Just when you thought it was safe to fire up your company blog and reap the highly touted social business dividends, the marketplace seems to be sending mixed signals. Recent posts by social media influencers have challenged a University of Massachusetts study showing a decline in corporate blogging by rhetorically asking whether it’s possibly time to rethink your company’s blogging strategy, or even forget about it altogether. The marketing industry and businesses with a vested interest in the growth and success of the blogosphere have naturally assumed a bit of defensive posturing concerning the long-term outlook for blogging as a marketing and sales tool.
A widely reported Pew Research Center survey completed a few years ago showed a pullback in blogging, especially among teens (with a slight increase in blogging among members of Gen X and older adults). The usual complaints prevailed: it takes too long to compose posts and reader apathy is discouraging. In other words, writing without reader comments or feedback is a non-starter. It’s much easier to post text and videos to Facebook, teens argued, and besides, that’s where their audience hangs. Any business with a long-term outlook should pay attention to these teen views. As younger generations move forward into the workplace, their experiences and opinions may cascade into the future of business blogging. After all, all those Macs delivered to primary and secondary schools in the 1980s and 1990s (with generous academic discounts from Apple, thank you) certainly have gradually displaced the Windows PC as the predominant business computing platform.
It’s perhaps too early to tell whether there’s a trend, but it doesn’t go unnoticed when social media A-listers who carved an early path in blogging indicate they are cutting back. Or worse, hinting that blogging may increasingly be disrupted by other social media channels. As Jay Baer suggests, photo-based social networks such as Pinterest may “make written blogs like mine look quaintly Amish by 2014.” But let’s also not get too carried away. The UMass study spurred a digital media news site to surmise that because Fortune 500 companies were pulling back, it was safe to assume a similar trend was occurring with marketing agencies. Other social media bloggers have referenced that post and sounded the alarm. The conjecture might be true, but confirmation will have to come from the results of a wide marketing industry survey.
Technorati counters that people who write for their corporate blogs or their own small business blogs are cranking out even more posts than ever because, despite the effort, blogging is still viewed as a strong business marketing tool with measurable ROI. The reason to slack off on blogging: personal and job commitments. Add to that time spent engaging with the new shiny networks, such as Pinterest and Empire Avenue.
So is blogging headed for intensive care? Even worse, do we invoke the R-word? Is blogging still relevant in a social marketplace of consumers who are increasingly image-centric, highly mobile, constantly juggling different tools and platforms and, perhaps most important, very short on time? When social media turned the tables on traditional media, leveraging low-cost blog frameworks to create alternative news vehicles, many proclaimed the press release dead. The press release is still alive and well, though most companies now realize news announcements aren’t really going to generate instant headlines or immediate media response. Truth be told, they never really did. Press releases remain an important vehicle for freely and fairly delivering (read: no exclusives or insider advantage) official corporate news content, now with a potent SEO kick. So though the frequency and focus of blog posts may be adjusted and tweaked to accommodate evolving corporate objectives and consumer preferences, veterans concur that blogging is still a vital marketing strategy that can be integrated with other social media networks. It’s not an either-or business decision. Here are 10 key recommendations and points to consider for your blogging roadmap:
1) Reaffirm the objectives of your corporate blog. It’s a marketing tool and an SEO magnet. There’s no reason why you can’t integrate your content with major social networks, resulting in highly fluid digital partnerships.
2) Blog not working for your business? Query business colleagues and fellow professionals. You will be surprised by the input and generosity. The “pay it forward” philosophy has knocked down many traditional competitive barriers. Blogger forums such as ProBlogger are perfect for getting professional feedback and ideas. Tap the knowledge base in LinkedIn business groups. When it comes to social media business tools and strategies, there aren’t many secrets.
3) If you don’t have time, hire a content consultant or a designer/coder to help with the writing, editing, site add-ons or a complete makeover. There are even teen entrepreneurs offering amazingly cost-effective, high-quality off-the-shelf solutions and services. You don’t have to hire a team of CSS/PHP programmers out of Bangalore. Low-cost expertise nowadays is in your time zone. Plus the future may be pointing to frictionless blog frameworks requiring no coding.
4) Blogs are highly portable and customizable. If you are thinking about closing down your corporate blog and moving to Facebook, get a second opinion.
5) Take a lesson from Journalism 101, where students are taught that the history of World War II can be written in three sentences. The digital attention span is measured with micrometers. Keeping your posts to 500 words may be the blogging sweet spot.
6) Blogs continue to generate leads and increase company exposure, especially for smaller businesses looking to expand market awareness. No matter how you slice it, quality content and a site that demonstrates that your company is a serious player trumps cold calling any day of the week.
7) Bloggers who are cutting back on output volume are suggesting focused content and niche audiences, i.e. market segmentation.
8) When all is said and done, a blog reflects your company’s brand. You control the text, the images, the audio and video. You can blog 140 characters or 1,400 words. You don’t have to be like everybody else or match your blueprint to the status quo.
9) Your company blog can be a vehicle for nurturing loyal communities who opt-in to email lists and special content offerings. It’s a means of developing more personalized relationships with customers and followers via content that may not fit in the framework of Facebook or Tumblr.
10) Blogging rules were meant to be broken. This post exceeded the 500-word recommendation. I can live with that.
Has blogging lost its luster? Do you think that the marketplace will eventually shift from self-hosted company blogs to popular platforms such as Facebook, Google+, Tumblr or Pinterest?