February 2009


Successful Corporate BlogsI’m currently writing a series called “The Diary of a Business Blog” (you can find part 2 here) which looks at an imaginary business owner going through the process of setting up and developing a blog for his business. One of the questions that the first couple of posts has elicited from BBB readers (thanks, by the way!) is “what makes a successful blog?” and I guess that this is probably a key question for any organisation looking to create their own business or corporate blog.

My answer: a successful business blog is one which fulfils the purpose and achieves the results that it was created for.

Now that may sound like a bit of a cop out on my part and I suppose that, in one way, it is. However, there is a good reason why.

There’s more than ONE type of blog

The issue is that there are so many different types of business blog, it’s simply not possible to give a single definitive definition of what success would look like or indeed a blueprint for creating one.

To give a couple of examples: if we look at a CEO Blog (such as Jonathan Schwartz at Sun or Richard Edelman’s 6am blog) then the writing style, format and content are going to be very different from one designed as a product blog. So too will be its aims. Likewise a corporate blog which brings together a community of users and developers for market research or product development, will have a very different definition of “successful” from an “expert blog” written by a consultant or legal professional looking to directly improve his/her profile and reputation.

However, what they will have in common is likely to be a clear set of objectives, albeit all different, which they are focused on achieving. These objectives would have been identified as part of the planning process and should always be in the back of your mind (or written on a postit in front of you!) when writing and promoting your business blog. [Aside: I’ll be looking at some possible objectives and metrics to measure them in a post next week.]

Some pointers for your Business Blog

However, having ducked the question once, I’ll try to make amends now. If I had to make some suggestions to organisations starting a blog that would help to achieve the goals that they have set for it, then I would recommend the following:
  • Don’t try to be everything to everyone: the best type of business blog will often be very targeted in nature. It will have identified the people that it wants to appeal to and should be written in such a way that it attracts, retains and develops that audience;

  • Plan, focus and stay true to your goals: you planned your objectives when you started, so try not to be distracted from them. If those are what you want to achieve, then make certain that you concentrate on them and don’t get pulled off in different directions;

  • Write interesting, compelling, focused content: you know the audience you wish to attract and hopefully you also know what will interest them. So try to present them with that information in a way which is authentic and which communicates the passion that you have for the subject;

  • Make it visually appealing: that doesn’t just mean images, although they certainly play a major role, but also break the text up with sub headings, use a header which supports and shows off your brand and ensure that above all it is easy on the eye. Don’t distract your readers from your content or make it difficult to take in;

  • Launch it properly: Plan the launch and make sure that you use all of the means at your disposal to tell people about it. Get your Foundation posts in place, use your mailing list, pre-announce it if applicable, create online press releases to support it and ensure that you put some weight behind the activities. If you believe it’s worth reading (and let’s hope you do!) then tell people and enthuse about it;

  • Vary the style of posts: while the content should be targetted, there are different ways in which you can present it from “expert pieces” to lists and from news stories to links to other key sources. Make sure that you break it up and present the information in different ways – it’ll help get across the points you are looking to communicate. [Some ideas on blog posts here might be of use];

  • Market it religiously: there is no point in having a blog and just letting it sit there – tell people about it. Use all the methods available both online and offline, generic and blog specific and then use all of them again! While your writing will hopefully attract readers over time, you should still “spread the word” at every opportunity.

Ultimately, the person best placed to judge whether the blog you are running has been a success is … you! However, don’t make it hard for yourself – know what you want to achieve with it and then going all out to make it happen.

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Blog sidebars: adaptable in any situationAs we put together new posts for our business blog, our main focus, time and effort is centred on what appears in the middle of the screen, the place where we write and display the content for our readers. It’s the key area and it’s right that the effort we put in reflects this.

Use your sidebars to your advantage

Nevertheless, there is more to a successful business blog than just the writing. We have specific goals for it and we need to both maintain and direct our readers’ interest to what those business goals are. The blog posts will do a lot of this work but there is also a lot that can be achieved by careful use of both the sidebars and the header of a blog. Some of this will be to highlight our own services/products, others will help readers find other posts or pages in the blog and others will highlight certain aspects that we want to encourage them to look at.

They play key roles in achieving our blog’s aims and the sidebars are “prime real estate” on the blog which we need to use effectively. We may find that a single sidebar works best for us, however, wider screen sizes that are now the norm give us the opportunity to include two sidebars without compromising the area displaying our main content. More area to work with! However, what we put in them and the order they appear are important considerations which combine good blog design and achieving our business goals.

Many options – here are just some!

There are lots of different options that could be used (and space is after all limited) but here are some ideas which you might like to consider as you develop your blog:
  • Contact Details: could be on a separate page linked to from the sidebar but should be prominent. It’s no good someone liking your work and then not being able to contact you!

  • Author Profile: blogs are personal so it’s important to let your readers gain an insight of the blogger whose posts and articles they are reading. Give them an overview of who you are and what you do, then let your writing fill in the gaps;

  • Purpose of blog: it’s often a good idea to give readers a snapshot of why you are writing the blog and what you want to achieve with it – it can help to give context to the posts and encourage them to read further and pass it on;

  • Promotion of future events: if you are running seminars, courses or presentations, then this would be a great place to make your readers aware of them and promote them to them;

  • Promotion of products and/or services: in the same way as you might promote your events, then you can also make them aware by linking through to your products or services and introducing them (in an appropriate fashion!);

  • Social Networking profiles: with the proliferation of social media sites and networking groups such as Linkedin, Twitter, del.icio.us etc. links to your own profiles on each of these platforms helps promote your presence on them;

  • Photo of the author: taking the idea of blogs being personal one step further. Let them see what you look like! Make it relevant to the tone of your blog, though.

