Measuring the state of business blogging can be tricky. Statistics are contradictory and change almost by the day because of the exponentially rapid growth of the blog as a medium (not to mention its newness).
A recent Pew Internet research poll the amount of businesses using blogs to be in the neighborhood of 7% (a research poll conducted by American Express last month suggested a similar percentage). Meanwhile, another poll by Guidewire Group suggests 89% of companies are either blogging now or plan to in the near future. Despite these wildly differing figures, the point of agreement is that business blogging is growing. The pace seems to be the heart of the dispute.
There are about 175,000 blogs being created each day (or about two per second), but don’t let that figure frighten you: the business share is a drop in the bucket. Experts put the number of active business blogs in the U.S. today at about 5,000, with half of them being less than a year old and only 10% older than three years. Many new business blogs, like all blogs, are abandoned after a few months, and only about 39% of total blogs are in English language (Japanese is top). What all of this says is that blogging is becoming a global norm but is still very much open to newcomers.
Trends vary by company size, with smaller companies tending to make more use of business blogging, while larger companies maintain a healthy share. About 55% of all business blogs are started by companies with fewer than 100 employees while around 15% account for companies with 1,000 or more employees. However, of the largest 500 companies in the United States, 40% utilize blogs in their comprehensive strategy.
Outside the unruly statistics, what is actually successful in the world of business blogging itself is a little clearer. Virtually all research and opinion on the subject points to a handful of critical factors, including:
A writing style that is able to both connect on a personal level and be entertaining. This includes knowing your customer and establishing a significant relationship in the blog medium.
The company’s willingness to be engaged in an honest marketplace dialogue with its clientele (the source of the infinitely precious credibility of any blog).
The individual blog writer’s time given to the blog itself, for relevant research, thought, responding to posts from readers, and the overall construction of quality work and frequent updates.
Of course, individual companies in their unique industries face their own quirks and demands. For example, depending on the situation or industry, your business may want to focus most carefully on the tone and style of the writer. Companies with reputations they’d like to salve or improve (oil companies, for example) may find particular interest in the transparency aspect of blogging. While in a fast-paced industry (such as technology or media), a company blog might need to weigh its time devoted to updating material for the blog more carefully. Many businesses begin blogging with clear goals in the onset, or even test a blog internally before developing an external blog. Some businesses also run more than one blog. General Motors, for example, runs an entertainment blog (Fastlane) and information blog (FYI) combo that has been very successful.
The General Motors blogs is a great example of successful business blogging in its maturity. Both are easy to navigate and subscribe to, are succinctly written, and utilize costumer-generated material, including photos and video. There are also many links (not only to GM but other auto sites and even other blogs), so the reader gets a real sense genuine dialogue and openness. A look at the high volume of comments and responses in the Fastlane blog shows that successful blogs are both social and relevant.
In the world of blogs, there is still disagreement on who should be writing the business blog. In the case of Fastlane, it’s Vice Chairman Bob Lutz. For some companies, however, the pitfalls might outweigh the privileges of having an executive doing the blogging. The voice of the boss does not always come out well in a blog. Also, an executive might be unlikely to continue blogging for long due to a simple lack of time. This is the situation for about half of all blogs that are created: after three months, the entries stop and the blog is essentially dead. For this reason, typically the most successful business blogs are run by the employees rather than the CEOs. Therefore, it might make more sense for your business if the employees conduct blogging because they generally have the energy and detailed insight (and voice) to make a more readable blog because to the peers of the readers, and thus legitimate.
Legitimacy has proven to be of central importance to any success in business or market blogging. A few years back, Dr. Pepper attempted to overstep this in the marketing of their now infamous new product, Raging Cow (a flavored milk drink). The company hired teenagers to try the drink and blog about it after being coached. Dr. Pepper’s efforts were received with viciousness and even boycotts for trying to infiltrate the “integrity” of the blogosphere with marketing through coached customers and “hip-ness.” The whole thing went sour and Raging Cow went unreleased. Moreover, many of us are looking at the fate of “Pay-Per-Post” and its legitimacy in the near future.
Another drink company, Jones Soda, offers a much different and more successful model of blog legitimacy and customer outreach. A visit to the blog gives more the impression of a teen hangout than a business. The blog, in fact, acts as a hub for numerous customer blogs. There is all of the usual business-related material present: an online store, a product locator, and message boards (with posts reaching into the thousands). But the people at Jones very obviously know their customers well and have developed a highly successful blog counterpart to their business by loosening the reigns and putting the clientle completely in charge. Terrifying as this might be to some executives, it seems to have worked brilliantly for Jones.
In summary, business blogging can be best looked upon in its infancy even though the sheer statistics of blogs appearing everyday appear to be high. Businesses that whish to enter the blogospere should do so cautiously unless they have a strategy that meets several of the requirements above. However when executed carefully, a business blog can be a great source of customer intimacy, relationship building, and an extension of your business’s brand.