In a previous article [here] I wrote about budgeting a blog with advertising and upkeep for three months [about $ 6,000]. This budget fits a product blog to promote sales or create an image. It could also be part of a new product campaign or even an in depth writing on a specific product feature. This whole blog and budget article came from questions I am asked every day: “what does it takes to do a professional blog? How much does it cost? Is it really worth it? (what is the ROI?)” There is a tendency to see blogging and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In) as a free or low cost means to promote a message or create an image. I think this point of view comes from seeing serious professional looking blogs written by individuals (some in companies.) Or blogs that look personal but are developed by companies trying to create a personal image for themselves. These blogs seem like the writer’s hobby, or a personal view of one writer inside a big company, an extension of his professional career. There are many professionals who write blogs and some are very good. But these are not the blogs companies used to promote, inform, influence or even entertain customers. For the most part, individuals write what they like, not what is important to sell a product. Companies need blogs to focus on specific business goals: image, bottom line sales, technical support, corporate messages. This is where this article can help you.
Marketing professionals have been developing messages and image for products for over a century. The unpaid advertising, what is called promotion (or P/R: public relations) field is rich with experience. In some magazines a majority of the writing is comprised of product promotion. Both small and large companies push well developed messages and create images for products using TV, magazines, direct mail and event sponsorships. When self publication on the Internet came along, it seemed like the old methods of creating an image would change completely. Now that anyone can write and publish on the Internet, surely any product manager or marketer would be able to create a blog, write a weekly article and develop all the necessary strategies to sell you something. Well, it did happen for very few and didn’t for many. After a decade of blog use for product promotion we learned a few lessons. Advances in technology, which makes publishing essentially free, solved just the publishing problem. Creating an image or a series of articles to deliver a clear message takes much more than just publishing. What the Internet has changed more than anything else, is our ability to see lots of people’s work. Most are not enticing, do not deliver a clear message and do not influence us, but some are very good, clearly show how to deliver a good message. Most are not informative and do not solve our problems of understanding something, but still some are great in informing and influencing us. To the ones who are not clear and persuasive marketers, the Internet again solves you problems. Just as I help companies write, edit and develop better blog strategies, so do many others. Technology solved a problem: publication. Now other problems need to be solved by developing skills and using new techniques. There is good news again, social media sites are now solving the promotion problem. The problem of who to contact, where they congregate and even what they want and how they speak. Social media sites also help in finding a good copy writer, proof reader, promoter or graphic designer, all you need is to search Linked-In, Facebook or Twitter. More on this in future articles on social media use.
Investing in blogging and social media is new to some marketing managers. To executives who are looking at bottom line ROI, blogging is a different format but not such a strange communication channel to analyze. Blogging and social media are usually a faster and more direct way to communicate with customers. Some see blogs as newsletters and some correlate it to user (or interest) groups and events (conferences, public meetings.) Actually, blogs are used slightly differently in each field. In technical fields, companies like Intel, Microsoft and Oracle use blogs as a combination support forums and newsletter publication. Smaller technology companies like Red Hat and EMC, use blogs as a technical communication channel, sometime replacing a traditional static web site. Google’s blog is very popular, it covers just about every topic imaginable associated with the Google search site. That includes technical, business, policy and end user topics. The Blogger blog is more focused on specific Blogger issues, mostly technical with a few personal posts thrown in. Technical blogs are extremely useful professional communication channels. They focus on issues technologists have today and are deep enough to stimulate lively discussions. In other fields like hospitality, hotel chains like Marriott use a blog as an extension or their P/R communication. In future articles I will map and analyze specific uses of company blogs. It is a useful strategic skill to look at what companies are doing with blogs and how it could be useful for your needs.
Marketing experts have been telling executives of the need to “invest” in marketing. To many executives marketing’s creative process and inaccurate measurements seems less precise than other areas of management (i.e. sales, production, finance.) This makes blogging as a marketing tool an ambiguous way to spend money. What is the value of 1,000 daily readers on a blog or connections on Linked-In? What is a fan page on Facebook with 10,000 “like” clicks worth? How to you value an article on a popular blog like Tech-Crunch, or the Huffington Post. Your article on a popular blog (not yours) may not give you statistical measurements (number of viewers, geographic locations, entry points) or even bring traffic to your site. How do you compare blog effectiveness to traditional P/R effectiveness? (a story in a newspaper or a TV piece) These questions are the same as the effectiveness of advertising and P/R in traditional media. If you use P/R firms to place articles in the media, they face the same effectiveness questions. Keep on asking questions, but don’t let unanswered ones stop you from using the latest tools to get your message out!