Blogging for your business is important, but doing it wrong can cost you customers and your reputation. As more and more small businesses enter the world of content development, the scrutiny continues to increase. Consumers can be retained or lost simply from your blogging efforts, so its imperative this public-facing activity is done correctly.
In this guide, we'll explore why small businesses should have a blog, a company that is doing it right, the biggest mistakes made by small businesses, and how to avoid those potential pitfalls.
7 Blogging Mistakes that Small Businesses Make: Why Start a Blog?
"Before the Internet, everybody was geographically niched," says Liz Strauss, a Chicago-based social web strategist, blogger and community builder, and the founder of the business bloggers conference series SOBcon. "In the past, if you were at the corner of 8th and Main, all the traffic came to you based on your location. But the Internet completely changed that. Because now you're competing with similar businesses from Alabama to Zimbabwe and the best location is now the front page of Google. To get on the front page of Google, you have to be a solution and not just a service."
But before you jump into blogging, you need to answer a few questions: What is this blog going to do for your business? Are you trying to boost brand awareness? Are you trying to sell something by utilizing the blog or just looking to connect further with your customers? Is your aim to build a community?
"With small businesses, the biggest challenge is that blogging is just going to be another one of those things clamoring for attention," notes Simon Salt, the CEO of Austin-based marketing and communication firm IncSlingers. "As the newest thing, it's often the first to get cut when you get busy. But just like anything else, it requires a commitment and needs to be a priority. Think of it as you would any other part of your business, like answering emails or stocking shelves, and you'll get past thinking that it's not a necessary task."
Dig Deeper: Your 10-Step Guide to Blogging
7 Blogging Mistakes that Small Businesses Make: Blog Success Story, A Company Doing It Right
Wegman's is a family-owned mid-Atlantic regional supermarket chain with less than 100 stores. But despite their size, Wegman's has constantly garnered accolades from customers and media nationally (Consumer Reports named them the top U.S. grocery chain in 2009), not to mention a healthy $5.15 billion in revenue in 2009. At the core of their business, Wegman's is built on late founder Robert B. Wegman's simple mantra that "it is essential to treat customers and employees right."
So when the company decided to launch a blog in 2009, they started by sharing behind-the-scenes stories from their organic farm. As the blog following grew, the content continued to evolve, with contributions from both top executives and individual store employees (chefs, deli workers, etc.). The model quickly became driven both by direct sales and customer loyalty. Whether it's the easy navigation, the changing colors and themes of the blog (based on season and holidays), or the level of interaction with consumers, it's just another part of the Wegman's business model that customers have come to love.
"You'll be able to get the inside scoop from Wegmans people, and connect with us through our blog," CEO Danny Wegman wrote in a July 2010 post. "The big thing is that this blog is for you. So, we'd love to hear what you'd like us to share. So join in and let us know what you've been wondering about."
What made the blog a success? It's actually quite simple. Wegman's did what they've always been good at and didn't try to copy others. They focused on their foods, their staff and their customers, and combined all of that with an inviting design.
7 Blogging Mistakes that Small Businesses Make: 7 Sins of Business Blogging
1. Bad Writing: This one really shouldn't need an explanation. Poor writing, if displayed in a public setting like a blog, looks even worse. Whether grammatical, punctuation, usage or even spelling errors, there's a good chance that if the blog isn't written well, your customers won't come back. This is an easy problem to solve: no matter the size of your company, the chances are pretty good that someone on staff knows how to write. This is why opening the blog up to different employees and letting them write under their own name could be great. It gives your blog itself different voices for customers to relate to and also makes the employees feel better about themselves and their overall contributions to the organization.
2. Presenting Instead of Conversing: Good blog posts are those that inspire conversation and drive readers to comment, share, or engage with the content. Rather than thinking about a blog post as a dissertation, think about it more as an opinion on a hot topic. Stick to that one opinion or point of view and defend it, then open the floor to readers to respond.
