What is a blog?
A blog is an online journal that can consist of text, pictures, graphics, or videos. Blogs are meant to be more like a conversation with the reader, thus entries are usually more informal than press releases and other print media. A well-done, professional blog will help you reach more prospective customers. By regularly posting useful information, you can easily build a following of loyal readers. Kathleen Goodwin, CEO of iMakeNews, says business blogs "can offer organizations a platform where information, data, and opinion can be shared and traded among employees, customers, partners, and prospects in a way previously impossible: a two-way, open exchange."
Using blogs to market your business
Blogging allows you, the business owner, to connect with your customers in a way traditional media (i.e., press releases, TV commercials, print ads, etc.) cannot. Traditional media only allows for one-way communication - you speaking at your customers. A blog allows you to have a "conversation" (two-way communication) with your customer. Once you post a blog entry, readers can post comments to which you and other readers can then respond further.
Individual reasons for blogging may vary from business to business, but are likely to include the following at some point:
- share information and stories about your business and products/services
- share the farm experience
- allow customers to get to know you, the business owner(s).
Blogs are ideal for informing consumers about seasonal products and how-to's based on season. Readers are looking for someone more knowledgeable than them to provide advice and guidance. As consumers read your blog, they may have questions about your business and what you sell. Blogs are an appropriate platform for open communication between you and your customers. In your entries, ask readers for their feedback pertaining to your posts and encourage them to ask questions related to your business, post solutions to their problems, and encourage them to reply back with their progress. If you are not an expert on a particular issue, provide the reader with some tools on finding the solution or more information. If you know someone who is an expert in a field, you may consider asking that person to write a guest blog.
A blog allows you to have a 'conversation' (two-way communication) with your customer.
As one reason to have a blog is to market your business and products, with a goal of increasing sales, carefully consider the way in which you present information and stories. You want to be cautious that your blog is not written like an advertisement. You want customers to want to read your blog because it provides useful information, not because you are trying to "sell" them on an item. For example, if you owned an apple orchard, you would not simply want to blog about what varieties of apples you sell and when they are available. Readers want to learn about the product and how it can be used. For instance, you could write about what apple varieties are best for making an apple pie, perhaps including a recipe. Make your post even more engaging by including a video of someone at the orchard actually making a pie or providing some secret tips on making a great pie (for example, marinating apples in cinnamon for one hour before baking for added flavor). Pictures and videos in your posts keep readers interested--too much text and too few visuals can bore readers and they may decide to no longer read your blog.
Starting and marketing your blog
If you already have a website, starting a blog is fairly easy. You can contact your web designer and ask about incorporating a blog on your site. If you do not have a website or do not want to host the blog directly on your website, you can use a free blogging service like Blogger or Wordpress. These blogging services are easy to set up and allow you to personalize your blog design or use one of many stock templates.
Once your blog is set up, you can embed the link directly into your website. Some blogging services also allow you to blog from your smartphone, letting you make updates on the go. Scheduling the release of pre-written blogs is another option to consider. For example, you may have time this week to write five posts, but won't have time in the next few weeks to blog. You could write all of your posts now and then schedule them to be released throughout the next month.
Having a blog is not enough. You want, and need, people to read what you've spent valuable time writing.
Just as you're using the blog to market your business/products, you need to market your blog. Customers will come to your blog in one of three ways:
- by typing in the URL address for the blog
- by using a search engine
- following a link.
Make sure that your blog and the site it resides on are search engine optimized (SEO). SEO refers to the act of improving your site's ranking on search engines. To learn more about SEO, please visit the resources listed at the end of this article.
Utilize email newsletters or your social media accounts (such as Facebook or Twitter) to connect to your customers. These tools are a great avenue for announcing the release of your blog posts. (If you are not using social media or email newsletters, read the other Value-Added Marketing publications in this series. These publications share how you can use these tools to market to your customers.) To entice customers to sign up for your email list and/or "follow" you in your social media efforts, announce offers only available to these subscribers. These special offers could be sales, free gifts with purchase, or coupons.
How often should I blog?
Maintaining your blog, or determining how often to post new entries, is a tricky question to answer as it will vary depending upon your purpose for the blog, seasonality of the business and/or products, and reader expectations. The largest cost to blogging is the time you invest. Readers want to see consistent updates and new information, but keep in mind that you shouldn't overwhelm your readers with too many updates. You may want to start off by posting one or two times per week (enough to keep the information fresh) then ask readers for comments as to how often they would like to see updates.
Once you have determined how many updates you will make per week (or month), set up a schedule for blogging and stick with it. Remember that search engines incorporate frequency of updates into their rankings. No matter what frequency you choose, be consistent. Readers will come to expect entries on schedule.
Developing a blog for your business can help you connect with your current and potential customers in a way traditional media cannot. Blogs are used to share information with consumers and stories about your business and products/services, allowing them to get to know you. Setting up a blog is easy through free blogging services like Wordpress or Blogger. Remember to consistently post new information to your blog and provide advice as an expert in your industry.
Search Engine Optimization
Prepared by Dana Ollendyke, Extension Assistant in Agricultural Economics