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The Business of Blogging
by Joan Donogh

 
   
 
   

In the not so distant past, publishing of news and views was limited to mass media, and reporters for these media decided what was fit to be published, and how it should make the public think and feel. Likewise, advertising professionals decided what messages we would receive regarding the products and services they represented. Enter the blog.

The blogging phenomenon began in the late 1990's when weblogs (or blogs) appeared as a small internet sub culture consisting of personal journals detailing the opinions and interests of these early adopters. According to statistics from Technorati Inc. (www.technorati.com) there were fewer than 100,000 weblogs in existence worldwide at the beginning of 2003. At the end of July 2005, there were more than 14 million blogs in existence, with 80,000 new blogs being created every day. The blogosphere (interconnected network of blogs and bloggers) has doubled in the past 5 months, which has been a consistent trend.

No longer is the publishing power in the hands of the media - anyone with a computer and an internet connection can become a publisher within minutes. Coupled with this is a growing public shift in trust from "authority figures" to average people. This shift is already evident as many advertisements feature "average people" endorsing the product. People do not want to be "marketed to" with canned pitches, they want to have conversations. And millions of blog publishers are having just such conversations. Businesses, politicians and marketers are now beginning to be aware of the power of this new media, and of the need to think differently about the way they communicate.

Blogging 101: What's the difference between a blog and a website?

To the viewer, a blog and a website may look much the same. They are both accessed via a web browser, and they both contain content in the form of text, possibly images and video. Characteristics of a blog include:

  • Chronological content: A blog consists of posts (short pieces of commentary) that are arranged according to the date and time they were published, with the most recent at the top. Older posts are archived.

  • Distinctive voice: Blogs are generally written by one person, in a casual and conversational style. They will offer the subjective views and opinions of the writer, and should be personal and authentic.

  • Frequently updated: By nature of being online journals or diaries, blogs are updated on a frequent basis, e.g. daily or at least weekly. As a result, blogs tend to rank more highly in search engines, which value fresh content.

  • Conversational: While static websites push canned information to the viewer, many blogs allow viewers to submit comments, which will generally appear below the original posting. The writer can also respond to comments left by viewers.

  • Easily maintained: Although not evident to the viewer, one of the reasons that blogs have leapt so quickly into the mainstream is that blog publishing software makes it easy for just about anyone to start and maintain a blog. New posts are entered via a form on a web page, no special web design skills are required.

  • Content Distribution: Blogging software usually uses a file format called RSS (Really Simple Syndication) To view a website's content, the viewer must visit that website and see if it has been updated since their last visit. With the RSS technology, users can "subscribe" to receive updates from your blog whenever they are published.

Businesses: It's time to sit up and take notice.

Having a blog is not appropriate for every business, but even if you decide that having a blog does not fit with your business strategy at this time, if you stick your head in the sand and ignore the blogosphere, you will do so at your peril, as many companies have already learned.

People are talking. And if yours is a large company, chances are they are talking about you. In the past, if someone were dissatisfied with one of your products or services, they might tell a few people and that would be that. Today, if an influential blogger has a problem with your company, and posts it in their blog, the news can literally travel around the globe in a matter of hours, causing a whole lot of people to become dissatisfied with your product or service. You need to have a strategy in place for monitoring the blogosphere for mentions of your company, and for what actions will be taken to counteract negative publicity. It can also be useful to track what people are saying about your competitors.

Employees are talking. Even if you have decided not to launch a corporate blog, chances are there are members of your staff who have personal blogs, and chances are they are going to mention their work at one point or another, and may even end up as unwitting company spokespeople. There are documented cases of employees being fired because they said the wrong thing in a personal blog. You need to have a blogging policy in place that clearly defines the parameters for personal blogging related to the company.

To blog or not to blog: that, of course, is the question.

High tech and new media companies were among the first to develop product or CEO blogs, and many well known companies such as General Motors and Boeing are also discovering the value of the blog to help communicate their companies stories in an informal and conversational way. While it is very easy to get a blog up and running and then just start typing, it is important to first determine if it is a good fit within your current operating environment and then to develop a strategy to define why, how, what and who will blog.

Some benefits that can be achieved through corporate blogging include:

  • Increasing awareness of your company and your brand

  • Establishing your company as an authority in your field

  • Acting as an early warning system of any problems and giving you a vehicle for handling the situation in a proactive manner

  • Two-way communication makes people feel more confident in your company, and if they feel they are being listened to, they will tend to become more loyal.

However, if your company is not used to or comfortable with direct two-way conversations with customers, if any public communication must first be vetted by legal advisors, then having a blog may not be the right thing for your company. Blog communications need to be timely. You also require commitment, you cannot just start a blog and walk away, your blog needs constant and consistent posts. This will require a fair investment in time.

Experts agree that the blog is not a fad that is going to go away. It is currently in its infancy (similar to the mid 1990's when corporate websites first began to appear). Certainly there will continue to be changes as the medium continues to grow and develop. The time to become aware of it and to at least monitor its impact on your business and your industry is now.


     
   
     
   

The Author

 

Joan Donogh is the President of In-Formation Design and has extensive experience in marketing communications, web site development and the design and development of customer relationship management and loyalty programs. She is also the creator of Now .... You're Cooking!. Visit In-Formation Design for additional information.

     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2005 by Joan Donogh. All rights reserved.

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