By Carol Milano
BENEFITS OF A BUSINESS BLOG
Why will consumer stop to read a blog? It offers information in a fresher way and invites shoppers to interact, by entering their comments. This creates the sense of more personal communication. For example, the owner of a business selling crafts from all over the world can post entries on its blog about her journeys looking for handwoven rugs in unusual places. "The owner can talk about why she’s choosing one rug over another, and their criteria for selecting items," says Ms. Ochman. "It's a chance to casually mention that a rug should be well-woven and durable, and to share information about their merchandise, so that a shopper begins to feel more comfortable."
In a sense, a blog is the latest evolution of the newsletter format, but with more frequent updates. This is another significant difference from web sites, which don’t usually change very often. Whenever a new article or column is posted, it receives its own unique URL. Ms. Ochman updates her own blog up to ten times a day! She’s continually increasing opportunities to generate traffic to her blog, since the number of keywords leading to it grows with every posting. Her company generates 100% of its work through their blog. (Visit www.whatsnextblog.com to see the very effective What’s Next On Line blog.)
LAUNCHING A BLOG
The best way to become familiar with blogs is by reading hundreds of them. In the blog universe, one site links to another, then another, so it's easy to visit a dozen in a very short time. Businesses are still learning how to most effectively incorporate blogs into their marketing, explains Ms. Ochman, who helps companies both develop new blogs and target the right audience.
A blog media plan is the first step. After that, creating and maintaining interesting content is crucial. Successful blogs are crafted by someone with the writing skills, dedication and drive to generate and add new copy on a regular basis. Frequent updates are essential. People will not return to a blog once they’ve read the material already on it.
One of Ms. Ochman’s clients distributes water filters. Every day, he posts material about water, by either finding articles to share, or gathering some new facts. It’s time-consuming, but a solid way to build stronger relationships with consumers.
Initially, successful business blogs build an audience by establishing links to other blogs. "Retailers let people know they’re out there by becoming part of the blogging universe," Ms. Ochman finds. An easy entry path is to post a comment to an existing blog. "Then the retailer sends a note to that blog, inviting its writer to take a look at the comment. The blog owner may then comment on what the retailer said. Having the store's name appear provides the advantage of being seen by the traffic to that bigger, better-known blog." Hopefully, some of that blog's readers will be interested enough to start tracking down the web site of the commenter.
Already, some businesses are beginning to advertise on popular blogs. "It's very cheap now, but will soon be discovered," Ms. Ochman predicts. "However, you can’t just take a newspaper or other traditional ad and throw it on a blog! It’s very different from advertising in any other medium." Usually, ads have to be very interesting and offbeat in order to be accepted by the blog where a company wants to advertise.
Is this just a passing fad, or is it worth a retailer’s investment? "I think blogs will become much more widespread. The next stage will be allowing really large-scale participation," says Ms. Ochman. "They can be much more fun than they are now, and will be a bigger chance to engage customers. The opportunity is enormous now."
RESOURCES FOR READERS
To locate blogs about rugs, enter "rug blog" on Google. Here are some recommended sites:
B.L. Ochman is President of Whatsnextonline.com, in New York City. She is the author of "What Can Your Business Do With A Blog?" which contains 85 examples from different companies. The e-book is available through her web site [www.whatsnextonline.com], or by telephone [212-369-8312].