Read an Excerpt
The Truth About What Blogs Can (And Can't) Do For Your Business
By Robert W. Bly
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2006 Robert W. Bly
All rights reserved.
Fear and Loathing in the Blogosphere
Hell hath no fury like a blogger scorned.
It all began innocently enough.
In November 2004, I briefly became one of the most famous people in the blogosphere. The incident that started it all sent shock waves of fear and loathing reverberating throughout the blogosphere, the effects of which are still being felt and argued about today.
But first, thirty seconds' worth of introduction is in order.
My name is Bob Bly. I'm a freelance copywriter by vocation and a book author by avocation.
That means I make my living writing things like direct mail, white papers, brochures, catalogs, books, articles, and other print materials.
Well, it used to be print—or what Kurt Vonnegut calls "making idiosyncratic arrangements in horizontal lines, with ink on bleached and flattened wood pulp, of 26 phonetic symbols, ten numbers, and about eight punctuation marks."
But during the past few years, online writing has become a major part of my work: writing Web sites, landing pages, online ads, online newsletters, and e-mail marketing campaigns.
Of course, you don't care about me or what I do for a living personally. Nor should you.
But as you'll soon see, my writing and marketing background is extremely relevant to our discussion and analysis of blogs as a communications, political, social, PR, publishing, and marketing channel.
Anyway, one of the things I write is a regular column for DM News, the weekly trade paper of the direct-marketing industry. And that's where the trouble started.
As I mentioned in the introduction, in November 2004, I wrote a column in which I expressed skepticism that blogging was anything more than a passing fad or that it had any potential to be a significant weapon in the marketer's arsenal.
I wrote the column out of frustration and skepticism. I was reading a lot of loud, arrogant articles from bloggers proclaiming that traditional print marketing was dead, and that blogging would totally revolutionize marketing. And I just didn't see it.
Here's part of what appeared in my DM News article (the complete text is reprinted in appendix A):
Most of the blogs I encounter are rambling, streams-of-consciousness musings about a particular topic of interest to the author, largely bereft of the kind of practical, pithy tips that e-zines, Web sites, and white papers offer.
Reading the blog is like reading the author's journal or diary. And unless you are a guru or celebrity whom others worship from afar, people are simply not going to flock to your blog to discover your latest thoughts on life.
Another one of my complaints with blogs in particular and the Web in general is the ease with which people can post and disseminate content. "The best thing about the Web is that anyone can publish on it; the worst thing about the Web is that anyone can publish on it," a columnist for Maximum PC observes.
The problem is that there is already too much content, and we don't want or need more. Analysis, wisdom, insight, advice, strategies, ideas—yes. But raw information, data, or content—no. And from what I can see, blogs serve up almost none of the former, and tons of the latter.
Most blogs seem to be the private idiosyncratic musings of an individual, without censure or editing of any kind. And the result is like porridge: a gloppy mess, tasteless, and not very satisfying.
Until that changes, I can't see starting and maintaining a blog of your own, unless you are bored and looking for something to do, or require an outlet for self-expression. And if the latter is the case, well ... why not just buy and keep a diary instead?
Now, I hate controversy. I live a peaceful, quiet life. My idea of the perfect day is to do absolutely nothing but sit at my PC for twelve or so hours (I am a recovering workaholic)—thinking, reading, and writing for my clients.
I should also confess that, before I started my own blog, I never read blogs. They failed to engage me, just as I never participated in online forums, chat, news groups, and other casual Internet activities, which seemed to me (with rare exception) a thundering waste of time.
When I wrote the DM News column, it was, to me, just another column. I had no idea what was about to happen, or that it would change my life over the course of the next year.
A few days later, my friend Deb Weil (www.wordbiz.com), a blogging expert and advocate, said to me, "How are you holding up?"
"From what?" I asked.
"From the rebellion in the blogosphere against you and your DM News piece!" she said. "You're the new antichrist of blogging. Haven't you even seen it?"
I admitted I hadn't. And as you'll see, that's part of the problem with blogging, and something the blogosphere doesn't seem to understand: there are millions of people who don't read, subscribe to, or ever see a blog.
Bloggers believe that blogs are all-encompassing, and that anything they say in their blog is somehow transmitted throughout the blogosphere and, by extension, throughout the entire world ... even though the majority of people on the planet don't even have Internet access.
It's a cliché to say there are two kinds of people in the world, but in the case of blogging, it's true: those who read and post to blogs, and those who don't. The latter group, which accounts for the majority of people in the world today, will never see content posted on a blog.
RULE 1: Not everyone blogs or reads blogs, but bloggers sometimes operate as if their blogs are reaching everyone.
