An overnight request from a professional commentator who specialises in financial matters has provided some valuable food for thought. His question is one we should all be asking – regularly – if we are blogging to stimulate our businesses.
Blogs – the popular abbreviation of ‘web logs’ – give any computer user the ability to contribute knowledge to the internet, where it may be shared among closed groups or publicly. Suddenly, Everyman could be a ‘published’ author, and an authority on anything. Some of Everyman’s blogs are brilliant, others are just a waste of cyberspace.
Corporate bloggers – myself included – use blogs to engage with key target audiences. Typically, we are striving in the first place to communicate with existing and potential customers, closely followed by others who may influence future ‘buy’ decisions. Theoretically, the company blog is a great PR tool.
The drawback is that while some people may follow blogs published by top politicians, journalists and academics, I suspect very few actually read company blogs on a regular basis. Even if they do, unless they respond by leaving a comment or ringing the sales desk, there’s nothing to complete the communication loop. And unless you get the feedback, you don’t get a measure of your blog’s effectiveness.
Ironically, perhaps, one target audience that welcomes every new blog post is the search engine fraternity. It responds by improving website rankings, which means better visibility in search results – but that’s still many clicks away from boosting sales.
So, how can we make blogs more attractive, and facilitate real engagement with customers?
Write what readers want: This post and its immediate predecessor are prime examples of direct responses to requests. My posts also include comments on professional or topical issues where feel I can add value to my readers’ knowledge and understanding. So if one is an ‘expert’ it is perfectly legitimate to give readers what they need, perhaps before they know they want it.
Write for an easy read: However technical your subject, never assume the reader has anything near your level of understanding of the topic and its background. Keep it simple, interesting and informative. Ensure everything is explained properly, never leave questions or statements hanging…
Say something: If you really want to be read, be prepared to say things that really matter to the people you want to reach. Stick your head above the parapet, be slightly controversial, and provoke comment and debate. But remain professional at all times, and be very careful if you criticise in public.
Make it attractive: Let’s start with the assumption that you have selected a blog or website style (basic layout, colours, typography) that won’t change. You can still experiment with use of images, clever headlines and varied writing styles to create variety within a basic style. Follow the lead from your favourite newspaper: it has rigid rules on editing and layout, but still plenty of variety.
Encourage feedback: Make sure your blog has comment and social networking facilities (many do, automatically). Remind people to use them. Put in a live link to your contact/enquiry form, include your sales/info e-mail address. Ring some of your key contacts, ask them to read a particular blog and respond. Check your blog stats regularly. And when you get feedback, verbal or statistical, use it to sharpen your future focus!
Drive people to your blog: People won’t read you unless you keep reminding them. Advertise your blog prominently on your website – especially if you have a post of major importance, and in any literature going out to key targets. Get readers to ‘bookmark’ your blog. Cultivate a strong following on Twitter and/or other similar networks. Tweet to announce new posts (include a direct link). Intersperse your blog Tweets with comments and retweets, so your stream does not become totally one-sided. If you update more than once in a day, do a combined Tweet. If you have very short blog updates, perhaps they would be better as Tweets?
Finally, ask yourself: “Would I read this? Could I benefit from it?” Don’t make changes just to please yourself – be sure that any improvements will be seen as such by your readers.
And now, please add your comment below and feel free to share this with your contacts.
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 17 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.