I know many of you have attended far more IIA Congresses than I have. In fact you could probably describe it better than I ever could.
So I thought, “Hey why not share those descriptions with a wider audience?” Tell us in a blog post about your experiences at a previous Congress and link back to this post (so I know about your post and can read it!) We will award a pair of tickets for the two day event to the best blog post on this topic.
Your post can be about benefits you or your company got from attending a previous Congress, interesting/ inspiring people you met at Congress, something funny that happened on the way to, from or at Congress, photographs (with HIlar-i-ous captions of course 🙂 ), video, audio, or video mash-up indeed. Whatever you fancy!
The competition is open until May 13th and the winner will be announced on May 15th.
I also have another competition coming up tomorrow that might be more to your taste so please stay tuned (or better still subscribe to the blog feed.)
Garrendenny Lane Interiors is a home business based in Carlow. Owned and run by Lorna Sixsmith, it offers a new and unique way to shop for your home. Rather than browsing in a standard shop in town, Lorna’s background in Interior Design allows her to provide a personal service where products can be displayed in a relaxed “home” environment. Not having a shop front in the town does mean that Lorna faces some additional challenges in promoting the business.
Interior design is a relatively new career choice for Lorna, having worked as a teacher, lecturer and head of department previously. Within those roles, she had to plan, deliver, work to targets, (persuade teenagers to complete coursework – easier said than done!), work to time scales and lead teams. While her current business has many of the same requirements – working from home means that these tasks are all done by her and at any hour of the day (or night).
The website was launched in late 2007 and the online shop (www.garrendennylane.ie) opened in August 2008. It stocks items such as kitchenware, bed linen, accessories for children, gifts, tea sets, clocks and candleholders. Such a wide variety of products can make search engine optimisation tricky on a small site.
Lorna first heard about blogging via an Enterprise Board training course and had her web developer integrate the blog into the website to get the most benefit from incoming links. Lorna freely admits that IT is not her strong point – but this does not hold her back from running a successful blog.
Some of the benefits of blogging provides for her business are:
- A better opportunity to reflect her expertise in the Interior Design business on a regular basis
- Information is available to customers 24 hours a day
- Customers have the opportunity to see some of the latest projects
- Constantly updated content keeps customers returning
- The blog and twitter account provides direct access to customers in a way that is difficult with static web pages
- It’s easy to post photos and descriptions of new products without producing a catalogue type interface
- Products can be promoted in a more personal way – without the bland description a traditional online shop may have
- The blog offers more opportunities for search engine optimisation
- Twitter allows customers comments and questions to be dealt with immediately
Lorna spends up to one and a half hours per week writing for her blog (circa three posts per week) and spends about the same time following other people’s blogs. This will be good news for business bloggers that are concerned blogging will take up too much time. Almost 32% of the respondents to the IIA Business Blogger Survey noted that they spent four to eight hours per week on their blogging activities. Lorna recently appeared on RTE’s Not Enough Hours program – where she claims the amount of blogging she does was exaggerated. The program did highlight the difficulty of balancing a work and home environment.
From the first day the blog articles were a mix of personal items, product reviews and tips. Lorna felt that this mix would be most suitable for her target customers because it enhances the personal service she provides. She feels the personal touch is very important for her business – both online and for direct contact. While the blog articles provide a behind the scenes view of her business she also provides an unusual twist on the theme. Customers can send photos of a room (via email or twitter) and get interior design advice by phone and email. The importance of seeing the products is not forgotten either as she sends samples via the post.
It’s not yet clear how useful Twitter will prove as a long term business tool for GarrenDenny Lane Interiors. While it provides direct contact to customers (especially home users outside of normal business hours) Lorna is aware how some users seem to be addicted to it. The majority of her customer contact is via the blog, email or phone calls. Currently she monitors activity on Twitter but only occasionally “tweets”. While also using Google Adwords, Online Directories, LinkedIn and Facebook to promote the business, Lorna says the blog is the focus of her activities. She does admit to being new to Twitter and has not ‘worked’ it properly yet.
One of the major issues for businesses is which metrics can they use to measure the success of a business blog. The IIA Business Blogger Survey found that the top ways that Irish businesses measure the success of their blogging activities include receiving positive feedback from customers and being referred to positively in other, more traditional, media. On both these counts Lorna has been successful with her blog but says she still has a lot more she wishes to achieve. Specifically she says she needs to write articles with a higher focus on potential search engine optimisation.
Her success rate so far has been excellent – she says 30-40% of her business has come via her blogging activities. Her blog has helped her gain customers(*) and make sales in the UK and in the US as well as Ireland. The exchange rate has meant that sales to the UK have drastically reduced but she says the export sales she gets are related to the blog. Lorna also guest writes for an American blog and sends a monthly newsletter that helps remind her customers of her online presence.
