Markets are Still Conversations: Why Blogging is Necessary

Lately I have been reading quite some posts about the “end (and even death) of blogging”. Often, this is related to the increasing success of other social media (yes, blogs are social media and even very important ones, in fact they are social media hubs) and I guess that, after having declared email marketing dead, it’s time to find something new the media can focus on.

But let’s get real. During lots of conversations with people from the business world, I notice that there still exist a lot of misconceptions about (corporate) blogs and their importance. Sometimes, I even have to explain what blogs actually are and, yes, there are plenty of businesses that are reluctant and even scared to set up a blog.

I can tell them about all different kind of blogs, as Debbie Weil summarized in her book about corporate blogging, and what they can do for them.

Sometimes, I have to keep it even simpler and tell them that a blog is a type of website where people can post texts, updates, photos, links, videos, audios etc. about everything they want, which blog platforms exist, that you can allow comments and can do it being a company as well. Sometimes, I have to explain it in very simple words, before I can even think of explaining the benefits of a blog.

So, I will do it here as well before we go a bit further. I cannot cover all aspects of blogging in one post, nor can I cover all the benefits and tackle all misconceptions. But let me give a try.

Blogs are “personal” online platforms where everyone that so desires can tell whatever he likes. This can be about the unbearable lightness of being, the frivol adventures of a Saturday night, the favourite pet or heavier themes like the social-economic situation in China or the true meaning of the works of Nietzsche. Some blogs have a clearer theme and others don’t.

Corporate blogs are blogs that were set up by companies. Not by the companies themselves, of course, because businesses are nothing more than legal entities and I never saw a company write a text.

Companies and brands are a collection of people, and corporate blogs are thus set up by PEOPLE within the companies such as the CEO, the R&D division, the guy that wrote a book, the in-house guru, the people that work within the company, marketing and PR folks, whatever.

Blogs are about people and, yes, excuse me, conversations

Sometimes, setting up a corporate blog (or several ones like one for the “business as a whole” and one for the in-house guru), happens from a top-down approach. Somebody says ‘we have to blog’. Sometimes, it happens within the frame of a specific action or campaign. And sometimes, it happens bottom-up: people from the company start to blog about the things they do and after a while it is picked up by more people from the company and recuperated by the management because they ‘see it going well’.

Of course, this is a little simplistic and the start of every corporate blog is different, but nonetheless, it gives an idea.

The reasons why companies set up a blog are very diverse (I assume here that a blog is a conscious decision, as I was just telling that is not always the case).

Some do it to tell how wonderful they are. Others see it as a PR-activity. Still others do it because ‘the media’ never write about them. And there are some, who do it because it is in fashion. Here is the bad news for all those companies: that is not what blogging is about.

What is it about then? It is about inbound, brands as publishers, value, relevancy, opinions, community and people. But most of all it’s about giving your business a human and authentic face by letting the people within it converse.

I guess that, by now, some of you are tired of the word ‘conversations’. Well, don’t blame me. I didn’t invent it, it says what it is and it’s been used in marketing literature for years now.

You cannot open a book or read a post on “Marketing 2.0” without encountering the word.

Lots of books about blogs have it even incorporated in the title. Think of ‘Naked Conversations’, the corporate blogging book of Robert Scobble and Shel Israel. Or Joseph Jaffe’s, ‘Join the Conversation: How to Engage Marketing-Weary Customers With The Power of Community, Dialogue and Partnership’.

The key takeaway of The Cluetrain Manifesto

To understand the term ‘conversations’, I rather refer to a different and somewhat older book (published for the first time in 2000 to be precise), when the term’ blog’ didn’t even exist (or, at least on a larger scale): ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto’.

From that book you actually should remember just one sentence (it doesn’t take away the fact that I advise you to read it entirely, if you haven’t done it already): ‘markets are conversations’.

