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  • Warren: Blogging and Social Media definitely go hand in hand. Having a successful social presence can do a lot for a...
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    Corporate Blogging: here are all the key posts


    There have been a number of comments over recent weeks (and indeed months) about the imminent death of blogging, to be generally replaced it seems with newer tools such as Twitter and lifestreaming.

    For a small minority, it’s possible that this may well be on the cards – however, for the vast majority, and particularly those using these tools for primarily business purposes, I would say that this prediction is premature in the extreme.

    Indeed, with the growing presence of social media as a marketing and comms tool in its own right, are we going to be seeing a decline in the role of blogging as one part of that? My answer is a resounding no and I’ll explain why.

    Blogs will play a central role

    It is true that there are major changes afoot – the industry is currently developing quickly ahead of an undoubted period of consolidation. As a result, I am constantly looking at the variety of social media which now exist, of which a business blog is certainly one. In the future, while the number of potential avenues for social media continues to expand, I still see a blog playing the central role for companies wanting to engage with customers and prospects using social media and general online methods.

    For instance, if we take some of the more popular social media tools as examples:

    • Microblogging in the current guise of Twitter is great but a little restrictive – it’s difficult to save evrything in 140 characters, so is often used to make people aware of other sources of information or to initiate connections;

    • Social networks are proliferating in many different forms from the monsters such as Facebook to the niche forums on systems like Ning – they come and go (some quicker than others obviously) but each time a new one takes hold you need to establish a whole new infrastructure and set of contacts;

    • Podcasts and video have their own key sites like YouTube or iTunes but in most cases, businesses fail to achieve an independent identity or forum with them alone, although cases such as “Will it Blend?” from Blendtech prove that it is possible.

    A blog, however, allows a business to bring all of these other elements together, creates a focal point for a community of customers, provides the company with its own social network hub whatever else goes on in the market and allows it to expand on the information disseminated on Twitter, YouTube or iTunes.

    Business BLog as your online home

    A personal analogy

    To put it another way, if I make a personal analogy, if I meet friends in a bar or a coffee shop, then they will get a certain picture of me through a number of different factors: what I am wearing, what I look like, where we are meeting, what I’m drinking, who I am talking to and about what etc. All of these things give a certain picture of me as a person but it is still a superficial one.

    However, if you come and have dinner at my home then you have a much more complete view of me. You see where I live, the type of house, the décor, the books and music I’m interested in, the decoration and style of fixtures and furniture, what I cook and what I serve for drinks etc etc. In short, you get a much more complete sense of me when you visit my home because it is much more multifaceted.

    To my mind, social networking sites, discussion forums, Twitter etc are all types of coffee houses where you can a first image of me. My blog, however, offers much more of an insight and is essentially the online equivalent of my home.

    You need a place to invite people to online

    Don’t take this as putting down the other social media tools or indeed other general online marketing tactics – it is just the opposite. All the other elements are great when used in line with a business’ commercial aims, but you still then need to have somewhere to “invite” friends back to online rather than always meet in proverbial bars / coffee houses. That’s where a blog comes to the fore, bringing all the other elements together as well as contributing in its own right.

    Think also that as you engage with other bloggers on their own blogs, there is only so much that you can convey when you leave comments, no matter how erudite and pertinent they are. What you need to have in conjunction is a place to develop your ideas further. A place to continue that conversation that you have started – once again, a role that your own blog would ideally fulfil.

    Effectively, as you look at the world of social media and the innumerable opportunities that it brings with it, to me it is clear that a blog sits solidly at the core of this activity. Personally, I see it as driving and conducting the online activity that a company undertakes and as the place to develop a community of readers that links from other social media will help grow and promote.

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    While there’s always been lots of debate as to what criteria Search Engines use to rank web pages in their search results, what there is little debate about is that appearing high up on the Search Engines Results page has become of key importance to most businesses. Why? Simply because currently, Search Engines are the preferred research tools in today’s marketplace.

    As a result, Search Engine Optimisation (aka SEO) has developed into a thriving (if often maligned) industry as organisations, both large and small, strive to gain higher positions and greater visibility in the Search Engine results pages (SERPs).

    The other thing that has become increasingly apparent is that blogs (and business blogs in particular) have a number of attributes which help them rank highly in the Search Engines, making them an important or even, dare I say, a key part of Search Engine Marketing. To understand why, first let’s have a quick reminder of how Search Engines work.

