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Once upon a time, marketing consisted of primarily one-way communication from companies to customers. Marketing messages were disseminated via print, radio, television, billboards, public relations and direct marketing channels. The goal was to reach customers through one or more of these vehicles.

The Internet has radically changed the marketing experience by removing geography as a limiting factor, and as a result it has increased the number of potential customers a company can reach through its marketing efforts. Potential customers can search for just about anything on the Internet.

Blogging takes advances in marketing one step further by transforming it into a conversation. It allows organizations to initiate conversations with their audience. Blogging conversations can also occur between customers and potential customers and your competition and existing or potential customers.

A wonderful byproduct of this conversation between your company and its customers via your blog is that you and your customers begin to better understand one another. Gaining a better understanding of your customers allows you to more effectively and efficiently market to them. This, of course, lowers your marketing costs!

There are as many reasons for an organization to consider blogging as there are organizations. However, most of the reasons will fit into one of the following eight categories. Quite often, a blog may combine several of these elements, as you will see in the examples provided.

1. Be viewed as an expert

Many companies actively participate in thought-leadership activities such as writing for industry newsletters, participating in or hosting professional conferences, and producing whitepapers on subjects of interest in their respective industries. Blogging provides another vehicle that your organization can use to position itself as a thought leader.

Also, if you highlight competitors on your blog and link to them, it sends a powerful message to your readers. It tells them that your company is comfortable with its standing in its industry, and that you want to make sure that your readers know of information that could benefit them. Even if that information is coming from a competitor.

It might seem like "bad business" to put the spotlight on the competition, but to your readers it makes your company look more credible, and a leader in your industry.

2. Develop better customer relationships

We have evolved into a one-size-fits-all society where products are designed to meet the needs of a broad spectrum of customers rather than each customer individually.

Whereas customers once dealt directly with a product's maker, today they make their purchases at "big box" stores or using another medium that does not afford them the opportunity to discuss their personal needs or wants with the designer. The customer may, for example, choose the color of a product, as long as it's one of the colors available. Unless purchasing from a custom tailor, the customer has no say in the design of what he or she buys.

Since customers can no longer influence the products and services they purchase, many think that organizations are not interested in what they want.

Blogging can change that perception because it provides a channel for and fosters communication. It allows you to "reach out and touch" your customers in a way that other mediums do not afford.

3. Attract new customers

Consider also how customers are now using the Internet to research companies and products they buy. If you run a well-maintained blog that focuses on your products and industry, you will likely rank very well in search results for your product and industry. (We mention how this happens in more detail in reason 7.) This means that people who are searching for information about your industry might come across your blog, where they otherwise might never have heard of you.

Also, consider that as other bloggers link to your blog, they are exposing their readers to you. This means that new people will be constantly viewing your blog, and by extension, be exposed to your company. And if you run a well-written blog, your network of readers will continue to grow, creating more new customers.

4. Make your company more "human" to your customers

"We live in a time when most people don't trust big companies. Headlines gush with tales of malfeasance, abuse and old-fashioned plunder, but that's just part of it. There is a general perception that large companies are run by slick lawyers and book-fixing accountants who oversee armies of obedient, drone-like employees." (Naked Conversations, page 9)

At a time when everything seems to move at breakneck speed and customers often feel like a number, imagine the impact you could make if your organization were viewed as more communicative, more transparent and more open.

Customers want to feel connected, and a blog can help establish that connection with your organization.

5. Provide a forum to test new product ideas

When you're planning a new product, blogging provides an excellent tool to gather firsthand knowledge from potential users. Microsoft is a classic example of a company that uses blogs to drive product development. Developers and product managers use blogs to learn how customers respond to their products and what enhancements they would like to see in future versions.

Once the product is launched, bloggers will enumerate the faults of your product, and also the features they like. Blogging allows you to collaborate with users before a product is launched so that you can minimize negative press in the blogosphere. Also, being willing to ask for and act on feedback makes a very positive impression on bloggers!

6. Know what is being said about your company

Whether you're listening or not, people are talking about your organization and your products. In the days before blogs, such conversations were simply word of mouth. Blogging has geometrically increased the number of people a customer can "tell" about their positive and negative experiences. Think of the blog as the old Wella Balsam commercial where "I told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on and so on..."

Monitoring the blogosphere provides an organization with valuable information about what its customers, industry experts, and even its competitors are saying about the organization and its products or services. In fact, knowing what bloggers are saying about your company is probably more important than blogging itself.

Many companies begin by first monitoring the blogosphere, which helps them better understand blogging and how to interact with bloggers. This makes these companies more comfortable with the entire process, and more likely to start blogging.

But with information so readily available and content so easy to retrieve online via RSS, there's no excuse for a company to not be constantly aware of online chatter about itself.

7. Improve the ranking of your company's Web site with search engines

Search engines constantly monitor the World Wide Web for changes to determine how to rank Web sites. Blog posts, as well as comments to blog posts, are picked up by search engine spiders as newly published information and thereby can increase the ranking of your organization's Web site. Inbound links can also improve your ranking in search engines.

Another consideration is that since blogs rank much better with search engines, you have a big advantage over competitors that are not blogging. If you blog about hygiene products for the restaurant industry, and your competitors don't have a blog, your thoughts and writings on the industry in your blog will do much better in search engine results. This will greatly help establish your company as an expert in this area, as opposed to your competitors that have only a Web site that they never update.

Search engines favor sites that update frequently, which is why active blogs have an inherent advantage over static Web sites.

8. Provide company announcements in a new medium

As blogs grow in number and popularity, news is often reported in blogs before it is reported in mainstream media. In fact, for smaller companies, to which traditional media may not be willing to devote space, blogs offer a unique place to make announcements that would not be available elsewhere.

Also, blogs offer a place for a company to respond to concerns from customers arising from a PR crisis. Often, rumors and misinformation can spread quickly, and if a company is proactive to "set the record straight" via its blog, a great deal of over-excitement, and sometimes anger, can be dampened by simply responding quickly.

More companies are exploring blogging, shouldn't yours?

For the vast majority of companies, blogs may enhance existing marketing efforts over the long term. They are not a silver bullet that will magically improve market share or sales. Instead, coupled with other marketing efforts, they can enhance your brand, bring you closer to your customer, and improve your organization's public image.

Business blogging has not yet reached its "tipping point." Many organizations are not convinced that blogs offer an effective ROI. One reason may be the difficulty of calculating the ROI for blogging. In traditional marketing, companies measure ROI by seeing how many products they sell after an ad campaign launches. How do you measure mind share that can result from a blog? You can't, which may make companies leery of pursuing blogging. You could measure the traffic a blog receives, but traffic does not necessarily equal increased sales.

Since the beginning of 2006, the number of Fortune 500 companies that blog has increased 50%. Granted, only around 40 of them have blogs, but the trend is definitely upward. In fact, the subject of Fortune 500 companies and blogs is so hot that it has its own wiki

So blogging is still on the ground floor. Why not beat your competition to the punch and get on board before everyone else does?

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier