Most small and mid sized businesses are just dipping their toes into blogging. With keyword research and a good analytics package, it's not hard to plan and measure how blogging will impact the bottom and top lines for a business. If it's an ecommerce site, blogging is a no brainer. If you're a b2b company trying to generate leads... again... a no brainer. If you're b2c and people are passionate about your types of products (ie you sell wine not hammers), also a no brainer. If you're a realtor, you should be talking to Real Estate Tomato about how to start a real estate blog... umm... yesterday. (Of course, you shouldn't underestimate what's required to be successful with a blog - no matter who you are or what you sell.)
All that said, social media is still the wild west. There's no best practices. There are very few services that assist business owners in a meaningful way. The only businesses that are taking advantage of social media are big brand name F1000 companies. They have the budgets to deal directly with the big social networks and the budgets to tap the big ad agencies who deal with the big social networks.
Everyone else is sorta left figuring this out themselves. I've been able to successfully generate leads from social media activity. So has the internet marketing company I work for. We teach our clients best practices for the sites that actually drive traffic directly, and support our clients' SEO strategy. We also give them the tools to analyze effectiveness in terms of traffic, leads and soon: sales across their SEO, PPC, blogging, and blogosphere/social media activity. This informs what works and what they should do more of. For example, if Digg reaches your audience, you should learn how to use Digg. If you're trying to reach a younger crowd, join facebook. If you're trying to reach CEOs, start answering questions and endorsing people on LinkedIN.
But, this list could go on and on. How does someone know where to focus their efforts and how do they measure what's working before the leads come in? As this map indicates, you could literally spend all of 2008 registering and learning social media services. There certainly isn't a comprehensive tool within the reach of the average mid sized business to track all the leading indicators of social media success or failure. However, is it really necessary to track the leading indicators? If you have a website that converts visitors into leads and you can successfully generate traffic from social media sources and measure which social media sites send visitors with a high likelihod of converting to a lead... then... I'm left with the conclusion that you should just find yourself a social media advisor. I'm sure that 1 out of 50,000 people are like me (or the guys at Read/Write Web) who spend too much time tracking the social media landscape, who can interpret it and translate it for the average business owner so they know what to do first.
And if in doubt and you don't want to find an advisor, start with LinkedIn. If you're in business, chances are that your best prospects are on there.
Bruce Mendehlson and I have been chatting by email about this. I also spoke to Debra Simpson on the West Coast about this. I plan to speak with Rita Coco and Allison Chisholm about this too.
But, Bruce is the first one that has demonstrated some knowledge about what I think is required to make blogging work for businesses. Here's his thoughts:
There are A LOT of blogs out there, and many (in fact, most) are poorly written, rambling, off subject and add little (if any) value that relates back to the product, service, or business someone is trying to promote.
After all, it's challenging to compose relevant, compelling content on a regular basis--after a few dismal attempts most business owners move on to something else. It's not that they don't have the desire; they don't have the time or the discipline to devote to a labor-intensive product like a blog.
The key is to help your clients understand how a blog (or a podcast, RSS feed, widget, etc.) should and must be integrated within a broader marketing and communications plan. For example, if they have a product in R&D or coming to market, they'll want to use the blog to build interest in and excitement about the product or service. They'll want to create a dialogue with consumers in which consumers can share their thoughts about the product or service.
When it comes to blogging in our Web 2.0 world, it's all about the 5 C's: Collaboration, Content, Converged services, Community, and Conversation. Your job is not only to help business owners understand the important of blogging, but also to invest the necessary resources (time and money) to creating a well-written, interactive online dialogue through their blog.
This is extremely well said. Blogging is just a tool. It's how you use it that's critical.
I've signed on about 15 companies since the beginning of the year who all are in the process of starting their blog, at my suggestion. But, it's not something to enter into lightly. And it's not something I'd recommend someone do until they develop a strategy.
Blogging should fit into a strategy that supports the business. The ultimate goal of most marketing activities should be to generate interest from qualified prospects. So blogging should fit into their traffic and online lead generation strategy. In order to get the most out of it, the following should be done first:
Search Engine Optimization Keyword research to inform topics that should be written about.
Launching a blog on a blogging platform that is optimized for SEO and community development - on your own domain name.
Reading and commenting on other blogs in order to start entering the conversation.
A system in place that tracks new links, traffic and leads generated from the blogging activities.
If you don't do all of this, you run the risk of writing a blog that noone reads and adds no value to your business.
But, as Bruce points out it's equally important to go into blogging knowing that this is an investment of time and money, like any other marketing expenditure. So, it requires the right resources to pull it off.
In order to help my clients, I'm seeking a stable of professional writers who I can recommend. If you know anyone, please send them to this post and ask them to contact me here. I'm going to need to be comfortable that they can do what Bruce talks about, but also do what I bulleted above.
They are going to need to be able to coach clients towards their business goals using blogs as a tool.