Business Blog Primer

If you’re a business these days, you’re supposed to have a blog to go along with your company website. The reasons why?

Well, it can keep your customers informed, for one. It can provide a great platform for your customers to interact with the company, for two. Third, it’s a great way to keep talking about the company in a positive way. Fourth, it’s a good way for the company viewpoint on issues to be delineated, if that is important to the business. Fifth, people may actually come to your site just to read your blog, or, some other site may find something interesting on your blog and link to it, thereby driving potential customers to your site. Sixth, each new blog post (and each new comment, if you allow comments) is yet another reason for the search engine bots to crawl your site, thereby moving you up in the search engine rankings, which is always good for business.

Okay, so a lot of good reasons to have a company blog. The problem is, of course, just as with other things, the execution. Apropos of that execution, how do you get a blog, how do you get good, relevant content for the blog, and how do you keep it going?

If you determine that your business needs a blog, you should decide what the goals of the blog are. Do you want your blog for all the reasons laid out here, or just some of those reasons? There is also a practical technological consequence to the decision to have a blog – can your current website accommodate a blog platform or will you need to pay for website development work to add a blog module? If you have no website, and you want a business blog, then you should make sure whatever website platform/theme/template you get can support a full-feature blog. Just for the record, a full-feature blog will have the ability to customize frames, colors, pages, fonts, etc., and will enable you to offer video, podcasts, images, PDF files and more to your blog readers. It will also have SEO (search engine optimization) tools built into the blog architecture. That’s at a minimum. You may wish to have other, extra features like flash animation, etc.

There are free blog platforms that are good, like WordPress, and there are other good free blog platforms that can cost a fair amount of money in development costs, like Drupal and Joomla. What’s the difference? You generally get more features and more control over those features with the platforms that cost money. There are also platforms like SQL, SQLServer, ASP.net, Flash, PHP and JavaScript, which can get very expensive in a hurry, but these are almost always used for more robust websites, and would be considered overkill just for a blog application. However, if your existing site is on one of these more expensive platforms, you will either need to build the blog on that same platform or switch over to something else.

That brings us to the next stage of this decision process. Who will build the blog? Who will maintain the blog and put new posts, photos, video, etc. in every week or every month?

Good question, right?

The most obvious answer is someone at your company. For instance, a WordPress blog is free, is fairly easy to build out, and offers an intuitive CMS (Content Management System) utility. But, it looks generic (because it is). As noted, there are other blog platforms that require more (or much more) technological expertise, but offer more features and more customization potential. Still, you may have the in-house capabilities to build your blog, and, to manage the maintenance thereof.

Or, you may be the best company in the world and not have those skills in-house. In this instance, you can hire a web developer, who will design, develop and code your site for you, whether that site is in Drupal, Joomla or WordPress (all open-source platforms), or, one of the other site technologies. They will also provide the CMS services after the install and launch, if you wish, although I strongly suggest you have the web development company build a site for you that has an easy and intuitive CMS functionality. That way, someone at your company can control the look and feel of the site, as well as text, photos, etc. There are hundreds of website development companies that do this sort of work; in fact, one of these types of companies is one of our clients – they do wonderful, innovative work, do it worldwide, and their rates are quite reasonable. Clients really do love their work. But, there are many companies that do custom website development design and finding one shouldn’t be a problem.

Now, on to the challenge of content. Who will write the blog posts, who will embed the video files or the podcasts, who will edit the site, and so forth?

Again, the most obvious answer is someone at your company. If there are people at your company that can write well in an entertaining manner, and can produce content on a consistent basis, then you’re set. Of course, you’ll still need an editor.

Why is consistent output a requirement? Why is an editor of the blog a requirement?

It’s important to have consistent output because you don’t want a “ghost blog” where the blog has, say, 10 posts in the first two months, and then, no new posts for the last year. It reflects badly on the company, it makes the blog look forlorn and abandoned, and makes the company look careless for leaving it up. There is also no reason whatsoever for people to visit the blog if there is never any new content, or, the new posts are so infrequent that people get tired of waiting for something new.

It’s important to have an editor because you want the blog to be well-written, with excellent spelling, grammar and continuity in the text; you want the subject matter (including photo, videos, etc.) to be appropriate, you want the company to be well-represented by the content, and you want a single person responsible for the look and feel of the site, so that there is central authority concerning the blog.

What if you don’t have those resources in-house? What if you’re a successful SaaS company and the only thing anyone can write is code? Which also makes sourcing an editor in-house out of the question? Or, what if you can have some content produced in house, but it’s not enough? Or, you can produce enough content, but there is no one that can be an editor? Or, you have an editor, but no content?

Then the company will need to hire a writer (or writers), or an editor, or both. Many companies hire an editor (full-time, part-time, or contract employee), who also contributes as a writer, and coordinates the purchase of content from external freelancers, which seems to work out well. In fact, there are so many business-related blogs, that it is not out of the question for your editor to obtain some content for free. Some blog owners will allow free reprints of their content as long as you attach a blurb to the post about the author, the blog, and provide a live link back to the originating blog. The blurb usually looks something like the one at the bottom of this post. In fact, when I get a reprint request from a business blog after I publish this piece, the tag below will be the blurb they will put at the end of the post when they publish it on their site.

So, free is always good, but you can’t rely on getting enough good content for your blog for free; you’re going to have to either have employees do it, hire someone to write your content, or buy content by the piece from freelancers. And you need good content on a consistent, frequent basis or there isn’t much point in having a blog. You need fresh content, you need well-written content, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a variety of authors, so that different writing styles are offered to your readers. That is the way to keep your blog relevant and vital, and to keep your readers coming back for more.

Which segues nicely into the last question regarding company blogs, and one I get asked all the time when we’re helping our clients with their business blogs:

“Should we allow comments on the blog articles?”

That question, by the way, is usually asked with some trepidation. Businesses are wary of letting people comment on their blogs because there is always the risk of some unhappy customer with an axe to grind poisoning the well for other customers (or potential customers) with his or her vitriolic commentary about the company, company personnel or products. There is also the more general issue of incivility so rampant on the internet; people say the worst sort of things to each other in the comments section, and companies don’t want to be part of such a hostile environment. And, then, of course, there is spam.

The obverse side of the coin is:

Companies tend to learn things about their products, service levels and personnel pretty quickly through comments on their blogs. And, people like the interaction with other people through comments, and they like the perceived interaction with the company through comments, and that is a very positive thing and makes return visits to the blog more likely. Also, customers do say nice things about the company in the comments – it’s not just negative. Lastly, all blog platforms allow moderation of comments before the comments are published; you don’t have to worry too much about profanity, spam and craziness slipping through, since you get to review all comments before publication.

That wraps up this primer about business blogs, and remember, you don’t have to figure all of this out by yourself, or, get it done by yourself. There are hundreds of vendors ready to help you with setting up and maintaining your business blog. The only hard part is shaking off the inertia and getting started.

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses in marketing, sales, front-end operations, and strategy. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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