Get Connected: Leverage Blogs as a Biz Tool

September 1, 2005

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

Marketers everywhere are talking: Should you consider blogs? What are the pros and cons? Do you need a blogging strategy as part of your marketing effort?

Blogs were the talk of the town when the global gurus of online marketing converged on Chicago this past July for the AD:TECH05 conference. Marketers were talking in bars over beers about blogs. They were chatting in the hallways. They were debating in conference rooms. They were blathering about blogs from podiums. Everywhere you went--talk, talk, talk--about blogs.

It’s sort of ironic. There’s all this chatter about blogs, which are simply online conversation Web sites.

Of course, blogs are a whole lot more than online conversation sites. They’re one of the newest marketing tools of the new millennium. The best communication is word-of-mouth. If you can get customers and prospects talking about your product or service in an organic online conversation, that’s great marketing. It’s a low-cost dialogue that can give you global access to your customers.

E-mail is a potent online marketing tool. Internet banner ads are here to stay. Google revolutionized the world with search advertising. Web sites like Burger King’s subservientchicken.com build buzz. But blogs are red-hot.

I admit I’m not a big blogger. I don’t regularly visit blog sites. Blogs are overhyped. But my advice to marketers is this: If you’re not exploring blogging’s potential to move your business ahead, start now. You’re missing out.

Blogs are more formally known as Web logs. They are online discussion sites that focus around a subject of common interest to a target audience. There’s typically a host or discussion facilitator.

One of my favorite blogs is Ed Brill’s site at www.edbrill.com. Brill typically gets about 13,000 hits a day. On a big day Brill tops 25,000 visitors. Those numbers aren’t huge by Internet standards, but they’re not bad for a guy working out of his home office in Highland Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

Brill isn’t your ordinary suburbanite. He’s a business unit executive for Lotus Software at IBM Corp. Brill is the globe-trotting guy responsible for sales and marketing of Lotus Notes. He has more than 61,000 organizations that are current customers. More than 120 million licenses have been sold authorizing use of his product. The technology research and advisory company Gartner Group based in Stamford, Conn., estimates Lotus Notes has 45% of the global market for e-mail software. Brill’s main competitor is Microsoft Outlook.

Go to Brill’s blog. You’ll see comments about his travels to China’s Great Wall. You’ll see his thoughts on the opportunities, problems and future direction of Lotus Notes. That’s what attracts eyeballs.

Business leaders like Brill once relied on annual user group meetings to take their customers’ pulse. Because of his blog, Brill is directly in touch with users from across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, India, Africa and Asia.

Blogging isn’t glamorous. It’s hard work. Brill recently traveled to Sydney, Australia, to attend an IBM conference. At 2:30 a.m. he got a text message from a friend on his cell phone. It read: “Ambuj’s Out.”

Ambuj is Ambuj Goyal, general manager of Lotus Software at IBM. Goyal wasn’t actually out. He was shifting responsibilities at IBM. Jet-lagged or not, Brill’s readers expected an update on the move. What would it mean for Lotus Notes customers? Brill had to find out and write about it in the middle of the night. He still had to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning.

Brill was an early online community-builder. He’s been at it for seven years. His site isn’t an official IBM site. Brill owns it. But his relationship with IBM and his position as a thought leader on Lotus Notes is evident. Brill’s an expert, and his site is an asset for his employer. It’s because of bloggers like Brill that IBM recently released a set of corporate guidelines about blogging. It’s a smart move.

As a marketer, Brill says his blog has many benefits:

  • Connection: It allows global contact with customers.
  • Human face: The blog puts a human face on his message.
  • Instantaneous: Blogs provide immediate response.
  • Research: Blogs delivers buyer insights even from hard-to-research markets like India and China.
  • Business opportunity: Blogging surfaces new customers.

Brill says blogs even contribute to discussion, dialogue and alignment around strategy within IBM. At IBM, Brill says Jon Iwata, senior vice president of communications, maintains a blog to connect with employees. Brill says Iwata’s blog is candid.

The advice Brill offers up for novice business bloggers is this:

  • Focus. Aim for a specific community.
  • Be knowledgeable. Write about what you know.
  • Be sincere. Write in an honest voice.
  • Be human. Give it a personal touch.
  • Be candid. State the unvarnished facts.
  • Think twice. Write as if it’s going on a newspaper’s page 1.
  • It’s forever. Revisions will be caught. Should this say errors will be caught?
  • Hold fast. Stick by what you say. Apologize for mistakes. Clarify confusing comments.
  • Commit. Write regularly so people will follow you.
  • Read blogs. Keep up with others in your community.
  • Follow up. The author has to engage.

Brill cautions marketers not to approach blogging like a traditional marketing tactic. He cringes when he hears marketers building boilerplate plans with line items saying, “Contact top 25 bloggers. Get them to write about our product announcement.”

According to Brill, that’s too formulaic. It could backfire. Bloggers need to be approached individually.

Bottom line: Why should you blog? “For a company that wants to be in touch with customers there are few better ways,” Brill says. “For me, meeting even a small subset of my customers through any other way is difficult,” he adds.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Blog on! Even if I don’t.

Michael Krauss is a partner with Marion Consulting Partners based in Highland Park, Ill., and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Marionpartners.com or news@ama.org.

 

 ©2005 Marion Consulting Partners