This is a guest contribution from Sabina Stoiciu.
So you have a business blog (you DO have a blog for your business, yes?). Well it’s a great decision, and a decision that is growing in popularity. In a 2012 HubSpot study, 62% of respondents claimed to run a company blog. A number which has consistently grown from 52% back in 2009.
Today is also not the first time somebody tells you a blog will bring several advantages to your business. You’ve heard professionals tell you that writing blog posts gives you the opportunity to leverage the human side of your business. Or to showcase your products a little bit more, all while still offering value to your readers and not just babbling advertising copy.
What I’m telling you now is that your company blog should be a piece in your overall business puzzle, that perfectly fits among the other pieces. Your blog is not just the place where you write something for someone. It’s a place where you engage with your audience. On the other hand, your blog is also the place where you can run a marketing action, like a contest for your customers and potential clients. And the functions of your blog as part of your overall strategy don’t stop here – bear with me, the full list is coming.
So, your blog fulfills the role of…
As stated above, your company blog is the place where you write about yourself. About who you are, what you do and why you do it. And perhaps even why you do it better than others. But beware: the catch here is that you have to tell a story, not to repeat the corporatist, stiff copy you traditionally display about your company. Get emotional, be honest and be relevant – that’s what your readers are looking to see. Give your business that human touch we are all attracted to. And most important, try to put yourself in the shoes of your audience: what would you like to read about on a company blog? I’ll bet my lunch that it’s not an advertising catalog or a constant “look how awesome we are”.
If you want to be relevant for your readers, and even become an industry resource, always offer more than expected. Add that plus of value people will come back for over and over. That means that besides posts talking about you (in a moderated way, of course), you should strive to extend your content towards covering more general, yet still related industry topics. Have a look at the Hootsuite blog for example. In case you didn’t know, Hootsuite is a social media management service you can use to easily handle your social networks. On their blog, they not only speak about Hootsuite features or company updates, but also about more general topics, such as how to publish articles on LinkedIn or what a social media manager should check off their daily to do list. You see, while the posts are somewhat related to Hootsuite (it’s their blog, after all), the content exceeds their own functionality and becomes more useful to readers.
2. Presenting your products
Yes, I did say that your company blog shouldn’t be an advertising catalog. And I stick to that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your product or service. The tweak lies in doing this from a more objective point of view. Don’t be all braggy about how great your product is. Instead, think of advanced ways of using it to maximize the user’s experience with it. For example, if you sell ice cream machines, spare your readers from hundreds of words from the technical jargon. Delight them with ice cream recipes they can try while using your ice cream machines, and you will give them a reason to keep reading your content.
Furthermore, you can help customers and potential clients get a deeper understanding of your product by surrounding it with scenarios or real use cases of it. For example, at 123ContactForm (the company I work for – an online form and survey builder), we do run a blog where we try to imagine all kinds of use cases for various form types, so that our customers can see the full potential of a form they’d like to use. Along with this, we aim at shedding light upon other apps and tools that are around, which people may see fit for their own business use.
3. Showcasing your activity, accomplishments and campaigns
A blog tells a story. Like a fairy tale, where the main character is born in a far away kingdom, raised by fairies, exposed to magic challenges, and eventually defeats the evil, your company also goes to different life stages and experiences. Along the road, it might meet a new partner, open a new business unit, change its appearance, gain special prizes or run awesome CSR campaigns. All these tiny parts of what represents your company’s identity and existence are great blog material, as they put together an unique story: the one of your company.
Don’t forget to add characters to your story. What’s a fairy tale without Prince Charming? Or without the enchanting princess? Your company’s staff is definitely part of the company’s story. Whether their individual personality comes to life in collective posts about your team, in writers’ bio boxes or in single presentation posts about a team member, this kind of content helps you show the human face of your company.
4. Liaison between your business’ website, social media channels and other communication channels
A blog is a valuable asset for a business, since it is part of your overall strategy. Picture it as a link within a chain, where each link is strongly tied to its neighbours, and where you can’t take one link out, unless you destroy the chain.
The company blog has the power to establish a connection and link other communication channels you use within your business. How come? Well, think of how your social media icons are displayed on your blog, letting readers get to your company’s social accounts or share your blog content via social media. In a similar way, remember you can (or quite should) share your posts across your social media channels. Further on, your blog and company website are also linked, as each one of them refers to the other. This way, visitors can bounce from your official presentation site to your story telling corner and back.
