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Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Business Blogs And The Business Of Online Publishing: Survey Provides Useful Insights (Part II)

A blog is constantly evolving, growing and developing. Bloggers are looking for new and better software, exciting and innovative information to post and for new links to increase their presence on search engines. As we have reported in the first part of this research, the bloggers in this study are doing all this and more. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed are planning to make changes to how their blogs function.

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Photo credit: Infoworld, Steve Broback

Corporations encourage blogging.
Some corporations are encouraging employees to start blogs. Of those some are choosing to focus on products or product applications. These product-oriented blogs are particularly successful in targeting niche markets that may not warrant major corporate expenditure. Other employees blog about R&D as well as up coming product releases.

Employees using a blog to discuss general happenings in the industry are also contributing to the corporate presence. The blogs give the corporation a human face and allow multiple ways to communicate with the company.

As additional bloggers are added, the blog may need to adapt. One blogger plans to do that and
says, "As we add bloggers, we will need to change the layout to accommodate so it doesn't become cluttered."

Blogs serve as barrier breakers.
Some companies are running (or considering) blogs in other languages to reach markets where traditional marketing may be costly and difficult. These are particularly good to "introduce" products without the expense or risk of a full campaign.

The Evolution of Blogs

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Blogs evolve.
Bloggers surveyed also plan to add more video, introduce new media/mobile technology, add podcasting and expand the number of visitors to their sites. Here are some of the responses that address these kinds of changes:

"I am thinking of doing a podcast that I would append to the blog, probably covering and expanding the same topics, but maybe doing some interviews."

"Getting us listed on more blog engines, having our associates post comments to other blogs and linking those posts to ours, incorporate images in our posts."

"I may add more advertising and affiliate stuff I am interested in how it works and this is a good place to explore these areas. I may replicate more of my posts to the corporate site. I may look for more discussion and responses."

Most of the bloggers in this study spoke of redesigning their blog and changing their software. One offered, "I'd like a better index.

TypePad says they are planning to introduce this soon." Another said, "I will be moving the blog from Blogger to its own domain name in WordPress soon. The charge will allow significantly increased functionality over the free blogspot.com set up currently used."

For the bloggers in this study redesign includes the appearance as well as content changes. Bloggers indicated they were planning to, "offer a dynamic style sheet for users to pick their favorite style layout" or "become more topical with events in our industry as other process manufacturers, trade press, automation suppliers, join in the blog conversation."



Adding additional authors.
Many of the bloggers spoke about adding authors, more information on authors, more channels and more frequent posts. In this study, 38% have increased posts on their blogs since they began them.



Blogging begets blogging.
When asked how to grow readership and promote a blog, our respondents were very clear. One blogger wrote, "The best way to promote a blog is by commenting on other people's blogs in the same niche and industry." Another offered, "Grow your blog by being cited by other more popular blogs." The theme continued with, "Get linked to by talking about issues of importance to bloggers with high PageRank."



Publicize yourself.
Many of the bloggers in this study suggested using a link in your email to direct others to your blog. They suggest talking about your blog in your emails and encouraging people to visit. Beyond that, send email blog posts to people who might find them interesting. One business blog author said they "constantly reinforce the blog within the membership, mentioning it every chance we get, in every email we send out and at every meeting we have."



You need to connect.
Ultimately the growth of a blog will depend on the quality and quantity of posts on it and on what one blogger calls "blogger relations". One blog author attributes growth to, "Consistent quality postings coupled with relevant comments adding to the conversation on other blogs over the long haul." Another says, "Provide useful information, post regularly, be honest, and be user-oriented." In classic blogger form, we get advice that is both humorous and probably true: "Be brilliant, pick a fight."



Nuts and Bolts of Business Blogging

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There are all types of blogs.
They include political, business, religious, financial, health oriented blogs and many more. Each has hundreds of specific subdivisions. In this study there are, corporate blogs for internal and external use (38%), independent blogs (27%) corporate sponsored blogs (15%), business affiliated/endorsed blogs (7%), business and business development blogs (5%), internal corporate blogs (3%) and a "network" blog.



