Blogging is a great way to engage with your customers, build your brand and stand out on Google. BRAD HOWARTH explains why entrepreneurs often write the best blogs – and lists Australia’s top 15 business blogs.
By Brad Howarth
Blogging is a great way to engage with your customers, build your brand and stand out on Google – and entrepreneurs often write the best blogs. And we list Australia’s top 15 business blogs.
Australian businesses have shown remarkable trepidation when it comes to communicating with customers and stakeholders through blogs. But blogging need not be a difficult exercise.
Numerous individuals and small businesses are leaping into the blogosphere as they seek new ways to engage with their customers.
A senior analyst with Forrester Research, Steven Noble, attributes some of the reticence to the propensity of Australian businesses to move as a herd – until one of them engages in blogging, none of them will.
“I think in general a lot of people in business are still dazzled, rather than sitting down to think of the business objective of communicating with your customers,” Noble says.
There are numerous examples in the US of large companies that have got into blogging. One of the most notable is the Fastlane blog of General Motors’s chairman of global product development Bob Lutz, which kicked off in January 2005.
Among the few large Australian companies to blog is Telstra, with its nowwearetalking blog, launched in December 2005. Editor-in-chief Jeremy Mitchell says the site was founded as a means of airing Telstra’s views on government regulation.
“We had a situation where the Australian media didn’t want to cover the issues we faced, yet we had 1.5 million shareholders that this issue affected, as well as the future of telecommunications in Australia,” Mitchell says. “So Telstra decided to put our views straight to them.”
In September of this year the camera maker Canon launched the first of a series of blogs dubbed the Canon Online Community. The assistant general manager of marketing at Canon Australia, Darren Ryan, says the goal is to interact with camera enthusiasts and solicit their feedback on products and promotions.
“We realise that photography and creative printing applications are personal interests of a large segment of the blogging community, and we wanted to reach out to this passionate group. Research was also telling us that consumers are looking for unbiased product reviews provided by everyday people to help with their purchasing decisions.”
For RaboPlus, the online banking arm of RaboBank, its blog was started as a means of giving a face to an online bank with no physical branches, while building its brand values of being open and transparent.
According to RaboPlus marketing director, Jacqui Steiner, it was also a chance for customers to talk directly to the bank’s former general manager Bryan Inch. The blog also carries contributions from the bank’s senior manager for investment and research Tim Hewson.
“It allows us to keep a finger on the pulse of our customer base,” Steiner says. “We received a lot of feedback via the blog too on a number of issues, particularly our advertising campaign, and I am glad to say most of it was positive.”
SME businesses blaze blogging trail
Examples such as Telstra, Canon and RaboPlus are somewhat rare in Australia. But according to communications consultant Trevor Young, who blogs under the name PR Warrior, most of the best blogs come from small and medium businesses, a factor he puts down to blogging being a “passion medium”.
“Entrepreneurs and SMEs are generally a lot more passionate about their business because, well, they often are the business,” Young says. “Plus entrepreneurs are generally quicker to pick up on new ideas and trends, and then put those ideas into practice.
“Blogging is a quick and simple way for smaller companies to punch above their weight marketing-wise, and it’s cheap, so it’s no surprise smaller companies are getting into the blogosphere in increasing numbers.”
The Sydney Observatory launched its blog in June 2006 as a means of helping its otherwise static website keep pace with astronomical events. The manager of web services for the Powerhouse Museum, Sebastian Chan, says the blog now receives more traffic than website of the Sydney Observatory (which the Powerhouse Museum manages).
“In anything that opens an organisation or company up to a two-way conversation, there are bound to be difficulties,” Chan says, “but we’ve found that other than spam and the odd school kid trying to post ‘irrelevant’ comments, that this has been far outweighed by the positive.”
Many individual bloggers draw inspiration from others in the blogging community, both locally and around the world, commenting on each others’ posts and linking to interesting content elsewhere.
How to get a blog started in your organisation
Young says for a corporate blog to work well it requires a blogging “champion” in-house, who ideally is the CEO or someone else reasonably high up. He says it is also important that blogs not be thought of as a “quick fix”.
“I’m sure there have been quite a few business people who have tried their hand at blogging, but gave up pretty quickly either due to lack of results or time constraints,” Young says.
