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  Blogs: The Voice of Consumers and the Ears of Companies 

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A blog is a website in which one or more writers post regularly on a specific topic. A blog's articles or posts are listed in chronological order, from newest to oldest. According to data from Technorati, the amount of weblogs doubles every seven months. There are presently 66.6 million blogs in existence around the world. Why are they so successful? There are several major reasons. Thanks to the wealth of free posting and publishing services, blogs are cheap and easy to create. They optimize a company's position in online search engine results, and their interactive quality helps boost the existing word-of-mouth (wom) on a company or product (see "Electronic Word of Mouth: What Do We Know About This Powerful Marketing Tool"?)

It is thus no surprise that companies such as General Motors, Nokia and Fon already use blogs as a communication tool. According to the study "Makovsky 2006," which surveys the Fortune 1000 companies, just 8 percent of all companies report having their own blog. In Spain, the figure is even lower: Merely four percent of the Ibex 35 firms have a corporate weblog.

A corporate blog is one that is written by someone who makes official posts as a weblog spokesperson for the company. There are blogs for brands, products, employees, events, industries, and so on. Interest in blogs as a communication tool coincides with the declining credibility and effectiveness of traditional lines of communication. In markets that are becoming ever more splintered, media geared toward a very specific audience, such as blogs, prove highly effective for reaching consumer groups and allowing them to participate.

The use of the tool for business purposes offers even more benefits: It is unobtrusive and allows for direct customer feedback. Blogs streamline the efforts of departments such as press, communication and PR and enhance customer loyalty. They provide an incentive for networking and give a company the image of being an innovator while allowing the company to build its reputation as an authority, thus establishing itself as a leading expert on topics related to its sector.

The Rules of the Blogosphere
If blogs offer all of these benefits, why are so few companies using them? They are also risky. Companies fear losing control of the message being conveyed, excessive transparency and possible legal complications. And the fact is, to get into the blogosphere, one must abide by certain rules: be honest, transparent and never lie (the company's reputation, image and credibility are at stake). Write with a personalized style and always in first person, and constantly update the page. Not playing by these rules can damage a company's image and create negative publicity.

Also, as the report's authors state, while blogs may be useful, that does not mean they are necessary. What is essential, however, says the study, is to regularly monitor the blogosphere; in other words, to keep abreast of the dialogue taking place about a company's products and those of the competition. Just as the communication department stays up to date with what goes on in traditional media, the same must be done with blogs. This can help prevent crisis situations such as that experienced by the Kryptonite lock company. When someone discovered that one of the models could be opened using a ballpoint pen, it nearly led to the demise of the American lock manufacturer. The individual who discovered this recorded a demonstration video and posted it on the Internet. It was later referenced on numerous blogs. The company was unaware of the scandal until the "New York Times" ran a piece on it. In the end, Kryptonite replaced all of the defective products that had been sold, an operation that cost some $10 million and caused incalculable damage to the product's image.

As for whether blog users actively post their opinions on blogs on a regular basis, it is not clear. According to the study carried out on the sample of 100 such sites, net users apparently still use blogs as if they were regular websites, meaning as a mere source of information. This suggests that Web 2.0 may still be in its initial deployment phase. Nevertheless, we have already seen that its tools can be quite useful for improving a company's image and reputation through direct communication with audiences.

Factors for Success
There are no magic formulas ensuring the success of a corporate blog, however there are certain recommendations that may help a site gain visitors. Based on a comparative analysis performed on a sample of 50 corporate blogs from the U.S., along with 25 from Europe and another 25 from Spain, the following factors have emerged as key to a blog?s success:

  • Give the blog its own hosting and URL.
  • Use multiple authors who clearly express that they represent the organization.
  • Include images with each new post.
  • Provide an internal search function.
  • Link to the homepage from anywhere within the blog and group the information into sections.

Conversely, other factors such as the frequency of posting, the constant use of links to other websites and citing the sources for the information used do not have much statistical significance when it comes to determining how successful a blog really is.

If your company decides to create its own corporate blog, the authors of the study also recommend that you first read other blogs and participate in them by making posts. After that phase, it is important to establish a set of goals, which should be aligned with the company's communication and marketing strategy. After that, decide who will do the posting, keeping in mind that the blogger must have access to information and be able to speak authoritatively in order to answer the questions posed by the blog's participants.

The key, they say, is to keep up with the conversations being held about the company.

This article is based on:  Los blogs corporativos: Una opción, no una obligación
Publisher:  EBCenter - e-business Center PwC&IESE
Year:  2007
Language:  Spanish