How do you connect with customers - and potential customers - online? Here, some blogging experts offer key ways to get your business noticed in the blogosphere.
A majority of small business owners (85 percent) are aware of blogs, but only 8 percent indicate that they use them, according to Network Solutions and the University of Maryland's 2011 Survey of Small Business Success. Such a low blogging rate may stem from a number of factors, such as not knowing where to start, lack of time or difficulty figuring out how to market a blog once it's complete.
Here, the experts weigh in on some FAQs about blogging.
Q: How do I get started?
A: Before anything else, think about your concept. Once you establish why you're starting a blog, whether for brand awareness, advertising revenue or improving your web presence, it's essential to consider what you will provide.
"Start by thinking what your readers/buyers will want. You want to equip them for success, not write about your products," Chris Brogan, author and social media expert, tells IMT. "Then, figure out the first 20 topics or so. If you're writing weekly, this will keep you powered up for a while." Brogan, whose blog [chrisbrogan.com] is included on AdAge's Power150 top marketing blog list, also emphasizes that business bloggers should consider how they will serve the rest of the company. "The blog's goal isn't to market. The goal is to equip your buyers and existing customers."
Q: I have the concept. What about the style?
A: Successful blog posts are engaging and provide a place for customer feedback to keep clients coming back for more. To stay engaging, some companies encourage feedback via blogs and respond to them in short posts. Starbucks, for example, publishes Ideas in Action, a blog that updates customers on inquiries, Inc.com reports.
For style, think about how to leave a good first (and lasting) impression without going over the top. "Give yourself a head start by choosing a name and a design that reflect your company'sbranding by thinking in terms of theme and style," Network Solutions suggests, advising businesses to look at their current advertising or website style.
While posts do not need to be longer than 350 words, they should be presentable and free of errors. Copyblogger provides an infographic that highlights 15 Grammar Goofs, which can leave an unprofessional impression.
Q: Where do I get new content?
A: Small business owners don't have to look far for content. In the upcoming book, Solving the Social Media Puzzle, coauthor and social media consultant Kathryn Rose outlines how to present effective content, and suggests companies answer common questions and provide original content by interviewing services or complementary providers.
Adding a personal touch also helps, such as guest bloggers from within the company. Problogger.com suggests highlighting a customer of the day and featuring a day in the life of an employee post, content that captures the personal essence of both the company and the consumer.
Q: Which platform should I use?
A: There are various blogging platforms that are available to test out before actually publishing content. These include tumblr, Blogger and WordPress. The latter is the current reigning champion, and can be set up in less than 10 minutes, Brogan says.
"Beyond that, you'd pay for design work to make it pretty, and then you're pretty much set until you feel like design changes. Most blogs update their look every six months," he adds.
Q: How often should I update posts?
A: For business owners with limited time to spare -- that'd be most of them -- "weekly blog posts would be the minimum," Brogan advises. "If you go monthly or twice a month, you risk losing people."
To save time on the posting process, develop a strategy early and use your customers as a prime source. "I'm sure if a small business owner sat down and wrote out the top 20 questions they get consistently about their business, they would come up with 20 blog posts to write for the next 20 weeks," Rose, whose clients range from multimillion-dollar corporations to small biz owners and entrepreneurs, says. "In the past, you'd schedule a half-hour or hour to meet with your local ad rep for the yellow pages," she tells IMT. "Instead use that time to blog."
Q: My business blog is built. How do I get it noticed?
A: "The biggest misconception is 'if you build it, they will come,' meaning that many businesses put a blog out there and assume people will flock to it and read it," Rose warns. "That is generally not the case." Rose explains that search engine optimization (SEO) is a prime way to get noticed. "Utilize free tools like Google AdWords, type in keywords you think your clients would use to find your business and see if they are really using those." This tool, and others, such as Wordtracker, can also help get you noticed and garner ideas based on search results.
Brogan offers a different approach. "A small business owner won't get their blog seen without existing on social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google," he says. Before sharing your blog, connect with clients or potential clients on such sites, which offer easy-to-navigate professional forums for specific niches. "Get to know people. Talk to them about what they're interested in, and post updates that you've written. People will find you."