Joining the conversation

By Nick Holmes on July 29, 2007
Comments Off on Joining the conversation
Filed under Articles, Blogging

First Published July 2007 in the Axxia Newsletter.

Few readers can be oblivious to the buzz surrounding “social media” (aka Web 2.0) that has grown in recent years. The term encompasses an increasing range of services that enable people to share, contribute and collaborate on the web, transforming it from a publishing platform and glorified superstore to a forum for social and business interaction.

Foremost amongst the social media are blogs. It is unfortunate that new technologies and services beget new terminology and jargon and media hype which is offputting to the uninitiated. The world of blogs and blogging (the “blogosphere”) is no exception. But blogs should not be dismissed as some new fad or as irrelevant to businesses.

Are blogs more than just a publishing format?

What is a blog? Is it not just a sort of website? The answer is both Yes and No.

Yes, a blog is fundamentally just a type of website of a particular format. (Most blogs are websites, though sometimes they will be sections integrated into larger websites and so less distinctively different.) The blog format is primarily designed to facilitate the publishing of editorial items (called posts) in latest-first order, with the most recent posts shown on the main (home) page and pages of other collections of posts, typically organised by month and subject, accessible from links in the sidebar.

First standardised in the late 90s, the blog format quickly proved very popular: not only did it serve the initial intended purpose as a standard platform for publishing online journals, but also it became increasingly easy for beginners to publish blogs; it proved also to be a remarkably flexible format, with many creative applications; and the viral effect caused by extensive cross-linking between blogs fuelled a very rapid growth in the blogging community. Additional facilities were soon added to blog services which cemented the blog’s position as the pre-eminent social networking tool: most notably the facility for readers to append comments to posts, enabling conversations to develop, and the automatic generation of RSS feeds, providing a ready means for others to monitor latest posts.

So blogs are not just a publishing format, but a networking tool, a means to reach out and engage with an audience; and blogging is not just about publishing, but about conversing and contributing.

Is blogging good for business?

Blogging is first and foremost about independent, individual voices. Do blogs published by, or with the support of, an organisation – reflecting the corporate voice – contradict this idea of a blog as an independent voice? Can they work to the business advantage?

For the sole proprietor or small business the answer is unequivocal. In this context the interests of the individual and the business are at one. Blogging offers a way for the business owner to engage with his or her audience, offering a personal view of developments and issues surrounding the business in a way that is designed to reflect well on the business. It is no surprise therefore that the majority of current law bloggers are sole practitioners or from small firms. There are few barristers blogging as yet, though in principle the same arguments in favour apply.

For larger organisations, the answer is less straightforward. A corporate blog that is seen as simply a thinly-disguised marketing medium will fail. The aim should be to interact with clients, associates and other contacts, to collect feedback on products and services and to showcase expertise, providing and exchanging useful information and ideas. To engage with their audience the corporate veil needs to be lifted, exposing – at least to some extent – the personality of those blogging. Some close-knit teams of lawyers are already blogging in this way.

Good business and corporate blogs will raise profile, showcase expertise and communicate in plain English, not marketing-speak or legalease; they will bring out your personality and make your business more approachable; they will generate business. Blogging is a communication tool that will help your business to survive, but the decision to adopt that tool requires a sea change in corporate attitudes. Customers are increasingly resistant to tightly-controlled, broadcast messages that are still the norm; they seek the type of conversations that blogging enables.

Don’t forget the Google juice

A very important additional benefit of blogging is that it will increase your visibility in the search engines. Search engines like blogs, favouring them over the typical, more static, pages on a conventional website. Why? Because blogs are rich in relevant content, distributed over many topic-specific pages, and they are constantly refreshed with new content. The search engines therefore index blog sites frequently and the many individual post pages will each be highly relevant to specific search terms. Further, if you blog effectively, you will encourage inbound links to your blog – one of the prime factors used by the search engines in measuring the “authority” of a website and ranking its pages.

Risks

There are of course risks involved in blogging, whether by employees privately or on an official corporate blog. OUT-LAW.com publishes a useful guide to the Legal risks of corporate blogging and user-generated content, listing the following:

  • damage to an individual’s or company’s reputation
  • liability for infringement of intellectual property rights
  • liability for defamation or illegal content
  • leaking confidential information
  • harassment
  • failing to recognise a statutory grievance.

These are the legal risks, highlighting the importance of drawing up an appropriate blogging policy. But perhaps the biggest risk is the PR blunder. There are numerous, high-profile examples of companies publishing faux or misleading blogs and experiencing substantial negative PR from the backlash that has ensued.

In the next issue —
we’ll consider the decisions involved in setting up a blog and recommendations for effective blogging.