Business blogs – do they work?

April 26th, 2005 by Julie Ferguson

If you are reading this post, you are among the 27% of Americans who read blogs…that means you are a relatively early adapter. If you are reading this over an RSS feed or a service like Bloglines, NewsGator or My Yahoo, you can count yourself among the ranks of the geek elite ;-)
According to Business Week, there are now more than 9 million blogs, with 40,000 new ones popping up each day. Yikes. In an article entitled Blogs Will Change Your Business, BusinessWeek Online discusses how blogs are migrating from the personal and hobbyist realm to the business arena. The article is interesting and informative in so far as it goes, but I was hoping it might focus on some real world examples of small businesses that are actually using blogs.
Needless to say, we are a strong proponent of business blogging, but with some caveats – it would be our hope that blogs can help to create a more authentic dialogue with business customers and the general public, not simply be another advertising channel. No one is interested in reading more sales brochures disguised as dialogue.
I’m a bit of a Web obsessive so I’ve been reading and following blogs almost since they first came on the scene in the late ’90s – even before they were called blogs. I first followed a few favorite tech, art, and general interest blogs, and now I have several hundred favorites I visit with varying regularity. Even though blogs were assumed to be personal in nature almost by definition, I thought they could and should play a role in business communication, too. They afford an unfiltered way to communicate with various constituencies. But the trick for business blogging would be to achieve authenticity – and since most companies are only accustomed to speaking to constituents through the filters of advertising and PR, achieving authenticity is a distinct challenge.
Why we blog
Two years ago, a few of us began talking about a blog for Lynch Ryan. We thought it would be a great vehicle for helping our client employers to learn how to manage their workers comp programs more effectively. The Lynch Ryan philosophy is one based on the idea that workers comp is essentially a human issue and a management issue rather than one of merely dollars and cents. We believe that when it comes to comp, treating workers fairly is not only the right thing to do, but it is actually the least costly thing to do. Hundreds of conscientious employers that we’ve worked with over the years have demonstrated that point. We believe that one of the failures of the system has been that many employers lack an understanding of what comp is, and all too often, simply outsource it to insurers. Unless an employer is knowledgeable and fully engaged, the end results are likely to be disappointing.
So we thought a blog would be a good forum for interacting with our constituencies. We decided we would post workers comp news and use the news items as a springboard for us to provide further information and discussion. We’d also be able to highlight and filter some of the great free resources available on the Web. While our intent was not to use the blog as a sales channel, we hoped that if we did a good enough job demonstrating expertise and delineating our philosophy, new business might be a byproduct.
Early on in our posting, we became mindful that we actually weren’t just speaking to employers but to all other participants in the system too – injured employees, physicians, regulators, insurers, unions, attorneys, and many others. We saw this as a great opportunity because it’s no secret that part of the frustration bedeviling workers comp is that the various parties involved the system aren’t communicating effectively with each other. There are a lot of misunderstandings, misperceptions, and mistaken assumptions about what comp is and what it isn’t. We hoped that by providing information, we might shed some light on the matter.
Taking stock
So 20 months into our endeavor, what’s the verdict? Has it been beneficial from a business viewpoint? We would answer a resounding yes. We are rather awed that for such a narrow niche topic, about 300 of you visit the site each day. We are honored to have earned kind words from such disparate sources as safety advocate Jordan Barab and industry trade publication Business Insurance, and to be read by labor unions and employment lawyers alike. We’ve had enough positive client feedback to know that our goal of being a useful educational resource is being met, at least in part. Also, blogging keeps us on top of our game – we have to stay up on the news, and because our posts are public and open to comment, we also have to go the extra yard to ensure accuracy. By visiting other bloggers who post on related topics, we are exposed to different ideas and perspectives. Also, we learn what’s on our readers’ minds: we see which search terms brought you here, and what information you are looking for when you search our site. This feedback loop helps us to better understand and address your concerns, or at least we hope so.
The debits? We don’t see any, really. Well OK, maybe the spam. We had hoped we could spark more dialogue from readers through comments on posts, but a relentless flood of comment spam from unsavory hucksters forces us to shut down comments after a few days, if not sooner.
So far, we have found business blogging to be a viable and worthwhile endeavor. Our advice to others considering the leap would be this: you are a topic expert in your field of business. Speak on your area of expertise, speak often, and speak authentically. Smaller businesses might be better poised to achieve this authenticity than a larger business. Giant behemoths with investors and large legal departments may find this