Corporate Blogging Survey 2005
 
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September 14, 2005

Business Blogging Presentation at AMA Lincoln in October

I am giving a presentation on business blogging for the Lincoln chapter of the American Marketing Association on October 11th in Lincoln Nebraska. As part of the preparation for the event, I wanted to start a conversation with the board members and AMA members of the chapter to get a gage on the level of information they would like to hear in my presentation. Here’s an overview of the presentation at the moment:

* How blogs are different from normal corporate websites
* Blog example
* Why Is Search So Important for blogs
* Editorial Listings
* New Blogging Economy
* Indium case study
* Intuit case study
* Microsoft Case study
* Macromedia case study
* Crossing the cultural divide
* Targeting the influencers

I’d like to ensure I cover both specific questions and also make sure I am providing sufficient overview of corporate blogging as a new and evolving marketing technique. I wanted to know what questions you had about blogging, either send me an email directly at john AT backbonemedia.com or post a comment here below.

Posted by johncass at September 14, 2005 11:02 AM

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Comments

I am very intersted in how blogs are different from normal corporate websites.
I am also interested in ROI for blogs for clients.
What are the benefits of a blog?
Does blogging have a greater impact on certain industries more than another? For example, would a blog be appropriate for a client that is a manufacturing company verses a client that is a financial institution?

Posted by: Brooke Janousek at September 14, 2005 11:18 AM

I guess I'm getting old and I'm not getting this blog business yet. Plus, I don't like to scroll through a bunch of disorganized things to find the one nugget of information that helps me. (That's why I'm doing an early post.) How can you convince me there is a marketing/business benefit to having a blog on the site. I can "get it" eventually, so I'm hoping you help me see how this can apply.

Posted by: Randy Hawthorne at September 15, 2005 10:58 AM

Brooke,

I usually define blogs as websites that are run by content management systems that include several interactive elements; including RSS or web feeds and the ability to post comments. Though a very simple definition of a blog is a sequential diary of events or posts, similar to a captain's log.

The differences between a website and blog come from the interactive nature of a blog. It's possible to hold a one-on-one conversation with your web audience in a manner similar to email or forums, yet still control the overall editorial content and direction of the website.

The technocultural aspects of a blog make up the significant differences between a normal website and a blog. It's acceptable to post a lot of content in a personal manner on a blog. While currently its not always acceptable to post informal content on a corporate website.

As for ROI, well the results of the 2005 Backbone Media Corporate blogging study appear to indicate that results comes from:

* Direct traffic
* Ability to get information quickly out to your audience
* Web or RSS feeds
* Higher search engine rankings
* And some additional sales

To learn more see blogging study results here:
http://www.backbonemedia.com/blogsurvey/3-blogging-survey-conclusions.htm

Brooke, regarding your last question, on the suitability of blogs for different types of industries; that really does depend upon the industry and audience, in my experience I've seen blogs produce results for both the manufacturing industry and financial industries. Examples I would name would be Indium Corporation and Intuit.

I asked this question in the survey, who should be blogging? And I think it really relates to whether you have an active customer audience that is using the web to gather and compare information about products and services, plus ask questions from their existing vendors. All of your questions and especially this question relates to Randy's question about why a company should blog and its benefits.

Randy,

Over the last ten years customers have used the web to build or use company-sponsored online customer communities. Through sites like Amazon.com's book review section, or forums, customers have discovered the benefits of using the web to find answers to their questions about product and vendors. The starting point for any research conducted by customers has been a search engine. So in order to be considered by customers a company has to make sure they achieve a top ranking on search engines. Now it so happens that search engines look for three factors in giving a website a high ranking, content, votes or links, and accessibility. Blogs are some of the best websites for achieving all three factors in building a website that achieves a high search engine ranking.

Blogs let you develop a lot of content quickly; most blogs are powered by easy to use content management systems that let non-technical users post articles.

While getting a link back from another website is difficult, sending a request usually produces no results. But a blog is a conversation or discussion between the author and audience, if an audience member has a blog; it’s a discussion between blogs. If a company writes a blog article that is within the context of your current interests and continues the conversation about your topic of interest there is a high possibility of linking to that relevant post. This is one of the most powerful benefits of blogs, for direct traffic and helping to raise a site's search engine rankings.

Lastly, search engines spider websites, and blogs are typically powered by content management systems that are easily accessible by search engine spiders.

