Online Marketing Lesson 18: Blogs as Marketing Platforms

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Blogs are among the most popular websites on the Internet today. In this lesson, we are going to see how the phenomenon was born, and why companies and individuals embraced blogs as a powerful marketing platform.

The Beginning

Blogs emerged on the Internet in the late 1990s as online diaries where people would share interesting links, ideas, and their day to day activities. Over the time, however, some bloggers started to use their blogs for different purposes: focusing on specific topics and trying to provide more useful content. That content could come in the form of news, how-to guides, expert advice or qualified opinions. That is when journalists and other professionals jumped on the bandwagon, and that is when blogs started to appeal to a greater audience.

Early in 2000, the first blogging software and online blogging platforms appeared on the market, making it incredibly easy for anyone to create a website in a matter of seconds, with no technical expertise whatsoever. Suddenly, any person, anywhere in the world, could reach a global audience. The result was an exponential growth in the number of blogs being published around the world, and today Technorati tracks over 100 million of them.

One of the factors that most contributed to the wide spread of blogs was the conversational ecosystem that they brought to the web. Until 10 years ago, the Internet used to be a monologue. The information flow was unidirectional, from the few and large websites to the web users. With the entrance of blogs and other social media tools on the scene, however, that monologue became a conversation, and the information started flowing in all directions. Blogs, after all, are more personal, and the author interacts with the readers on a closer level. Readers, in turn, become able to leave comments, or to answer with another article on their own blogs.

Blogs Aren’t Necessarily Diaries

The main misconception regarding the definition of blogs comes from people that associate blogs with their content. More specifically, from people that associate blogs with the content from one particular type of blog: personal diaries.

In other words, those people think that blogs are necessarily online diaries where people share their opinions, ramblings, and personal events.

Wrong!

That is just one of the things that you could do with a blog.

Today blogs are being used for all sorts of purposes. You have companies that use blogs to communicate and interact with customers and other stakeholders. Newspapers have incorporated blogs to their main website to offer a new channel for their writers, individuals who created a blog to share with the world their expertise on specific topics. And so on.

Separate the Content

If you separate the content from the website, it becomes much easier to work with the blog definition.

Consider a person who wants to publish a Questions & Answers column online. She could use several types of websites for that purpose.

She could create an online forum, for example, where each thread would be an answer to a specific question. She could create a static HTML website and publish all the questions and answers on a single page. She could create a wiki where users would be able to edit the questions and answers directly. Finally, she could also create a blog, where each post would contain a question and its answer.

As you can see, the content is not attached to the website. The picture below illustrates that (note that only four types of websites were used, but there are many more).

M3L18_BlogsAsMarketingPlatforms-1

Obviously one type of website will be more suitable for a certain purpose than others. It would be easier for a company to use an online forum on its customer support section, for instance.

In recent years, blogs are becoming so pervasive that they are blurring the line that once existed between them and mainstream media. Just consider that on the latest Technorati report, among the 100 most popular sites on the web, 22 were blogs. What kind of power is that? Just consider that back in 2007 Engadget.com, a leading technology blog, posted a rumor stating that the iPhone and the Leopard operating system were going to be delayed by Apple. That was enough to spark a massive selling of Apple’s stock, making it lose $4 billion in market capitalization in the following hours.

What Is a Blog Then?

A blog is basically a type of website like a forum or a social bookmarking site. As such, it is defined by the technical aspects and features around it, and not by the content published inside it.

The features that make blogs different from other websites are:

  • content is published in a chronological fashion
  • content is updated regularly
  • readers have the possibility to leave comments
  • other blog authors can interact via trackbacks and pingbacks
  • content is syndicated via RSS feeds

Keep in mind that it is the bundle of those features that should define a blog. An online forum could also offer an RSS feed for example, but that would not make it a blog.

Blogs as Marketing Platforms

Given the popularity and widespread of blogs on the Internet, businesses and content portals decided to try them as a marketing and audience engaging platform. The results were very positive, and today most of the companies with a strong online presence have a blog for one purpose or another. Examples include The New York Times, Microsoft, IBM and Cisco.

There were several factors that contributed to those positive results, and below we are going to cover them.

1. Blogs are dynamic

Traditional websites are static. They have a certain number of web pages, but those don’t change over the time. New pages might be added, but the overall structure remains the same. Blogs, on the other hand, are dynamic. New content is added on a regular basis, and blogging specific software makes it very easy for an author to update his blog. The result is a greater loyalty of the visitors to the website.

Consider someone that is interested in the products of IBM. However interesting or visually appealing IBM’s website might be once the person is done visiting it, she will have no reason to return for a while.

Once IBM starts publishing a blog about one or all of its product lines, this person gains a reason to visit the website (more specifically the blog section of the website) more frequently.

2. RSS Technology

Blogs contributed to spread of the RSS technology around the Internet. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is basically a format used to deliver information from websites and pages that get updated regularly. An RSS document (which is called feed) contains either a summary or the full content from a website. The main benefit of RSS is that it enables people to stay connected with their favorite websites without having to visit them.

Once you subscribe to a particular RSS feed, you will automatically receive updates from the website that publishes the feed, whenever they release new content.

What advantage does RSS bring to companies? Whenever a visitors grabs the RSS feed of the blog of that company, he is basically becoming a subscriber. The next time that company updates its blog, that new information will be pushed to all the RSS subscribers.

3. Blogs enable conversations with customers

The central point of the best seller book titled The Cluetrain Manifesto was the fact that markets are conversations.

Apart from encouraging visitors to check the website of a company more frequently, blogs also enabled the company to establish a conversation with its customers and other stakeholders.

Traditional corporate websites tend be formal and fact based. Blogs, on the other hand, bring a real person on the other side who is sharing information, thoughts or expertise. This conversational factor enabled blogs to be used under all sorts of situations. You have companies with blogs that provide general news and corporate events information, companies that handle customer support with blogs, and even companies where the CEO manages the investor relations via his own blog (most notably SUN Microsystems).

4. Search engines love blogs

The final factor that contributed to the wide spread of blogs, even inside corporate and business websites, was the love that they enjoy from search engines. In other words, articles and posts published inside a blog tend to obtain high rankings in the search results of Google and other search engines.

The reasons for this pattern are quite technical, but they are related to the fact that blogs are dynamic and that they tend to receive more links from other blogs and websites. The result, however, is simpler to understand. Higher search rankings lead to higher traffic. For a company selling a product, service or advertising, this in turn, will help to increase the revenues.

Action Points

  1. Review the definition of blogs, and understand why blogs are not necessarily attached to any type of content.
  2. Review the four factors that enabled blogs to be used as marketing platforms by individuals and companies from around the world.

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