Aug. 15–Maybe you’ve noticed that the buzz about blogs is deafening right now.
To many, blogs aren’t The Next Big Thing. They are The Thing. Right now.
Blogs — a shorthand way to say Web log, which is akin to an online journal — have in a few years catapulted to the covers of magazines like BusinessWeek, become an important political tool, and cemented their place in popular culture as an increasingly vital way to get information.
And now, business is going to the blogs. Major corporations like General Motors and small businesses like Zenful Creations, a Web design firm in Coral Springs, have jumped on the blog bandwagon.
Blogs aren’t going away. The question is, is it something you want for you or your business?
“My blog is my personal thing. … That’s my playground. But it can turn around and give you business,” said Lori Leach, owner of Zenful Creations and a blogger for several years. “It’d be silly not to do it, because it has so many advantages.”
The plus side of blogs for small businesses: You need not be part of the technerati to have one. Some services will help you set up a blog for free, and some businesses are using blogs as their main Web site.
By putting some effort and time into a blog, you can raise your business’ profile on the Internet and bolster sales. For instance, Leach estimates that about 40 percent of her business has come from people who first visited her blog.
People like Leach may be early adopters when it comes to blogging for business’ sake.
Blog use is growing rapidly, according to a survey conducted last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. By the end of 2004, the study found that 32 million Americans were reading blogs. Of the 120 million American adults using the Internet, the study showed 7 percent of them — more than 8 million people — had created blogs last year.
But businesses blogging hasn’t moved at a similar pace. A corporate survey by Backbone Media Inc., a Boston-based Internet marketing firm, reported that “even though a few companies had several hundred, if not thousands, of blogs listed, not every blog at a major company actually had a lot of posts and comments.”
Still, some companies are moving into the “blogsphere,” and experts say that a blog can really benefit small businesses because it allows them to communicate with customers in an easy, inexpensive fashion.
“I think every small business needs to be on the Internet,” said Denise O’Berry, a small business consultant and blogger in Odessa. “If they don’t have a Web page they need to have a blog. And a blog is just so much easier to deal with, you don’t have to learn any of the technological stuff.”
Indeed, some companies are using blogs to give their businesses an Internet presence, said Josh Hallett, a blog consultant in Celebration.
Services like Blogger.com allow users to create and maintain free blogs. A paid service like TypePad is still inexpensive — the costliest service they provide is $150 a year.
“It’s kind of like when the printing press was invented,” Hallett said before leading a session on business blogs for a Palm Beach County public relations trade group. “With blogs, anyone can quickly publish content.”
The ease of use may be attractive, but companies can benefit from blogs in other ways, Hallett said.
For example, if companies are being discussed — or, perhaps, disrespected — by their customers online, a blog can provide a way for businesses to be part of that conversation because the blog lets businesses communicate directly with customers, and helps businesses get their message out.
Another benefit: higher Internet exposure for your company. Internet search engines like Google favor sites with frequently updated content, and many blogs update at least once a day, if not more.
“If you blog on a regular basis, you will generate a lot of content, which could then be indexed by the search engines,” said John Cass, director of Internet marketing strategies for Backbone Media.
He thinks small businesses in particular can benefit from a blog. Business blogs provide a venue for companies to interact online with their customers and respond to their needs — something that many small businesses do offline, Cass said. “Most small businesses … spend a lot of time on providing customer service to their customers,” he said. “It’s a strategic advantage that they have.”
He uses the example of a friend in Seattle who runs a bakery. Cass said he has pestered his friend to start a blog because it would increase her bakery’s Internet exposure, but it could also be a good stage for discussion — for instance, brides-to-be could turn to the blog for information about wedding cakes, he said.
Of course, there’s a catch: Running a blog, any blog, means devoting time to writing entries, posting interesting articles or starting discussions, responding to comments, and maintaining that momentum so you don’t become what O’Berry, the small business consultant, calls “Internet litter.”
“People jump in with no plan of action, they have no idea what they’re going to write about, they don’t write,” O’Berry said. “… It’s a dead blog sitting out there.”
She recommends business bloggers come up with a focus for their blogs, stick to it, and brainstorm potential postings in advance. O’Berry said she carries around a notebook so she can jot down ideas that spring to mind for her blog.
While other blogs may meander from topic to topic — how the writer is feeling, what he ate for dinner Friday night — a business blog needs to stay within certain parameters, O’Berry said. “Otherwise people get confused. ‘Are we reading about her family today or what new product is coming out?'” she said. “You need to stay on topic, whatever that topic happens to be.”
You don’t always have to personally pen an entry. Some bloggers post interesting articles, then give their own thoughts. Or they put out queries for readers’ comments.
While Cass agrees a business blog needs to be focused, he thinks business bloggers should feel free to inject some of their personality into the entries. Part of the success of blogs “is to have a human voice,” he said.
People connect with that personality, and “that will help to build a better impression on the company, because it will build more confidence,” he said.
Leach hopes to see even more benefits from her business blog. Her blog at www.zenfulcreations.com will get an overhaul that she plans to debut in November. She plans to give it a new design and will post more often than she does now, in hopes that visits to her blog will increase and bring more business as a result.
She thinks other small businesses should follow.
“It doesn’t matter what you specialize in,” Leach said. “Every business has something to say.”
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