Essential Tools of the New Web: Blogs, Part I
This is the fourth installment in my “Essential Tools” series, which has so far covered Web video, Facebook, and Twitter. I’ve decided that I will do at least two articles on blogs because I think they are such an important tool.
When I speak to audiences about social media, I tend to put a great deal of emphasis on the role that “content” now plays in customer and member relationships. One of my favorite tools for delivering content is a blog, and one of my favorite examples of a successful blog is the Rapid E-learning Blog (http://www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/) published by Articulate, maker of a very popular online course authoring tool that integrates with PowerPoint.
Here’s the story:
Two years ago, as a company already very active in the e-learning market, Articulate knew that there was a rapidly growing group of people interested in cheaper, faster ways to create online training. That’s what its flagship software, Articulate Presenter was all about, and sales of Presenter were growing by leaps and bounds.
But there was a problem.
Everyone has experienced bad PowerPoint presentations as part of a training or education experience. Indeed, bad tends to be more the rule than the exception. Enabling people to create online training fast and easily with PowerPoint meant potentially enabling a lot of bad online training – and that didn’t bode well for the company over the long haul.
The solution? The Rapid E-learning Blog.
To understand why this turned out to be the solution – and a very good one at that – it’s important to first have an understanding of what a blog is and what it can do.
In simplest terms, a blog is nothing more than a Web publishing platform that enables you to author Web pages using a standard browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox. A site powered by blog software can be made to look like pretty much any other site – in fact, my Web site at jtcobb.wpengine.com – is powered entirely by the WordPress blogging platform.
But there are at least three big differences between blogs and traditional Web publishing software.
First, blogging software is incredibly easy to use. Someone without much technical ability at all can create and publish a page with text, graphics, and even some video or audio within a matter of minutes.
Second – and this is a really big one – blogs take advantage of “really simple syndication,” or RSS, to make it possible for people all over the Web to subscribe to your content and receive updates as soon as you publish something new. (If you want to know more about RSS, see Commoncraft’s short, entertaining “RSS in Plain English” video.)
Finally, blogs make it easy for people to comment on – and add to – your content.
I won’t go into details, but it should be noted that all of the above factors contribute to search engines smiling upon blogs, greatly increasing the chances that you will actually be found on the Web.
So how does all of this relate to Articulate’s business need?
Articulate’s audience is made up of people who work day in and day out on online course projects and who are eager to learn how to create high quality e-learning faster and cheaper. For this audience, a steady stream of how-tos, case studies, and best practices is incredibly valuable. Blogging software enables:
– a way for for Articulate to rapidly and easily publish new content for its audience
– a way for its customers and prospects to easily receive the content by e-mail or with an RSS reader – or by simply visiting the site
– a way for audience members to ask questions or contribute their own tips and experiences
Rapid E-learning blog subscriptions shot to nearly 7000 within days of its launch, and they are now up to 40,000. That’s right – 40,000 people who have actually asked to hear from Articulate on a regular basis.
And that’s just the number of people who have subscribed – it doesn’t include the thousands more who visit the site but do not subscribe.
Now, I encourage you to step back for a minute and think about your own customer or member base (including prospective customers and members!).
Can you think of ways in which providing them with a continuing stream of informative, educational content related to a particular topic, set of topics, or event would be valuable? If you can’t, I’ll wager you aren’t thinking hard enough.
While a blog is certainly not the only tool that can support engaging your stakeholder base in this way it is, in my opinion, one of the best ones for reasons articulated above. If you have not yet considered blogging as a component of your Web strategy, I’d encourage you to start giving it some serious thought as soon as possible.
See the High Value Clicks section below for some other resources related to blogs. If you are already under way with a blog, I encourage you to take a look at my three-part series “Marketing and Growing Your Blog” which, of course, is posted on my blog.