Blogs are everywhere. Indeed, as of the middle of June, 2006, Technorati—the generally accepted authority on blogs—reported tracking 44.4 million of them. But according to Fortune, only 5% of the large companies in the U.S. publish blogs, so what is their impact on corporate interactive strategies?
Blogs—short for weblogs—can be most simplistically described as personal online journals, which began to spring up with frequency about five years ago. Think about a blog as an individual’s own running editorial column that allows (and encourages) feedback and interaction from readers. Given their numbers, it’s no surprise that blogs address every imaginable topic: politics, family vacations, celebrity gossip, wine, race cars, etc.
Getting a blog up-and-running is relatively easy, so millions of people with little or no technical skills have gotten into the action. For the individual, launching a blog can be done quickly and updated as frequently or infrequently as desired; for the corporation, however, blogging requires careful consideration, and, if deemed a sound business decision, the necessary planning and resources to succeed.
Commercial uses of blogs are many, but their genesis came in two primary forms: product / company zealots who wanted a platform to vent (e.g., Robert Scoble at Microsoft) and subject matter experts who use blogs as pulpits to spread their ideas and opinions (e.g., author Seth Godin). In both cases, blogs provided a user-friendly platform for communication and virtual conversation—for both the blogger and the reader.
While blogs were initially considered an online phenomenon that only pertained to the geek community, they’ve since evolved into much more, and are now mainstream. According to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, more than 50 million people in the U.S. are regular blog readers. While the majority of blogs are authored by hobbyists and proud parents who post pictures of their children and vacations, corporate applications have undoubtedly emerged, and include:
- Marketing and proselytizing
- Corporate communication
- Market research
Blogs can also serve as self-sustaining, revenue-generating entities, using an advertising-based, publishing-style model. The most successful blogs that consistently generate traffic are attractive to advertisers because of their targeted and dedicated readers. But these types of blogs represent only a small fraction of the entire “blogosphere”.
How to Launch
Identify the Business Model
There are three general blogging models for businesses to consider:
1. Pulpit. Blogs are great for individuals who have much to say about a subject and need a medium for sharing their ideas. This includes both independent consultant-types and movers-and-shakers at large organizations.
2. Community. Blogs can serve as the forum for a conversation, and promote an “insider” type of information-sharing experience. Bob Lutz, who is a vice chairman at GM, hosts one such type of blog.
3. Publishing. Blogs can also be considered just another publishing channel from which to reach readers, not unlike newspapers, magazines, television, etc. One high-profile example is Gawker, which was a first-mover and has been wildly successful (though is by no means typical).
The actual implementation of a corporate blog requires several key components, including:
- Identify the readership, and define a unique offering and mission.
- Allocate the necessary resources: an organizational champion, the blog owner / voice (this should be a mid- or upper-level individual within the company), and the technical infrastructure.
- Write content, test, and refine: successful blogs need compelling content, and take time to evolve and succeed. Blog techniques are moving quickly, so staying up on the current tricks of the trade and employing the appropriate ones is critical.
Proceed With Caution
Blogs aren’t appropriate for every company, as the 5% adoption rate demonstrates. Unlike other interactive techniques—such as search engine marketing, which we recommend to all of our clients—blogs are a different animal. They require resources, passion, and transparency—understandably, not all organizations are ready to make such a commitment, nor is there a compelling reason to do so for every type of company. If the cost-benefit equation can’t be clearly demonstrated, or if it just doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not a good idea.
Blogs are here to stay, and though upwards of 95% of them are of the personal variety, they are steadily making a meaningful impact at corporations. However, they are not for every company, at least not today. Most frequently employed as a marketing tool by corporations currently using them, blogs are subject to many of the same pros and cons associated with other marketing programs: when successful, they can make a meaningful, positive impact; but when unsuccessful, the consequences can be painful and difficult to reverse.