Tuesday, April 05, 2005

where do we blog from here?

[file under: Random Thoughts]

a few years ago, people started talking (because they were actually talking to each other at that time) about this thing called the world wide web. a few early adopters started to play around, stuff like browsers were developed, and 'addresses' that started with www started to pop up. after a little while, the mainstream industry noticed, created websites galore, and soon machines in china were printing URL's on packaging for everything from condoms to chyna dolls. That a consumer would probably not have the time or inclination to notice the said URL's in either case seems not to matter. Everyone's doing it so we have to do it.

more recently, people started IM-ing/email-ing(because actually talking was passé by this time) about this thing called blogging. a few early adopters took it up, stuff like RSS was developed, and addresses that ended with blogspot.com started to pop up. now, it is slowly starting to creep into the mainstream. it is only a matter of time, I believe, that blogging becomes pervasive.

last week, i followed a link to a new book called Freakonomics. while it isn't news anymore that a book has a website, what intrigued me was to see a link to its Author's Blog. (not sure how effective posting only 3 posts since inception march 20 is, though). seems like it has become de rigeur for startups (see JotSpot) to add a 'blog' link along with 'about us' and 'contact' on their homepages. Google has had one for a while, and of course, so does Blogger. the biggies, as usual, are slow to embrace this, with Sun being a notable exception.

this is blogging being increasingly used, if not as a marketing tool in the traditional sense, as a connecting-with-customers tool. nothing wrong with that, except every corporation is looking for ways to form these connections. my impression is that their sloth in identifying trends is matched only by the speed with which they get on the bandwagon. i reckon it's the same with blogging - all it's going to take is a few success stories. say, for example, Subway had a blog and it featured the travails of a blogger eating healthy on his way to losing weight a la jared - and this blog had X million subscribers translated somehow to Y billion dollars in sales. or a mom-and-pop blog as they try to fend off Wal-Mart and succeed due to their community reading about it and deciding to shop at their store.

i wont be surprised to see an orange XML button on every website in the near future. or the next piece of software i install automatically adding a blogfeed to my reader. or the next version of Windows having a built-in reader with a gazillion pointless feeds pre-programmed. or every third post on a popular blog pushing a product similar to advertising on TV. or spammers automatically subscribing me to their feeds. or promotions being pushed using blogs.

i do, however, think that using blogging as a marketing tool is a dangerous pursuit that needs to be handled carefully. i say dangerous because a blog is ultimately someone's voice. and people are going to read it only if it is believable. i am willing to bet that if a company has several bloggers, the successful ones aren't going to be the ones repeating the marketing mantras, but rather those who are its most passionate employees/ambassadors. the evangelists.

i look to jonathan schwartz as the perfect example. his blog unabashedly pushes Sun's message, but it's so believable because he sounds like he really means it. there's real passion there. heck, i'd go work for the guy.

a different sort of example is JotSpot. On their blog their CEO talks about them wanting to be an open company with emphasis on developing relationships with customers and having 'real conversations' with the market. having worked for a big corporation, i have come to view these types of statements by CEO-types with a healthy dose of scepticism. imagine my surprise when i get an email message the week i signed up for a beta [yay whartonTech, they didn't keep me waiting :-)] asking me if I wanted to participate in an informational survery (by phone, with a - gasp! - real person) to let them know my impressions of the 'out of box' experience with JotSpot and suggestions for improvement. when Vele over at Wharton was facing delays getting an account, he got a personal note from Joe Kraus. he writes : " Joe Kraus, it's CEO, sent me a direct email reach out, apologizing for the delays and promising a beta soon. Now, that's balls! ". my takeaway is that if you are going to have someone like the CEO blogging, you better make sure there's follow up on what he claims on his blog. this is most easily done when what he's saying is closely aligned with what the company stands for and how it operates. pre-packaged marketing messages aren't going to work.

hmm, where do i go from here? it's 2 am and i can't think anymore. so, i'm off to get some sleep. would love to hear what others think about this topic, if it's made any sense at all.

Edit: Uncanny sense of timing ! i just went over to Steve Shu's and he has not one, but two posts somewhat related to what I was rambling about. One of them's an example of a sponsored marketing blog , and the other a study by Wharton professors on blogging. check it out.
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