Monday, March 23, 2009

A Blog - Should you create and use one?

I have just created and am using this blog – is this something that you as a small business owner should consider using? What are the positives and negatives of blogs? What is the commitment required to make the concept useful?

On alone, for example, over 250,000 new blogs were created in the month of July, 2008. Why would any sane person consider creating a new one?!? The reason is that every single new blog is created, or should be, for a very narrow, specific purpose. This would include a specific audience, a specific topic, with a well-defined agenda and business plan model in mind.

A blog (some say short for Web Log) is one of the more useful Web 2.0 interactive technologies introduced in recent years. The person creating and using the blog can use readily available software, at no cost, and begin communicating with the world in an easy to read format in just a few minutes of preparation. and are two of the more prominent providers of the service currently. The only real requirements are an internet provider and an email account (notice we don’t even mention the need of a computer any more – that is simply assumed!). I have chosen Blogger over WordPress because I find it much more creator-friendly, since I am the creator... others will find the added features and complexity of WordPress to their liking.

The interactive aspect of a blog is reflected in the ability of any reader, in turn, to comment back to the writer, virtually as soon as the blog is published on the Internet. Now, not all blogs allow comments, but for our purposes here, we will assume that is an integral part of the reason to have a blog – interactive communications with the audience.

The audience – who is the audience? This is a primary question that needs to be considered; certainly this is very important if the blog is to be an effective marketing tool of any kind. For example, to be useful to the small business owner, a blog could be written to communicate with customers or prospective customers, and to receive feedback on issues of mutual interest. Blogs may seem most natural for a virtual small business – perhaps a business selling on E-Bay, for example. In this environment, one of the things you do know for sure about every customer is their email address. For a blog to be useful, someone must know it is there and able to read it. Sending an email to all customers letting them know the blog has been created and is now available is one way to get a readership started.

What is the topic of the blog? What is the continuing message that you want to communicate with your readers? To maintain a readership, the blog must provide interesting and useful information at least once a week, for example. This may vary considerably, of course, but the reader needs to know what expectation level to anticipate. You will want to encourage use of the RSS feed notification, of course, but you cannot depend on that. You want your reader to be satisfied when he/she checks back twice a week, or weekly, or biweekly – what ever frequency you have established as an expectation level. The reader will expect to see a new article or set of information or commentary on the specified topic. If you are providing product updates, don’t put up a post on your recent vacation trip – no matter how interesting it was; unless it relates to the expected product update directly.

As the writer, you should have an agenda of at least a half dozen topics to cover, nearly if not completely written, before you open your blog. This way, you are assured of useful information the first several times out for your readers. This also gives you time to continue to “fill your queue” with good, new writing in a timely manner in the future. If you do not have the material information ready to meet this minimum requirement, you would be well advised to wait until you have these before you create and open your blog.

Finally, as a business person, you need to have a business plan model in mind for why you are spending this time, and it does take time, on this particular mode of communications and feedback for your business. Do you have frequent product updates, for example, that your customers need to know about or be aware of? Do accessories only become available on a random basis, and you want to communicate when these occur? Letting your customers know, on a timely basis, when these kind of events occur will improve your revenue and bottom-line directly with new sales at an earlier date than without this communication method, perhaps. But, would a simple mass email do just as well? Do you need to get regular feedback from your customers on a number of different issues over time? If so, the blog may be an excellent way to achieve that interaction, which presumably will increase sales as well as follow-up services. This is also money in the bank.

So, what do you think? Is the blog something that would be useful to you? Why, or why not? What questions do you have? What did I miss that I should have included here? What examples can you provide of how this has, or has not, worked for you, or someone you know? I look forward to “hearing from you” via the comments section, below!

Dr. Bill – I love to share. I hope you do to. ;-)

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