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Business Blogging Now

by Barry Welford

Blogging and blogs are a hot topic in business circles now. Their very character is the reason for the explosive growth in blogging that is occurring. There are many indicators of this explosion. For example, the American Marketing Association is already giving a course on how to tackle business blogs, called "Blogs: Marketing Beyond The Website". There are even now the 2005 Business Blogging Awards.

Here we will give you a bird's eye view of the key elements involved. It will give you the What and the Why and a little of the How. It is intended for Business Owners and Managers rather than the technicians who will implement business blogs. However even the technicians may find this gives them some additional perspective on why this is all evolving the way it is.

What Is A Blog?

The word 'blog' is short for 'weblog'. It's a journal of dated entries on whatever subject the blogger cares to write on. Blogging is the action of writing blog entries. A blog can be an individual's efforts or it can be the work of members of a team or an organization. Blogs often include the facility whereby others can comment on entries. They may also include 'Trackbacks'. These are hyperlinks to other blogs that may refer to the particular blog entry. A good summary was given in a BBC item in December 2004 entitled 'Blog picked as word of the year'.

Current estimates suggest considerably more than 5 million blogs are in existence in the USA. They are written by politicians, lawyers, artists and possibly even by your neighbours.

Why Business Blogging

So naturally businesses are also beginning to get involved in blogging. You might wonder whether all this is just the latest management fad. After all even a prestigious publication like the New York Times is describing it in most favourable terms, "More End-of-Year Kudos" for Blogging". There are a few naysayers, such as the writer of the recent article "Blogs for What Business?", but they are very much in the minority.

You can see that the message is getting to where it counts when even a mighty organization like GM has its own blog, Fastlane Blog. This is not something put together by the techies there. Even Bob Lutz, a GM Vice Chairman, has contributed a piece on managing change to unleash creativity and innovation. So is it just a fad or is there something more profound here?

The Internet Is Person To Person

Blogging is only one manifestation of a profound transformation that we are seeing in society under the impact of the Internet. This is because the Internet allows any individual to communicate with any other individual in the world. The Cluetrain Manifesto was one of the earliest sources to point out the implications of this starting in 1999.

Another expression of the same ideas was to be found in an article from Gallup in March 2001 entitled, "The Power of the Fifth P". This suggested that an additional P for People should be added to the traditional 4 P's of Marketing. Some may feel that Marketing as a whole always dealt with People. However Gallup was relating to that same concept that Cluetrain was all about. Individuals want to be in contact with individuals.

A third source is the latest book from Stephen Covey of "7 Habits Of Highly Effective People" fame. It's entitled "The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness". In this, he points out that, particularly for Knowledge Industry companies, it is most important to understand the new resources and freedoms that individuals have and work with them accordingly.

This same message is now being repeated everywhere. The headline on a BBC item on Carley Fiorina's opening address to the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2005 declared "More power to the people says HP". This show in Las Vegas is the largest of its kind in the world. Again the implications of her speech were exactly in line with this person-to-person theme.

Blogging Is Person To Person

So if the world is now a world of individuals who can communicate with each other, what are the implications for businesses. Well they can try to live in that world or they can opt out. So far companies seem to be starting to opt in. They're allowing individuals within their organizations to communicate with the individuals outside the organization and vice versa.

Perhaps the most 'notorious' of these is Robert Scoble, who works at Microsoft (title: technical evangelist). His blog, Scobleizer, has the following intro:

Everything here, though, is his personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. No warranties or other guarantees will be offered as to the quality of the opinions or anything else offered here.

So other major organizations are spawning blogs at a great rate to ensure the members of their organizations are in touch with the individuals in their market places. This greater openness and freedom is not without risk. One Googler was somewhat critical of the rewards within Google and for a day or so it was unclear what his fate might be. However very quickly it was made clear that all was well and no punishment was meted out for this honest expression of opinion.

So What Should The Company Blog Include

The objective of the Company Blog is to maintain an awareness of the company in the minds of customers and potential customers. Like the website, it should be helping to build up the Credibility of the company and give a sense of assurance in dealing with the company. So the NBC formula comes into place here.

