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The power of the blog

6th Nov 2006
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For the past couple of weeks we've looked at the art of citizen marketing which turns your customers into technologically enabled 'word of mouth' advocates for your products and services.

The word of mouth aspect of this form of marketing is incredibly powerful. A Forrester Research survey in 2004 highlighted that consumers trust word of mouth recommendation more than traditional marketing or advertising. Consumers would rather hear about the experiences of their peers than be pitched to with clever marketing conceits.

The primary vehicle for such word of mouth activities in recent years has become the blog. A blog – just in case you've missed out on the phenomenon over the past 18-24 months - is an online journal type of a website containing postings of written content and displayed in the latest order received.

Traditionally it's a shared journal – in fact, it could be said to be just another variation on the discussion board. The postings are a series of topical discussions written by a blog host or "blogger" and correspondences by blog readers. Blog contributors range from average citizens through armchair generals to working journalists and industry experts.

By the end of 2005 there were a total of 34 million blogs with the rate of 70,000 newcomers every hour. Blog postings exceed 695,000 every 24 hours. These cover practically every topic from fashion to child rearing, politics, travel, electronics, movie reviews, and business pitchings and marketing.

A study by Edelman, the public relations company, and blog search engine Technorati found that the top 100 most influential bloggers worldwide – measured by the number of links they receive from other blogs – were almost all from the US, with only a satirical Italian coming in at number 28. The most influential UK blog was ranked 139th.

Blogging can be seen as the leading indicator of what customer interaction will be like in an always-on internet world, where customers must be listened to because they are easily able to listen to each other. Blogs enable a greater degree of customer intimacy, allowing you to communicate more directly with your cutomers – and for them to come right back with suggestions or complaints or compliments.

In some business sectors, blogging is practically compulsory. For example, the technology sector has been at the forefront of the rise of the blog. Senior industry figures such as Sun’s Jonathan Schwarz are among the most practiced of bloggers.

So should blogs be part of your marketing and customer mangement mix? Can a blog help you differentiate your services and de-commoditise your product? What role does a blog serve if at all and what are the pros and cons of developing a blog strategy

Before addressing those issues, there are some other questions to be answered first. For a start, blogs are content hungry so are you going to have enough content to deliver to your readers/customers on a regular basis. A dead or dried up blog will not attract readers. You need to get a following going and have people coming back to your site to see what the latest updates are. That also means that you need to be mindful that your content is of value to the blog visitor. Do you have something to say? Really?

And it's not just a case of if you build it they will come. Do you have a customer base that is going to be internet-savvy? Do they find the net a comfortable platform upon which to communicate. When you post your words of wisdom, will the people you want to hear them be there and listening?

Assuming the answer is yes, then blogs have enormous clout. They can influence and share public dialogue about your firm, especially in a crisis situation but also in terms of driving debate and setting agendas. A blog is a mass communication vehicle in which a nework of conversational interaction will take place. It's not just about punting out your message but about taking part in a matrix of messages.

For a blog to deliver value, it has to be created with a specific purpose in mind. You need to set expectations very carefully as to what a corporate blog is going to be about. You need to carefully identify the corporate marketing objectives of any blog.

And make sure it’s a genuine voice. Do NOT under any circumstances let the PR department ghost write it for you. One of the reasons that Schwarz's blog is so successful and widely read is that it has a genuine maverick air, there’s a sniff of danger in the air in its contents.

There's danger as well in letting your customers post reponses – but even more so in not letting them to do so. If you don’t permit both positive and negative comments from readers, then you will get a bland, marketing message driven blog that attracts few regular readers.

Finally bear in mind that a blog can be a powerful tool as a result of an audience of key influencers, not necessarily a mass market. If you can use the blog to built a rapport with a key bloggers with influence that can be just as powerful a weapon and customer outreach tool.

Stuart Lauchlan
News & Analysis Editor
[email protected]


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