In its sinister sounding article Why There's No Escaping the BLOG, Fortune magazine has named blogging as the No. 1 business technology trend for 2005. The article by David Kirkpatrick and Daniel Roth appears in the current (1/10/05) issue, for those who'd like to see the color pics and graphic timeline showing the business consequences of ignoring blogs (entitled "Kryptonite's Blogstorm").
In fact, "truth or consequences" might have been used as a subtitle in the article, since a major theme throughout is why businesses must get on top of the blog trend and make a commitment to open, truthful dialogue with their customers, clients, and critics. The consequences to the Kryptonite company, for example, are estimated at $10 million. That's a significant bite out of a company with an estimated $25 million in revenues. The infamous fake blog built by Mazda and quickly torched by vigilant bloggers shows how quickly a company's reputation can be damaged. A pithy quote: "If you fudge or lie on a blog, you are biting the karmic weenie."
The article discusses the two major business uses of blogs, which we've called inward-facing (promoting internal business communication) and outward-facing (promoting interactive communication with customers, colleagues, and the public). But its main warning focuses on the danger to a business from failing to acknowledge and address the blogging trend at all -- the response so far by all but a handful of businesses.
This means that, not only should every business be using blogs, but also that they should be monitoring blogs to see what's being posted about them, starting with any comments to their own blog posts and extending out from there. Another important quote from the article: "Every company should have someone put into Google the name of the company or the brand, followed by the word 'sucks.' "
Our advice: that "someone" should be a high-level company policy maker. And the monitoring should go well beyond an occasional Google search (yet another reason to learn and use RSS).
This month, Bacon's Information reportedly is launching a blog tracking service on its MediaSource Premium Research Module, but its coverage is limited to blogs by "active journalists" and other "news-related" blogs. May we suggest that the folks at Bacon's just don't get it? The Kryptonite fiasco started in blog discussions among bicycle enthusiasts, not in mainstream media blogs. The time for the company to get in on the discussion was then, not after the story made it into the NY Times, five days later. Further discussion may be found at B.L. Ochman's WhatsNextBlog and DarrenBarefoot.com.
Of course being in a position to respond effectively means, first, treating blogs as a priority business communication medium. As the article title warns, you can't escape "the BLOG." Get over it, get used to it, get on with it.
It's not going away. Take a look at the latest stats from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, summarized by Amanda Watlington as guest blogger at Bill Ive's Portals and KM: blog readership up 58% in 2004 (to 27% of all internet users); blog "writership" (creators and commenters) tripled since April 2003 to 12% of all internet users. Here's a chart from the Pew report showing blog growth trends:
These are multi-year trends and although they still represent a minority, the underlying numbers are significant: 32 million blog readers; 12 million blog writers. The message should be that you still have time to get in front of the blogging trend, if you act now. Look at the trendlines and think: S-curve.
For any still in doubt about the positive reasons to make blogging a part of your business, take a look at Matthew Oliphant's interview with John Rhodes over at Business Logs. John is a web usability guru who's been running a business blog called WebWord since 1999 (making him a real business blogging pioneer). He finally created a more traditional Web site (Oristus) for his usability consulting work in 2004. Here's what he had to say about the effectiveness of his blog in helping generate business for his consulting practice:
Back as early as 1999, I was doing consulting because of WebWord. Let me stress that again. I am a usability consultant because of WebWord. It is unlikely that I would have been a consultant if I did not have a blog. ...
... The WebWord blog has established me as one of the most well known usability specialists in the world. ...
For those all hung-up on showing ROI from blogging in some more direct way, we say get over that, too. Do you insist on trying to show direct ROI from having a print brochure or business cards? From the sign on your office or building? From the business article you submit to your business trade journal? Nobody seems to question the business necessity, or value, of using these obvious communication tools.
Actually, as John's experience shows, you are more likely to get at least some direct return from your blog:
I don't think it is possible for most people to make much money through their blogs. You need insane traffic and willing advertisers. I earn several hundred dollars per year with Google AdWords. I can feed the cat and host my web site, but not much more. The blog isn't the business. My advice to people trying to make money directly from a blog is quite simple: Don't bother. Blogs don't make money, people make money!
More important to emphasize: "The blog isn't the business."
Or, to return to the scary-movie theme from the Fortune article, the impact of blogging on your business is inevitable, unavoidable, inescapable ...
Note: the Blog image comes from Blogs in Education, a wonderful online resource with useful information on blogging, RSS, and the tools needed to use them, published by the University of Houston - Clear Lake; thanks to the BlogShop - another great resource - for the link.