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Blogs Are an Incomplete Customer Communications Tool – How Would You Make Them Better?

Posted By JSLogan 8th of June 2005 Business Blogging 0 Comments

Blogs are interesting tools of business and business communications. There are a lot of useful things you can do with a blog. Interestingly, they’re lacking in the one benefit most touted – customer communication. Only the blogger can open the conversation, the reader can only respond.

That’s poor communication.

Readers are without doubt the most valuable part of a blog. Without the reader, the blog is nothing more than a stream of conscious pouring into an empty room. The blogger and reader need each other, otherwise his dialogue and exchange of ideas never takes place.

The reader is the one that really makes the blog.

How ironic then that it is only the reader that can’t start a conversation. Only the blogger can open a topic for discussion. The blogger decides what and when something will be discussed. That isn’t the nature of communication, that’s not how we’d communicate were we together at a party, conference, or business gathering.

Sure, a reader can always send the author an email or contact them in other ways to initiate a post or topic for discussion, but that’s not the issue. The issue is how do you make it an integrated process? For example, anyone in your neighborhood can stop at your house and say hello, but how do you make them feel welcome to do so and part of your home?

On my own blog, I started a feature called Your Turn to Speak. The concept and process is simple, a reader submits a post for publishing on my blog by filling-out a short form. The reader can now start the conversation and the rest of us can follow. While the reader could always send me an email or call me to open a topic, no one ever did so until I invited them and gave a process. It’s a new feature and too early to tell if it increases conversation. There may be a better, simpler, and more intuitive way to integrate the reader…we’ll see.

Do you believe blogs are lacking in providing two-way communication? If so, how would you better integrate the reader? What are some creative ways you can think of to better integrate the reader into the blogging experience?

  • I don’t think that “The reader is the one that really makes the blog”. The blogger makes the blog, the reader adds value to it. Most blogs are read by other bloggers, so rather than inviting readers to make posts, wouldn’t it be better to click the link and read what they have posted on their own blogs? That creates a two-way conversation, with viral potential, and, possibly makes a new friend.

  • Lee

    I think if you ‘let go’ of your blog and open it to your visitors too much, it moves from being a flog to a forum. People tend to visit blogs because they like the authors, or at least the authors writing – too many authors and you start to lose the personality of the blog.

  • I tend to look at blogs as primarily peer to peer communications rather than provider to customer communication. Most of the blogs I read are written by peers (and perhaps competitors). When I post to my blog I assume my audience is primarily peers.

  • Lee, great point and one I wholeheartedly agree with. Untethered posting will destroy a blog and forums are not the answer, they’re too unstructured for conversation. If you agree markets are conversations, the challenge is to better integrate the reader into the conversation without giving it away.

  • To my clients, I never recommend using Online Messaging as a replacement for more conventional messaging strategies. Never. Don’t stop the press releases and the passion for inches (centimeters for you Aussies) in the local paper. Blogging and ofher Online PR and Marketing strategies are similar to adding a sefety feature to your car — you never want to remove one. Add air bags so remove safety belts. Funny, right, but too often, clients will MOVE to banner ads and remove their ads from print. They will cancel their PR News Wire account and move to a corporate blog. Bad choices. Maybe more expensive, but all companies, organizations, and singletons will need to do more than just blog. Luckily, in general, blogs are cheap money-wise. Sadly, expensive in “sweat equity.”

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  • I’m thinking about setting up a small form along the lines of “suggest a topic”, allowing the readers to request subjects to blog on, but keeping my voice throughout. any thoughts on pros/cons of that?

  • John, Thanks for the comment and perspective. It’s an interesting point you made that most blogs are read by other bloggers. That is the case with many blogs, ProBlogger being one, but not with most business blogs. For example, most of my audience is non-bloggers, they’re existing or prospective customers. This is true for most professional services bloggers – consultants, attorneys, doctors, financial services providers, fitness professionals, etc. They are mostly blogging to non-bloggers and are doing so to build their business.

    In this case, integrating the reader into the blog increases the connection between reader and blogger. The challenge is to integrate the reader without opening the admin panel, inviting a free for all, and degrading the quality of the blog; all the while retaining the attraction of the reader to the blogger’s style and perspective.

  • JS : I take your point. I was addressing what H.G. Wells called the “originative intellectual worker” written blog (like Problogger) rather than out and out business blogs. But would Robert Scoble give up his chair to other bloggers at Microsoft? ~ he probably has, but I haven’t seen it :-) Also doctors, lawyers etc, as professionals, would be very unwise to let the great unwashed loose on their blogs. The results could be catastrophic.

  • John,

    Thanks again for the comments…both are on target!

    Untethered posting wouldn’t work – quality, voice, and style would be all over the place :-) The blog would have no opinion or consistency. This is where forums are; everyone is a peer.

    Using your example, having a Blawg with readers’ blogging at will on the subject of law would never work (although it might be fun to read for a while – LOL).

    What I’m talking about is a balance of reader integration that doesn’t loose the author’s perspective, style, opinion or control.

  • Scott, I like your idea. Admittedly, I’m biased as this is essentially what I did on my blog :-) I think the main thing is to never loose control. Keep things on topic relative to the overall purpose of the blog, exercise editorial control, and position input.

    The nice thing about the Internet and blogging is you can experiment. If it doesn’t work, stop it. Tell your audience up from why you’re starting a feature such as your input form, what you hope to accomplish, what they should expect, and what rules govern the offer. Let them be part of the solution and see what happens. Good Luck!

  • The lingering thought of just stopping something some might’ve interest in, I’m wondering if they’d probably revolt and you might end up losing readers. Hmm..

  • I’ve actually been working on a solution to just this very problem. I can’t say too much, as we’re just two weeks shy of launch. Suffice it to say though that I’ve mapped out a system that allows readers to get much more involved in the post creation process. This solution won’t be appropriate for all conditions, but in some it will add to the reader’s sense of involvement in the site.

    I’ll be posting more about it while Darren is away.

  • I’ve worked on a few projects in the last year that allow readers to start posts and it’s never really caught on, maybe it’s time to try it again? Also, one thing I do is the occassional “your take” post that has me provide the topic and then I step back and let people talk. It’s worked great and provideded some great conversation.

    It always suprises me at how little reader interaction some blogs have. It’s nice to see others feel the same way as I do about it.

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  • My new site has a forum section built in to it so that anything raised in the posts can be discussed at will. Forums allow for the reader to start a topic for everyone else to interact with. Of course, comments can be left on the actual posts, but the forum allows for that extra input.