Why blogs matter

by Shannon Paul on January 24, 2009

Amazingly enough, I can’t tell you how many glazed over looks I still receive when I tell people that social media is not about how many networks you can list, nor is it about throwing up a profile on a social network like you did with your website 12 years ago. It’s not necessarily about building your own social network either.

Whether anyone likes it or not, social media engagement is really about blogs.

I’m not saying you or your company must have a blog, but building relationships with relevant bloggers and understanding how blogs work is essential to any social media strategy.

What social media engagement really requires is a fundamental shift in how companies approach mass communication. Without this shift — even if it comes about gradually, any attempts at throwing up outposts on Facebook or anyplace else on the web will basically be a waste of time.

The key is not to create a social media check-list with names of social networks or tools that dictates you have a Facebook page and a MySpace page.

Most of the time, companies are filling these spaces with all the same old content they already have on their website. Depending on your objectives, that may be okay, but it’s always better to research and identify ways those spaces, and others, can be used to engage the people who are already there and empower them with the ability to share your message — maybe even reward them for doing so.

To reap benefits of engagement, even those spaces should promote a level of call and response as well as some kind of takeaway for consumers to share within their own corner of the social web. This keeps people interested in what you have to offer.

The monologue is now a dialogue
I know a lot of us keep saying this, but believe me, it bears repeating.

Sure, a good understanding of how these technologies work will come in handy, but companies are better served by understanding how information travels along the social web. Whether anyone likes it or not, information no longer travels in a straight shot from company to journalist to public.

Instead, it bounces back and forth between all three. It’s just as possible for information to swell up from the public to the journalist to the company, or from the public to the company to the journalist. Or from the journalist to the company to the public and back again.

You don’t have time to write a press release and get key messages ready for every little statement companies will be demanded upon to make. Ignoring this will simply make your company look like it’s either out of touch or worse — that it doesn’t care.

People within organizations need to be empowered to have conversations with others on the social web. Does this have the potential to get messy? You bet. Does it end there? Not at all.

The nature of a dialogue is that there are ample chances to clarify and correct your position as you go along. Admitting errors quickly and moving on is a quality we tend to admire in other human beings — we respect this quality in companies, too.

As a side note, I’ve used this example before, but if you need a good visual for how information travels along the social web, check out David Armano‘s Influence Ripples. I like it so much, I even carry around one of his business cards with the image on the back just so I can it to show people at parties.

What may be shocking to some (especially those in the technology sector) is that in many industries, companies still don’t think blogs are important.

Q Who reads blogs?
A Journalists

If for no other reason, companies should pay attention to blogs simply because journalists do.

More than three quarters of journalists see blogs as helpful in giving them story ideas, story angles, and insight into the tone of an issue, according to a study conducted last year by Brodeur, a unit of of Omnicom Group in conjunction with Marketwire. I found out about this study from a post Valeria Maltoni wrote on her blog.

This fact proves that information journalists receive from blogs helps them know what questions to ask, what are the hot-button issues, anecdotal evidence of consumer attitude, etc.

If you don’t think this is important, you’re not seeing the big picture.

Another item to consider is that blogs, by their very nature of regular updates, incoming and outgoing links, are very search engine friendly.

Q Who uses search? (i.e. Google, Yahoo!)
A
Just about everybody… but also journalists

The most commonly referenced figure is 92 percent. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project March 2007 report, 92 percent of journalists use search engines to research story ideas. This means that they are not searching their inboxes looking for your press release. They know how to find information on their own.

What does search have to do with blogs?

Blogs automatically archive old material, they’re regularly updated, chock full of content as well as incoming and outgoing links. These qualities make blog posts downright irresistible to search engines like Google.

Back to relationships
Add to all these great facts about readership and search the passion that people who blog about your company have for what you do.

People who take the time to write about your company — even if it’s an angry diatribe that curses your product or your company’s very existence — care enough to write about your company. If you work to turn the situation around, treat them like they matter, they’ll care that much more.

In the future they will likely turn to you for answers during a crisis out of respect for the person within your company who addressed their experience. They will no longer be content to grouse around on the Internet complaining to anyone who will listen because now they have you — not your brand, but a human relationship with someone inside the organization.

Back to search
Information doesn’t travel in a linear way and neither does this post.

If a journalist searches for your company, and blogs are inherently search engine friendly, would you rather they happen along a blogger who feels they have a personal relationship with someone inside the company, or a stranger in search of an audience?

Stop worrying about whether this or that blogger has a large enough following to warrant a response or whether or not the person fits into the right bucket and simply acknowledge them. With technology, this really can be done.

