This report is based on the most experienced, business savvy and respected bloggers who are at the forefront of innovation in the blogosphere. In this report, they talk about everyday challenges of running a blog and how they deal with them.
Take their advice on the best way to promote a blog and hear about the next set of changes these blog leaders plan to make to stay competitive in the blogosphere.
Those researchers who are veterans of blogger studies know what I have now learned; bloggers are generous, helpful, unselfish and friendly. Discover what these experts have to say, and move your business into the blogosphere.
In many ways the data in this study was blogger-driven. Respondents offered comments on the wording of questions, suggestions for new questions and help in disseminating the survey to be filled out. The final version of the survey presented here is more personal and revealing thanks to the bloggers who wanted the findings to be meaningful, useful and unique in perspective.
- Blogs Take Time and Commitment
Initially many of the bloggers in this study did not anticipate the time their blog would take. A good blog is one where posts are fresh and new posts are frequent. Researching interesting new things to share with your audience takes time. One blogger noted, “The worst blogs are those that are updated infrequently.” He cautions others with, “Be prepared to spend more time than you think.”
If your posts have to be vetted by legal or discussed with others in your organization, there will be additional time demands on the blogger, and delays on posting. A business blogger in the study advised, “The corporate communications team needs to commit to rapid turnaround of items submitted for pre-posting.”
In this study, 49% of bloggers reported the time a blog takes as the major drawback to running one. Two-thirds of the bloggers report spending less than one hour a day on their blog, while 31% spend 1-3 hours a day. One blogger writes, “Look on it as a learning experience (you will get back as much as you give). Once you start, don’t stop.” Another warns, “Make sure you have time and resources dedicated to supporting it.”
Some of the time commitment is due to bloggers spending more time posting.
Thirty-eight percent have increased the number of posts to their blog since they began. Overall, bloggers feel that the time investment is worth it with 95% reporting their blogs are successful. Some measure success in links, some in income, some in self-satisfaction, and some in the quality of human connections they have made.
- Blogs Must Be Part of A Plan
It is unlikely a successful business or a new venture would be lacking a business plan. As part of that plan, or in addition to it, most businesses and organizations developed mission statements long ago. Many have added customer service mission statements to guide their customer service component. These plans and mission statements are created to focus peoples’ efforts and capture the purpose of the organization and its relationship to its customers.
One blog author was adamant about the need for a business plan for creating and running a business blog. “Like anything else in business, a blog requires a plan. Without a plan, the blog is going to fail within three months. Period.”
Another adds, “Create a business plan. Since this is intended to make money, a full business plan was created for it and we are still tweaking it a bit (you might say it is in Beta right now).”
Bloggers decide on a focus for their site. Surveyed bloggers say: “Have a purpose in mind and method for measuring success. Don’t do it just because everyone else is" and also: “Define your audience and that will help in defining the voice and direction of your blog”.
As a new communications tool, blogs are essential for communicating with your target audience. Blogging can help to mitigate problems as well. One business blogger offered: “In a company environment blogs can be used as a tactic to solve a number of communications issues, so don’t blog just for the sake of having a blog.”
Blogs can be internal, external or both. They can be used in conjunction with websites, or in some cases instead of them. Blogs can be used to gather data, disseminate information or both. They can be official business blogs or can be affiliated or sponsored by a business. The purpose of the blog will determine who should post, how often, and how the blog should be directed.
To maximize the potential of a blog, it must be viewed as part of the overall package and voice of the organization. If it is not part of an integrated strategy, it will lack focus and a following. The plan should also address policies on reader comments, directing traffic to the blog from company websites, products and advertising.
In this study, 18% of blogs reported having a public policy regulating conversation on their blog. These policies range from the formal disclaimer and creative commons license to the very informal directive on comment forms. Policies are found on front pages, FAQ section or in comment fields on blogs.
Fifty-eight percent of bloggers reported their company website directs visitors to their blogs. In all cases the link was on the company site home page. Additionally, 39% reported their company packaging, labeling or promotion directs people to the blog.
