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     A business guide to blogs and blogging

    Blog SitesA business guide to blogs and blogging
    Waterloo Chronicle,  Canada

    Blogs are growing at an alarming rate on the Internet. According to David Sifry the founder and CEO of Technorati, their numbers are expanding at such a rate that there are now 60 times more blogs than there were just three years ago. For all of the media attention and hoopla heaped onto them however, blogs are little more than online journals with entries listed in reverse chronological order. The technology behind a blog is actually not that spectacular. What is spectacular is the effect that blogs are having on the average person's ability to communicate with the world. They provide a hi-tech printing press with an instantaneous reach that spans nearly the entire planet. Within seconds of typing a journal entry, it is globally available to be read by anyone with an Internet connection. This gives consumers a voice and the ability to either praise your product or criticize it. Word of a bad product or poor service can spread like wildfire in the blogosphere (the world of blogs). So what is a business owner to do? How can you know what your customers are saying about your product or service? Luckily, there are several blog-specific search engines which will allow you to find any mention of your company's name. One of the first sites to make blog search available was Technorati.com, who now claim to track over 35 million blogs. Google, arguably the most popular search engine for the Internet, also has a blog-specific search at google.com/blogsearch, which has the added benefit of Google's relevance technology sorting more interesting blog posts to the top of the search results. Finally, a recent entry into the blog search arena has been developed by the company Bloglines. Surf to the website www.bloglines.com and click on the "Search" tab to use this new feature. Having completed your search for any blog content regarding your company, you should consider responding to any complaints or acknowledging any kudos. Many blogs offer a comment feature, allowing you to have your say in response to the posting. Depending on the blog owner, you may have to provide your email address or type in a string of letters or numbers after deciphering a messy graphic in your browser window (this is called a "captcha"). These additional steps required before commenting are measures to help prevent comment spam, the bane of all bloggers. Adding a comment on a customers blog shows that a business is paying attention, that the company cares about the individual, and provides the added benefit of a link back to your own website. Some bloggers for one reason or another, decide not to allow comments on their blogs. In this case, it is useful for your company to have a blog of its own. You might be able to set up blogging software on your own web server. There are many free and open source offerings that providing blogging features, but there are also some free blog services available on the Internet. Just be sure to read the terms of use to ensure that company/corporate blogs are allowed before signing up. If you find that your company name is not as present online as you would like it to be, you could start reading and commenting on blogs that focus on areas your business deals with. For instance, if you find ...

    yourself at an architectural firm, you might want to frequent the blog at www.inhabitat.com to find ideas on modern building and decorating. If you sell scrapbooking supplies, you might want to check out www.madcropper.com to get new ideas for displays or leave suggestions for the readers there. Any little mention of your company might lead to some more business. What should a business person do if they find they lack the time or writing skill to write for their own blog or comment on someone else's site? You should try to squeeze in some time for some light reading. There are a flood of small business and marketing blogs providing tips and ideas that could help you grow your business. One fine example among many others is the Ducttape Marketing blog at www.ducttapemarketing.com/weblog.php which offers regular advice on branding, pointers to useful websites, marketing ideas and the like. Blogs can be a yet another tool in a business owner's belt. They provide a way to connect with customers on a personal level. A string of complaints left in blog postings could lead customers to avoid your business, while a trail of well laid and sincere blog comments on your part could "calm the savage beast" and be a pointer back to your own website. For more "Bits of Life" columns visit mghiemstra.com/column or read Michael's blog at mghiemstra.com/bitsoflife for other interesting bits.

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