Twitter may be the all the rage, but it's not yet time to pull the plug on your corporate blog and stop monitoring all the blogs where people talk about your brand. The emergence of Twitter as a hyper-popular social-media tool for marketing is not the death knell of the conventional blog; if anything, it highlights just how necessary blogs still are.
Communicating in short, 140-character bursts has its own advantages—namely that brands can get their point across quickly and efficiently to a key group of followers. But classic blogs offer a different, and still important, medium for marketers looking to connect with customers, partners, and the wider public.
In fact, every marketer today should be using a two-pronged blog strategy: creating and maintaining a fresh and engaging corporate blog, and third-party blog monitoring. Creating your own content is important, but so is monitoring—and responding to—the conversations taking place about your brand on blogs and forums across the Web.
The first part of your blog strategy—your corporate blog—is all about relevance and discoverability.
As every marketer knows, the biggest risk with blogs is a lack of relevant and timely publishing. If you don't post timely, punchy, informative posts, your blog will likely be poorly read and won't be found by search engines.
Your goal is not to obtain momentary awareness but to maintain relevancy over the long term for your target audience. You need to use buzz-monitoring tools to find out what customers are talking about—what interests them right now—and then use your blog to write about these subjects. (And don't hesitate to incorporate a few important keywords aligned with your search engine discoverability goals.) This quest for prolonged relevancy, and deeper interaction with your customers, is what your corporate blog can still help you accomplish.
The second part of your blog strategy—third-party blog monitoring—is all about community engagement.
Recent research finds that trusted information sources, offline and online, are given greater credence by decision-makers than paid advertisements. People online are likely already talking about your brand, your clients' brands, and your competitors as well.
The issue, then, becomes whether you're listening and responding—thereby demonstrating your commitment to the community that surrounds your business on the Web. Are you using monitoring tools to find and monitor all the blogs where people talk about your brand, so you can engage in the conversation, post responses, and build relationships with key influencers? Are you digging through that immense pile of Twitter noise to find opportunities to engage your followers further on your own corporate blog or forum?
Using Twitter to listen and instantly engage and respond to conversations about your brand online is great, and for some businesses it can be an effective communications tool and customer-engagement opportunity. But at some point you have to take off the Twitter goggles and realize where the potential for deeper, more "durable" and long-lasting interaction lies.
Your own blog-publishing efforts and a blog-monitoring and commenting program offer unique opportunities for a richer connection with key influencers, and each post will last much longer in "Internet time" than any one tweet will within Twitter's fast-flowing public timeline.
So you want to take your blogging program into the new age? Here are five tips to help you use blogs to engage customers, build your brand, and, ultimately, drive sales.
1. Find out exactly where the conversations about your brand are happening
Use social-media monitoring tools to find out which blogs and forums are hosting conversations about your brand. Take the time to know where your brand is being discussed and research the groups that are talking about it. Doing so gives you a better chance of relating to users and creating a relationship, rather than just talking at them in your own blog and when responding to their posts.
2. Find out who is talking about your brand online
Interacting with only the people who fully support your brand isn't going to win any hearts and minds—nor make a lasting impact on branding and revenue. Use social-media monitoring tools to find out who is talking about your brand, what they are saying, and what they like and dislike about your brand.
Understanding the key positive and negative voices discussing your brand will enable you to even better engage your fans, as well as to reach out to detractors to try to win them over. (If you take a blogger's criticism or suggestion and use it in creating a better product or service, not only will you have won that user over, you'll have shown that you are taking your customers' opinions to heart.)
And remember, online interactions are a two-way street. While you might gain valuable product, marketing, and segment knowledge from the interactions, remember to treat all of your blog-based interactions like a true relationship, with both sides giving and taking. Offer your key influencers special promotions or give them a say in product design or development. That's how you create true brand ambassadors.
3. Get your corporate blog up to speed
Take a good hard look at your corporate blog. Is it boring? Are the posts too infrequent? Does it speak to the conversations you've uncovered with social-media monitoring tools? Does it invite engagement by making it easy to post responses and to share posts via email, social networks, and Twitter?
The person responsible for writing content for your blog should have full access to the social-media monitoring data you uncover on a daily or weekly basis—so they can write posts that touch on those subjects. In addition, your social-media marketing team should work hand-in-hand with your corporate blogger to promote posts via Twitter and other social-networking platforms, as well as to reach out to external bloggers to invite them to read and comment on your corporate blog.
4. Don't bite off more than you can chew
It doesn't cost much to (a) write posts for your corporate blog; (b) use free or inexpensive monitoring tools to stay abreast of conversations about your brand; and (c) participate in the Web-wide dialogue taking place about your brand. But it does take a lot time. Make sure to map out your objectives based on the available bandwidth of your marketing team.
Many blogging programs fail to be relevant and drive engagement because marketers take on more than they should and then the blogging programs languishes due to lack of time. Start small—just a corporate blog and a simple monitoring program—and then grow the program from there.
5. Avoid common pitfalls
The pitfalls are many: failing to post regularly on your corporate blog; posting only text and no photos, videos, or links; failing to create a cohesive voice on your corporate blog by allowing several people to post; and neglecting to use all the methods possible to drive traffic to your blog (SEO, SEM, Twitter, social networks, email campaigns, etc.).
These pitfalls are easy to avoid, and doing so will result in a blogging program that does what you want it to: drive customer engagement, build your brand, and boost sales.
* * *
Twitter hasn't killed the blog, just as the short story hasn't destroyed the novel and the compact car hasn't eliminated the pick-up. There are different tools for different purposes, and in this case the goal remains the same: knowing which blog tools are right for the job and, more importantly, how to use both blogging strategies harmoniously to create a lasting relationship with your customers and broader stakeholder communities online.