Social networking. The big corporations have bought into it. Smaller companies, too. Even independent consultants use Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook to do business. It is a great way to get the word out about your product or service. It boosts brand awareness, it builds loyalty, and it attracts and retains customers.
But more companies are exploring ways to get a bigger pay off with social media. The next frontier of social networking and weblogging is social blogging. This ever-changing construct represents a way of communicating for people who like to inform each other about their daily activities and share common points of interest, according to Wikipedia authors Lambert M. Surhone, Mariam T. Tennoe, and Susan F. Henssonow. This is usually done through continual updates that often include text, pictures, audio, or video.
In general, you want to use social media to increase your visibility, improve your search engine results, and drive more traffic to your company's website, which stands a good chance of increasing sales and growing the business. Social blogging is simply another tool to add to your overall social media strategic toolkit.
Business owners whose companies are at all levels of growth, from promising start-ups to established and mature firms, are looking for effective promotional tools that are also cost-effective, says Gail Z. Martin, author of 30 Days To Social Media Success. "Though social media is one of the most exciting new communications tools to emerge in the last twenty years and can provide cost effective marketing, it's one of the most misunderstood mediums," says Martin.
Social media, be it weblogging, microblogging (i.e., Twitter), or posting status updates, is a different kind of marketing. It's not about creating a sales pitch for your product or service. Instead, it's about generating interest and keeping your audience current on news, events, and the latest product developments. A social blog is essentially a form or combination of microblogs (short posts) and status updates. Users post content such as short sentences, images, or video links to large groups of friends, followers, or co-workers. As with traditional weblogging, users can write messages on topics that range from "what am I doing right now" to thematic ones such as "best places to eat sushi." These messages can be transmitted via posting, text messaging, or e-mailing.
Businesses can use the concept of social blogging to provide up-to-the-minute news as they will find the need for quicker, current, and condensed information far more useful to their audiences, say social media gurus. But social blogs and status updates on Twitter and Facebook, for instance, aren't just limited to news content, businesses also can use these as effective forms of communication to reach large groups of consumers and associates instantaneously to learn about their needs and wants.
Starbucks Corporation is a social media giant when it comes to engagement, including incorporating blogs, status updates, tweets, and forums. When the trendy Seattle-based coffeehouse chain realized that its sales were stagnating and that competition was becoming fierce, it had to find ways to solidify and expand its market share. In 2009, Starbucks launched the interactive MyStarbucksIdea website and corporate blog. While some industry analysts doubted whether the site would catch on, well over 100,000 internet users had visited the site by the end of its first week online. The site allows users to submit ideas for new drinks, food items, packages, even store designs. Suggestions are voted on by Starbucks consumers with the most popular ones getting highlighted.
But Starbucks took it a step further, adding an "Ideas in Action" blog that gives updates to users on the status of suggested changes. Starbucks doesn't just communicate news and business developments with its audience, but it also lets them know which of their suggestions the company has really taken to heart. Starbucks also has fully embraced Twitter beyond notifying consumers about bargains; @Starbucks focuses on sharing interesting events and music information or brand- and charity-related topics the company would like to address. It's not a one-way monologue. Followers are not just entertained. They are being engaged in a brand and conversations around it.
Like Starbucks, Zappos embraces microblogging to manage customer relations. Tweets @Zappos are used to highlight interesting facts, and to talk to customers in a way that is friendly, helpful, funny and trustworthy. The Brooklyn Kitchen keeps foodies up to date on events from notices about the new book club in full swing to the next skills knife class kicking off. Amateur chefs Taylor Erkkinen and Harry Rosenblum opened The Brooklyn Kitchen in 2006 after scouring the neighborhood for kitchenware and coming up empty-handed. Today, their homegrown shop is crammed wall to wall with tools for both serious cooks and hobbyists. The duo focuses on providing useful and targeted information in their posts whether it's through their website, weblog, or twitter account. From videos on how to shuck oysters or saber a champagne bottle, Erkkinen and Rosenblum always provide real value for enthusiastic cooking fans.