    Search Engines: a few basics

    The main Search Engines – I’m thinking here primarily of Google, Yahoo and Live – collect information from websites using electronic programs called “robots” or “spiders”. They find new sites and content generally by following links and then reading and indexing the code which creates the individual pages (and hence the text they contain). This is all stored on their servers so that when a search is submitted, the Search Engine sifts through all the relevant pages in its index and then ranks them in terms of relevancy using a mathematical algorithm. The result of all this is what we see on the Search Engine results page.

    They determine this relevancy using over 100 different criteria, if we are to believe the experts in this field, though some criteria are obviously considered more “valuable” than others. Those considered particularly important include the text itself, the inbound and internal links, focus and relevancy of the information and some key onpage elements such as the Title tag. It is also worth reminding ourselves that search engines rank individual pages rather than whole websites when they create their results pages.

    So how can we apply this to blogs?

    Armed with an overview of what Search Engines are looking for to rank pages highly, it’s clear that blogs do in fact fulfil a number of these criteria perfectly, which goes a long way to explain why they rank so well. Specifically:

    • Text: Business Blogs tend to be focused in their content and that is ideal for what Search Engines look for when they are searching for pages which fit with specific search criteria;

    • External Inbound Links: the overriding philosophy in the blogosphere is to reference other blogs by linking to relevant sources; so blogs offering good (and often specific) content are likely to attract a greater number of links;

    • Internal Links: blogs are automatically structured in such a way that the internal linking is excellent with highly relevant anchor text (the words that actually form the link) which is an extra bonus;

    • Up to date information: the most successful blogs are generally ones which are regularly updated and hence offer a growing resource of recent and relevant content;

    • Onpage elements: good blogging software has excellent flexibility which gives you the opportunity to have specific onpage elements (such as the Title Tag) for each individual page.

    Blog Search Engines, Pinging and Instant Indexing

    Although blogs appear in the main Search Engines like any other online site, they also have their own set of Search Engines which focus primarily on blogs. This is important because the way that these Blog Search Engines find new content is different to the main Search Engines.

    If blogs are set up correctly, they will automatically “ping” these search engines – this is the digital equivalent to a ‘tap on the shoulder’ telling them that there is new content for them to index. This happens instantly and, with one of these Blog Search Engines belonging to Google, this means that Google’s main index can pick up your post almost immediately – my best is 6 minutes.

    Of course, if the blog is part of your main website then there is also the greater chance of the rest of your site being indexed more frequently too, let alone all the pages benefiting from the value of the inbound links coming into the blog, linking to your new articles! Ah, is there no end to the benefits!! ;)

    Conclusion: keep developing your Business Blog

    If, like me, you already use a blog for your business, then these Search Engine benefits will not be anything new – no doubt you will have already have seen the sort of great results that you can achieve. If you haven’t, then we really need to talk! :) However, they are particularly impressive when you consider that you are probably writing your blog with your readers uppermost in your mind and these benefits are merely a welcome (albeit very beneficial) side effect.

    Business blogs however are not a magic solution and nor should they be used in isolation – they are at their best when used in conjunction with other marketing activities, both online and offline. Equally, they are not trying to manipulate Search Engines – an accusation sometimes levelled at SEO companies. Simply put, well written and focused blogs give Search Engines exactly what they want to provide for their users – good, specific and up to date information on the subject matter that they are searching for.

    And providing that is of course where both the challenge and the benefits lie!

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    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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    An area where companies often voice their concerns as we discuss setting up their own blog is that of negative feedback. They worry that people will use the comments section of their blog to express their dissatisfaction with the company and their products or services. Theyre also keen to understand how best to deal with them.

    From a personal point of view, I totally understand this concern. As a rule, we dislike negative comments being made about us thats just natural – and companies and company bloggers are no different. Theres an instinctive reaction when we receive anything other than glowing praise for something we’ve written: for the individual blogger, there’s personal pride at stake; for businesses, there’s the concern that it will reflect badly on their organisation and alienate customers or prospects who see it.

    So, for some, the gut reaction is to suppress it … moderate it out … pretend it never happened. Better still, don’t allow anyone to comment! That will also take away the guilt factor of knowing that the comment was made but that you haven’t approved it!

