Is it time your business started thinking about blogging?

How tuning into blogging can give you an ear to the world

Don't be fooled by stereotypes. The blogger is not only some rare, pale-faced youth, writing in his pyjamas in the early hours of the morning.

There are 70 million blogs online right now. A massive 120,000 new blogs are created every day and about 50,000 blog posts are written every hour!

Statistically, some of your customers are bloggers, as are some of your industry leaders and some of your competitors.

Day in, day out, online conversations are taking place in the form of blog posts and reader comments. What are the chances some of those blog posts are about your business?

For many businesses, it's pretty high. So it is no surprise organisations are starting to "listen in", using blogs to give them an ear to the world.

Um, what exactly is a blog?

Don't be put off by the jargon, a blog is ultimately a simple, informal website that is very easy to create and update. The author typically posts a series of brief stories and these are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent post appearing first. Quick fire content is published, consumed by readers and is soon superseded by the next post.

Often, a blog's purpose is to facilitate conversation with a participative audience of readers, because unlike a website, blog readers can openly comment on the stories.

These comments form an integral part of the blog's content and story can evolve, twist and turn as a result of this reader input. Additionally, blogs tend to be highly interlinked, so a story can start on one blog and be quickly spread amongst many other blogs.

But why would tuning into blogging help your business?

Blogs are super-charging word of mouth - both good and bad. Fans enthuse about the products, services and brands that they care about, generating massive buzz. Likewise, businesses have seen their reputations destroyed and share prices plummet as news of flaws, misjudgements and errors sweep across the "blogosphere".

This super-charged word of mouth provides a terrific opportunity to hear the online conversations about your business and industry that previously only went on behind closed doors - far out of your earshot. This can be a form of potent market research and it's no surprise that businesses are increasingly taking advantage of this, by monitoring what bloggers have to say about them.

There are tools, such as the following, that let you monitor the key phases, company names or specific terms that matter to your business.

  • Blogpulse's Trend Search tracks buzz over time for certain key words, phrases or links
  • Blogpulse's Conversation Tracker assembles a snapshot of blog conversations
  • Google alerts will email you daily updates each time the specific terms, names and phrases of your choice are used

Yet it's not just passive observation that is making forward-looking businesses excited about blogging. They are also participating in the conversations that are going on anyway. By running their own blogs and engaging in conversations with other bloggers, they are taking an active role in shaping their reputations online.

Are there risks?

Blogging means letting go of some of the control over your message. And that feels like (and can genuinely be) a risk.

One of the most obvious worries is making a fool of yourself by blogging "badly" or inappropriately and this reflecting poorly on your company. It is true that some companies have been stung badly when their blogs have been exposed as fake or as too much like advertising.

But this is generally when firms have used blogs to deceive, rather than for authentic conversation. With a little preparation, research and some guidelines about what is and isn't acceptable in a blog, this potential downside is transformed into a powerful new business tool.

Additionally, companies fear that by letting employees blog, they are losing control over their corporate image and exposing themselves to ridicule or bad press. Not every company has the open culture conducive to business blogging and a tiny minority of bloggers have found themselves out of work by crossing the line.

Yet many organisations do have passionate champions amongst their staff. So, again, with some advance thinking and clear guidelines about what is and isn't acceptable in a blog, the risk is minimised and the power of your employees can be unlocked.

A final concern we hear businesses express about blogging, is "what if people say negative things on our blog, won't that be damaging to our business?" In truth businesses have always had to deal with customer service issues, complaints and issues of negativity. It isn't a new problem and chances are your business already has processes to deal with this.

What the most successful business bloggers out there are discovering is that they have a chance to turn negatives (should they occur) into potential positives, by being able to respond online to criticism and not just acting on it where appropriate, but by being seen to act on it.

Because blogs are super-charging word of mouth, those businesses that are skilfully participating in the conversation are at a competitive advantage, even though they are letting go of some of the control.

So why tune in to blogging?

Blogging can help you communicate with your potential customers in a two way process. It's not a question of throwing out messages and hope they hear, it's a opportunity for an animated conversation, where you get to listen to their view point too.

Blogging provides businesses with an opportunity to:

  • hear the conversation about your industry and organisation - boosting market research
  • participate in the conversation - supporting marketing, PR and business strategy
  • act on the conversation as required - improving customer service and general management

There are conversations being had - potentially about your business, certainly about your industry - and some of these will be good, some bad. The important thing is to listen, learn and respond. Blogging is shaping up to be a potent business tool - and pyjamas are purely optional.

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