Blogs boost interest in your business

Plain vanilla Web sites are so last season. At least, many would have you believe so. The Internet, where you posted photos and descriptions of your services and handiwork, has morphed into Web 2.0 and social media. And Web 3.0 ... well, let’s not go there yet. Let’s talk about how the ubiquitous social media tool — the blog — can help you with your marketing.

First off, just what are social media and interactivity of Web 2.0? As you might guess, the “2.0” refers to a second generation of Web sites, and Web commerce in particular. This next generation refers to the introduction of social networking to the Internet. Web 2.0 lets viewers interact with the content of your Web site, make comments, and start conversations. This allows you to build a sense of community between your clients — current and prospective — and your company.

Or it can just be personal. Derik VanVleet of Atlanta , created a blog at www.vanvleetwoodworking.com. “It started as a way to document my projects,” he says. “It really was just an extension of the hobby itself.”

The authenticity approach
Although VanVleet started writing his blog with no marketing strategies in mind, he has hit upon one of the major marketing benefits of blogging — its authenticity. Blogs are often most effective when a woodworker also writes about the challenges (or, more accurately, problems) encountered during the execution of a job and how these problems are solved. Slick advertising and marketing that doesn’t show the warts can come across as artificial, since all of us are inundated with claims of superior craftsmanship, skill, design, and so on.

Blogs can show that no person and no project are perfect, but that the blogger/woodworker is a superior craftsman at jumping over the inevitable hurdles. That builds trust for a blog reader. So VanVleet may find he gets more work precisely because his documentation of his projects is open to the public.

Similarly, Keith Cruikshank of Ohio may not yet see the business value of blogs, but his video blog at http://woodtreks.com shows his passion for woodworking. And that passion can be infectious and can lead to sales.

“Woodtreks is a convergence of three of my interests — wood art and craft, filmmaking, and the Internet,” says Cruikshank. “I have a passion for all these disciplines. Do what you love and, at least in theory, you’ll be richly rewarded.”

So what Cruikshank has done with his blog is to film woodworkers and wood artisans and talk to them about their work. The videos are more than just how-tos and are self-produced with not only the woodworker in mind as the audience of the blog, but the collector of fine wood crafts and furniture.

Again, blogs work best as marketing tools if they are about an interest close to your heart. And, as we see with these two examples, video files are becoming just as widespread as text and still images. You can stuff just about whatever you want into a blog, but be aware that a reader may see your overflowing cornucopia as just a pile of confusion, so practice some restraint.

How to blog
In actuality, a blog is nothing more than a Web site where new entries go to the top of the page (or some other prominent position), and comments come below each newly added entry. Technically, you could do it all yourself, but you’re probably much better off using a blogging platform, such as WordPress, TypePad, or Blogger. All of them have good documentation and strong community help forums.

VanVleet uses Blogger and says it’s “super easy.” Indeed, setting one up consists of little more than picking a name not already used, entering some information about the blog, choosing a design from a set of templates, and then clicking a button to publish it to the Web. The platform does everything else. All you need to do is log in and start typing in your entries. And the icing on the cake is that most blogging platforms in their basic form are free.

Most bloggers, however, want a bit more to say about how their blog is run. So platforms allow as much control and customizing as your heart desires. Under the hood, so to speak, are a number of menus that permit you to limit access, for example, to registered users, or to open it up to the world. You are also able to delete or edit comments that may be inappropriate or offensive. Other buttons allow you to upload photos. And for the very sophisticated, platforms can track usage statistics to analyze responses to an entry that may be about your specialty.

Marketing benefits
Blogs can be good marketing tools because they are easy to update, easy for readers to make comments, and easy for search engines to catalog and rank because of a tagging system that “reads” your entries and indexes them. Plus, all blogging platforms come with what is called an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed. That means any new entries are automatically forwarded to people who have added your RSS feed to the browser on their computer. Like the acronym says, it’s syndication — write once and get read by many subscribers. And, of course, the subscribers would not be cold calls. They must already have had an interest or they wouldn’t have subscribed via the RSS feed.

Blogging seems so easy, there must be a catch. And this gets to the nub of the cost/benefit analysis of its use as a marketing tool. Remember the words to the Rolling Stones song: “Time, it’s on my side.” Well, time is just what you will need on your side to invest in the writing of the blog. They don’t write themselves. When VanVleet was asked what advice he would give to start-up bloggers, he replied, “Update your blog more frequently than I do!”

Because if you don’t, your blog simply becomes another Web site with words and images, and maybe even videos, that remains unchanged. That’s what you would call an online flyer, which has its value, but doesn’t approach the potential excitement and interest of a blog coming to you at the speed of cable news. Well, you don’t have to update that often, but often enough to keep your readers engaged. The frequency will be different for each woodworker or woodshop. There is one other option, and many larger companies do this regularly: outsource the writing. Hire somebody to do the writing for you in some sort of ghostwriting arrangement.

Whatever method or degree of complexity you choose, remember the business model for blogging is not e-commerce, but sales lead generation and marketing. That can mean either trawling for first-time clients or holding on to current clients and turning them into repeat clients. Integrate your blog with how you already go to market, and keep your focus there. Blogs have a tendency to bloviate, but you want to keep yours tightly focused on your interests, passions and target market. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be better prepared for Web 3.0 when it comes around the bend.