Entering The BlogosphereWRITTEN BY MARY SEDOR
Article Date: 03-01-2007
Copyright (C) 2007 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
What every dealer should know about a marketing tool that's taking business by storm.
Friday, February 9th, 2007
What's a Blog?
If you were stopped on the street and someone asked you for the definition of a blog, you’d probably struggle to find the words. You’ve no doubt heard of them, but can you define just what a blog is? Blogs are changing the Internet and the way companies do business with their customers. With a new blog created every second and an estimated 50 million to 100 million bloggers online, if you don’t know what a blog is – you should find out.
Blogs, or weblogs, are online journals that can contain just about anything, from personal online diaries cataloging what wine a blogger drank with dinner last night, to political agendas, car enthusiasts reviews, celebrity news and everything in between. But blogs are much more than just observations about everyday living – they have real applications and real consequences for business.
Blogging has been around in some form since the start of the Internet, but did not get much recognition until the 2004 Presidential campaign, according to “Blog Marketing” by Jeremy Wright. In 2004, blogs garnered mainstream attention for digging up information on candidates and covering events the mainstream media was unable to attend.
Today businesses are joining the mix, and everything from large corporations to small local businesses have blogs.
While the construction equipment industry doesn’t have many, the automotive industry is leading the charge. GM has a very successful and well-read blog called FastLane, located at fastlane.gmblogs.com, written by no less than the company’s CEO and specifically geared for car enthusiasts. The intent is to increase sales, bring in new customers, improve customer relationships and recruit the best employees.
If you’re thinking blogging is “way too advanced for me” or “doesn’t apply to me,” you can’t afford to ignore the power of the blog. “Blogs Will Change Your Business” published in May 2005 in BusinessWeek said, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re shipping paper clips, pork bellies or videos of Britney in a bikini, blogs are a phenomenon that you cannot ignore, postpone or delegate. Given the changes barreling down upon us, blogs are not a business elective. They’re a prerequisite.”
The article went on to say “Potential customers are out there, sniffing around for deals and partners. While you may be putting it off, you can bet that your competitors are exploring ways to harvest new ideas from blogs, sprinkle ads into them, and yes, find out what you and other competitors are up to.”
Thursday, February 8th, 11:15 am
You may be wondering why the subheads in this article look the way they do. This article is set up to help you get a feel for what a blog actually looks and “sounds” like. By the way, if this were a real blog the last post would have elicited many responses.
The anatomy of a typical blog includes the name of the blog and a description of the title, dated posts with optional comments, and a sidebar that contains additional information.
Blog elements include:
Wednesday, February 7th, 4:15 pm
- Name/Title – When it comes to blog names, anything goes. But for business, err on the side of caution and name conservatively.
- Description – Blogs often include a descriptive subtitle that gives the reader a good idea of the topics covered in your posts.
- Posts – Blogs contain posts, aka entries or articles, on a range of topics. New posts are added anywhere from several times a day to weekly. Posts generally are text, audio or visual. They’re written in an authentic, conversational tone. For posts to be effective, they must not contain all promotion and marketing – there should be some kind of relevant information the reader can take away.
- Comments – This is the key distinguishing factor of a blog. They facilitate direct, two-way conversations through posts and comments. Most blogs allow users to leave comments in response to individual posts.
- Sidebar – Along the side of a typical blog is a narrow area containing loads of pertinent information, including the author’s background, contact information, a list of recent posts by title, links to the main organization’s site, blogrolls, categories, archives and a search feature.
- Blogrolls – This is a list of other blogs found in the sidebar. Typically, the list is blogs the blogger reads or enjoys.
- Archives – Older posts are usually archived but can be easily accessed. In the sidebar, a list of links either by week or month is created for the older posts.
- Categories – Archives are not easy to use to find specific topics in older posts. Categories allow the posts to be organized by content.
- Search – Many blogs have search capabilities available in the sidebar.
What Can Blogging Do For My Business?
From focus groups to Customer Relationships Management software, there are dozens of solutions for interacting with your customers. Blogging is one more way to share a meaningful, two-way conversation with your customers and prospects.
“Customers are your best product managers, you best evangelists and perhaps the only people in the world who will tell you the truth about your company,” says Wright. “Listen to them.”
If the fact that blogging opens up the lines of communication, scares you, you should find out why.
“Are you afraid your service is sub par and you can’t fix it,” asks Wright. “You must take responsibility for your actions. It’s better to have unhappy customers knocking at your door than no customers at all. Remember an unhappy customer is a happy customer waiting to happen.”
Whether you have five customers or 5,000, every company has an equal voice in the blogosphere. Blogging can enable you to create positive customer experiences and build loyalty, and it can also help your company gain visibility.
In “Blogging for Business” by Shel Holtz and Ted Demopoulos, the authors say blogs are a realistic way for businesses to engage the customer. They explain that businesses have consistently disengaged from the customer since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and that those companies that make an effort to close the gap will fair better than the competition.
