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What do you think of when you hear someone mention blogging? Perhaps you imagine a journalist writing about today's events; or an activist offering opinions about an emerging situation; or maybe you think bloggers are mostly teenagers just mouthing off.

While all of the above can be interesting blogs, more and more business executives are turning to blogs as a vehicle for communicating with their customers and partners. The informal, conversational nature of blogs makes them ideally suited to spreading information quickly and keeping people up to date.

I won't go into all the ways a blog can benefit your customers. There is plenty of guidance available on the Web and plenty of good blogs to study. Instead, I'll tell you about the software tools you need and show you how easy it is to get started.

Blogging requires specialized software that makes the whole process simple and fast. Think of blogging software as a tightly-focused, content management system. The content consists of the individual blog entries. These entries may contain anything from simple text, to photographs, and even video.

The software provides a framework for creating and managing blog entries (referred to as posts). Built-in templates provide a consistent look and feel. These templates can be customized to match your corporate look and style.

The software makes it easy to categorize and archive blog posts so they can be quickly referenced by future posts and found by your readers. While personal opinion blogs get stale quickly, a good corporate blog can become a resource containing a wealth of useful information.

Some blogs allow community participation whereby readers can comment and ask questions. This is not essential to a good blog but can enhance the end result. Unfortunately, allowing reader comments may result in inappropriate language or spam with no relevance to the blog. Blogging software can filter out these comments and even block such readers from entering comments in the future.

Blogging can be done via a hosted service or by installing the appropriate software on your web server. A hosted service stores all the software you need and every blog entry on their systems. Two of the best known hosted blog sites are Typepad and Blogger. Both provide excellent tools and are widely used.

Hosting a blog on your corporate website gives you more control at the expense of added complexity. Two widely used blogging tools to consider are the commercial package, MovableType, and the open-source package, WordPress. Both applications run on any operating system that supports the MySQL database along with Perl and/or PHP. Windows, Linux and OS X readily meet these requirements.

There are many features and functions available in blogging software but we need to focus on those that are useful for business blogs. Here's a shortlist of capabilities you should consider:

Categories and subcategories: Over time, you will build up a large number of posts. The ability to group them will make it easier for readers to find information addressing their needs.

Moblogging: Mobile blogging is the ability to send an email message to your blog and have it posted automatically - very handy when traveling.

Post scheduling: The ability to write a blog entry and have it posted at a future time is another useful feature when you will be traveling or unavailable.

Keyword searching: Search capability makes it easier for readers to find content that meets their needs.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication): RSS provides a quick and simple way for readers to get the headlines for new posts and click through those of interest to read the entire post.

Localization: If you conduct business in multiple languages, localization is essential.

Database storage: Some blogging tools use flat files (i.e. simple text files) to store blogs. If you're serious about blogging, you'll need a database.

Comment spam filtering: If you allow reader comments, you need to block spammers who will make comments merely to direct readers to their own websites.

Blacklists: Once you identify people that post spam or inappropriate comments, you can prevent them from posting in the future.

Captchas (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart): A captcha is an image containing distorted letters and/or numbers that must be typed correctly to gain access to a system. This prevents robot crawlers from spamming your blog.

There are many other blogging capabilities to consider. Be sure to understand the goals for your blog. Do you want to attract new buyers, sell more to current buyers, establish thought leadership, build a community, increase awareness, or something else?

To make your blog valuable to both your readers and your company, you must do two things. First, provide plenty of links to useful background information and other resources. Don't try to include every detail in your blog. Refer readers who want to drill into the topic to other sources.

Second, make liberal use of keywords in your posts. Search engines like blogs because they provide plenty of fresh content. Know the search terms your potential customers will use and sprinkle them in your posts.

And don't forget to examine the blogs of your competitors. They'll be looking at yours.

Vin D'Amico is Founder and President of DAMICON, your ADJUNCT CIO™. He is an expert in IT Business Continuity Planning, Network Security Policies, and Freelance Writing focused on white papers, case studies, and handbooks. DAMICON services firms worldwide.

This article appeared in Vin's monthly Virtual Business column for the IndUS Business Journal in October 2006.

To learn more about how DAMICON can help your business, please take a look at our service programs.

Virtual Business

Virtual Business

This column appears monthly in the IndUS Business Journal.