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    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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    Successful Corporate BlogsI guess that this is probably the key question for any organisation looking to create their own corporate blog. My answer: one which fulfils the purpose that it was created for.

    This may sound evasive – a “cop out” if you like – and I suppose that, in a sense, it is. However, with so many different types of corporate blog, it’s simply not possible to give a single definitive blueprint for creating one.

    For example, the style and goals for a so-called CEO blog are going to be very different from one designed as a product blog. 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 specialist lawyer 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 when writing and promoting your corporate blog.

    What might your objectives be?

    Ideally, aim for specific objectives and where possible ones that you can measure – attempting to quantify the ROI of a blog may seem a long way down the line when you start but believe me you will be asked the question at some point! However, in reality, you are more likely to have a mix with a number of general objectives and some specific targets thrown in.

    In most cases, people start with general objectives such as increased branding, improved reputation or a greater level of recognition. But, if you can add in areas where measurable results are possible, then this will help determine whether the blog meets those objectives and hence “qualifies” as a success.

    Some possible metrics that you could consider, include:

    • Increased enquiries generated through the blog using specific email addresses or forms

    • Incremental sales which can be tracked back to the blog

    • Sign ups either to your newsletter, white papers or other sources of information

    • RSS subscribers to the blog or individual categories within the blog if the level of content warrants it

    • Inbound links generated by the blog when others reference and link through to the content

    • Better Search Engine positioning because of the blog’s regularly updated content, internal structure and inbound links

    • New products identified and developed through the market research or product development carried out on the blog

    • Customer queries answered leading to reduced customer service or technical support calls

    Of course, not all of these will be relevant to you so use specific criteria which focus on the reasons for establishing the blog in the first place. In some cases, there will be a single overriding criterion which will be the sole indicator of a blog’s success or failure.

    Some pointers for your Corporate Blog

    If I had to make some suggestions as you start a corporate blog, which I believe will help it to achieve the goals that you have set for it, then I would recommend:
    • Don’t try to be everything to all people: the best type of corporate blog will identify the people it wishes to appeal to and will 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;

    • 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;

    • 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 corporate blog you are running has been a success is … you! So give yourself the best chance to make it a success by knowing what you want to achieve with it and then going all out to make it happen.

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    Blog Consultant questions: Ask the Blog CoachAsk the Blog Coach: Business Blogging FAQs

    Question: Who should be the main author of a corporate blog? Should it always be the MD or CEO?

    The Blog Coach’s Reply: Firstly, it’s important to stress that, even in corporate blogs, whoever does the writing, it needs to retain a personal tone and not drift towards corporate “marketing speak”. This personal aspect is one of the key business benefits that blogs offer. A personal writing style helps companies to put a human perspective on an often austere external corporate image and differentiate themselves by doing so. This is particularly effective for Professional Services companies where a key selling point has to be the people (as well as their expertise) carrying out the work a corporate site can state their qualifications but, unlike a blog, cannot give an insight as to who the people really are.

    Should only CEOs blog?
    As for whether CEOs should always blog no, not at all. I would certainly not recommend that all CEOs consider blogging themselves and nor should it generally be the CEO who blogs on a corporate blog. It’s important to remember that corporate blogs do not have a single purpose or format – rather it’s an umbrella term for many different types. For instance, a blog intended to help provide better customer service will be different to one aimed at helping to develop a brand and both will be different to a product focused blog.

    The so called “CEO Blog” is a different type again, I believe. As you would expect, an MD or CEO is going to write about the company in a very different way to someone in the Customer Services department because they have a different perspective on the issues and the industry. It is that perspective which is of interest to readers. A CEO is more likely to do a weekly State of the Nation type of post which looks at the industry, the company and factors affecting it from a helicopter perspective. Good examples are Jonathan Schwartz (CEO of Sun Microsystems) or Richard Edelman (Edelman PR).

    However, a product focused blog or a detailed information blog are more likely to be written by people specialist in those areas. In that way, the knowledge and the enthusiasm that they have for the subject they are writing about can really shine through.

    How to identify a potential company blogger
    In deciding who should blog, I would probably suggest that you consider someone who :

    • has a passion for what they are writing about

    • ideally enjoys writing (also it helps if they are good at it)

    • has expertise in the area (and ideally a good general knowledge base)

    • is a good listener and is open to feedback (including criticism)

    • is familiar with blogs and how to present yourself in them

    As you go through the planning process for your blog and identify what your goals are for it and who it is targeted at, you will find that there will be some ideal candidates who will be most appropriate to take on the role. You might also consider an internal blog as a good place to identify those people with a natural affinity for the medium.

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