To Blog or Not to Blog

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for blogging, or business blogging at least.

First came the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth study that delivered these findings, among others:

  • Blogging declines for the first time among the Inc. 500.  Fifty percent of the 2010 Inc. 500 had a corporate blog, up from 45% in 2009 and 39% in 2008.  In this new 2011 study, the use of blogging dropped to 37%.  Companies in the Advertising/Marketing industry are most likely to blog while companies in Government Services and Construction make very little use of this tool. This decline mirrors a trend in other sectors as this mature tool evolves into other forms or is replaced by communication through Facebook or Twitter.
  • New tools replace older ones.  Facebook and LinkedIn lead the way. The platform most utilized by the 2011 Inc. 500 is Facebook with 74% of companies using it.  Virtually tied at 73% is the adoption of the professional network, LinkedIn.  Twenty-five and 24% respectively report that Facebook or LinkedIn is the single most effective social networking platform they use. Texting, downloadable mobile applications, and Foursquare are being utilized by 13%-15% of the 2011 Inc. 500.

The study was followed by a Digiday post by Jack Marshall that indicated creative agencies are ditching their blogs as well. Here’s the quote that sums up the gist of the post:

“Nobody reads agency blogs, and there are so many out there it’s impossible for people to keep up anyway,” said Sam Weston, director of communications at digital agency Huge. “We put ours on hiatus while we figure out what we want to do with it. We do use Facebook and Twitter. We’ve figured out what works for us there.”

Marshall’s Digiday post caught the attention (or ire) of popular bloggers Mitch Joel, Chris Brogan and Shel Holtz.

From Joel:

Here’s a dirty little secret: I hope more agencies stop blogging. I could also name some bloggers that I’d like to see stop. Why? Am I being mean? Absolutely not. I see too many agencies and bloggers struggle with their blogs. It’s both obvious and painful to watch. They wind up spending too much time writing about themselves or covering the same areas of interest that everyone else is talking about. They’re afraid to have an opinion, step into a territory that they’re uncomfortable with and – most of all – they’re afraid to go “off brand.”

From Brogan:

I’ll tell you without even having to look why nobody reads a blog: because it’s boring. Because it’s poorly written. Because it’s utterly self-referential.

Nobody has time to read junk. Why would you? There’s so much great material out there.

From Holtz:

The assertion that nobody reads agency blogs came as a surprise to Niall Cook, one of the architects of Hill & Knowlton‘s blogging initiative. Cook left H&K last year to start his own consultancy—Sociagility—but says that by the time he left, the agency’s blogs “were generating more traffic and higher search engine rankings than the corporate website.” The website, he says, cost considerably more than the few thousand dollars invested in getting the blogs up and running.

“Even today, there are way more links to blogs.hillandknowlton.com than to http://www.hillandknowlton.com or http://www.hkstrategies.com,” Cook says. His new company’s blog covers topics like why there will never be a standardized social media ROI metric. There isn’t a new-hire or we-won-an-award post to be seen.

In fact, those self-promoting blogs Marshall seems to think characterize agency efforts don’t represent the best agency blogging. Agency blogs that produce the kinds of results H&K has achieved spotlight thought leadership, not awards and new-hires. The ain’t-we-great style of blog—whether from an agency or a company—never appealed to anybody, a fact reinforced by Forrester research that dates back 3-1/2 years.

It could be, given the data from the Dartmouth study and at least the appearance of a decline in blogging among agencies, that businesses overall are coming to the conclusion that blogging isn’t for them, and that’s okay.

I’m pro blogging from a marketing standpoint and feel there can be numerous benefits to the tactic. Not every business, however, fully understands blogging and how to execute it successfully. Or, it could simply be that these businesses have found other channels that yield increased ROI and choose to focus on those. That’s perfectly fine.

The idea that businesses must blog or that blogging is some kind of silver bullet holds no truth. Blogging, like other forms of marketing requires strategy, commitment and hard work. Even then, in most cases business blogs take time to mature.

So, choose wisely. Blogging holds great promise, but should be undertaken with great care and planning. If that’s not the right approach (for your business), the marketing world has many other avenues to choose from.

What do you think? Do you feel business blogging is on the decline?

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