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Blogging for business

Five ways an online diary could deliver business benefits

Blogs are becoming big news in Britain too. Politicians, pundits and PR professionals are getting in on the act. Jeff Wuorio reckons you should consider it too.

Not long ago, a diary was a deeply personal thing - a journal of thoughts and observations, kept under lock and key and often buried in a dresser drawer. The web has a way of changing things as we know them. Now, a diary of thoughts, observations and insight - posted on the internet - may be a way to boost your business.

Blogs are more than a passing internet fancy, and they're not confined to the worlds of politics and high-tech. They also have become a way to engage readers and potential customers of businesses big and small.

Quote�Blogs have become a way to engage readers and potential customers of businesses big and small.�End Quote

'Blog' is simply an abbreviated way to say 'web log'. It's a journal posted on a web site, updated on a regular basis and containing news, opinions, ideas and brainstorms, plus links to other sources of information, other Web sites and other blogs. Many blogs cut both ways, inviting readers to post feedback on what they see.

While that can apply to everything from sports and entertainment to rants about school coursework, it can also generate interest - and, ultimately, income - for your business.

No, blogs aren't for everyone. But they can accomplish these five basic business objectives.

Expose a new or little-known product or idea

For Grant Smith, blogging makes a world of sense on a number of levels. Smith operates FirstStream, a Californian provider of streaming video e-mail and related video communications products. Since many prospective clients might know precious little about video e-mail, Smith says his blog is a natural way to lay out specifics.

'I began blogging to get established in the technology,' Smith says. 'It can have a positive impact for business. Readers are always looking for more ways to find out information about companies and for ways to interact.'

That, in turn, can lead to a more informed customer and a more time-effective sales process. Rather than your taking the time to pitch your product or service to a client who may not need it, a blog supplants you as an information source. If a prospect contacts you with an urge to do business, great. If not, you've wasted no time in explaining something that generates nothing in return.

Improve your search engine rankings

Blogging also puts you in touch with prospects in other ways. As any company with a position on the internet realises, hits via Google, MSN and other search engines can provide a groundswell of leads. Blogs can add further leverage to the frequency with which search vehicles identify you and your company, particularly if your blog allows readers to post a response.

'Blogs, if done properly, have a tremendous benefit on search engines,' says Brad Fallon of SEO Research, a search engine marketing firm in Atlanta. 'Search engines tend to prefer bigger web sites. With blogs that allow comments, every new post and every new comment becomes an additional web page filled with additional keywords to be picked up by the search engine spiders.'

Position yourself as an expert in an industry or field

Blogging also can also prove an implicitly effective marketing tool to establish yourself as an authority in your field. Not only can that generate leads, it also sends a positive buzz about your credentials through the marketplace.

'My blog has generated massive traffic and lead flow,' says Dave Carpe of Clew, a consultancy based just outside Boston, Massachusetts. 'But it also serves as a stamp, furthering my credibility as a real research wonk. It also generates many leads and enquiries, some of which are actionable proposals, others pure networking contacts.'

Influence public opinion

Blogging also allows users to bypass traditional journalistic venues and, in effect, become a publisher of their own thoughts and viewpoints. For Steve Rubel, vice president of client services at CooperKatz & Co., a New York public relations firm, they're also fast becoming a powerful influence on public opinion.

'Blogs have evolved into legitimate alternative sources of news on niche and micro-niche topics,' he says. 'Anyone with a passion and dedication could become an amateur journalist. I feel some of these sites - in aggregate - are having just as much sway on public opinion as larger, more established media brands.'

Engage in open dialogue with your customers

Just as important, blogs that solicit reader comments can provide a sense of immediacy with your customers. In one respect, that's a ready source of feedback on what you're doing right and what you need to polish. Even better, it can also prove an ample supply of marketing muscle.

'My blog provides a forum for customers to give feedback after plunking their money down,' says Brad Fallon. 'The result? While the normal market is lucky to have 0.5% of customers send an unsolicited testimonial, I have already collected glowing testimonials from over 15% of my customers.'

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Fancy starting a blog of your own? With MSN Spaces, you can create and personalise your own blog in a matter of seconds. It's free and integrates neatly with other MSN features like Hotmail and Messenger. Visit spaces.msn.com to find out more, and sign up.

This article is an edited version of a longer piece published at Microsoft.com.

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