Blogs: Foundational Tools for Network Building
Elizabeth Albrycht wrote the first article for the Global PR Blog 2.0 week for today's opening conference. I read her article, and here are my comments to Elizabeth.
Your thesis that the primary function of corporate communications is network building is interesting to me because of my background in search engine marketing.
Part of the criteria for ranking a web in a search engine is based on the connections or links from other websites. Several authors have explained the importance of backlinks to the google search engine. Andrew Gerchart's "understanding and building google PageRank, " from feb 2002 provides a good explanation of the importance of linking design within a website structure and the importance of receiving links from other websites in achieving a higher ranking. And Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page's paper, "The anatomy of a large-scale hypertextual web search engine," also gives good insight into the importance of linking. As you stated "when you enable connections between nodes on the network to take place, the value of the network grows exponentially," in the case of websites as a website receives more links from other websites the value to the original website grows, that value comes in the form of increased rankings in search results.
Getting a high result in the organic section of a search engine is important to a company or an organization. Customers who are searching for new vendors use search as a starting point. 67% of buyers who had a need for a technology solution learn about new vendors by conducting research to find the appropriate provider (ITSMA 2004 Customer Research with senior IT and business buyers representing manufacturing, financial services, and public sector organizations.) While increasingly customers rely on search engines to find out more about a product or service. 63.9% of buyers used search engines as a place to begin their research (Sherpa Survey / Enquiro: How B-to-B Buyers Use Search, October 2004). From the same survey, 62% of B-to-B buyers click on the above the fold organic results in Google initially.
I ask myself the question why do buyers prefer to click on the organic section, Google also provides sponsored links, and those links don't receive as much traffic, as the organic section of Google. You wrote about how "One of the core mantras of public relations is that having someone else speak credibly (and positively one hopes!) about your organization and its products or services is more valuable in terms of persuading people to take positive action than a corporation speaking for itself." I think customers and searchers are also looking for non-biased credible results when they use search engines, and that organic search results are seen as being more trustworthy than paid results. Fittbau & Massb's study "searching in the Internet," (20th WWW User Analysis W3b, april/may 2005) found that searchers preferred normal or organic results, 53.1% of their study and do not click on paid text ads.
Organic results are credible to searchers because users believe they are less biased than the paid search ads. And when it costs thousands of dollars if not 10's of thousands of dollars to place a paid search ad, getting a high search engine ranking can produce great results, cost savings in help to promote a brand overall.
To get those higher results a company has to build a website that provides relevant content, and is indexable by a search engine, while getting links from other websites. Blogs it seems give companies a better solution in achieving all three of these important factors in gaining a higher ranking on a search engine. But in the process of achieving that ranking, companies must enter into a conversation with influential people who run highly ranked websites in order to have a hope of getting those backlinks. While your point "A lone PR person trying to speak on behalf of his or her corporation isnâ€™t enough. Rather, one should consider viewing his or her entire organization as full of spokespeople: employees, partners, customers â€“ in fact, all relevant audiences," is very important in helping a company to achieve better overall results both in terms of conversational connections and improving website link connections.
Several companies have used this strategy of encouraging many of their employees to blog and join in on online conversations; Microsoft and SUN come to mind. While other companies have been much less organic in their blog development strategy, I think of Macromedia and IBM. I noticed you referenced IBM as one of the leaders in the use of blogs. I'd like to throw a caveat into their progress at using blogging as a business or marketing strategy for the company. IBM has a lot of internal blogs but fewer external blogs, plus the type of conversations IBMer's have been able to enter into has been somewhat restricted in terms of gathering customer feedback. My article, "Did the blogging survey short change IBM?" discusses some of these issues. Though this blogging article on an interview I had with Jim Finn, IBM's VP of Communications indicates the company is making further progress. .
Overall I think you are right blogging helps companies to build connections to customers, both directly, and also through the benefits of achieving higher rankings on search engines. And both improved search rankings and the conversational tone of blogging are helping to turn buyers into customer evangelists and increase sales at companies that are using blogs.
Posted by johncass at September 19, 2005 1:07 PM
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You are absolutely correct that search engine optimization is tightly tied to my idea of network-building. In fact, in a seminar I did on blogging/participatory communications last Friday, SEO came up again and again. That means I should have probably emphasized it a bit more strongly in my article than I did (thanks for pushing it further here) and that I need to increase my own knowledge of SEO. And you have helped here! Thanks so much.
Posted by: Elizabeth Albrycht at September 20, 2005 6:31 AM