Ann Marie van den Hurk: A blog can be good for your business

CONTRIBUTING COLUMNISTJune 28, 2010 

Ann Marie van den Hurk

Of the 126 million blogs in the blogosphere in 2009, corporate ones were but a fraction.

It's not a surprise that many businesses are confused about blogging. But it can be a valuable way to interact with your customers on a conversational level, and to show your company's expertise. But is it right for your business?

I recently spoke with Michael Willner, the vice chairman and chief executive of cable operator Insight Communications. Willner has gained acclaim for his highly active blog, Michael's Insight (www.michaelsinsight.com). And yes, he writes it himself.

Here are some tips from our conversation to think about before your business starts a blog:

Have a purpose: Don't start a blog just because everyone else has one. It has to fill a need and be part of your business plan as a communications tool to interact with customers or engage those with influence in your industry.

Willner started his blog after the company made many challenges in 2006 when undergoing an intensive technology switch that caused major service outages. He said he found that conventional ways of communicating were not reaching the people he wanted.

Know your audience: A blog can't be everything to everyone. Focus your business blog on customers or on those in the industry. Michael's Insight can be read by anyone, but he has focused on a tech community passionate about broadband and cable.

Think content: It is a good idea to have a list of topics to write about, such as answering customers' questions or combining industry information with your own expertise.

Willner writes about meat-and-potato topics regarding the industry but also shares his personal point of view on issues facing cable operators.

Frequency of posts: The jury is still out on whether you need to post daily, weekly or monthly to be effective, but I recommend at least one post a week if possible. It builds a routine.

If content and frequency are a concern, seek out guest writers from your company or industry. You could even ask a longtime customer to write a post about your company.

Policy on comments: Before you post on your blog, have a policy in place about how you will handle comments, good and bad.

On Michael's Insight, anyone can post a comment. Comments are posted automatically without being reviewed. Willner and a couple of others monitor the blog. They rarely take down a comment unless it is an individual issue, in which case they contact the commenter directly to resolve the issue.

Willner says that if a customer has to post a problem on your blog, there has been a failure in the normal channels of communication that needs to be fixed.

Location of blog: If you have a Web site, you can add a blog page to it. If you want a standalone blog, there are free sites including Blogger (www.blogger.com), and WordPress (www.wordpress.com).

Take it further, and buy your blog's domain name to look more professional. Also, make sure you provide options to subscribe either through an RSS feed or through e-mail for your readers.

Here are some other tips from Willner:

■ Be authentic when writing your blog.

■ Use the blog to think outside of the box.

■ Allow for conversations to take place.

■ Be open to new ideas and opportunities that might come from the blog.

The benefits for the work you put in, Willner said, can be outstanding: "A direct line of communication is very enlightening."

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an accredited public relations professional and is the ethics officer and accreditation chair of the Lexington-based Thoroughbred chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She can be reached at ann@vandenhurkpr.com, or follow her on Twitter at @amvandenhurk.

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