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Online product displays are fine; but how are you really making a connection?

“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere.-- Lee Iacocca

When I visit the websites of many of my Bay Area clients, I often find broad product offerings and detailed product specifications, accompanied by routine background and contact information ... but rarely do I find a blog with which the company communicates with its customers.

Social media has exploded

The world of social media has blown the doors off traditional means of communicating with customers and employees. YouTube is now receiving more than one hour of recorded video for each minute on the clock – with over 2 billion page views – and it just celebrated only its fifth anniversary. In just over six years, Facebook has garnered more than 400 million subscribers and continues to grow.

With powerful social media tools like these, as well as LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Digg, del.icio.us, Buzz, etc., most middle-market companies are overwhelmed by the choices. But most of them are not moving fast enough because – be dead sure of this – these tools, advancing at an increasingly faster pace every day, are here to stay and flourish. If you're not part of that conversation, you'll eventually be out of the picture altogether.

Start your blog now

So, what about blogging? What so many companies are missing is a simple blog, an ongoing communication stream between them, their customers and the general public that allows the company to provide new information for their customers on a regular basis. The blog is primarily an online journal, with each “post” displayed in reverse chronological order, which allows anyone to publish written, audio and video material on a 24/7/365 basis on any subject. There are increasingly sophisticated tools to simultaneously broadcast each post beyond the casual website visitor, using RSS feeds and e-mail subscriptions as well as other "push" technologies to share these posts using Facebook fan pages, Twitter and many other social media communities.

Why blog has been overlooked

The blog has been around for years, mine is almost 3 years old, and there are millions of them. So, why is the blog so often neglected? In most cases, it’s because it requires you to continually create meaningful content – all the time – so, yes, it takes time, energy and commitment. Without a blog, however, you're missing the opportunities offered by social media communities to create and sustain a conversation with your customers, which is the real bedrock of your value proposition.

Let's take a furniture store. Sure, it can illustrate its products in pleasant surroundings online, showing various combinations of styles and colors in multiple room displays. It can show the same beautiful fabrics and furnishings, with the same rich color and detail you could see in the showroom. But if it doesn’t have a blog, it’s really just an Internet billboard without the communication portal that could make it so much more.

Think of all the things our furniture store could freely share with its customers to establish that relationship – everything from tips about cleaning leather and upholstery to leveling a table, polishing an antique armoire or restoring that old cabinet in your garage. We could explain different types of fabric and how they're best used, educate our customers about the cost/benefit of different window treatments or how to help a child set up their new room at college. The list is only exhausted by the limits of our imagination.

Engage your team for a blog

You get the point. Sharing a potpourri of tips, techniques and savings establishes you as a trusted resource for your customers and establishes a pattern of regular, 2-way communication that invites customers to ask questions, offer comments and sustain that ongoing conversation. It also dramatically enhances the likelihood that they'll turn to you when it's time to do some furniture shopping.

You don't need to do it all yourself either. Identify key resources in your organization to regularly contribute to the blog, e.g., maintenance experts who can contribute repair and installation tips and techniques, decorators to share ideas about how to mix different styles in a room, sales associates to suggest particular ways to re-style a room or reshape a closet for the New Year. You could even contribute recipes for a graduation or house-warming party.

Make it fun and lively and do everything you can to enrich and expand that trusted relationship. Engage your entire staff to contribute to this communication stream with your customers and build that lasting relationship from which all sales ultimately spring.

KBO.

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Lary Kirchenbauer is the president of Exkalibur Advisors Inc., providing practical business strategies for family and other privately owned businesses in the middle market. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their businesses at the intersection of leadership, finance and business strategy, and uses the Business Ferret framework to help companies use strategic finance to drive improved business performance. Lary also hosts the Exkalibur Leadership Forum for leaders of middle market companies in the North Bay. Please visit www.exkalibur.com for a library of valuable resources, articles and insights or join the Exkalibur fan page on Facebook.