After reading the recent Business Week cover story, "Blogs Will Change Your Business," my internal cognitive dissonance radar began to detect a few blips on the screen.
I'm in the blog business, and I have every conceivable incentive to wax poetic about the power and potential of this viral "add water and stir" publishing format. I regularly author and update several blogs (this one and this, too). My firm makes real money measuring and interpreting blogs and other forms of consumer-generated media. In the past month, I've moderated two industry conference panels on blogs, issued a blog white paper, and led a handful of strategy sessions on blogs with major corporations. I have another one later today.
Why on earth would I backtrack on the medium that gave us the trackback (define)?
I'm still a believer. But I've absorbed a plenitude of battle scars during the dot-com era. I worked at a large Cincinnati-based corporation where overhyped ideas were sometimes thrown to submission by skeptics weary of future-speak. My conscience is tugging at me to put things into proper perspective.
Let's stunt the growing mushroom of blog-talk... at least for the moment!
Blogs won't help brands regain control. Blogs may well help companies bond with consumers in exciting new ways, but they won't help them control the relationship. The age of marketer control is over. If anything, blogs will continue tipping the balance of power toward the consumer. That isn't to suggest companies can't influence the relationship or leverage blogs to engage in a meaningful relationship, but the consumer will remain in control.
Most blogs retire after the first inning. We're all guilty of starting things we never complete, and blogs are hardly immune to this dimension of human nature. Last week, for instance, we announced our BlogPulse portal hit the 10 million mark. We're adding nearly 40,000 new blogs every day. In the same breath, we noted only about a third of blogs are "active," meaning they refresh their content on a monthly basis. Specifically, 44 percent were active within the last 60 days, and slightly more than half (51 percent) were active within the last 90 days. In fairness, all the players pushing blogs: TypePad, Blogger, Yahoo, and MSN are doing one hell of a job driving awareness and early trial, and the tools just keep getting better. But it's just not sticking for everyone. Keep that in mind.
Blogs create plenty of headaches for brands. Most brands have barely internalized how consumers use blogs (especially the multimedia versions) to hold companies to a higher standard or expose brands that under-perform or under-deliver. Thanks to camera phones, microphone-enabled MP3 players, and pen-sized video cameras, blogs will begin to capture unauthorized, unsanctioned, and highly incriminating dimensions of brand experience. This consumer-controlled surveillance culture will wreak havoc with most brands. Kryptonite and iPod are just early glimpses into the evolving nature of high-exposure feedback. Compounding the mess, search engines will continue finding these experiences and dole them out to the innocent. All this carries a real cost.
Despite the allure, many companies simply aren't blog-ready. I constantly remind clients, "Before you blog, look in the mirror -- and call your toll-free number." Successful blogging rests on devoted principles of interactivity, informality, real-time listening, rapid legal review, and the ability to process feedback in a timely manner. Most companies and brands just aren't there yet.
Blogging is as much a cultural mindset as an off-the-shelf marketing tool. What happened at GM with the FastLane blog is inspiring yet highly unusual. Vice Chairman Bob Lutz clearly bought in to the project early and undoubtedly slashed through cultural and naysayer bureaucracy to make it happen. He made it work because he genuinely speaks with passion, authority, and sincerity. That's very tough to replicate.
Think less about blogs and more about RSS. As marketers, we may be too consumed with the word "blog." The bigger idea fueling what some refer to as "the second push revolution" is RSS (define), which is becoming a de facto publishing standard, whether emanating from blogs or regular Web sites. Content is published (pub), users subscribe (sub), and data are seamlessly delivered to personal blogs, RSS readers, My Yahoo, and the like. RSS basically brings the time-shifting concept of DVRs to the Web. This consumer choice and control is what "new" marketing is all about.
Blogs will challenge and erode agency margins. Don't shoot the messenger on this one, but the consumer-generated media revolution puts the means of ad production in the hands of consumers. That's going to take away both work and margin from the agencies. Moreover, the cost of building a blog-enabled Web site is so dramatically inexpensive ($15 per month for the deluxe "all you can eat" version of TypePad), it makes most site developers look like robber barons.
Blogs aren't immune to everyday marketer pain points. Ever had to manage comment spam? Ever felt like you couldn't tell the difference between a blog entry and an ad? The blog space is neither pure nor pristine, and many of the stones in our marketing shoes are alive and well in the blog space.
Business Week is dead-on in noting blogs represent "the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself." No doubt there's a really big idea here, one we must nurture, protect, and advance. But we'll never get to the second inning if we don't inject some prudence into our exuberance.
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Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."