Article Summary:Defining the business blog.
Talk of blogs is everywhere. But a lot of people still have basic questions about what blogs are and what businesses can do with them. Here are some straightforward explanations that will tell you just about everything you wanted to know about business blogging, but didn't know who to ask.
What's a blog?
A blog is a content management tool. Using simple software that is generally free, bloggers can easily and quickly publish copy, photos, artwork and even video to the Internet without knowing any html or programming.
The content is automatically archived by the blogger and easily searchable by visitors under the categories the blogger establishes. The headlines of the most recent posts on the blog are displayed, along with links to other blogs, sites or resources that the blogger selects.
Unlike a Website, a blog can be updated in seconds by a person with virtually no technical knowledge. No need to FTP, no need to understand complex file structure, style sheets or any of the technical elements of Website creation.
I hired a designer to set up my What's Next Blog because I wanted it to look like my Website, whatsnextonline. She templated the most common tasks that I perform so that I never encounter any technical issues at all. Most businesses will want to work with a designer to give the site a look and feel easily identified with the company's other graphics.
On What's Next Blog, I write commentary on Internet marketing, PR, news and politics. Some of the posts would certainly not be appropriate for my business Website, but give me an unfettered outlet for my opinions. That's one of the reasons blogging is fun.
How do blogs differ from other online discussions, such as listservs or discussion forums?
On a listserv or forum, anyone can start a new discussion thread. On a blog, only the blog publisher can post a new item. Readers can comment on posts but cannot start a new topic.
Blog posts generally are followed by a link for comments. People who read a post and wish to comment on it simply type in their name, email address and comment on a built in form. The comment is then visible to visitors to the blog, who can comment on the comments. The blogger can turn off the "comment" feature and also can decide to accept, reject or edit a comment but no reader can change or delete a comment. However, a blog that doesn't allow comments is not a true blog.
An e-zine is a publication containing the work of one or more writers. Can contain artwork, photos, streaming media. Readers wishing to make a comment can send a suggestion to the editor, who then can publish or respond to it.
Creating an html e-zine issue requires knowledge of programming, unless a designer has created templates that can be filled in with copy and artwork. Archiving the content of a newsletter or e-zine is not automatic and requires programming skills. Search software must be integrated into the archives.
Readers can comment to the publisher by email and the publisher can decide whether or not to publish these comments. E-zines are delivered by e-mail and/or posted to a Website. Some e-zines are now providing RSS feeds as a delivery option because e-zines and email newsletters are frequently caught in or mangled by spam filters.
Since blogs can have many different formats (which generally have to be set up by a programmer or designer) a blog can become a template for a newsletter or e-zine and notification that an issue has been published can be sent by email.
Newsgroups allow members to post comments or start a thread to which others add comments. However, newsgroup software does not allow posting of photographs, artwork or streaming media, or automatic archiving or delivery by RSS Feed.
How have blogs changed communications -- both internally and externally?
Blogs allow anyone with an opinion to be a publisher. It's a very democratic system: you don't need to know any code, all you do is fill in a template, push a button and your content is live. It frees companies from the tyranny of the IT department, lets writers be spontaneous, interactive and fast.
What are the potential risks or pitfalls in using blogs (both internally and externally)?
It is important that the people who represent the company in the blog are the same people you would allow to represent the company to the media or to the outside world.
However, to fit the definition of blog, the blog has to be unedited and free from the legal mumbo jumbo that often mars PR material and robs it of credibility.
The Dr. Pepper Raging Cow blog has become a classic example of what PR people should NOT do. The company set up the blog and then went to several young bloggers and offered them financial rewards for blogging about the Raging Cow blog being cool.
Bloggers caught wind of the scheme and Raging Cow was creamed all over the Blogosphere. You can look up the case study on Marketing Wonk by typing "Raging Cow" into the search bar.
B.L. Ochman is an Internet and Outernet marketing strategist, publicist, journalist and sought-after corporate speaker. She heads the creative team of whatsnextonline.com. Her articles on Internet marketing and public relations strategy are published regularly online in WebReview.com, SitePro News and Internet Day, and offline in On Wall Street Magazine, The Public Relations Society of America's quarterly The Strategist and PR Weekly, among others. Sign up for her bi-weekly marketing tactics newsletter at What's Next Online or read her ongoing blog at What's Next Blog.