    Why this really isn’t an option

    The trouble is that this is the digital equivalent of sticking your head in the sand or perhaps jabbing your fingers in your ears and shouting La la la very loudly. Conjures up a faintly ridiculous image? Well, in social media terms, its equally ridiculous, Im afraid. Why? Because the person who wanted to complain on your blog will still do so, they will just go elsewhere … generally somewhere where you won’t have the chance to respond and engage with them.

    So whats the alternative? Well, instead, give people the chance to raise the issue on your blog let them vent their frustration. And, in the process, you’ll be giving yourself the chance to answer their concerns.

    For me, there are three key reasons why I’d want to do that and they’re nothing to do with blogging and everything to do with business:

    • Firstly, it costs much more, both in terms of time and money, to find new clients than it does to keep your current ones.

    • Secondly, customers with negative experiences are more likely to tell people about them than customers with positive experiences. However, customers who have had a negative experience which has been solved tend to be the most vocal;

    • Thirdly, it costs more to fix a problem than to prevent it in the first place.

    By responding and resolving their issues, we have the chance not only to keep them as a customer but possibly turn them into an advocate for your company again. In any case, by openly allowing the criticisms and answering them, you are more likely to gain respect in the eyes of other readers than lose it.

    Feedback has other benefits

    You may also be receiving valuable feedback which could help improve an aspect of your company’s activities and fix a problem which already exists. Without this feedback, you could remain blissfully unaware of an issue which is costing you clients who have decided not to complain but rather “vote with their feet” and look for another supplier.

    Certainly you need to make sure that the comments comply with any guidelines that you have in place – and in a corporate blog, they should exist – but those should cover areas such as abusive or racist language rather than constructive criticism. So rather than suppressing negative comments, you should encourage comments and feedback of all types. While it might sometimes seem a painful process in the short-term, the long-term benefits will prove far more valuable.

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    Online Participation GuidelinesAlthough perhaps influenced by watching the wonderful “Yes Minister” in the 1980’s, my image of the British Civil Service conjures up an image of leather armchairs, men only clubs and political machinations. It would not have been where I would have first thought to look for a set of nicely concise guidelines about “online participation” as they so succinctly put it. However, there they are!

    Their guidelines, the main points of which I have reproduced below, cover general participation online no matter what the medium – however, the advice I find to be particularly applicable to corporate blogging or indeed blogging in a small business environment as well. They are clear and to the point which is key when you want to get your message across to people in your own organisation, but reflect most of the ideals that we should bring to interaction online.

    1. Be credible: Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent

    2. Be consistent: Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times.

    3. Be responsive: When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.

    4. Be integrated: Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.

    5. Be a civil servant: Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your department or agency.

    (Full details of the guidelines can be found here)

    However, for me, just as important are some of the follow up points additional points that they highlight in text which follows that. They are so relevant to all we do online that I thought you might like to print them and stick them to your monitor.

    Just to reiterate: don’t think of blogs and online media any differently in terms of what you should or should not say from when you are representing your company in any other situation. However, do remember that online everything happens at breakneck speed … for both the good and the bad things. Backtracking is not an easy option when the information can have immediately been distributed far and wide. Speed and breadth of distribution are two of the key benefits of blogging and online media … unless you want to withdraw something!

    So, as you participate online or as you draw up your own company blogging guidelines, you could do a lot worse than refer back to the points made by the Civil Service about how to conduct yourself. Stuffy and British? Not really … more sensible and corporate.

    (Hat tip to Laurel Papworth for the find.)

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    Business Blogging common senseIn case you aren’t familiar with the name, Matt Cutts is the public face of Google when it comes to the world of search engine optimisation and writes a well followed blog which focusses on these and other associated areas.

    Earlier this week, he wrote a post where he offered 3 so called “rules of thumb” for company bloggers and which might be considered relevant for all business blogs. The ones he highlighted were:

    1. Don’t make hard promises about the future
    2. Don’t trash talk a competitor
    3. Don’t post when you’re angry

    (You can see the full post here.)

    While I can’t disagree that these are three sound pieces of advice, I don’t know whether I’d view them as the three key points with regard to company blogs – however, they are most certainly relevant.

    So why mention them here? Well, primarily because they show something which I believe to be very important when you write a business blog – you shouldn’t suddenly ignore all of the common sense and good advice you have learned about business communications over the years, just because you are writing on a “blog”. A blog is an extension of that, with some extra rules thrown in, I grant you.

