Much energy has gone into expanding the blogosphere, that digital realm in which non-journalists can become journalists and business owners can gain credibility. Or sometimes not. As with anything else, garbage in = garbage out. But here's one question that people have asked lately: "Are blogs here to stay?"
Just the other day I read where someone was saying blogging went "out" two years ago. Still others say the wave is still growing. The real answer is probably up in the air, but I'll lean toward the "yes" column. Just like music morphed from 78 RPM records through 45's, LP's, 8-tracks, cassettes, CD's and MP3's, I suspect that blog platforms may eventually morph as well.
But just like recorded music is here to stay, I believe the same is true for people wanting a place to express their opinion. People want their opinion to count - and they want to be heard.
For the business person, "personal broadcast media" such as blogging and podcasting (often referred to as the 'new' media) are very attractive: They are both inexpensive and can be targeted to specific audiences.
Sarah Lewis, owner of Blogging Expertise, helps people get up and blogging. She says "Well-executed blogs are tremendously powerful tools for forward-thinking businesses. The average blog has two huge benefits over a standard website: An increased likelihood of being found, and greater credibility for the author(s)."
Lewis says that Google loves blogs, so done right, search engine rankings are better with blogs. But beyond the increased likelihood of being found, she says "the culture of blogging makes it more likely that you'll connect with visitors on a meaningful level."
The Benefits of InteractionIn essence, blogging "puts you in a prime position to 'sell without selling,'" Lewis says. "It makes the interaction about a relationship," not just about the features and benefits of your product or service.
Patsi Krakoff. co-owner of The Blog Squad, is of a similar mindset.
"Blogs allow you to have an online conversation with the people interested in your niche. They attract a global pool of potential customers. You can ask readers for their comments and they can respond right there on the blog."
The owners of the Blog Squad are strong advocates that blogs create "a powerful online presence without spending a fortune on support staff and Internet marketing schemes."
Krakoff says that with blogs, "you have the opportunity to show who you are and what you care about in a way you can't with a [regular] website or a newsletter." She's a firm believer that before clients hire you they want to know you and like you, and blogs enable that.
There's Always a DownsideAre there downsides to blogging? Like anything else, yes. For one, it requires ongoing effort. Unlike a website that gets designed, developed, and occasionally updated, blogs need very regular attention or they are considered "stale."
This means someone in the company must enjoy writing. I sat across from a colleague several months back as he talked about starting a blog. When I told him that I post entries on my blog pretty much every day - and sometimes twice a day - his eyes got big and discouragement washed over his face. "I'm not a writer," he said.
The other side of that coin is that even if you are a writer, you need something worthwhile and original to write about. Repeating what others have said and not adding anything of value is considered shallow and can make a poor impression to prospective clients.
For this reason, Jakob Nielsen, author of "Prioritizing Web Usability" and the useit.com website, warns against blogging.
"If you're an expert who wants to live from adding to the world's knowledge, you must go beyond the mainstream Web model of single page visits driven by search traffic," he says "You must change the game and create content that's so valuable that business users are willing to pay for it."
Nielsen believes it's better to spend more time creating less content, but content of a higher quality. "Blogs are good for lower-priced commodities," he says, "but not for companies offering valuable knowledge."
The Numbers Don't LieI have to say, I consider much of what Nielsen writes to be spot on, but this may be one area in which he and I disagree. Being one who makes a living by offering 'valuable knowledge,' I find blogging to be a useful tool.
In less than five months, inquiries for services originating from my blog were equal to the number of inquiries made from my "regular" website, which has been up for more than five years.
Personally, I like what Krakoff says: "It doesn't matter if you're a solo professional or a large company. There are very few reasons not to blog, unless you're afraid of having conversations with the customers that pay you to be in business."
And I think Sarah Lewis hits the nail on the head: "When you consider benefits like keeping current customers engaged, exploring new ideas, and gathering informal feedback on potential products or services, it's clear that blogging is a foundational tool that can help almost any business succeed."