Just when you think you have it all figured out, along come some new technologies that can help your company promote itself to prospects and existing customers. And while most people have heard of these technologies by now, namely blogs and podcasts, few are taking full advantage of what these marketing tools can offer their businesses.
Remarkably, as little as two years ago, blogs and podcasts were widely viewed as little more than places for opinionated oddballs to rant and rave. But today, blogs and podcasts are the most explosive marketing vehicles to emerge since the Internet itself. Consider the facts: BusinessWeek reports that over 40,000 new blogs are popping up every day. And in 2006, the number of podcast feeds exceeded the number of radio stations worldwide, says the CIA World Factbook.
What does all this mean for your business? It means that you have a wealth of marketing opportunities that require little to no out-of-pocket expense. Take some time at the end of the season to get yourself up to speed on how to best use these new technologies to your advantage.
Blog is short for "Web log." Blogs are easy to use and simple to set up, and they are a great format for promoting businesses. Think of a blog as a mini Web site that you update on a regular basis. Blogs are a powerful medium for delivering information, because when they're done correctly, the content on a blog comes across as informational and less biased than a corporate Web site. Consider the following key points:
- Blogs enable you to get consumer feedback in an unfiltered environment. Sure, that can create some challenges, but if you get negative feedback on your blog at least you can address the issue and be aware of it. So in a sense, a blog is often like an instant focus group. Being receptive to getting customer feedback on your blog positions your company as being accessible and interested in customer concerns. That's a great selling point in today's environment.
- Because blogs are updated regularly, search engines favor blogs and tend to display them toward the top of search results. Construct your blog properly by using keywords search engines will pick up within your blog entries. That way, when someone keys a particular term related your business into a search engine, your blog will come up in the results. This not only helps promote your business, but it also helps position your company as an industry leader.
- Blogs are almost like an online community. Therefore, it's a great way to talk about your company, its culture and any industry trends. Blogs provide an easy forum for delivering information to customers about new products or offers and for building relationships with customers. Likewise, if there were some sort of crisis occurring in the company, it's a way to get the facts out there so you can deal with the situation quickly.
- To make your blog more relevant and to avoid bias, find people to contribute to your blog. Assign people from within your company to post entries, and recruit outside experts or customers as well. Be careful, though, as a blog makes it easy for a disgruntled employee to post information that should not be public knowledge. Therefore, if you allow employees to post entries, establish some controls over the content.
- Whatever you do, don't create fake blog entries, where you pose as a customer or outsider and say wonderful things about the company. That approach usually backfires because people see through that. Be honest in all your entries.
- You can find a number of inexpensive blogging services online that can help you set up and maintain your blog.
A podcast is essentially your own radio show on the Web. It can be an extension of a blog, whereby you make your entry more personal because you're actually speaking the words, not just typing them. But it can be much more than a blog. Before you dismiss podcasts as something only kids listen to, take note: According to a comScore study, people between the ages of 35 and 54 make up about half of the podcast listeners, and they are more likely than average to download podcasts. As such, podcasts are a great choice for small businesses because they can help boost the company's credibility and sales without much investment. Consider the following key points:
- The first step to developing a podcast is to think of a unique concept or angle for your show. Since this is essentially a radio show dedicated to your business, you'll want to give information that relates to your industry or company that your listeners would find informative and entertaining. So if you're a pool service company, for example, you could do a podcast about weekly maintenance tips tied to the time of year and the weather. If you own a retail business, you could do segments about the benefits of warm water and how to make the most of a portable hot tub. Address the challenges your customers or prospects have, and they'll tune into your podcast.
- Podcasts also allow you to appeal to niche audiences because you can cover certain topics in more depth. You can make your podcast any length (30 minutes to an hour is common), and you can address specific or even obscure topics that you know your customers will find interesting.
- To actually create the podcast, all you need are recording/mixing software and a microphone. Both of these items are most likely installed on your computer, so there's no need to go to a recording studio. With the software, you can edit your podcast and include intro music. You can even put commercials into your podcast to sell your own products or sell air space to others and include their commercials.
- The beauty of podcasts is that people can listen to your show over and over, whenever they want. All listeners need to tune in is an MP3 player. And according to recent surveys, over 65 million people worldwide have MP3 players.
- Make it easy for people to find your podcast. You can do that by submitting your podcast to different feed directories, such as FeedBurner or PodcastValley. Even better, send an e-mail to customers announcing the launch of the podcast, and be sure to promote it in all your advertising and collateral materials.
Time Well Spent
When it comes to blogs and podcasts, the key to success is to be informational and thereby useful to your audience. You need to give people lots of relevant information in order to keep them reading or listening. Yes, maintaining a blog or doing a regular podcast takes time and discipline. But when you consider the amount of credibility and exposure to new customers these technologies can give you, also consider whether you can afford not to use these tools as a vital part of your online marketing mix.