I am developing an online management platform for certain type of business and I thought that it would be a really good idea to engage possible customers from an early stage by keeping a blog about the product development and the features it supports and getting feedback from potential early adopters as the product goes through the different development phases. And of course, the blog will be hosted on the main product domain (ex: blog.MyProduct.com). Thus, when the product is launched the customers will still visit the same domain name.
I envision the blog to have diagrams of the business model of our business, screen shots of the different interfaces of the online management platform and a place to take suggested features proposed by the customers with (+/- 1) votes on the suggested features. Also, a weekly updates on the development of the product and a place for Q&A for potential customers or early adopters.
So, is it a good idea to start a blog showing all the details of my business, getting feedback from potential customers, showing the product development …etc? Is there an example of such a website?
A quick question to think about is why?
What you are proposing to do is quite a lot of work, does it therefore provide enough of a projected return to put that much investment in while your product is not complete?
The answer could well be yes, that said generally most product blogs fail for several reasons mainly based around time management, even a weekly update can be more then most teams can handle. Once your regular updates start being irregular, what message does that send about your product? The second large(ish) reason for blogs failing is because quite often customers don't care enough about the product to invest any time to reading a blog. Especially if your customer base on not a traditional demographic for reading blogs. I might add a product blog to my feed reader, and indeed I have a special section devoted to the third party services we use, but if I added every project that interested me I would never be able to close my feed reader.
Blogging if done right is a powerful promotional tool, especially for building brands. However they require a lot more work then most people realise also to reach a stage where you can use your blog as a feedback mechanism requires you to have done a fair amount of promoting of the blog.
This leads back to the question is it worth it? Think about how you would promote the blog, would you be targeting different customers then when you were solely targeting based on your product? Are you better off simply seeking feedback directly on other sites (and in doing so build up awareness and links to your main site) and concentrate on building your product?
If you do introduce a blog I would keep it simple and driven by your content, don't rely on having interactions early on and try to find a balance between product updates and ideas/creative content/tutorial bits. If you are looking for inspiration try MailChimp blog or 37Signals SVN both have a balance mix of articles. Good luck with the product launch.
A blog is excellent to keep you motivated and keep progressing in your project.
If you post your plans and progress regularly, you'll feel the obligation to make those plans happen. You will also get feedback from your readers and be able to change some aspects of your thinking as you go. You will also get encouragement from your readers, which will confirm that your idea is good and that your goals are sound.
For those reasons, I would say to get your blog going now.
For examples, the big companies do it all the time. e.g. Nokia uses their blog to engage customers and pre-announce all their products and the development theiy are doing. Their Windows 8 phones were announced a year before they released them.
Small developers can do the same as well. I started my blog a few years before I released my beta. If you do so, add a sign-up page for people who are interested. Then when your product first becomes available, you'll have a ready group of willing participants to try it out.
I don't think having a blog is going to hurt your brand or the popularity of your product. It may even help.
I would question whether there are more effective ways for you to spend your time however. Writing can take a lot of effort and you might want to think about whether it would be more effective to spend that time elsewhere.
If the blog's business goal is learning about your customers then there are more effective ways of doing that (chiefly - going and visiting them and talking to them ;-)
Blogs are also useful for other reasons. You might just like doing it. You are allowed to do things just for the fun or love of it! Personally I find writing things out helps clarify my thoughts. (It's one of the reasons I "waste" time here ;-) Honing how you communicate your ideas to your customers could be another useful thing.
I'd just be careful about fooling yourself that building a great blog is necessarily usefully related to building your product.
Figure out why you're doing the blog. Then figure out metrics for measuring your success. If it's not a 'success' related issue (it's just for fun or to help clarify thought) then set yourself limits on how much time you spend on it. Be honest that it's not core to your business development.
What if someone steals your idea and develops something similar before you lunch it? So you should carefully design the blog but don't put too much effort or detail in the blog which may distract you from you main project.
It is a good idea and it is something I have tried in the past. If anything, it helps you document your progress and it really makes you aware of how things are going, it helps you.
There is a great example from Peldi the founder of balsamiq who started writing in a blog about all the details of his startup, documenting the progress, and he started writing this before he even launched balsamiq - check out some of his early posts:
I would say yes if you are only few months far from a beta launch. In that case you can use blog to get people on the email list so you can call them to check the product when you ship it.
It does require lots of work, and 1 post per week is good enough.
You're mixing functions here.
The blog should be about providing valuable information to your current / potential customers. A feature feedback / voting system is an entirely different animal (think of the differences between a blog and uservoice, for example)
The aswers above raise many good points. An additional thought is that obviousy, you would want to keep any proprietary information secret, maybe customer lists, marketing strategy, or technology. This may not be relevant to your particular product, but publicly disclosing a product on a blog might complicate your ability to patent it (assuming the product is not already for sale). Maybe consider running any questions by your patent attorney if this is a concern.