So, you’ve decided to launch a blog for your business. Congratulations! Welcome to the exciting worlds of content marketing and social media – all wrapped up into one bundle of bloggy joy that will require your nurturing attention for a long time to come. It’s not exactly the same as giving birth, but it’s not that different either.

To help you get your head on straight (I hope it won’t make your head spin too much), here is a list of 78 questions you should ask yourself (or the Powers that Be) before you launch. Some are foundational questions that will drive every other decision you make, while others are tiny details that are part of producing and managing a polished blog.

Grab a cup of coffee and a notepad. Doodle a little bit, then read through the list, capturing – if you can – the hopes, dreams, and fears you have for your blog. When you’re done, please make this list your own by adding other questions in the comments section. (I have no doubt I overlooked a few key items.)
Good luck & happy blog launching!

GOAL:
This is definitely a foundational item. Please don’t tell me that you’re launching a blog because your marketing consultant said you’re a loser if you don’t. Blogging can be a valuable tool, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. That said, I believe that – in the majority of cases – a blog will enhance your Web presence. It’s also a great way to get your feet wet in social media if you haven’t already dived in.

So … What is your primary goal for the blog?

  • To reap the bountiful SEO benefits
  • To build a brand community
  • To create an information hub
  • To provide support and training
  • To establish thought leadership
  • To generate additional traffic to your main Web site

AUDIENCE:

This one is obviously also a foundational item. Every answer you give to the questions in the following sections should relate back to your Goal and Audience. If your goal is your destination, your audience is the compass that guides you there. Everything you do on your blog should consider the needs (and desires) of your audience along with the end result you’re after. Got it? Good.

  • Who is your target audience? Existing customers, prospects, industry pundits, enthusiasts, your peers?
  • How would you describe your ideal reader? Create a “persona” of this person – dig deep into his daily routines, habits, likes & dislikes.
  • What are the needs of your ideal reader? Is he looking for cutting edge news, how-to articles, introspective insights, hard industry facts?
  • What benefits does your ideal reader desire? Staying current, training, deeper understanding, conversation?

BRANDING:

Now that you know your goal and understand your audience, let’s talk about branding.

  • Will your blog be an integral part of your Web site, or a stand along entity?
  • What will the blog be named?
  • What domain name will you use?
  • Will your blog be overtly branded with your business logo, or have its own unique brand, logo, and color palette?
  • What type of personality will your blog project – professional, innovative, informative, reliable, collaborative, creative?

The competition:

  • Who else is playing in your sandbox?
  • What type of content do they deliver?
  • How can you differentiate your brand?
  • How can you differentiate your content?
  • How might you collaborate?

CONTENT:

You can’t have content marketing without content, but creating successful blog content is about more than repurposing press releases and existing sales materials. There are dozens of excellent blogs about how to write great blog content, so let’s focus on the bigger picture questions:

Creation:

  • Will your blog have a single author or multiple authors?
  • Will all your authors be internal resources, or will you also outsource some of your posts?
  • Do the internal resources have the bandwidth to support the blog?
  • Does your budget have the ability to support outsourcing?
  • Will you accept guest posts (maybe from partners or clients)?
  • What types of posts will you publish – editorial, journalistic, educational, interviews, random thoughts?

Resources:

  • What other blogs might provide ideas for posts? (Hint: Add those feeds to a reader so you can scan and flag items that inspire you.)
  • What news resources might provide relevant information for post topics?
  • What customer stories and case studies do you already have that could be translated into blog posts?
  • What LinkedIn groups can you join that might provide ideas?
  • What internal resources might make good interview candidates?
  • What behind-the-scenes material can you share?
  • What’s hot on twitter that’s also relevant to your business? (Hint: Watch the trending topics.)

Editorial Management:

  • Does your content require legal review?
  • What process will be in place to manage that review and approval process?
  • Do you have an editorial calendar set up? (A free google doc spreadsheet is a great way to capture, manage, and share your calendar as well as your to-be-scheduled post ideas.)
  • How frequently will you post? (Hint: Consistency counts, so if you’re not sure about being able to carry the workload, start small – 1 to 2 posts per week – then build up from there.)
  • What primary categories will you use to segment your posts? (Hint: Think these out ahead of time to avoid winding up with dozens of category names – many of them duplicates.)
  • Will you assign an editor to manage the content?
  • Who?
  • Will you provide upload access to all authors, or just the editor and a production resource?
  • What statistics will you track – page visits, retweets, comments, trackbacks?
  • What tools will you use to track those statistics – google analytics, native platform tools, social media tools like twitter searches and trackbacks?

COMMUNITY:

  • Are you interested in creating a dialog – a two-way conversation via comments – with your readers?
  • How will you nurture that dialog – direct solicitation, reciprocal comments, peer references, on-blog dialog?
  • Will you aim to respond to each comment left on the blog?
  • Who will be responsible for monitoring and responding?
  • Will that dialog extend into your other social outposts like twitter and LinkedIn?

SITE BUILD:

Finally! Now you get to start building something.

Platform:

  • Which platform will you use – WordPress, blogger, or a custom solution?
  • Which theme will you use?

Page structure and elements:

  • What basic page design will you use – 1, 2, or 3-column layout?
  • Which sidebar elements will you include – outpost links, comment summary, recent posts, most popular posts, about links, registration links, search, etc? (Hint: Think about your audience and which tools and information they will find most useful!)
  • What is the priority of the sidebar elements? (For instance, depending on your audience, search may be critical or it may be very low on the list of needs – place it above or below the fold accordingly.)
  • Where will you document your style guide? (Hint: google docs is a great place to do this – the “living” nature of those shared documents means everyone is always up-to-date with the most current version.)
  • How will you use and format images in posts?
  • Will you have pre-determined sources for imagery?
  • How will you handle attribution of images?
  • Will you include “byline bios” with each post – at the beginning or at the end?
  • What other elements will consistently be included in each post – any widgets (like Tweet This) or relational items (like “Related Posts”)?

Distribution:

  • Will you offer RSS reader subscriptions?
  • Will you offer email feed subscriptions?
  • Will you offer a weekly digest?
  • Will you offer a custom newsletter?

PROMOTION:

Traditional:

  • How can you use your existing Web site to promote the new blog – primary navigation item, sidebar “banner,” news section announcement, press release?
  • Where does it make sense to include the blog URL on existing marketing materials?
  • Where does it make sense to include the blog URL on trade show materials?
  • Are there instances where it would be appropriate to add the blog URL to certain email signatures – either personal or company-authored and mass-distributed?
  • Could you send a mailing (email or snail mail) to your existing database of prospects/customers to announce the launch of the blog?

Social:

  • Which other blogs complement yours?
  • How can you enter the dialog on these other blogs in a way that will eventually drive traffic to your own blog?
  • Which LinkedIn groups might be interested in the content on your blog?
  • Which twitter search terms (hashtags especially) are relevant to your blog?
  • How will you track those search terms to find relevant conversations to join? (Hint: Desktop clients like Seesmic and Tweetdeck are great for setting up automated, real-time searches.)

There you have it: 78 questions you should ask before you launch your business blog.

… of course, there is an entirely different school of blogging that says you should just wing it and let the brand, voice, content, and even goals evolve organically based on trial and error and audience feedback; but I’m a type-A, so that’s not going to happen.

Do you think the strategic or organic approach work best? What questions have I left out?