  • Most commented posts: one possible way of demonstrating what has created most interest with your readers and inspired most comments;

  • Last 5 posts: let people have easy access to your latest posts. This is particularly good on the individual post pages rather than the main blog page where, of course, the most recent posts are generally visible;

  • Recent comments: whether you show the last 5 or last 10, let people see who is commenting and on which posts. Additionally, it can act as a small “thank you” to those who have taken the time to leave comments as well as inspire others to do so;

  • Recommended sites: a list of sites that you are recommending to your readers as being well worth visiting. Adds value and helps make your blog a central resource of information;

  • RSS Subscription (RSS reader and email): you’ll want to encourage readers to sign up to receive your regular blog updates, so make it clearly visible and make sure that they can do so via email too! Not everyone loves RSS (unfortunately).

  • Newsletter Signup box: you should be running a newsletter in conjunction with your blog (there’s great complementary value) so explain what it offers and then get the signup box clearly visible;

  • Categories: one of the key structural elements and a principal tool in navigating your blog is through the categories, generally divided along main topic lines. Make them visible and keep them to 10 or 12 [unlike me :( ];

  • Monthly archives: again a key structural element of a blog though probably less used by readers now;

  • Search: the search box should be a standard feature on every blog so make sure it’s easily accessible and that it will look through both posts and pages;

  • Tags / Tag Cloud: a way to demonstrate the areas that the blog focuses on and a second navigation method to supplement the categories;

  • Testimonials: either testimonials or even customer logos can be a good way to link through to case studies or project overviews as well as showing the range of clients you work with;

  • RSS Feeds from other sites: bring in relevant industry news from other sites can be a good way to add specific information to your blog – and of course it’s all automatic;

  • Polls / Surveys: conduct your own poll on a topic relevant to your blog. Helps increase the interactive element and should provide you with some useful information as well;

  • Favourite books: recommended books which will interest your target audience, perhaps linked through to Amazon with or without affiliate code in the links;

  • Adverts: if you are looking to monetise your blog then adverts will feature prominently … but remember the distraction value;

  • Industry News: perhaps using the RSS feeds as suggested previously or using other inputs.

As you can see, there are wide variety of elements that you can place in the sidebar or sidebars of your blog and this is probably only scraping the surface. What you place there and the order you show them will depend very much on the goals that you have for your blog, though, so choose wisely.

What do you have on yours? Let us know below!

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Business Blog DiaryPrevious Instalment: Part 1 – the decision

At the end of the day, the decision had essentially been taken out of his hands. Daniel could see that his competitors were already benefiting from the type of industry exposure and customer contact that he had envisaged getting for his own company. And this was coming from their blogs.

However, this was NOT about keeping up with the Joneses – that would be pointless. To make it work for his business, he knew that he had to have a clear idea of what he wanted to do with the blog and what results he wanted it to achieve for him. He also needed to be clear about the people he was looking to attract to his blog – if he knew that then he could focus on writing articles that they’d want to come and read, and pass on others. This sharing of content was going to be key.

This was the business marketing side and he felt comfortable with it – after all, it was what he knew and was passionate about. However, he also needed to know how to really use blogs and get the best out of them. How could he engage with his readers, how to set up a blog, what software to use, how to get it into Google? So many questions and much of which he felt he knew little about.

He had to start somewhere. So he decided to check out what similar companies were doing online and how they were using blogs to promote their businesses. His searches on Technorati and Google’s blog search gave a lot of good starting points – he then followed the links they referred to and added the best ones to his RSS feed so that he would receive their news automatically. He could see RSS was going to be a real timesaver and made a mental note to make sure his blog would offer it too.

He also used Google to search on “Business Blogging” and that provided some excellent reference sources – the more information he had, the better equipped he would be to get the best results out of the effort he’d be putting into the blog.

Based on the advice there, he decided that the blog should appear as part of his current website as that would help promote all his other pages as well and that he would integrate it properly. It would give visitors to his site the ability to leave comments and ask questions directly – a great plus in developing closer relationships with them. It would also distribute and promote his information automatically for him, giving his company greater visibility.

Having looked at the alternatives, he decided that a blog system called WordPress would probably offer the best solution – lots of future development potential and tried and tested on many thousands of blogs. In this instance, going with the crowd did seem to be the best option. He’d need to load it on his own server but it looked straightforward and, during his research, he’d also seen there were people around who could give help if he needed it.

He felt that his readers would appreciate a constant flow of articles but would probably feel overwhelmed if he tried to send information every day. He planned to post 2 to 3 times a week and worked from that standpoint. He also felt that the he had a handle on the sort of information they wanted – a mixture of industry information, links, informed opinion and an insight into what made him and his company tick. He also wrote out a big “Don’t try to sell!” post-it note to remind himself that the blog was not a direct sales tool. That he knew would just be a turn off to his readers.

Feeling much more comfortable about the organisation of the blog, it was now time to put that into action, get it set up and work out what elements would be important to make sure it had a successful launch.

Next Instalment: Part 3 – the launch

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