The book suggests how a company blog might create a dialog with customers: A representative of the company posts a message to a company-sponsored blog addressing some issue of relevance to the organization and of interest to the customer. Customers read the post, some respond through comments. The employee – along with some of his peers – reads the comments then publishes a follow-up post that makes it obvious that he has read the customer’s comments. The current post explains how the customer’s concerns or ideas will be factored into the company’s decision.
“As a result of the process, customers come away from the blog feeling like they have been heard by real people,” say Holtz and Demopoulos.
According to Holtz and Demopou-los the benefits of blogging to business include:
GM’s blog runs new concepts by readers and allows them to comment.
- opening a new marketing channel for products and services
- reinforcing your company’s brand
- creating a dynamic way to provide customer service and support
- maintaining your reputation
- building long-lasting relationships with your customers.
“By providing a space for customers to interact, you can be assured that they will interact. As a company, you need to be ready for the feedback that will come as a result,” says Wright.
Blogging also creates visibility for companies that might not otherwise garner that amount of attention. Your customers are the ones who decide how and when to interact with you.
Customer loyalty can be influenced through blogging, as well as employee loyalty. When your employees work together to respond to customers, they can find customers who enjoy the same types of things and build strong relationships with them. Happy employees elicit better customer service and happier customers.
Your customers will be more prone to stay loyal when your employees are passionate about your company. Reacting to negative events in unprecedented ways is another possibility for blogging. On GM’s FastLane blog, Bob Lutz was able to share his viewpoint of the company’s executive changes, building support from hundreds of bloggers, says Wright.
Tuesday, February 6th, 2007
Creating Your Own Blog
Ok, so you’re ready to start a blog. Start by getting acquainted with the world of blogging. Search the web for other blogs and get a feel for how they look, sound and are set-up. Read what bloggers write and make comments.
Now focus. A blog created just to create a blog will not be well received. Create a theme and stick with it.
Holtz and Demopoulos suggest the following for successful blogs:
- Read a lot of other blogs. You are a part of a community of bloggers. You’re not communicating in a vacuum.
- Write passionately about your company and its products and services.
- Put other employees on display.
- Conduct interviews with other passionate employees.
- Focus your blog on a theme and an audience.
- Keep posts short. Longer, more analytical posts are acceptable on occasion.
- Link – it’s the heart of blogging.
Monday, February 5th, 2007
- Pitch products or sales in your blog. That’s what advertising is for.
- Post in haste. You may regret what you’ve written if you don’t take the time to review it carefully, especially if you’re responding to criticism.
Before you start blogging like there’s no tomorrow, take a moment and consider the fact that what makes blogging so great – the anything goes, conversational style – can also get your company and your employees in hot water.
"The accidental misuse and intentional abuse of business blogs by employees or malicious third parties can create potentially expensive and time-consuming legal, regulatory, security, public relations, and productivity headaches for employers,” says Nancy Flynn in “Blog Rules.”
Be aware that your competitors can read your posts. Blogging, like email and instant messaging, can also get you sued. Apple Computer Corp. sued Harvard undergraduate Nicholas M. Ciarelli and his company, the dePlume Organization in January 2005, accusing him of illegally misappropriating and publishing trade secrets on his Mac news website, Think Secret.
According to Flynn, the biggest risks blogs pose to businesses are:
To prevent them, plan ahead. “The strategic management of business blogs begins with the establishment of written rules and policies governing professional and personal use, along with the type of content that employees, customers and other third parties may post,” says Flynn.
- Litigation risks: copyright infringement, invasion of privacy, defamation, sexual harassment, hostile work environment claims and other legal risks.
- Security breaches: loss of trade secrets, confidential information and intellectual property
- Discovery disasters: mismanagement of electronic business records
- Public relations nightmares: blog storms sink corporate reputations
- Loss of control: real-time broadcasting of information can be a risky proposition for businesses
- Productivity drains: bloggers log on and slack off
- Regulatory violations: risks to publicly traded and regulated companies
- Spam + blog = splog: Spam invades the Blogosphere
Create an effective blogging policy. It should be clearly written and easy for employees to understand. It should address usage, content, language, business use, personal use, monitoring, discipline, copyright, defamation and other important issues. Once you’ve created your policy, distribute it and train your employees. Finally, enforce the policy with discipline.
GM’s FastLane blog is described as “a forum for GM executives to talk about GM’s current and future products and services, although non-executives sometimes appear here to discuss the development and design of important products. On occasion, FastLane can be utilized to discuss other important issues facing the company.”
Beneath the description of the blog is a “Blogger Code of Ethics” GM has adapted from blogger Charlene Li’s code of ethics. This list of ethics is a good one to follow on your blog. It reads:
1. We will tell the truth. We will acknowledge and correct any mistakes promptly.
2. We will not delete comments unless they are spam, off-topic, or defamatory.
3. We will reply to comments when appropriate as promptly as possible.
4. We will link to online references and original source materials directly
5. We will disagree with other opinions respectfully.
“There is no reason to forgo the benefits your organization can realize from a blog just because of an unreasonable fear of legal issues,” say Holtz and Demopoulos.
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