From time to time as Smallbizlady, I conduct interviews with small business experts that could benefit my audience. This is an excerpt from my #smallbizchat interview with Meryl K. Evans @merylkevans about Blogging for Business.
Blogging is old news by today’s standards as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn dominate the social networking scene. But blogging continues to pick up speed especially as it matures with many businesses adopting them as part of their marketing and customer service strategy. The questions here quickly cover the basics of blogging with Content Maven and longtime blogger Meryl K. Evans.
Smallbizlady: Why should a business have a blog?
Evans: Businesses often need to work harder to earn trust and credibility before they make the sale. A web site with company information only tells part of the story. A blog helps close the gap because it’s real, updated and gives the company a voice. That voice gives prospects a chance to see if they like the company’s style and way of thinking.
Blogging isn’t for every business. The point is to be aware of them because they might be talking about your business. So think in terms of tracking, monitoring and replying.
Smallbizlady: How do you decide if your business should have a blog?
Evans: You won’t have a black or white answer (of course). Rather, ask questions such as: Can you update regularly? Do you have something to say? Do you read others? Can you provide info of value? This two part article explores whether your business should have a blog and how to participate. Maybe the best answer is to participate rather than have your own.
At least, have a good web site with clear information about what your company does and what customers can get from you. When you leave comments or post tweets, you can link back to your web site.
Smallbizlady: What about other social media tools?
Evans: Companies indeed need to look beyond blogging. They need to track and participate in conversations that mention the company, its industry, its product or service and its competitors. Conversations go far outside blogs to microblogs like Twitter and social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Many industries have their own specialty social networks, so don’t limit your research with the three big ones. Remember MySpace was bigger and then Facebook took over. Next month, it could be another site.
The least you can do is have a company profile or employees have a profile on the various sites, but pick a couple to participate in on a regular basis while tracking for name mentions everywhere. You might look into Ning, which lets you create your own social network.
Smallbizlady: What is the best blog site / applications to use?
Evans: It depends on your needs. But for beginners who don’t have tech help in setting up a site, using a developer-hosted solution is the easiest thing. This means the service hosts your blog already has the software installed, so you don’t have to mess with it except add your content. Blogger, Wordpress.com and Typepad are the more common ones used for business blogging. The other developer-hosted solutions tend to lean heavily toward personal blogging.
You can pay a monthly fee to host your web site on a server. In this case, you might choose to install the blog on the server rather than depend on a hosted solution. If this sounds overwhelming, the developer-hosted solution might work better unless you have web developers who can help. For more on this, read the Easy and Hard Way to Start a Blog.
Smallbizlady: How often should one blog?
Evans: You’ll hear arguments from all sides. No one has won the argument. It depends on your needs and your target audience. But it helps to update the blog at least once a week. Wait too long and people will think your blog is dead, so they’ll unsubscribe to it. I’ve blogged four or five times to week, but currently blog about twice a week.
Participating in the blogosphere takes more than just blogging on your site. You need to visit others and leave comments. If another blog inspires a long comment, consider turning that into a blog entry. Trackback, a feature that connects a blog entry with another person’s blog entry, will connect the two together. Most blog apps have this feature built-in.
Smallbizlady: How long should entries be? Some are 750 words or more, others only 150. Is there an ideal length?
Evans: Like the “how often” question, this depends largely on your audience. Several bloggers always post over 1000 words, and their audience loves it. A good rule of thumb is 400 to 800 words. Of course, you’ll go under sometimes and over sometimes. No harm done. Format your content for easier scanning with short paragraphs, bulleted lists and bold headers. Many publications ask their writers to shoot for at least 400 words at a minimum for better search engine results.
Smallbizlady: Should there be links in every blog entry?
Evans: Linking keywords to your own content helps from a search engine perspective. Linking to others helps you build relationships as other bloggers love it when others link to them. It’s possible to overdo the linking. General rule is no more than one link for every 100 words.
Some people find it frustrating when there are so many links because they find they’re going all over the place trying to piece together the story and get all the details. Put the link on meaningful words not “Click here.” That’s old thinking. Also, selecting the right words to link gives people an idea of what they will see if they click on the link.
Smallbizlady: Does a well done blog replace a web site or add value?
Evans: Many people have nothing but a blog as their web site. To make it work from a business standpoint, however, you need to at least have an About page with your bio and contact information. Can people quickly figure out what you do? Do you provide enough information to help them determine if you’re qualified and credible?
Business web site blogs offer fresh content to make search engines happy, show how your business thinks and interacts, connect with customers and prospects, build relationships that lead to earning trust and gaining credibility.
Smallbizlady: Should the language be in first person?
Evans: Business blogs do better when they’re in first person. It’s an opportunity to put a human touch on what could be a cold and lifeless company web site. That’s why it’s important to have bios, photos and contact information of those who contribute to the blog.
Blog readers are a smart lot. They can tell when a marketing person is doing the blogging for the company rather than the company’s executives or managers. It’s better to be honest and authentic when writing in the blog. This doesn’t mean a marketer can’t blog, but the marketer will need to put away everything they know about marketing when blogging. It takes little effort to make a blog sound like a sales or marketing platform for the company.
Smallbizlady: How do we convince old school entrepreneurs that blogging is good for business?
Evans: Many employees in businesses of all sizes struggle to get buy-in to blogging and social media tools because of the difficulty in providing ROI data. Perhaps, the executives will listen to GM’s Bob Lutz, an executive blogger in GM FastLane Blog, wrote an article on the topic for Information Week. In encouraging executives to blog, he says, “No better opportunity exists to engage in an open dialogue and exchange of ideas with customers and potential customers.”
This is more important for small businesses because they work to build relationships with their clients and prospects. That can help the business stand out.
The connection between blogging and business may not clearly show up in return on investment data, but it certainly affects a small business’ ROI, return on influence. Rather than connecting blogging with transactions, look at it from a perspective in building relationships and credibility. It’s hard to measure increased customer service, increased brand awareness, increased loyalty, increased credibility and so on. But all of this happens when a small business’ employees get involved with blogging and social media.
Bonus Free report: “How to Start a Business Blog and Build Traffic” when you subscribe to meryl’s blog by email: http://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=Meryl&loc=en_US
For more tips on starting or growing your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog at http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com