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Getting the Word Out

Tips on making a blog work for your company or organization.

For executives and corporate communications professionals raised on the notion of journalism as a craft demanding a fair and balanced view of a topic, the leap to blogging can seem daunting. In journalism school, aspiring reporters and editors are taught that stories are developed through research and interviews with knowledgeable sources. And for years, public relations and marketing professionals have worked exclusively through journalists to get their stories told.

Not anymore. In today’s marketplace of ideas, the conversation has shifted to allow anyone with a keyboard and an interesting point of view the possibility of equal voice. Journalists and the mainstream press, while still a critical component of information dissemination, are increasingly being replaced by bloggers bringing their stories directly to the market.

Blogs have burst onto the information landscape by providing an easy and efficient way to get their personal (or organizational) viewpoints into the market in real-time. In fact, many journalists are now using blogs to do their research and to find story ideas, according to a survey by Euro RSCG Magnet done in partnership with Columbia University. According to the study, more than half of journalists use blogs regularly, with 28 percent relying on them for day-to-day reporting.

Blogs are a terrific way to get your organization to tell its story. Why? Well for one thing, blogging is easy. Companies large and small appreciate the rapid set-up and easy-to-use features of blogs to quickly reach both external and internal constituents.

Blogs also allow you to take content in different directions that will appeal to specific target demographics without negatively impacting the strategy and content of your primary Web site. As a way to experiment, to test new ideas, or to reach narrow niche markets, smart marketers use highly focused blogs. And if your experiment fails, you simply (and quietly) shut down the blog with little or no negative effect on your main site or corporate reputation.

So how should you go about it? Here are some tips:

* Use a blogging service. Easy-to-use blogging services are available from companies including Blogger, TypePad, WordPress and others. Some are simple, no-frills, free services and others are more powerful enterprise-class offerings. Research the services based on your needs and choose wisely because it is difficult to switch once your blog is up and running. Once the blog is set up, posting is as straightforward as typing into an e-mail program.

* Establish your blog’s identity. You want your blog to stand out. Think carefully about the name of your blog and the tagline that will be indexed by the search engines and RSS readers (more on RSS later). Blogging software makes it easy to create a simple text-based masthead (the top part of the blog). While this is fine to get started, you might want to create a custom graphical image as your masthead.

Think about aesthetics like color, design, font and the like (all are easily customizable with your blogging software service). You should aim to have your blog’s look and feel be complementary to your corporate design, but it need not be identical.

* Focus on a definable niche. To be effective, a corporate blog should provide detailed information about a particular niche. Define a unique market, or product or job-function specific category that you can “own.” Blogs are best when they cover topics of importance to your buyers and are less valuable to readers when the subject is just about your own company. What can you say about your market that identifies you as an undisputed thought leader? Most first-time bloggers try to cover too much ground. It’s better to start with a very narrow subject and expand as appropriate than to start too wide and appeal to nobody.

* Be authentic. People read blogs because they want to find an authentic and honest voice speaking about a subject in a passionate and informative manner. Corporate blogs are generally better when they are written by one person, because that individual’s unique personality can shine through.

Avoid passing individual blog posts through the PR team or a legal review process if possible. If the posts must be reviewed within your organization before they can go live, don’t edit them for style or they’ll become stale corporate-speak and the result will be much less effective.

Everyone has opinions. Use your opinions in your blog to provide valuable information to your market. You don’t have to be controversial or use humor if that’s not your style. The main thing is to be authentic and interesting–if you do, readers will keep coming back.

* Post regularly. An important aspect of your blog’s personality is to establish a reasonable pattern of blog entries. You don’t need to update your blog every day, or even every week (although the more often, the better). But you do need to keep the content fresh by posting consistently. A blog with three of four thoughtful and interesting posts per month is more valuable than a blog that has a post every day for a week and then goes dark for weeks on end.

* Make it interactive. Corporate blogs provide a great opportunity to engage your audience in conversation. With your blog’s comments feature turned on, your visitors will be able to comment on your posts. Another way to make your blog interactive is to post something on your blog with a trackback link to another blog. A trackback link lets readers of the other person’s blog know that you have posted on the same subject that they posted on first.

Many bloggers also leave comments on other people’s blogs with their blog address as a “calling card.” By using comments and trackbacks, other bloggers in your niche will learn about you and include you in their online conversations.

* Deliver via RSS. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a standard format for delivery of blog posts to people who have subscribed. It is a very good idea to make certain that your new blog has the capability to offer an RSS feed. All blogging services should offer this feature as part of the standard package. When you offer an RSS feed, members of your audience can subscribe to your feed and view your new posts in an RSS reader, instead of having to visit your blog. RSS feeds also help the search engines index your blog more efficiently.

* Alert blog aggregators and blog search engines with pings. When you have a new post on your blog, the various aggregators, RSS readers and blog search engines want to know about it. The standard practice is an electronic “ping” which says that your blog has a new post. You can create your pings through your blog service or use a site such as Ping-o-Matic to automate your pings.

* Take time to build an audience. Building an audience for a corporate blog takes time. To build your audience more quickly, create links to your blog as appropriate from your home page, product pages, or online media room. It is a good idea to mention your blog in your e-mail newsletter or offline newsletters if you have them.

Many bloggers also have links to their blogs as part of their e-mail signatures. Establish realistic goals for traffic, for mentions in other blogs, and for the number of people who contact you through the blog.

* Measure and improve. Most blog services provide tools for measuring traffic. Use this data to help you learn which posts are attracting the most attention. You can also find out what sites people are coming from to visit your blog and what posts they visit. Use this information to continuously improve your blog.

Blogs are a terrific search engine marketing tool. They play a great role in helping to achieve high rankings in the search results on Google, Yahoo! and other search engines. Smart bloggers understand this and use their blogs to help promote their organizations to audiences who are searching on particular words and phrases.

When your organization has a particular word or phrase that is an important search term, creating a category on your blog for that term together with appropriate keyword-rich copy in your post will mean that the search engines rank your blog high in the search results. The use of blogs as a way to gain high search engine rankings is just half the story, though. Once people visit your blog through the search engine, you will need to deliver compelling content that keeps them engaged.

Peter Cipollone directs the strategic development of Factiva’s text mining and visualization initiatives.

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