Published: Dec 06, 2005 12:30 AM
Modified: Dec 06, 2005 04:37 AM
Blogs grow as a PR device
More executives see the merits of Web logs, which can boost companies' visibility, establish their writers as experts in the field
Wingo's blog about the e-commerce industry is called eBay Strategies.
David Ranii, Staff Writer
More companies are wading into the blogosphere.
Increasingly, they're discovering that Web logs, online journals that serve up news and commentary, can be an effective marketing tool. So they're creating blogs that are aimed at boosting the company's image, although they may be written by a single executive expressing his or her point of view.
If done well, it works. Companies can boost their visibility and establish one of their own as an expert in the field, marketing experts say.
"It's a great outreach to potential clients," said Andy Beal, CEO of Fortune Interactive, a Raleigh Internet marketing company that helps companies conduct e-mail marketing, use blogs as a marketing tool and boost their rankings on Web searches.A blog can cement bonds with clients by demonstrating that the company is on top of the latest trends, and win attention from mainstream media, he said.
Beal stumbled upon the merits of a blog when he started one while he was an executive at WebSourced, a Morrisville search-engine marketing company. He found it so valuable that he began another blog this year when he started Fortune Interactive.
"The blog has absolutely increased the credibility I have in the industry," said Beal.
He credits his industry reputation, which was amplified by the blog, with helping him attract his new company's initial clients.
In addition to being asked to speak regularly at industry conferences, Beal has been interviewed on National Public Radio and has been quoted in publications such as the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.
But there are pitfalls to corporate blogs. Many err on the side of being self-serving, undermining their credibility and turning off readers. Or even worse, they're boring.
The track record of corporate blogs is hit-or-miss, said Larry Lamb, who teaches public relations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"It seems that the ones that have been successful have people writing them who are good writers, provocative writers, who provide useful information and make frequent entries," Lamb said. If a blog's content isn't kept fresh, readers may cross it off their to-do list.
Just as many corporate Web sites flopped at first, corporate blogs today are still in trial-and-error mode. "This is 1994 for the blogs," Lamb said.
Readers tend to find blogs through Internet searches, word-of-mouth and its Internet equivalent, hyperlinks on other blog sites.
Some companies, such as MMI Associates, a Raleigh public relations firm, concede that their blogs are works-in-progress. But Kipp Bodnar, an account executive at the firm, thinks that the blog the agency began in late August will be worth the effort.
"It is the next step in communications," he said.
Certainly there are a multitude of corporate blogs vying for attention.
Technorati, a blog search site, surveyed the landscape and found 7,000 corporate blogs in 2003, said David Sifry, founder and CEO. Six months later, the number had jumped to 15,000.
Technorati hasn't done a similar survey since, but Sifry expects that the number has continued to rise dramatically. Corporate blogs are especially popular with high-technology industries.
If you are in certain industries, "you should have a blog. Most of your competitors do," said Diane Kuehn, CEO of VisionPoint, a Raleigh firm that specializes in online marketing.
Unlike corporate Web sites, corporate blogs aren't always tied to a company's name.
Beal's blog is called Marketing Pilgrim. WebSourced's blog, the one originated by Beal, is called Search Engine Lowdown.
But the company affiliations aren't hidden.
Marketing Pilgrim includes an "About Andy Beal" section that specifies that he is CEO of Fortune Interactive, and includes a hyperlink to the company's Web site. The blog also is "sponsored by Fortune Interactive."
Scot Wingo is CEO of ChannelAdvisor, a Morrisville company whose software and services help customers make sales over the Internet. He takes a similar approach on his blog about the e-commerce industry, called eBay Strategies. Wingo also wrote a book called "eBay Strategies."
In a recent posting about a new development at ChannelAdvisor, Wingo inserted a disclaimer, pointing out that he's the company's CEO.
"We try to be totally upfront and let people know there is a conflict of interest," said Wingo. "I'm not a journalist."
The most successful blogs can generate revenue of their own.
WebSourced's Search Engine Lowdown has attracted more than $100,000 in ads from other companies so far this year, according to company spokesman Xavier Hermosillo. WebSourced says the site attracts 800 to 1,500 readers daily.
The best blogs -- corporate or otherwise -- have a distinctive voice, the work of a single author. That can mean a major time commitment, depending on how frequently they are updated. As a recent day unfolded, Beal added a dozen items.
"I wouldn't do it if it wasn't fun," said Beal. "I enjoy getting a scoop. It's still work, but it is enjoyable work."
But blogging isn't for everyone.
Steven Keith, interactive director at Raleigh public relations agency Capstrat, said many clients are interested in sounding off on issues that are dear to them, but that may not tie into their businesses.
"I persuade more clients not to do it, rather than do it," Keith said of blogging.
Some clients even want Capstrat to ghostwrite a blog for them, something the agency won't do. That, said Keith, would destroy a blog's integrity.
Staff writer David Ranii can be reached at 829-4877 or email@example.com.
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