As usual, I care a lot about what you think and appreciate your feedback. Maybe you think I’m overestimating the power of blogs or, maybe you think there’s a better way to prove why blogs matter. If so, please let me know in the comments or write your own blog post in response and link back to me. After all, isn’t that how this conversation thing is supposed to work?

Photo by vaXzine
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January 24, 2009 Bill Deys

Um, whats the Hockey metaphor for “knocking it out of the park?” “Tearing the Net” maybe?

Anyways, you couldn’t be more right. I had lunch with the guy who runs the online arm of my local newspaper. They are getting into streaming video (Ustream) as well as recording that and embedding it on their site.

I asked why they aren’t also uploading to YouTube. He didn’t think he’d get a good reception from his bosses on that. I know this may seam a bit off the topic but to me it demonstrates how they just don’t get how to get out there and connect with people where the people are!

January 24, 2009 shonaliburke1

As usual, you hit the nail on the head, Shannon. It always amazes me that despite the wrath the blogosphere unleashes every now and again on corporates (and by that, I mean the really big, “hand of God” kind of wrath, such as with United Airlines, etc.), they still don’t get it – they just want “media.”

Well, corporates, get your “media.” Start getting blogs.

January 24, 2009 DaveMurr

Excellent! As I have come to understand blogs – they are the meat and potatoes of social media.

I’m amazed by some who have a list of networks they belong to a mile long. Not to say that is a bad thing – do what you want, but for me there is only one real way I can get to know someone online – their blog.

I don’t buy into the extinction of the blogs going the way of the dinosaur by the Twitter meteorite. Though you can meet a great number of people through Twitter and similar networks – they don’t carry the same weight as a blog.

Perhaps blogs are at the center of the social media universe in which all social media networks, applications, tools and toys gravitate towards.

January 24, 2009 Tim Ernst

Hi Shannon, I love this entry and couldn’t agree with you more. I’m doing a presentation to a business group on social media next month, mind if I quote you? Found your blog via @shonali on Twitter, I’m @TimErnst. Thanks, keep up the good fight!

January 24, 2009 Gwynne Kostin

Shannon, thanks for another insightful post, and for the reference to David Armano’s most excellent visual.

I am glad that you emphasized the importance of blogs to search. We have found that search drives traffic to blog entries on current topics–AND that we can be part of the ongoing discussion. Timely and on topic are two keys to joining the discussion/ripples.

January 24, 2009 Lamar Morgan

I agree with your comments. People and businesses need to blog and micro-blog. Citizen media is taking the world by storm and people need to know how to make good use of it. But, that is not just at a desktop or laptop computer. Everyone in business needs to know how to use this technology to take their message TO THE PUBLIC – not simply hope the public happens to come to them.

More specifically, small business folks need to be establishing a presence for themselves in high traffic areas – such as Wi-Fi hot spots. They should be using Wi-Fi digital photo frames and large-screen HDTV’s with media servers attached to do that very thing. Wi-Fi digital frames and HDTV’s can now be remotely programmed to showcase both slides and video. This is the equivalent of having your own closed-circuit TV network.

In approximately six months, the world is going to be introduced to wireless electricity. This is the beginning of the end of the need for electrical cords. This not only provides an energy saving for lower utility bills, but also a clever marketing innovation for small business folks who have store-fronts in high traffic areas. Soon folks will be coming into restaurants not only to eat and access the Internet, but to recharge their mobile devices via magnetic induction. Simply lay the mobile device on the table and it recharges itself – thanks to a powermat that is attached to the underside of the table.

Would you like to read more about what is currently available for the tech savvy and what is rapidly approaching? Visit http://www.squidoo.com/WYW. The time has indeed come to “Wi-Fi Your World.”

Lamar Morgan
CDMM – Synergistic Business Marketing

January 24, 2009 Ed Rovera

Ms Paul,

The points you make above are valid but I think you are glossing over the importance of quality content in online publishing. Having a blog and regularly posting to it are not sufficient to create positive value. The real value of online publishing is determined by the viewer, not by the search engine.

Whatever path one takes to reach a specific blog post, the author’s argument must be well defined and cohesive. The quality of one’s position and how it is presented to the viewer are crucial to the message being accepted and internalized. Search engines may not be able to detect a poorly constructed argument or the absence of a copy editor but the well-read viewer can very quickly spot poor preparation and weak execution.

January 25, 2009 Ari Herzog

…and people still think blogs are dying. Or Twitter is replacing blogs. Or Twitter is dying. Whatever.

