Have you noticed a resurgence in blogging lately? I had been, and then eMarketer confirmed it in an article that talks about how more companies are using blogs as marketing tools.
One in three companies will maintain a public-facing blog for marketing this year, according to eMarketer, rising to 43 percent by 2012. "Companies are finding that blogs fill a specific niche that other forms of social media do not," said eMarketer senior analyst Paul Verna.
"Marketers perceive blogs to have the highest value of any social media in driving site traffic, brand awareness, lead generation and sales -- as well as improving customer service," according to Verna.
In other words, it appears that blogging has come of age. They are no longer the domain of nerdy types without friends, loudmouth know-it-alls lounging at home in their pajamas, the too liberal or too conservative, those with no real job other than talk, type, tag, text & Twitter.
Instead, blogs are increasingly being used as a business tool: As a way to grow website traffic, leads and customers, and to boost a company’s visibility. Blog content that is frequently refreshed makes your company more findable in search; and social media tools and platforms allow your content to be shared exponentially, further boosting your reach and visibility.
Blogs are also being used as a way for you to foster deeper relationships with customers and to establish yourself as a so-called thought leader with a finger on the pulse of your industry—whether you sell donuts or data.
In other words, it’s quite possible that a company's blog—not its home page—is the most popular entry point for its online visitors. So it’s critical that you think about creating a blog. Or, if you are already publishing one, you have to make sure that it’s more than meh.
Here are three things your blog needs more than anything else:
(These three things, by the way, are often overlooked: I’m going to assume that you have covered the fundamentals—like frequent updating, outlining editorial guidelines, and identifying a blogging team or key editor to "own" the blog internally. If you nee a primer, see my colleague Erica Swallow’s excellent one on starting a corporate blog.)
1. A point of view. In your blog posts (and all your content, for that matter), you don’t want to sound like everyone else. Your blog needs to have a perspective and point of view that expresses who you—as a company—are.
Are you irreverent? Fun? Contrarian? Down to earth? What makes your company unique? Establishing your own unique perspective helps to differentiate you in a crowded market—to forge a separate and unique identity, to create an enduring and memorable brand—and lays the foundation to create interesting stuff to be shared through social channels like LinkedIn, Twitter or on Facebook.
Literary types might call this your brand "tone of voice." Does the idea of "voice" suggest something artsy-fartsy, completely outside the realm of doing business? In a word: No. In a few more words: The notion of voice actually has everything to do with your business today. Voice is about how you write, certainly. But in a larger sense, it’s also about how you express your brand. It’s about the tone you take in all of your communications and publishing.
Here’s what I mean: ChickRx is a medical advice site that targets 20-something women and uses a compelling approach that mixes solid expertise with an open, accessible and irresistible tone of voice. The result is a surprisingly interesting and humorous medical site: Who knew health care could be fun, right?
2. Really great headlines. So often I see really great blog posts that are saddled with limp, lame headlines. That’s practically heartbreaking, because as my friend Brian Clark points out, eight out of 10 people will read a headline, but only two out of 10 will read the post itself. "Your headline is a promise to readers. Its job is to clearly communicate the benefit you’ll deliver to the reader in exchange for their valuable time," Brian says.
It's important, therefore, to learn how to write a really great headline that piques a reader's curiosity and entices them to read more. Let readers know how the post will be useful for them, and add an element of intrigue. Simplify a complex subject comprehensively ("How to ___," "9 Ways to ___," convey urgency and expertise ("The Secrets of ___," "What You Should Know About ___"), tell a story ("The Weirdest (or Best, Worst, Funniest, Most Ridiculous, etc.) ____ I Ever Had"), or challenge conventional wisdom (“Why the Experts Are Wrong About…). Brian Clark has assembled a series of posts on help you improve your headline-writing.
One trick I almost always follow is this one: Write the headline before you write the post. Doing so helps you focus on the key idea of the message—the "promise" to the reader Brian talks about—without meandering all over the place and creating a disorganized, overstuffed mess. (I wrote the headline to this post before I wrote post, in fact.)
3. Calls to action. Because your blog——and not your home page—might well be the first thing a potential customer sees, you need to include compelling offers or calls to action to usher visitors from your blog to other areas of your site, or to encourage them to learn more about you and your company. Hubspot's Kipp Bodnar suggests a strong call to action placed in three areas: At the end of a blog post, in the top bar and side bar, and text links within the body of a post.
What exactly that call to action might be depends on what steps you want prospects to take, or how best you might entice them further, and where they are in the sales process. (Are they highly interested or just browsing?) The call to action might be additional or supplementary content (a webinar, ebook, or so on), or a discount, free trial, or product details.
In any case, create a path for you customers on your blog: Think of your blog as a concierge that directs prospects to the topics that interest them most.
Now: Your turn. What are the must-have components of a corporate blog?
Photo credit: Tinou Bao
Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the co-author of the upcoming Content Rules (Wiley, 2010).