Blog ROI: You can relate10 ways to maximize your blog's ROI: Part 4, building relationships

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So far in this 10-part series, we've seen how blogs can help you give your organization a human voice, gain valuable feedback and create a communications alternative to news releases and advertising. Now we're going to look at how it can help you build relationships with your customers, your public and your team.

Most traditional communications and marketing stresses top-down flows: pushing out a message, and interrupting whatever your audience members would rather be doing to get it through to them. Feedback from your audience typically comes in the form of metrics, impressions, survey results and - if it all works out - the desired response to your call to action.

What's missing is human-to-human connection.

Blogging can help change that. It allows you to open a conversation, find areas of common ground, develop trust - and ultimately build a relationship.

Relationships can be valuable for both parties. They can get you through tough times: a kink in your supply chain, a cash flow crunch or a safety recall (peanuts, anyone?). People - customers, supporters or members of the public - who trust you are willing to give you more leeway, more time to solve problems, more benefit of the doubt. They're more likely to give you honest feedback, pass along valuable suggestions... and take your brand out into the world, and make it their own.

They might even stick with you if your prices are a little higher than the competition's.

And the value doesn't end with external relationships. Building links within your organization is at least as important. Those relationships can break down internal silos, bridge departmental divisions and cultural factions, create organizational resilience and surprise you with innovations and insights.

Blogging helps build those relationships because you're speaking with a real human voice, and because you're listening - the two critical ingredients of a genuine conversation. Here's how to make the most of it:

  • Enter conversations as yourself, not as The Organization. Use your real name and upload an avatar photo. That doesn't mean you pretend to be someone off the street who just so happens to have a passionate interest in Flegmar Steel-Reinforced Cupcakes Inc.; make your affiliation clear, so readers know where you're coming from, and you're starting your relationship off on the right foot.
  • Wear your listening ears. Watch your posts for comments, and monitor the wider social media world with tools like Technorati and Google Blog Search.
  • Open your hailing frequencies. Turn on commenting, and if at all possible, let posts go live before you moderate them. (A spam-fighting tool like Akismet or Mollom can help you loosen those reins.) It's a sign of trust on your part... trust you want your readers to reciprocate.
  • Answer promptly. When people do comment on your posts, reply to them - and not just a generic "Thanks for your thoughts." Engage them the same way you might in conversation: asking for more details, offering your take on what they've said, inviting another reply.
  • Talk about your readers as well as with them. Mention readers by name in subsequent blog posts, and credit them for the ideas they've offered. The same goes for bloggers who've posted about your blog.
  • Take an interest. Ask people questions directly and, if your growing relationship makes it appropriate, start venturing into personal territory: shared interests, concerns and challenges.
  • Knock on their doors. If someone's commenting about you on their blog or social media presence, strike up a conversation with them there. Think of it as dropping by for coffee.
  • Give a little link love. Linking to their posts from your blog is a way of giving them a little profile (plus traffic), as well as paying them a compliment: you think they've posted something worth paying attention to. That can go a surprisingly long way in building your relationship.

You'll know you're building those high-value relationships when:

  • Bloggers and readers begin talking about your organization and brand in the context of their relationship with you.
  • Your conversations are growing in density, with longer exchanges and more repeat visits.
  • More people are talking about you and your organizations, and they're talking about you more often.
  • People you first encounter on the blog develop relationships with you on other sites or - especially with internal blogs - in the workplace.
  • You find yourself posting and hoping particular individuals comment...
  • ...and they do.

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Anne H. says

February 27, 2009 - 7:03am

I work on a really tiny nonprofit, with no marketing budget to speak of, so this is really helpful.  Thank you!

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