Blogs can be entertaining, educational, or, hopefully, a little of both. Here’s some advice from Elliot Wilson, general manager at Lovejoy Inc., a family-owned company that manufactures industrial couplings and power transmission products on how blogging can give a company a competitive edge.
Q: What inspired you to start a company blog?
I had been considering a blog for many years, but what finally pushed me over the edge was spending an hour online role-playing a potential company customer seeking generic product education and advice online. There just wasn’t much out there. Manufacturers, my company included, had plenty of technical product data on their websites, but nobody was putting this data into context or telling cohesive stories tailored to specific user scenarios.
To elaborate on just one case, my company sells flexible power-transmission couplings. Most flexible couplings have an element that eventually wears out over time through normal wear and tear. Coupling manufacturers may not want to talk about coupling failures, but users have questions. They want to know if the failure was normal wear and tear or if there were other contributing factors.
I envisioned a solutions-centric blog as an opportunity to tackle such topics head on in a search engine optimized way that may not naturally fit into a product-centric corporate website.
Q: How hard was it for you to set up the blog?
Setting up the blog was easy. It only took a few hours and less than $20 to get going. I used a free blogger template, which I lightly customized. The only out-of-pocket cost was a customized domain name, couplinganswers.com, which I bought in a few minutes through an online domain registry. Had I not wanted a customized domain name, setting up the blog would have been completely free.
The hard part of blogging is developing content, which requires considerable sweat equity. Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and developing content they will find useful takes a lot of time. Of course, this is why such content is so rare and why those who develop it stand out.
Q: Given that developing content is the biggest hurdle to blogging, what was your strategy for coming up with good content?
Before asking my team to develop content, I wanted to demonstrate a personal commitment to this initiative by publishing the first dozen or so columns myself. These first few posts, inspired by known issues and opportunities I had uncovered when role-playing potential customers, let me create a template my team could follow.
After I had published my first few posts, I reached out to both our internal and external sales force and let them know they would be responsible and accountable for generating fresh content for the blog going forward. As for inspiration, I explained that any question they get from a customer should be reviewed by them as a potential topic. I reminded them that if they hear a question from one customer, surely hundreds of others around the world have the same question and are looking for an answer online. When they provide a polished and intelligent answer to such a question on the blog, they are answering the question of not just one person but hundreds, if not thousands, of others.
In parallel to holding my team accountable for content, I have also shown my own continued commitment to the blogging initiative by continuing to regularly post myself.
Q: How often do you publish a blog post?
Shortly after releasing the blog in September, I committed to an aggressive goal of posting something new every business day at least through the end of 2014. Although I knew this would be tough, I wanted to quickly build up a treasure trove of solutions and force the cultural shift in my company that was necessary if the blog was to succeed.
The cultural shift is now in place, so in 2015 I will reduce the pace of publishing to one or two posts per week. In doing so, I will ask my co-workers to dive even deeper into the handful of topics they are covering.
As a general rule, a blog is not worth doing at less than two posts per month. If you plan on posting less than twice a month, either find a way to incorporate such content on your corporate website, or perhaps guest blog on other sites.
Q: Why not put all your blog content on your corporate website?
This was considered, but I chose not to because I want the blog to be seen first and foremost as an educational tool. If my blog was sitting only on my firm’s primary corporate website, I thought I would lose many eyes to the many generic solutions I was providing.
From a marketing perspective, once someone reads the blog, I had no doubt the subtle references to my company and our logo at the top of the page would tell users who is supplying the content. Should users have follow-up questions, I am confident our company will get the call.
Q: How are you promoting your blog to get readership?
While Google and other search engines generally gravitate to blogs, as Web readers like to read stories, I knew it was important to have other lead generators to “prime the pump.”
To kickstart the blog, I linked to the blog on several places on our company’s website and leveraged social media. Lovejoy has accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+, and I have shared news stories through all three of these outlets.
Q: How long did it take you to start seeing results from your blog?
Not long at all. Although I’m not sure the source, whether the people found it through social media or organic search, within three weeks of launching the blog it had generated its first confirmed sales lead and its first industry publication citation request.
Q: What is your favorite thing about blogging so far?
It’s great in that it continually expands our ability to help actual and potential customers with problems without increasing costs. When a company engineer answers a question over the phone, he or she answers it for just one person. When the same engineer posts a similar answer in a blog article, that answer lives online forever. Anytime and anyplace in the world, that solution is available for anyone who seeks it.
I also appreciate that blogs can help shape or redefine a company’s brand. Or firm, for example, has historically been typecast by many engineers as a source for a specific type of coupling that we have been making since 1927. The reality is, for decades we have offered a host of other couplings and associated components. By highlighting dozens of photos and stories of the company’s other products, the blog lets us break out of this typecast in ways traditional websites cannot.
Q: Have you picked up any secrets or tricks since starting that you could share?
One trick I recently discovered that lets me see issues from our customers’ perspective is to use Google’s autocomplete feature. Using Google’s search toolbar, you can see the top term people have been searching for relative to a product or service by typing that product or service into the search bar followed by a single letter. Google then anticipates and autocompletes the next word for you based on prior popular search terms.
For example, when I type “gear coupling a”, Google returned four phrases: “gear coupling alignment procedure,” “gear coupling applications,” “gear coupling alignment tolerances,” and “gear coupling animation.”
Repeating this procedure for each letter in the alphabet should generate at least half a dozen excellent blog topics that are frequently searched and for which you are well suited to provide engaging, world-class content.
By developing and sharing relevant content, your entries will rank high in Google search results and many Web users will find your content and come to see you as an industry thought leader.
Q: Any final words of advice on blogging?
Used well, blogging can be a valuable soft-selling marketing tool, but it is only a tool. There must be a truly remarkable world-class product or service that online readers will get excited about to back up a B2B blog. If you can’t get users excited about your product or service, start there first.
Also, never forget that existing customers are your absolute best sales tool. Take care of them. Listen to them and learn from them. It’s the knowledge gained by working with customers that will help you blog well and continue to evolve and improve your fundamental core business.
Elliot Wilson is the General Manager at Lovejoy Inc., Downers Grove, Ill., www.lovejoy-inc.com