I don't have a blog, and I don't plan to start one. Please don't feel bad for me. Blogging, the latest online craze, is the subject of this week's BusinessWeek cover story, which announces "Blogs will change your business." No doubt blogs are a growing phenomenon. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project:
- 8 million American adults say they have created blogs
- Blog readership jumped 58% in 2004 and now stands at 27% of Internet users.
- 5% of Internet users say they use RSS aggregators or XML readers to get the news and other information delivered from blogs and content-rich Web sites.
- 12% of Internet users have posted comments or other material on blogs.
But will blogs-or Web logs, for the uninitiated-fundamentally, radically change business communications? (And step back from the hyperactive news coverage, which certainly reflects some degree of anxiety by traditional media outlets that blogs are disintermediating them from their readers.)
"There are two ways to think about blogs in relation to the Fortune 1,000," says Debbie Weil, a corporate blogging consultant, BtoB contributor and publisher of the blog www.blogwriteforceos.com. "One is: Blogs will revolutionize everything, changing the nature of the relationship between companies and customers. Another is: Blogs are part of an incremental change in the way big companies talk to and interact with their customers and other constituencies."
Weil notes some big companies-Sun Microsystems (http://blogs.sun.com/jonathan), General Motors Corp. (http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/) and Boeing Corp. (http://www.boeing.com/randy/) launched blogs, written by company executives. "The blogosphere is watching [these efforts] and is generally impressed," she says. Monitoring what the blogosphere thinks has become a business for some. In January, Bacon's Information added blog-watching to its Internet media content monitoring service, focusing on about 600 vetted journalistic or subject-expert blog sites.
I'll admit there are practical uses of blogs. First, they are laughably easy to set-up-easier than a Web page, giving you a platform to publish information more frequently and less formally than either a Web page or an e-mail newsletter. Second, a blog provides content for your Web site and can thereby help improve its ranking on search engines.
But there are drawbacks, too. As the BusinessWeek May 2 cover story accurately observes: "The laws and norms covering fairness, advertising and libel? They don't exist, not yet anyway."
A subtler problem, from a marketing standpoint, is the expectation that a blog will contain real, raw, unfiltered content. In particular, think twice if you're tempted to create a faux blog-nominally written by a low-level employee but actually composed by someone in corporate marketing or your agency. If this deception is uncovered, you'll likely be vilified by self-righteous people in the vast blogosphere. Will this thrashing ruin your business? Probably not. Yet it begs the question: What were you trying to achieve with your blog in the first place?