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This type of added-value and engagement translates to increased brand awareness and direct sales. These companies demonstrate the effective use of compelling and condensed content aligned with tangible business objectives. Here are some tips to help you make the most of social blogging:
1. Position yourself as an expert. When people are looking for a product or service, oftentimes they will first look for information about the subject on the Internet. In general, blogging is about having conversations in a public space that position you as a subject matter expert. "The type of discussions you ideally should have ought to be answering questions that people out there on the Internet are searching for," says Adria Richards, Organic Technology Consultant and blogger. "For me, social blogging is a way to have conversations with potential customers and to draw traffic to your site." For instance, you can answer questions from consumers via Twitter, which is a popular thing to do.
2. Share experiences and information. Social blogging is often used to share experiences in addition to business ideas and concepts. Always seek unique opportunities to share your ideas and offerings with not only your readers, but their associates as well, which will eventually bring in more prospects. Announce upcoming events, awards, and other news. But do it in a conversational tone. Hopefully, your target audience will retweet or share your story. Don't overlook Tunmblr, which is popular in the microblogging realm. Users can post text, photos, quotes, links, dialogues, audio, video, slideshows and "Tumble" other posts. Tumblr provides the option of custom domains. You can auto-syndicate to Facebook and Twitter. Users can track stats with Google Analytics.
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3. Keep it fresh and mix it up. Frequent one note updates can be a major turn off for say Facebook fans, while Twitter followers are more accustomed to frequent posts. Try to mix it up. Spark up conversation with the help of images and videos. Marketing experts suggest businesses update their audiences on a regular basis but only if there's something new, informative and interesting to say. Even if you need to repeat an update to promote a current offer or a call to action for a project, put a new twist on it each time.
4. Encourage interaction and feedback. Your company can benefit from valuable feedback through comments and suggestions. Do a call for action in your posts. You can also gain insight about your audience using Q&A, bookmarking icons, link builder, wordtracker, Google Adwords and so on. Make it easy for your readers to share posts. Encourage them to share tips and personal experiences with using your products or services. Just make sure you are on hand to respond to any comments, says Richards. Failing to do this is a sign that you don't respect or care about your audience.
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5. Use schedulers and update apps. Seesmic is an app that supports Facebook, Twitter and even Yammer, which is a private messaging version of Twitter. Seesmic lets you update and view content from different social networks. You can follow trends, update statuses or write messages. Also, take advantage of status update schedulers for Facebook, Twitter, LikedIn, and other sites. Hootsuite is one favorite. It's free and it's capable of delivering updates to various social networking sites. Cotweet is another.
"It's been proven that there are certain times when people are reading blog posts and checking social media," says Richards. The most popular times to post or make an announcement are 9 am, 12 pm, 3 pm, and 6 pm throughout the business day. "The best days are the middle of the week, because on Mondays people are trying to get into the swing of things and on Fridays people are thinking about the upcoming weekend."
6. Make your blog the central hub. Have your blog serve as the central location for where you make announcements, suggests Richards. "It should be the final resting place and then everything should branch out from there. Why? Because you are in control and at the end of the day when you look at Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn at any time they can change their policy and restrict how people access your data." You can create information on your blog and then promote it using other social network tools, adds Richards.
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7. Link back to your website. Make sure everything you do is somehow tied back in to your company website. Use RSS feeds so your main site always has fresh content, which improves search engine rankings, says Martin. Use your Twitter account to build links to your blog. Use tags and keywords that make your posts more searchable. Google Keyword Tools is a great device, adds Martin.
8. Use a personal touch. Having your employees or even the president post updates can help revolutionize how your business communicates with your customers and associates. Take Bill Marriott, chairman and CEO of Marriott International, he is one of the most famous corporate bloggers worldwide. His "Marriott On The Move" interactive weekly posts has won the site loyal fans. You can follow his updates on Twitter @Billmarriott. Marriott's personal involvement has had a far-reaching impact within the company. Since first launching their CEO's blog, the company has continued to grow in the social media sphere by adding more blogs, several different Twitter feeds and even its own online community for Marriott Rewards members.
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Marriott exemplifies how an all-encompassing social media platform can impact customer satisfaction, generate direct sales, and provide crisis management—such as to set the record straight about a negative situation involving one of their hotel properties.
Always think about what value and what message you want to communicate to consumers, advises Richards. From there, share information, news, stories, and announcements that are relevant to your target audience. "Your most loyal customers will be your biggest cheerleaders online. Provide them opportunities to support your business and to part of your growth and your success."