Blogs: Marketing Through Relationship Building

The advantages of blogging are well known in the business world. Have you been hesitant about adding a blog to your own site because of potential disadvantages, such as negative comments and comment spam? Hesitate no longer. Wayne Hurlbert discusses how to deal with these issues, as well as how to get the most mileage out of adapting this personal form of communication for marketing your business.

Blogs are a topic that has everyone talking. Whether the discussion is about marketing, public relations, or search engine optimization (SEO), the influence of the blogging phenomenon is part of that conversation.

In fact, conversations are part of what makes a blog a high impact power tool in any business marketing tool box. Building relationships with current and potential customers and clients is one of the most basic purposes of a business blog. When combined with the blog’s built in strength in the search engines, a marketer would be well advised to add a blog component to their online marketing effort.

Some of the factors that make blogs so powerful as marketing tools include personal interaction through comments, instant notification of page updates through RSS feeds, and the overall friendly personalized tone and writing of the blog posts themselves. Coupled with the proven high search engine optimization value of blogs, they are a marketer’s dream for building customer relations.

To ensure that the blog serves its purpose of encouraging open conversation between the writer or blogger and the regular readers, honesty and transparency is essential. The blog is not simply a sales page or a public relations flak. Instead, it’s about helpful information of value to the readership.

The marketing purpose of the blog is for developing longer term relationships between the business and the general public. Over time, the readers naturally gravitate toward purchasing the company’s goods and services. People buy from other people. If the person is trusted, there is no need to make a sale. That area of marketing is already completed through the blog conversation.

A blog is relationship marketing at its best. The blogger provides helpful information, and links to other sites that benefit the readers. The visitors return the business’ generosity with their purchasing dollars.

While it’s unusual to think of any form of website as being part of an interactive discussion between the business owner and the customer, blogs achieve that goal. Blogs are all about personalization and putting a human face on the company. In marketing, any time that a business can connect with potential customers and clients on a personal level, a sense of familiarity and trust develops as a result.

Without a blog component, many company websites are impersonal and uninviting to prospective customers and clients. The sites are often designed without the visitor in mind, and even with high search engine rankings, the business website translates into few sales. There is often simply no connection made between the company and the potential paying customer. The business takes on the persona of the proverbial faceless corporation.

Enter the business blog.

Written by one person, or even a group of writers within the company, the business blog takes on the character and personality of the bloggers. As the blog readership grows, the blog writer becomes the trusted human face of the company. Whether a large corporation or a small one person operation, the blog places a real person on the page, to whom readers can relate.

By enabling the comment feature almost universally available on all blogging platforms, a two way discussion of the blog postings takes place. The blogger writes a column or article, referred to as a post, and the reader often responds with a comment or idea in return.

Many times, an email discussion also ensues. Over time, the writer and visitor become well known to one another. A long term customer is created, who knows and trusts the business to be open and honest with their blog visitors.

Bloggers are free and generous linkers. Unlike the difficulty in attracting incoming links from traditional websites, blog links are frequent, one way, and often contain valuable keyword rich link anchor text on the clickable links.

Most bloggers are more concerned with providing interesting content for their readers than with the SEO and marketing aspects of their blogs. Ironically, their generous linking policies achieve precisely those results. Giving out links freely pays off very well in the blogging community. Generous linkers receive back one way incoming links many times over. Business bloggers should take note.

To create a two way and even multi-person conversation, the blog must have the blog comment system activated. The comments let the readers interact with the writer. As a conversation builder, comments are difficult to beat.

Many business people hesitate to use the blog comment feature for two reasons. The first is a fear of negative feedback on their products and services in general, or on the day’s blog posting in particular. Instead of understanding that open dialogue provides priceless market research and intelligence about the business, the reluctant blogger views the remarks as the problem.

