Business Blogs – The New Elixr

Ok, we’ve seen the USA Today article about CEO’s avoiding “messy” blogs. We’ve read again and again how blogs will be great for business, but most of the evidence is based on communications theory and how blogs should make people see companies as more trustworthy entities they want to be closer to. I myself have written posts about this, and I do believe that blogs can be useful things for many purposes.
However, I am now officially revising my stance to say this:

Business Blogs are like a can of Lacquer Thinner in the basement. Very useful under the right circumstances, downright necessary in some, often handy in others. Dangerous in all and a constant liability.

Here’s why:Your average business won’t be able to handle the process of starting a blog. A blog’s got to be real enough to make people uncomfortable. It’s got to be honest, and interesting, and frequently attended to. At its best, it will be a source of publicity and an occasional lead and will build some buzz. At its worst it’s what your competitors point to when your customers wonder aloud where your new products are.

Done right a blog is great. Done badly, a blog could be a disaster.

Even if a business could get it going, tolerate it long enough to see results and keep it relevant, what good will it do? Does the blog making the company seem closer, more accessible, more trustworthy, etc. mean that I will choose them when I must choose? I’m starting to doubt that. You have a neighbor who’s good with his hands, and you need work done on your house. Do you hire your neighbor? Why not? For the same reason you don’t loan money to friends, or sell them your old car. You don’t want to trash the friendship, you don’t feel comfortable, your closeness has revealed that they aren’t the best choice, or you’ve noticed your neighbor seems to afford many expensive things and you don’t feel like supporting his life style. In the end, you’re too close. You want to conduct business with someone you can hate if necessary and not feel bad about it.

When you consider the difficulty of getting a blog running, the management tolerance required to keep it alive long enough to bring any value, and the care required to have anything to keep alive, the number of companies that can pull it off successfully is going to be small. After all that effort, that they pulled it off successfully doesn’t mean they’re especially good at providing the value the customer is paying for!

Where’s the proof that a blog will make the business more successful?

So where am I going with all of this? Blogs are not a good idea for most businesses. Many businesses may want to believe that they have a deep meaningful relationship with their customers, but in most cases the relationship is bound by money. We may enjoy the blog, even comment on it and refer our friends to it, but we’ll still buy the cheaper brand, or the one that our spouse likes, or whatever.

All of the benefits a blog produces are just tools to be used by a sophisticated operator. Blogs don’t build sales, they build understanding. They don’t increase income, they improve a relationship. They don’t reduce your costs, but in some cases they may build cachet. None of these results will appear on the financial statements, they have to be converted.

Blogs aren’t good for anything? Sure they are!

They’re good for any business that legitimately requires a relationship with it’s customers. I mean a real relationship with person-to-person contact between the company and it’s customers. I do not have a relationship with Starbucks no matter how often I visit their store. I do have a relationship with my copier supplier. Blogs are great for explaining the reality of the business, to help in preserving relationships and setting expectations.

They’re good for any business that provides a product that is complicated and/or used in a complicated way. I work for a company that make automatic color controls for web printing presses. By the time we explain modern color theory, color measurement technology, press control technology and the financial benefits of the product to an average person they should be able to qualify for an undergraduate degree! Our customers are far more knowledgeable than that, but you get the idea. Blogs serve as great platforms for articles to educate on many things that don’t fit into a sales visit.

They’re good for lots of specific internal things, simply because they are useful tools for disseminating information. The keys here are “specific” and “internal”.

Be careful: For most people, blogs are being sold as more than they can be.

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