With house hunters and home decorators becoming increasingly Internet savvy it’s important for businesses like Garrendenny Lane to not just have an online presence but to be available for their customers and to give them direct access to real people. Lorna is leading the way in showing what a small business can achieve.
(*) How does Lorna know she is gaining customers via the Blog? At this point one might expect details of Google Analytics accounts, cookies and other tracking mechanisms but Lorna uses the most reliable method of all – She talks to her customers. When a customer contacts her with queries – she makes a point of asking them how they found her.
Wednedsay 22nd April, Dublin – The Irish Internet Association (IIA) launched "Join the Conversation: The Guide to Blogging for Business" at a breakfast briefing in Dublin on April 22nd 2009.
This essential guide for Irish businesses is available to download from the Resources section of the IIA website from April 22nd 2009.
It includes sections
- explaining the fundamentals of blogging;
- investigating why businesses are adding blogging to their communications and marketing strategies;
- analysing the results from a survey of Irish business bloggers about their motivations and objectives and how they measure those objectives;
- with key advice on managing blogging resources, comments and content;
- and numerous links to further information and recommended reading for those who wish to take it further.
As part of the breakfast briefing, Brendan Hughes, eCommerce manager with FBD.ie and chair of the working group spoke about the need for businesses to start getting involved in social media, "We called this guide "Join the Conversation" because many companies may not even be aware that their customers are already talking about them online. Once upon a time your customers’ criticisms may not have spread beyond family and friends, but with the arrival of social media, the audience and reach has multiplied. These online conversations, good and bad, are happening. We’re encouraging businesses to join in so they can get involved in the conversations about themselves."
The Breakfast briefing at which the document was launched included experiences from the coalface of blogging with presentations from Michelle Daly, Communications Manager, Paddy Power Trader and Aedan Ryan, Director of Puddleducks.ie. Attendees included representatives from the banking sectors, to communications and public relations to start-ups to marketing companies and cultural and educational organisations.
Aedan Ryan, Director of Puddleducks.ie, an Irish company selling outdoor wear for kids of all ages, has been blogging for about a year now and explains their motivations for blogging, "Our business blog helps us to build and engage with our PuddleDucks customers. Not only do we tell our story of running the business but we also include our customers in the blog by giving them the opportunity to tell their own stories of their children out and about in their PuddleDucks gear."
Michelle Daly of Paddy Power Trader shared the experience of their team of bloggers, "Paddypowertrader.com was created in order to bring Financial Spread Betting to the masses in an accessible way. Trader education is also a top priority for us so that everyone can now trade on a level playing field on the global stock markets.
"Paddypowertrader.com blogs and tutorials also stand out as a way in which we go that extra mile for our clients. With interest from more and more retail investors, we offer unparalleled information and educational tools for prospective clients: for example, our daily market watch blog by real full time traders. This is one blog where you can follow the ups and downs of trading on a daily basis. "
This guide is the first in a series about business use of social media prepared by the IIA Social Media Working Group. This group comprises business people from a range of sectors who have seen the benefits their businesses have gained from social media and wish to share their experience and expertise. The guide was created collaboratively by the group using Wiki web applications. The group was also assisted by the Irish blogging and business communities through comments on the Wiki, blog comments, tweets and participation in a workshop last December.
"Join the Conversation: The Guide to Business Blogging" will be available to download for free for two weeks until Wednesday 6th May. From then on it will be available only to members of the Irish Internet Association.
Dorothy Ryan from IIA Member company Dotwebs is looking for feedback on her blog or DotBlog as she calls it. She puts considerable time and effort into maintaining her blog but she wonders “why visitors don’t leave messages and what I could do to improve it.” Dorothy has been a very active participant in Feedback Friday and has offered lots of great feedback to others since we started the feature so please check out her blog and share your thoughts below and give as good as you got!
Would you like to get feedback on a site that you own or are working on? Maybe you have a new client who wants to redevelop an existing website? Get some FREE net-savvy, design-savvy, SEO-savvy, online marketing and sales-savvy input from a broad range of experts. Contact me, Roseanne, at members at iia dot ie and give it a go!
If you blog for your business and if you have ten minutes complete this survey about your experiences using blogs for business it would be of great value to the working group.
You will be asked at the end of the survey if you would like to include your company’s experience of blogging in the whitepaper as a case study. If you indicate that you do, rest assured you will be contacted to discuss your inclusion further.
If you would like to hear a discussion on the first draft of the whitepaper a 3 part podcast is available. Feedback at this workshop prompted the working group to seek further input from the business bloggers of Ireland. You can access the first draft of the whitepaper online as well.
Please contact Roseanne Smith, Membership, Marketing and Communications Manager if you would like more information about this or any of the IIA Working Groups.