As a result, exactly the wrong response is taken to often legitimate concerns about the company. The comments are disabled or deleted. Instead of building a sense of open discussion and honest assessment of the business, the cover up approach is used. Blogs are about honesty, and the readers will discover the problem almost immediately. Instead of developing good customer relations, exactly the opposite situation results.

The other reason for disabling comments is fear of the well known and heavily publicized blog comment spam.

First of all, a blog is a conversation between the blog writer and the reader. Part of that personal interaction is through the ability of readers to post thoughts and comments on the posting in question. Many times, the number of post comments will total in the dozens. Literally.

That sort of real and friendly communication between blogger and reader, and often among the comment posters themselves, is part of the true power of blogs. Many times, reading the comments is much more interesting than the initial post that spawned the discussion in the first place.

Remove the blog comment portion of the posts, and the life of the blog becomes a hollow shell, a mere shadow of its former self.

Blog comments will still receive spam. Some blogs do receive more than others, and for many bloggers, spam is a major problem. You would think those heavily spam assaulted bloggers would cut off their comments. Right?

Wrong.

Instead of removing their valued comments, they take steps to reduce or eliminate the spam, while maintaining their important conversations with visitors.

They insert code to prevent spammers.

They place first time posters on comment moderation.

Sometimes posts remain moderated permanently, prior to being published.

They require a randomly generated alpha-numeric code be entered, in order to submit the comment, thus preventing automated comments.

They vigilantly watch their comments, as they are good bloggers who read all of their readers’ ideas, and studiously delete the spam posts.

Many bloggers place the rel=”nofollow” coding in their comments, to prevent any Google PageRank flow to the posted links, or any link popularity value from helping the spammers with search engine rankings. Unfortunately, this technique, recommended by Google themselves, also penalizes legitimate commenting visitors.

They check their comments regularly by having the comments emailed or RSS fed to themselves. By subscribing to their own comments with email or RSS, they can check each comment as it appears. Spam can then be made to disappear.

While these techniques, and there are many more, are helpful to keeping blog comment spam under control, spam still happens. Fortunately, even blogs receiving heaps of spam receive many, many times more good and worthwhile comments. For open business bloggers, the benefit of conversation building far outweighs the limited threat of blog comment spam.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it’s as easy as it sounds. Most available blogging platforms have ready to use RSS feeds. An RSS feed sends a notification that the blog, or traditional website, has been recently updated.

To read other blog RSS feeds, an RSS reader, often called an aggregator, is required. Many good ones are available, including Bloglines http://www.bloglines.com, Feedster http://www.feedster.com, Feedburner http://www.feedburner.com, Feed Demon http://www.feeddemon.com, News Gator http://www.newsgator.com, and Kinja http://www.kinja.com. There are many others as well, including services provided by Yahoo and MSN.

To activate one of the services, a subscriber enrolls at the RSS reader site. The process is usually very easy to complete. Once enrolled, the subscriber can add as many blog and website RSS feeds as desired.

For blog marketing purposes, the RSS feed is delivered directly to the RSS reader right on the subscriber’s desktop. With the instant notification that a new blog post has been added, the regular readers are able to access it immediately in real time. As a result, the ongoing blog conversation can continue, further cementing the business and customer relationship.

Conclusion

Online and offline businesses who are serious about developing long term relationships with current and potential customers are well advised to add a blog component to their overall marketing strategy.

By writing regular, helpful blog postings on interesting and informative topics, while keeping the self serving sales and public relations talk to a minimum, a regular readership can be created. Regular readers will return over and over to their favorite business blogs as long as open and honest information is readily available.

Thinking in terms of the needs and wants of the readership, which are always the core values of any relationship marketing program, will turn a blog into one of the most powerful business tools available.

Enabling comments from the visitors, to add their voices to the discussion, will help the business in the short and long run.

Comments are about initiating and continuing a dialogue between business and customer. As that conversation builds, a sense of trust is nurtured and grows. That trust, in turn, becomes a long term loyal customer, thanks to the open and honest conversation of the business blog.

A lasting business relationship is born.

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