Blog-rolling

Pundits of the Chicken Little school are warning that blogs will kill advertising and PR as we know it. With just a few keystrokes, an anonymous blogger can bad-mouth a company; word will spread among the blog’s readers and affiliates (most blogs also feature loads of links to other blogs), and boom! the company’s a goner.

Never mind the surveys indicating that the majority of Americans don’t even know what a blog is. Generally speaking, a blog is an online journal of sorts, a running commentary of posts, usually in reverse chronological order, on whatever topics strike the blogger’s fancy, from which celebrities have had plastic surgery to the questionable hygiene of the blogger’s roommate.

No doubt blogs can hurt a business, in the same way that bad word of mouth — that’s what we used to call viral marketing back in the pre-Internet days — can. At DMA World Seattle last month, Chris Pirillo, author of Poor Richard’s E-mail Publishing, cited lock manufacturer Kryptonite as a cautionary tale: Word got out online that its locks could be picked open with a mere Bic pen. Mainstream media eventually picked up the news.

But blogging could have helped Kryptonite as much as it hurt the company, contended Pirillo. Instead of keeping mum, even in the wake of newspaper articles and TV coverage, Kryptonite should have opened a dialogue on its Website explaining what it planned to do to improve its products.

A marketer can — and Pirillo argued, should — use a blog to generate a more personal conversation with customers and prospects and to give the company a human face: “People want to buy from people.”

If you still feel out of step because you don’t understand how to use blogs as a marketing tool, relax: There’s a good chance you’ve been blogging for some time without realizing it.

For instance, Gary Olen, the founder of outdoor gear cataloger The Sportsman’s Guide, has for years written a column on the company’s site, “Gary Olen’s Outdoor Adventures,” in which he chats about, among other topics, his puppy Brutus “the Destroyer” and a bear hunting trip with his stepson, daughter-in-law, and nephew. Rocker Ted Nugent, a.k.a. The Motor City Madman, also has a column/blog on the Website. “If bison could talk, their codeword would be ‘Let’s get it on!’” he writes in a recent entry. “I like that in a beast. I like that in a man. I crave that in music. I cherish that in life.” The food marketer who regularly posts favorite recipes on his site, the merchant who details her periodic sourcing trips, and the tools cataloger who discusses and shows photos of his latest projects are all bloggers more or less.

My point isn’t that blogs are or aren’t fabulous marketing tools, but rather that they’re really not all that new. The technology that allows the content to be loaded onto a Website almost instantly, that’s fairly new. But the concept of creating content to support a brand rather than push a specific product — that’s about as new as marketing itself.

To quote the Old Testament, “there is no new thing under the sun.” Or to put a cynical spin on it, there’s this quote from English sexologist Havelock Ellis: “What we call ‘progress’ is the exchange of one nuisance for another.”

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