Blogs aren't just for writers; they're for anyone with a product or service to market. You can use your blog to drive people to your eBay listings or Store, communicate with your customers and build a community of readers/buyers. You've heard this all before? Wait, there's more.
Now it's time to tell you how to create a blog that actually does what we've described. As writers of books, and not blogs, we knew we had to talk to the experts about this. So we went to two of the best sources we could think of. For this article we went to one of the leading voices in the social-Web space, Tamar Weinberg, who shares her wisdom for creating blogs that work.
Weinberg is the author of The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web, widely considered the most authoritative book on the subject of using social media for business purposes.
She also works for Mashable, an online guide to social media, and one of the most popular blogs of any type. She has her own hugely popular blog and more than 14,000 followers on Twitter.
In between writing books and blogging, Weinberg consults with businesses looking to use social media to effectively reach customers. According to her site, she charges $200 per half-hour for phone consultations. She's so in-demand, that even in this economy she's not taking on new clients at the moment. But you get the benefit of her wisdom for free, just because you were smart enough to read this article.
We've written articles for Auctiva about social media before—see, for example, "Web 2.0 for e-Merchants", and "That Tweet Smell of Success"—and advised you that when it comes to social media marketing, "It all begins with the blog." Weinberg agrees, and she thinks a blog is a great way to really build your Web presence.
"You'll get a lot more visitors to your Web site a lot quicker with a blog," versus having a static site that isn't updating, she notes. You will have scores of opportunities to use your blog as a "home base" for your prospective followers and people in your community.
What makes a good business blog? Three things stand out, Weinberg says:
Find the stories that surround your products and blog about them
1. Excellent content
You want to add value and provide content people want to see. We don't have to tell you that with millions of other blogs, Web sites, Facebook pages and Twitter updates beckoning, your blog should capture your readers' attention and provide a payoff for their time investment. Weinberg spoke fervently about the need for your blog and your posts to be a passion for you. If you feel passionate about your topic, it can't help but show in your writing. If it's forced, it's more difficult to blog and that will show, too.
As an eBay seller, you can blog about the things you sell, especially if you focus pretty much on one category. So if you're selling boxing memorabilia, you can post about the big fight that's been building in the press for months. But you don't have to limit yourself to these kinds of niche posts, sticking to posts about the products you have for sale. Broaden it. What have been the experiences of customers who have bought things from you?
"Find the stories that surround your products and blog about them," Weinberg suggests. Or, if your product is reviewed somewhere, get in touch with the reviewer and expand upon that review.
2. Frequent updates
We know you're busy, but this is important. You must blog consistently, providing regular blog posts. Blogging every day may not be feasible, but at least try to post new content several times a week. If you will not be blogging for a few days or more, be sure to let your readers know you'll be taking time off—and that you're not abandoning them.
"Don't just sign off for the night after writing," Weinberg advises. "Blogs are a mini-community. You are marketing yourself. People found my blog because I found other blogs of interest to me and I started commenting."
This doesn't mean you should only comment on blogs similar to your own. It's OK to go outside your comfort zone and look beyond just what you are doing. In her book, Weinberg mentions the following blog directories that you can use to find other blogs for inspiration and commenting opportunities: Best of the Web, DMOZ, Technorati, MyBlogLog and BlogCatalog.
When you post comments on other blogs, please be sure you're adding value and not merely using your comment as an opportunity to promote your own blog, eBay Store, etc. To us, that's a turnoff to other readers that can actually work against you. Weinberg agrees.
There are networks of communities that exist for anyone. Beyond blogging, you want to be networking
"Promote information of value to the audience," she says. "No one likes the arrogant guy who sits at the front of the table and doesn't stop talking about himself."
Blog communities are not distinct from the real world, and the rules can't be bent online. For more on social media etiquette, see Weinberg's posting.
Nuts and bolts
Blogging platforms are beyond the scope of this article but suffice it to say that WordPress is highly recommended. Weinberg wants you to be aware of the distinction between the hosted version of WordPress (which you use through WordPress' own site) and the unhosted version, which you must download and then run through your own Web host. Don't have your own domain yet? There are plenty of companies from which you can buy one. Try GoDaddy, Netcheap or even Auctiva.
If you use the free hosted version of WordPress, you don't have the same flexibility to customize your blog as with the unhosted version. However, you can be up and running in minutes, which admittedly is a big advantage. For more details on the unhosted version go to www.wordpress.org. Hosted version details are available at wordpress.com.
But let's get back to the reality for eBay businesses. They're often one- or two-person operations. Between sourcing products, listing, packing and shipping, and customer service, there sometimes isn't enough time for sleeping and eating, let alone blogging.
Yet, once you create your blog, making sure it's discovered is crucial. Here's a shortcut: Use Twitter and build relationships there. When you've written a blog entry, tweet a link to it. All this doesn't have to take much time. "Five minutes here and there," may be all you need, Weinberg says. And don't forget there are networks of communities that exist for anyone. Start to get to know these communities. Beyond blogging, you want to be networking.
In Part 2 of this series, we talk with Skip McGrath, eBay seller, author, speaker and blogger. McGrath not only has some great suggestions about how eBay sellers can use blogs to boost sales of their products, he describes how your blog itself can make money for you. It doesn't get any better than that!