I am a business blogging evangelist. There IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve said it. I think businesses should be selling their services through education and building trust with information of value. What better way of achieving this than with a relevant and regularly updated blog?
Sometimes I wonder whether I do get carried along with the whole web 2.0 crowd and should stop to see why business blogging hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t yet taken off on a larger scale. After all, not everybody thinks there is going to be an imminent revolution in how businesses communicate.
This week IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to step down from my pulpit of normal sermons, on the need for businesses to engage with their marketplace, to see what the other side thinks.
Last weekÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Blogging4Business conference was an opportunity for those in marketing and PR to listen to bloggingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proponents and decide whether to be afraid or rejoice.
The BBC sent a reporter along so, with their government mandate for objective reporting, I was interested to see what impression was being broadcast to the wider world.
The BBCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reporter attended a session hosted by MicrosoftÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Darren Strange, one of their leading bloggers, who gave a typically browbeating speech:
He delivered an impassioned plea for firms to allow staff free reign to write their own blogs.
“I know it sounds scary that you have hundreds of people writing what they like about the firm, and you having no control over it,” Mr Strange said.
“Yes, things will go wrong, people will say things that perhaps they shouldn’t but the benefits outweigh the downsides.”
The room of PR executives meanwhile had been stunned into silence.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a common theme in the blogosphere that the traditional PR and marketing mindsets are struggling to come to terms with the new attitudes to communication. It would appear that this view is also shared with the wider world and still a reason why business blogging isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t being pushed along the traditional lines.
People often fear what they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t understand or think they can’t control. Mainstream exposure of blogging is always beneficial for the movementÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s growth, even if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just to highlight the gaping void between the traditional mindset and new breed of online proponents.
In my search for people prepared to stand up and challenge the beliefs of the business blogging movement I came across a white paper by Lewis PR. The report is well researched and objective, and does give a clear insight into some of the barriers holding the movement back.
Here are some of its key points:
In a survey of 300 companies from 10 countries only 5% had a blog. A stark contrast to the popular and oft quoted Jupiter research report that heralded 35% of companies would be blogging by the end of 2006. The fact is that business blogging hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t yet taken off and is still mainly the preserve of individual professionals, marketing and new media agencies.
There is uncertainty about the benefits and best practices. More mainstream awareness is needed of case studies and businesses who have gained from blogging.
There is less enthusiasm to invest in new technology simply because it is the latest fad. Businesses are no longer going to spend money just trying to be cool. People are keeping their fingers in their pockets after getting them burnt in the last misfired internet explosion.
Blogging requires a significant investment of time, skill and knowledge. You can outsource the first two, but will still soak up an employeeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time providing the third.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s difficult to assess the value of blogging in terms of cost-benefit. We are still missing a recognised set of metrics for measuring engagement, although some would argue that a lot of marketing takes place without robust metrics anyway.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s difficult to pitch blogging to a CEO. Without quantifiable benefits like bringing in sales leads and reputation enhancement, but with the much publicised risks, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a difficult sell. Page 10 of the report does, however, provide a good summary of all the possible benefits for HR, marketing, sales etc.
Marketers and blogging gurus might read a lot of RSS feeds but that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean business people do. Will your blog be able to gain their attention with all the emails, industry magazines and sales calls they receive in a day? (Research was, however, published by Edelman showing that blog readership contains a large proportion of influencers: people responsible for buying decisions who want to be up to date on the latest developments. RSS has also only been integrated into browsers for a few months).
Your blog has to be able to provide news and information of value to attract readers. If your business isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t in a fast paced industry then you might struggle to provide enough for the business crowd.
Blogs need to be transparent and fit in with the blogging culture, if this doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fit in with your businessÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ culture then your blog might struggle. Corporate speak doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work online.
Your blog might attract negative comments and feedback if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re in a controversial industry or attract criticism. Animal testing firms should probably think twice.
Lewis PRÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s report highlights many of the issues business blogging is facing: lack of awareness, lack of well known case studies and the fear of jumping in before everybody else.
The business blogging movement still continues to gain pace though, with SEO firms now signing up and many PR agencies making hesitant enquiries.
Last year I went to a small business exhibition in Milton Keynes to distribute leaflets on the benefits of blogging in the hope of riding the web 2.0 wave. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve still got a pile sat in my drawer. Lewis Global PRÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s report shows that it might still be too early to give them another airing just yet.
Business blogging might not be appropriate for every business. But for those wishing to reach a global audience with a niche product, the time is still ripe to start talking about yourself and engaging with your online marketplace. I still know which side IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m on, even if it is just because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more interesting.