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Should you go big with your blog? Add to ...

Blogging can be a useful way to update customers, keep staff informed and to differentiate yourself from competitors. But is it right for your business? In this four-part series, we'll examine the businesses that are doing it right, provide you with a checklist of goals to achieve and outline the tools you'll need to get started.

Part Two: Pulling out all the stops

Rogers has spent a lot of money on its blog. Since the launch of Rogers Redboard less than a year ago, its staff have outfitted it with all the bells and whistles. There are multiple links to Rogers Twitter accounts, user forums and Facebook fan pages. Users can comment on and rate every post, as well as vote on polls and look at word-clouds showing the most commonly used words in those posts.

It is, in short, a major online effort from a major company with lots of staff producing lots of content.

The same thing can be seen on many big-business blogs: the Facebook blog, for example, has - you guessed it - amazing Facebook integration, with Like buttons and a stream of posts about the latest tools on the social networking site. Besides tons of embedded videos, the Youtube blog also carries information about upcoming Youtube user get-togethers around the world.

Problem is, all these companies have the resources - and the massive user traffic - to justify spending lots of time and money on their blogs. But what about the mere mortals, such as small and medium-sized business owners, who want to start blogs of their own?

Content is the key

The answer, according to one case study, is simple: focus on making the content relevant and interesting, not on the bells and whistles.

Vancouver-based Vision Critical specializes in figuring out what people think. They designs products for conducting surveys and measuring trends, which are well-suited for a blog. The technical details behind what the company does are complex, but the results often interesting.

Vision Critical uses the blog to post interesting opinion poll results on topics ranging from the long-form census to the U.S. economy. But amidst those posts are longer, in-depth pieces written by staff that explore the ins and outs of what the company does - namely, how to tell what people are thinking.

An example is a post by Janet Tang, the company's vice-president of analytical intelligence, explaining the difficulty of figuring out the impact of a particular variable on consumers' decision making - by way of

"Many times, companies will not get deep into the issues that they deal with every day - we are usually trapped in finishing everything for a client or a specific project."

In another post, Mr. Canseco looks at the issue of representative survey samples by exploring one of the largest (failed) opinion polls in history, the Literary Digest prediction of the 1936 U.S. presidential election.

More links, more traffic

For many companies, the main purpose of a blog is to generate links. The more content a company can produce that's relevant to the work they do, the more likely other web sites are to link to that blog. Since the number of links a web site receives is one of the deciding factors in its search engine ranking, a good blog can result in better exposure and more customers.

In effect, the blog raises the company's search engine ranking when users search for certain words that are frequently mentioned in the blog (which usually happen to be words related to the industry the company operates in). The more users click on the company's web page, the more business the company is likely to generate. In that context, blogging becomes a somewhat more indirect, more interesting form of advertising. It's also a means of establishing expertise in a particular area, both in the eyes of customers and competitors.

(In the worst case scenario, a blog can also be an effective form of damage control. When something bad happens, such as a service interruption or some other piece of bad press, a company can immediately publish their side of the story on the blog - usually in a more approachable tone than the terse wording normally associated with a press release.)

"The blog allows us the opportunity to step back and engage with an audience to discuss what could be done better, and the way we are implementing solutions," says Mr. Canseco.

"We don't use the blog to sell products -- we rely on it to discuss how we work."

The blogging series continues every Thursday on the Web Strategy section of Your Business.


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