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Business Blogs?Are We Flogging a Dying Horse?

Can the corporate blog be good for the company and its business? By G.A. "Andy" Marken

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel have written an excellent book Naked Conversations -- on maneuvering through the blogosphere minefield.  The subject is so ?hot that agencies have established new divisions to provide blog management services for clients.  Public relations departments have hired new staff personnel to develop, manage and support corporate and business blogs.

More than a few well-respected public relations practitioners have proclaimed that web logs provide a fast track means for professionals to talk directly to their audiences and bypass the media altogether.  Some have been quoted as proclaiming that working with journalists and members of the press radio, TV, print and the web will soon become passe because they can get their messages out without the news media filters. 

A few have asserted that PR plays much better in a world that lacks trust. 

The questions we have to ask before either PR takes the plunge or insists that management undertake their own blog are:
? Do management and you understand the upside and downside of blogs?
? Is there an honest, long-term commitment to open communications with all parties?
? Do the blogs have sound business goals/guidelines?
? Does management understand that the direct communications can also lead to direct and often harsh confrontations?

Before we address the specifics wed like to ask you a question.  Do you recall when you got your first email address and went on the Inet?

Unless you had an email service that automatically notified you when you had mail, you would access your account and hope and perhaps even pray that there was mail in your box. 

If you opened the inbox and there was mail you were elated !!! 

You had validation as a human being and that someone honestly wanted to communicate with you. 

Then email became an integral part of your day-to-day business and personal activities.  You emailed rather than calling.  You emailed rather than going down two offices to talk with someone. 

It got to the point that you got so busy that even if you received a request for immediate information or assistance it would be 3-4 days before you bothered to acknowledge the request or provide information. 

You got into online discussions. You had disagreements.  Occasionally they became shouting matches.  Some of the discussions were heated?very heated! 

You encountered instances where people said things in an email they would never say out loud and certainly never face to face (we hope).

Welcome to the blogosphere !!!

What are the numbers/trends?
? Depending on whose numbers you use there are 30 or 50 million bloggers out there and one new blog is created every two seconds
? There is a 36x explosion of consumer generated video that is being incorporated into blogs
? Only 2.7 3 million blogs are updated at least weekly
? About half of the blogs are still being posted to three months after they are created
? There are an estimated 50,000 posts each hour
? According to Gallup only nine percent of Internet users say they frequently read blogs and 11 percent read them occasionally

Why do people blog?

Blogs have been promoted as a means for companies to have a direct 1:1 conversation with customers.  Admittedly the numbers look pretty good.  But why do people blog (Figure 1).

Fig. 1

They do it because (and well only highlight certain answers):
? its good therapy
? it improves writing skills
? ?they blog
? its the latest fad
? expose political injustice
? fame and notoriety

Many took and take -- up blogging because it looked like an easy way to make money some blogs do attract advertising.  Most found it as a means to strike out at and correct the worlds injustices.

But for a few notable exceptions including Messieurs Scoble and Israel are the individuals who undertake the activity for the above reasons your target market(s)?

While the numbers of bloggers adding their words to the world for posterity to read appear to be an overwhelming endorsement of the subject, the truth is few understand what it is or what it does.  The Pew Internet & American Life Project conducts exceptional research into the Internet-embedded world. 

People know key words and key technologies to a greater or lesser degree (Figure 2).

Fig. 2

You will note that none of the responses included blogging.  Not that this means the subject is unimportant to mainstream users but it does mean that it is not a vital subject to the connected world.

There are thousands; no, millions of individuals who feel blogging is their gateway to a rich future.  While it is true that some bloggers make a living at their web log journalistic endeavors, the volumes of blogs are increasing but the number of eyeballs sticking is flat to down.

Gallup conducted an Internet research study and found that:
? only nine percent of the online users frequently read blogs
? Only 11 percent read blogs occasionally
? 13 percent rarely read blogs
? 66 percent never read blogs

While the blogging advocates will challenge the numbers, the fact is that the results have remained relatively constant for the past two years even though the number of blogs has risen rather dramatically. 

What do people do on the Net?  According to Gallups and other research firms study the leading activity is:
? email 73 percent
? checking news
? checking weather
? shopping
? making travel plans

This does not dilute the importance of blogs.  Organizations have to not only be aware of blogs specifically as they relate to their industries, their product categories and especially their company but also weigh the pros and cons of having management blogs.   

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