The authors refer to the original role of ‘the market’: a place where people come together, display their goods, talk about the weather and meanwhile, with a chat and a handshake, buy and sell all sorts of goods. At first sight it is a simple and evident comparison. But, there does hide a very important marketing reality behind it. Understanding this is like immediately understanding what corporate blogging is really about.

Markets are conversations. Unfortunately companies and marketers had forgotten a little about it and they didn’t converse anymore (and they didn’t listen at all). The decline of the conversation in the commercial process has been attributed to the mass production (and communication) model that has made its ascent since the industrial revolution.

It is a model that has alienated the companies and “consumers” from each other by a “we and they’ discourse. ‘We’ are the companies that manufacture products; ‘they’ are the ones who use them.

And between them lies marketing: PR, commercials, communication, market research: everything companies need to have to get known and to reach the estranged “consumer”. Or, in other words: the direct ‘conversation’ had disappeared.

Internet and social media force businesses to listen again

Still conversations about (and with) companies take place every day, as I often write and say.

When I tell a friend about a bad service I received, when I bought my new cell phone with company A. Or when I watch a commercial on the TV with my wife, where a company presents itself as ‘the specialist on the subject of x’ and we look at each other with a reaction of ‘yeah, right’. Or when a consumer sends a reader’s letter to a newspaper telling about the scandalous sales practices of energy supplier B.

The truth is that conversations never really stopped.

However, a lot of companies have gone through a lot of trouble to stop those conversations with the help of marketing inventions such as ‘positioning’, bombardments of mass commercials and tutti quanti. And suddenly the Internet came along; a medium without rules, where everybody can say what they want. At first, in phenomena such as news groups and the forums. And since a couple of years on blogs, the first real platforms of what now is fashionably called social media.

With blogs the conversations went public. And they spread very fast. Word-of-mouth got a potential global dimension. The bad service I was just mentioning doesn’t get only one auditor but possibly thousands, through the WWW. Thus, there are conversations in abundance.

Conversations of consumers tired of being lied to, to be bombed with meaningless ‘corporate speak’, to be regarded and addressed as consumers rather than as human beings, and to be addressed by companies rather than by the people of the company or badly served (“all our operators are busy and in fact we don’t really care, you will be served in 47 minutes but by all means go to our site and solve your bloody problem yourself”).

Blogs as a way to re-establish what we have lost

Exactly all this stuff is what corporate blogging is all about. Besides, blogs are only one of the many ways to re-establish a direct dialogue between people (instead of consumers)… and people (instead of companies).

Markets are conversations, and conversations are equal dialogues between equal partners, who dare to show themselves to each other as they are in all honesty and transparency. Today’s companies daring to have these conversations via corporate blogs, amongst others, are even scarcer as you would think they are. But those who do it bear its fruits.

Corporate blogs are a way of getting the inter-human dialogue going. And those dialogues are precious. You cannot talk and listen to ‘companies’ and ‘consumers’, only to people. Companies hire positioning specialists to make up an identity, often without regarding if the identity matches the perception of their customers or not.

Vice versa, they hire market researchers to get any idea of who those darn customers actually are. Companies cannot speak, people can. As a matter of fact, blogs are still the most important part of any inbound and social media marketing strategy, if you ask me. There is less noise and more value.

Are there more conversations? If you look at comments as conversations, certainly not. But are tweets, retweets, social bookmarks and Facebook pages or groups conversations?

Watch the Twitter stream for a day, without doing anything. Markets are conversations. On many social media they are often less personal and authentic than we like to believe. Blogs are social media hubs and voices and ears if you use them well: be real, offer value and be found in the vast social media space.

It’s the value and authenticity that leads to…leads. From a content perspective, corporate blogs are key and they are overlooked in a world where we all look at often meaningless streams of noise. Does this mean I don’t like social network sites? No. But I know their place, both from a personal and marketing perspective.

Blog and get found, it’s the very first step in establishing a relationship in the online world. And the best relationships move beyond the online space.

Originally posted here.