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Blogging for Business

By Christian Caswell and Paul Cardis

The Internet has made it possible for anyone and everyone to publish information quickly and cheaply, and one of the fastest growing areas of on-line publishing is blogs. If you regularly use the Internet to get information, chances are you have already bookmarked or subscribed to a few of your favourite blogs.
Increasingly, businesses have been blogging as a way to stay connected with both existing and prospective customers, so it's no surprise that some home builders have embraced blogging as a way to bolster their relationships with home buyers.
Monte Hewett Homes in Atlanta, Georgia, uses its blog (blogs.montehewetthomes.com) to highlight company news, showcase the builder's expertise, offer homeowner tips, and draw prospective home buyers to the main Web site. The blog became so popular that, in July, the builder had to move it to a server that could better handle the increased traffic.
Short for "Web log", a blog typically consists of journal entries in reverse chronological order, with many entries containing links to other Web sites. Most blogs allow readers to post comments, making them a great way to "dialogue" with readers. Blog services (such as TypePad.com, Blogger.com and WordPress.com) are available for free or little money, making it possible to launch a blog with no Web programming skills.
Blogging not only makes it easy to show home buyers the personal side of your corporate culture, but it is also a useful way to:
•     Create a sense of community. For example, Schiavi Home Builders in Oxford, Maine, has a blog that covers a variety of topics of interest to homeowners. Recent posts address how to build a bat house, green building, and creative ways to incorporate an office into your home. Without being overly promotional, the blog offers helpful tips and engaging content that generate a real community vibe.
•    Find potential employees and business partners. If you're looking to attract some great talent, a blog extends your reach beyond your local region.
•     Develop your value proposition. Let's say you have a passion for green building, which is the unique value you offer home buyers. A blog is an ideal way to communicate your building philosophy and to attract home buyers with similar interests. Plus, bloggers often link to each other, making it a great form of viral marketing.
•    Keep customers informed. A blog is an easy and efficient way to keep home buyers abreast of seasonal maintenance needs, building schedules, social functions and community events, says Carol Flammer, who manages TopBuilderBlogs.com, a blog designed to help builders develop blogs.
•     Strengthen your brand. By using a blog, you can optimize search engine results, thereby driving more traffic to your site. There is potential to develop stronger relationships and brand loyalty with your customers as they interact with your organization. Plus, bloggers often link to each other, making it a great form of viral marketing.
•     Increase referral business. How many families moved out of their region to a new province this past year? Many of them may not have been fortunate enough to have friends or family members in the area to make home builder recommendations. In those situations, a blog that includes testimonials and home buyer experiences can be an invaluable source of information for new home buyers. Along those lines, imagine the impact of creating a site that appeals to a specific culture. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 236,758  permanent residents came to Canada in 2007. Because immigration continues to be a main driver of Canada's population growth, home builders need to appeal to an increasing number of cultures and ethnic groups. Blogging offers a relatively simple and personal way to reach a diverse population.
Although there are many benefits to using a blog, it can also cause some unexpected problems if it's not administered properly.  If the blog is not set up and monitored correctly, an unhappy customer can share his or her dissatisfaction and, in minutes, influence potential buyers on a national level. That's why Flammers recommends that builders use an Internet marketing company to build their blog and make sure it is properly optimized. "The sites should be moderated to ensure that posts adhere to the builder's brand and that harmful comments and spam are flagged and not posted," she says.
Though blogs are easy to start, they can be difficult to maintain if you don't have the writing skills and time to keep them updated regularly. Indeed, poor writing and an outdated blog are more likely to harm your brand than help it. But if you can master the relatively new art of blogging, you could enjoy greater brand awareness, customer delight, home buyer loyalty, and referrals.


Paul Cardis is Founder/CEO and Christian Caswell is General Manager of Canadian Operations for AVID Ratings, a leading provider of customer delight research for the North American homebuilding industry.

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