For more ideas on these factors see a recent Backbone Media newsletter.

http://www.backbonemedia.com/newsletter_archive/backbone_newsletter_august_2005.html

Search is an important factor in blogging's benefits. But I think the biggest reason the hype about blogs should not be dismissed is because of what your customers are doing online. If your customers are using the web to compare products with their fellow customers and are using search engines to find such sites then a blog is a way to interact with those customers both directly or in helping to boost your company's website's overall search engine rankings.

John Cass


Posted by: john cass at September 15, 2005 5:30 PM

I would like to learn more about how to influence management to pursue/fund blogging, podcasting etc. While I find that interest exists, this is all sort of nebulous to a lot of people, and because these technologies are so new, it's difficult to find examples of success stories. I'd like suggestions on how to think through how blogs could benefit my employer (University of Nebraska) and also how to pitch their use to my bosses.

Posted by: Sara Pipher at September 20, 2005 11:06 AM

I have noticed that one of the biggest concerns related to creating a corporate BLOG is the lack of control in the area of feedback. What is the general expectation related to posting feedback on a BLOG and how can posted content be monitored in a corporate setting?

Posted by: Lyn Wineman at September 20, 2005 11:13 AM

I am skeptical of blogs as a way to achieve business goals (aside from search engine placement) because I think that there are many pitfalls to corporate-sponsored blogs. Many try to use it as just another sales arena--with warmed over marketing content--and others suffer from a blog they start but then don't continue to utilize the way they intended.

Microsoft is touted for their use of blogging, but they also suffer from "unauthorized" blogs such as "mini-microsoft" whom I read about recently. I think the range and type of organizations that will be able to get real ROI from self-created blog sites is way less than many expect. Some critical elements to this equation are:
- Is there real understanding and commitment of executives to execute the blog properly?
- Does the organization have articulate, forthright individuals to provide blog content and maintain a largely positive string of discussion?
- How available and commited are those individuals in the long run?
- Does the company have much to say that's innovative and valuable? (Most probably do but aren't aware of what those messages might be)
- How do they avoid the propaganda trap or the urge to sensor feedback?
- Blogs were originally the voice of the individual and a meeting place for common minds. Does harnessing this medium come off well to outside publics?

I understand the need to put out more positive messages and open up a dialogue (negative or positive) with interested audiences. That is a good thing. Blogs can bring a company's worst problem areas out into the open and force them to deal with it, which is really public relations in its grittiest form. Hopefully each company/organization that jumps on the blogwagon (just made that up, but I'm sure I'm not the first!) is aware of the open disclosure involved and uses blogs to improve their organization rather than seeing them as a message delivery vehicle.

Shane

Posted by: Shane Mares at September 20, 2005 11:53 AM

John, I think this is a sign regarding my comfort level with blogs: this is my second time attempting to post. Be it user error or technology error, at 30 I feel over-the-hill when it comes to this technology.

I work for a newspaper and as I'm sure you're aware, blogs and community-type pages are changing the way we do news, or at least the way we communicate with our audiences. I have a pretty good conceptual grasp of blogs, and have been thinking about them for years. As a sci fi reader, I've seen this concept before (Orson Scott Card, I believe, with the Ender books, in particular).

But how do they become real?

How are people using blogging - do they do it at work or at home? What do they want from blogs?

Who is blogging?

How are people making choices about what blogs to read? For someone new, how do I search out important blogs for my life? I hear about power blogs from political insiders, etc. How do I FIND those?

What about lurkers?

How do we keep blogs dynamic and ahead of the curve? Where's blogging two years from now?

Blog content is a battle ground right now. What are the lessons we're learning about the balance between free speech and corporate rights? Or as an individual, what is TMI (too much information)?

Oh, I probably have a gazillion more questions. And given open type space, I will type and fill. Probably why blogs would be a dangerous thing for me.

Posted by: Jessica Kennedy at September 20, 2005 12:11 PM

Oh, I'm also curious about the relationship between blogs and Craig's List and similar free pages.

Posted by: Jessica Kennedy at September 20, 2005 4:48 PM

Hi Sara,

Backbone Media conducted a study in May/June to answer some of these questions, we asked 75 corporate bloggers some questions about the benefits of blogging, and also conducted 6 case studies with such companies as Microsoft, Macromedia, and Maytag.

