The business of blogging


17 May 2007

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Irish companies are behind their counterparts elsewhere in the world when it comes to using blogs and podcasts to drum up business. Can they catch up?

Kieran Murphy (pictured), director of Murphy’s Ice Cream, started out with little more than a small ice cream shop in Dingle and a passion for food.

When his second shop opened for business in Killarney and the products started selling in Dublin, he was concerned the expansion would mean the end for what made his small business so profitable – the personal touch.

“When we had the single shop we knew everybody who came in. One of the main catalysts for blogging was really about trying to connect with customers.”

Just over a year after setting up its Ice Cream Ireland blog, Murphy’s Ice Cream has done more than just connect with customers. A recipe idea that Murphy said he just threw into his blog has ended up creating a whole new market for a range of hot chocolate drinks.

“That recipe has changed entirely the category of hot chocolates in our shop, in other words we’ve managed to raise our average sale by more than a euro, and people can come into our shop and say they’ve never had anything like that before.”

The benefits of keeping a blog for your business don’t always translate directly into cash, but are more aligned with building a customer base, and creating better brand visibility.

Murphy says, “If you look at the whole purpose of marketing for a company, one part of it would be to get people to buy, the other is just to build the brand.

“In terms of a brand-building exercise blogging is about as good as it gets.”

Murphy points out that if a business decides to start a blog, it has to be prepared to offer the readers something of value.

In the case of Murphy’s Ice Cream, the value is in the regular supply of inventive recipes, which may turn the blog into more profit.

“I’d like to have a Murphy’s Ice Cream book come out of this, collecting articles from the blog.

“I’m in love with the idea of going between different media. It’s all shifting, it’s all part of the same thing now.”

Barry Chandler, managing director of Barkeeper.ie, set up his blog, The Snug, because he didn’t like the fact that communication on the main site was all one way.

“We were putting up features on the website but we weren’t getting any information back. The Snug is a good way to interact with the subscribers more, where they can give us valuable feedback.”

As a resource for the service industry, Barkeeper.ie uses its blog as a yardstick for hot topics among subscribers and visitors.

“We put up a feature about how we felt that the Irish market had taken to the smoking ban and we had quite a lot of heated debate from both Irish and English contributors questioning us and each other.

“It got a good debate going and gave us an idea of some of the main issues our subscribers considered most important to them.”

There’s no doubt that an online presence benefits the small- and medium-sized business, but those that already have a website may not see the value in setting up another time-consuming online portal.

Chandler begs to differ. The Snug has considerably increased traffic to the main site, due to how search-engine-friendly blogs and their content are. Chances are Google will return a blog entry before it turns up a website.

If blogs are a key way to keep in touch with your customers, then podcasting is the way forward for businesses looking to connect with their employees.

Brian Greene, podcasting, blogging and social media consultant with TalkingVoices.com, a company that produces podcasts, describes this new channel as radio for mobile devices.

Clients of TalkingVoices, which include Rabobank, the Irish Internet Association (IIA), Enterprise Ireland and the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICA), have been using sound to their business advantage.

“It’s an avenue you can logically apply to businesses; a lot of what businesses will do is internal communications with podcasting.”

Once every two months the ICA holds a breakfast meeting in a hotel in Dublin where members listen to a business leader talking about a topic on accounting. Although only around 70 people attend, all 700 members have the opportunity to listen to it on the official podcast.

“The value to the association is that they can make that sound travel much further than the PA system in the hotel, so they can apply value back into their membership.

“There are huge opportunities for associations and membership organisations to use podcasting from the podium to bring that sound further.”

Greene also points to the advantages of podcasting to the lifecycle of corporate sponsorship. The IIA held a daylong event last year that was sponsored by Microsoft.

There was 10 hours’ worth of podcasting from this event, which Greene says is still getting listeners to this day. Sponsors are still getting value, long after the event is over.

“Sound is sexy again and is now worth recording. Podium talks by business leaders are now interesting to record, not just to amplify to the 60 or 70 people within the organisation.

“There’s an inbox for email and there’s an inbox for paper, but sound comes into a company and leaves a company yet doesn’t get recorded anywhere.”

Greene says the best advice he can offer for a business or organisation thinking about podcasting is to “Don’t script it – keep it real and speak from the heart.

“If you’re going to pick up a microphone and engage employees, clients, customers and the world at large, speak passionately about your product, service and yourself.

“Don’t try to sound like Pat Kenny or Gay Byrne,” he deadpans.

Case study: Babble for bubbles

Julian Alubaidy, customer and supplier services manager with Bubble Brothers, an online wine merchant with shops in Cork, started his blog on advice from a friend.

Although he says he never intended the blog to drive sales and just wanted to have a go to see what would come of it, it ended up becoming a valuable business resource.

“For us it’s extremely useful because it’s an archive of what we’ve been doing. If you try to make time to catalogue all your ideas you’d never do it but the blog ends up being a useful resource for what we were thinking and what interested us. And it will obviously become more valuable as time goes on.”

Alubaidy’s blog is a lively mix of wine-related news, marketing and events with a quirky sense of humour and an educated palate.

The Bubble Brother’s blog encourages contributions and comments from both customers and suppliers, and Alubaidy likes the potential of anonymous blog comments to give people new to wine the courage to come out and ask questions.

“There is so much mystique about wine anyway. People can be very timid about saying things to you.”

He says of the evolution of the internet from the static website to the form of blogging, “The online world is crawling on its hands and knees towards the civilization we had before the industrial revolution.

“In terms of the online world as a paradigm of the real world, given the nature of our business, which is small, I wanted to attempt to provide via the computer some of the human qualities that we have in the shop, what we consider is an important part of what stops people from going to the supermarkets instead.”

By Marie Boran

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