What Does Blogging Have to Do with Business?

“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” --Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

First, blogging is potentially everywhere people are, and you want to be where people are. Imagine if you could talk to every individual in your market, one on one, or in informal coffee-shop talks, about what matters to him or her. Imagine if you could engage your key audiences and influencers in a discussion, or join a discussion they were having, about a problem your product or service resolves. Imagine if you could give a voice to your customers—who, in turn, give you immediate, valuable feedback about what delights or disturbs them about your
product or service.

Well, actually you can. These are exactly the types of interactions taking place where blogs intersect with business. But how to set this in motion? The most important thing for corporations to understand before they start blogging is this:

Companies don’t blog; people blog.

It sounds obvious, but many corporations get it wrong. They create sites with a blog-like format but no personality. Their sites are updated frequently, but without identifying who the people posting are. Or, they are posted with intriguing thoughts and ideas, but don’t allow for public comments and discussion on the site. A sure way to drive readers away is to write a blog using a corporate voice rather than the discernible, unmistakable voice of a human being. The key to business blogging is that people—not the business—read, write, and respond. You can’t blog by Businesses can join the blogging movement in several ways.

First, they can develop an outward-facing corporate blog or internally-written employee blogs, which are supported by the organization to achieve specific results—whether those results are boosting the thought leadership of executives and employees to improve employee satisfaction and morale by giving employees a platform to exercise their voices, or to build better relationships through online conversations with customers and constituents.

Organizations may even choose not to blog at all from a corporate perspective, but to instead support and encourage employees in doing so on their own. Corporations are also using blogs internally to facilitate knowledge management, collaboration, customer relationship management, sales, and product development processes.

There are as many uses for blogs as there are people to write them.

But the point for business is: Conversations are already taking place among the millions of blogs that you can tap into. These conversations—about you, your industry, your company, your competitors, and your market—will occur whether you participate in them or not. Effective blogging will help you to participate in the kind of conversations that enhance your business, building relationships that make people want to do business with you.

You can engage your prospects, better understand them, and even get them to respect and like you (if you are likeable to begin with, of course). You can add wit, smarts, or information to blogs by participating in blog comment areas often attached to each post where possible. You can appoint your own Blogger in Residence, Chief Blogging Officer, or “Technical Evangelist” (as Robert Scoble is for Microsof) to represent your organization in the discussion. You can support bloggers whom you feel are doing interesting things by underwriting their blogs.

You can encourage your employees to meet the market in areas that interest them outside of your products and services—giving employees a platform for discussing things they’re passionate about with others who share similar interests, just as Sun Microsystems’ thousand-plus employee bloggers do.

Sun’s model is a powerful one. And where there is power there is risk. That risk is inherent in the exercise of blogging. Someone can always say something derogatory about your company, you, your products, or your services. But chances are, if there is a reason, they already are
saying those things—with or without permission. By developing your own organizational approach to blogging, you create the opportunity to engage your critics and answer them. Depending upon the circumstances, your answer could range from correcting misconceptions, because the bloggers were misinformed, to changing your business model because they were absolutely right. All because you are part of the conversation.

In addition to bringing you closer to your customers and their concerns, blogging is one of the most reliable ways to gain search engine prominence. You may have noticed when using Google or Yahoo that blogs show up quite favorably in the search results for any given term.

That’s because search engines weigh highly those sites that are frequently linked to and updated. Starting a corporate blog can drive traffic to your existing business web site while building your personal brand. Because blogging is both a low-cost and high-yield feedback loop between your business and your markets, it has already drawn a good deal of attention and considerable investment from senior executives and smart marketers at organizations such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, General Motors, Harvard Law School, the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, AOL, Cisco, and many others. And it’s still true that most of today’s blogging tools are either free or available for a minimal cost.

Google’s Blogger system (http://www.blogger.com/), for example, will host your blog for free on Blogspot, or you can host your blog on the server of your choice. Other blogging tools, such as Typepad (http://www.typepad.com/) and Wordpress (http://http//wordpress.org), require a bit more technical knowledge, but offer bloggers more customization options and overall power.

Blogging has potentially the lowest barrier to entry of any communications medium to date aside from word of mouth, and offers the farthest reach for the least cost when done right (for “right,” just see the rules below). For this reason alone, there is no question that your organization should be participating in the world of blogs.

This is no time not to be part of the conversation.



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