Blogs: get your client’s ear

The blog is the latest phenomenon to hit the business world. It is a powerful
marketing tool offering businesses a quick, easy, and cheap way of connecting
directly with millions of potential customers. But before jumping on the
blogging bandwagon, think carefully. Badly written blogs can seriously damage
your business.

A blog (short for web log) is a frequently updated online journal or
newsletter intended for consumption by the general public. The first blog
appeared in 1997 and by 2003 the word ‘blog’ had made it into the Oxford English
Dictionary. But from its humble beginnings as a simple way for people to keep an
online diary, the blog has evolved into a popular vehicle for anyone looking to
vent their opinion – recent figures suggest that a new blog is created every

There are good reasons why businesses might look to jump on this bandwagon.
Few other forms of communication give you the kind of exposure that a blog can.
Research has shown that blogs have a potential worldwide audience of 900

Many companies see this peer-to-peer interaction as an ideal way of
communicating directly with customers. Business giants such as Microsoft and
American Express are among those to exploit its marketing potential, paying
staff to write their own corporate blogs for publication on the company website.

Faced with an increasingly cynical market, businesses realise that consumers
have become highly aware of the nuances of modern marketing. Many have turned to
blogging, as a way of finding out about products and services.

A recent report from America found that one in four workers — about 35
million people — spend on average 3.5 hours, or 9% of their working week,
reading and writing blogs. With the effectiveness of traditional marketing in
decline, some see baring your corporate soul in a company blog as a fresh way to
make their mark.

While the corporate blog can give your company a personality and your custom
ers the feeling that they know you a little better, you would be wise to be wary
of its negative potential.

Usage may have exploded but blogging is still very much in its infancy and
businesses should not be dazzled by this new technology. The immediacy of
blogging is both its blessing and its curse; in the rush to make personal
contact with customers, the blog has made it possible for people to communicate
badly, and very publicly, with a large number of people.

Professional bloggers should never forget that, despite its informality, the
rules of good writing still apply. Treat corporate blogs with the same care and
attention you would give to any other form of business communication.

A badly planned, sloppily spelt and grammatically incorrect blog could give
readers a poor impression of your company. And once that happens, you can be
sure they will shout about it. Readers are also notorious for pouncing on any
perceived weakness, potentially sending criticism of your company winging its
way around the world in seconds.

And don’t think the laws of libel provide much of a safety net: blog readers
are often as anonymous as they are reactionary, and therefore impossible to sue.
Besides, a successful legal action will provide cold comfort if your reputation
has already been booted around the blogosphere. In fact, it may even be
counterproductive, igniting the blogging equivalent of a flame war.

Kay Celtel is a senior consultant with business-writing specialists
Emphasis Training

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It is important that you think very carefully about what you are trying to
achieve by writing a blog. Good writing is not merely intuitive and there are
some key points that you should consider before entering the blogosphere:

  • Start with the reader in mind – downloading your thoughts for the day may be
    cathartic for you, but what will your readers make of it? Always write with your
    reader in mind. Think about how much they know about your topic. Do they
    understand your jargon or acronyms? How important is this information to them?
    How interested are they in it?
  • Keep it short and simple – write to express, not to impress. Try to avoid
    flowery language. Good ideas come across much better in plain English.
  • Watch your tone – something that may be wildly amusing to you and your work
    colleagues could be entirely lost on your readers. Blogs are easy to
    misinterpret because they lack the visual cues (a smile, a wink) of face-to-face
    conversations. Be aware that what you write could provoke a strong emotional –
    and potentially damaging – response. 
  • Hook them in quickly – if you don’t grab your reader at the beginning of
    your blog, you are wasting your time. Try starting with a surprise statement,
    for instance, or contrasting how things were in the recent past with how they
    are now.
  • Go out with a bang – good endings are almost as important as good
    beginnings. The last thing you want to do is leave the reader thinking that
    you’ve simply run out of things to say. To end a blog it might be useful to look
    to the future. Let your reader know what’s coming up next, as long as it’s
    something worth coming back for.
  • Be accurate – punctuation may seem like a small thing, but it can make a
    world of difference. For example, a local authority website recently left the
    apostrophe out of the following sentence: ‘Residents’ refuse to go in the bins.’
    The resulting meaning was probably not what the author intended. Needless to
    say, you should also triple-check your facts before posting them in a blog.
  • Read over everything carefully – inaccuracies can easily be missed. Mistakes
    are much harder to spot on screen so work on your blog offline, print it out and
    read it over before publishing it.

Remember these simple rules and blog away – Just be careful: your blog might
be free, but it could also be the most expensive thing you ever wrote.

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