And of course, most people aren't reading blogs—yours or anyone else's. A study conducted in November 2004 found that thirty-five million Americans read blogs. That means more than 80 percent of Americans never read blogs.
So I told Deb I hadn't seen anything about it. Of course I hadn't: I didn't (and still don't) subscribe to any blogs. "Go online," Deb advised me. "Search under 'Bob Bly blogging.'"
I did, and you should take a minute to do that now if you are near a PC. Go ahead. I'll wait....
What I found was that she was right: overnight I had become this vilified, antiblogging thug, the arch nemesis of all that is good and holy about blogging.
Here are just a few of the comments, which range from bemused and pitying to kind and sympathetic, to seething anger:
David St. Lawrence:
It is a sad thing to see someone with obvious talent demonstrate to all and sundry that he does not understand what is happening in the world around him.
Bob Bly, a direct marketing guru of considerable repute, seems to have joined that distinguished roster of experts like Ken Olsen and Thomas Jefferson who could not grasp that technology had moved beyond their ability to understand it.
His article in DM News displays an amazing ignorance of blogging. It would appear that he relied on hearsay rather than direct inspection.
I am sure that he will get an earful of constructive criticism, now that he has revealed his impending dinosaur-fear hood, but he may choose, like Dan Rather, to ignore the voices behind the curtain he has so carefully erected.
He is a nice guy, but does not understand that two-way communication trumps continuous outflow when it comes to developing relationships.
Direct marketing copywriter Robert Bly argues that blogs are a big waste of time.
He doesn't know what he is talking about. One gets the sense he's only read about blogs in magazines. What else explains why he's still writing in that archaic dead-tree medium? Yeah, blogs are a waste of time with no provable ROI, but writing a one-time opinion piece in a magazine, whose Web page doesn't even link to Bly's crappy Web site, is ROI-riffic.
Oh, and how did I discover Bly's article in the first place? Through DMNews.com's e-mail newsletter? Ha! (Like I need to subscribe to another e-mail newsletter or trust my e-mail address to a company with "direct marketing" in their name.) No, through a blog—duh.
Bob Bly, who's been a copywriter forever, doesn't like Weblogs. Expressing that opinion would be welcome if Bly had a proper understanding of that platform. After reading his article about the topic, it is clear he has no idea what he is talking about.
Apparently, Bly has only read the blogs of teenage girls. There are many fine, business-focused Weblogs with valuable and intelligent content for and by business professionals published today.
Blogs are only rambling incoherent diaries if they are written that way. The Weblog publishing platform does not perpetuate a particular writing style. It just makes it easier to publish thought—good or bad.
And white papers? Who reads those anymore? All you get out of white papers is high-level marketing blather and who needs that? Oh wait, you do, Bob. Writing them pays your salary.
The great respect I have for Robert Bly is exceeded only by how surprised I was to learn how little he thinks of blogs. That said, I would be remiss if I did not call him out for his unfounded—and, frankly unfair—criticism of blogs.
If most blogs he has encountered are"rambling stream-of-consciousness musings," then he obviously hasn't seen those smart, marketing-related blogs kept by the likes of Tom Peters, Seth Godin, B. L. Ochman, and Yvonne DiVita, to name just four.
Here's a good example of someone involved in marketing who either just doesn't get it or feels intimidated by a communication channel that he doesn't understand. There's a bloke in the U.S. called Robert Bly who wrote an article about blogs that simply illustrates a total lack of comprehension about blogging in a business context. It is indeed the story of the copywriter who definitely didn't get it.
To dismiss blogs by saying they are a complete waste of time doesn't make any sense at all. As a communication medium, blogs today have clear credibility and increasing business influence.
According to direct marketing copywriter Robert Bly, blogs are a big waste of time. Oh, good. I'm glad that's sorted out. Now I can go back to my boring job in the city instead of wasting time on this crazy blog stuff. Many (in the blogosphere) have descended on this clueless marketer....
It's all about the conversation. That's the point of the blog space. As a lifelong marketer, I find the DM industry to be behind the curve when it comes to embracing disruptive technologies.
My argument is that blogging is more likely to raise brand awareness. Therefore, I don't think it is appropriate to look for a close relationship between blogging and direct sales.
First of all, you can't discredit blogging at this early stage ... those e-zines and e-mail marketing campaigns did not return a positive ROI right out of the box. Come on! It took years.
E-zines and e-mail especially are two marketing tools that stand to get crushed by blogging—talk about too much content shoved into my e-mail box on a daily basis. Blogging is going to blow them out of the water because RSS allows me to control what comes to me, what I want to have delivered, and when I read it. No spam, no filtering, no junk.
David N. Rosen:
You may have been too hasty in your recent dismissal of Weblogs for marketing purposes. Yes, there are plenty of solipsistic, rambling, personal diary types of blogs out there. But that's hardly the whole story.
