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Earlier this week I talked about how corporations are beginning to experiment more with social media. But a couple of recent studies suggest that companies are still not utilizing blogs very effectively.

First, a study released earlier this month by Forrester Research showed that B2B blogging growth slowed dramatically in 2007. After tracking 36 new B2B blogging companies in 2006, the research firm noted only 19 new ones in 2007.
Then earlier this week, a study by Burson-Marsteller found that 15% of the current Fortune 500 companies are blogging. The study claims this is 270% increase since late 2005, which is really a red herring, as three years in the corporate blogging landscape is a lifetime.
But I think a couple of takeaways from these two studies shed a bit of light into why many companies are cautious about blogging, and why many of the ones that are blogging, aren't doing a very good job.
First, from the Forrester study:

B2B marketers should embrace strategies prominently used by mainstream bloggers to attract readers, build conversations, and engage community members in sharing their experiences with their online peers, the report's author advises...As a result, 74% of B2B blogs receive a minimum of commentary or trackbacks because readers fail to find conversations worthy of their involvement.
Successful blogging, Forrester insists, is not a one-way street, but most corporate bloggers yak away about their companies and products, seemingly oblivious to whether their audience is listening or not.
Similar to last year, 56% of blogs we examined simply regurgitate company news or executive views

And this one from the Burson-Marsteller study:
"[The surveyed blogs] are primarily for external communications, but there may be internal blogs that wouldn't show up within this report because this only [represents] blogs that we can find with relative ease," said Erin Byrne, Burson chief digital strategist. "When I thought about it, I thought that the number would have been higher, and I think the reason–why it still isn't higher is that companies are still grappling with how they participate in the conversation when they don't have control over the message."

I think the problem is that many companies are still trying to position their blogs as vehicles to directly promote themselves, instead of as vehicles to create valuable content for their readers. The end result is that many blogs end up being little more than websites with comments. I am constantly spending time on business blogs, and there are two qualities that most have in common:
1 - The content is very heavy on self-promotion
2 - The posts get little or no comments
Basically, these companies are sitting back and waiting for readers to flock to their blogs so they can promote themselves to them. I think we all know how well this works.
On the flipside, the truly great blogging companies position their blogs a bit differently:
1 - The content is very heavy on promoting topics that are important to their customers. Patagonia's The Cleanest Line blog has almost no direct promotion of the company's products. Instead, the blog focuses on stories and news items that would appeal to its environmentally-conscious customers.
2 - They interact with readers that leave comments. On Mahindra's Life of a Farm blog, Joel does a great job of responding to readers, which not only helps conversations build, but encourages readers to comment again in the future.
3 - Many of them are active on other social sites and blogs. Dell's blog is often held up as an example of a solid company blog. But many people don't consider all the time that many Dell employees spend interacting with customers on other sites such as Twitter and Friendfeed, and of course, responding to other bloggers on their blogs. This only enhances the value of the company's blog, and the value that Dell receives from having a social media strategy, as opposed to just a blogging strategy.
My guess is that moving forward, more companies will become more open with their blogs and their efforts will improve. But at this point I don't think studies such as these are an indictment of business blogging, but rather BAD business blogging.

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier