To Blog or Not to Blog That is the Question
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April 2006

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To Blog or Not to Blog... That is the Question


By Ken Custer

Blog - who in the world came up with that name? I know, a Blog is a weblog, a formal journal or newsletter that is frequently updated and for public consumption. A Blogger is a person who keeps a Blog, Blogging is the act of updating or reading the Blogs and the Blogosphere is where it all happens.

There are those who say why? There are those who say it is the future. In reality, to marketers, it's another piece of the marketing puzzle that lets a company have a one on one dialog with customers and/or adversaries.

On December 6, 2005, the Business Marketing Association, American Marketing Association and the University of Denver Daniels School of Business Roundtable conducted a Blogging Seminar on the DU campus titled "The Strategic Value of Blogging: How to Make it a Valuable Marketing Tool." The seminar was moderated by JOHN BURNETT. Professor at DU and the panel of experts included: DAVE TAYLOR, ANDRES GRONSTEDT, JOHN GAUDIO and HOWARD KAUSHANSKY. The seminar packed the meeting room with everyone eager to learn about this phenomenon.

Burnett pointed out that currently there are 8.5 million Bloggers, that 50 million people visited a Blog in 2005 and there are 100,000 new Blogs being added every day. 50-60% of these are sponsored by businesses and their rivals. The question becomes, how do you make it part of your marketing strategy?

A question to the panel was: How can a company start listening, using and learning from this new social medium? What can be gleaned and what can be put into Blogs in terms of owning them and making various comments?

Dave Taylor: People spend more time searching, what can be gained is visibility, findabliliy, if you can't be found online you don't exist or won't in the future. 65% of offline purchases start with online research. Blogging opens up a whole easy search engine way to position a company.

Andres Gronstedt: Opportunity, a whole new world.

Howard Kaushansky: Collect everything and turn it into usable information. Why listen? 20 million people with opinions, they love to talk about themselves and will discuss their experiences using products and services. You can listen in on an honest conversation and learn what people are saying bout your product or service.

In a recent Ziff Davis E-News Newsletter, STEPHEN BRYANT made the following observation:

Take an objective look at the myriad things Blogs are good for:
  1. Breaking news headlines
  2. Opinion
  3. Conversation
  4. Exploration
Blogs carved out a niche between hard news and staid columns, a textual playground of sorts, and thereby changed editorializing and the news cycle. Blogs start what the mainstream press later polishes, and then Blogs start again. It's the circle of life, Simba.
But let's also take a look at what Blogs are not so good at:
  1. Objective news analysis
  2. Detailed news stories and/or feature content
  3. Reaching and informing a mainstream audience.
Blogging is not as important to another kind of audience. This audience probably signs your paycheck. They tend to be less interested in Blogs and more interested in financial statements and financial newsletters that cost a year's salary to subscribe to. To paraphrase one of my favorite modern poets, they're the "guy behind the guy behind the guy."

Bryant also reported from an October 17, 2005 BlogOn Conference:

The central point of comment and question at the BlogOn conference is how (and sometimes whether) to tap into customer conversation about brands.

Customers are talking about your brand, with or without your knowledge or consent. Do you start a community forum? Do you start a company Blog? How do you monitor the conversations? Can you manage those conversations?

BILL SCHREINER, Manager of AOL's community programming, also argued that it's important to pay attention to influencers within Blog communities. Those are the people who have the most insight into your brand or product.

One thing Schreiner said of interest was "look for the thank yous." The person being thanked the most in an online community is the primary influencer.

JEFF JARVIS, who also sat on the panel, seemed to chaff a bit at any form of managed conversation, which he saw to be means of customer control in disguise.

"I think you've got to lose control here," Jeff said. "It's just people talking! Listen to them! ... Stop thinking you have a message to give out and start listening to what your customers tell you."

We can only hope that, when corporations do solicit feedback and do engage communities, they adhere to community etiquette: Be honest. Don't dissemble. Don't lecture. Don't manage. Admit to your mistakes, and strive to correct them. Don't try to manage a conversation, because "managing conversations" is just another term for lecturing.

According to another Ziff Davis E-News, The Business of Blogging, Explosive growth means Web logs are suddenly in Madison Avenue's sights.

Just a year ago, Blogs were viewed as a collection of off-the-cuff ramblings in cyberspace read mainly by online devotees. Then, as the election season heated up, Bloggers gained new prominence, writing up-to-the-minute news and politics nuggets that the mainstream media struggled to match. Suddenly, millions of Americans were turning to political Blogs such as instapundit.com and journalist ANDREW SULLIVAN'S Daily Dish. And Blogs about everything from art-world gossip to macroeconomics are drawing audiences, too. A new medium, though still a work in progress, is coming into being.

Now advertisers are realizing there is a market emerging in the Blogosphere. Already, the growth in regular online advertising, estimated to be about 35% this year, will far outpace the spending increases for any other sector of the media world. Add to all this the fact that about 11% of Internet users today are inveterate Blog readers, and the Blogging scene starts to get mighty compelling for marketers.

Don't expect a repeat of the dot-com rush that inflated the Web bubble of the late 1990s. "This is a long game, with lots of ebbs and flows," says HENRY COPELAND, Founder of media buying firm BlogAds. Blogging isn't about to lead to vast wealth anytime soon, says Copeland, but he does expect "more money to [flow to] more authors as smart advertisers bypass publishers and pay authors directly for their audiences." BlogAds is placing ads on 50 to 100 Blogs a day for up to 20 advertisers, including Sharp Electronics Corp. and Walt Disney Co. Just six months ago, the firm served 20 Blogs for about 10 advertisers.

One of the DU panel members, Andres Gronstedt contributes his thoughts to the strategy of Blogging.

What's your blog strategy?
By Andres Gronstedt

Millions of people are resisting the polished, faceless information sources of mainstream media and tuning into the unfiltered voices from "real" people online. The power that these new social media hold over brands cannot be overestimated. While their absolute numbers might not rival mainstream media yet, they are reaching the elusive thought leaders, first movers, mavens, and connectors that shape brand perception.

The nascent technologies of blogging, podcasting and RSS are forcing marketing professionals to reconsider how they go to market. The marketing community has yet to grasp the impact that the collective conversation of the Blogosphere is having on brands, customers, employees and stakeholder. Meanwhile, successful marketing organizations have moved on to the new iPod-driven phenomenon known as "podcasting," sending audio files straight to the MP3 players of sales people, customers and opinion leaders.

Let's face it, anyone who takes the time to post a rant on GM's FastLane Blog responding to Vice Chairman Bob Lutz's entry on the virtues of the pushrod engine is a car "maven." They're self-appointed experts who seek to pass their knowledge and opinions on to others. The emerging phenomenon of blogging might just be the engine for reaching these opinion leaders with successful word-of mouth marketing. Traditionally, the only way for car companies to reach these aficionados was to court automotive publications like Car & Driver with expensive launch drive events and costly advertising in their publications. Today, though, GM's Vice Chairman can bypass the buff publications by posting entries directly to his blog, which is read by 5,000 unique visitors per day. The FastLane Blog is also tapping into customer enthusiasm with regular "podcasts." FastLane radio host Deb Ochs is joined by GM product chiefs and designers to talk about the latest line up of cars. Listeners can zap it to their iPod or other MP3 players and listen to these time-shifted radio shows at their leisure. Six million Americans are already listening to "Podcasted" radio programs on their MP3 players. No fewer that 14.2 million blogs already exist by the last count and 80,000 more are created daily (that's one per second!) and 50 million Americans have visited a blog.

While GM's FastLane Blog is decidedly corporate looking, Sun Microsystems is taking a different approach by unleashing its world-wide employee base on the blogosphere. No fewer than 1,300 Sun employees have their own blogs on blogs.sun.com (link it). Employees are often the most effective marketing channel because they speak to the developer community, customers, and prospects with authority, passion, and credibility on their various areas of expertise. Everyone from the janitor to Sun President Jonathan Schwartz has his or her own blog, and Schwartz's site gets 300,000 unique visitors a month. As you can imagine, this represents a powerful platform for him to engage employees, analysts, and customers in an ongoing conversation.

Careful, though. The blogosphere's do-it-yourself publishing model can easily turn against a company. In the old world order, one upset customer would talk to ten friends about his or her bad experiences. Today, these brand terrorists will blog about it, or worse yet, upload a video on sites like You Tub and Heavy.com. In a video produced by two brothers, called "iPod Customer Service - the Dirty secret," the voice of an Apple support minion is droning on about its policy of not replacing batteries to the iPod, while the user is defacing apple ad posters with an anti Apple-slogan. Apple has since implemented a new battery replacement policy, but only after this video was featured on Fox News and CBS News, covered in Washington Post and Rolling Stones Magazine, and downloaded one million times on the Web. The creators of the video are affectionate Apple users and the video ends with a credit to Apple's iMovie software, but they felt betrayed by the company. It goes to show that even a company that seems to be on top of its brand game can slip if it doesn't react instantaneously to citizen film-makers.

The blogosphere can be used as a 24/7/4(ever) online focus group, a whistle blower hot line, a bully pulpit, a suggestion box, and a knowledge management tool. However, harnessing the power of the blogopsphere requires that companies trust their employees and leaders to do more of the communication. This may be a scary prospect for old-school corporate communications, training, and marketing professionals who are used to being in control of the message (and who get itchy as their control slips). Rather than doing the communication themselves, they now face the prospect of facilitating employees and senior executives who are increasingly charged with the heavy lifting of communicating with key stakeholders.

Anders Gronstedt, Ph.D., (anders@gronstedtgroup.com) is president of the Gronstedt Group, a Broomfield-based firm marketing and training firm. Its global client list includes industry leaders such as Dell, FedEx Kinko's, Avaya, Ericsson, StorageTek, and Volvo. A former member of the graduate Integrated Marketing Communications faculty at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Dr. Gronstedt is a world-renowned management consultant, speaker and author of the book The Customer Century: Lessons from world-class companies in integrated communications (Routledge).

Wrap-up
Is Blogging right for you?

One must first consider the time involved. Do you have the personnel to handle the Blog experience correctly? It does take time to search and answer. Even if you don't get involved in conversations, you might have the time to just listen. Search the Blogosphere and learn what people are saying about your company. Remember, most of the Blog conversations are people with egos talking about themselves and their experiences. The conversation may include a comment about a great new latte at Starbucks or lousy service at a restaurant.

As this new medium grows, it may be to your or your client's advantage to get involved. At least, you have to learn about it and decide if it can be advantageous to you.

A complete DVD of the DU Blogging seminar held in December was made possible by VMDnet and is available through the BMA. Contact MARILEE YORCHAK at 303-607-9957 or VMDnet at 303-838-0495 for a copy.


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