Corporations must blog to keep up

In its June 10, 2002, issue, PRWeek identified an emerging online trend that marketing and communications professionals needed to take heed of: blogging.

In its June 10, 2002, issue, PRWeek identified an emerging online trend that marketing and communications professionals needed to take heed of: blogging. The article, “Monitoring the Web – Blogging the great untapped resource,” identified this recent curiosity as a growing opportunity for corporate communications. The piece also offered some basic tips on how companies should approach the blogosphere.

It quoted several experts who counsel that blogs need to be honest and direct. They also need readers to feel engaged in conversation, rather than have information shoved at them in “press release form.” Additional tips included taking blogs seriously, acting fast, and recognizing the potential for intelligent, informed opinion sharing. However, the piece also acknowledged that even the most popular blogs in 2002 did not yet have an audience large enough to reach a significant amount of readers.

Fast forward to 2008. While the influence of blogs might have been debatable six years ago, it is impossible to deny that blogs have become an entrenched part of the communications landscape. As of January of this year, blogging search engine Technorati indexed 112 million blogs, with roughly 120,000 new ones created every day. Mainstream media, including The New York Times, CNN, USA Today, and Time, have jumped on the bandwagon, each hosting multiple blogs.

Renowned journalists like Brian Williams and Joe Klein are active bloggers, and news organizations increasingly use blogs to report breaking news. The blogosphere also has played a critical role in setting the day-to-day news agenda for the 2008 presidential race. Blogs like Gizmodo and Engadget have nearly taken over the coverage of the “bleeding edge” consumer tech space, once solely the domain of consumer tech media.

Yet blogging in the corporate world still lags far behind. Burson-Marsteller's recent Fortune 500 Blogging Index study found that less than 15% of the largest companies in the US have blogs. The study reports only 74 Fortune 500 corporations maintain a blog, with an unsurprising majority coming from computer, tech, and Internet-related companies. These are the industries we'd expect to be corporate blogging trendsetters. Indeed, the pressure on these firms to be involved in the blogosphere is perhaps so great that they have little choice but to get involved.

The Fortune 500 Blogging Index found only 16 of the Fortune 50 have blogs, despite the fact that these entities have tremendous resources and many thousands of stakeholders. It appears that many companies rely on the same communications tactics they used 10 to 15 years ago to disseminate corporate messages.

Corporate communications will need to adapt to the new reality and new expectations. In 2008, blogs are not a new frontier to be approached with trepidation. They are slowly, but steadfastly becoming as fundamental as corporate Web sites.

Continued growth in corporate blogging will require recognition by influential decision-makers that static, brochure-ware Web content no longer translates into an effective Web presence. Instead, a blog strategy is now a critical part of all companies' external communications.

Erin Byrne is chief digital strategist at Burson-Marsteller

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