Thursday, February 16, 2006

Is blogging for real?

It's probably no surprise that I'm a blogging evangelist and take nearly every chance I get to promote blogging. I'm a big fan of social media and the spread of blogging to bring more and more new voices out into the world. Yes, some of those voices may be more destructive than productive, but the sheer number of voices out there now means that you will find a lot of goods ones too.

When you stip away the "journal" style of writing and personal blathering of some blogs (yes, I know the irony of that statement since I blather on about personal stuff too), you get down to the very effective nature of blogging. From a business standpoint, whether as a manufacturer, distributor, sales rep or retailer, blogging can get you in touch with your customers quickly and gives them the interactive relationship that they want (whether you know this is what they want or not, it is).

Because it is a convenient example for me to use, let's take a look at some of the things I have done on my Masiguy blog. Most recently, I posted a pseudo poll about a Product Development issue. From this little post, that took me all of a couple of minutes to create, I was able to solicit and receive valuable feedback. This feedback is directly related to what will happen to the development of a product. No expensive study groups or travel to visit with people, just a 5 minute post. I was even able to get the news out that our corporate website had finally been updated (Donna, don't get me started...). Now this seems like a small thing, I know, but the website has actually been an issue with many of our retailers. It would take me forever to reach the number of retailers on the phone who I know actually read the blog. Not only does that post reach the retailers, but it reaches the consumers who have been waiting for the site so they can see the new bikes and hopefully find the product of their dreams. I haven't done it recently and need to, but I have run numerous polls on the blog in the past. I certainly intend to bring them back because they were highly effective and provided some great information.

Blogging can take the place of a company website, though it doesn't have to and isn't my plan. The website is where you can put all of your polished, spit-shined images and build in feature intensive things that are not as easy to do on a blog. Where a website falls short, in most cases, is in being stale and static. Maintaining a dynamic and changing website is difficult to do without spending loads of money. A blog can be done for nothing but the cost of time. This site and the Masiguy site are built on free templates (though they were modified by my gifted friends) and use the free versions of add-ins. My total expense so far has been a lot of thanks to friends who have helped me out, a few pairs of socks to the experts and a beer here and there. Outside of that, time is the only cost. Time is a valuable commodity, I admit, but it doesn't exactly impact the bottom line.

A question I frequently get is "how much time do you spend blogging?" Well, that kind of all depends. I think the longest post I have ever compiled on Masiguy took me about an hour and that was at night, at home. Most posts only take me about 10-15 minutes to compile. So really, the time investment is very minimal for me.

Here's the catch, and I am very aware of this issue, not everybody is a writer. I have written for myself as a poet/ essayist and for magazines, websites and other outlets. Admittedly "whipping something up" is a lot easier for me than it might be for a lot of other people. However, it doesn't need to be initimidating for those who are not professional writers. Here is one of the beautiful things about blogging that I like to frequently point out to those folks who are nervous; blogging allows you to make mistakes. Mistakes and how you deal with them can give you and your blogsite, and then your company, greater credibility. There is a level of respect afforded to those who make a few spelling and grammar errors or other mistakes and then come out and say, "oops". Remember, the blogosphere is built on transparent conversations and dialogs. Being true to your own voice and personality goes a long, long way.

Here is a great article written by a blogging friend of mine, Toby Bloomberg. She mentions many great points- seeing as to how I agree with her so frequently, it is easy for me to point out her genius. The article points out the potential benefits of blogging and how they can significantly outweigh any risks to blogging. One of my favorite comments from the article is;

Peel away the high-tech wrapping and you'll find that a blog is a handshake with the customer.
In a conversation on Toby's blogsite, I made the statement that;
Blogging is a real and legitimate tool for marketing and anybody who disagrees is really misleading themselves. It won't be an immediate success for everybody, but it can be a major tool in developing a brand/ service or in simply connecting with people and evangelizing.

Blogs offer a mass form of communication and connectivity that can not easily be done another way. Donna Tocci, one of the other troublemakers... err... contributors here, and I have had a lot of conversations about the topic of blogging and we don't always agree. She may even come back with some points to argue against blogging here. The one thing I think we do both agree on is that blogs can be very powerful and they have to be taken seriously.
Whether as a small bike shop or as a major manufacturer, blogging can get you in touch with the people who give you the money to keep the lights on. As my good friend Bernie at Panther City Bicycles has done, a retailer can let customers know about new products, new events or simple happenings at the shop without the expense of a mailer or sending unsolicited emails to people. Panther has been able to reach customers and maintain a web presence, since that is where customers are going these days. Which is another reason to blog- your customers are surfing the net and doing their research online. Are you there talking to them? You should be... as if your business depends on it because it does!
Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

Posted by Tim Jackson at 8:21 PM

8 Comments

  1. Anonymous Toby posted at 9:50 PM  
    Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser -
    Now you gotta love that title!

    Thanks for your kind words. Great post that explains the multiple ways to leverage blogs as a marketing tactic. You're doing exciting work!