Three blogs in this study did not fit any of the above classifications.
There are strategies to learn from every blog. One important strategy is defining your niche, or type. That allows you to formulate a tag or classification so that readers can find you quickly and easily.



High visibility key words help potential readers find you.
All 74 of our respondents provided their blog type and key words that would help visitors locate them through popular search engines. Twenty-six of those blogs came up in the top ten in a Google Search using the key words provided. Further, 16 come up as 1st or 2nd in their key word search. Some even came up first using appropriate industry-related key words beyond those that they had provided.



Do competitive searches.
Once you have decided on key words for your blog, a good idea might be to do your own search to see who comes up. It is a great way to define your competition within a category, or industry. In the end, your goal is to have descriptive key words, many links and sufficient traffic to push your blog to the top of a search engine list.



As previously indicated, blogs take time.
Most (89%) of the bloggers in this study receive 10 or fewer comments on an average day, and most reply in a timely fashion. Those replies, updates to the blog, creating posts etc., take about an hour a day according to two-thirds of our respondents. Plan to set aside more than an hour a day initially to get things started. This time is more than worth the investment.



Choose responders carefully.
Attention must be paid to who actually responds to readers when they comment. Bloggers in this study report the company CEO or the blog owner/author reply most (54%) of the time. Nineteen percent of replies come from top management or marketing directors.

Other options reported were a hired blog master (11%), a rotating list of people (10%), or a company employee (3%). The decision on a responder will depend on the purpose of the blog, resources, legal considerations and the nature of the posts on the blog.



To review or not to review?
Businesses need to consider the need for review of posts by company officers, the public relations people, or legal department. If there is a review necessary, turnaround time becomes a factor. Seven percent of bloggers surveyed have a review process prior to posts. They reported posts going through a marketing vice president, a product manager, or a corporate communications team. Some said the topic would determine if a review was needed and by who.



Think ahead about possible repercussions.
Another consideration for bloggers is the possible consequences of what is said on their site. While a full 43% said there was no downside to running a blog, 49% noted the time a blog takes as a possible drawback, 4% cited competitive disadvantages, and 3% said their blog had been involved in legal problems. If possible, businesses should strive to run an informative and interesting blog without jeopardizing their strategic position in the market.



Consider a public policy.
Some blog authors have instituted public policies regulating conversation on their blogs. In this study, 18% of blogs have such a policy posted. In most cases, these policies are readily available on the site and address industry regulation, disclaimers, or the right to correct factual errors.

All bloggers need a system for dealing with negative comments or criticism. Eightyseven percent of respondents in this study adhered to fairly simple rules. Here is a sample of what they said:

"Comments with obscenities and such are summarily deleted."

"If I don't think it adds value or it isn't relevant, I don't post it. I'm not a bulletin board."

"Posts appear exactly as sent unless spam, racism, hate or overboard swearing."

"We've not yet faced negative comments, but I'd like to use Microsoft's Robert Scoble as a model to publish it, and discuss it rapidly, openly and transparently."

Most bloggers agree that there should be as little screening as possible. Readers will quickly see through sites that have been "cleaned" and authors that only post views agreeing with their own.



The Human Factor

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People are important.
The ultimate success of any blog depends on the person that manages and posts. Blogs are a human endeavor, a personal conversation, a sharing of thoughts and ideas. Readers form relationships with bloggers that are very real.

Communities are formed and friendships are made. One of the blog authors tells us, "I bump into strangers who know my dog's name." There is a real person that entertains, provokes and responds. In many ways, blogs are a place to go for all that is missing in today's off line world.

Blogs have not stolen the hearts and minds of consumers. Consumers have gone willingly in search of a more meaningful relationship. Most business communication is impersonal and one way. Customers do not feel they are valued by organizations that have built multiple walls between them and those they supposedly serve.

