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Blog’s Eye View

Having spent the better part 10 years publishing in many digital forms, I continually enjoy watching friends and colleagues discover blogging and, in turn, delight in connecting with others online.  Numerous, ubiquitous social network sites deliver simple publishing tools to whole societies, scaling what was the domain of geeks into a mass-market proposition.

Some reject blogging entirely, which is their right.  But millions have taken virtual pen to paper and, consequently, prompted corporations looking for competitive advantage to investigate how to best employ this activity for profit.

Professional What?

It remains an awkward time for online publishing: legitimate debates rage about intellectual property, anonymity, libel, and of course privacy.  Many organisations find these conversations messy, a little scary and, simply too new. 

But as a global phenomenon it is a frontier only because it is digital; lawyers, politicians and philosophers have grappled with boundaries of self-expression for millennia.

A more uncomfortable and immediate reality, though, is a generation gap in attitudes towards blogging, particularly in regards to whether it should be performed professionally inside and/or outside the office.  Age is not the only influential factor shaping these opinions.

Rather, I see fundamental philosophical differences between two (crude) camps: those who believe blogging should be fervently ring-fenced to either the personal or work domains (but not both); and those who see blogging as I do, more fluidly, an immutable confluence of the individual and professional conditions.

In the face of such substantial adoption, more and more companies are evaluating how to proceed.  The invariable, first question they ask is: who owns the brand voice?

Centralised marketing departments, struggling to cope with a hyper-dynamic digital landscape, are wholly unfit for purpose when it comes to blogging, with existing teams lacking the requisite skills and structure to deliver across ever-changing media.  Conversely, corporate, cube-dwelling denizens might be well-suited to craft project plans and financial statements, but they make questionable front-line warriors challenged with navigating uncharted electronic PR blogginggrounds.

The Thrill

It’s difficult to write about blogs without at least acknowledging the larger, social media landscape they, in part, drive.

In the 1990s, during the first stage of the evolving commercial internet, search engines carried the heavy lifting of connecting brands and customers.  Branded web sites and e-mail communications were the most sophisticated marketing activities on offer, making for a non-traditional – read: scary, but manageable – brand ecosystem for businesses to oversee.

The next phase of innovation capitalised on tipping-point penetration levels of home broadband connectivity.  When millions of newly-minted ADSL customers logged on in 2004, MySpace was ready with free patches of virtual land for newcomers to explore and shape in their images.

Social networks and dedicated platforms – like Blogger, Type Pad and WordPress – provided the right tools for fledgling bloggers as they began uploading, sharing and publishing in droves.  Specialist sites flourished providing easy-to-use tools for organising photos, movies, calendars, e-mail, to-do lists and other everyday activities, giving consumers endless reasons to log on – and stay there.

The first piece of advice I give those companies considering blogging is to challenge the notion of linear storytelling.  Throw out the static marketing brochure, abandon the PR calendar. It is a dynamic medium, impossible to map or define.  Credible blogging must occur within the fabric of this environment: a blog is never a destination, only one of an infinite number of links connecting people – people, not “users” or “customers” – across time and space.

What kind of Blogger are you?

According to Jeremy Wright, in his book Blog Marketing, archetypical bloggers exist in one of seven forms:

  1. The Barber. Knows the right people and wisdom
  2. The Blacksmith. Like the Barber but works inside a company
  3. The Bridge.  Makes connections
  4. The Window.  Inside company but also talks about things outside the company.
  5. The Signpost.  Points out cool things of interest in his/her industry.
  6. The Pub.  Creates discussions to attract people
  7. The Newspaper.  Reports on news and happenings like a journalist

I am a Blacksmith, but occasionally adopt other traits depending on my passion and prejudice towards the topic at hand. 

Wright’s list is useful to understand the varying roles bloggers play, variation in format is as important as frequency.  It also helps businesses identify which part of the spectrum feels ‘right’ for their voice.

Blogging purists – rightly, in my view – argue against rigid oversight, believing spontaneous ideas produce the greatest value as authentic and, frankly, human communication. 

Yet only the naive would ignore basic strategic commercial considerations: for example, a specialist insurance provider might be interested in acting like a Bridge, connecting customers to independent brokers; consumer brands, on the other hand, might consider creating a Pub, where like-minded customers can meet and discuss product features and future activities.

Companies ought to consider, at least initially, blogging formats most aligned with existing core competencies.  This helps internal teams overcome any uncertainty associated with trying something new, and it is naturally the experience customers would expect anyway. 

Always good advice: write what you know.

ROI of Blogging

The challenge to corporate communications teams is specific.  Blogs expanded the sphere of brand discussion beyond the control of any one internal entity or external marketing agency.

A natural tendency for these teams is to control the message, clasping each word as if a single elision will irreparably damage brand equity beyond salvation. 

In a sense, any ROI calculation is feeding this insecurity and, in fact, could exacerbate perceived problems.  The greatest danger is for the blog to become a PR marketing marionette, where contributors are (extremely) likely to face censorship – anathema to the entire exercise. 

It should be self-evident the exact economic benefits of blogging are impossible to measure conclusively.

For how, exactly, do you capture successes achieved indirectly?  What value do you put on conversations, customer comments, Diggs and trackbacks?  In a world of infinite links no traditional financial model is suitable.

Nevertheless, whilst we may not be able to calculate a precise ROI, Forrester’s Charlene Li and Chloe Stromberg argue we can develop a dashboard approach which gives us at least a fighting chance to signal whether our blog is having a big or small, or positive or negative impact.

In a well-thumbed article, The ROI of Blogging, Li and Stromberg suggest three factors are critical: benefits, costs and risk.  Identifying costs can be straight forward – including hardware expense and time spent setting up the blog – whilst benefits, albeit more difficult, can also use a traditional framework of metrics, including traffic, press notices, search engine positioning and any chance in historic sales trends. 

Ultimately, it’s adjusting for risk which makes the formula useful, for it defines a “best case” scenario – a significant increase in traffic and sales – and a worst case scenario, which approximates legal damages.  A “most likely” scenario straddles the two.

The Power of Alice

Blogs matter, not just for publishing diatribes and sharing photos; after all, offline tools provide exactly the same functionality.  The power of blogs is the infinite link, Alice’s rabbit hole tunnelling a black unknowable flight, for content creators and consumers alike.  It is up to brands and the professional marketers who guide them to undertake this special journey their own, distinct way.

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  1. 24 June, 2010 at 19:30

    nice info i like it tanks

  2. 20 April, 2011 at 00:56

    Good point. I hadn\’t thugoht about it quite that way. 🙂

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