There are many benefits to blogging. What appears to be key is the opportunity to increase leads either to a corporate website or blog by a blog helping to increase the ranking positions of an organization's website in search engines.

Any organization can pay for pay per click ads on a Google, and the cost for such ads will often be in the thousands of dollars. One lower cost solution is to build a website that offers a lot of relevant content in order to achieve a higher ranking on search engines. Blogs provide organizations with a way to easily build a lot of relevant content, and also solve one large issue in the world of organic search engine optimization, "how to obtain more links from other websites."

Getting votes or links from other sites is very difficult in the world of search, but important, as linking of the factors in achieving a high ranking. Backbone Media has found that receiving links from other sites is a lot easier by blogging.

Here's how, customers and other influential people in your industry are interested in exploring the best places to attend college. Students will want to discuss with other students their opinion of classes and campus life about a college. Blogs provide an easy mechanism for your students and potential students to discuss and compare different colleges on the Internet. (For more on how Internet users are using the web, see this article “The Blind Men and the Elephant: How Your Company Can Generate Marketing Results in the New Blogging Economy?)

A traditional website will not let you enter into online discussions, while a blog provides an opportunity for your admissions staff to answer questions directly via the web. I might add your admissions staff is probably already answering student questions by mail, telephone, and email. With blogging you can take that expertise and interaction between your admissions staff and potential students and display it to the world. Not only would you answer a potential student's question, but you would also expose that process to many more students on the blog at the same time. Your college gains directly from answering the student and from the people who read the interaction online.

The interchange with a student and admissions staff will have developed some valuable content around the questions students ask about entering your college specifically and around college admission questions in general. This gives your college the opportunity to get ranked on keywords and content that potential students are searching for on the web. Lastly if your student's have a blog and discusses your blog or links with your college blog with their blog, your college blog and website in general will gain extra links without even having to ask for the link.

A starting point with your management would be to understand if they see the value of search and connecting with students on the web. If some explanation is needed, I can provide further details about that, my presentation will cover these issues.

As for successes, Harvard University’s center for law and the Internet is one great example of a college using blogs to explore the use of this new technology and enhance the reputation of the college.

John Cass

Posted by: John Cass at September 21, 2005 1:19 PM

Hi Lyn,

It is possible to control commenting on a blog. You can either require prior registration or moderate comments on a blog before they are posted. You will notice that Backbone Media moderates any comments on the blogsurvey blog as an example. It's important to inform Internet users you are moderating their comments.

The amount of comment Spam is increasing so most regular bloggers understand the issues related to moderating comments. If your blog receives a comment and the comment is not Spam but reflects a negative statement or question from a customer or pundit, I'd caution against not letting that comment remain. How you handle such comments is really a PR issue, answer the question quickly and logically, not only will your replies be respected but you will gain tremendous credibility in the eyes of your audience.

I've heard of a few examples of companies receiving negative comments from another blogger, but because the corporate blogger responded quickly, not only did the audience believe the corporate blogger, but also the company's audience rose to defend their vendor.

Lastly, the flexibility of moderating or requiring registration really depends upon which blogging platform is used. Backbone Media uses both Moveable Type and Blogger for our two company blogs. I personally use Typepad, but another very popular solution is WordPress.

John Cass

Posted by: john cass at September 21, 2005 1:40 PM

Shane,

I think you raise some very important issues. While I talk a lot about the benefits of blogging within the context of achieving search engine rankings and lead generation. Success in those areas through blogging can only really be achieved if a company chooses to make the right strategy decisions when deciding who should blog, what they say and how they interact with their online audience.

Any marketing effort should be made within the context of a company's overall marketing goals, and resources.

Many companies should only seriously consider Blogging because that's how their customers and industry are using the web to gather information about products and services on the web, and not because a company should just wants to jump on a bandwagon.

Newspapers, radio and TV were once the primary credible sources of information on products and companies, with the introduction of the World Wide Web; customers now have the ability to publish their opinions and questions about products and vendors permanently online.

I agree there is a lot of opinion and thought on blogs, however the collective thoughts of a blogging and wider customer online community have a lot of credibility with their audiences.

Customers make decisions about products based on information from credible sources, the collective nature of blogs, forums and websites, the entire online community if you will, can influence customer decisions. The ability of a biker to open a Kryptonite bike lock using a ballpoint pen, and reporting the incident online is a great example.