- A Blog is a Conversation
Author Robert Scoble calls it “naked conversations.” Early blogger Dave Winer calls it “come-as-you-are conversations”. Some marketers call blogs “2-way marketing”.
The point is the same in all cases: participation is essential in the blogosphere.
One respondent says:
“Don’t start a blog unless you have people in your organization ready to post to it daily in an open, friendly, and excited tone. A blog is a conversation. Don’t open the line unless you’re ready to really talk”.
A blog is an invitation to debate, discuss and exchange. It is what makes blogging different than websites. The responsive nature and human connection pull people in. Consumers want to talk about products and services. If they can’t talk to the vendor or the manufacturer, they will talk to others online.
The plethora of articles being published on Web 2.0, speak to this new paradigm. In the first generation of online experiences, the web provided a vehicle for mostly one-way communications.
Websites were static. Many are not updated. Email allows us to speak to a certain designated person or group. We now have the ability to go beyond this and disseminate information in a more personal and timely way.
A survey respondent cautioned against blogging with a traditional mind-set:
“Don’t think of a blog in terms of publishing metaphors - it’s not a newsletter replacement. Blogs are a great communication tool. But when you set one up to serve as a “corporate voice” it’s as effective as spam. Find human beings to blog - don’t set up a blog and try to find someone to manage it. It will fail if you do.”
It is important not to be afraid of giving up the mono-directed control that usually characterizes an organization. One respondent offers, “Blogs are conversation rather than one-way speech. Allowing that conversation actually strengthens your base".
Blogs, facilitated by increased access to the Internet, high-speed connections, RSS feeds, a selection of easy to use blog software, and new blog search capabilities, now allow businesses to speak to current and potential customers in real time. Equally important, consumers can talk back in real time. Bloggers say, “It’s a great way to get closer to your users, customers and other critical stakeholders.” And also: “There is no downside to getting to know your customers on a more personal basis.”
“The opportunities for businesses to test new ideas, discuss product lines, introduce brands, or conduct online research are infinite. The prerequisite for success however, is that the business blog accepts the premise that the blog is a conversation, not a monologue or an infomercial.”
This is what our seasoned business bloggers had to say about the essence of a blog conversation: “The 'popularity’ of your blog is directly related to frequent posting, open and honest dialogues.”
- Transparency, Authenticity, and Focus are good
Bland is Bad. Consumers know when they are being talked at, played, or deceived. Respondents say: “Be authentic. If you can’t, don’t blog.” and also: “Don’t focus on execs, the public wants to hear from people they can relate to-the average worker. Pick a “short fuse” topic to get started, with a definite start and end date, before you start an indefinite blog.”
Consumers want corporate/business blogs to talk honestly and candidly about their products, services, ideas, and plans. Consumers want more than to be on the receiving end of commercials. Bloggers warn, “Write it yourself, no PR guys on it. Comment broadly on your industry. Don’t just summarize your press announcements.”
People are looking to talk to someone in authority about their experiences, ideas, and suggestions. If they have something negative to say, they expect (on a blog) that their comments will be heard. A recurrent theme with the bloggers studied was honesty and openness. They advised: "Be transparent
and authentic”, "Make it genuine, make it interesting, have guest authors talking about all aspects of your business.” Another blogger says: "Make it real. Have the right people talking about product innovation, not the PR people.”
Keep in mind that conversations will happen outside your blog that relate to your products or industry. You need to be aware, current, and honest in dealing with those conversations too. One business blogger wrote:
“Monitor the blogosphere closely, both for discussions about your brand, and for comments about your blog. Respond with comments to those outside blog posts. The blogosphere respects participation, so respond.”
Consumers who feel like a business blog is authentic, honest and interesting will contribute to it and support its products. These contributions, and the resultant conversations, provide a rich new data source for companies as well as great new relationships. One experienced blogger summed it all up for a company thinking about starting a blog: “Be honest and don’t pander. Readers can tell.”
End of Part I of 2.
Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes earned a Ph.D. in Consumer Behavior from the University of Connecticut and is a Chancellor Professor of Marketing and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. As Director of the Center for Marketing Research, she has provided services in brand and product development, research, promotion, and commercial television production to hundreds of clients.