To blog or not to blog

Written by Rebecca Gardiner

Fraser Beach, a real estate broker in the Toronto suburb of Ajax, is lamenting the overbuilding of condos in the market. “To an optimist, Toronto’s glass is half-full; but when it comes to condos, the city seems more than half-full,” he writes in an article on his popular blog, Toronto at Home. (Blogs, short for “web logs,” are an informal diary or forum on a website.) Beach’s blog is the only marketing tool he uses for his company, Select Plan Real Estate. He spends one to three hours per day writing articles on real estate, keeping his blog ( at the top of listings in search engines, which reward frequent updates.

This huge time commitment pays off: even though Beach doesn’t promote his blog, he says it draws from 1,500 to 3,000 visits per day from people searching, say, for “real estate” plus “Toronto” or specific topics that match its articles. The blog yields at least three good sales leads per month.

“I’ve never been the kind of real estate broker who goes out and bugs people,” says Beach. “I’ve always done things that bring people to me, and this is an effective way to do that. I find the blog way more effective than putting flyers on people’s doors or sending out advertising through the mail.”

Beach is among a growing number of entrepreneurs using blogs for business. Besides marketing, they can be a cost-effective tool for internal communications — just the kind of thing underfunded, growing companies love to put to use. But, depending on their application, blogs can be less technology than art form, which can spell trouble for eager but not particularly eloquent authors. Furthermore, writing impactful blog entries takes longer than many expect. When no one can commit the time or energy to keep a blog fresh and compelling, it will run out of gas — and readers.

One early and satisfied adopter of blogging is Sportexe International Inc., a Fonthill, Ont.-based maker of synthetic turf and other artificial playing surfaces. “It’s almost become the daily paper in the world of Sportexe,” says president Mark Nicholls. “If we’re attending a trade show today, or bidding Notre Dame tomorrow, or so-and-so just got promoted, it goes in the blog. Employees log in every morning to find out what’s going on in our world and keep themselves up to speed. It’s the most useful communication tool we have.”

Sportexe’s password-protected blog differs from traditional blogs because any employee can post to it, it’s a repository of downloadable documents such as letterhead and manuals, and employees see it every day because it pops up as soon as they access the Net. Matt Smith, a Sportexe electronic communications specialist who created the blog and posts documents on it, says it has made a big difference in communicating with staff in Ontario, Texas, Georgia and Argentina, and with crews on the road: “Before we had the blog, we would put documents on disks and circulate them that way. But because we are growing so rapidly, it was tough to keep track of what we were sending out. With the blog, it’s a lot easier. It takes out that middle step of having to send people things.”

Popular blog software packages include TypePad, Blogger, Xanga, Moveable Type and LiveJournal. You can download many for free in return for displaying their ads on your blog, although most companies spend $4 to $20 per month for an ad-free service. But before you do that, think hard about whether you have the right person to write your blog. Companies need to understand that a blog works best as a personal journal, says Jim Elves, founder of Jelve Design, a Web design company in Waterford, Ont., and creator of BlogsCanada, a directory of Canadian blogs. “Someone reading a blog is expecting something honest, not PR hype,” he says. “A good business blog is going to give someone something to read so they feel they are getting insider information. You’re not necessarily divulging company secrets, but maybe you’re giving a look into the inner workings of the business.”

Elves says the most common failing of business blogs is that traffic tails off because the sites aren’t updated frequently — really frequently: “People don’t realize how much work goes into a blog. By its nature, a blog is dynamic and has to be updated at least four or five times a week.” Unless you have a talented writer with at least an hour a day to spend on a blog, this is one bandwagon you’d better not hop on.

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