B-Blogs: Mega-Meta, Very Viral

Think blogging isn’t up to the task of getting the word out? Think again. Or attend a blog conference, like the one ClickZ conducted in Boston this week. Throw in Wi-Fi, and before you know it the word’s out all over the Web: “The Most Live-Blogged Conference on Earth” is how Rafat Ali presciently described ClickZ Weblog Business Strategies before it even kicked off.

Boy, did he get it right. As I write this on Thursday, the event, and blogs about the event, still dominate Popdex‘s Web site popularity index (starting at number three) — even though the conference ended Tuesday.

That’s reach, frequency, and targeting. Like the broadband connection available to the 35 percent or so of attendees who were live-blogging, the conference was always on. Presentations and speakers were critiqued and dissected from their opening remarks; questions were posed, debated, and sometimes answered in the blogosphere. Everything was hyperlinked — sometimes to an almost absurd degree. Take this entry from Dave Winer’s blog:

Denise posts on Doc’s [Searls’] blog an answer to a question Halley [Suitt] asked at the previous session.

Some live-bloggers set up an aggregator to collect their collective posts, and many audience members were busily chatting away in an IRC room created on site by an audience member. But the getting-the-word-out award goes, hands down, to Heath Row. This most diehard of bloggers transcribed every word of every session (save one). It’s posted on his blog, Media Diet. (Heath, I’ve been dying to ask: Were you trained as a court reporter?)

Naturally, all this blogging was picked up by other bloggers. The links stretch far and wide. I swear, I’ve never seen so much awareness spike so fast in a specific community solely via online media. It’s breathtaking.

Blogs are fast, direct, honest, and raw. And despite protests from some purist bloggers, they’re steadily being adopted as marketing tools, often by organizations you’d never expect to use them. U.S. Army Major Chris Chambers developed Stories of Afghanistan, which he showed us. The blog chronicles the adventures of “Scorpion,” a U.S. Army soldier. It’s part of the army’s online recruiting effort (and a whole new spin on embedded reporting).

So, marketers. How can you harness a viral tornado for your business?

First and foremost, chill. The blogosphere will not tolerate control freaks. Hand over the reins. (If the Army can do it…) Blogging wants to be free. It wants to be a lot freer than marketing and legal want it to be, not to mention the CEO. A Weblog by or about your company, product, or service will eventually contain an opinion, thought, or approach that displeases someone. Expect it, embrace it, and remain open. Blogging is informal, unstructured, and personal. It’s not a corporate boilerplate.

Remember, too, no one’s perfect, and blogs are written by people. B-blogs may have more polish than their personal counterparts, but inaccuracies in spelling and grammar can be overlooked. David Weinberger argues that blogs work because they’re badly written, which gives their audience a sense of immediacy and intimacy.

Part two of a relaxed attitude toward b-blogs is accepting things can be blogged, and they will be blogged. ClickZ is cool with Heath Row’s online transcript of our event. Plenty of conference organizers, especially those who sell post-conference tapes and transcripts, wouldn’t be. Just last week, a Wall Street Journal-ordained press gag order was broken by bloggers Denise Howell and David Hornik. Both posted interviews by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at a WSJ-sponsored event that were off-limits to attending press.

A blogging policy might suddenly strike you as a good idea. Expect smart companies to start rolling these out. Groove is off to a good start with a company policy for employees who blog.

If your organization has staff with the vision, thought leadership, and evangelistic qualities that could make for a good marketing blog, make certain that person checks strategy at the door before posting the first entry. Blogs are good for supporting an agenda or idea, but they aren’t a strategy or an end in themselves when used in a business context. Blogs must be personal, an open loop, and, above all, honest.

Dr. Pepper’s Raging Cow blog fiasco occurred only last March, but is already online marketing legend. The company flew teen bloggers and their parents to Texas, showered them with gifts and indoctrinated them on how to blog their new beverage. The plot (rightly) backfired. Blogger Tim Ireland organized a well-publicized boycott, the blogosphere took up the call to arms, and pretty soon global media were covering the debacle. Bloggers are very powerful influencers.

Media companies are among the early-adaptors in b-blogging. Dan Gillmor’s eJournal is an example, so is Rick Bruner’s MarketingFix. The Guardian has spawned blogs, and even Red Herring founder Tony Perkins’ new online venture, AlwaysOn, is (very) arguably a blog.

At present, b-blogging is a domain inhabited primarily by media companies and very small businesses. As Tony put it, “Until Google bought Blogger, 92 percent of the people I talked to never heard the word ‘blog,'” referring to the corporate spheres in which he travels.

That’ll change. And when these companies embrace blogging as a means of communication, so will corporate culture.

Meet Rebecca at the Jupiter ClickZ Advertising Forum in New York City on July 30 and 31.

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