Of the 126 million blogs in the blogosphere in 2009, corporate ones were but a fraction.

It’s not a surprise as many businesses are confused about blogging. But it can be a valuable way to interact with your customers on a conversational level, as well as to show your company’s expertise. But is it right for your business?
I recently spoke with Michael Willner, the vice chairman and CEO of cable operator Insight Communications. Willner has gained acclaim for his highly active blog, Michael’s Insight. And yes, he writes it himself.
Here are some tips from our conversation to think about before your business starts a blog:

Have a purpose: Don’t just start a blog because everyone else has one. It has to fill a need and be part of your business plan as one of the communications tools you use to interact with customers or engage those with influence in your industry.
Willner started his blog after the company had many challenges in 2006 when undergoing an intensive technology switch that caused major service outages. He said he found conventional ways of communicating were not reaching the people he wanted.

Know your audience:
A blog can’t be everything to everyone. Focus your business blog on current or potential customers or those with influence in the industry. While Michael’s Insight can be read by anyone, he has focused on a tech community passionate about broadband and cable.

Think content:
It is a good idea to have a list of topics you can write about such as answering customers’ questions or combining industry information with your own expertise.

Willner writes about meat-and-potato topics regarding the industry but also shares his personal point of view on issues facing cable operators.

Frequency of posts:
You need to decide the frequency of posts. The jury is still out if you need to post daily, weekly, or monthly to be effective, but I recommend at least one post a week if possible. It builds a routine.

If content and frequency are a concern, then seek out guest writers either from your own company or industry. You could even ask a long-time customer to write a post about your company.

Policy on comments:
Before you post on your blog, have a policy in place about how you will handle comments, both good and bad.

On Michael’s Insight, everyone can post a comment. Comments post automatically without being reviewed. Willner and a couple of others monitor the blog. They rarely take down a comment unless it is an individual issue in which they contact the commenter directly to resolve the issue.

Willner points out that if a customer has to post an issue on your blog then there has been a failure in the normal channels of communication and will need to be fixed.

Location of blog:
If you have an existing website, you can add a blog page to it. If you want a standalone blog, there are free sites such as Blogger and WordPress.

Take it further and purchase your blog’s domain name to look more professional. Also, make sure you provide options to subscribe either through an RSS feed or e-mail for your readers.

Among Willner’s other tips were:
■ Be authentic when writing your blog.
■ Use the blog to think outside of the box.
■ Allow for conversations to take place.
■ Be open to new ideas and opportunities that may come from the blog.

And the benefits for the work you put in, Willner said, can be outstanding: “A direct line of communication is very enlightening.”
This post was origanlly published on June 28, 2010 in the Lexington Herald Leader.
I had an opportunity to speak informally with Michael Willner where he shared his insights into blogging for business. Below is my full interview with Michael:

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