbly suggest reading some of the reviews of Small Business Blogs at my website. My reviews point out things that companies are doing right–and wrong–on their business blogs. I believe my site is currently the largest directory of active business blogs available.

    http://www.pajamamarket.com

    Cheers,
    -Brian

  19. Commercial Businesses are not ready for blogging,(i.m.o.) unless their business is about blogging. Blogs are just software that is a content management system (i.e. you don’t have to hire a webmaster to change your website anymore, you can do it yourself in 20 seconds). Having said that, then they should just be product blogs (as we affiliates know them as) or an online resource library of information. Use blog software to add new products or remove obsolete products or information or news. That’s it. Employees should not be blogging, Remember freecell? Solitaire? Times that by 100 factor by unproductive hours.

    Blogging by consultants and individuals in business who charge an hourly rate for their services are only in it’s infant stages. Self-Employed people thing they have to show off what they know, instead of portraying who they are. It makes sense that they can contribute to show how much knowledge they have but, if I’m looking for a lawyer, I just don’t care about the guy blogging for the law firm.I’d personally be leary about the lawyer that blogs too much, and maybe you wonder if he actually does law or not. Also, those that “leak” too much information about their business or their clients is just not good and in most cases reprimandable by their professional organization… not to mention stuff about subject to the privacy act, or other confidential agreements, stated or implied.

    One of the most fascinating things to me in early 2005 BEFORE Win sale (besides reading Problogger blog when it was about 400 feedburner count) .. was being able to add Mr. Jason and Mr Nick’s RSS feed in my reader in my own Bloglines .. and listen to the ramblings and nonsense and business accumen thinking of these very public and prominent businessment. Yes .. I said “MR” because of my respect still for them! And, if they talked about their own site and products? or somebody elses? I certainly clicked on that link.

    So – when an existing client asks me to set up a commercial blog for their business, I just nod my head ‘no’ and offer to train them in an hour how to create a ‘Blog About Nothing’ (like Seinfeld show) .. and suggest that if the owner himself writes a blog .. I’d read it .. not the people who I train. But, that’s me .. missing opportunities and living paycheque to paycheque.

  20. Blogging for business allows owners and marketers can be found in the long tail. Yes, there’s the obvious interact vie nature of business blogging, which positions business owners to benefit from the irreversible trend of participatory media. But the thing that often gets glossed over or missed completely by those who understand blogging is the tremendous search engine optimization power that blogs have for business.

    When a business understands how to select and integrate the right keywords for their product or service, they can achieve results that previously cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars per month.

    The primary goal of business owners and marketers online is to be found when prospects execute a search. Capturing their attention and initiating the relationship that builds trust comes next. Armed with the right business blogging strategy business owners and marketers can do both very efficiently while saving thousands of dollars on marketing and search engine optimization.

    To compliment Brian’s PajamaMarket.com case studies, check out the Blogging for Business category over at Advanced Business Blogging.

  21. Terry Zulit says:

    You know, from reading this thread, I don’t think I could ever blog for someone else. Can’t imagine just writing just for the sake of commerce. I suppose blogging for the passion of it is old history now. I mean of course their are many “passion blogs” still (thank god), but there is going to be a massive amount of blogs created only for business reasons.

    I wonder if business blogs can actually keep up with personal bloggers who write for the pleasure of it? It’s great seeing personal blog being the sources of envy for corps!

    -Terry

  22. Dann says:

    Apart from a clear objective, time will always be an issue. And how do we calculate the return on investment for the staff’s working time allocated for blogging?

  23. OM says:

    Looks like this is going to be the fastest development in the blog world.
    Business rules !

    OM

  24. A great and informative post. I have just linked to this post from a blog post of mine which will be published on the 9th January, so hopefully my users will gain some good knowledge as a result of this post.

    Nice work Darren. Keep it up mate.

  25. N Miller says:

    Thank you for this very informative post. I had so many questions on how to write, promote and manage the small business blog we started. Every one of my questions were answered and I got some great ideas to work with. Thanks again!

  26. thomas maximus says:

    Everybody can be a business man or women with so many opportunities which is coming on the line. So make use of it as it is for your own good.
    ________________________________________________________
    thomas maximus
    Home Based Business

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