Blogging for business
Enterprise blogging has survived the fad stage. Managed properly, it can be a communication hub as well as being a revenue generator and money saver.
While blogs are still considered to be written by individuals from their own viewpoints, a number of companies have presence online in this space - and it's proving to be a worthwhile investment.
That was among the messages from the many professional and corporate bloggers at the recent Blog World Expo. Indeed, at one time, a corporate website was the exception, not the rule. This has obviously changed, and most people expect businesses to become more involved in blogging and associated aspects of social media over the next few years. However, most companies simply do not have the experience of blogging technology and of dealing with the reader community.
From the growing enterprise blogging sector, the guidance is clear: listening is an important first step.
"You have to start to listen to the conversations that are going on, so you can decide where to engage," explained Chris Brogan, the vice president of strategy and technology at CrossTech Media, a company specialising in online interaction for mid-sized enterprises.
But how do you go about doing this? For starters, there are free tools already on the web that will help you listen and monitor online discussion, such as Google's Blogsearch.
Put in a search term, such as your company name, and you'll get an immediate snapshot response of blogs that mention your business. On the left of the screen, you can set up an automatic alert to email you when this search term is mentioned on a blog. Think of it as a modern spin on the newspaper cuttings file that many companies maintain and distribute in order to track positive and negative mentions along with media perceptions and understanding.
The advantage now is that companies can react instantly to the discussions online, either to answer questions, correct inaccuracies, or simply to acknowledge an interested audience.
"The most important lesson is to get involved," said Mari Smith, a relationship and marketing specialist. "But the challenge is how to get involved."
The general consensus has always been to set up a blog, where you can join in the conversation and hopefully trigger debate. This has been the traditional advice from bloggers to companies, but this approach does not necessarily fit today given the proliferation of additional web services and social networking sites.
"Using services like Twitter and Facebook, you can start aggregating all this content together and pull it back to your blog. The blog still remains your core, where all your content is," advised Smith.
A strong social media presence for any company can start out with the aim of bringing all these disparate conversations back to one managed location, ideally a blog or traditional web site. In doing this, you will not always be the one setting the agenda; in many cases, you will be reacting to your customers and a conversation they have initiated. The important thing is that through savvy monitoring of the blogosphere, you can enter the conversation, and if need be bring it to a natural and positive conclusion in turn building up public and industry trust in the company or brand.
You're the expert
Who knows the most about your own company? You do. Therefore, if people are asking questions about your company, that means you, the company, are best placed to answer them.
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