What are Blogs, and Why Your Business Should Use One

by Richard Zwicky

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Published November 12, 2004, SiteProNews

A few weeks ago I was involved in a very strange conversation with some pretty bright people. One publishes a widely circulated industry magazine, another was an industry consultant, and the last was the CEO of a major corporation in the same industry. I'm not sure how the conversation evolved, but towards the end the consultant mentioned that another journal had done an excellent job syndicating their content through blogs and RSS feeds. The comment was quite unremarkable in and of itself. What happened next was not.

"What is an RSS feed?" asked the publisher; "I keep hearing the term 'blogs' and 'blogging' but have not paid much attention to them, what is a blog?" asked the CEO. A deep moment of silence ensued, it was broken by the consultant's almost sardonic voice "Jeez man, an RSS feed means Really Simple Syndication you should know all about it, it is core to your business." The CEO got off a bit easier.

You know what? They are not alone in their ignorance. Most people don't have a clue what blogs or RSS feeds are. Most don't need to, but a lot of people who use blogs on a daily basis don't even think twice about them, how they work or how powerful they are.

So, before we go any further; here's a definition of what a blog is:
A publication of content and Web links, sorted in chronological order, with the most recent at the top. The content reflects personal or corporate interests, and is almost always written by an individual. Blogs were originally called web logs or weblogs. However, as "web log" can also mean a server's log files, the term was confusing. To avoid this confusion, the abbreviation "blog" was coined, and became the common term.
Blog content varies dramatically. While often it reflects what is happening in a person's life, there are many blogs used by companies to distribute content. Some affiliate / reseller programs use them as a way to control what is published about their company and its offerings on partner sites.

There Are Literally Tens Of Thousands Of Blogs On The Internet Today.

The natural question for most is, who started the first blogs, and when? While I have been unable to discover who the first blogger actually was, it does appear that they first appeared in the mid 1990's. However, they only really began to emerge from the 'underground' in 1998. Even at that, they only started to become broadly used in 2001/2002.

Originally, blogs were simply standalone web sites dominated by links and peppered with personal commentaries and observations. They were little more than a person maintaining a personal web site; much like someone would keep a diary, with links pointing to items around the World Wide Web that had caught their interest along the way.

Today, blogs are much more dynamic. Some major corporations' web sites contain internal blogs, where employees can post their thoughts, ideas and more; sometimes they are public, sometimes not. But mostly, blogs are hosted on independent web sites. When using one of these, the diary keeper, or blogger, logs in and starts posting his or her thoughts in real time to the Internet. Witnesses to events can comment on breaking stories faster than the mainstream media, which usually are at least one hour from being 'live on the scene'. Thus, bloggers can publish reports and commentaries live on the Internet, and provide information to the world faster than traditional media, all without a publisher or editor to review or approve their work.

Think about it, Monks used to have to handwrite lengthy text to record events. Then Gutenberg came along, and revolutionized the publishing industry by making it possible to mass produce their work. Systems got faster and faster for a few centuries, and then along came the Internet. It became possible for anyone with a computer and a web site somewhere to publish their work and have it visible anywhere around the world in seconds. Now, anyone can spread their message, instantly. Aspiring and established writers alike can bypass the traditional publishing industry, and disseminate their work directly to the public.

Of course, this lack of editorial supervision means that writers, good and bad, no longer have to fear rejection. No one has control over how or what they write and there's no one looking out for them to keep them out of trouble.

As powerful as this may seem, the real power lies in syndication, which gives any writer the ability to broadly distribute their writings by plugging the content into an RSS feed: Really Simple Syndication.

Imagine the possibilities. You can now have your content spread through the entire network in the twinkling of an eye, to build an audience overnight. You've just tapped into the ultimate in viral marketing and branding.

This ability has brought forth a whole new type of guerrilla marketing. While at first blogging was simply seen as something neat to do, when the concept hit the mainstream, people realized that they could be used to build personal and corporate credibility that would attract customers.

If you are thinking about using a blog for your business, the key to remember in making a blog work for you is to focus on a topic that relates to your work and or expertise.

Like any other communication medium, blogs' effectiveness depends upon quality of content and execution. If you plan on starting one for your business, below are some easy steps to follow:

1. Keep it up to date, a blog which people will consider relevant should be updated every few days. Concentrate on providing the most current information on issues facing your industry, or information of interest to your marketplace at large. Also remember to post any breaking news you come across as soon as you find it.

2. Ask for Feedback: Successful blogs encourage reader participation. If you are afraid of criticism, or don't want to host a debate forum on your ideas, or your company policies, stick to publishing informative articles on your website.

3. Link to numerous outside resources and to other weblogs with like content. It shows your readers that you are keeping up to date on what is going on elsewhere too.

4. Keep it Simple, use very few graphics, and simple color schemes. Focus on the text; that's why people come and read your content anyhow. If you discuss many topics, use categorical sections, and keep archives of older material.

5. Remember, you too were clueless about blogs, possibly not all too long ago. Many of your readers are probably clueless regarding blogs, XML, RSS. In fact, many may not know when they are even reading a blog.

6. Be Patient, expect a small readership initially, and allow your audience to grow organically. The better the content you provide, the quicker your audience will grow.

Whether blogging turns out to be a passing fad, or if it proves itself to be a whole new way to communicate with existing and potential customers, you owe it to yourself, and your company to examine what the potential is for you.

Another good reason to consider blogging is most businesses hit a wall at some point, wherein they have posted so much information on their business online that they struggle to find new items to post about themselves which keep their web site looking fresh and attractive, and encourage visitors to come back. For any businesses that have reached this point, blogs may prove to be an answer.

Content is a necessity for online businesses, because it gives visitors a reason to come back.

There are many ways to build a successful blog. What it really comes down to is offering readers relevant, interesting information, and providing links to resources and news.

To succeed, it is essential that your blog provides readers more than just facts and links. You need to insert observations and commentaries. Your readers can probably get all the information you are presenting elsewhere. What they can't get is your commentary or analysis. If it's good, or humorous, people will remember it, and soon come to consider you an expert in your field.

In part 2, we'll examine blogs at work, and how they are a marketing goldmine.

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