Saturday, June 25, 2011

Can your business benefit from blogging?

Web logs provide new ways to attract and interact with customers, according to two books.


Blog is short for Web log. It's an Internet site or sub-site where a person or organization can post usually brief bits of text, along with relevant links to other sites with more text, photos, audio and/or video. There are blogs of all kind: political, cultural, academic, news, sports, hobbies -- you name it. There are also tons of personal blogs for people to inflict their opinions on the world. I may, in fact, be the only opinionated person who doesn't have a blog.

Media companies have tried to capitalize on the phenomenon by either encouraging their own people to participate (The Miami Herald's Cindy Krischer Goodman, Ellie Brecher, Greg Cote, Dave Barry, Steve Rothaus and others have blogs) or by having existing bloggers join them (as Time magazine has done with Andrew Sullivan and former Wonkette Ana Marie Cox).

We'll look at books covering the phenomenon of media blogs in the future, but for now, here are two books that discuss ways that businesses can benefit from blogging.

Blogwild!: A Guide for Small Business Blogging

Blogwild! Andy Wibbels. Portfolio. 175 pages.

Andy Wibbels' book is a basic, ground-level primer on blogging. He patiently explains the jargon and landscape of the subject, and the value of embarking upon this thing as a way to build a business. He contends that blogging allows a company to have an informal yet personal relationship with customers.

That's the interesting paradox of the Internet: that all the technology and equipment permit and facilitate human contact. It's an amazing and seductive thing. Actual conversations and discussions between and among companies, customers, vendors and other stakeholders can unfold as a result of a blog. The consequence is that information can be conveyed, new products introduced, customer feedback received and powerful connections created.

Though the bulk of his book is basic and rudimentary, Wibbels has good insights and useful experiences, and is a pleasant and facile writer. He has his biases and idiosyncrasies, but if you are essentially clueless about blogs and how blogging can provide a great way to market yourself and/or your company for minimal cost and effort, this is a very good place to start.

Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers 

Naked Conversations. Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. Wiley. 251 pages.

After you read Andy Wibbels' little primer, you can move on to Robert Scoble's and Shel Israel's book — or just start with this one instead. They cover the basics, of course, but once they define terms and briefly explain the benefits of blogging, they're off. Their virtual trip around the business blogosphere provides excellent examples and powerful reasons for otherwise faceless and monolithic firms to blog. Even companies with decidedly mixed public personae like Scoble's employer, Microsoft, managed to humanize their image by engaging their customers through blogs, the most popular of which, Channel 9, is run by Scoble, not coincidentally, I'm sure.

Some of the most enlightening and entertaining parts of this book are the examples of how not to blog. Companies that understand how to use the technology in principle but fail to comprehend the expectations of the audience, especially in areas such as honesty and authenticity, inevitably fail. Other bloggers are often quick to uncover and expose deceit and dishonesty -- as the Washington Post recently discovered when it hired a partisan operative and serial plagiarist as a blogger -- so transparency is especially important.

Not every company will benefit from this new medium, but you won't know until you learn more, and reading Scoble and Israel's book is a smart way to find out.

originally published in The Miami Herald in 2006