On blogging #1 – Outbreak of blogs forces rivals to take notice

In this, the first in a series of postings in the category “On blogging”, I’ll take a look at a number of issues surrounding blogging. Notably, this posting will touch on blogging as a marketing device and employee/corporate blogging. Subsequent posts will discuss these topics, and others, in more detail.

Are blogs the end of media, marketing and advertising as we know it, or vanity publishing that will eventually suffocate under sheer weight of numbers?

Earlier this year, Barry Dorrans introduced me to the work of cartoonist Hugh MacLeod. I was therefore pleased to see a piece in The Guardian of 28th November 2005 carry a sample of his work. Jennifer Whitehead’s piece Outbreak of blogs forces rivals to take notice caught my eye for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because as regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a great believer in the power of the blog: amazing things can be achieved using a simple blog posting, then letting the readership propogate the message – DeveloperDeveloperDeveloper was “marketed” in such a way. Secondly, because Barry had mentioned Hugh’s name to me, it was in the article along with a photograph of Hugh presenting on of his business cards.

Whitehead’s article re-iterates blog statistics which are generally available via Technorati. With the number of blogs being created increasing at an amazing rate of knots surely there comes a time when we’ll reach critical mass? Well, I don’t think so, not yet at least. Yes, such is the profusion of blogs today, and that number may well double in six months time, but when it comes down to it, it’s all about filling a niche or as Hugh puts it, a gaping void. Therefore, it’s all about service profusion, information and quality. Between you and me, most of the blogs that are popping up every 1/3 of a second are likely to be what Whitehead refers to as vanity publishing. So, apart from adding to the burden of the already index-heavy search engine fraternity, which means we’ll have to spend a little more time weeding out the dross in search results, we’ve got little to be worried about. Of course, in time, the search engines will improve beyond our wildest dreams and this “de-drossification” of search results won’t be necessary.

But, every so often, along comes something that fills the gaping void. If you put enough monkeys in a room with a typewriter [surely Microsoft Word? – Ed.] and give them an infinite amount time, they will, so I’m told, eventually write something akin to the works of Shakespeare. Perhaps that’s a somewhat grandiose claim, but nevertheless, if enough blogs are created, eventually some of them are going to fill the void and become killer blogs. A killer blog has all the potential to realise serious damage to existing marketing channels and has the ability to engage customers almost at a one-to-one level. Is your marketing department capable of that? I didn’t think so. The killer blog puts the employee or person who actually performs the work directly in touch with the customer or customers, and in a way ever so different from traditional e-mail. For example, when was the last time you wrote (either on paper or via e-mail) a letter of complaint? It’s likely that your letter was kept strictly “in house” when it arrived at its destination. The response may well have been tokenary in nature: “we’ve never had a problem like this before, here’s a gift voucher…” However, the advent of the Internet changed all that. One only need to search for “xyz” sucks to learn more about how other people view “xyz”, a point not missed by Clarke Ching.

Naturally, this can work to the advantage of the customer. Whitehead notes that Antony Mayfield (director at Harvard Public Relations), whose own take on Whitehead’s piece can be found here, noted that the recent Apple iPod Nano “screen scratching” problems were first reported via blogs. With such widespread appeal of gadgets like the iPod, the publicity offered by such blogs carries some awesome power. In the case of the iPod Nano, a gadget whose rise in popularity was somewhat spectacular, the problems reported via blogs forced its manufacturer, Apple, to quickly admit that there were problems with some screens and a product recall was put in place.

Whitehead’s article also makes mention of Cillet Bang’s made up celebrity/personality Barry Scott. It seems the advertising folks hired by/at Cillet Bang decided to take advantage of Barry Scott’s blog for their own marketing gain. Except they stepped over the line. Using the name of Barry Scott, the left a message for one Tom Coates whilst he was looking for his father, who he had not seen in almost 30 years. Described as clumsy and a new low for marketers, Cillet Bang have demonstrated the care that needs to be taken when moving into on-line marketing, particularly where blogging is concerned. It’s no wonder that Barry Scott’s blog has seen very few postings during the latter part of 2005. The big blog company’s Adriana Cronin-Lukas sums it up rather well in her Cillit Bang clanger blog post. Stephen Newton also presents the case somewhat succinctly.

On the other side of the fence, employers and business in general must be careful about what what its own bloggers are saying, both during working hours and in their personal time. Take the unfortunate case of Joe Gordon who lost his job at a famous booksellers after they deemed his private posts too sensitive. I see that Joe is promoting the Committee to Protect Bloggers, a group who are devoted to the protection of bloggers around the world. It’s important for employers and business to protect their asset and in the occasional extreme case, yes, you may find the occasional blog posting that goes against the grain or is close to the bone. The action you then take will be what sets you apart from your competition. Take a heavy handed approach, whereby you are essentially punishing the many instead of the few, and you may find it affects your business in ways that you may not understand. However, take a softly softly approach, lay down some basic blogging guidelines (not rules), encourage your teams (employees) to blog and interact with customers and it is very likely that you will open up entirely new marketing streams that you never knew existed. The commercial value of a blog (even a corporate blog) is on the increase. There are even genuine cases where people are being recruited to fill the position of blogger, i.e. get paid to blog – Microsoft’s Robert Scoble is a case in point.

Blogging is here to stay. It is a powerful marketing device. How you use it is up to you, but use it with care, use it properly and you will discover its power. Your rivals are likely to be examining the blogging space already, if you’re not taking heed of blogging now, catch up may prove to be difficult.

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