Blogging for business

Enterprise blogging has survived the fad stage. Managed properly, it can be a communication hub as well as being a revenue generator and money saver.

As Paula Berg, managing director of emerging media at Southwest Airlines explained, the depth and breadth of content funnelling back delivers benefits in terms of directing customers to their website and brand.

"People are searching Southwest and Hawaii, and they're getting the information they need... we come up first in search and [the customer] gets what they need. Whether they come back isn't as important."

The business case for blogging

Consider that these people have come away with a good feeling about the company in question. Now consider the advertising spend that would be needed to create a good thirty-second impression of the company in the mind of the consumer via conventional media sources such as TV, radio or newspapers. Through a blog, you've created a similar experience, but on a much more personal level and a lower budget. If you can justify traditional advertising, there's no reason to not justify your blog expenditure and activity coming from the marketing budget.

Many bloggers talk about the income they can make from their blog, and the techniques they use to generate an income can be applied to a corporate blog site to achieve income as well as deliver advertising and marketing messages to readers and get their real-time feedback.

Berg and Southwest have found that blogging has another benefit: "It's been a virtual focus group, at virtually no cost. Getting feedback on the blog [about a change in seating policy] certainly changed the internal debate, and illustrated to our executives the power of this tool."

Turning the focus on Twitter

In recent months, traditional web site blogging has been supplemented by so-called micro-blogging services, such as Twitter. This lets users write short posts of up to 140 characters on what they are doing throughout the day. It is dismissed by many as a lot of people posting 'I'm having a cup of tea now,' but if you make tea, Twitter is perfect to find out the habits of tea drinkers, their favoured brands, and other minute detail that would normally cost thousands to discover via more traditional surveys, focus groups and hands-on customer sessions.

Laura Fitton, a presentation consultant at Pistachio Consulting, advises companies on how to use Twitter and similar services. "You can learn, just by searching Twitter, about consumer preferences and behaviours related to your product," she said.

Tweetscan is one of the more popular tools that allow users to search and study conversations taking place via Twitter and to mine its archive.

"Even if your known customers are not part of the three million or so Twitter users, we could sit here right now and start searching your brand, and you could learn more about how your customers are using your product than in expensive market research," Fitton added.

It would be wrong to bundle all your blogs online into a single template, as each one is slightly different, and will have a different goal in mind, as will the people who read and interact with them within the blogosphere. Those who read and comment have the potential to be your biggest product research group, marketing demographics and product advocates all in one, while costing significantly less than the traditional methods.

For that reason, it may be time for your business to examine and develop a strategy for launching, maintaining and studying blogs along with associated online conversation tools.

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