Visualize a bell curve, then follow my logic for a moment. I’m about to discuss what’s known as the Adoption Process as it applies to the use of blogs for business.
First you have the Innovators. They create new ideas/technologies/concepts. They comprise a small percentage (2.5%) on the left side of the curve. Next come the Early Adopters. That group embraces what the Innovator has created, makes use of it, and introduces it to the masses. They comprise a slightly larger percentage, 13.5%.
Following that group comes the Early Majority (34% of the curve). They take a “wait and see” posture, but aren’t too hesitate about trying out the new ideas. These three groups make up the left side of the curve.
The bell curve’s right side is comprised of the Late Majority (also 34%), who take much longer to embrace a new idea. In fact, by the time they do, it’s not new any longer. Finally, you have the Laggards. Though they make up a small percentage (16%), this group tends to be very vocal in their opposition to just about everything new and innovative.
Compare that to where we are with the current trend of business blogging. In the late 1990s through early 2000s innovators like Evan Williams, Dave Winer, Ben and Mena Trott developed the popular blog platforms. From 1999-2002 the “early” early adopters employed them for personal use, and a few for business. 2002-2004 more early adopters began to apply them to business purposes. From late 2004 to the present blogging has captured the attention of the Early Majority (i.e., moved into the mainstream).
With the recent barrage of attacks on blogs I’m wondering if the Late Majority is not already weighing in. The latest volley comes from Robert Manning, director, interactive communications for UPS. He first praises blogs for their “authenticity of voice, how they further democratize web publishing, and how they provide more relevant information through contextual links.”
Then, he drops the other shoe and asks, “do we really need all these niche, special-interest blogs, or will it become increasingly difficult to find relevance amidst the seas of personal web journals (or diatribes) without much to offer the broader constituency?”
Robert is, quite simply, not seeing the same blogosphere I’m seeing. I agree with his conjecture that there is a great deal of noise out there thanks to personal blogs. Though they crowd the internet landscape – Technorati is tracking over 9 million blogs with more than 40,000 being created everyday – typically, their readership is small and insignificant. They don’t figure in where blogs for business is concerned. That is another animal altogether. The number of businesses using blogs is comparatively quite small.
Robert makes several suggestions:
First, he says “remember the fundamentals.” He mentions search engine marketing’s capability to optimize the use of keywords. Blogs do that quite well. A well-written, routinely-updated, keyword-oriented blog can become the search marketer’s best friend.
Second, he suggests that we “make it relevant.” Blogs are all about relevancy. Most business blogs worth their salt focus only on a handful of relevant topics, continually exploiting a given niche.
Last, he makes the point that “online executions must drive business value.” OK. He’s got us there. So far, to my knowledge the effect of business blogs on a company’s ROI is lacking in quantitative metrics. Blogs are beginning to be used as direct response mechanisms, but we’ve not done a good job in providing substantive statisical analysis to prove their worth.
Blogs have yet to prove their value as a viable channel for driving sales, generating leads, email newsletter signups, online registrations, and account activations. That must change. It has too. Big business will demand to see the numbers before they embrace the medium en masse. It’s up to those of us who wholeheartedly believe in blogs as a marketing communications tool to prove their viability.
Blogs are without question beneficial when it comes to connecting to consumers directly, bypassing the usual top-down “command-and-control.” They are excellent tools for building viable relationships with customers and prospects. They put a human face on business and help a company differentiate itself from its competitors. They help posture a company as THE knowledge leader in a given field or industry.
When combined with other marketing channels as part of an overall strategy, I believe they can bring great value in increasing a company’s presence on the web. We may not yet have the metrics to prove it, and that’s why salvos like Robert is firing are helpful. They require that we take stock of ourselves, get beyond the warm fuzzy feeling we get everytime we think of blogs, and provide some hard data. The worth of Late Majority folks to those of us in the Early Adopter camp is that they require us to make it real. No brag, just fact. Companies like UPS may one day adopt a blogging strategy, but it won’t be until they can see the numbers.
In the meantime, I concur with Steve Rubel’s admonition to FedEx to “get into motion today. You now have a competitive advantage.”