Michelle Rodger: Building a following can be as simple as rolling off a blog

HAVE you dipped your toe into the murky social media waters yet? Do you have a digital strategy? Have you blogged? If not, get those shoes and socks off asap.

There are more than 126 million blogs worldwide, a number growing each day. Why? Because blogging for business brings benefits and opportunities galore.

A good business blog can boost your search rankings, the holy grail of a Google No 1 rank, but more importantly it allows you to personalise your business, it gives a face to the people behind the logo or brand, and it gives those businesses who grasp it a competitive advantage, the opportunity to demonstrate a USP, knowledge or expertise without the costs of traditional advertising and PR.

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Producing a business blog gives companies the chance to be their own media. And from a crisis management perspective, you can correct negative or false information instantly, apologise quickly and start to repair any damage to your brand.

But where to start? There are sites all over the web telling you the best way to do it. There are links on Twitter to blogs that claim to teach you how to write blogs, how to drive traffic, how to generate comments on your blog and encourage conversations and debate.

The first thing to do is the same thing you would do offline; establish your goals. What do you want to achieve from being online? Once you know what you want, then you need to work out the best way to do it.

According to social media experts, the most important thing to consider when planning a blog is that, unlike most web pages, which remain static, a blog needs regular fresh content. According to Craig McGill, founder of Contently Managed, a blog isn't like Kevin Costner's Field Of Dreams where you build it and people come. You build it and you need to keep working on it.

There are clear business benefits to writing a blog. US wine entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk increased turnover in his family business from $4million to $50m simply by producing a video blog about wine. And he was just communicating, not selling.

The ultimate return is sales. Anyone who says otherwise, says McGill, is a digital media chancer. "You don't get the sale right away, think of it like a date. The first thing you'll get from people is their time – and if they're on your blog then they aren't on your competitor's blog – and that leads to engagement as they enjoy learning more about you/your company. Then, at some point, if the price and product is right for them, they will commit to a sale.

"And if the price and product aren't right, then they'll also tell you that and hey, free marketing feedback for your products."

There are a number of Scots businesses reaping the rewards from blogging. McGill points to BrewDog, which started with a blogger engagement scheme sending boxes of beer out across the globe to the top beer bloggers. The bloggers wrote about it, people ordered beer online – at a time when no-one locally was buying – and three years later BrewDog is a global success story with multi-million pound turnover and expansion plans.

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Whyte & Mackay master blender Richard Paterson uses his blog to raise awareness of whisky, but also to promote sales discounts and availability of new products.

Entrepreneur Richard McKay says the social media strategy for his flooring company, including blogging, has helped grow his business by 15 per cent despite the credit crunch.

When he launched his blog he thought it was a good opportunity to relay news of prestigious contracts they had worked on and highlight products and services offered by McKay Flooring. But he soon realised the value of creating content.

"The goal is to become the authority reference in your field by offering helpful information to your customers. If this is done properly the traffic will flow naturally," says McKay, who has more than 29,000 Twitter followers. "Companies need to leverage every marketing channel available. Using your blog as your main content repository and utilising other social media outposts such as Facebook, Twitter and Posterous to help further spread your company message means more eyeballs and more interaction with your customers."

To put it simply, writing a compelling blog is all about content; make every word count. Make it true, honest and deliver on your promises.

Your blog should be relevant, accurate and honest. It should also be compelling and ooze passion for your business. Check spelling and grammar (many people will turn off if you don't) and don't use abbreviations and acronyms that the reader – who may not be a customer – might not understand.

So start now. It's still early days but if you're not fast you're last. Scottish businesses are traditionally slow on the tech uptake but this is an area that can deliver real competitive advantage.

Jill MacRae of Blether Media says the interest is there. Its training days are consistently sold out revealing a tremendous appetite for social media.

"Scotland might lag behind the US," she says, "but social media marketing levels the playing field for Scottish businesses and presents a massive opportunity businesses are now grasping."