At the moment, there’s very little commercial intrusion into weblogs. Most of this is due to ignorance, leading some bloggers to think that this is working to preserve the integrity of our interactive community. It is. For now.
Unfortunately, due to the impact we as a community have been enjoying, nothing can stop awareness from spreading. Awareness does not counteract ignorance.
What this article sets out to do is make clear what weblogs are (and are not), plus what can and can’t be done to make them work in a commercial sense.
What is a Weblog?
Well, we have to include this, but I’ll be quick. A weblog is a running log or diary that is published on the web. Weblogs are not an enclosed community of geeks, but an eclectic selection of individuals, groups (and sometimes organisations) that feel suitably empowered by this new publishing format to get out there and have their say.
Previously, establishing a web presence required a great deal of planning and forethought. For many, this was simply not worth the effort. What a weblog interface allows you to do is publish your thoughts, interests and opinions one sentence at a time.
Look at this amusing site. Read this interesting article. I like kittens.
Such posts may seem trivial when observed individually, but together they form a running commentary that defines the experience – and purpose – of the user. (And, just for the record, I loathe, despise and distrust kittens.)
What and Where is the Weblog Community?
On a wider scale, bloggers communicate not only with their audience, but also each other. Some of these relationships are strong and ongoing, others are tenuous and fleeting, but all contribute to an enormous ecosystem of constantly exchanged information.
We aren’t hosted at a single server, we don’t all use the same publishing tools, we’re not all into the same things and reaching one certainly weblog does not guarantee that you will reach all of the others.
The only thing we really have in common is our wish to share information and a publishing format that lets us speak our thoughts and store them sequentially.
What’s This Whole Google Thing About?
Google, the world’s most popular search engine, has recently taken to listening in to this global conversation, which is what most of the excitement in the commercial sector is about. To put it briefly, your audience does not have to know about weblogs for you to reach them via weblogs. I’ll go into more detail in a moment; hang in there.
Yes, this situation can be used for commercial gain, but first you have to get something into your head: this new publishing format has encouraged many to exchange information in new ways, but we’re still communicating for much the same reasons that we always did on the web, via email or in Usenet.
This is a conversation. It’s fun. It’s fulfilling. We’re learning things about ourselves and each other. If you come charging in with a commercial message, you’ll be about as welcome as an Amway rep at a cocktail party. Cool your jets, shut your mouth, grab a drink, and listen up.
The World’s Largest Cocktail Party
So here we all are, a wide variety of people from all walks of life, getting together purely because we like to interact with each other. Like any form of fulfilling social interaction, listening is as important as talking. Those in your immediate circle know what you do for a living, and this may even form part of your introduction or crop up in normal conversation, but if all you talk about is work, then you’re going to find yourself in a very lonely corner of the room before the ice has melted in your first drink. If you were stupid enough to bring some pamphlets or maybe even an educational slideshow with you, then you can be sure that everybody will be laughing and pointing as well.
At this stage, it’s time to leave. You probably won’t be welcomed if you ever have the guts to return.
So how does your message reach this audience (and the wider one outside the party)? Well, this is where Google comes in. Google, as we said, listens into this conversation. By opting to index weblogs daily (because they update daily) Google has provided a function that brings forward the most recent information available. It actually rates ‘buzz’ as an important factor, so much so that as few as three weblogs can have a significant effect on the search results for any given web page, merely by linking to it.
If you interact with people, if you engage them in conversation, then when someone on the other side of the room (or even outside the building) mentions to another individual that they are seeking your kind of service – or even better, questions the almighty and all-seeing eye of Google – then your name will crop up.
The more highly regarded you are, the more likely you will be seen to be relevant by Google – and the more likely people will be to refer you on a direct and personal basis.
Exactly the same kind of real information exchange is required to gain both of these differing forms of recommendation.
So, Are We On The Same Page Now?
OK, so hopefully you’ve learned enough to put your goddamn pamphlets away. You know how important it is to show respect for the community (even if it’s just from a practical standpoint). It’s now time to learn how we as a community might be of help to you.
What you want to do in the end is reach Joe Blogs (heh, it tickles me that this classic pseudonym now has a much wider meaning) and if you don’t mind, we’re going to continue with the cocktail party metaphor from time to time to keep you on track.
Two Examples of Weblog Marketing
1. Join The Conversation
One of the most perverse methods of cashing in on the daily indexing function of Google is the ‘reinvention’ of the press release section of your site as a weblog. This would be incredibly easy to do, as the updating function exists already, and all you would have to do is slip in a bit of code that instructs Google to drop by daily or weekly for regular updates.
The only problem is, we don’t care which industry award you won or how many fucking units you shipped last quarter. We want to hear about the human side of what you do. We want to talk to a real person.
What you need to do is appoint an ambassador and get them to publish either at your presence or at a new one that links to yours prominently. You’ll have to sacrifice a great deal of control, as there’s no point in sending someone to give a formal presentation when what the audience is expecting is conversation.
A lot of the content on this weblog won’t focus directly on your company, but as you should already know, successful networking requires charisma above content. Popularity is the key, and if you’re successful, then Google will be more inclined to recommend your site over another that doesn’t contribute to this natural form of informational exchange.
2. Bring a Few Links To The Party
A lot of noise has been made about viral marketing in the past, and its image has suffered because so many folks have got it wrong. The key to viral marketing is weaving your commercial message into a mechanism that people want to share.
Formatting this mechanism in a way that it encourages people to share it by linking to it (rather than, saying, directly forwarding it by email) increases its commercial benefit greatly.
Be it in a game, a novelty, or a useful tool, even the most cleverly integrated commercial message can go astray. Indeed, in some cases, it often pays to be as low-key as possible about the commercial message in order to increase the mechanism’s viral potency. Normally this would be a Catch-22, but when weblogs, Google and the factor of link popularity get involved, the odds are tipped significantly in your favour.
People may not know who brought the links to the party, but Google will. General search results for your main page(s) can improve significantly – often overnight – due to this kind of activity.
Warning: Word Count Approaching 1,500
So here you are, a little bit older but hopefully a heck of a lot wiser. There’s not a lot more I can do for you now except suggest that you get out there and do some research. Yes, articles can help, but each and every one represents a single opinion of something that’s very hard to define. What you really need to do is mingle. Listen to the conversation, find out where you fit in and come back to us when you’re ready.
We’ll still be here and willing to listen, but try not to fuck up the party for the rest of us, OK?