(Picture Credit : Maria Reyes-McDavis)

So you want to start a blog? Or someone said you should so your considering it. Blogs for business are an outstanding tool for business, they can build community, be the backbone of your social media program, and drive traffic to your website, just for starters. But where do you start? Well, its an often overlooked question. Its so easy to think that because their are millions of blogs (and if you check out Technorati you’ll see that I am write right.) While we’re on the topic of Technorati, before you start following any of my 5 handy suggestions, you should check out Technorati and see what others are writing on the topics you plan to cover. You’ll probably get both inspiration and that sick feeling in your stomach that there is a lot of junk out there. Welcome to blogging, the place where you try to suck less.

But the business of blogging is just that, a business. You want to give careful consideration to your goals and efforts. Here are 5 tips for businesses thinking of blogging.

1. Define your goal.

There I said it. I know, so many of you hate me for always hounding on this, but if you don’t set your goal, how will you know if its working?  Blogging is at once a task master and a generous soul, so tap into the generous part before you get to know the task master. Determine what the benefits to blogging will be. Are you trying to create community? Are you hoping to help along your SEO efforts? Define it. Then live it. Then measure it.You can use Google Analytics, PostRank or even (GASP!) your own set of metrics. By the way, “sucking less” is not a measurable metric, get your own.   As the famous Greek philosopher, Nike once said, “Just Do It”.

2. Why should your customers care?

Don’t make me gag by posting press release after press release on your blog. NOW HEAR THIS: No one wants to read your overly edited, specifically written to attract media attention, 1 page maximum dribble. Press releases are for journalists, blogs are for people.  What people expect from a blog is the ability to get to know the insides of a company, to hear a single voice, to get information or insight that they wouldn’t normally get. Give them what they want: Education. Entertainment. Exclusive Insight. Speaking of sucking less, don’t be afraid to take some risks and suck a little. Step out on a limb and you’ll be surprised what you learn. Seriously, the blogosphere is different, you are allowed and even encouraged to experiment and be creative. Just like when you were in Kindergarten.  And, remember, ASK YOUR CUSTOMERS for their insight and participation, people like feeling part of the process. It may take time, but you must continue to invite others to be part of your blog.

3. Commit.

If your going to blog, make a commitment to it, in the best of circumstances, you’ll have an audience and they will miss your blog posts when you skip them. Be disciplined: develop an editorial calendar, leave room for newsy items that your company should be commenting on. Blog regularly 1-3X minimum per week. This is the blogger as task-master part. If you can’t think of what to blog about, get inspiration from the news, industry occurrences, message boards and other communities where your customers are hanging out. Let your talented employees be your bloggers – ask for volunteers to start. Think beyond the marketing team. If your going to be blogging 1-3X or more a week, you have room for a monthly CEO post, a weekly janitor’s post and an interns ramblings. Have fun with it and so will your customers.

4. Speaking of Writers..What IS your company’s voice?

Different writers can have different voices, that’s a fact, but there should be a thread of similarity in them all. Your voice is your tone, your goal, your corporate idiosyncrasies and more all wrapped into one. Spend some time developing your voice and allow your voice to develop.  All your writers so know what their goals are before they start and they should all be writing consistently with that goal. Maybe the janitor regularly posts his great ideas  – and asks readers to vote on them. Maybe the intern gives the inside scoop on how new products make it to the customer.

5. Make each post remarkable and SEO friendly.

Give some thought to each post, don’t just whip one up the night before. Write it. Edit it. Be ruthless. The more time you give yourself to write and edit the better the post will be. Remarkable content isn’t easy to produce and don’t expect every brilliant blog post to go viral, but just because it doesn’t go viral doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be brilliant  And remember, you can (and SHOULD use key words in your blog post) but don’t be a tool and write a blog post for Google, write it for your audience, use real language. Be Akamai about your key words. If your following #3, then you’re probably using your key words regularly enough anyway. I’ve heard stories of companies that stopped thinking of themselves as a “(insert industry here) company” and begun to think of themselves as a content generation company.

Bonus Tip: Use your words and your pictures.

Don’t shy away from pictures or video or even vlogging. Audiences have no shortage of media to consume, pictures and video help tell the story. Plus, let’s face it, it adds character…you know, the character that’s part of your voice (mentioned in #4). And be smart about using pictures, don’t forget to name them appropriately..and with key words. Photos especially are great SEO tools…so allow your photos to be your Google’s Marilyn Monroe, while your writing is the classy Jackie O. Got it? Good.

SO Mr/Ms/Mrs Reader , quit lurking and tell me: What would you add to my list of 5? What have you learned from blogging?