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Blogs for Small and Medium Business

As with any new business tool, it’s important for businesses of all sizes to assess whether blogs are worth the time and effort needed to create and sustain them.

Fortune 500 companies like GM and Microsoft have blogs. Reporters, doctors, and politicians have blogs. Tens of millions of Internet users read blogs, and in 2005, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found 8 million adults have created blogs. It appears that businesses not yet in the blogosphere may be missing out on a popular and essential business tool.

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Or, maybe not. The May 2, 2005, cover story for BusinessWeek says blogs are “simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself.” But just as blogs are not right for every individual, they may not be right for every business, especially small and medium businesses with limited time and resources.

As with any new business tool, it’s important for businesses of all sizes to assess whether blogs are worth the time and effort needed to create and sustain them. The first step, of course, is understanding exactly what a blog is.

Blog Basics

If you don’t know what a blog is, you’re not alone. The same Pew report that showed blog readership surged 58% in 2004 also found that 62% of Internet users don’t know the definition of a blog.

According to Merriam-Webster, a blog (short for “weblog”) is “a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.” In business blogs, employees and business owners can communicate in a first-person, interactive, and friendly way with customers, vendors, employees, and the public.

Businesses use blogs to promote products and services, answer FAQs, conduct market research, and build customer relationships through online dialogue and feedback. In addition, some businesses use blogs for internal communication about, for instance, a complex project that requires collaboration with partners and employees located around the world. If all this sounds like what you might post on your customer-facing Web site and/or intranet, you’re right– the information is similar. What’s different is the presentation and writing style. Blogs are informal in tone, and often the writing style resembles a letter to a friend rather than the more formal tone most companies adopt for their customer-facing Web sites.

How It Works

Here’s another difference between blogs and Web sites: A basic blog can be set up in minutes, in a process far simpler and less expensive than creating and posting a regular Web site. The only requirements are a computer, a blogging software platform or personal publishing application, and space on a Web hosting server.

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Blog software companies like Six Apart and Blogger.com offer remote hosting and blogging tools that can help small businesses get started. But many businesses host blogs on their own Web servers, which allows the blogs to be fully integrated with the rest of the company’s Web site. As blogs become more important customer relationship tools, businesses want to have complete control over their blogs and be able to integrate them fully into the overall Web experience. This can only be accomplished if the blog is hosted on a company’s own server.

Pros and Cons

Business blogs are growing in popularity for many reasons, including:

  • They’re inexpensive, easy to launch, and don’t require HTML expertise.
  • They can help businesses build customer relationships and a sense of community.
  • They can increase productivity by promoting internal collaboration.
  • They provide an easily searchable database of information.
  • Customers may view blogs as a more authentic (and therefore more trustworthy) source of information, compared to mainstream media.

Blogs may seem like a simple and obvious business solution, but businesses drawn in by their low cost and easy setup may be surprised by how much work blogs can be. Bloggers are notorious for revealing business secrets, and legal issues can arise too quickly for any legal department to control. Another concern involves commitment: Someone will need to post the blog day after day. Suddenly dropping the blog because the writer leaves the company or there’s no new information to post is bad for business–sometimes worse than having no blog at all.

To avoid these problems, a business blog requires careful planning and consistent follow-through, which can be especially challenging for smaller businesses with a few employees and limited time and resources.

To Blog Or Not To Blog

Whether your business needs a blog depends on answers to a host of questions, including:

  • Do you have someone on staff with the time, commitment, knowledge, and skill to write a compelling blog on a daily basis?
  • Can you make a long-term commitment to producing a good blog?
  • Are your customers Web savvy?
  • Are your competitors blogging, and is it helping their businesses?

Every time “the next big thing” in business emerges, small and medium businesses have to be particularly careful in weighing the costs and benefits. Business blogs offer an enticing opportunity to share information and knowledge with a global audience, but blogs are probably not right for every business. With a little research, businesses can determine if they’re ready to join the blogosphere–or if they’d be better off spending their time and energy elsewhere.

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