Ads on Blogs, Blogs as Ads, Part 2

After last week’s column on blogs as a newborn ad medium, a reader sent a note expressing concern over marketers’ frequent misuse of the term “blog.” “Are we now going to see corporations, advertisers, and my grandmother throwing around the latest ‘it’ word?” he asked.

A good point. Like most modish forms of Internet marketing, blogs will likely produce a good amount of confusion before they make it to the mainstream. For marketers who intend to use the medium to brand and promote their products, understanding blogs is key.

Blogs as Internet marketing vehicles seem to be going in two diametrically opposed directions: They’re joining the ranks of specialty and niche sites under the umbrella of various ad networks; and they’re being customized by marketers as an extension of existing online initiatives. I’ll discuss the former in the final installment of this series next week. For now, let’s look at creating corporate blogs.

A couple approaches exist as far as business-branded blogs are concerned. Some companies launch them to provide insight into their businesses or to humanize their image by allowing consumers to interact with employees (Google’s corporate blog is a good example). Others develop consumer blogs as an added-value service, providing third-party news and information relating to their businesses (see travel sales agency BizNetTravel’s blog) or, in the case of Nike, they create promotion-specific micrositesin conjunction with existing blogs.

Blogs may have numerous uses, but when it comes to development and design, a structure must be followed. To avoid the kind of backlash that plagued the valiant early adopters, remember these basic canons.

Blogs Are Dynamic

Unlike Web sites and microsites, traditionally used as online “brochures,” blogs are designed to demand constant attention from the consumer and must receive the same level of attention from the publisher. At minimum, blogs should be updated daily. I’ve yet to hear of one being criticized for being too current.

Ideally, blogs include links to pertinent and interesting content from around the Web. Corporate blogs aren’t advertorials. The objective is for consumers to depend on your blog for aggregated news and information relevant to your business. If they only wanted corporate babble, they’d visit your Web site.

In fact, the ability to repeatedly entice consumers to visit is one primary benefit of corporate blogs. They represent an opportunity to get existing and potential customers to interact with your domain again and again. If you hope to keep them coming back, material they find once they get there must be kept current.

If you don’t have access to a continual stream of information relating to your company or the product you intend to promote, implement a periodic e-newsletter. Blogging isn’t for you.

Blogs Are Interactive

In many ways, blogs are the archetypal online medium; user interactivity is key. Lack of interactive functionality is what caused some analysts to condemn the Nike microsite, discussed last week.

Little wonder Nike shied away from allowing readers to post. This very typical blog feature can be intimidating. Where corporate blogs are concerned, it opens the door for uncensored public commentary that may be inappropriate or unflattering to a company image. But freedom to post is something consumers expect. Attempts to silence them won’t go unnoticed.

Fortunately, control over one’s blog space ultimately lies in the publisher’s hands. Most blog publishing software notifies bloggers of each new post by email, so anything offensive can immediately be deleted. Some versions also include a feature that allows you to ban repeat offenders. Block user IP addresses to avert and prevent spam and put interactivity concerns largely to rest.

Blogs Are Sincere

It’s difficult for a marketer to accept a medium exists in which employing carefully crafted ad copy isn’t more effective. This is, however, true of blogs. Blogs were born to be consumer-operated sites. Readers love the authenticity and slapdash feel this imparts. That doesn’t bode well for marketers accustomed to using the Web for the hard sell.

It’s great news for those who appreciate the positive influence a blog without a pretext can have on consumer perception of your company and brand. Reading BizNetTravel’s Travel Log blog, which keeps readers abreast of travel news and tips, one can’t help but appreciate the informal writing style, casual tone, and utter lack of brazen sales pitches. Readers of this blog are sure to relate to the bloggers behind it and to the company itself. Achieving this level of conviction will reap countless rewards.

Nominations are open for the 2004 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards.

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