Steiner agrees that keeping the RaboPlus site updated can be quite demanding, and the blog must also now survive the departure of general manager Bryan Inch, who has returned to New Zealand for personal reasons. His shoes are being filled by new general manager Greg MacAweeney, with support from Tim Hewson.
“It is a discipline that has to be maintained if it is to have an impact,” Steiner says. “But it comes down to how much importance you place on the customer relationship, and at RaboPlus we think this is very important so we make the time.”
That doesn’t have to mean a total commitment however. Ryan says that with the work of creating the framework and policies out of the way, the current investment by Canon in its blog is about an hour of a staff member’s working day to write posts and moderate and respond to comments.
“We’ve been overwhelmingly pleased with the quality and depth of the posts and comments we’ve seen as part of reaching out to the blog community. We’re tapping into a passion for photography and, while we were initially nervous about two-way conversation online, we’ve found the community generally positive and receptive.”
Mitchell says the cost of nowwearetalking is minor in comparison to Telstra’s spend on advertising and marketing, employing just three full-time staff working with a group of volunteers. The site receives more than 30,000 visitors each week, but he says the real success is in getting issues on to the public policy agenda.
He regularly speaks to other brands about blogging, and has some theories as to why other brands have not been so quick to leap into blogging.
“It is a big leap of faith; faith in your staff, faith in your products, faith in your company’s ability to hear what is not working and do something about it,” Mitchell says. “In the end the support for a website like nowwearetalking must come from top management.”
Five tips on blog content
Once you’ve decided to start a business blog, it’s time to start thinking about what you are going to blog about. The content will depend a lot on your industry, business and personal style, but here a five tips to help make your blog a winner:
- Post often, and post well. Give your readers a reason to come back regularly.
- Acknowledge other bloggers and sources of information, as you would hope that they would acknowledge you, and help your readers discover other great sites, blogs and information sources.
- Remember who your audience is – or who you would like it to be – and avoid trying to cover too many unrelated topics. Try to avoid writing about things that are outside of your specialisations just because they are popular topics.
- Don’t be afraid of using images, audio and video content to spice things up, and make yourself a resource for people interested in your areas of specialisation.
- Never ever, ever, ever, be anything other than upfront with your readers. Readers can switch off instantly, but their scorn can last a lifetime.
15 of Australia’s best business blogs
Long-running and regularly updated blog on marketing and social media issues created by Julian Cole, a social media strategist at new agency The Population. His blog is home to the Australian top 50 marketing pioneer blogs list.
Marketing blog by Stanley Johnson, covering an eclectic beat centred around brand development.
Ad agency ie Media’s account director David Gillespie’s regularly updated blog on marketing and technology – covers a wide range of territory in the digital and offline media industries.
Eclectic blog on marketing and social media from Frank Lang, a senior account director at the advertising agency McCann Worldgroup Sydney, featuring significant use of video clips.
The blog of The White Agency’s strategy director Katie Chatfield, covering a wide range of topics in social and digital media.
An entrepreneur’s blog from Naomi Simson, the founder of RedBalloon Days. Information-rich blog on running a high-growth SME. Naomi also blogs every week on SmartCompany.
Financial information from the online-only banking arm of RaboBank, with contributions from senior executives. Will need to survive a change of general manager (and primary blogger).
A series of blogs on the property industry. Provides some interesting news and insights, but is not regularly updated.
Blog from one of Australia’s most prominent commentators on social media, regularly updated with in-depth information.
A wide-ranging blog by Gavin Heaton that covers business and marketing issues, regularly updated and at great length.
Blog by entrepreneur Steve Sammartino from the online company Rentoid. Provides advice for start-ups of all kinds on marketing and business issues.
Information regarding the observatory and sky events for enthusiasts and casual sky watchers. A strong example of a blog as part of a successfully executed outreach program to a community of interest.
An outreach program to aspiring and professional writers, regularly updated with news and information on professional writing.
Dismissed by rivals as a propaganda attempt, the site carries content from a wide range of managers within Telstra and attempts to put a human face on an organisation with 40,000 employees.
Trevor Young’s wide-ranging blog on public relations and social media issues – regularly updated and an excellent launch point into other sources information.
The above blogs are not from publishing-oriented companies
Read SmartCompany’s Business Blogs