To some, small business blogs are an effective, low-cost alternative to conventional marketing. But skeptics question the practicality of using this format for small business PR purposes. Learn what proponents and skeptics are saying about this emerging trend.
By Tara Remiasz
Shortly after writing a blog on the topics of “Chicago” and “leadership,” Melissa Giovagnoli was contacted to speak at a Crain’s Small Business Forum on the topic of online marketing. Organizers for the event discovered Giovagnoli after her Web site appeared as the seventh link in an online search. After she was contacted by Crain’s, Giovagnoli reported the good news on her blog, which resulted in her link becoming No. 2 in the search engine rankings.
For Giovagnoli, blogging has created a cycle of positive PR, where her postings about the impact of blogging garner her greater exposure, which leads to new opportunities that she then blogs about—beginning the cycle once again.
A Great PR Tool?
As president of Chicago-based Networlding, a company that helps individuals and organizations develop their intellectual property online, Giovagnoli knows the kinds of opportunities the Internet provides for small businesses. In her opinion, one of the greatest opportunities afforded by the Internet is the blog. Blogging is derived from the words “Web” and “log,” and is essentially just that—an online journal-style entry.
Giovagnoli is a believer in the promotional power of the blog—its ability to connect businesses with their communities, its ability to positively impact search engine rankings and its ability to keep a Web site relevant and up-to-date.
“It really is a fun way to do some unique things,” she says. Blogs can be used to announce a contest your business is running, awards it has won, success stories and before-and-after profiles of customers, she says. “You can get very creative and think about things that your audience would like.”
Not Everyone is a Believer
Like Giovagnoli, many people see blogs as a powerful marketing tool with the potential to impact customer retention while attracting new customers. But, others remain skeptical of blogs’ ability to serve small businesses as an effective marketing tool.
“It’s a great feedback mechanism, a great community builder,” says Bill Furlong, president of SearchChannel LLC in Oak Brook, Ill. But, says Furlong, “It’s one thing to have a blog and share one’s points of view; it’s another to use it to tap into consumers to mine their points of view.”
Many people are attracted to blogs because of their rawness and honesty, but it is these same qualities that pose a dilemma for small business bloggers. How can a business owner stay true to the spirit of openness that is associated with blogs without alienating or offending his potential customer base? “I am a bit concerned,” Furlong says. “If a corporate blog is supposed to be as forthright and as objective as traditional blogs, there’s going to be some issues.”
Small business bloggers need to strike a balance between providing interesting content and posting a series of rants and raves that will deter customers. In addition, says Furlong, an effective small business blogger should create a personality around the blog that exemplifies the way he wants customers to view his business. The issue of “personality” brings up another dilemma, which is how can you convey a certain personality without compromising the honesty that many people have come to expect from blogs? This is something for business owners to contemplate and decide for themselves.
To Post or Not to Post?
Business owners who post blogs need to think beyond issues of what they will write, and consider if they will allow others to contribute comments. Both Furlong and Giovagnoli agree that business owners need to have an editor for both their own and their readers’ comments.
If a business blogger is true to the spirit of blogs, he will not edit what people post, Furlong says. However, the potential for getting burned means that small business owners should edit and filter outside postings that are obviously damaging or out of line, he says. “Certainly you have to have an editor,” he says. “But you do lose a little bit of the luster by doing that.”
Giovagnoli disagrees with the contention that a blog is less of a blog when postings are edited or people can’t respond to the writer’s entries. Blogs can take on many different and creative forms, she says.
Whatever you decide in terms of editing, it’s important to be forthright about all the guidelines and processes that postings will undergo. This will prepare contributors for the possibility that their postings may be altered or even withheld in certain cases.
Investing the Time
One of the primary draws for using a blog as a promotional tool is that they keep your Web site content fresh and updated. But, it’s important to remember that your site will only be as current as your last update, which is directly tied to the amount of time and effort that you invest. Although the monetary investment in blogs can be extremely low—$100 per year or less—the time investment can be substantial.
Giovagnoli says an effective business blogger will post new content at least once per week, with a minimum of about one hour to write and post your entry, she says. “If you put in the time, it’s the best investment,” she says. “This is not a fad; this is something that will keep evolving.”