Some people have nothing better to do that dream up ways they are right and everyone else is wrong. Such as some of the companies you refer.

January 25, 2009 Kostandinos

Flat out – it you don’t have a blog, you don’t count ( or so it seems quite often these days). 5-8 years ago, the thought seemed to be that if someone didn’t have a website then they didn’t count – times have changed. When I say “count” I mean it as not being validated or justified… or not being “very official.” ;P

Think about it, if you want to find out about a new store or band or author, you want to find their website. When you search and don’t find one, they’ve lost cred with you right off the bat and you may never look for them again. Now take all those stores, bands, and authors with websites… now compare them to those with websites AND blogs. Blogs are the heated seats to compliment websites.

Still, there are so many that do not understand the power of blogs and social media and haven’t even begun to open their eyes to what’s going on around them. I wouldn’t be surprised if some are still out in left field in five years, without a blog and without a clue. My guess is the education sector will be the last fully on the boat… then they’ll party like it’s 1979.

I understand Ed’s point about quality, but at the same time I can’t imagine the numbers are very high for bloggers that majored in English or Journalism – but there are no academic prerequisites for blogging. The average reader probably misses improper use of language and grammar, too. There are no school grades handed out for writing as blogger or reading level as reader; you’re also not going to get detention for using or not using a semi-colon. ;P

Also, posting regularly HAS already shown to be valuable to both reader AND author. Posting regularly brings readers back more frequently AND helps in search results. It’s a win-win. There’s value there for the blogger as more posts bring more hits, more readers, more clicks on ads, more page views, more followers, more brand visibility, more everything… and that is value to the author.

Make the search engine work for you. Blogging is not a crime. (<– I’m gonna put that on a t-shirt!) The days of writing for a newspaper for 40 years are long gone. Creating your own life is the American Dream we all learned about in school, and those days are finally here… for everyone.

Value to the reader could mean many things as well. Value could be they subscribe to RSS or email feeds, pass on a link, read an article and hate it, read an article and not even finish it, read an article like this and reply… interact… enter a conversation (maybe even sound like a fool), or maybe even lead them to starting their own blog… even if their mind is terribly eclectic and they can’t figure out WordPress. :P

In the end, maybe it really doesn’t come down to if a connection was made and what the reader took away from the article. Maybe it is all about what the almighty Google says, but before you know it, nine replies turn into 18 replies and so on. The interesting part is what happens in between. Value will be determined countless times in countless ways.

One thing you can count on is the next article will be the next BIG article; the next superstar will be the biggest superstar of all. The next reader will be important, but not as important as the current reader and replier… kinda like working in retail where the customer in front of you is more important than the customer on the phone.

Bloggers are in the trenches. This is the new real world. Blogs are replacing newspapers and it has many people freaked out – clearly.

Maybe the real value is that we are free to use this media and at the very least say "Reader Meet Author."

(Sorry so long-winded. Now, to start that blog…)

January 25, 2009 Martin Meyer-Gossner

Shannon, today more than 200 German bloggers and some international guests (some also blogging) meet up in Munich for the DLD09 Blogger night http://twitter.com/DLD09. This is just the right post at the right time and Twitter will be doing its best to spread your words… yes, blogging matters.

January 25, 2009 Justin Levy

Absolutely excellent post Shannon! I would leave a longer and more detailed comment but you hit the nail on the head with this post! :)

January 25, 2009 Dan Harris

Shannon,

As someone trying to spearhead blogging projects with a company (publicly traded) I cannot agree more. I’ve explained blogs internally as the platforms of constant communication and transparency. The other tools you mentioned like twitter, facebook, linkedin, myspace, youtube are in my experience are distribution engines. The real relevant and meaningful material should be in a blog. Everything else just drives traffic to the source. I’ve tried to convince individuals who are strong PR people that blogs do matter for journalist outreach and they continue to tell me. Anyone can have a blog, journalist dismiss the content, don’t take it serious, and the traditional way of working with the press is the only way.

Thanks for a terrific post. It was both supportive and timely.

Keep up the great work.

Dan Harris
http://www.danonit.com
http://www.twitter.com/8101Harris

January 25, 2009 Shannon Paul

Bill – You’re right. The shift isn’t just about creating a dialogue, but it’s also about sharing content that was once considered proprietary. Not off topic one bit — another indicator of the sort of thing we’re up against as we teach people how to better adapt their content for the web.

Shonali – Thank you! I always love your feedback. It’s definitely up to us to make the connection for those in the corporate world. Reaching out to bloggers is a way to ultimately get those same placements. It’s a much better method than letting something die in someone’s inbox.