    So advice such as “don’t rubbish your competition” makes sound business sense whether you are giving a presentation, emailing information to prospects or talking to other people in your industry. It should a no brainer to then apply that same logic when you are writing in your blog, particularly when you take into account the potential size of your readership and the fact that, for good or for bad, the internet has a long memory so getting rid of inappropriate comments you later regret is going to be problematic.

    So, just because you are writing on a blog, don’t suddenly bin all of your business communications knowhow that you’ve accumulated – use all of that and then adapt the rules to allow you to play to the strengths that your blog can offer.

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    1. STOP!!
    Before you rush in and publish your first post on your new blog, stop. Thats right, stop, hang fire, wait, take a chill pill, or whatever phrase you care to use. First, lets do a little bit of thinking and, heaven forbid, planning before we rush over to the nearest free blog site to register an inappropriate name, choose a bland design and start to write things your customers dont have any interest in.

    2. Plan what you want to use it for
    [Sorry to mention plan again so early on] If the answer to this is that you dont know, its just that your competitor has just set one up, then go straight to jail, dont pass Go and dont collect 200. You need to be clear what you want to do with your blog right from the start or else you are quite simply planning to fail and join the ranks of businesses with forgettable (and most likely forgotten) blogs. At a basic level, decide if you want to focus on company branding, or perhaps differentiating your services by writing about your specific expertise or perhaps carrying out market research with it in fact any use other than Well, Im not really sure.

    3. Decide who you want to read it
    Everyone anyone someone?! Try to be all things to all people and the likelihood is that youll fail to appeal to anyone. The best types of business blogs tend to be specific in nature so, if you know who you are writing for, then you should be able to write things that are going to interest them. If they are interested then theyre going to come back and read some more and maybe even pass on the news to others that theyve found a company who really knows what theyre talking about. Sounds like a plan to me! (plan sorry)

    4. Check out other blogs in your market
    When you move to a new neighbourhood, youll always want to visit the area first, have a look at the other houses, see whats going on, maybe talk to some people and listen to what they are talking about. See who people take notice of and who runs the local sports club that you are interested in. You get to know the place before you move in. Do the same with blogs get to know the blogs that already exist in the market you are going to be writing about. Use a Blog Search Engine like Technorati or Google Blog Search to see whos talking about what and how the blogs are being used. You might get some ideas for when youre planning and putting together your own!

    5. Decide what you want the blog to achieve
    And while we are thinking about the blog from a business perspective, how about some targets? You just know someone, sometime, somewhere is going to ask about Return on Investment (particularly in corporate blogs) so make sure you can tell them what you planned to achieve and whether it hit those targets. Youll need to measure the results of course and decide on your criteria – sales enquiries, newsletter signups, referrals, reduction in customer support requests or reader numbers are just some of the ones you could use. In any case, if you dont know what you want to achieve then how can you tell if you are doing the right things?

    6. Decide where to run your blog
    And dont say Blogger! (I still prefer to have control over the information in my blog when its such a key part of my marketing.) My question is really whether you want to have it on your own website or run it from a separate domain? Lots of variables you can take into account but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, if it complements what you have on your website then integrate it; if you want to take a different stance in your blog which doesnt sit comfortably with your main site, then use a different domain. From an SEO perspective, no issue same domain.

    7. How much time to spend on it
    Blogging takes time – there is the research as well as the writing that you need to consider and although there are lots of ways to help streamline this process, the posts still have to be written and you are going to want to maintain the quality of what you produce as well. The posts can take a number of different forms from Foundation posts at the start to long involved articles or simple link referrals – all are valid if they add value to your readers. Anyway, I digress. Plan how much time you are willing to dedicate to your blog, you’ll find it much more relevant than deciding how often you want to post.

    8. How do you want it to work with your business?
    As I mentioned in a recent post, no blog is an island, so you need to make sure that the blog can work with other parts of your business. Plan (damn, damn, damn) how you want it to work with the other activities that you have ongoing or at least that you know how you are going to achieve it. A blog can do lots for you on its own but it can do even more when used in conjunction with the rest of your business.

    9. Check if you really need a blog
    This may sound bizarre given all that I do here to help people use blogs to promote their business, but its a really valid question. Youve looked at the other points above? Have you got answers to them and, with those in hand, do you still want to run a business blog? It’s good to be clear from the start that a highly effective tool when used correctly and worse than useless if you are going to start it with lots of enthusiasm but no planning, only to let it die as soon as that initial enthusiasm wanes. However, if the answer is still Yes, then great – now you can get started properly!

