I began writing a "welcome to the DDSN blogs" post. It was going to talk about where the blog fits into our new communications strategy and what you can expect to read in it. I've been asked about that by some of you already, so I hope it would have made for an interesting post.
But it's a bit self centred, isn't it?
The thought was prompted: This blog is intended to work just how I think every business blog should work. That's the interesting part - what a business blog should be, not the stuff about DDSN in particular.
To introduce the topic, let's look at an idea that has been bouncing about recently. There are new ways to talk to customers online now. Are business blogs going to be relevant in the new world of Internet-based social networks?
The Spread of Online Social Networks Will Kill Blogs Off
Cue the dramatic refrain...
Someone told me the other day that the social networking sites will cancel out the benefit of blogs, and there is some noise about this idea in the blogosphere too. I suppose there's some logic behind the thought. People are spending more and more time on the social networking sites, and it's people's limited online time (attention) that our websites and blogs have always aimed to capture.
But if all the communication is going to move away from our business and into the social networks, we might as well give up our domain name and go and live in the cloud.
I just can't see it happening, at least not for businesses. I think the opposite is true. Well supported business blogs will become an even stronger focal point for communities of people with shared interests.
That's not to say that businesses shouldn't actively participate in the social networks. It's important - where relevant - to publish good content and links on as many different sites as possible. In fact the more businesses embrace YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the plethora of social networking sites that are out there - including niche ones that pop up all over the place - the more they'll understand the law of increasing returns in a network economy.
But when you're out there in the cloud and you stumble upon (bad pun intended) a great idea, where do you go to learn more about it and contribute your thoughts?
Blogs are Foundations for Social Networking Connections
From your business' point of view, consider:
- Establishing a clearly branded, stand-out presence with an independent identity on most of the popular social networking sites is difficult at the very least. (Yes, I think clear branding on your blog is important.) This won't change so long as you are venturing out into these networks that are by definition external to your business.
- Your blog sits on your website, which is also where your customers know you will always be ready to respond to them and to serve.
- A business blog can continue to serve as a central hub for your own customer and partner community - the one that probably already exists, even if you're not on Facebook and Twitter and WhoKnowsJackieMihocek.com - no matter what's going on elsewhere.
- Social networking sites are fickle. They change, some come and go, popularity waxes and wanes. It's not only difficult to establish a quality-oriented content publishing infrastructure and set of contacts on each new network, but the risk is high and the returns on effort spent in each individual network can be low.
- Blogs give you a place to create rich, in-depth content that has real value for your audience, whereas most social media sites are all about short, sharp, conversation-like communications. It's tough to publish a white paper with detailed diagrams on Facebook. It can be tough just to fit the name of the white paper into Twitter's 140 characters!
So I don't think the diverse range of social networking systems that are taking the world by storm will invalidate the value of and need for maintaining a strong focus on your blog. Sure, new kinds of online communication are going on in those places, that are faster, more personalised, and more responsive to the immediate needs of communities and individuals. Those communications serve a different purpose.
I'm a Customer, What's in it for Me?
Most of the reasons I mentioned above are focused on the convenience of blogs for your company, not so much for a customer. From a customer's perspective, why will business blogs continue to be important?
Blogs are all about creating an open dialogue based around a central set of concepts. The reason it's a good idea for a business blog to be considered as the centre of a social networking hub, is that the business behind the blog is usually the expert in the thing the participants in the network all have in common - i.e. sometimes the product or service that connected them all in the first place, and sometimes the ideas and processes surrounding it.
Several of our customers have been asking us to run forums and blogs for some time. We weren't ready to operate a public blog so we addressed those needs in other ways - through newsletters, wikis, email, training sessions, in boardrooms, and over coffee. The communication that went on in those places can benefit more customers in a more public forum.
It's All Happened Before...
To be honest, I can't see that the new social media sites have changed business much at all. Check out this email newsletter that we sent in 2005. It looks a lot like a blog post, eh?
The conversations we had with individual customers as followups to that newsletter might have taken place by email, in a coffee shop, or in a boardroom. We talked about other things over that coffee too, just like we do in the cloud. I'm sure you were doing the same stuff. Just because nobody "tweeted" the topics or "tagged" the images doesn't mean that everyone wasn't already using social networking as the simplest of tools to do business - even way back then.
So, Why Blog?
We aim for the our blog to be at the centre of our communications system. This is where we'll explore ideas and send them out to the world. We'll start conversations with partners and customers. We'll share the conversations and musings that happen among our staff. We hope to build a community, to draw input from others, and for that community to guide the way we communicate.
Building a robust foundation of content through our blog, and a solid community behind it, we'll venture out into the social networks so that we can talk to people there too. And we hope that when we meet you "out there" and invite you back to our blog, you'll find the conversation valuable enough to come and spend more time with us - reading and contributing to our humble website, or maybe buying something from us!
The trick, of course, is making sure your blog is worth peoples' time. That's a topic for another day.