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Tech Industry

The coming of the blogs

RappDigital's director of technology, Baron Lowery, writes that mainstream companies had better wake up to the Web-logging phenomenon and what it represents for the success of their products.

    As a marketer I am always looking for ways to better understand consumers and to understand their feelings about a product. What do they love about it? What do they hate about it? Do they find it to be superior to the competition? I want to observe the grassroots-level customer talking in a natural setting--not in a contrived or staged test.

    The discourse that takes place in the threads can provide the marketer with an excellent source of information that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of a product.
    Chat rooms and newsgroups have traditionally been a good tool in this search. While the decline in newsgroup popularity has decreased their usefulness, the recent growth in Web logs provides a way to capture the same kind of analysis, along with some new ways to observe consumer opinions.

    There are now hundreds of thousands of Web logs, or blogs, and there are probably just as many definitions of the term "blog." A general definition that most would agree upon would be: a frequently updated Web page or pages with a chronological publication of thoughts and links.

    Blogs can be a personal journal or diary, or a group blog maintained by many people with a common interest. Either of these may be interactive, allowing readers to post comments and respond to polls.

    The different styles of blogs give different views of consumers. Thousands of personal blogs can be accessed from Blogger.com, while Memepool.com and GameSpot.com provide examples of group blogs that provide content targeted to a specialized community. (CNET Networks, publisher of News.com, also publishes GameSpot.)

    Personally-maintained blogs are a good source of attitudinal information from the individual consumer perspective. Group blogs tend to have a theme and provide insight into community perspective of a product. This is a good place to examine a product's reputation, how it is viewed in relation to other products, and how the product is being used. Frequent readers of these group blogs have strong opinions, making them a good place to analyze when developing advocacy-marketing initiatives.

    A good place to start your investigation of blogs is with a blog search engine. Blogger.com and Portal.eatonweb.com are two popular choices. Begin by making a list of keywords related to your product or service. As you visit the blogs that your keyword searches link to, keep an eye out for cross-links as the better and more popular blogs are pointed to from many other sites. Most blogs will contain only occasional tidbits of interest; when you find blogs focused on issues of interest, be sure to bookmark them.

    Interactive blogs allow the readership to participate by providing content and comment. The usual format of an interactive blog is an excerpt with a link to the full article, followed by reader comments. The readers suggest links to news of interest on external Web sites. These links are published with a brief explanation, and reader comments are gathered and displayed in threaded discussions reminiscent of newsgroups. Slashdot is one of the first and most popular examples of this style.

    The discourse that takes place in the threads can provide the marketer with an excellent source of information that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of a product. In addition, a surprising amount of inside information is discussed that can offer a peek at what is going on at the competition.

    Many readers will appreciate a representative of the company listening to their comments.
    When participating in an interactive blog, it is unwise to attempt to directly market a product. This will almost certainly result in a very negative response from the readers. On the other hand, acknowledging your connection to the product and making comments that are honest and topical will elicit more favorable treatment. Many readers will appreciate a representative of the company listening to their comments.

    After you locate the blogs whose readers you want to market to, there are many ways to present your message. You can allow blog readers to participate in private test groups, provide them with samples for testing, and allow more direct communications. This can drive discussions in blogs and is particularly suited to new products and capturing early adopters.

    You should consider encouraging employees to read and participate in blogs by submitting links and comments. Sponsoring and advertising on a blog assures that the offerings are visible to the readership even when the discussion focuses on the competition. Purchasing keywords on blog search engines is another possibility.

    Blogs offer the insightful marketer a potent new tool for gathering intelligence. Public awareness of blogs is rapidly growing, making the investment in time needed to get familiar with them well worth the effort.