Study blog design. I must admit, I know nothing about design. Fortunately, blog services come with pre-designed templates. Still, you'll need an eye for color, placement and web design. If you don't have these skills, find someone who does.
Select a topic. Obviously, the topic you choose needs to tie back to your business objective and be developed to drive results against that objective. But be open-minded: We never would have started Free Money Finance if we were just considering ice cream or small-business topics. Instead, we thought out of the box and now have a blog that's generated more than 30,000 visits in a few months.
Decide who's going to be allowed to blog and set policies. Choose someone to oversee the blog and be the primary blogger; also decide if anyone else will be allowed to blog. Then decide what they can and can't say. Parameters should be few and limit the bloggers only when it could harm the company, such as by restricting them from releasing confidential information. Of course, it's okay to be honest about not being "up to par" in every area of your business as long as the blogger isn't vindictive or demoralizing. Microsoft's Scoble's admissions that "we stink in this area" have endeared the company to people who thought Microsoft was a "know it all."
Begin blogging. Complete 20 posts (entries) or so before marketing. This gives you time to work out the kinks, mess with the design a bit, and look like you've been around for more than two days when someone stops by.
Start marketing. If you've read Buzz Marketing with Blogs for Dummies, you have a list a mile long of great things you can do to market your blog.
Measure your results. Whether it's traffic to your main website, customer satisfaction, trial rates or product awareness, it's important that you get a pre-blogging benchmark. Then regularly get data updates to see how you're doing.
Adjust as needed. Cover different topics, market in different ways, modify your design a bit here and there, and see what the reaction is. You'll quickly learn what does and doesn't work for you. At Denali, we realized that Team Moose Tracks and Moosetopia just weren't popular enough to drive traffic on their own, so we recently moved them and now they're part of the Denali Flavors blog.
As you start to get some experience under your belt, you'll learn what works best for you by trial and error. But here are a few suggestions based on my experience that should give you a head start:
Be consistent with your topic at all times. Know your audience, and be sure to deliver the goods with every article. If you get off topic, your readers will give you some grace, but they won't hang around long if you consistently go down a bunny trail.
Try topics unrelated to your business that have broad appeal. As mentioned before, Denali Flavors isn't a personal finance company, but finances are a popular topic. And since writing on money has been a hobby of mine for years, it seemed natural for us to create a financial blog. As a result, Free Money Finance has become our most popular blog.
Develop a schedule for updates. Set a schedule so your audience will know when to look for something new. I suggest starting with a Monday-Wednesday-Thursday schedule and see how it goes from there. Friday is generally a light reader day, and traffic really drops off on the weekends.
Make it easy to meet your objectives. Our objective was to drive traffic to the Moose Tracks site, so we made it easy for people to get there by putting a picture of the moose and "visit Moose Tracks" on the top part of every blog. If your objective is to get customer feedback, ask for it and make it accessible. If your objective is to reveal a charitable side of your company, keep people updated on what you're doing.
Use e-mail to kick-start your traffic. If you have an e-mail list, e-mail everyone on it and introduce your new blog. Also have all your employees include a signature on their out-going e-mails that lists your blog's URL and a short description of what it's about. That way, every e-mail sent out is a subtle marketing message.
Blogging can be an innovative way to meet your business objectives in a cost-effective way. But because the blogosphere is relatively new, you may still have questions. I'm willing to help you get started and offer my thoughts and feedback as needed. We'll both likely learn from each other and make our sites even better. Simply e-mail me if you need help. If you don't need any advice, please drop me a note anyway if you set up your blog. I'd love to stop by and say "hi."
John Nardini is the executive vice president of marketing at Denali Flavorsand is responsible for developing strategic and tactical marketing plans designed to increase awareness, trial and sales of Denali Flavors' brands.