Posting to Greatness
Blogs Are Becoming a Primary Business Driver
Max Hartshorne, who owns the alternative travel Web site GoNomad.com as well as the GoNomad Café in South Deerfield, is blogging about Starbucks coffee and bad karma this week at ReadUpOnIt.
Morriss Partee, owner and ‘chief experience officer’ of EverythingCU.com, a business based in Holyoke that provides marketing support and services for credit unions, has broached the topics of brilliant Super Bowl commercials and Burger King Frypods on his blog, Everything CU Brand Adventure.
And Tish Grier, a freelance editor, journalist, and media consultant, is talking about the advent of ‘Webisodes’ — videos produced for Internet viewing at The Constant Observer, her own blog, but one of five to which she contributes.
All three are the principals of their own businesses, and even with such a wide array of topics posted this month, each views blogging as a key part of their growth strategy.
Indeed, blogs are moving to the forefront of many a marketing plan at companies of all sizes — sole proprietorships, major corporations, Web-based firms, and small niche businesses alike.
The movement began largely among techies, who started Web logs to share information regarding software and hardware development and writing code. That trend led to the early permutations of blogs in the first years of this decade; they were often online diaries, memoirs, and random musings.
As traffic to these sites began to pick up, however, their relevance to the online community and, later, the business community began to increase.
Today, there are several types of blogs, ranging from the most broad to the most esoteric of topics; some are making their owners some serious cash, such as Dooce.com, maintained by Heather Armstrong, who was first made famous by being fired for blogging about her workplace. Now, through ads placed on her blog, Armstrong is pulling in six figures as a self-described stay-at-home mom.
While such success is not typical of bloggers, the evolution of this new media from ‘interesting hobby’ status to a major player in the marketing and media sectors is making blogging a topic of discussion for professionals in all industries.
They’re still more casual than business Web sites, cover a wide range of topics rather than products or services specific to a company, and it’s still hard to quantify what results a business might see from starting a blog.
But what is clear to Hartshorne, Partee, and Grier is that blogs are the latest addition to the online world, quickly moving from being cutting-edge to being completely necessary.
Conversely, in many ways, they’re not so different from the relationship-building ‘Main Street’ marketing of yesterday.
To Blog, or Not to Blog
While most people understand that a blog is a sort of online journal consisting of various posts on different topics, Grier, who blogs primarily about media and online journalism, said that when using them as a business tool, it’s also important to point out their interactive qualities. Most blogs allow for comments to be left on a given post, for instance, and they give a company the ability to create a more personal, relaxed connection with readers that a Web site usually cannot achieve.
She added that viewing a blog as a potential revenue stream can be tricky. Blogs linked to businesses are most effective if used as a means to connect and communicate with clients and potential clients, she said, which is a boon to business whether or not hard dollars follow.
“It is very difficult to make sustainable income from blogging,” said Grier. “You have to generate tons of page views to begin to make money from Google, and for the average blogger that’s very difficult. You could load your page with ads of all different kinds, but instead of reaching customers, you run the risk that they might think it’s a blog with no information.
“Another deterrent is the vagaries of Google,” said Grier. “You can be flying high on page views one day, and then Google changes its algorithms and you’re out. You can’t really guarantee anything — the blogosphere is vast, but bloggers need loyal readers as well as unique visits to propel ad income.”
What blogs do add to a business, however, is another means of reaching out to those new and existing audiences, said Grier.
“They stimulate interest in a business and a company, and can increase traffic to your Web site,” she said. “The trick is to give out information that is not just about your business and your company.
“If every entry is fixated on your product,” she said, “it turns people off — it’s a pitch. It’s enough to have company information in the sidebar of a blog, or reserve that information for a Web site.”
Instead, Grier said discussing topics that are relevant to a business in addition to internal news can create a sense of goodwill between the blogger and the reader, as long as it doesn’t swing too far in the other direction with content that is too opinionated or personal.
“It’s old-fashioned sales,” she said. “A blog is, essentially, a conversation that creates goodwill, interacts with people, and creates a reputation. You’re presenting a human presence for your business, and when it has a human face, people want to know more about it.”
Master of Your Domain
It’s also a form of ‘social media,’ a growing aspect of the marketing landscape that allows people to give feedback and, Grier said, begin a dialogue.
“Companies need to shift their thinking regarding marketing campaigns, and ways of incorporating social media into their campaign,” she said. “It could be a poll on their Web site, a message board, or a full-blown blog … anything that starts interaction between the company and the customer.”