What makes me think this subject is worth further consideration is the enormous success and influence of political blogs, which are having a huge impact on media and journalism. At this point, I think it makes sense to keep one's mind open on the subject of business blogging, and watch for new approaches and developments.
What shocked me—but won't shock you if you are an active participant in the blogosphere—is the vehemence and venom with which some of these people attacked me.
My friend Fred Gleeck says that every activity must be measured by its ROMD—return on marketing dollar. The bloggers I began to correspond with seemed to have no interest in determining whether ROMD could be established for blogging.
Instead, their minds were already made up: they were so enamored with the tool, the results seemed not to matter. "Blogging will revolutionize marketing," I was told time and time again. When I asked for one shred of evidence, most shrugged and called me shortsighted for daring to question the supremacy of the blog.
"Culture scanners have become next-big-thing junkies," writes Frank Salerno in DM News. "Any time a bright new thing bobs to the surface of the cultural bucket, they are eager to hold it aloft as a zeitgeist bender. This excessive eagerness can cause these enthusiasts to be hasty in their pronouncements."
Here's what blogging really is and how it works
If you've never participated in, visited, or seen a blog, your first step in understanding blogging is to do so now.
Yes, I can and will explain blogging to you, but your understanding will be deeper if you see an actual blog rather than just read about it.
Appendix E gives the URLs of over thirty blogs that I find interesting or instructive, so you can start there. Or, you can visit my blog at www.bly.com/blog/blog.htm. Do it now before proceeding. I'll wait....
Okay. Now that you've looked at some blogs, let's talk about exactly what you were looking at.
Merriam-Webster (MW), the dictionary publisher, defines a blog as "a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments and often hyperlinks." MW reports that blog was one of the most looked-up words on its Internet sites this year.
"A blog is an online journal," explains blogging expert Deb Weil in her Business Blogging Starter Kit (www.wordbiz.com). "It's called a journal because every entry is time and date stamped and always presented in reverse chronological order."
The theory is that if you are a writer, an expert, or an information marketer—or, if you publish information to establish your expertise in a niche industry or field—blogging should be part of your publishing arsenal.
According to Deb, a business blog is "a platform from which to lobby, network, and influence sales. It's a way to circumvent traditional media and analysts. And blogging can be done instantly, in real time, at a fraction of the cost of using traditional channels."
Here, in a nutshell, is how blogs work:
* A blog is a specialized type of simple Web site.
* The main portion of the blog is an online journal in which the blogger (blog owner or operator) makes periodic entries called "posts."
* Only the blog owner can make, update, or edit entries in the blog.
* Anyone can visit the blog at its unique URL (Web address) and read it.
* Visitors can respond to the journal entries by posting their own comments, also often referred to as "posts" instead of "comments," which are appended to whatever entry the visitor chooses.
* Through hyperlinks, the blog operator can link his or her blog to other blogs or any other online content. These links can appear both within the posts themselves as well as in a list of URLs displayed on the blog.
The hyperlinks are a primary differentiator between blogs and traditional dead-tree media such as newspapers and books.
In magazine articles, writers sometimes include the URLs of relevant Web sites. But doing so is not central to offline writing, and readers often don't go to the sites, because in print, the links are static—you can't click on a URL printed in a magazine and go to the page referenced.
Hyperlinks are a critical part of the blogosphere. Links to articles and Web sites allow blog readers to drill down to greater levels of detail on topics being covered in summary fashion in the blog.
By putting links to other blogs, bloggers who share a common interest—marketing bloggers are a good example—can create a network in which they are all interconnected. Jennifer Rice (www.mantrabrand.com) says,"The beauty of blogging is that it's a medium based on digital networking."
Copywriter and blogger David Garfinkel says, "Blogging is a way of creating multiple inputs and outputs to your Web presence through inbound and outbound links, search engine listings, and references offline to the blog.
"The multiplexing potential is enormous. Blogdom is growing at an unbelievable rate right now. There are lots of things you can do with a blog that you can't do with any other medium: discussion forums on multiple topics, score 'points' with search engine spiders, get subscriptions through RSS, and leverage the potential of RSS subscriptions with frequent posts."
John Jantsch talks about "blog channels," which he defines as "a group of very specific content blogs woven tightly together around a larger topic."Readers can subscribe to each blog or the entire channel via RSS.
Another key characteristic of blogs is that, unlike a newspaper or magazine or even a subscription Web site, blogs are free. There is no charge to read or add comments to any blog, and literally anyone in the world with a PC and Internet access can do so.
Excerpted from Blog, Schmog! by Robert W. Bly. Copyright © 2006 Robert W. Bly. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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