Driving Business from Bloggers

You may have heard the terms “blog” and “blogosphere” before — odd-sounding words for sure, but don’t be too quick to dismiss this ever-growing community of writers and their Web sites as a passing fad for cutting-edge geeks. A blog is a social media tool and — when used correctly — represents a free and effective way to promote your small business.

Why do so many small businesses dismiss one of the major social tools of our time? Some people think their business is too small to find any value in the blogging world, while others feel they just don’t have the time. The truth is that small businesses stand to gain the most by using the blogging community to help grow their own business.

Understanding the Blogosphere
BlogHer Business, a gathering of the world’s leading bloggers, recently held its annual conference focusing on ways that businesses can use social media as a marketing tool. At the conference, Elisa Camahort, BlogHer co-founder and COO, and Susan Wright, managing director for Compass Partners, presented a study conducted by BlogHer on understanding the blogging audience and the impact blogs have on buying decisions.

According to the study, 36.2 million women participate in the blogosphere — by reading and/or writing blogs — weekly. The main reason? Blogs are a good source of information, advice and recommendations. And the research also showed while some people use blogs for pure enjoyment, others use them as great source for promoting their business.

One of the most common ways that small businesses get new clients is through referrals. The blogosphere — used by millions for advice and recommendations, is an excellent source for referrals.

Bloggers write about their lives, and every blog has a focus based on the writer’s passions. People reading blogs are people just like you, they are looking for advice from someone who has the same interests as they do. Unlike mainstream media, bloggers build a bond their readers, and when a blogger reviews a product or service, it’s like getting advice from a friend — and their readers listen.

If you’re a small business owner and people refer you business, a referral that comes from a blog is not that different than someone in your networking group. The only difference is that the referral was a virtual one.

Getting Involved
How can you use blogs to grow your business? The first reaction most small business owners have is that they need to start a blog. Before you do, start by understanding the community you hope to engage. Approach this just like you would network for your business.

Start by visiting different blogs and find the ones that connect with you and your customers. Become a frequent visitor or subscribe to their blog feed so you know when a new posts publish.

Liz Gumbinner, a panelist at the BlogHer conference and the co-founder and editor of the blog Cool Mom Picks, said that it’s important to remember that bloggers are real people, and you need to get to know them. When small business owners network, we might meet for coffee. Online, the way to get to know the blogger and their visitors is to read their posts and review the comments. This research will allow you to truly understand if this blog and its readers are a good fit for your product or service.

But how do you know if a blog is popular enough to make reaching out to it worthwhile? BlogHer panelist Susan Getgood, founder of Getgood Strategic Marketing, recommends letting a site called AideRSS do the work for you.

AideRSS constantly monitors blogs and tracks which are the most popular (among other things). Enter a blog’s URL (or it’s RSS feed) into AideRSS, and you’ll learn about the site’s statistics and how people react to it.

Pitching the Blogosphere
The purpose of getting to know the bloggers is no different than any other business situation. You want to understand them so you can generate business.

Getgood has a formula that she calls the 4Ps of social media: Prepare, Participate and then and only then, Pitch or Publish. She explained that the biggest mistake businesses make in pitching bloggers is that they send a blanket pitch as apposed to something personal.

As a small business owner, you need to be focused – you don’t have time to waste on something that won’t provide you with a return on your time. Getgood offered this advice, “Narrow your list and reach out to a smaller number of bloggers who will be very interested, and you’ll get better results.”

Don’t ask a blogger to write about you if the subject matter doesn’t make sense for them or their audience. Doing so may have the opposite effect than what you want. Some bloggers find it insulting to receive pitches from people who don’t understand them or their readers and Mir Kamin, a contributing editor at BlogHer, pointed out that you may find your pitch on their blog with a negative post that may do you more harm than good.

Tracking the Effects of Blogs
In launching your blogging campaign, one of the most important elements is tracking the results. How do you know if people are really talking about you? How do you know if the blog world is driving traffic and sales to your Web site?

One of the first things to do is setup Google Alerts on your name, your company name and products or services you have been blogging about. You will be notified via e-mail when a post is added to any blog with your company information on it.

Google Analytics is the other tool you should have installed on your Web site. Inside your Google Analytics there is a section called referring sites and from there you will see all the Web sites that drive traffic to your site. If you sell a product you may want to offer a special coupon code to the blogger who writes about you. This allows for great tracking and an added incentive to motivate people to purchase. Blog authors are very appreciative of special offers for their audience.

The blogosphere is not a special club you have to join. As a small business you just need to recognize that blogging is just like any other business communication opportunity. Focus your efforts and your message, and then join the conversations already in progress.

Jennifer Shaheen, the eMarketing and Technology Therapist, has more ten years experience working with small to mid-sized businesses on their eMarketing and Web-development needs. You can learn more about her by visiting her Web site, TechnologyTherapy.com

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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