Building an audience online is a challenge. I shared my story in another Inc column about what I learned after writing over 1,500 content pieces on the Internet, but I wanted to expand on the topic for those managing company blogs.
I'll start here: the reason most company blogs fail is they treat their blog posts as long-form advertising for their products or services.
Blogging successfully on the Internet requires a very firm "give, give, give" mentality. You'll never build a quality audience for yourself or your company by masking blogs as calls to action for people to sign up for your services or hire your team. Those things can be present, sure, but if they are the driving force behind your blog, you have failed before you've even started.
Here's a perfect example:
Say you are running a social media agency. Do you know how many social media agencies I see that have company blogs with content titles like, "How Hiring A Social Media Team Can Help Your Business."
That's not helpful content. That's a sales pitch.
What would be a far better approach would be to have a blog post geared toward the internal team of a brand or company and teaching them how to execute social media campaigns effectively--and then, at the end, having a subtle call to action with something like, "If you have any questions or would like additional help with your own social strategy, feel free to reach out."
That's not a sales pitch. That's you providing value and then offering personalized assistance if the reader needs it (and there's a huge difference).
So, if you want your company blog to be successful, here's what you need:
1. Content That Gives First & Asks Last
When you sit down to write a blog post, I want you to ask yourself one question: "What is my target audience struggling the most with?"
Now go do some research on who else has written about that topic online--a simple Google search will do. Take a moment to study up on what has already been said about the topic.
When it comes time for you to write your blog, ask yourself how you can write about that subject even better than anyone else in your space. If the top Google result is a two-thousand word article about networking best practices, for example, write a five-thousand word article with actionable steps, quotes from net expert networkers, and a white paper at the end they can download with the most important steps in a nice, neat infographic.
Try to figure out how you can "beat" the competition by giving even more than them.
2. Quality & Quantity
I live by the phrase "volume wins."
I'm telling you from personal experience (and I've built sizable audiences for myself multiple times, in different industries, so I know the recipe well), you'll never build a loyal audience online if you don't plan on publishing content on a very regular basis.
If you start a company blog and expect it to drive big ROI for your business, and yet you only publish content once a week, you might as well not even have it at all. It's pointless. Now, a lot of people would argue that there's still some value in having a company blog for SEO reasons, but from my experience it's really not worth the time investment for what you're going to get out of infrequent publishing.
If you're going to do it, do it right.
If not, focus your efforts elsewhere.
The reason is because there is so, so, so much content being published online every single day that if you really want to stand out, you need to play the long game. Your goal isn't for one post to pop off and become wildly popular (and besides, the chances of that are slim to none). Your goal should be to become a media channel and a valuable resource people come back to on a regular basis.
And the only way to do that is to constantly be putting out content.
Now, don't forget, it can't be sub-par content. You need quality as much as you need quantity. This is where Darwin would say, "It's survival of the fittest." Because it's true. Every single day, you aren't just competing with other content creators, you're also competing with yourself and what you created yesterday.
If you aren't improving on a daily basis, then your audience is going to go to the next content creator that is.
3. Start With A Social Platform First
One of the biggest pieces of advice I share with people when it comes to building an audience online and establishing themselves as a thought leader is to actually start with a blog last.
First, it's better to build a social audience.
Now, if you're a company and you want SEO benefits from your blog, then sure, you should be publishing content on your site regularly. But at the same time, you need to solve for the even bigger issue of getting people to know about that content in the first place.
This is where I really encourage marketing teams and content creators to simultaneously write within social networks. For example: LinkedIn, Medium, and Quora are all incredible platforms for building and expanding your audience at large, and ultimately directing them back to your most valuable content on your blog.
If all this sounds like a lot of work, that's because it is. Especially when it comes to written content online, standing out is tough stuff. But if you see the value and you understand how to play the game, then it can become a powerful driver for your business.