Should B2B Marketers Blog?

Along with podcasts and RSS feeds, blogs are showing up on business marketers’ radar. Of the 210 B2B marketers who told us that they use these emerging tactics today, over 70% said they planned to boost their spending on social computing tactics during the next 12 months. But just because firms like Boeing, HP, NetApp, Sun, and Unica have entered the blogosphere, does that mean every marketing executive should as well? My answer today is a qualified “Perhaps.”

Successful blogs have two interconnected ingredients, a community that finds reading the blog -– and contributing to it -- valuable. Outside of high tech, B2B marketers will find it hard to hand content control over to customers, prospects, and public commentators. Mainly because they worry that bloggers might say things that hurt their company’s image, brand, or standing in the market. So although many B2B blogs use an authentic voice, they come across as more promotional than openly communicative. Jim Firestone’s “Big I, little t” blog is such an example, although Xerox gets credit for taking steps to get closer with customers.

From our own experience at Forrester, blogs are a bit like children –- they demand constant attention and nurturing to grow up properly –- so deciding to initiate a blog is not a decision taken lightly. Questions marketers should answer are: What is the purpose of the blog?  Who is the audience?  Will the blog encourage participation?  And, who should own the blog’s content?  Beyond these, B2B marketers should know:

Does our business – or industry group – change quickly enough to support the realtime publishing model? While innovations among industrial components like ball bearings, pumps, and compressors may not keep pace with Moore’s Law, their manufacturers shouldn’t rule out blogs entirely. Niche industry publications like Chemical Week, Masonry Magazine, and Scrap (the bimonthly magazine of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries) have readership that blogs, as a less expensive publishing media, could supplement or enhance.

How does the blog fit into the rest of our communication (notice, I didn’t say “marketing”) strategy?  Consider whether the blog community can help boost customer service, innovate new products/services, or enhance the flow of information inside the organization. Promotion is not the sole reason to establish a blog.

The bottom line? Get familiar with blogs by reading and contributing to relevant, related ones. But don’t prioritize blog investment above other interactive tactics like search marketing, email, and Web seminars where the results are easier to measure and the value is easier to quantify for now.

And let me know if you disagree or see things differently.

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Comments

re: Should B2B Marketers Blog?

Not to be too worried about semantics, but I'd be careful to lump RSS feeds into blogs & podcasts.I am not sure that every company should publish a blog. I think many b2b companies should. I would look to either an individual executive or the marketing department to create a blog. It needs to include quirky & somewhat personal information. With the right executive, it can be a great way to catalyze evangelist. A great example of this is Jonathan Schwartz. However, some companies don’t have a culture that allows it to be successfully done. (Think IBM in the 70s & 80s.)Regardless, I do think every b2b company should syndicate their content via RSS. In this case (not a blog) – but publishing a a feed that contains product & company announcements. This is the way to consume this information in the future & with IE7 it is only getting better.

re: Should B2B Marketers Blog?

Sean, thanks for the post. Good point about NOT lumping blogs and RSS together. Unfortunately, my survey data didn't separate them this year, so I can only give the aggregate number. My sense is that both are growing more popular among B2B marketers for the reasons you point out.I agree that the culture of the company must fit with blogging. I'm not sure that VPs of marketing are the best blog hosts because readers tend to assume their merely promoting their firm. It takes a lot of persistence and good, relevant content to break away from that perception. JS does well because he's a techie first -- and invites controversial positions -- rather than a pure spokesperson for Sun. Would be interested to hear about other B2B blog sucesses you see.

re: Should B2B Marketers Blog?

We are still wrestling with the implications of new media on our communications and marketing strategies. The “Big I, little t” blog (www.BigIlittletblog.com) is one of our first steps and we’re learning some interesting lessons. One of them is to tone down the marketing and still answer questions about our business and strategies. We’ve seen some value in activating blogs and open forums around specific events where they provide a good listening tool. I think this is an area where you have to learn by doing – so we’re going to keep at it and see where it leads. I agree the really exciting opportunity is to get closer to customers, and also to influencers. – Jim Firestone, Xerox North America

re: Should B2B Marketers Blog?

I had to laugh when I came across this post. I have been pushing to get a company blog for the past two years. I think it would be a great success - if only to communicate some of the cool innovations that are taking place within our products.I even brought our CEO and VP of marketing with me to last years Marketing Sherpa B2B Summit - in an effort to get them excited about blogging. They still haven't bought in.I'll keep on plugging away. In the meantime, I decided to branch out and start my own blog about B2B marketing. I figure if anything, it will help me sharpen my rusty writing skills, and maybe I'll meet some new people in the industry.Great post by the way.Dave

re: Should B2B Marketers Blog?

Dave, if you're still struggling then I recently came across an excellent podcast series discussing employee and C-level blogging. www.b2bmarketingpodcast.com is interviewing the CMOs and Heads of Branding from many of the world's largest brands. Sun Microsystem's VP of Global Brand talks extensively there about employee blogging as does Steve Mann of SAP which is number 5 in the series I think.I'd recommend the interviews, they're very good and free!