This is another in a series of case studies from people I interviewed in 2005 about their blogging efforts. Now as we move to 2013, I find it interesting to look back at the early days of business blogging. I will only include cases from people who are still blogging now. These cases have not appeared on this blog before
When I interviewed Thomas Jones in 2005, he and his wife Dianne operated Vine by Design, a business providing web sites and related services to local wineries and his parents owned one of Oklahoma's first local wineries, Nuyaka Creek Winery. Both businesses are still active. The market niche for promoting Oklahoma wineries was quite small and since most Oklahoma winery owners were family businesses, they didn't have a lot of money to spend on advertising and marketing. Despite the size of the market, these small wineries needed low cost ways to announce festivals, banquets, benefit fundraisers and other wine tasting events to a public audience.
After experiencing a number of frustrations with email lists and the limitations of a traditional web site, they started the Oklahoma Wine News blog with a number of goals.
- Encourage attendance to any and all Oklahoma wine events.
- Create 'one-stop shopping' for Oklahoma area wine lovers and wine tourism..
- Improve knowledge sharing between major players in Oklahoma wine industry.
- Eliminate problems by replacing our email newsletter with an RSS Feed
- Increase the LOCAL traffic to Nuyaka Creek Winery.
Because of previous frustrations with email lists the new solution also had to provide the following features:
- Subscriber controlled, where they could be confident their privacy was not at risk.
- Ability to update it daily, without annoying people with more inbox clutter.
- All of the postings archived online.
- Provision of Headlines as an RSS Feed that anyone could add to their site.
Their new blog was very effective tool in achieving their goals. They received more responses from the blog than they previously got from email newsletters. Now they did not have to worry if their message got through spam filters or if they were being perceived as spammers by the public. The email list was only sent to those who requested it so it operated in the same “pull” manner as the blog so there was no transition from “push” to “pull” marketing to deal with. Here is listing of their key results in 2005.
- Most Oklahoma wineries sent them notifications of new events they were hosting or attending.
- Traffic to their parent's winery website, VineByDesign.com and the Oklahoma Wine News blog was rising steadily. The blog was the number one referral source to the web site and the reverse was also the case. The two media worked together and complimented each other. The web site provided the glitz and the blog provided the details and the dynamic content.
- The search engine results page ranking on the sites were good, considering they spend no money for placement or links from anyone.
- New wineries were contacting them for winery promotion jobs. The number of winery website customers VineByDesign.com handled tripled in the first year of blogging.
- The blog’s RSS News Feed and Atom News Feed made the events they list more easily accessible than ever before and the blog was successful in making their website traffic more regional rather than global. This was important for tourism related sites that depend on local traffic.
Shortly after establishing the blog, they decided to try and make it carry its own costs through advertising and referral sales of books and stuff. That appeared to be going well when we spoke, as it brought in a few hundred dollars per quarter to cover expenses.
Wine tourists are eager to discover good wine and 'The Good Life'. Along the way they expect to find charming restaurants, lodging and a mix of shops and recreational activities. The region may not be all the way there in 2005, but Oklahoma wineries were already stimulating an enticing new alternative economy to grow. In the future, they hoped the Oklahoma Wine News blog would help bring business people together to create a sustainable Oklahoma Wine Country for tourists to enjoy.
Their latest objective was to get some local winery owners posting their events and observations directly rather than contacting me. That was going more slowly when we spoke in 2005 as people would rather send material to Thomas to post than do it themselves.
The two biggest challenges was to come up with daily news to post. Thomas began to realize from his emails and comments that many of his readers were winery owners and vineyard workers. He also noticed he was getting Google traffic from folks interested in learning more about the wine business in general. So he regularly posted links and articles concerning wine industry business practices, legal issues, financing and vineyard management. This helped make daily blogging easier. In addition to increasing the understanding of blogs and RSS feeds, he has contributed to a number of online articles about blogging for business.
Because of the success of the blog for increasing exposure to Oklahoma wineries, their winery website customers provided the best information and saw the cross posting on Oklahoma Wine News as a value added service that they provided. In addition, Thomas got great ideas from a number of good small businesses focused blogs and sometimes they linked to his blog.
Thomas wrote his blog from the perspective that taste is pretty subjective. He did not rank, rate or rant about the quality of one wine as opposed to another. He judged people by meeting them and wines by drinking them. He recommended that policy to others. Tasting most Oklahoma wines requires visiting the wineries that produce them, so Thomas hoped that both critics and consumers of Oklahoma wines will read his blog and then visit the wineries.
Thomas offered the following advice to those starting their own business blog.
- Effective websites have clear goals. Typically, websites seek to: send traffic to a traditional business, capture online product sales, or simply to deliver information quickly and cheaply. Decide what you are trying to do, before you begin.
- Keeping a blog is a simple, inexpensive way to build a community of friends and colleagues. Any business can benefit from that!
- Find multiple authors, so the quest for daily updates doesn't kill you.
- Make certain your small business blog is included in the blog directories. Thomas has listed in as many as he knows about as he feels that the large ones will eventually take over the lists of the smaller and less successful ones.
- Allow...no pray, for comments. It means people read and care about what you write.
- Growth is slow but steady, so start today!
- Use tools like Technorati (http://www.technorati.com) to know who is referring traffic to your blog. Developing a long list of backlinks will go faster, if you pay attention to who links to you and then link back to their sites. Use your link building efforts to develop online alliances that lead to powerful strategic partnerships. There is a reason why almost every community in America has a Chamber of Commerce...they work!
- 40% of Americans dream of starting their own business. This means that a good many of your website's visitors are likely to be seeking information about how they can start a similar business. Old school tactics would have your jealously guard every business insight you come up with. The new way is to share your knowledge freely, then use it to build industry credibility and to draw in more traffic. David Weinberger was an inspiration to Thomas on this issue of openness.
It is great to see the blog continue and I think much of this advice is still quite relevant.