In terms of content and its connection to your blog and other channels, remember that you should keep the content coherent. Each piece of it should form a part of the whole ensemble, and you should not ignore the proper tone for each channel. For example, your website presents a product in a more promotional, professional way. The blog adds a story to it. Social media then completes it with rich media and short, but strong messages.
5. Interaction with your audience
Just like other channels, your company blog is a communication tool. Customers and prospects can use it to get in touch with your company, whether they ask you about a product or feature, they engage on a topic you talk about, or solicit you some general advice you could help them with.
Don’t hesitate to engage back with them, answer them, challenge them to talk to you, so that you can strengthen your relationship to them. This can happen through your blog post content, your post comments, as well as through a contact form you may be using.
6. Feedback gathering
Don’t underestimate the power of your blog as a feedback tool, unless you want valuable data to get passed by you.
You have three options to harvest feedback on your blog:
- specifically ask for it using a dedicated tool, such as a feedback form you share within a blog post (see a feedback form template here)
- look at direct reactions of your readers in the post comments or messages coming through the contact form or social media comments
- read between the lines, meaning you can look at Analytics, social media shares, likes and comments count, in order to observe your audience’s behavior and get an idea about their attitude towards you.
After you’ve received your feedback, it’s time to draw the conclusions and, based on them, take the necessary actions. There have been cases where people or companies were asking their audience for feedback, the latter offered it, and the ones asking failed at doing something with that feedback. So basically their effort was in vain. Don’t forget to implement your feedback as much as possible, whether it’s aimed at your blog content, product suggestions or ideas for your company.
7. Customer care aid
We’ve cleared this one off the myth list: your company blog is not just about you, but about your customers and prospects too. That means there will be times when your blog might turn into a customer service aid. Clients might stop by to read your content and then suddenly remember they needed assistance with something related to what they’ve read. And if they are already there, they will probably drop a comment that is directed towards your customer care team. Thus, this is how the blog can help readers solve their problems.
As it’s best practice to let customers and prospects speak to you through whatever channel they prefer, handling customer care matters on your blog will eventually add to your to do list. But wait: you can turn this into an advantage. Namely, other readers will see the responses too if you offer them in the comments section. Hence, if they have the same problem, they will find a ready made answer. Moreover, you can select common customer inquiries and turn them into detailed blog posts.
8. Running marketing actions – (contests, giveaways, announce special offers, etc)
As a place where you have the opportunity to present more in-depth content, your blog is a proper medium for hosting an online contest, a giveaway, or for announcing special campaigns. Since you won’t probably update your website as often as you do your blog, the latter is a good destination for hosting some of your marketing actions, also allowing a more interactive approach from users. Readers can engage through comments, see what others posted, and even reply.
Contests and giveaways can represent effective ways to entice your audience, so you should definitely give them a try if you haven’t up to now. Just think about a topic for your contest, or something to offer for free in your giveaway. Establish participation guidelines and think of the submission mechanics. Something like a contest entry form can help you in registering all people willing to take part in your marketing action, also offering an overview on all submissions. Or you can ask people to participate through blog comments or through engaging on another communication channel, such as social media.
9. Running marketing research
Besides marketing actions, you can use your blog for the purpose of administering a marketing research form at some point. Along with the research that concludes from what your readers tell you through comments, you can specifically ask them certain questions useful to you within a market research action.
Keep it short, though. Unless incentivized (as offered to enter the chance to win something by filling out your research form), and perhaps even then, people dislike never-ending surveys. A tool that might help you conduct a structured market research on a topic or some key point you’re after is a market research survey. You can find a template here if you would like to adapt and use it. Like with the feedback you are asking for, be careful to effectively make use of the data the research provides you with.
10. Lead gathering
We’ve reached the final point in our list: your blog can help you with getting new leads for your business. While this alone shouldn’t be your goal when running a blog, you may take it into consideration along with offering great content to your readers.
All the points I mentioned above can conduct to gaining new leads. People that leave a comment, prospects who fill out your contact form, readers who take part in your contest or your giveaway, or who subscribe to the blog newsletter to get fresh content from you – they can all represent leads for your company. If you take good care of them, they might even convert to paying customers. So don’t neglect this role of your blog, but focus more on the value you deliver to your audience.
What about you? Can you relate to any of these roles above, supposing you run a company blog? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts.
Sabina Stoiciu enjoys blogging, photography, traveling and finding ways of gathering and sharing relevant business knowledge. You can follow her on Twitter. She also writes for 123ContactForm, the online form and survey builder – try it for free.