Blogging has exploded from the world of the technology geek to the mainstream in the past few years. The term is a shortened version of ‘web log’ and refers to a website created to log regular commentary and opinion. Originally, blogs were online diaries written by individuals who would often link to other blogs and websites, creating a blogging community both within sectors of society (mothers; film buffs; DIY enthusiasts, etc.) and across society as a whole. Interactivity has become an important part of blogging, with the ability for readers to leave comments, interacting with both the blogger and other readers.

Blogging has since become big business, leading to lucrative book deals, massive advertising revenue and in some cases, allowing the blogger to quit their day job and earn a very respectable living as a blogger. Wherever there is money to be made, the corporate world pricks up its ears, and blogging is no exception. While a company’s blog will not get the hits and therefore the advertising revenue of lifestyle blogs, the ability to interact at such a direct level with customers, both existing and potential, proved too good to resist. 81 of the Fortune 500 companies (16%) now have blogs, in industries as diverse as retail, technology, food and beverages and pharmaceuticals.

What is perhaps more interesting is that the Inc. 500, the fastest-growing private companies in the US, has as much as 39% of the list blogging. These companies may have more freedom to blog, less restricted by the legal teams working away on behalf of the big oil companies, for instance. But it is also in all likelihood because smaller companies stand to gain far more than huge, established corporations. Blogging is all about engaging with the public, something companies have been attempting to do through focus groups and highly paid advertising for years. Blogs, if executed in the right way, engage more directly with the public than through just about any other platform.

So what is the right way? We’ve already discussed how not to use social media in the case of one high street brand and the micro-blogging site Twitter. But what should a company do when it comes to their blog, and what do they stand to gain?

Be real If you have the resources, have someone in-house blog for you, someone who has a real day-to-day understanding of your company, the latest products and services, etc. If you don’t, consider using an SEO provider or digital marketing company to blog for you, but make sure they take the time to really understand your company so that they can blog about what will really matter to your customers. Remember, this is not the arena to create an ideal image of your company, but rather to show a real , more relaxed image.

Interact 90 percent of the Fortune 500’s blogs have the comments feature enabled. If you’re scared of what people may say about your company in the comments, you should probably not blog. A core part of the power of the business blog is being able to reach out to your customers and in turn for them to have their say. Even if that is negative, you then have the chance to remedy that problem, win back that customer (and others) and get invaluable market research on a product or service in the process.

Don’t sell. Add value! The two things most likely to turn off a reader of your blog are to be fake and to be overtly selling. Of course you want your blog to support your business, but this is not the platform from which to sell. Give your customers content that is useful to them, that is interesting, that is informative, and they will keep coming back for more. You may not have sold them a product, but you have kept their interest and created a positive relationship. The king of advertising, David Ogilvy, famously stated that “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.” Your blog is your chance to be highly informative; by doing so you are persuading your customers to stick with you.

It’s all about the customer Don’t fall into the trap of making your blog all about you and your company. You will, of course, be writing about things that are happening in your business and the surrounding industry, but the entire point is to make that relevant to the reader. Even blogs which are essentially online diaries of an individual’s day-to-day musings are most successful when they are aimed squarely at the reader: this is what I think, what do you think?; this is something you may find interesting; this happened to me, has something similar happened to you?

This just touches the surface of what makes a good blog, but if you adhere to these core principals you won’t go far wrong. And what, after all this, does your company stand to gain? You will know your customer better; you will know your products and services better; you will start to build a community around your company; and – most importantly – you will start to build a brand buzz. A viral buzz about your brand is often what it takes to get your company to the next level. And – you never know – you could create that holy grail of customers, the “customer evangelist”: someone who is so impressed by your product or service that they become outspoken “evangelists” for your company.