Blogging for Business: Advantage or time-waster?
Considering that the word “blog” (short for Web log) was unknown only a few short years ago, its spread has been nothing short of amazing. It seems like wherever you go on the Internet, someone’s blogging…about something. If you’d like to paint your living room, there’s a blog that offers painting tips. If you’re planning a trip to Timbuktu, bloggers will tell you what’s not worth doing and what not to miss. Many people blog about their personal lives or even those of others.
So, is this trend something you or your company should join? Is blogging an advantage to you as a business communicator, or to your employer’s business?
The answer to each of these is a definite “maybe,” with lots of pros and cons.
Blogs can help your company in a number of ways. For example, some major hotel chains encourage their guests to post messages describing their experience on the hotel’s blog. Executives at these chains say that these user posts often provide better feedback than comment cards. For one thing, they’re faster and more timely, and thereby give management a chance to fix problems quickly.
Blog posts—whether on a hotel’s site or on other travel-related sites—also tend to be information sources for other travelers who look at the blogs to decide whether to stay at a specific hotel or hotel chain. If people recount glowing experiences, it may encourage others to visit that hotel, while also showing management what they’re doing right.
The downside, of course, is that even a few negative posts can discourage travelers from patronizing a certain hotel chain. But, if management uses the blog information to correct problems, user perceptions may change. Another downside: Malicious posts may provide inaccurate information about the poster’s experience at a hotel; there’s no way for management to know whether the person who blogged has an agenda or is merely inaccurate.
Several major information technology companies encourage employees to blog, either on the company’s official blog site, or on their own sites—without the blog posts being vetted beforehand. Contrary to the managers’ original fears, no company secrets seem to have been revealed. Interestingly, they found that even rantings by unhappy employees seemed to offer a benefit, as it gave the workers a public outlet for their frustrations and sometimes led to workplace improvements.
A leading paint manufacturer has developed a company blog that encourages buyers and potential buyers to ask questions and to tell the company what they like about the various products, and what they don’t. Managers have made some useful product changes based on this public feedback. Chances are, nobody would have sat down to actually write a letter, or even an e-mail, about these things if the company hadn’t made it so easy for people to become involved in the process.
Some businesses and scientific research laboratories have set up corporate blogs so that their executives and scientists can communicate with colleagues they may not have met or who may be across the globe in another time zone. Posting a question or posing a dilemma can get responses from people who have dealt with the specific problem the blogger is researching and who may have innovative ideas for dealing with it. Yes, this type of communication could be done by e-mail, but you’d reach only people whose e-mail addresses you know. Blogging casts a wider net.
Keep in mind, too, that it has become crucial for companies to keep up with what is being said about them in blogs. Criticism must be carefully monitored on a daily basis and, as politicians have learned, false statements must be countered immediately. Even negative posts that are true or somewhat true should be dealt with because thousands, possibly even millions, of people may be reading them. From this viewpoint, company blogs are imperative because you need your own instant information outlets rather than just responding to posts on other peoples’ blogs.
And, of course, when you find your product roundly criticized in the blogging world, or have to acknowledge the validity of a negative posting, it is simply bad business not to take action and address the problem. From the perspective of the business communicator, this may be one of the most valuable aspects of blogging.
Some advantages of business blogging:
- Provides quick user feedback
- Gives management a chance to fix frustrating problems that vex customers
- Gives managers a clear picture of what they’re doing right and wrong
- May encourage potential users/buyers to purchase the product
- May give management ideas for new products or new ways of providing services
- Gives employees a chance to vent frustrations
- Can provide the company with good public relations if it changes course or corrects problems quickly
- Encourages the public to get involved with a product or service because it’s so easy to get management’s attention
- Enables managers to be more agile and respond more quickly to changing market conditions. By reading blog posts of industry analysts and experts—who often test products and research market trends—they may gain insight into how insiders react to their products and services.
- Lets researchers and executives tap into the expertise of colleagues across the globe who may be analyzing the same problems
And some downsides:
- One person or a few people may provide inaccurate or malicious information, damaging the company’s reputation.
- There’s seldom a way for management to check on the accuracy of the posted material.
- The potential exists for leakage of company secrets or information on new products under development.
- When competitors read the blog posts, they may learn about the timing of new products and services, which may affect their own decisions about when to bring products to market.
- Security and privacy are issues that need to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, weighing the advantages of using a blog—corporate or public—against the obvious hazards.
More next time: You, you, you
There’s also a highly personal element to blogging, which leads to more questions. Can blogging help you find a job? Can your blogging cause a potential employer to eliminate you from consideration? If you’re a freelance communicator, will blogging help you obtain clients, improve your services or enhance your professional reputation? We’ll tackle the personal side of blogging in the next column and also give you some suggestions for how to get started.