    10. Plan
    As you may have noticed, there is a theme running through all of these elements and that is … planning! Planning, or rather the lack of it, is the root cause of more blog failures than anything else, either because they lose focus in terms of content or business focus, or because the author(s) lose impetus. All things that can be avoided with prior planning. So don’t fall into that trap and before you start your Business blog … stop and do the planning which will ensure your blog is a success.

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    I’d love to be able to describe a blog as an all powerful “magic wand” which will single-handedly solve all your marketing woes. Unfortunately, in spite of what some over eager blogging enthusiasts might have us believe, its simply not the case. What blogs are, however, are excellent tools which sit perfectly at the centre of your online marketing activity and which you can use to drive your business development efforts. Now thats not too shabby, is it?

    The problem is that that, all too often, a business blog is set up and run in isolation within the company rather than treated as part of a larger set of activities. No matter how successful you make your blog, it is still important to consider it as part of the overall mix – any company thinking of running one in splendid isolation is just guilty of actively stopping it from fulfilling its full potential. Running it in conjunction with other activities will prove to be far more effective both for the blog and your company.

    If, as is often the case, the blog is designed to help market the company and its offerings or enhance its branding efforts, then treat it as a part of the overall marketing mix. Make sure to link it with the other activities you are using or even use it as a hub to coordinate them online and gather the responses they generate.

    Ideally this coordination should happen at the planning stage so that the main interlinking set out in advance and all of the marketing strands can work in tandem. If not, then you will find that a blog is flexible enough to be able to adapt to a change in focus and direction later on if required. Employing this approach will give results which go far beyond those you could achieve using any of the activities on their own, boosting your blog and the overall campaign. The diagram above, while clearly only giving examples of the many online, offline and social media marketing methods available, tries to show the type of integrated approach that will produce the best results.

    Likewise, if you are using the blog for Customer Service or Product Development reasons, then again make sure that it is part of the overall process, integrated with your Call Centre, your Developers or your Product Marketing team and not stuck out on a limb under the control of a separate department. Use the information that your customers provide through it and share it with others. Treat it as the tool that it is, rather than a solution to all ills, and you will be able to tap into a collective resource that your readers and staff can jointly add to – you can then in turn make that available to all those who visit and use the blog, both internally to your company as well as externally.

    So, whatever the job you have in mind for your blog, make sure that from the planning phase onwards you run it in conjunction with the other activities you have in the same area. A blog can be a real hub for your customers, prospects and staff alike so dont isolate it connect to it and through it!

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    5. What makes a successful corporate blog?

    While there is a growing recognition of the pivotal role that social media can play in business marketing and the key role of a business blogs at the very centre of that activity, I still get the feeling that some companies often wonder whether they could also benefit from this or if it’s just for others.

    Personally, I feel that there are very few cases where businesses cannot gain enormously from using a blog in the key area of interaction with their customers. Clearly they need to focus (and perhaps plan – heaven forbid!) to deliver real results and that, as always, is key. This applies whether they are using the blog as part of their marketing and business development activities, their customer support, their product development or as another key touchpoint. The benefit would then feed back into all parts of the business.

    There are also certain “company types” which would particularly benefit from elements that a blog could give them; a few examples include:

    Companies needing to differentiate themselves: on occasions, professional services organisations have been accused of all having a rather “grey” image, causing them to blend into the background. By using blogs to help break down these preconceptions, companies can really differentiate themselves as well as reveal some of the personalities carrying out the work together with their expertise – this can only help in developing greater trust with your potential clients in a generally very competitive and customer focused environment.

    Companies which rely on their specialist knowledge to attract clients: consistently demonstrating expertise in a chosen field can quickly help to build a positive reputation and encourage potential clients to contact you. Client case studies go part of the way, but displaying both your general and specialised knowledge over a period of time and giving the opportunity to interact helps develop this more than a sanitised case study can ever do. Think of it as multiple case studies on steroids if you like. This is particularly relevant for independent consultants and specialist consultancies.

    Companies which have progressed beyond the hard sell approach: direct advertising and the hard sell has become less and less successful as a business development approach. We tend to be put off by “interruption marketing” nowadays rather than be attracted by it. However, an educational marketing (or relationship marketing) approach, where you provide potential clients with information on which to make their own informed decision on their purchase, has gone from strength to strength. Help your customers decide they want to buy from you rather than go all out to sell to them.