N is for News of what the company is doing.

B is for Bodies: who is in the team and what are they achieving.

C is for Clients: who is buying and how do they show their satisfaction.

The company can also include what might be called FAQ's or Frequently Asked Questions and give appropriate answers that confirm that the company is the most reliable and effective supplier in the market place.

Blogging Is Easy To Do

Another reason why blogging is growing so fast is that the software for blogging is incredibly user-friendly and very effective. In even a matter of hours a blog can be created and entries made. The software includes all the associated functions to present a complete, self-contained blog with archives of past blog entries. Here are some of the most frequently used.

Blogger is a free blogging service provided by Google. A variety of templates are available and the blog can either be hosted by Google or transported to the hosting service of your choice.

Type Pad is another low cost blogging service where the blog can be hosted by the software provider.

Those who are looking for a more professional and individual blog will probably go for specialized software and host the blog on the hosting service of their choice. Such software includes WordPress, MoveableType and pMachine. The latter is used for the associated Internet Marketing blog, BPWrap - A Different Point Of View.

Blogs Are Easy To Skim Rapidly

Blogs are easy for the writer and they are also easy for the reader. As well as the web pages that show the content of the blog, a Newsfeed is produced. This is a file that summarizes the recent content of the blog. The most common format of such a file is either a RSS file or an Atom file. Such newsfeeds must be read in a specialized type of 'browser' called a Newsfeed Aggregator. This will show new items (not previously read) from each of the newsfeeds being monitored. The most popular newsfeed aggregators are: Bloglines, Feedster and My Yahoo!

The beauty of this arrangement is that the reader is in control of what he or she chooses to receive and see. An e-mail newsletter appears in the reader's inbox when the author wants to send it. It requires immediate action if it is not to become part of an intimidating pile of unread mail. With the newsfeed aggregator, the reader can skim new entries from time to time and look in detail only at those blog entries that seem likely to have some interest. The non-intrusive nature of newsfeeds is a major part of the reason why they are so well accepted and why their use is growing.

Search Engines Like Blogs

The other factor that the 'insiders' know is that the Search Engines, and particularly Google, find blogs most appealing. A blog is really a collection of separate mini-web pages (blog entries) that usually are displayed in one long scrolling file. Each mini-web page is connected by a whole series of hyperlinks to other parts and summaries of the blog. It's prime material for indexing by the search engines and includes good text content. Not surprisingly blog entries often have high rankings for the keywords appearing within them. They are very search-engine visible.

A blog can also include hyperlinks to an associated traditional website. This then helps the ranking of the traditional web pages in the search engines. Although the most important reason for blogs is to establish a dialogue process with customers and potential customers, these search engine side-benefits are a most attractive bonus.

Summary - The +'S And -'S Of A Business Blog

+'s

Maintain awareness - in a non-intrusive way
Create customer dialogue - at a rhythm controlled by the client
Provide back-links to the company website
Bring traffic to your website

-'s

Content - some effort must be expended to create useful content for clients Comments if allowed may be negative. Clearly malicious comments can be edited out without problems. Where the comments reflect reality but would preferably not have appeared, then the reality must be faced up to and handled. Openness brings many benefits but it does require that the company operates to high standards. This should not be regarded as a penalty.

There's A Blog In Your Company's Future

The most attractive and savvy clients are the ones who will most appreciate the open dialogue that can occur through a blog. The blogging phenomenon will not go away. So at some time your company will decide that it's right to start a company blog. Indeed a company blog might well be more powerful than a company website in sales generation terms. Both can have a high ROI (return on investment) if used well and are most justifiable. Whether in your industry it's a thing to think about will depend on the degree of technical knowledge among the customers and potential customers who are important to you. However the decision is probably best taken sooner rather than later.

Discuss this in our Forum

About the Author:

Barry Welford is the president of Strategic Marketing Montreal. He works with other associates and allies as particular projects require other skills and resources. Barry has been in business in Montreal for over 30 years. He has been helping medium-sized and small businesses achieve better business performance during the last 15 years, while running his own businesses. He has extensive international business experience, particularly in marketing. He has degrees from Cambridge and London in the U.K.




















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