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.