Small businesses across the country are looking to blogs and other social media to help them differentiate themselves from the crowd.

Is blogging a good idea for small businesses?

Absolutely — and, maybe not.

I’ve been writing daily for several years. I’m a big proponent of a blog as a platform to differentiate a brand in a crowded and highly competitive marketplace.

Last year I wrote in Forbes about a current blogging trend, Does Anyone Really Take Mommy Bloggers Seriously? The short answer is yes, but don’t call them “mommy bloggers” unless you want your face peeled off. About that time, I had the opportunity to speak at a Social Commerce Exchange event with two brilliant women who gave me the same reaction I received online. Despite the fact that I was a big advocate of what many of them had done, they took issue with the moniker “mommy blogger.”

I have since repented of my evil ways.

Nevertheless, “lifestyle bloggers,” as they prefer to be called, have access to somewhere around 3.9 million potential brand advocates that can help launch a new product or expand the market-share of an existing brand. They have successfully leveraged social media to collaborate and communicate about a multiplicity of products. We can learn a lot from them, both good and bad, to help a small business owner determine whether or not blogging makes sense for them.

I believe there are three keys to a successful small business owner’s blog:

Be consistent

I write just about every day. I even have a personal blog I write on the weekends about motorcycles and the rides I enjoy around Utah, but I’ve written for my company, which now happens to be Lendio, for the past several years. Lifestyle bloggers may not write every day, but they are typically very consistent. They write regularly so their audience looks forward to hearing their opinions about a wide variety of things.

Small business owners who want to start a blog must do the same thing.

Some executives look to ghostwriters (hired guns that write for them, as if they were them). They recognize that they don’t have the writing ability or the time to do it themselves. Particularly where thought leadership is concerned, I’m not a big fan of ghostwriters. I know there are some business executives that employ other people to write for them, even in major publications, which I think is a little disingenuous. If you are putting yourself forward as a thought leader, it shouldn’t be your publicist or PR firm writing for you — it should be you.

When I started, I worked for a CEO who didn’t have time to write, but knew that if I wrote as him, it would eventually be discovered and would reflect negatively on his brand. He chose, much to his credit, to allow me to write under my own name and establish myself as the company’s thought leader. As a result, I was invited to speak at events all over the world to share my thoughts on the industry and represent our company’s leadership in that industry. I now have the same opportunity at Lendio.

Be personal

Lifestyle bloggers usually make it very personal. They talk about their families, the products they use and how they use them. My audience has gotten to know me because I share some of the details of my life. For example, they know I love motorcycles, I drive a Jeep, and enjoy fly-fishing. Business is personal and revealing a little bit of yourself makes you more accessible. If you don’t have the time to blog yourself, opt to have a trusted employee establish him or herself as your company’s thought leader. If your thought leader is trusted and respected, people will do business with you because of your association with him or her.

Be credible

Being credible means you can’t be a salesman all the time. If the only thing you talk about is you and your company, people will stop paying attention. Share information about your industry, hints and tips that will help your readers even if they don’t use your products. If you do, they will appreciate what you’re doing and will patronize your business. I once worked with a nursery that experimented with this and discovered that sharing information equated to customers walking in the door — even though the nursery owner didn’t believe it would at first.

This is where some lifestyle bloggers and I part ways. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am affiliated with a company. I don’t talk about it much, but they know I am an employee. I don’t try to be anything I’m not. I work very hard to be credible. Some lifestyle bloggers regularly review products they are paid to review. For example, their monthly blog about date night at a restaurant like Chili’s or Applebee’s might very well be a paid endorsement — making their review a lot less credible if it isn’t disclosed (which often times it isn’t).

If you aren’t credible, nobody will read you.

Is blogging a good idea for small businesses? Absolutely. You simply need to be consistent, personal, and credible.