March 03, 2005

Will Blogs Become the Ultimate Marketing Tool?

By Gavin O'Malley - Blogs once considered the domain of all that is not corporate will soon be an indispensable marketing tool, agreed a mix of public relations, marketing, and research professionals who gathered this week at the Search Engine Strategies Conference in New York.

The blogosphere is increasingly portrayed as neutral ground where businesses can tackle issues head on in a sort of preemptive damage control, and attract consumers to their products and services with compelling content. Experts and professionals at Search Engine Strategies discussed how to find the right voice, get it out, and achieve the greatest reach possible.

At a panel discussion earlier in the week, "Blogs, Boards, and Posts: Capturing Consumer Buzz Online," JupiterResearch analyst Gary Stein said that search engines contribute to a blog's reach and influence. "Engines are naturally drawn to blogs' incessant linking, which is just one reason why a company seeking differentiation and exposure should consider blogging."

Stein's comments touched on the two-way communication path that the blogosphere affords businesses and potential customers. "Blogging is not only an opportunity for companies to aggressively engage consumers on their blogs, on their terms," Stein said, "but a way for companies to attract customers with their own blogs."

Panelist Jonathan Carson, president and chief executive officer of word-of-mouth research and planning firm BuzzMetrics, said that a client recently confessed to him that the blogosphere was fast becoming a better litmus test of consumer sentiment than even Consumer Reports magazine.

But is blogging for every business? "Anal retentive companies who don't value transparency and want to be left alone are probably better off without blogs," said panelist Steve Rubel, a CooperKatz public relations executive who runs the blog MicroPersuasion.

Some corporate blogs are emerging without a "comments" feature--Google's, for instance--which allows visitors to post remarks, but, said Rubel: "If a company isn't prepared to engage in a conversation with its customers, they're obviously not ready for a blog."

And, while all businesses are being encouraged to employ these strategies, small businesses may benefit most, due to the potential name recognition and the chance to boost traffic beyond what would be possible just by offering goods and services. Greg Jarboe, president and co-founder of SEO-PR, a firm that combines search engine marketing and public relations to optimize and promote Web sites, addressed this topic on Tuesday at the "Web Feeds, Blogs & Search" session. "Bottom-line benefits can be hard to measure," said Jarboe, "but for a business that can establish a reputation as an authority in its field, the potential payback is endless."

Tuesday's panel was moderated by Chris Sherman, associate editor at Search Engine Watch. Amanda Watlington of SearchForProfit.com offered up a four-point plan that companies should follow to successfully manage the RSS feeds. "These steps--create, validate, disseminate, and eliminate--are vital for companies trying to extend their reach by offering their blog content for syndication on other sites via RSS."

The relatively low start-up costs of corporate blogging and its ROI potential of the emerging medium is becoming too tempting for most businesses, said panelist Stephan Spencer, founder and president of Web development firm Netconcepts. "Part of this is obviously hype, but there is a very real side to corporate blogging, and the cost of entry is too low to ignore right now."

Latinos at March 3, 2005 09:52 AM