    Companies wanting to become more of a partner than a supplier: engaging with potential clients through your Business Blog helps develop trust and a relationship which can position you as a partner rather than a simple supplier. People prefer to work with and buy from people and companies that they trust – a blog will allow you to achieve this.

    Companies wishing to be THE information resource for their market niche: most of the information that your prospective clients are looking for is available somewhere on the web. It’s just a case of finding it! So rather than let potential clients wander round the web looking for it and perhaps finding it on a competitors site, provide it yourself or provide links to it on your Blog. Become the preferred place to go for this type of information and let this attract anyone interested in your niche to your blog.

    Companies organising conferences, seminars and exhibitions: blogs are the ideal focal point for collating and distributing information to attendees pre-Conference and for gathering feedback from them during and after the Event. You can update the conference details and add new information yourself, and you automatically develop a powerful online Search Engine marketing tool as well.

    Companies looking to develop a network or community around themselves: as a networking tool, a business blog can help in many different ways but one of its most powerful is when it allows the creation of a network of like minded people interested in a particular area. It is particularly positive for the company setting this up and running it because they find themselves at the centre of this network and therefore in a high profile position.

    Companies developing new products or services: customer feedback and input is essential in the product development process. By taking the step to allow this feedback to take place on a Blog, you are allowing discussions and generating ideas which can be invaluable to the process. Added to this, you have a group of people who have contributed to the product and so are likely to be its strongest evangelists and advocates.

    Ah, so many options! What other types of companies would you consider to be ideal candidates to consider using blogs

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    Blogging Guidelines and Blogging PolicyEarlier this month, I wrote briefly about company blogging policy as part of my commentary on a piece covering the Blogging Guidelines issued by the IOC ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

    Yesterday, I read a news story by Anne Broache at CNet News.com entitled Corporate employee blogs: Lawsuits waiting to happen? which looked at some legal issues that Cisco are currently experiencing regarding one of their managers who had been anonymously running a blog on patents where he had commented on cases regarding Cisco without revealing his connection with the company.

    This particular case is quite specific but there are certainly some lessons to be learned from it which have a more general impact on companies, irrespective of their size, which are developing blogging guidelines of their own.

    One element which Cisco has added to their own Blogging Guidelines following this case, covers the premise that where there is responsibility then there also needs to be clarity. This may be simply that the blogger works for the company in question or that they have a specific commercial role covering the subject area of their blog which means that their opinion is no longer objective. Their addition states:

    “If you comment on any aspect of the company’s business or any policy issue the company is involved in where you have responsibility for Cisco’s engagement, you must clearly identify yourself as a Cisco employee in your postings or blog site(s) and include a disclaimer that the views are your own and not those of Cisco.”

    To restate this in general terms, I’d normally advise that bloggers do not hide their identity and certainly not their business affiliations – they should also clearly state on their own blog that the views expressed are solely theirs and do not reflect those of their employer.

    This is of course presuming that they are discussing subjects related to their work – if it is on a hobby or non work related topic then clearly there is no potential for professional bias coming into play and hopefully no conflict of interest. This is nicely summed up by Bob Pearson, VP at Dell who makes the comment:

    “If someone is a fisherman and they want to talk about fly fishing outside of work, then that’s not our business, it’s personal. But if someone is going to talk about notebooks and anything related to Dell, they have to say they’re from Dell.”

    The same is also true of leaving comments on other blogs, something which should also ideally be covered in a blogging policy. If it is a subject related to the company you work for then you would be wise to state your connection – in these matters transparency is everything and it can be potentially damaging if you are discovered trying to pull the wool over the eyes of others. You may remember the fall out from the “Walmarting across America” fake blog – if you are leaving ‘fake’ comments in a close knit community that you want to work with, then the impact on your company’s reputation can be equally damaging. So don’t!

    For me, I think that in many respects the less formal take on it that Microsoft adopts is good, and focuses on the use of common sense. However, having said that, I have come across a noticeable absence of common sense from time to time, so their use of a list of FAQs which deals with how employees should apply existing company policies on confidentiality and other matters to the blogging world seems to be a sensible approach to take. When you create your own guidelines, do make sure that they are readable, accessible, understandable and applicable -then you won’t go far wrong.

    If you are looking for help or guidance in creating a Blogging Policy or Blogging Guidelines then please get in touch. Alternatively, below you will find some links to documents which cover either internet or blogging policies from a range of companies that you may find useful as well:

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