Lisa Ayres doesn’t know where she’s going to find the 30 minutes to write about her business every day, but she plans on tracking them down.
It’s well worth her while, she said, because the writing will be published on a Web-based platform that more and more businesses are latching onto as a way to bolster their marketing might: the blog.
A blog – short for “Web log” – is an individually or collectively authored online journal of typically brief entries that the rest of the Web-connected world can read and respond to. It can cover any number of topics, though many focus on a knowledge niche.
“It is a very important tool for businesses to get their name out there on the Web even more,” Ayres said.
Ayres, the owner of Arid Solutions Inc., a rain barrel and water conservation products manufacturer, has written about water conservation on her original blog and plans to write about it more on her second. It’s a version – to be available at rain-barrels.blogspot.com – she expects to be much improved after attending a seminar in Albuquerque that tackled how businesses could use blogs.
“I see it as a great education tool,” she said. “That’s how I started my original blog.”
Forging a tie
Proponents of blogs credit them with stimulating lively debate and loyalty in readers by virtue of a blog’s intimate, accessible style and interactive features – conclusions not lost upon businesses looking to connect with their customers.
“With blogging and the Internet, it’s such a candid environment, and people can actually be anonymous,” said Roxanne Darling, CEO of Hawaii-based Bare Feet Studios, which ran the business blog seminar in Albuquerque. “It’s an opportunity to start a dialogue where you’re really getting, in some cases, the brutal truth.”
Darling runs her own blog – www.barefeetstudios.com/bfs/blog – and she said such interactions are changing the nature of communication between companies and their customers. How?
She points out two main ways: Customers are demanding more transparency in a company’s operations, and they won’t put up with carefully manufactured press releases from public relations departments.
She cited the General Motors blog fastlane.gmblogs.com as an example.
Written by the vice chairman of General Motors and other high-level company executives, the blog is open to comments from the public. It’s an opportunity to speak directly to top-tier employees that many people take. One entry about a sports car’s features got 61 comments – or written responses – from people reading the blog.
“You can get feedback from your customers,” Darling said. “You really couldn’t pay enough to get that same quality of information.”
But it’s not just quality of communication with customers that counts, it’s quantity.
“There are so many millions of people you can’t otherwise reach,” said Mary Schmidt, owner of business developer Schmidt & Associates in Albuquerque. Schmidt is a customer of and consultant for Bare Feet Studios.
Schmidt said her blog – blog.maryschmidtassociates.com – has led to many valuable contacts out of the millions of Web surfers – almost 1 billion by the end of 2004, according to the Computer Industry Almanac Inc. But equally important is a blog’s ability to help her connect with clients who will want to work with her.
“If they like my blog, they’ll like working with me,” she said. “It really helps qualify.”
Jerry Mattingly sees a blog as a great replacement for the newsletters he sends out to members of New Mexico Private Investors (www.nmprivateinvestors.com), an organization that facilitates investment in early stage New Mexico companies. Mattingly is the organization’s executive director.
Though he is still deciding whether to start a blog, Mattingly said writing entries for one would be far easier to produce than a newsletter and more useful. Here’s why: Newsletters are more expensive and labor-intensive to produce than blogs, he said; to boot, it’s tough to know if people even read newsletters and updating them is like reinventing the wheel.
“It (a blog) is really a tool that may keep our membership better informed with things that are going on in between meetings,” he said. “You can leave your comments on there. All the members can see the comments of other members. It allows interactive communication.”
Up and running
To get started with blogging, Darling suggests business owners write about whatever they can. Build up some entries, and then see what works best for the business, she said. Contentwise, specificity works better than generality. Publishing information before anyone else is a big winner too, she pointed out.
An entry on www.securityawarenessblog.com, an award-winning blog for the Security Awareness Company, once pulled in 65,000 unique visitors – roughly the population of Rio Rancho – to the blog in one day, said Greg Hoffman, chief marketing officer with the company.
The irresistible topic: The company switched from PCs to Macintosh computers, and its founder blogged about it.
Hoffman said Macintosh users worldwide picked up on the entry and followed it closely. Over five days, he said, 100,000 unique visitors went to the blog.
“We have seen people that have bought from the company specifically because of the blog,” he said. “The numbers were just stunning.”
SIDEBAR: GET BLOGGING
A blog – short for “Web log” – is something like an online journal written by one or several authors about whatever piques their interest.
Entries are typically pithy and arranged in reverse chronological order. Anyone with a Web connection can read a blog and, if the author allows it, leave comments on it.
Business owners view them as an excellent marketing tool and a way to keep close contact with their clients. One in 10 small businesses have included Web logs in their marketing plans for the next two to three years, according to a survey by Hewlett-Packard Co.
The following Web sites offer a way to set up a blog for free: