When is a blog not a blog?

15 Mar 2012

Gareth Dunlop, Fathom founder and CEO

In an industry not behind the door when it comes to wheeling out headline-grabbing statistics, even the most battle-hardened cynic would find it difficult not to gasp a deep intake of breath at the latest blog statistics from Nielsen McKinsey. Number of public blogs online: 156m, number of those blogs abandoned: 148m. The vast majority of blogs are a desolate wasteland of good intentions, early bursts of energy and mind-numbing levels of irrelevance.

Far too many are written for the author and not the audience.

I was at a business conference recently where one of the speakers listed “starting a blog” as one of her “10 things you must do tonight when you get home”. I wanted to scream; in the face of overwhelming evidence the digital industry must show the leadership to say, “most blogs are insufferably woeful” and run as far as it can from one-size-fits-all answers. The last thing we need is 148,000,001 abandoned blogs.

Here are some things your blog is not.

Your blog is not your company news. Your company news is your company news, so don’t try to pretend it’s a blog. Signpost your content honestly and make sure your customers arrive at the correct destination when they click your links. According to Global Web Index February 2012, the first two things customers want when they engage in company social media is better decision making for future purchases and customer service. Yet the Digital Marketing Institute gives us the sobering insight that the most published content on Irish business social media platforms is press releases.

Your blog is not a silver bullet for search engine optimisation. Common logic suggests blogging is really good for search engine optimisation because search engines love blogs, as they are full of words. Annoying your customers with keyword-stuffed nonsense isn’t strategic marketing. A well-written, cleverly constructed blog will act as a natural complement to other SEO activity but it will never by itself make any impact, other than to annoy your customers and exasperate your marketing staff who have to keep this resource-hungry irrelevance fed with articles.

Making customer connections

Your blog is not a magic wand to connect with your customers. I recently read a hotel website where the manager’s blog was all about his county GAA team. To make it worse, the hotel he managed was not in the county he supported. Another recent destination was a retailer’s blog, which talked about the road works in the street, gave off about the weather and asked what its customers were up to? They offered no connection at all between what matters to the organisation and what matters to the customer, missing the crucial point that it is the content rather then the blog, which makes the connection. What about the high-end fashion retailer who blogs about the quality of their clothes, what the next season will bring, what style setters are wearing and posts photos of their latest garb? Now there’s a connection, driven not by the tool but by the quality of the content and the connection it forges. Customers in 18 countries and regular orders delivered to Ocean Boulevard and Rodeo Drive are testimony to this.

Your blog is not a check box on your online marketing plan which needs to be ticked off. Website? Check. Email marketing?  Check. Facebook? Check. Google+? Check. Twitter? Check? Blog? Check. Pinterest? Check. Online marketing isn’t about the tools but rather the co-ordination of the strategy, to which the tools are subservient. The speaker at the conference “start a blog as one of the top 10 things you do tonight when you get home” could not have got it more wrong. Blogging is a niche sport, for the chosen few, who can write, whose customers want to engage on that platform, who have set targets for the blog and see it as an essential part of their marketing mix.

Blogging tools are generally no-cost or low-cost, yet blogging is exceptionally expensive, just as it turns out that pen and paper are pretty low-cost yet authoring a masterpiece takes years, the ability to write and super-human perseverance.

For the right companies in the right sectors, with the right levels of available writing talent, with the right online marketing plan, blogging can pay rich dividends. But the simple truth is that for the vast majority of businesses, blogging should not be considered. Our friend at the conference would have added more value if her “10 things you must do tonight when you get home” list had at the top of it “close down your blog immediately and use the time it frees up to go visit your top 10 customers”.

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop is founder and CEO of Fathom, a user experience consultancy specialising in strategy, research and digital leadership. Clients include Failte Ireland, Irish Times, Irish Internet Association, SOCITM and Ogilvy.

Read more by Gareth Dunlop: 

Evolution and the pattern of design

When advertising is the enemy of sales

Words write a thousand pictures

Why Michael O’Leary should run your website

Websites; you used to be cool, man

Clear Facebook success trends starting to emerge

Bonnets and beeswax – your business’ reputation

Learning to say no

Enough of your patronising social media heroics, please

Online crimes of passion

New Media Opinion: Online reputation optimisation

Offline marketing isn’t dead …

The unaffordable cost of irrelevancy

Urgent need for new online metrics   

Electricity and the gold rush

The real reason the recession is good for marketing

The class of 2009 wants your job!

Firms need to be customer zealots, not technology zealots

Firms need to put aside their fears and embrace the web

Online advertising overtakes TV advertising

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.