Dave – certainly reading and participating with others’ blogs helps us get to know them better than simply friending them on other social networks.

Tim – Thank you. I wouldn’t mind if you shared any of this at all — share away. :)

Gwynne – Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you liked the post.

Lamar – In the post I said that I was not suggesting that businesses or individuals must blog. I think your comment has a lot more to do with you than anything I wrote, but thanks for stopping by anyway. Certainly your business sounds interesting, but if you wanted to pitch me, I would prefer you do that via email.

Ed – I’m not sure that you and I are having the same discussion. I never meant to “gloss over” or address anything to do with quality publishing or quality content. That is an entirely different post. I was simply stating that businesses who wish to get *their* messages out to the consumer are wise to reach out to bloggers, rather than *only* traditional media outlets.
You’re right, however, to point out that not all blogs are created equal. I’m not suggesting that businesses reach out to *every* blogger, but work to identify the ones that are influential within their sphere. Those are not likely to be so poorly written.

Ari – I suppose that could be said of anyone, or any business. After all, I’m looking for data that supports my position because everything I tell employers/clients goes against their own experience. In this, all I have is data. Eventually there will be a tipping point. Friends tell me that they went through this 12 years ago when they would try to tell businesses they needed a website. Imagine how absurd those conversations would sound now!

Kostandinos – You raise some very interesting ideas in your comment. To your closing, “Reader meet Author”; I would like to add, “Author meet Reader”. Blogging gives me direct access to those who are the most involved with my content. This is how we build relationships way beyond anything that could be achieved in print. This is the real power of blogs.

Martin – How cool is that?! Please tell everyone in Munich I said hello. :)

Justin – Thanks so much! That means a lot to me because I know you’re a very smart guy. :)

January 25, 2009 Des Walsh

Thank you for such an articulate and powerful exposition! I’ve read it just over 24 hours before I deliver a teleseminar on the topic and had as one of my points that blogging needs to be the linchpin of any (online) marketing strategy. I admit I was getting a mild attack of the wobblies about making that point: was it just because I am passionate about blogging or would the argument carry “in the open”? Your post has de-wobblized my impending presentation. And of course I will share the link and so the story goes on.

It’s also impressive and exemplary that you take the time and care to respond to all the commenters here.

January 25, 2009 Heather Rast

Hi, Shannon. Thank you so much for writing this excellent piece. I think you’ve covered a lot of ground–made a lot of points bubble up to the surface. Frankly, I often don’t write in a linear fashion and it pleases me to see you place a stake in the ground that “it’s okay” to have several points on a topic and to weave them all together. Were it be that one day I could do it as well as you :-)

“What social media engagement…companies approach mass communication” That very idea presented a “ding, ding, ding!” moment for me. Indeed, I agree that the NEW mass comm–the channel that people are actually participating in and propagating–is social media. Whereas with the old mass comm the messages sent (yes, ‘sent’) could be rhetoric and irrelevant, the new mass comm cannot be. To be accepted and sustained and utilized, it must show the full monty of a company or brand.

Thanks again for sharing your great ideas. See you in March! I’ll be rooting for you, honored speaker.

January 26, 2009 Jen

Hi Shannon,
Great post. I have a question for you, though it’s not related to this post’s specific content: do you think the “AddThis button” has been effective?

It seems like it is logical to have a button that aggregates multiple buttons, but it looks like many other bloggers keep to having several different buttons. I’m wondering if AddThis doesn’t have enough recognition and if readers are more likely to react when they see the icon of their favorite sharing site? What do you think?

Thanks,
Jen

January 26, 2009 sassy

I agree that companies should get involved in regularly commenting on blogs re: consumer products. I’ve seen a few comments from companies (GE and Comcast specifically) replying to a product that didn’t work/meet expectations and am always impressed. And ultimately, said blogger ends up then blogging about the fact that said company actually cared enough to comment. Those companies not involved in the blogging world just might want to think about doing so.

January 28, 2009 Dirk Singer

An excellent post as always Shannon, as an aside on the whole ‘why blogs matter’ thing, and I think you touched upon this in a previous post – a lot of people will swear blind that they don’t read blogs when really they do.

A lot of it simply has to do with definitions and I think that’s the way for a lot of corporate decision makers.

In his / her head s/he’ll think “blogs = complete waste of time, only for ranting losers, I don’t read those…”and then go and check out a blog all about politics, travel, sport or whatever s/he is into.

January 29, 2009 Celine

Hi Shannon, I loved your article.

It really helped me understand the power my little Blog can have on others. How it can influence; offering interesting thoughts for people to think about.

