Corporations Must Use, Not Fear, Blogs

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E-mail's credibility and value as a communication vehicle weaken daily, particularly among workgroups in corporations. As blogs become easier to create and manage, they can be used to provide employees valuable tools to share information within their spheres of influence, such as colleagues, partners, distributors, customers and other constituents.

Advanced features like graphic and file attachments, password protection, CRM application integration and RSS not only make blogs a great fit for corporations but create an environment that builds communities around blogs, extending the marketing reach and brand to new audiences overnight.

Add approval and aggregation, and companies can roll up different views of any number of blogs so that they can present relevant information to their visitors in various venues - an extranet or intranet, for example, could be a view of hundreds of individual employee blogs.

This open approach lets individuals share what is timely and relevant with their own micro-audiences while letting companies reuse appropriate content for macro-audiences. Blogs can create an environment for customer- and consumer-generated content where customers can provide useful content that companies may be unable to create easily on their own.

A few leading business blogging tools, such as iUpload and Moveable Type, provide accountability to allow this approach to succeed in a corporation. These tools let the "open transparency approach" thrive by giving individual bloggers the freedom to write whatever they want on their own blogs while adding an accountability engine so that irrelevant or inappropriate content does not appear on a corporate blog or Web site.

Through the use of an "intelligent aggregation" process, companies can select aggregated views that contain audience-relevant information to improve the quality and appropriateness of the content for each target audience.

A new corporate blog also can augment e-mail newsletters in a more engaging way and bypass spam issues and filters that traditional e-mail delivery mechanisms face.

Blogs not only broaden your corporation's knowledge base by tapping new content from employees, partners and customers. They can extend this new content to more audiences and communities, including specific topic experts who can add credibility to your product or service.

Too many organizations still fear blogs, mainly because their use is relatively new to business and because they can replace many traditional forms of communication, such as e-mail. Instead of embracing it and using blogs to expand their reach to new audiences, these publishers, marketers and public relations firms fear they will lose control of their corporate message, which until recently has come from a select few.

It's important to realize, however, that corporate blogging is not about simply having someone - or even several people - inside the company blog. Though Microsoft evangelist and blogger Robert Scoble has been a tremendous asset to the company and is a great example of how effective business blogs can be, if blogging alone is all you focus on, benefits will be limited to things like:

· Putting a friendlier face on your company and creating an evangelist in which to communicate product updates and other news.

· Creating an environment where customers feel like they are more of an integrated part of the company by participating via an embedded blog through features like comments.

· Potentially improved search engine positioning that inevitably will change over time.

These are fabulous marketing value-adds, but they're not enough. Blogging is a great new tool to communicate to existing audiences and reach new ones, but it is critical that we don't forget basic marketing and PR principals when it comes to appropriate targeted content and building communities around a solid, cohesive message.

Keeping the tone as genuine and authentic as possible is also important given the transparency and grassroots flavor of blogs that make them so popular and keep people coming back for more.

From a publisher's perspective, the same value-add applies. As the use of RSS expands into major media outlets, such as CNN and The New York Times, publishers will start to see real revenue opportunities from advertising in RSS feeds as well as greater flexibility in delivering content to readers.

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