They cannot get a human voice on the phone, an option that fits their problem, or a call back. Now, with the Internet, customers can know more about any business than the business itself is willing to tell. Employees, ex-employees, past customers and industry experts are no more than a click away, and your customers are indeed clicking.

Businesses are no longer the soul source of product information or new product development underway. People are getting the information they need to make purchase decisions from other people. Remember, there are over 40 million blogs with a new one springing up every second. If only one tenth of one percent of those can impact your market, you have 40,000 new voices talking to your customers as we speak.

It is the humanity of the blogoshpere that makes it an enormous threat to business as usual. The only way for businesses to survive this new consumer movement is to understand what makes blogs successful. We asked our prestigious group of bloggers to tell us what characteristics make a good blogger. Many offered lists of personal traits including:

  • "Dedicated, opinionated, inquisitive"

  • "Disciplined"

  • "Intelligent, diligent, and patient"

  • "Personality, commitment, networking ability"

  • "Responsible, honest"

  • "Being true and real at all times"

  • "Passion, engagement, sincerity, authenticity, to be coherent, to answer
    comments (eventhe negative ones), to post regularly (even if only once per week)
    "

Others offered more extensive comments on what makes a blogger or blog successful:

"Above average conversational or writing skills, creativity, persistence, complete honesty and integrity (if you aren't honest you'll be found out quickly); the ability to separate yourself from your blog. The worst bloggers are those that identify so thoroughly with their blog that conversation and debate can't occur-they are just seen as personal attacks."

"Short and concise postings, blogging is not about really long articles, powerful useful tips of information, a good search feature, a tad bit of humor but also knowledgeable on the subject matter. Sharing of cutting edge info rather than old news."

One well-know business blogger wrote:

"The blogosphere has changed forever how people share information and what their takes are on just about any topic under the sun. The net result being the world which was getting flat is now even flatter and you are a couple of clicks away from smart people with first hand knowledge and insight into all kinds of ideas that you care about."

In typical blogger form, some sent links to other blogs that have compiled lists of highly effective bloggers, others sent things they have written or have seen on the subject. This is typical blog behavior... people helping people.



Concluding Thoughts

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The data presented in this study came from the most established and well-known bloggers in their respective fields.
They have run their blogs for several years, some more than six years. In the world of the blogoshere that makes these contributors the wise elders. They responded to a simple inquiry that promised to pass on their advice to businesses contemplating entering their world. Seventy-four bloggers responded with candid comments and quantitative data that are rich and clear.

Blogging takes time, commitment, and honesty.
In return connections are made that are personal and strong. Blogs are not a fad. They are no longer even an option. Those businesses that choose to remain outside this online conversation, will be sidelined. Eventually they will become extinct.

Consumers will move about the wired world in search of products and services that meet their needs.
Every serious business needs to have a presence in this electronic global marketplace. But there is more. Businesses need to listen to other conversations that are happening around them. This includes responding to other blog posts and comments.

The blogosphere itself is a provider of more and better research than off line businesses are getting now.
A true competitive analysis takes place when one searches blogs to see who your competitors are in the minds of your target market.

Blogs act as huge, ongoing focus groups providing feedback and ideas.
Some of the most brilliant people in the world are blogging. Talk to them. Let them help you become more successful. Move your business forward in a way that is new, exciting, a bit scary, and ultimately necessary.



End of Part II of 2.

Read Part I: Business Blogs And The Business Of Online Publishing




Originally published as "Behind the Scenes in the Blogosphere: Advice from Estabilished Bloggers" by Nora Ganim Barnes on the website of the Center for Marketing Research at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

About the author

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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.



Photo credits

Graph - Ryan Pike
Child's blocks - Sergei Popov
Blogging man - Tom Denham
Blackboard - Mark Aplet

Nora Ganim Barnes -
Reference: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth - Center for Marketing Research [ Read more ]
 
 
 
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posted by on Wednesday, December 6 2006, updated on Wednesday, December 6 2006


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