I'VE BEEN WRITING ABOUT SOCIAL networking for a while now. This month I continue the subject with blogging and the benefits of a dealership blog.
But first I want to reiterate why all this social networking stuff matters. A dealer recently asked me, "With all the other Web sites out there, why would anyone want to buy from us?" Well, there are hundreds of potential reasons, such as price, selection, and so on, but a big factor is who you are. What kind of personality does your site (and, by extension, your dealership) project?
Social networking and related marketing activities help create a personality for your dealership. And they are often how you begin relationships with potential customers. (For more on Web site personalities, check out the webinar at www.sitebrand.com).
GETTING SET UP
The word blog is an odd contraction of the term Web log. A blog is most often a journal or diary that's published on the Web. In fact, several bloggers on various topics make a good income just from writing a popular blog, with the money coming from advertising.
You're probably not going to make money off your blog, but you can use it bring people to your site. Make the content useful, compelling or funny, and visitors will come back often.
You can set up your blog using any number of free blogging tools and software. By far the most popular (and in my opinion the best) is WordPress (www.wordpress.com). You can let WordPress host the blog for you, or you can download it and install it on your own server. Choose the latter option because you'll have more control.
Another strong contender comes from Google. A few years ago Google bought out a company called Blogspot and created Blogger (www.blogger.com). Blogger is available only as a hosted option. Another tool is TypePad (www.typepad.com), also a hosted solution. Be wary of these and other software-as-service solutions because if the company that runs your blog goes under, so does your blog. If that happens, say bye-bye to all your hard work.
All these blogging tools allow you to apply a theme/template to your blog. Thousands of themes are out there, but create (or have someone create) a custom theme that matches your corporate branding and integrates with your e-commerce site. Again, you're trying to portray a sense of personality. If your personality is the same as a few thousand other sites, then by all means use a canned template. I recommend the snowflake route.
Most blogs offer something called RSS (Really Simple Syndication), a technology that allows you to broadcast your blog to other Web sties. This way people can read new postings without going to your site. I don't get that. I can see sending out a message with the title and a "Click here to read more" link, but publishing the full post in an RSS feed seems to defeat the whole point of using a blog.
As far as integration with your main site goes, create a subdomain for your blog, as opposed to a separate and distinct domain name. If your site is www.vroomvroommoto.com, set up your blog so its address is blog.vroomvroommoto.com. Then you might get some SEO benefit from the primary domain name, though people debate whether Google ranks a subdomain as a different site.
WHAT TO WRITE?
So what are you and your employees going to blog about? Well, start with what you know. Post reviews of bikes and gear. Write about rides and events, industry news, race results, etc. Don't just repost news from other places. Include your own take on stuff. Make it interesting. Or funny. Or controversial.
There are potential risks associated with opening up blogging to your employees. You can lose some of the central control of your brand messaging, and the language may get a little colorful. Keep your knee-jerk response in check, however, especially if the writer is young, and your market trends toward the young. You may want to put some faith in the writer knowing his or her audience and knowing where the line is. You may also want to consider having a dedicated person write the blog as part of his or her job. That will help ensure a constant stream of fresh content and provide a uniformity of voice.
Go into this with a clear idea of what you want to get out of it. What are your goals for having a blog? How exactly are you going to leverage the blog to increase traffic and sales? Are you really prepared to take this all on and keep it running smoothly? If you can't provide good answers to these questions, then perhaps you're better off letting the blog thing go for now. But if you decide to really take it on, it can be very useful.
For in-depth coverage of the power of corporate blogs, check out this book by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel: Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk With Customers.