Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

December 02, 2007

Blogging for dollars-Talky Web journals keep customers in the loop
Gazette Staff writer

Chuck Hamsher of the Purple Moon began writing online about his business after finding that a large pool of people were interested in the vintage-design furnishings and art he sells in his downtown Charleston store.

“We have found it to be good business to know about the items we sell and love the items we sell,” he said. “We want our buyers to know about and love the items before they purchase them. The blog is simply an extension of this philosophy.”

Blogs — an online journal — have begun to be part of the business climate in West Virginia. Stores, such as the Purple Moon, have them on their Web sites. Creative firms keep their clients up-to-date about progress in their industry. Lawyers blog about developments in their areas of focus.

About 57 million American adults read blogs, according to a 2006 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Five percent of those blogs are about business, according to the survey.

“Blogging gave the average nontech person the ability to quickly and conveniently create online content, share information and link this information to other resources,” said Bob Coffield, a health care attorney at Flaherty, Sensabaugh & Bonasso. “Business and public-relations groups picked up on the value of the personal blogs, and we are now seeing the maturing of blogs as a business communication tool.”

Coffield started his health-care law blog in July 2004. It’s part professional, part personal, he said.
“I don’t exclusively post about health-law issues,” he said. “I throw in posts on health policy, West Virginia news and a variety of other issues that interest me.”

As a native West Virginian, it’s important to show positive things happening in the state, he said.
At the A Better West Virginia blog, Jason Keeling hopes to be doing the same thing.

“As a state native, it’s personally rewarding to facilitate constructive dialogue regarding West Virginia,” he said. “A Better West Virginia is a way of thinking.”

Keeling launched his blog on West Virginia Day in 2007. While he blogs about culture, the economy and government in the state, he also decided to learn about the media so he could help clients from his consulting firm, Keeling Strategic Communications.

Skip Lineberg, co-founder of Maple Creative, said, “My two reasons for blogging are both professionally driven.

“I wanted to learn the technology so that I could offer it to clients. Secondly, I wanted to have a creative outlet at work to write about topics that were interesting to me.”

Maple Creative’s blog first launched in March 2004. It’s a team blog, which means that many Maple employees contribute, he said.

The blog is good for business for a couple of reasons, he said.

It provides a creative outlet for a creative company, he said.

“The blog helps us to write more. The more we write, the more we sharpen our writing skills and clarify our thinking ... it gives clients a look inside our brains,” he said.

It also drives people to Maple’s Web site, he said. The blog is responsible for 89 percent of the site’s traffic, he said. In a typical month, the blog gets 90,000 hits, he said.

In the past year, there have been at least three inquiries from prospective customers and dozens of media inquiries because of the blog, he said.

The blog has also won several awards, including being named one of the top 100 business blogs by John Crickett, who publishes the Business Opportunity and Ideas blog. This 2007 award was based on credibility rankings and traffic, not a popularity vote, he said.

Coffield said his blogging has affected his business in a way that he didn’t expect.

“It serves in some capacity as an online filing cabinet for information and thoughts that used to reside in my office desk drawers,” he said. “The information not only becomes available for me to search for in the future but to anyone else searching for similar information.”

At the Purple Moon blog, linking to other blogs and Web sites drives people to read about what they are selling, Hamsher said.

He calls it “viral marketing.” For example, a competing eBay seller added a link to the Purple Moon blog for information about an item.

Blog readers came to the Purple Moon site because of the link, he said.

While many businesses developed blogs for current employees, Justin Seibert of Direct Online Marketing in Wheeling actually hired someone for that reason. He blogged for the business, but now Paul Woodhouse, the company’s new media specialist, is a corporate blogger.

Woodhouse started using Google’s blogger in early 2004 after one of his friends, a top United Kingdom political blogger, encouraged him, he said.

He posts two or three times a week on the Direct Online Marketing blog and once or twice a week on The Tinbasher, a blog for his brother-in-law’s sheet metal business in the United Kingdom.

However, there is never enough time, he said.

“I’m always in a quandary about it only taking 15 minutes to post something on a blog,” he said. “Yes, you can always throw something up, but I like to spend a bit more time writing something with a bit of substance.”

For him, the business world’s love or hate of blogs really depends on what kind of atmosphere the company supports, he said.

“Businesses that have always relied on controlling their corporate message obviously hate or misunderstand it,” he said. “Businesses who believe in open communication, trust their customers and genuinely understand transparency obviously love it.”

For businesses, a blog should be more than just an information tool; it should be a dialogue starter, he said.

“I’m a staunch believer in the ‘markets as conversations’ idea and that it’s imperative you join those conversations people are having about the line of business you are in. Imagine a party being held at your house and you being locked out,” he said.

For Hamsher, his blogging is just a natural extension of running a very specific type of business.

“Our business is very specialized and a blog is a wonderful tool for any business trying to reach a very targeted base,” he said. “Blogs are a great tool to use now, but will likely become more important in the future as more people are seeking interactive online experiences where they not only get information but can interact with a person or business.”

While the blog may seem like a newfound business tool, it really just falls back on an old business philosophy, he said.

“Having a blog is not about making a sale. It is about building a relationship. The sales come from the relationships,” he said.

To contact staff writer Sarah K. Winn, call 348-5156.


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