Your right a company should tread carefully when developing their online blogging strategies, if they don't a company can face some real problems. However, as Backbone Media discovered recently in our study on the benefits of business blogging this summer, opening a company up to constructive feedback can actually produce many positive results, if a company makes the right strategy decisions.

John Cass

Posted by: John Cass at September 21, 2005 6:16 PM

Hi Jessica,

Here's a great example of how a small community newspaper can compete for classified advertising using blogs.

Jessica: How do blogs become real?

People have been using the web to compare and get opinions about products, ideas and politics since it started. If you think back to the early days of bulletin boards and compuserve, internet users were using the web to talk with one another. During the 90's the web started, and even more Americans started to use the web to talk with people around the country and the world about subjects and products that were of interest to them. People already know how to make email, forums and Amazon.com's book review section work. Blogs are really just a new design that combines the ability of a traditional website to order information into a hierarchy and the interactive nature of forums and email. Therefore, I think many Internet users already have the skills and knowledge on how interact.

The issue for any corporate blogger is to know how to generate content that is relevant and speaks to their audience. Any good writer should already have these skills. A blogger must also conduct outreach. I compare a blogger to an author, once an author has published their book, the writer must leave their desk to stump their ideas and book in their community, bloggers have to do the same with their ideas by connecting with other bloggers who share their ideas.

Jessica: How are people using blogging?

People are using blogs both personally and in corporations, here's a chart from Technorati.com, a feed search engine, showing the growth of blog posts, with event milestones.

Jessica: Who is blogging?

A very wide variety of people and companies are blogging. Though I would say that there are many industries where blogging is not happening yet, we conducted a blogging survey in the summer of 2005, and there were not as many corporate blogs as we expected.

Jessica: How are people making choices about what blogs to read?

Use traditional search engines like google.com, Yahoo.com and MSN.com, but also new feed or blog search engines like technorati.com, blogpulse.com and even Google's new blog search engine. Once you find a blog you like, check out their blogroll to find a list of links to blogs the blogger reads, you will find more great blogs.

Jessica: What about lurkers?

Not sure about your question on lurkers, can your clarify?

Jessica: How do you keep blogs dynamic and ahead of the curve?

There will be more blogs in two years time, and more tools for finding blog posts. And the adoption rate of RSS or web feed readers will be a lot higher than the 5% today. More people will be using blogs personally and professionally.

As a marketing person, I think that blogs will transform the way that companies manage their marketing and product development efforts. From Backbone Media’s research it seems that the best content strategy for a company is to focus on thought leadership in their industry, discussing products and how to improve their own products. The next step is to focus on customer thought leadership, using customer feedback to improve products and customer service. Those companies who can embrace transparency will be more competitive. See Backbone Media's crossing the cultural divide model for the model of blogging in the future.

Jessica: What are the lessons we're learning about the balance between free speech and corporate rights?

Truth and transparency, you might be truthful, but not totally open about a subject, many people would suggest many politicians take this tack. While transparency is the process of revealing all about a company, Sarbanes-Oxley, fiduciary responsibilities and fear of competition put constraints on just how open a company can be. I think we will see more examples of employees making mistakes with blogs, not because blogs are inherently bad as a means of communicating with an audience, but because the employee or company did not consider all the constraints they should employ on developing blog content, which is why I strongly recommend companies carefully think about their own policies and train their employees on what is okay to talk about within the constraints of a particular company.

Jessica: On craigslist.org

That's another area where customers are taking control and self-publishing information and opinion on the web, Craigslist.org is very similar to blogs, except with blogs, customers can control their own websites.

Posted by: John Cass at September 23, 2005 11:55 AM

Hi John -

Lurkers is a term I heard our news team use about people who read blogs and bulletin boards, but don't participate. Does that ring a bell?

Thanks for your great answers!

Posted by: Jessica Kennedy at September 26, 2005 2:39 PM

Jessica,

I have seen some numbers from blogs and forums that the number of people lurking can be very high. To some extent you might not expect a lot of your audience to post comments or respond to any blog posts, but that does not mean your
audience is not reading the posts.

John

Posted by: john cass at September 29, 2005 12:36 PM

John - wonderful idea that demonstrates the collaborative power of blogs! I'm sure you were a huge success.

Posted by: Toby at October 26, 2005 12:41 AM

Thanks Toby, it was great to go to the meeting and already know a few people there.

Regards

John

Posted by: john Cass at October 26, 2005 5:42 PM

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