Thanks again.

Celine :-)

February 2, 2009 @toddlucier

Blogs are also great ways to get multimedia into your web presence.

It’s time for folks to stop investing money in getting ad placement, and start investing time in creating content and responding to the feedback they get from their readers.

Love the fact that blogs are basically free and indeed journalists have been sourcing content from blogs for many years.

February 2, 2009 Robert "Butch" Greenawalt

There was definitely some great information here.
I’m not sure I or you really need time to re-clarify our positions on anything? If it’s your opinion and it’s something you feel strongly about “speak up.”
I’m no authority here, but having a blog business or otherwise give “YOU” the authority to have and stick by your own opinions. If they are not in agreement with mainstream thinking or reflect popular opinion I think that not only is that perfectly fine, but it may also lead to credibility.

There are also a great many services available or you can create relationships with companies in your specific niche of enjoyment who will gladly provide you with press releases. You can also incorporate them into your data which doesn’t require a complete re-write. You will need to make some minor editing changes to benefit from having them, but you certainly won’t have to write them yourself.

Thank you so much for the information.

February 3, 2009 Shannon Paul

Des – Thank you for the supportive comment. I’m glad you found the post helpful. As you can see, I respond to comments a little sporadically, but I do try. Thanks again. :)

Heather – The whole mass part of communication is the difficult part. At least it’s difficult to manage, but I have hope — I think it can be done.

Jen – I’m not really sure how effective the Add This button is because I don’t really have other experience to compare it with. I’m sure people have done more comprehensive studies on the matter. Sorry, I wish I had a better answer for you.

sassy – I think whether or not companies comment on blog posts probably depends on the company and the particular circumstance. I was suggesting that companies include outreach to bloggers as part of their publicity/media outreach. Many companies dismiss blogs as opportunity to generate buzz around their news.

Dirk – That’s a great point! I remember a discussion with a coworker that swore he didn’t read blogs when he clearly had Talking Points Memo upon the screen behind him… Great point. :)

Celine – I’m so glad. Thanks for stopping by. :)

@toddlucier – I agree, companies have a lot to gain through online engagement. Glad to see what you’ve added to the conversation. :)

Robert – No problem. Companies can certainly pick and choose which bloggers they want to reach out to, that way they don’t have to worry about the credibility or agenda of the blogger after the fact. Certainly all the posts of a blog are easily accessible and with a little research on the front end, creating a relevant and powerful list of blogs is possible. Thanks to you as well.

February 4, 2009 Roger Burnett

Shannon:
As a periodic reader of your content, I must admit that I struggled with your message in some of the previous posts that addressed this same topic in previous months…..and, yet, as I read this message from you again today, I realize that, while it took some time, I have embraced your point of view on the do’s and don’ts of social media to the point that I feel as though I REALLY GET IT…..what’s best, is, that in this period of struggle, I made a transition from employee to business owner…what timing…..you would be amazed how the concepts communicated in the message that you are preaching are being received. They’re seen as a breath of fresh air from the tried (and not true) methods of customer engagement and business relationship-building. Some people are intrigued by the notion of brand-loyalty as a result of transparency, others are completely freaked out about the notion, but, no matter the position on the topic, the respondent 100% of the time agrees that the notion has value. What, at this point remains to be seen, is if good business minds can free themselves from the tedious decision making processes they feel necessary in trying to “figure out” what content to braodcast, and cross the final threshold into understanding that in order to win, you have to stop thinking you as the business owner will know what people want, and realize that they’re all here, on-line, waiting for you to ask…..

February 10, 2009 Hajj E. Flemings

Detroit’s Own ShannonPaul5,

Excellent post, you are on point your blog is the meat and potatoes of your social media strategy. Creating a presence in the various social networks is the easy part but committing to blogging is work with well defined benefits. Keep producing great content.

March 28, 2009 RaiulBaztepo

Hello!
Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
See you!
Your, Raiul Baztepo

April 7, 2009 PiterKokoniz

Hi ! :)
My name is Piter Kokoniz. oOnly want to tell, that I’v found your blog very interesting
And want to ask you: what was the reasson for you to start this blog?
Sorry for my bad english:)
Thank you:)
Your Piter

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September 10, 2010 Annie Sells

A trusted friend was just asking me why I would blog and share personal information with the whole world … I didn’t answer because I knew he wouldn’t understand. But the truth is that social media is ineffective without it. Why wouldn’t I want people to know and trust me if I am going to interact with them in the virtual, as well as the “real world?”

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January 6, 2011 Julia Kuree

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