Corporate websites are often little more than interactive brochures -- they display basic information and describe what the business offers. If you're looking to do more -- establish your company's executives as thought leaders in the industry, develop relationships with customers or gather feedback from prospects and clients -- then a company blog is a much better choice.
"A blog can also be the centerpiece for a social media effort, driving visitors from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn back to the blog through calls-to-action and landing pages," explains Douglas Karr, the author of Corporate Blogging for Dummies. "A blog has the flexibility to produce content easily, syndicate that content through any medium using RSS, and convert that audience into customers."
Unfortunately, if approached incorrectly, a company blog has just as much potential to embarrass your company or alienate customers. Mashable recently asked Karr, Internet marketing experts, and small business bloggers about the most common mistakes that companies make when starting a blog -- and how to avoid them.
1. Starting Without a Strategy
Don't take starting a company blog lightly. Even if only a handful of people visit it at first, those few people will likely be clients or have the potential to become them.
"The biggest mistake that most small businesses make when it comes to blogging is to assume that it's an easy task," explains Marjorie R. Asturias, the president of Web marketing firm Blue Volcano Media. "That sets them up for a cascade of mistakes, starting with the fact that they generally jump in without a discernible strategy, much less something as essential as an editorial calendar."
When thinking through your blog strategy, consider:
Is a blog right for my business?
"Some companies aren't social and never will be. If you can't keep generating content, then don't start," explains Karr. "If you can't be transparent, don't start. If you can't respond to negativity, don't start. You need to understand the ramifications of making mistakes or blogging poorly before you decide haphazardly to begin."
What business objective do I want to accomplish?
Your goals should drive your content. If your goal is to connect with industry thought leaders, for instance, your content will be much different than if your goal is to drive more sales. Christian Russell, who runs sales blog Dangerous Tactics, found this out the hard way. "Originally I was operating on the belief that having a blog and posting good content regularly was the recipe for sales," he says. "But I found a huge separation between people reading my blog and those who were buying from me. I've only just recently begun making changes to the site to make offers much more clear, and I've already noticed important changes. Instead of just getting subscribers, I'm getting more inquiries and leads for what I sell." Karr says that acquisition, retention, building authority and customer support are all strategies to consider.
Am I willing to allocate the necessary resources?
As the saying goes: No pain, no gain. If you set up a blog, expect to dedicate time and resources. Josh Chan, an online marketing specialist at Chromatix design admits that his company's blog underestimated the commitment. "Trying to come up with valuable content even just once a day means someone in your small business has to spend at least 30 minutes to an hour preparing and posting it," he says.
2. Making it All About You
It's a fact: Companies tend to talk about how great they are. But a blog exclusively discussing this point is bound for not-so-greatness. Before posting a shamelessly promotional blog entry, please note:
A blog is not a press section.
There should be a section on your site that is dedicated to company news, if you're willing to share it. But using your blog this way can be detrimental. "Blogs allow consumers to view the human side of a business, but repeated promotional posts take away the brand's personality and position the blog as a one-way advertising medium rather than an engagement platform," explains Whitney Sewell, a social media manager at Social Media Solutions.
Your audience's needs.
"Businesses want to write dry, information-based articles that highlight their own accomplishments," explains Angela Neal, an online marking consultant based in Scotland. "I see blogs full of statistics and product details that are full of jargon and technical terms that only somebody within the company would know or understand."
One time, for instance, Neal was hired by a company that makes industrial cleaning products. The company wanted to list the scientific research that went into making the specific chemical make-up of its products. Consumers, however, just wanted to know that the product meets or exceeds their needs.
Take a step back and think about what your readers want to learn about. Is it advice? Analysis? Industry news? Figure out what you can provide that is valuable to your readers.
3. Failure to Link
Links should be an integral component of anything that calls itself a blog. To embrace them to their fullest:
Don't be afraid to link out:
"Many business blogs get so carried away with minimizing PageRank leakage that they end up stifling their blog's narrative potential," says Rohin Guha, a community manager at online marketing firm Blue Phoenix Media. "As a company, you want to present the impression that you know what's happening in the world around you, and unless your daily archives can fill that role, you'll have to turn to other sources." Guha suggests setting a minimum number of links for each blog post to get in the habit of linking out.
Cite your sources:
Linking to the source of your information is not only ethical, but it's a good way to build relationships with other blogs and get other blogs to link to you. "Reciprocity is a core strategy to blogging," Karr says. "When you write about me, I want to pay it back. Don't think that promoting others (even competitors) is going to push your audience away. There's plenty of audience to go around. When you've identified something remarkable that your audience should know about it, write a post!"
In addition, offers Guha, linking to larger sites gets their attention when they look at referral traffic.
Don't forget to link to yourself:
Digital filing company OfficeDrop hosted a blog on its site for more than a year without linking back to the main page. "Some of our blog entries are the most visited pages on our site, and some of them are very high PageRank sites," says Head of Marketing Healy Jones. "Now, we take advantage of the SEO power and readership of the blog to have SEO links all over the blog that link back to different pages on our website. Since the blog has a lot of search engine juice (it has a lot of inbound links), we now use it aggressively to transfer rank to the most important pages on our main site."
4. Not Being Yourself
Being yourself means a couple of things:
Don't make the intern write the blog:
Have someone who can represent the company write about it. An intern impersonating the CEO does not cut it.
Let some “human” show:
No one wants to read stiff, corporate jumble. Plus, it's easier and more engaging to write like a person and not a corporate entity.
A personal tone doesn't mean that you blog about personal matters:
"This isn't the opportunity to post your favorite '80s video off of YouTube," Karr says. "This is the opportunity to wow your audience by being a subject matter expert in your field. Keep your personal stories on your personal blog or on Facebook -- where your next prospect won't be offended by them."
Blog what you know:
What works for everyone else might not work for your company. When Stella Fayman started a blog for FeeFighters.com, she looked at other small businesses' blogs and saw they were all blogging about social media. Seeing how this topic worked for them, she started blogging about social media even though it was only tangentially related to the company.
"After a while, I realized that in order to establish our brand as a small business finance resource, we needed to blog about what no one else talking about and what was more related to our business: small business operations and finance," she says. "Our traffic increased significantly after we made this switch."
5. Ignoring Social Media
Your posts are not going to promote themselves. Get the word out by leveraging your company's social media accounts.
When you write a new post, discuss it on Twitter and Facebook. Make sure all of your social profiles include a link to your blog. When someone comments on your blog or contacts you about something you wrote through another channel, respond.
"Remember, the biggest benefit of the social web is building relationships, so you must make an effort to engage your readers and respond to them in a timely manner that not only acknowledges them, but makes them feel like valued members of your online community," says Susan Gunelius, CEO of marketing communications company KeySplash Creative.