Economy

Harnessing the power of blogs

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It’s time to start thinking about how a blog can boost your business. By EMILY ROSS.

By Emily Ross

According to those in the know, blogs can be useful to any type of business. They can aid search engine optimisation and help to generate web traffic and increase the company’s overall ranking. But, as with every tool, there are do’s and don’ts.

 

According to Technorati, by May 2007 there were 71 million blogs on the internet. Supermarket chain Safeway has its own MySpace blog where there is much informal discussion on the new uniforms (no tie with the new version is a hit).

Retailers such as aussieBum and General Pants have joined all the advertising agencies, accountants, mobile hairdressers, recruiters, publicists, restaurants, fashion designers, radio stations and marketers et al that have invaded the blog space (or blogosphere) looking for new ways to market their businesses.

For those who see blogs and social networking sites as places simply for socialising and making friends, think again. Smart bloggers are using the blogosphere to boost their businesses. Safeway does not have MySpace pages to see how many friends it has. It is there because MySpace blogs are free marketing tools. More than 230,000 people sign up every day – potential voters, customers, employees or all of the above.

For Brett Iredale, managing director of Now Hiring, a North Sydney-based company that builds websites for the recruitment sector and operates seven job sites, his widely read blog is not about making friends. “It has nothing to do with being cool and making mates, it is purely about making contact with people that might not ordinarily get in contact with us,” Iredale says.

He has been writing a blog since January 2006 and spends an average of two hours a week working on it. It started as a hobby, a “conversation starter”. Now more than 20,000 unique visitors view the blog each month and it still costs “absolutely nothing” to run, says Iredale.

The site is a combination of job news, industry gossip, new product reviews and anything else that comes onto Iredale’s radar. Discussion might range from a peer on the cover of a magazine, talk of the big guns of recruitment such as Seek.com.au, new websites or feedback on a new product.

The tone is extremely informal. It can get catty, but Iredale keeps things relatively civilised. Often ideas for Iredale’s blog come in the shower, or at Friday night beers with colleagues. Iredale’s focus for the blog is on starting conversations rather than just using a blog as a one-dimensional promotion for the business. Who is going to keep coming back for that?

“If it is just a sales pitch, put that in the website under sales,” he says. There is room for more subtle promotion discussing work experiences, current projects and meetings, but it never steers into a hard sell.

These days Iredale often walks into a business meeting and hears clients say “I’ve read your blog”, which is invaluable for the business. “It really broadens our exposure,” says Iredale. “It links us to people who we wouldn’t ordinarily be in touch with, and gives us a certain credibility.”

Fashion chain General Pants launched a blog and a MySpace page six months ago. General Pants’ online manager and design manager, Dennis Hurley, says these initiatives are all about speaking to customers in their own language. “We [the staff] use it so it makes sense,” he says. The 19-year-old company has 32 stores around Australia. The blog is used to tell customers about sales, the store’s magazine or new brands, for example.

Hurley does not see the blog as anything revolutionary, but rather an inexpensive way to keep in touch with customers. “People in store are better educated about the brands we stock,” he says. The General Pants blog and MySpace site is maintained inhouse.

Employees, such as budding photographers, add material to the site, other staff write for it (which encourages staff ownership). The company’s website has also been brought inhouse as well, allowing for lower costs involved with continually updating the site. “Retail works so quickly and we need to keep up,” Hurley says.

Hurley tends to find inspiration from overseas sites rather than from local competitors, however he is a fan of the trends forecasting Sydney-based blog www.thecoolhunter.net.

Full-time Melbourne-based blogger Darren Rowse has been blogging since 2002. He runs photography blogs as well as blog network B5 Media and the ProBlogger.net site that looks at how to make money out of blogs. Rowse earns “six figures” from blogging, is a regular speaker and does consulting work.

“A lot of businesses fall into the trap of using blogs as a spin machine,” Rowse says. Instead, successful bloggers think about making the blog useful. A jeweller, for example, should not just showcase its wares, but offer information on how to clean jewellery, or choose a diamond. “It’s about building a relationship, building trust,” he says. The more useful the blog, the more people will want to interact with it.

Rowse says blogs can be useful to any type of business. It can help with search engine optimisation. If the blog has the same domain as the company website and it starts to generate traffic it will increase the company’s overall ranking. “And I have personally seen the power of the web to build my own brand,” he says. Rowse has picked up consulting work with other businesses wanting to start blogs, with internet start-ups and advertisers wanting information about the blogosphere.

Blogging is changing the media landscape. Every day bloggers around the world use copyrighted material on their sites, news stories, images and content that they circulate through their blogs Los Angeles-based lawyer Bryan Freeman represents one of the most successful bloggers in the world, Perez Hilton, who runs the scandalous www.PerezHilton.com gossip blog and has more than five million daily readers.

Freeman is working on several lawsuits against Perezhilton.com in relation to photographs that were used on the blog without being credited. “The real issue for bloggers is what can they use and how can they use it,” says Freeman.

Blogging law is uncharted territory that Freeman likens to the wild west. “Copyright laws have been around a long time. When they were drafting it, I don’t think they thought there would be a situation like this.”

In the case of the PerezHilton lawsuits, Freeman argues that it falls under the “fair use” exception of the copyright law. “If the content is used for newsworthy or educational purposes, courts are likely to say it falls under fair use. Satire comes under fair use as well.”

The PerezHilton site includes all sorts of cropped paparazzi shots, complete with doodles in Microsoft Paint all over the images. “It’s a reflection of me and my personality,” says Hilton, aka Mario Lavandeira Jr, who swears that a key to the success of the site has been his commitment to updating the blog with up to 15 new entries each day from sources in his network of valets, babysitters, trainers, agents, scouts and other industry insiders.

With blogs there is always the danger that, like any kind of diary, you get slack about entries. The CEO Corner blog for Realestate.com.au’s chief executive Simon Baker has not been updated since January 17. In the online space, that is ancient history. As for Woolworths, its MySpace page has not been updated since prehistoric November 2005. Now that’s stale for a supermarket.

 

Tips for starting a blog to market your business

  • If the blog is not updated constantly, it dies.
  • Use images and video on the blog to attract more readers.
  • Forget the hard-sell; instead spark a conversation, invite feedback from your audience, inject personality into the blog.
  • Connect and link with as many other blogs and sites as possible.
  • Remember that the blog is a reflection of your business and reputations can be spoiled in seconds.
  • People want to interact and participate in the web, not just read websites. Inspire that interaction and networking at every opportunity.

 

Australia’s top 100 blogs

http://blogpond.com.au/top-100-australian-blogs-index/

 

Emily Ross is the co-author of 50 Great eBusinesses and the Minds Behind Them, to be released by Random house in September 2007.

 

For further tips on using the internet as a business tool, see our Growth Resources Internet section by clicking here.

 

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