Can Blogging Help Market Your Product?Should marketers add blogging to their arsenal of tactics? Will it help sell more products and services? Or is it, as I suspect, a complete waste of time - a pure vanity publication that won't pay you back even one thin dime for your effort?
"A blog is an online journal," blogging expert Deb Weil explains in her Business Blogging Starter Kit (www.wordbiz.com). "It's called a journal because every entry is time and date stamped and always presented in reverse chronological order."
The theory is that if you are an information marketer, or if you publish information to establish your expertise in a niche industry or field, blogging should be part of your publishing arsenal.
According to Weil, a business blog is "a platform from which to lobby, network and influence sales. It's a way to circumvent traditional media and analysts. And blogging can be done instantly, in real time, at a fraction of the cost of using traditional channels."
However, I have yet to find a single marketer who says that a business blog has gotten him a positive return on investment. I know plenty of online marketers who make millions of dollars a year from their Web sites and e-zines, for instance. But I've not seen a blog whose creator says that the time and effort spent on it has directly put money into his pocket.
"I would say that, with few exceptions, blogs are not yet direct income-producing resources in and of themselves," says blogging authority Paul Chaney (www.radiantmarketing.biz). "Their value lies in the fact that they help raise one's stature relative to their respective field."
There are two major problems with blogging as a business-building tool.
The first is that most blogs I encounter are rambling, streams-of-consciousness musings about a topic of interest to the author, largely bereft of the practical, pithy tips that e-zines, Web sites and white papers offer.
As Weil says, reading a blog is like reading the author's journal or diary. And unless you are a guru or celebrity whom others worship, people are not going to flock to your blog to discover your latest thoughts on life.
The second problem involves distribution. With an e-zine, once the reader subscribes, he gets it delivered to him electronically every week or month or however often you send it. But with a blog, the reader has to go out and proactively look for it. And since your contributions to your blog may be irregular and unscheduled, he has no way of knowing when something new of interest has been added.
One big advantage of blogs, according to Chaney, is that having one can help pull traffic to your Web site.
"The search engines, especially Google, love blogs," he says. "You'd be amazed at how many of your posts will end up in the top 10 returns. If search engine optimization is a concern to you, blogs are the best way I know to move up the ladder as well as increase your page rank."
"I confidently predict that blogs will soon be a key piece of an effective online marketing strategy," Weil says. "Ultimately, they're nothing more than an instant publishing tool, one that makes posting fresh content to the Web within anyone's reach. No tech skill or knowledge [is] required."
And that's another of my complaints with blogs in particular and the Web in general: the ease with which people can post and disseminate content. "The best thing about the Web is that anyone can publish on it; the worst thing about the Web is that anyone can publish on it," a computer magazine columnist once observed.
The problem is that there is already too much content, and we don't want or need more. Analysis, wisdom, insight, advice, strategies, ideas - yes. But raw information, data or content - no. And from what I see, blogs serve up almost none of the former, and tons of the latter.
Blogs are, by virtue of being a form of online diary, like diaries: rambling, incoherent and more suited for private thoughts than public consumption. If you have something of value to share, many better formats exist for doing it online than by blogging, including white papers, e-zines and Web sites.
Even bulletin boards are interactive, so they have value by virtue of shared opinions, dialogue and engaging conversation that may be listened to openly and publicly. But most blogs seem to be the private, idiosyncratic musings of an individual, without censure or editing of any kind. And the result is like porridge: a gloppy mess, tasteless and not very satisfying.
Until that changes, I can't see starting and maintaining a blog of your own, unless you are bored and looking for something to do, or require an outlet for self-expression.