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Something to blog about Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009
Ask Clyde Miles whether you should advertise your product on TV, and he’d probably tell you to ditch the commercial and air your own show instead.

“You have to have this mindset of, ‘Let’s create our own media,’” says the chief strategist at Optiem, a Web marketing agency with 35 employees. “How can we develop our own content and get it out there?”

The answer: with cheap and increasingly accessible social media. A blog can build your brand by opening a conversation with your customers, stopping short of a sales pitch to provide valuable content that they can use.

But, Miles says, “You have to find a context first before you know the content.”

In other words, you’re not writing about the product or service you provide but about how it helps your customers.

“So if you make widgets, what is the compelling thing, what is the essence of widgets?” says Miles, whose company grew 40 percent last year. “If that widget makes someone’s life better in this way, then start writing toward that versus just, ‘Hey, buy our widgets.’”

Your industry and brand positioning are good indicators of that essence. If you know the need you fill for customers, you know the direction of your blog.

“If you’re Sherwin-Williams, yeah, you’re a paint business, but it’s not really about paint,” he says. “What Sherwin-Williams is about is decorating my house, so obviously they’re going to develop content around decorating.”

Once you find your focus, resist the urge to just promote yourself. Instead, you need to look past the product to see objectively the essence of your message.

“In general, you should avoid overt ‘buy our product or service’ messaging,” he says. “But you might use a description of a situation using your product.”

Look at it as research into the customer’s mind, a chance to read the buzz about your product or your field. The objective is to secure a place in that consciousness by providing relevant stories about the need for your product.

With easy one-click options for customers to comment on the content you post, blogs provide an opportunity for an immediate two-way conversation, taking the relationship to a deeper level than one-way advertising, such as TV spots.

But the danger is that you relinquish part of the message.

“You may no longer be in control of all your brand messaging,” Miles says. “You still are to a certain extent; people are still talking about your brand. But it’s more of a dialogue and more of adding value to that relationship versus just all your communications being about selling stuff.”

To counter that danger, monitor the comments on your blog to rein in the responses to help mold the image you want.

“You may get negative comments,” he says. “In answering those comments, you can turn a negative into a positive by your willingness to engage and be transparent.”

Any response at all will show customers you care. React to complaints, for example, by explaining how you’re addressing the problem.

And the key to those reactions is consistency.

“The other critical thing is to keep doing it,” Miles says. “Before, it was like, ‘Well, we created this TV spot. Now we’ll play it for six months, and then that’s it.’ With this, it’s constantly evolving and changing. It’s not just a one-time thing; it’s a long-term strategy. You have to keep at it, or people won’t follow you.”

So add posts and updates regularly to give customers constant reasons to come back.

“They’ll realize that you’re meeting them where they are and are engaged with them on a much more direct basis that you ever were before,” Miles says. “Hopefully, the relationship is deeper as a result of the fact that you’re actually providing value to that relationship and not just trying to sell.”

Calling all bloggers

Clyde Miles has seen a new position popping up at a lot of companies. Directors of social media — or sometimes, more specifically, chief bloggers — are proof that the business world is hip to the Internet.

But you shouldn’t create a position without experimenting first.

“You may find that there is someone within your organization who is out there doing it now, maybe on their own blog or in other social media,” Miles says.

Ask around your company to find out who is familiar with the online format, who is either reading or writing blogs on sites, such as Blogspot or Twitter or even Facebook or MySpace.

While any of your employees may have the passion to blog about your business, the person you choose also has to be able to write. Start your search in the marketing or public relations department, where employees are already penning promotional material.

Your potential blogger also must have the time to post regularly. Eventually, you’ll have to compensate that commitment or tie it to a job description.

But it’s worth the cost to give your brand value through online interaction.

“The thing about blogs is that it’s a person, versus monolithic content like a corporate Web site,” Miles says. “There’s a voice to it, a style to it, a point of view. You can talk to a brand. It’s like they have a personality.”

HOW TO REACH: Optiem, (216) 574-8700 or www.optiem.com