Easy as falling off a blog?
Ever since the internet burst into the public eye a decade ago, it has been touted as being the ideal tool to publish your opinions to the world. In the last year or two, that promise has finally come true, thanks to the advent of the 'blog'.
Blogs, short for web-logs, started out as online diaries. The idea of writing a diary for global consumption caught on, and companies such as TypePad and Blogger accelerated the craze by creating tools that make writing and publishing a blog as simple as falling off a log: all you need to do is type your thoughts into an online form and you're a blogger! The simplicity of these tools led to an explosion in the blog population and today they number in the millions.
Some publish as regularly as newspapers. Most use very conversational language that makes them stand out from conventional media. Some are very personal yet still find ways to generate income for the author. Then there's www.timblair.net, which is unashamedly political. And www.wonkette.com demonstrates how blogs have taken voices, which otherwise struggled to find an audience, into the mainstream - its author rocketed to prominence as a political pundit during the last US election campaign.
All allow readers to make comments on the blog, creating a two-way conversation between the writer and the audience. Many businesses have observed the considerable interest in blogs and tried to use the phenomenon to their advantage. The most common tactic is for a business to 'open the kimono' to report frankly on its own activities.
Some of the staff at PR and lobbying company Jackson Wells Morris, for example, publish a blog called Corporate Engagement at http://trevorcook.typepad.com/weblog/ where they discuss the lobbying and PR business. Microsoft has encouraged its software developers to blog about the products they work on, often in very technical and candid detail, to engage techies in ways that had previously not been possible.
This type of blog has attracted a lot of attention as a way to engage with clients in a personal way that is said to create a community, increase loyalty and improve a business's credibility by making them a part of ongoing debate instead of being a mere service provider.
While some businesses have succeeded in this, others have quickly realised there are dangers in letting your customers know too much about your activities. One of those dangers is the time and energy required to create a blog that's worth reading. The potential to leak secrets to the world is another concern.
Another negative became evident when a blog was included on a new website for chewing gum brand Juicy Fruit. The text was so obviously tied to a new advertising campaign that the site was very poorly reviewed by blog-watchers, and within hours the company had been lampooned by other bloggers as being cynical and out of touch.
However, if you take the time to read widely among the many blogs on offer and consider how a blog might help your business, there's every chance you'll get some positive results.