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Business blogs can increase your online sales

May 31, 2005

As a whole, personal blogs (web logs) have been growing in number and their audiences have been steadily increasing, but in contrast, business blogs have been lagging. A recent study released by eMarketer reveals that just four percent of large U.S. companies have business blogs available.

A strong potential exists with blogs to draw Internet traffic to a business website and to enhance a company's image by portraying its executives or part of its staff as real authorities on a given topic.

It's obvious that at least for now, blogging has arrived as a force on the Internet, not only for political discourse and personal ramblings but increasingly as a potentially powerful business tool.

Any doubt that blogs have business cache has been wiped out by recent developments.

Microsoft is seeking bloggers to generate excitement about the upcoming release of its Longhorn operating system. IBM (NYSE: IBM) has issued extensive of guidelines for its employees who choose to blog and even old-economy corporate giant General Motors (NYSE: GM) has established a blog to which several of its top executives contribute to frequently.

Add to that a growing number of CEOs and other executives who use Weblogs to post their musings and it's clear that some believe the tool can fit into a marketing and communications plan. However, experts also warn that blogging is not for everyone, that the time commitment involved should be considered, and that a slip of the fingertips could be costly.

Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li advises businesses to consider a corporate blog if they already have a close, two-way relationship with their users or customers and to start by considering guidelines for what can be written and how to measure when a blog is successful. "Blogs have gotten a lot of attention because they've proven effective at influencing decision-makers, which is what marketing is all about," Li said.

Blogs are growing in number and audience size, but business-style Weblogs have lagged. A survey released recently by eMarketer found that just 4 percent of "major" U.S. companies have publicly available blogs.

The potential exists with Weblogs to draw Web traffic to a company site and to enhance a company's image by portraying executives or employees as authorities on a topic. However, a misstep could be equally as costly in terms of reputation.

"What's fundamentally different about blogs is that you can be very successful if you find effective ways to get to the really precise audiences you want to reach," said John Lee, vice president of marketing at Hostway, which has sponsored a series of Web seminars for executives considering launching blogs. "It's a way to reach the right people in ways you could not do before."

Better still, he said, those communications can become two-way exchanges, with users or customers offering feedback and returning to continue an ongoing conversation. "That power of precision is what's exciting."

Still, analysts say corporate use of blogging will need to walk a fine line, since one of the medium's appeals for readers is the irreverence and sense of anti-establishment zeal many portray. Microsoft's experiment, as well as one planned by Vespa to build buzz about its scooters, will be closely watched. If they succeed, expect a torrent of copycat projects to follow.

While blogging has been most readily adopted by tech companies, it might work in almost any field. "Any company that wants to bring a more human voice to their brand, or has something worth talking about should consider it," John Keehler, a branding consultant with The Richards Group in Austin, Texas, told the E-Commerce Times.

However, Keehler also cautions that a business should first examine its own readiness to expose itself to whatever feedback might result. "Companies that aren't ready for the kind of open communication that blogging thrives on probably shouldn't be blogging."

Eric Broockman, the chief executive officer of Alereon, a startup focusing on developing chips for the emerging Ultrawideband market, has been blogging for several weeks.

Broockman told the E-Commerce Times that the decision to launch the blog was based on his belief that Ultrawideband (UWB) will be a revolutionary technology and that his firm is "right in the middle of it."

"UWB has the promise of eliminating wires and creating a future with no USB cables tying our devices together," he said. His blog, which he tries to update daily, often at the end of a long workday or late at night, usually draws on some recent news, such as product developments from Intel or Microsoft.

Broockman said he's writing for early adopters of technology, who will be an important group to help get UWB off the ground. Alereon expects to ship products by the end of this year.

"Because we're on the inside dealing with the issues every day, we feel we can help distill it down for people and put what's going on into some perspective," he said. "One of the responsibilities of a CEO is to be the outward facing part of a company."

So far, Broockman hasn't seen much traffic or response to his blog, but he believes time will help him build an audience. Some other CEOs don't have that problem and in fact might be too much in the public eye to make blogging a smart idea.

Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and the founder of Broadcast.com -- which he sold to Yahoo for US$5 billion in 1999 -- was recently slapped with a fine for one of company that networks refused to air, and has received both flack and fans along the way.

If nothing else, Forrester's Li said, a company should make sure it knows what other bloggers are saying about it. "Companies should monitor blog chatter," she said, noting that several products and services are available to accomplish that task.

Source: eCommerce Times



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