The most powerful aspect of business blogging is the potential to generate word-of-mouth marketing from the content you publish. If you can engage your audience members and get them talking about your business, products and services outside of your website, you've hit marketing gold. Blogs are a perfect tool to achieve that goal because they're conversational in nature. They're also filled with personality (at least the good ones are) that encourages readers to participate and build relationships with the bloggers and businesses behind them. Relationships drive customer loyalty and create vocal brand advocates who want to talk about the brands they love and are willing to defend those brands from criticism. When that conversation moves from your business blog and turns into online buzz, you've achieved a goal that marketing managers dream of.

The power of the social web comes from the conversations and buzz that occur on it. With a business blog, you have a chance to start those conversations, nurture them and let them grow. As a marketer by profession, I think we live in the most incredible time because the power of the social web and blogging provides more opportunities for businesses to connect with consumers and drive word-of-mouth marketing wider and louder than ever.

Start thinking about the types of promotions and public relations posts that you can publish on your own business blog that would actually help your readers and put smiles on their faces. You don't want to bore them with promotional information. Instead, you want to make them feel like they're special because they take the time to read your business blog. For instance, you can thank them for their loyalty by publishing exclusive discounts for blog readers only--further connecting your business and blog to them.

Following are some suggestions for how you can use your business blog as a marketing tool:

  1. Share sale information.
    Your blog is a great place to share sale and discount information with consumers. Over time, they'll learn to expect to find this type of information on your business blog and they'll come looking for it.
  2. Link to your online catalog or store.
    If you mention your products in your blog posts and have an online catalog or store, be sure to link to it!
  3. Offer tips and advice.
    It's possible that consumers might have questions about how to use your products, so it's always helpful to publish blog posts that not only offer tips but also provide suggestions for new ways to use your products.
  4. Publish referral program details.
    You can get the conversation going by offering an incentive for referrals.
  5. Hold a contest.
    People love to win prizes. You can take advantage of that by holding contests on your blog. For example, hold a contest on your blog and offer a gift card for a future purchase from your business as the prize, or offer products as prizes. When you send the product to the winner, ask whether she'd like to write a review of the product for your blog or whether you can interview her about her experience using it.
  6. Answer questions.
    Engage your blog readers by asking them to send questions and answer them on your business blog. If a person has a question, chances are good that they're not the only one.
  7. Solicit customer stories.
    People love to see their names and photos in lights, so to speak. Ask your customers to send in stories about their use of your products and publish them on your blog. It's likely each person you talk about on your blog will want to share the post with their friends.
  8. Include a "Share This" links on your posts.
    Be sure to include a link or button that allows readers to share posts they enjoy through social networking sites, social bookmarking sites, Twitter and e-mail. It's an easy way to foster buzz.
  9. Respond to all comments.
    Make sure your readers feel valued. Respond to every comment left on your blog and keep the conversation going.

The possibilities are practically endless. While outright promotions are generally frowned upon, don't be afraid to think outside the box and be creative about using your business blog as a marketing tool.

This column is an edited excerpt from Blogging All-in-One for Dummies by Susan Gunelius (Wiley, 2010). Reprinted with permission of Wiley Publishing, Inc., Copyright© 2010