"The thing most people don't understand is that the difference between a blog post and a magazine article is the difference between conversation and presentation," notes Strauss. "If I were giving a presentation on a stage behind a podium, the expectation is that I'm going deliver a fully developed idea with everything tied up in a bow and a potential Q&A at the end. In blogging, it's important to blog about a particular topic without being complete. If it's conversational as a blog is supposed to be, you get a chance to say one thing or one idea, and then it's your customers' turn to talk or respond."
3. Being Too Promotional: Often the best way to promote your business is to be seen as a resource and not a PR outlet. If you try to sell a customer a product too early in the relationship, before you've really gotten to know each other or learned to trust one another, you'll often scare them off. Rather, establishing a blog that provides regularly interesting, useful and informational (not promotional) content will make customers more likely to make purchasing decisions.
"Organizations are still learning about becoming media companies to utilize the power of pull vs. looking to move inventory with just ads and promotion," says Valeria Maltoni, the author of renowned marketing blog Conversation Agent, "The way to make your blog a lead generation mechanism is to start it as a lead nurturing vehicle."
4. It's About the People Not the Words: In most cases, companies are starting blogs as a means to connect further with their customers and in the end sell more products. But the message is unsuccessful if the person on the other end, in this case the reader, can't understand or can't relate to what you are saying. As pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz has made famous, "it's not what you say that matters, it's what they hear."
"Successful bloggers are focused on their audience and readers as they move out from behind the podium," says Strauss. "They know it's about the people and not about the words. In other words, they care what their audience thinks and they are learners, so they come to it with a beginner's mind and aren't afraid to say I'm learning as they talk to others and improve."
5. Lack of Direction/Strategy: While variety is great in a blog because it keeps it from becoming boring, you need to be clear about what users can expect when they visit it. If you are Wegman's, you've made it very clear at the top of the page that this blog is all about "Fresh Stories: An Inside Look at All Things Wegmans."
"Think back to when you started your business and what it was about that particular business that attracted you," says Salt. "So if you're a retailer, why do you sell what you sell? If you're a B2B service, what made you decide to run a business around that? Tap back into that passion for whatever drove you down that road; when you tap into that passion it becomes clear to other people, they get excited by it and they want to read more."
6. Not Utilizing Your Experience: What makes your perspective unique and different from the millions of other blogs that are out there? Why should readers trust your voice? If you are a business owner, it's rare to start a blog before you've established customers. So clearly, you have experience in your field of business. Just like you tap into your passion with the overall strategy, make the most out of your experience and be sure to offer a unique perspective. Don't just say what everyone else is saying. Often, disruption can breed success.
"If you want a long, loyal following, you need to blog your experience of the information," notes Strauss. "The best example to me is if every movie critic only blogged information about a film, we'd really only need one critic. But it's opinion and experience that matter as you read all these reviews. If you're doing a review of a website and talking about how to solve a problem, if you include your experience in it, it not only humanizes it but allows me to extrapolate what works for me and what doesn't."
7. Taking Advantage of Technology: It's important to master the basics to make your blog look good and read well. Consider varied content types, whether it's a standard text blog, video interviews, podcasts or an infographic. Beyond that, make sure you are utilizing all of the sharing tools available, from an RSS feed to social sharing abilities (via tools like AddThis). And more importantly, use an analytics service (free ones like Google Analytics work just fine) to track what posts perform well, how users are finding you and more.
"Make sure you're using all the tools out there that can help you with SEO, readability scores, and all of those things," says Salt. "It's important to invest in those things because if you're going to invest in blogging, you need to invest in the tool set to get people to actually see your blog. Some people do a readability score, which tells you the education level that the person reading it must have. If you're writing to appeal to people with a Ph.D, you don't want to write grade school-level posts, and vice versa. Just look around at what works for you."
LOU DUBOIS is a Philadelphia-based Social Media Editor for NBC Universal's local news affiliate (WCAU-TV). He is an experienced writer, editor and marketer who has worked with and written about Fortune 500 companies and small businesses, focusing on social media, emerging technologies, small business success, entrepreneurship, sports business and corporate policy. Previously he worked for Social Media Today, Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press and SOBeFit Magazine, along with various newspapers.