One of the premiere ways you could use a blog in business is to communicate with customers. Beth Goza, product manager, community development lead and community program lead for Windows client at Microsoft, began a personal blog last year because she was intrigued by the medium, but she says it wasn't because she suddenly had a blogging epiphany. "It wasn't necessarily, ‘oh I'm going to have a blog and the blog is going to be a way to talk to customers,' it just turns out that it is a great way to talk to customers." She says she identifies herself as Microsoft employee in her blog in the interest of full disclosure (since she discusses using Microsoft products such as Xbox and the Tablet PC), but clarifies that the blog isn't for Microsoft or about Microsoft. She says she would blog no matter where she worked, but people do find her as a result of the presence of the blog on the World Wide Web, and contact her and give her feedback and ideas on improving Microsoft products. Goza says Microsoft is beginning to look at other ways to use blogs corporate-wide to communicate crucial information to customers, although there is currently no formal blogging policy in place.
Goza offers an example of how they might use blogs to communicate crucial information quickly. She asks, "What if a security team had a blog and they posted every time there was a patch? They posted every time they heard rumors and it was a two-way street and people could tell the security team this was on the horizon and maybe link to articles about security." Goza says this type of blog would provide an IT manager with a way to get into the hearts and minds of the Microsoft security team and allow Microsoft to communicate with this core audience on a daily basis through this blog.
Kathleen Goodwin, CEO of imakenews, which is in the process of developing a blogging tool called DirectBlog, thinks this is just the type of tool that works for a business because it provides information within the course of daily business. She says, "Blogs are about disseminating information at the flow at which they happen in business." Using a bug fix blog as an example, she says, "I might have a major bug fix today, but not a major one for another 10 days." Goodwin, whose company also makes software for distributing enewsletters, believes companies should send an email informing customers about updates to the blog, rather than making them come to a Web site to find the latest information. She says, "I've always believed blogs should be mailed to people, not left as static Web pages," but she points out that the difference between business blogging and the more formal newsletter is that the company is distributing it as part of the flow of business, rather than putting together a formal newsletter on a regular schedule.
Microsoft's Goza warns that the blog should not be a contrived marketing tool or even part of an overall marketing strategy. Reflective of blogging's non-conformist streak, she says, "The only blogging strategy a company can have is to not have a strategy. That's just completely antithetical in my opinion." I cringe a little bit at the word strategy. If you use the blog as a communications vehicle with your community and your customers, that's the only strategy that I find acceptable."
Goza makes a distinction however, between blogging strategy and corporate policies and rules regarding blogging. She says, "I think it's reasonable that companies may have policies around blogging. You don't post NDA information. You think carefully about how you say things so as to not be offensive. If you are using a blog for your company, you don't necessarily bring in your personal opinion. To me that's policy. Strategy implies that there is an end to the means and I think blogs are too open-ended to say this is our goal or this is what we are going to accomplish."
Jupiter's Gartenberg says it's important to understand that weblog content needs to be timely and relevant. "It's a tricky point because there is a fine line between a weblog that's offering real information and a weblog that's a marketing tool, and if a weblog degenerates into a marketing tool for the company," he says, "most people will lose interest in it very, very quickly. When we talk about business weblogs, you need to be careful that you are actually providing content that is worthwhile for people to come back and read."
Microsoft's Goza says that it's also important that you understand the weblogging community you join—whether you meant to or not—when you start a business weblog. She says, "The companies that truly have their customer's best interest at heart will get how blogs can be used as a communication vehicle and as a way to further the relationship between the two." Goza thinks the community will speak for itself when it perceives a company is not being wholly considerate of the community and what it's about." She says, at that point, there will be a backlash, just as there was when the Internet community perceived it was being abused by pop-up ads and the response was to come up with tools to block them.