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To blog or not to blog? That is the question...

Jan. 1, 2008
In his new book, “Naked Conversations,” author Robert Scoble pretty much nails the whole “blogging” phenomenon by directly linking it to the consumer’s need for “human contact.
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by Steve White
In his new book, “Naked Conversations,” author Robert Scoble pretty much nails the whole “blogging” phenomenon by directly linking it to the consumer’s need for “human contact.” He cites the frustration of being fed up with voice mail, menus of phone options that seem endless and never offer what they need, and mechanical voices telling them to please hold as their call “is very important to us” (though not important enough that a real person actually answers the phone).

“Blogging is interactive, informal, peppered with misspellings, grammatical errors, and an occasional forbidden word,” explains Scoble. “And it’s already changing the face of business.”

For those still typing out correspondences on an IBM Selectric, “blogging” is a derivative of the term “Web log” and the cyber-based offspring of the online journals that surfaced between 1994 and 2001. In its infancy, blogging was restricted to those who could deal with slow dial-up connections while not being intimidated by confusing HTML language, a scary world that could only be navigated by “techno-nerds.” But today, with the advent of high-speed bandwidths and user-friendly software, creating a blog is as easy as a click of a mouse. It’s now considered cool to blog. Bloggers see the world with no filter. They are grass roots and have no corporate allegiances. What was once “nerdy” is now “hip.”

A typical blog contains text, images, and links to other blogs and Web pages related to a certain topic. But it’s the ability of a blog to leave comments in an interactive format that makes it the powerhouse that it is today. It’s the power of the moment. Whereas it can take a magazine three months lead time to report on a topic, according to John Briggs, editor of Crunch Time, a blogger needs only a lead time of 35 seconds to be first with a story. In Boston, we are seeing the power of instant information with Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who is blogging to his online community about his last pitching performance almost immediately after he enters the dugout following his final pitch. Heck, why wait until the next morning to pick up The Boston Globe to read why Schilling threw a slider to Alex Rodriguez with two strikes and the bases loaded, when you can get the explanation “from the horse’s mouth” within the hour?

Experts predict that 12 million Americans keep a blog, while 57 million Americans are reading them. And in those staggering numbers is the powerful attraction of blogging to corporate America.

For most companies, blogging is all about creating a dialogue with the customer, because they feel that’s when bloggers realize — by having the company engage them in direct conversation — that their opinions and insights are valued, and a strong relationship is being built. Blogging gives the consumer the power to do what we all want to do — jump up
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on that cyber-soapbox and share information and recommendations on products and services (as well as politics, current events, the price of gasoline, and their irritating neighbor who never cuts his lawn).

Here are one industry expert’s three reasons why blogging should be a major component of any business:

  1. It builds relationships with lifetime referrals — People do business with you because they like you and trust you. Blogging makes that relationship build quicker.
  2. It creates raving fans — People look forward to what you have to say and what your company offers.
  3. It generates targeted traffic to your site — Links inside your blog allow people to click and instantaneously be at your site, reviewing your products and services. And according to Guy Kawasaki, author of How to Suck Up to a Blogger, linking is extremely important in the world of blogging. “Linking is the sincerest form of flattery,” says Kawasaki. “Linking is like an online business card — it makes bloggers feel like they are appreciated.”

Blogging also lends itself to immediate feedback to your products and services, which can be extremely important. But like everything, blogging can have its downside.

Remember when mothers used to say to their kids, “If you don’t have something useful to say, don’t say it”? Well, apparently that advice never sunk into the minds of future bloggers. Just because many people have nothing of value to say doesn’t mean they aren’t going to blog. Quality blogs can be hard to come by, and it’s quality blogs — well-written with comprehensible text — that appeal to most businesses.

Another downside has been that the marriage between blogging and corporate America has been somewhat shaky, especially in the area of employee relations. Occasionally, workers will feel the personal space in their blog is a wide-open field for their opinions and comments of the company they work for. But Ellen Simonetti, a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines, learned differently when her blog titled “Queen of the Sky: Diary of a Flight Attendant” came to the attention of the company “suits” who felt her comments were “inappropriate” and she was ousted. The same fate befell Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who criticized the NBA officiating in his blog during the 2006 playoffs and was fined.

There’s no way to predict what the future of blogging will be or how much of a dynamic it will play in the corporate world. But most industry experts feel you can bet your ASCII that as technology continues to broaden, and the world shrinks around us, companies will be even hungrier to get immediate access to the consumer, and the all-important instantaneous dissemination of dialogue and feedback.

But there are also those out there who feel that blogging will peak by the end of the year at around 100 million, and then start to, invariably, backslide as boredom sets in on the hardcore bloggers and those with a passing interest will have satisfied their curiosity and moved on to other endeavors. Time will tell.

Steve White is Public Relations Manager for Graham Communications in Quincy, Mass. He can be reached [email protected].