Blogs gain b-to-b influence

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The impact of Weblogs in the b-to-b sector is growing while related technologies such as RSS remain a bit out of the mainstream, according to a new survey from research company KnowledgeStorm and ad agency Universal McCann.

The e-mail survey of more than 4,500 users of KnowledgeStorm's white paper download service found that more than 80% read blogs, with 18% saying they read them daily and 33% weekly. KnowledgeStorm users are typically IT professionals.

The study was a follow-up to a similar one the two companies did in July concerning podcast use. In that study, 32% of respondents said their usage of podcasts has "increased" or "significantly increased" in the past six months. Overall, 41% said they had listened to podcasts on more than one occasion, while 13% said they "frequently" downloaded them.

It's not surprising that blogs have reached a larger critical mass than podcasts: They've been around longer, and text-based Web content clearly requires less of a change in user behavior than an audio-based podcast.

In July, a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found the number of blog readers had jumped to 57 million U.S. adults, or 39% of the online population. While those raw numbers are eye-opening, they don't explore the impact that blogging can have on the b-to-b purchase process, said Matt Lohman, KnowledgeStorm's director of market research.

"There's been an influx of tons of people blogging, but not a whole lot of debate on how we sort through which people we'd consider quality or expert bloggers on a subject matter and how do I incorporate this into my information access," Lohman said.

Purchasing influencers

Indeed, what's important in the b-to-b sector is that blogs are not only being read but are beginning to have significant influence over b-to-b purchase decisions, Lohman said.

According to the KnowledgeStorm/McCann survey, 53% of respondents said blogs influence their purchase decisions. That influence looms even larger over regular blog users. Of the respondents who said they read blogs daily, nearly 69% said blogs influenced their purchase behavior.

If blogs are to continue to be influential, credibility will be key, said Stacy Malone, Universal McCann VP-interactive media director. Blogs that are clearly written by industry and subject area experts will-even if they are written by vendors rather than traditional media types-stand out as compelling content, Malone said.

A challenge for marketers, however, will be to find new types of marketing and advertising vehicles that work in the Weblog environment. Standard ad units such as banners may not cut it in this new publishing environment, Malone said.

"We as an industry have to get more innovative with marketing opportunities they include in these environments," she said. "It requires an ad message that isn't so corporate and formal, and it may involve incorporating the blogger into the dialogue with the marketer."

Credibility vs. marketing

Maintaining blogger credibility while making the most of informal, word-of-mouth marketing opportunities will no doubt present a challenge for all parties involved, Malone admitted.

"There needs to be a balance between credibility and a marketer's message, but it feels like we've stopped short if we just put up regular ad units," she said. "Blogs offer a level of engagement that we need to take advantage of."

More key findings from the blog survey:

  • Nearly half (49.8%) of the respondents said they comment on or contribute to blogs at least once a month;
  • 70% said that they "recommend or pass along content from blogs to co-workers and colleagues" at least once a month;
  • 59% said they were "somewhat" or "very" familiar with RSS technology, which lets users subscribe to blogs and other online content. Only 31% said they subscribe to RSS feeds or use a RSS reader to access content.
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