The Business of Blogging: How It Can Change Your Company
Robert Scoble, one of the blogging community’s most recognized members, achieved online fame during his tenure at Microsoft by podcasting interviews with Bill Gates, sparking discussion and debate on Vista, and generally opening the company to direct interaction with the public on a daily, even hourly basis. Acknowledging that the software giant based in Redmond, Wash., needed to take its lumps, Scoble helped foster Microsoft’s current pro-blogging attitude, which was a dramatic departure for Gates and company.
One main benefit of this approach has been that a horde of bloggers leaves footprints about Microsoft all over the Internet. Case in point: Microsoft’s Zune MP3 player. Employees as well as outside developers have discussed Zune at length in their blogs.
Any Web search of Zune or related products turns up tens of thousands of relevant blog posts. “That couldn’t have happened with a company that didn’t have 3,000 bloggers,” says Scoble, who is now vice president of media development at PodTech Network in Menlo Park, Calif. “If you can get thousands of people to write about something and link to something, Google rewards that with a high relevancy score in search results.”
There’s one answer about whether or not to blog. Every company should embrace blogging and then make room in the parking lot for the dump trucks of money, flattering press and legions of fans that will ensue. OK, that might be overstating, but clearly a pro-blogging stance is a good fit for a company such as Microsoft, which reaps the benefits of all this attention in the form of increased traffic, product support, and product and brand exposure. And it’s certainly not alone. Sun Microsystems counts more than 1,200 members among its blogging community.
Yet, for a small business, blogging might not always make good business sense. If you’re considering taking the plunge, ask yourself whether you’re niche-enough to benefit, genuinely have a unique voice that will help position your company in a way that grows the business and have a mechanism for dealing with unflattering posts.
Marketing a Niche
Say you’re promoting a new soap that promises to get clothes cleaner. To demonstrate authority in this area, you recruit an enthusiastic technical engineer to blog about how he discovered the new formula or the scientific research behind the formula. The blog invites readers to post questions — to which the engineer promptly responds online. The blog links out to Consumer Reports and other studies and news reports, promoting the soap’s environment-friendly ingredients.
After a short time, the blog acquires some links and gets referral traffic from Google. It turns out that there’s an untapped market for “environmental-friendly soap.” The traffic grows, and one reader’s blog for stay-at-home moms mentions the product to her 300 daily readers. Meanwhile, back at your corporate blog, the conversation continues.
The scenario seems plausible and illustrates two of the requirements for a successful business-oriented blog: a point of differentiation that generates interest and the right person to tell the story. But you’ll notice there’s no quote from the CEO or other corporate bigwigs. Herein lies another lesson Microsoft learned: Steve Ballmer can talk all day in press releases, but it’s the voices from the front line that lend a blog the most credibility. The secret ingredients are in-depth knowledge in niche areas and a general passion for the subject.
Something to Talk About
Delivering the right message is, of course, another critical component of a blogging strategy. Some implementation details also will determine whether your blog is loved, loathed or just plain ignored. Figure out whether you truly want and can convey meaningful commentary in the form of a blog. If you don’t have an individual or a team that’s willing to pen and feed your blog, don’t start one.
“You really want to find people who are passionate, and they will be the advocates of your company,” says Jory Des Jardins, a popular blogger and founding member of BlogHer (blogher.org), a community of women bloggers with 7,500 active members. “The first place to look is not always in your marketing department. You don’t want a blog to sound like a press release. You want to pull people in by their passion.”
You may find that you’ve got several voices just waiting to be heard. It’s common to use a shared blog and have multiple contributors. But the traditional struggle for one common voice, tone and style can definitely cause problems. Try to avoid draconian editorial controls and let individual voices ring out.
Grow a Thick Skin
Blogger Robert McLaws (www.windows-now.com) talks with surprising calm about the day he used credentials afforded to him as a popular blogger about Microsoft products to borrow some information from the company’s internal project server. McLaws says he downloaded a complete set of Microsoft bugs and then created a graph showing the correlation between the number of reported bugs and the number of releases. Then, in a clear violation of his nondisclosure agreement with Microsoft, he published the information to his blog, which gets which gets 5 million page views per month
There is little question Microsoft could have banished his blog to “page not found” limbo and repaid his maverick publishing methods with a lifetime of courtroom proceedings. So how soon did he receive the first cease-and-desist order? “I still haven’t received one,” McLaws says. “But an employee told me that my graph was used in a presentation within Microsoft. That was pretty cool.”
If someone says something negative about your brand or product online, link to it, advises Scoble. “The trick to building trust is to show up,” he says. If customers are saying things about your product and you don’t answer them or act like they don’t exist, then that foments distrust. There are some shockingly candid voices out there that are unafraid to let you have it. It can be daunting at first, but remember that if you do things right, you’ll find 50 supportive readers for every critic.
“If you’re not open to criticism, you shouldn’t be blogging,” McLaws says. “If you don’t have a thick skin, you better have your employees berate you first or something. Because when you’re out there, you don’t have any protection.”
Has your company considered launching a blog?
|81%||No, it’s not a priority.|
|12%||We’ve considered it but have not moved forward.|
|4%||We currently maintain one on our or another company’s Web site.|
|3%||We’re working on plans to launch one.|
What was your company’s top consideration when thinking about a blog?
|41%||Increasing search engine rankings|
|20%||Showing thought leadership in our field|
|12%||Creating word-of-mouth awareness about our company|
|12%||Using it as a tool for internal communications|
|10%||Addressing questions about products and services|
|4%||Engaging customers and partners|
What was the top concern about maintaining a blog?
|62%||Creating and sustaining meaningful content|
|10%||Inability to minimize negative feedback|
|10%||Legal liability issues|
Source: CDW survey of 316 BizTech readers, October 2006
Blogging can help improve your search engine rankings, building Web site traffic that your business may be able to convert into customers. To improve your search engine optimization efforts, consider these tips:
1. Know the numbers: Conduct keyword research to learn which search phrases are most popular. Compare these numbers against the actual amount of pages that show up in Google when you search on that phrase. When you find a phrase with high-volume and not too many competing Web pages, you’ve found some low-hanging fruit.
2. Think phrases, not words: Targeting longer search phrases won’t bring high volume, but it is the best way to achieve results.
3. Publish regularly: Greater volume of content means you’ll receive search referrals from a wider variety of search phrases.
4. Pick key pages: Focus on a handful of pages that can compete for high-traffic search phrases. Introduce subtle changes over time to try to boost rankings.
5. Work as a team: Ensure that staff members from public relations, marketing, systems and design have a clear understanding of how you would like your site to rank on search engine indexes and how they can play a helpful role.
6. Encourage linking: Both internal and external links help search engines understand the relevance and importance of Web pages.
7. Monitor metrics: Keep an eye on site statistics to see what’s working. Pay close attention to your link count as well as the volume of traffic from search engines and the search phrases that helped visitors find your site.
8. Map it out: Maintain an eXtensible Markup Language site map that auto-updates, if possible. This helps search engine spiders find all your pages.
9. Plan changes carefully: Nothing can wipe out a good set of search rankings faster than a site redesign or implementation of a new content management system. Think through changes, and use 301 redirects to let search engine spiders know that your content has moved to a new location.
10. Make each link count: Think of potential SEO benefits with every item that might potentially generate links, such as job postings, news items and press releases.