Business Blogs Face Big Changes
Many of my clients ask me: Should my company start a blog? Once I would have given them an unqualified yes. But today I would add a few caveats.
There are many great reasons to maintain a company blog. A blog allows you to:
- share knowledge and demonstrate your company's subject matter expertise
- give your company a voice
- help generate the new content valued by both users and search engines
- encourage valuable "link love" from customers, colleagues, and industry peers
- provide a living and easily accessible archive of company content for future reference
A company blog used to also be a way to gather feedback and welcome consenting and dissenting opinions, particularly through its comments section.
But I'm not so sure that last rationale applies anymore. The reason stems from what I consider a dismaying trend, and one that I don't see reversing any time soon: the decline of commenting on blogs and articles.
These days it feels like unless the blog is quite niche or controversial, it's less likely to attract many comments. And that means that while blogs are still useful, they're no longer a driver of community. That's something I consider unfortunate.
Just take a look at this latest blog post from Marriott International's executive chairman, on China's "Nobility of Nature" – Bees, Honey & Clean Water. Here's a screen grab from the bottom of the post: It's got 1.1K Facebook recommends, 12.5K tweets ... and zero comments.
Why is this trend happening? I can come up with a few reasons.
Social Media Makes People Lazy
Social sharing icons and buttons next to content have become ubiquitous. Read a blog post and find value in its content? It's so easy to just tweet it, "like" it, or share it through other social media platforms that fewer and fewer people find it important to leave behind comments in order to express their approval.
On the one hand, this form of sharing is great; it helps "amplify" your content, carrying your post–and therefore your information, thoughts or opinions–from your website onto other platforms. On the other hand, content shared on these platforms is ephemeral (Twitter) or potentially restricted from the public (Facebook). It has limited lasting value for your presence, and may never allow you to collect feedback or engage with your audience.
I also question whether the sheer number of tweets or likes carries the same weight as a well-crafted comment. On social media, someone's like is one of dozens, hundreds or perhaps even thousands. But a comment on a page, singular and nestled among others, creates a community–and a conversation–in a way that simple shares don't.
In other words, a comment has meaning.
Another reason comments are dying: spammers! They ruin everything for everyone, and blog spam is no exception. No one dares to have an unmoderated blog anymore, for fear of nasty spam comments appearing and offending other readers. Because so many blogs have moderated comments, it may be a while before a comment appears–and when it does, other readers may have already come and gone. How unmotivating.
It might be hard to imagine, but blogs used to be a novel thing. So novel, in fact, that back in 2001 my agency had to ask a guest contributor to explain blogging to our email newsletter subscribers! Early bloggers benefited from being in an uncluttered space; many became quasi-celebrities in their own right.
After blogging caught on, however, suddenly everyone wanted to have a blog: individuals, businesses, nonprofits, trade associations. Users searching for subject matter could be inundated with reams of similar content and not know where to turn. With so many blogs, reader attention and loyalty got divided, which led to fewer blog comments on any single blog, too.
In a video interview on Social Media Examiner, Shani Higgins, CEO of Technorati, a premier blog directory site, declares that it used to be that "a story wasn't a story until comments were there." Those days are gone.
Bloggers Have Been Bought
One final issue: While blogs once provided online expression and sharing of thoughts, ideas and news, today's blogs have been coopted by more commercial comment.
In addition to straight self-promotional content and in-blog advertising–both of which are transparent to the reader–blogs may also feature less transparent compensation models like paid-for posts, paid brand-spokesperson bloggers, and sponsored event attendance by "blogger celebrities." Many brands also conduct blogger outreach to harness the influence of a blogger. There's also self-promotional blog commenting, where the comment really adds no value to the post other than to give a link to the commenter's product or service.
Some users have recognized these less-than-genuine blog posts and comments and have become leery of all bloggers' and commenters' intentions. As readers' trust in the blog platform and community becomes compromised, the importance of posting comments suffers, too: "If this blog post is essentially an ad, does anyone care what I have to say in my comment anyway?"
What does the future hold for blogs, particularly non-personal ones? Will blogs become nothing more than yet another one-way broadcast medium? It wouldn't be my preference, but I fear that's where they're headed.