The Internet and the software which has been developed to run on it have made it extremely easy for anyone to publish content and have it accessible to millions of people. In effect, consumers have been given a voice to air their views to a massive audience. Something which before the Internet, they could never have done.
In recent years one of the biggest examples of this has been the massive growth of weblogs (blogs), wiki’s, podcasts, vlogs and moblogs – together they form what is loosely known as social media; the ability for anyone to publish almost any content without the typical costs and hindrances associated with traditional media.
This new publishing freedom has resulted in an explosion of new content. However the term social media, or citizen journalism as it is sometimes called, may be a misnomer as many companies can do it as well!
What is Blogging?
Blogging is currently the most common form of social media, in fact as of October 2006, about 100 000 new weblogs are being created each day – that’s more than the number of books published in the US each year!
The word blog is derived from the term “weblog” which was coined by Jorn Barger in 1997. We started using blog over weblog when Peter Merholz broke the word weblog into the phrase “we blog” in the sidebar of his weblog in 1999.
A blog is essentially a website typically driven by a content management system which features articles (blog posts) and comments on the blog posts. They come in all shapes and forms – from personal diaries shared with friends and family, to arms of political campaigns, media programs and updates on current affairs. They also range in scale from the writings of one blogger, to the collaboration of a large community of writers.
The world of blogs, bloggers and blog posts is commonly known as the blogosphere which has evolved rapidly since its inception. Blogs have given consumers and companies a voice and blogging has opened up a world of information sharing possibilities.
Blogs are not a fad that will lose popularity any time soon – they are here to stay and companies who want to be taken seriously by their consumers need to consider the benefits of starting a corporate blog or at the very least listen to what is being said about them in the blogosphere.
Blogging and RSS
Pioneered by Dave Winer, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) has taken blogging to a whole new level. An RSS feed is an XML (eXtensible Markup Language) file automatically generated by a blog or indeed almost any website or Internet service. Users are then able to “syndicate” or subscribe to this feed using a feed reader or aggregator. When a new post is available, the reader fetches its contents and puts the headings and usually some or all of the content of the post into your reader or directly onto another blog. When a blog is updated, its RSS feed is as well so information spreads very quickly and automatically.
In layman’s terms, RSS eliminates the need for the user to constantly check a site or blog to see if it has been updated. Their feedreader automatically does this for them and presents fresh information as it becomes available. This means that a user can constantly monitor potentially hundreds or even thousands of blogs and websites without having to spend the time visiting each one to check for fresh content.
Some examples of feed readers include FeedDemon, Newsgator and RSS Bandit.
Understanding the subject of blogging is made far easier when one immerses oneself in it, so set up a feed reader and get to it. You’ll soon lose yourself in this fascinating world of content sharing and strong opinions.
By October 2006, Technorati, a blog tracking engine, registered 57 Million blogs tracked. They also acknowledged a consistent pattern whereby the number of blogs doubles every 236 days. However despite the massive growth of blogs, most do not make it past 3 months. According to Technorati, only 55 percent of bloggers are still posting 3 months after starting the blog with very few in comparison updating their blogs weekly or more.
Whether one is starting a blog for personal or corporate marketing purposes, there is no guarantee that anyone will ever find it. In order to ensure a blog’s success it needs to be marketed. Here is a list of suggestions on how to go about doing so:
Search engine optimisation: By ensuring that your blog is search engine friendly, search engines can be a major source of traffic. It is important that your chosen keywords are used in your blog headings, content and meta tags and that the search engines are able to spider all aspects of your blog.
Comments and trackbacks: By treating the blogosphere as a series of ongoing conversations and actively being a part of these conversations through comments and trackbacks, other bloggers will get to know you, link to your blog and a gradual stream of visitors will result.
List your blog in blog directories: Similar to search engines, directories are human edited and managed. Although the traffic volume is not as massive as search engines, many users do visit directories and this could be a great place for them to find out about your blog.
Ping web services with your updated content: Sites like ping-o-matic and FeedShark offer a service whereby they ping multiple web services, blog directories and search engines to let them know that your blog has fresh content.
Content – know your audience: Your blog posts must be interesting and useful to your readers. Develop your unique voice and don’t be afraid to post things others will not agree with.
Frequency: The regularity of posts is important, as there is a direct correlation to blog repeat visitors and the number of times it’s updated. Post 3-5 times per week at a minimum. Web sites and blogs that are updated often get spidered by Google more frequently.
A Holistic Approach
Blogging works in synergy with other eMarketing services, once again proving that a holistic approach is vital to ensure success on the World Wide Web.
Blogs and SEO
You’ve heard it a million times… Content is king! Because search engines love fresh, relevant content, blogs are a great way to give them exactly this. Essentially by writing one post a day, a blog allows you to add a fresh page of content to your website each day. The nature of blogs also makes them an excellent source of links to your website. Provided your content is engaging, other bloggers will link to it and search engines view these links as popularity votes thereby assisting in improving your rankings.
It is important however that the blog is set up to be as search engine friendly as possible. Start by ensuring that all blog posts are assigned a unique page which is easily indexable by the search engines. This can be achieved by ensuring that each page has a link to it which the search engines can find and follow. Pages must be tagged with keywords relevant to your SEO strategy. This means putting important keywords in your post headings, page URL and meta tags, particularly the title tag.
Blogs and Viral Marketing
In a similar vein to blogs being used as a natural link attraction tool, they can be extremely useful as a viral component to your online marketing strategy.
With valuable and engaging content, people will begin talking about and linking to your site. The blogosphere is an interconnected environment and as a result items which are interesting or remarkable are talked about and shared amongst bloggers. Over time this interest brings eyeballs to your site and ultimately awareness to your brand.
It’s Not Always Happy Day’s and Sunshine
Although word of mouth can have a tremendously positive impact on a brand, it can also cause immense damage. One of the best examples of the blogosphere influencing brands negatively is the now infamous “Dell Hell” scenario.
It all started when blogger, Jeff Jarvis had a terrible customer experience with Dell Computers. In true blogger style he documented his experience on his blog and word quickly spread to the point where it was even covered in print by Business Week. However Dell failed to respond to his musings and the bad customer experiences continued as did the negative comments on the blogosphere. Jeff’s rantings become known as Dell Hell and a recent scientific study by responsesource.com showed first that Dell has sustained long-term damage to its brand image and secondly that the cheerleaders for the poor reputation of Dell’s customer services, are bloggers.
With blogs wielding this level of power, it is critical that brands understand how to manage their reputation online and if necessary take proactive steps to limit the damage which can be caused by negative word of mouth. Online Reputation Management is something all companies need to be considering.
On a final note, a great thing to remember about blogs is that a blog is simply a method of publishing content on the Web. Calling something a blog now is a focus on the technology used on the server, the content management solution. Of course, there’s a significant culture that’s grown around this particular technology, but that culture is bound to remain a subculture. Not because the number of people who are involved in blogging is going to shrink but rather because the number of people reading content published using Movable Type, Blogger, or any of the other tools is going to grow. Fast.