Incorporating social media into a company’s repertoire or, more specifically, starting a blog can be a tall order, said Grier. It requires writing frequent posts, maintaining a level of quality control, and daily moderation to ensure that comments being left on the blog are appropriate.
“Traffic is contingent on how much content you’re putting out — how many posts and the uniqueness and quality of posts,” she said. “Otherwise, it can become ineffective.”
Partee said his blog, which focuses on branding and marketing on a national and regional level by looking at campaigns that work and trends in the industry, has significantly improved his own word-of-mouth marketing.
“It’s hard to measure specific business results from a blog, but the main thing is it fosters relationships,” he said. “If you’re writing about things that are relevant, you’re naturally going to use words that people are going to be searching for, and that helps people find your business through search engines. That will lead people to a Web site, too.”
Partee also speaks on the topics of blogging and social media as part of his business’ regularly occurring ‘Webinars’ for marketing professionals, and cited many of the same cautions as Grier in terms of starting a blog, and how to view its importance to a business.
“One of the things I always say is to be prepared before you start,” he said. “Be prepared to contribute regularly — that shows that a company is alive, thinking, and growing.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be every day — it can be at your pace, when you have something important to say. But businesses have to be ready to commit to a schedule.”
Partee added that, with the ability to offer space for comments from readers, businesses must also be prepared to hear from their readers and clients, in both positive and sometimes negative ways.
“A blog is all about open and free communication, and a business has to be prepared for that type of openness before starting,” said Partee. “The corollary to that is businesses must also be prepared for the potential of negative remarks; it’s just the nature of doing business. One has to be prepared to accept and handle that with a prompt, honest, and courteous response; the readership will respect the honesty.”
More specifically, Partee said creating ‘reciprocal links’ with other bloggers and building a ‘blog roll’ that is usually located on a blog’s sidebar and directs people to other relevant blogs, helps boost traffic and relevance when it comes to key search terms surrounding a given business.
He also recommends integrating a blog and a Web site as much as possible, through a similar look and feel, for instance, or by making both the blog and the site accessible from one URL.
“I hope to integrate my blog further into our Web site, and give it the look and feel of the site,” he said of his own work. “That will make the connection among readers that these are coming from the same entity.”
Hartshorne is one example of a business owner who has integrated his blog, and those of other travel writers, within his primary Web site, and that has led to some intriguing opportunities.
While creating personal connections remains one of the more important aspects of blogging in the current climate, he said, there are some opportunities for income that should not be overlooked.
“I started blogging in November of 2004. I post every day, and it has been tremendous for us,” he said.
Hartshorne’s blog centers on the latest developments in media and travel, detailing a diverse set of topics that he’s seen and heard in various news sources and places, including his own café. Nine other travel writers are also featured bloggers on GoNomad.
“I host all the blogs on gonomad.com, which adds another page to the site, and in turn strengthens the Web site,” he said.
Hartshorne has devised a unique blogging plan for his business that does generate revenue.
Through an advertising agreement with the clothing company Land’s End, GoNomad blogs are sponsored by the company, which is trying to generate more awareness of some of its lines, including men’s and women’s outerwear.
Hartshorne said the agreement enhances GoNomad’s Web position, and also benefits Lands End by upping its number of Web visitors.
“Their goal was to get high-ranking pages to promote them,” said Hartshorne. “I see a tremendous opportunity down the road to seriously make money with this.”
Hartshorne’s success with blogging is not the norm, and he did note that it serves as an important piece of a larger picture.
“The primary place is still GoNomad, but the blogs are extensions,” he said. “Blogs are a part of our total revenue.”
Still, through some of the tried and true methods of effective blogging – frequent posts, collaborations with other bloggers, and, he added, an increasing responsibility to write good, clean, error-free copy – he’s created a set of blogs and a Web site that sees very high traffic daily, and that is the key to generating income on the Web.
“We don’t tolerate things that look sloppy — blogs are still journalism,” he said.
With that in mind, Hartshorne, who now identifies himself as not only a travel writer and business owner but a blogger, will soon leave for New Zealand, where one of his duties will be to blog for the country’s tourism board. And on ReadUpOnIt, he’ll likely continue to foster relationships and augment his business with posts about sonic booms, the Silicon Valley, and sawfish — underwater logging machines.
The more he writes, the more connections he makes; and, as it would seem, even the logging community is part of the blogosphere.
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]