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Navigating Marketing 2.0 (part 2): blogs 5 October, 2006

Posted by Jay Ball in web 2.0.
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In part two of our run up to the Inside the bubble event I’m going to be taking a whistle-stop tour of blogs within a marketing context. It’s a big topic so I appologise in advance for not doing it justice.

So much of the background to blogs and blogging has already been written (mainly on blogs) that I won’t do the whole 101 thing in this post. If you want a good overview look here.

The debate for marketing is around just how important blogs are in the mix. This tends to get pretty polarised.

On one side are those who believe that blogs are the future and represent the authentic ‘markets are conversations’ approach of the Cluetrain Manifesto. They point to the exponential growth of the medium (23,000 more a day according to some estimates), the massive popularity of the leading blogs and and the critical mass that can be achieved when an idea takes hold.

In the other corner are those who believe that the importance of blogs is massively over-stated (by anyone who is not a blogger). They argue that outside of the blogosphere (where most people live) the impact of any blog is close to zero. And for marketers, when there’s never enough budget to do the basics as well as they’d like, they’re not about to start throwing money with no ROI in sight.

So where do blogs fit in the overall scheme of things?

To date, brands have used blogs in a number of ways. The first is to show the human face of the company. Blogs offer the possibility of a less mediated view of a brand. So when we hear that CEO of XYZ company is blogging, we believe that we’ll get a less spun picture of the business. It is also an easier podium for admitting to mistakes and expressing dreams for the future. And it’s not just the CEOs, this same role can be played by people throughout a corporation (Robert Scoble was the perfect example of this when at Microsoft).

Blogs also offer a more immediate view of a company. I don’t know about you but I habitually check the timestamp on any entry (in a way I never would on a brand’s main site). A blog is intrinsically more dynamic, more vibrant than the corporate .com. You get a far better sense of the community behind the facade. And when you bear in mind that in the final analysis people do business with people (even when it’s a six-figure capital expenditure) this can be a major asset.

Some brands try to influence the influencers. As everyone knows, word of mouth is powerful stuff. If an a-list tech blogger says my product is cool it’s way more believable than if I say it. Of course this has led to legions of old-school PR people inundating bloggers with shotgun emails regardless of the relevance of their message to the blog or its readership. The ones who appear to be more successful are those that are upfront about their motives and highly specific to the blog they are targeting. This, however, takes far more effort.

Of course, a real conversation is a two-way affair. Blogs, through their comments feature, allow for a brand to engage in debate with its customers. Sadly, many of the comments sections of blogs are being spammed into oblivion, but this is where the guard is really dropped. Again, the time involved for a brand in keeping up to date with the conversation should not be underestimated.

Much has been said about the destructive power of blogs. Take one tetchy blogger, give them a bad experience of your brand and stand back to watch the fireworks. There is after all no editor. And as they say, information wants to be free (especially information fueled by a self-righteous mindset and a desire for revenge). That’s why it pays to keep an eye on how your brand is being discussed on blogs. I have perpetual searches running on all of our clients and on Banner itself. I would prefer to enter a debate early than when it has begun to snowball. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

On the flip-side of the above point, the converse is also true. Brands can to some extent insulate themselves from this kind of avalanche. By engaging with bloggers, taking time to build relationships, addressing their concerns, they can build a community of people who when the wheels fall off will stand up and offer a more reasoned view.

The bottom-line, I believe, is that technology brands should take every opportunity to join the conversation. While blogs are, despite their growth, still relatively embryonic, the number of tech buyers reading them is becoming significant.

As I said at the beginning of this post, it’s a huge topic and I’m undoubtedly oversimplifying it. It’ll be interesting to hear what the panellists at the bubble think.

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