Friday, April 24, 2009
It's time for companies to get serious about blogging
Last year around this time, eMarketer forecasted the growth of blog creation and blog readership over the next five years. They found that by 2012, 67% of the U.S. internet population would be reading blogs on a monthly basis, and 16% of the U.S. internet population will be blogging (updating their blog at least once every 3 months).
This year, they have updated their forecast for blog readership and blog creation. Now, eMarketer sees blog readership (on a monthly basis) hitting 58% of the U.S. internet population by 2013. As for blog creation, the site is now much more bullish, seeing 17% of the U.S. internet population blogging by 2013 on a MONTHLY basis (last year's forecast was based on blogs being updated once every 3 months).
What this means for your company (especially if you do business in the United States) is that increasingly, your customers are going to be getting their information from blogs, and they will be blogging themselves. I've never subscribed to the 'every business must be blogging' mentality, but if your company does business online, then you can no longer ignore blogs. Every business, especially any business that gets a significant portion of its sales from online, needs to be investigating if they should launch a blogging strategy.
Here's a quick plan of action for getting started:
1 - Start monitoring what bloggers are saying. You should know what bloggers are saying about your company, any of your executives that are in contact with the press, your competitors, and your industry. Even if you don't launch a blog, you can still respond to what bloggers are saying. That alone can be a powerful tool to build valuable relationships with bloggers, as I've blogged about before.
2 - Decide if you have the resources to commit to blogging. How many people can write for your blog, and how much time can they commit? You are in good shape if you have 3-4 people that are excited about the idea of blogging, and can commit to writing 1-2 posts each, per week (because that means you can probably count on 3-4 posts a month from each of them). You are in big trouble if only one person can commit to your blogging effort, and they feel confident that they can get 'a couple' of posts up a month.
3 - Work with other areas of your company to make sure your blogging strategy meshes with your company's larger communication strategy. A blog isn't a standalone effort, and it's not a campaign. It's something that your business must commit to for the long-term, and your goals and the focus of your blog needs to be in line with your existing marketing and communication strategies.
4 - Develop a comment/community policy. Will comments be moderated? If so, who approves them? Who replies to comments? Which comments will be allowed, which ones could be deleted? How much time will be spent interacting with readers on THEIR blogs and on other social sites? The Air Force has a wonderful flowchart for dealing with comments.
5 - Determine the focus of your blog. Are you wanting to use the blog as a tool to build awareness for your company? Do you want to use the blog as a customer service tool? Or as a place where your customers and evangelists can connect and bond?
6 - Create customer-centric content. Do NOT view your blog as a self-promotional channel. Blogging works best as a way to indirectly promote your company. Look at what Graco does with their blog, they focus not on their products, but on parenthood. That makes the content MUCH more relevant to their target audience, and makes it easier for their customers to bond with and trust them. And if you're interested, here's some of the impressive results Graco has seen from their blogging efforts.
7 - Be patient. Good blogs aren't created overnight, they require a consistent and dedicated commitment for months if not years. Don't expect immediate results, view your blog as a tool to better connect with your customers and build better relationships with them. If done correctly, this will eventually lead to growth for your business, but it will take time. Think marathon, not sprinting.
And finally, a word about consulting and outsourcing the creation and execution of your blogging strategy. Many companies, at least at launch, may not have the resources to create and execute a blogging strategy by themselves. If you decide to work with an agency or consultant to craft and implement your blogging strategy, please insist that you are provided with training. There's so much debate over who the real social media 'experts' are, and how to identify credible social media firms/consultants. One way to identify qualified agencies/consultants is if they offer training on the tools that you want to use. The good ones will, because they want to see your company succeed. If they won't offer you blog training, it's either because they can't, or because they don't want to, because they think if they get you up to speed on blogging, then you won't need them anymore. So no training = big red flag. Insist that the agency/consultant you contact offer you training, and if they won't, keep looking.
And to be clear, yes I offer blog consulting services to clients, and yes I insist on them letting me provide training so they can become self-sufficient at using the tools that I'll be implementing for them.