If you've come via a search, link, or other indirect route, this is Part 2 of a series that grew out of my Blogs vs. Social Media: Businesses Need Both post. Part 1 - A Passion for Your Business examined the role of passion in business ... and in blogging.
Continuing with our re-examination of an April 2005 article in now defunct DarwinMag.com (Internet Archive version) written by a then-blog-skeptical Graeme Thickens only a few months before he launched his own business blog, Tech~Surf~Blog ...
2. Business doesn’t like gossip. The blogosphere is well known as a cauldron of innuendo and over-the-back-fence chatter. (That’s not to say some political blogs haven’t helped get to the truth in some notable instances — such as the Dan Rather incident. But we’re talking business here.) The fact remains that business people still have two big questions when it comes to this blogging phenomenon: Who would I trust out there? And, what would I get out of slogging through all this uncontrolled chit-chat?
Depends on who's chatting, no? And what they're chatting about.
Pejoratives like "gossip" and "innuendo" aside, one of the things I tell audiences all the time is that thought-leaders in just about every field of human endeavor are blogging and/or commenting on each other's blogs. Cutting edge ideas that will affect your business appear and get debated on blogs (and Twitter) months, if not years, before they show up in mainstream media, or professional and academic journals.
True, the blogs maintained by though-leaders in your field, or in fields of science, technology, or business that affect your business in myriad tangential ways make up only a small fraction of that scary place called the blogosphere. Even adding in the many news and commentary blogs now published by most mainstream media, that portion is miniscule compared to the still fast-growing whole.
So what about those millions of other bloggers, the ones whose grammar, spelling, or choices of topic you may not approve? As Yvonne reminded us recently, Mommy and Daddy Bloggers ... ARE Your Market.
Some are your customers. Some are influencers of your customers. Some are your present or future employees. If you're lucky, some of them are writing about you and your products or services.
All that word-of-mouth marketing that all those businesses are chasing is being propelled around the world by bloggers, whether professional or casual. What you get out of "slogging through" the blog topics they care about enough to publish is a priceless glimpse into ... what they care about!
So if you're one of those hard-nosed, serious-minded business folk who's still "digitally illiterate" — and maybe running around bragging about it — consider that the generation now coming of age sees online communication the way you see telephones. Nobody would run around demanding ROI justification for maintaining a telephone connection for your business — it's too obviously essential to business communication.
That's how many of your customers and employees see blogging and social media now, and nearly all will in the near future. From the Introduction to Born Digital:
"These kids are different. They study, work, write, and interact with each other in ways that are different from the ways you did growing up. They read blogs rather than newspapers. They often meet each other online before they meet in person. ... They're more likely to send an instant message (IM) than to pick up a telephone ... Major aspects of their lives — social interactions, friendships, and civic activities — are mediated by digital technologies. And they've never known any other way of life." (Emphasis added.)
Want to reach your customers next year, or in five years? Then you (or someone who openly represents your brand) had better become "digitally literate" PDQ.
This concept of digital literacy addresses both of Graeme's questions, relating to trust and what you get out of engaging with bloggers and other social media users. Because digital literacy includes the ability to find and evaluate the quality of information online, as well as using it to create online content.
It may seem self-evident now, but "slogging through" other people's blogs is precisely the place for businesses to start, as Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff from Forrester Research advise in Groundswell:
1. Start by listening. A small knot of people at a cocktail party are conversing. Would you walk up to them and just start talking? Or would you listen, first, and see how you can join their conversation? The blogoshpere is the same. Listen to what's being said out there before you dive in. ... (Emphasis in original.)
Our friends (and WME clients) Shel Holtz and John Havens make the same point with their chapter title, "En-gauge the Conversation: How Issues Blogs Show People You're Listening," in their new book, Tactical Transparency. They drive it home with this quote from Bert Langert at McDonald's about his Open for Discussion blog: "... We're already part of the conversation. People already talk about us, so the idea is [that] we want to be engaged in that conversation ..."
So one important way for businesses to view blogs — both their own blogs and others' — is as "listening posts."
Are you listening?