    I so agree with you...at their heart blogs are:
    "people talking to people"
    "people listening to people"
    "people interacting with people"

    Why would a company not want to include one more valuable touchpoint point with their customers?
  2. Blogger James posted at 9:55 AM  
    Great post Tim. I think you are right on. By necessity, all marketing people will need to learn to interact in a meaningful way with their customers in the future. In the bike industry, Masi, Cannondale, Salsa, Surly, Ibis, and a few others that I am forgetting right now are ahead of the game.

    I think that the best thing about your blog is that it allows you, as a representative of the brand, to build a relationship with customers (and of course potential customers). Though most readers probably don’t know you personally, they know a lot about you and feel that they have been given an inside view into a company that they like and care about. To me, that is very powerful advertising. Is anyone going to rush out and buy a new Masi just because you seem like an all around nice guy? I doubt it. Will the blog relationship be a factor when all other factors (price, functionality, design) are equal? I think so. It may even be a subconscious decision, but almost anyone would rather buy something from someone they know than from a faceless company. The great thing about the blogosphere is that it allows you to “know” a lot more people.
  3. Blogger Guitar Ted posted at 6:23 PM  
    Tim:

    Great article! You make several points that I agree with. I would like to interject a non-retail, non-industry point of view in the discussion here.

    I have found that the consistent, daily blogging that I have done using the focus on 29"ers and endurance racing has gained me national noteriety. The industry representatives AND the consumers are reading, asking questions, and making decisions based on the "blog-versations" happening at my site. It's something that has developed, not by design, but because the "transparency" which you speak of, shows through and folks see my passion for those things. It draws like minded people there, causes the discussions to flow out to other blogs, Also, it comes back to me in the way of communications that I have with industry folks. Reps come in and ask me about 29"ers. I had folks at the Quality Bicycle Parts open house asking me to write things for their catalogs! It's starting to get crazy! I just wanted to share my passion for these specific areas of cycling, and now opportunities are starting to open up to me.

    The bottom line is that blogging is not only a good tool for business, but an absolutely necessary one! Look, I am filling a void out there that some "real" business could just as well be filling. The demand, the hunger is out there for something "real" and my belief is that blogging can be that thing. You just need to be real, and have passion for whatever it is you are going to write about. I'm not a trained writer. I don't even know if I have "talent" for it, or not. I do know that I have drive and determination to write, because I really like to do it, and I have a great subject to write about that I really love and participate in.

    I encourage any business that is considering blogging to get into it! The possibilities are endless, and the journey is a blast!
  4. Blogger Donna Tocci posted at 7:55 AM  
    Oh boy....I get mentioned twice in one post....now I've got to rebutt, don't I? Soon...
  5. Blogger walkert posted at 7:23 AM  
    Guitar Ted makes an interesting observation. I think his post goes along very well with the author’s post on blogging. I am an amateur at blogging, but I love it. As an inspired-wanna-be writer, my blog helps me shout my passion for all things cycling to the world. As Guitar Ted mentions, it creates a community of conversation that just isn’t available to most of us outside the industry. Now, we all agree that “us” amateurs have the ability to get the word out to the… uh… world, but what about the writing professionals?

    One of my concerns here is the future of writing and news itself. A lot of the time bloggers don’t fact check. They detail personal opinions and that’s OK. Their blogs are full of bias and don’t we love it. So what’s going to happen to the professionals? Will the professional writers lose their jobs? If more people are turning to blogs for news will the advertisers turn to blogs for ads? Isn’t this already happening?

    Walker T
  6. Blogger Guitar Ted posted at 1:52 PM  
    walkert: You bring up a couple of very interesting points. The journalistic integrity, ( or lack there of) of the blogging community is often brought up by (surprise!) professional journalists. While it bears some merit, the amatuer blog writer only has his credibility. Once that is gone, then no one pays attention anymore. It's really no different than having a conversation amongst friends. Someone says something spectacular and shocking. You listen intently. Then you begin to digest it. Is it for real? Is this person pulling my leg? If it turns out that the information is false, you will more than likely not believe much of what is said by that person from that point on. That person has no credibility, right?

    So it is with blogs. I think the main thing here is that most folks do not look at blogs as they would a professional newscast. For instance: Who is this "Guitar Ted" dude? Now Zap Espinoza, on the other hand, you probably have heard of. Zap's been in the print media for ever. Guitar Ted? Riiiigggght! While I provide a place for conversations to happen on my blog, it's not judged in the same fashion as the print or T.V. media. Actually, I want it that way! It's kind of like the difference between processed cheese product and a chunk of sharp cheddar. Blogs have a character, an openess, that the traditional media monoliths don't have and cannot attain to. Both have there necessary places. I think both will survive side by side just fine!
  7. Blogger walkert posted at 1:24 PM  
    Guitar Ted,

    The quote below from your comment is amazing! Thanks for helping me with my question...

    "It's kind of like the difference between processed cheese product and a chunk of sharp cheddar. Blogs have a character, an openess, that the traditional media monoliths don't have and cannot attain to."


    Walker
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