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Tools | By Karon Warren

Business of Blogging
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If done right, a corporate blog might be just what your business needs to take your brand to the next level, becoming the best marketing tool for your company.

Blogs are a collection of posts and comments about a particular topic. In the business community, that might entail upcoming and current promotions, community involvement, product launches and feedback, and corporate news. What is posted depends entirely on what information the company wants to share with the public. For example, McDonald’s started a blog dedicated to corporate social responsibility (csr.blogs.mcdonalds.com) with topics such as “Reducing Our Footprint” and “Defining Sustainability.” Through its blog (sccv3.stonecreekcoffee.com/blog.cfm), Stone Creek Coffee provides an outlet for news and events, such as promoting the Stone Creek Road Trip, wherein customers receive free coffee after visiting a certain number of store locations.

In fact, according to thenewpr.com, which tracks corporate blogging, almost 300 corporate blogs authored by CEOs and other personnel in a leadership position were up and running as of February. Industry experts believe this number will continue to rapidly increase.

So how can a blog benefit your business? By giving it a personal voice and building up your brand identity, the experts say. “Corporate blogging is so popular because it allows organizations to connect with their raving fans on a deeper level than previously available,” says Adam Singer, digital strategist for Pierson Grant Public Relations. “Passionate companies now have a platform to publish their news, information, and opinions independently and create a continued two-way dialogue with the world.”

Blogs also provide quick-serve restaurants with an innovative way to reach today’s young audience, who play key roles with quick-serves as both customers and employees. “As a very large population in the quick-service industry is 16 to 22, blogging will become a great way to engage them, their ideas, concerns, and suggestions,” says David Nour, founder of Relationship Economics and CEO of BeOne Now Inc.

And it’s a marketing strategy that’s here to stay. “Blogging and social networking are an integral part of the DNA of the new generation entering the work force,” he says.

Sue Reninger, managing partner, Client Brand Strategy for RMD Advertising, defines a good corporate blog as “one that regularly shares fresh perspectives, offers the reader a glimpse inside the true culture/fabric of the corporation, and provides relevant links.”

However, before launching a blog, company leaders should determine if blogging is right for their company. First, decide what the purpose of your blog will be. “Are you trying to create buzz around a new menu item?” Nour says. “You really have to be clear about your purpose before you embark; otherwise, you won’t make the necessary investment of time, effort, and resources to do it right.”

Next, determine if a blog will reach your desired audience. “See if your customers are in a demographic that is active in the blogging or Internet community,” says Ed Schipul, CEO and founder of Schipul ­– The Web Marketing Company. “If so, you may want to test it out.”

Also, set quantifiable and strategic goals for the blog, making sure to define what makes it a success. “Most quick-serve industry interaction is monologue: ‘Let me tell you what we’re doing,’ or ‘Here is yet another guest satisfaction survey,’ ” Nour says. “Why not engage them in a true dialogue and offer a coupon for each valuable response?”

Finally, make sure you and your business are prepared for your blog’s response. “Can you handle brutally honest feedback from the blogosphere?” Singer says. “You have to ask yourself if opening up the floodgates of conversation about you is something you desire.”

Once you are ready to start a blog, you must decide who will post to it. Just because it is a corporate blog does not necessarily mean that top executives are the right people for the blog. “The person blogging for your company should embody the brand essence of your business,” Singer says. “They should be professional, well-written, and a people person. Understanding the blogosphere is a plus, but understanding your business and how to communicate it to the world is even more important.”

Keep in mind, too, that a good blog means a frequently updated blog. “The worst blogs are the dead ones that haven’t been updated regularly, and comments are disabled,” Schipul says. “Consider a blog a living document.”

In addition, before jumping feet first into the blogging world, businesses should be aware of the possible risks with blogging. Content that borders on libel or discrimination, discloses trade secrets, or leads to a hostile work environment can lead to serious legal woes for the corporation.

To avoid these types of situations, David B. Ritter, a partner with Chicago-based Neal Gerber & Eisenberg LLP, recommends having a blog monitor to review all content to make sure there are no legal hot spots. He also suggests implementing and posting a blogging policy on the site that covers the blog’s do’s and don’ts.

When you’re ready to put thought into action, setting up a blog is easy and quick. Web interfaces such as Wordpress, TypePad, Blogger, and LiveJournal simplify the process, although a free blogging service like Blogger might not be the way to go if you want to project a professional appearance. To drive traffic to your blog, Jennifer A. Jones, vice president of public relations and social media strategy for Fletcher Martin, which operates Franchise Marketing Blog (franchisemarketingblog.com), suggests linking up with social bookmarking sites like Digg and Squidoo.

With an active and interesting blog, you can boost your brand and business using a relatively inexpensive, yet key technological tool. “There’s no better way to promote your business than with a blog,” Jones says. “Nothing moves faster than the blogosphere.”