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Corporate Blogs

February 5, 2007

 

I recently had a discussion with a colleague about the value of blogs. His point, and it is a very valid one, is that one more voice in the chorus will not make that much of a difference. My reply was that one voice might make all the difference in the world. 

According to Technorati there are now more than 50 Million blogs online. For those of us who make our living online, a blog has become almost as common as an email address. For many corporations the blog has become an easy way to demonstrate their “openness” and to engage in a dialog with their customers. Marketers are now advocating blogs as a very viable and very inexpensive “direct” marketing channel. 

The problem, however, is that no one can really measure the effectiveness of these blogs. Although there are a variety of tools available to track “buzz” and to determine the strength of referral networks and the search ranking of a blog, nothing really answers the fundamental marketing question “will my customers buy more?” because of this blog. 

John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods Market, keeps a very interesting blog The frequency of his posts is relatively low, but they exceptionally revealing of the priorities of Mr. Mackey and the company he runs. In June of 2006 his blog became the forum for an open discussion with Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” a popular and highly regarded book that was very critical of certain aspects of the Whole Foods business. I encourage you to read the discussion in full, but the key point here is the potential, and potentially measurable, impact of Mr. Mackey’s blog on Whole Foods customers. If Mr. Pollan’s book made you think twice about visiting the local branch, Mr. Mackey’s blog would likely have made you think again.  

To really understand this in a broader context of marketing, imagine it is 1966 and the President of GM responds to Ralph Nader’s concerns about the Chevrolet Corvair through his blog instead of through legal channels. Entire markets were reshaped by “Unsafe at Any Speed”, and today that scenario would play out very differently. 

Blogging is not only important because of what a company can say about itself, it is also important because of what the marketplace can say about a company. Marketers have no real control over user generated content; they can choose to ignore it or find a way to respond and use it. 

Much like the first generation of web sites, where simply measuring visitors and page views was enough to justify continued investment, our understanding of the power of blogs is very rudimentary. Here are some simple practices that should be standard for any corporate blog:·        Ensure that your existing web analytics include the blog pages as part of the overall site; if they live on a separate blogging site, regularly gather any data you can from there.

  • Review the trackbacks to a blog on a regular basis to determine who is pointing to your blog.
  • Use free sites such as Technorati to track discussions and sites like Opinmind to gauge sentiment.
  • Track discussions about the company and be prepared to engage the market in a dialog where appropriate.
  • Work with direct and interactive marketing experts to use custom and proprietary tools to deeply track and measure market “buzz”. Ensure your site analytics and optimization team include blogs in your KPIs.
  • Track audience perceptions regularly and be sure to include blogs as a specific response in questions such as “where do you get information about new products, etc.” (as opposed to just using “online” as the response).

 

Last year, a large software vendor tracked a wave of negative sentiment about a new product across the “blogosphere”. Early warning systems and careful analysis allowed them to track back to the single blogger from which the negative comments originated. Upon careful examination it became clear the comments were grounded in erroneous information about the product. Once the vendor provided the correct information to the blogger he updated his post and quickly generated a new wave of discussion that cancelled the existing negative wave. 

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