And the people who say these things would be right. Yes, first mover advantage is key in any communications medium. And, yes, companies from GM and Disney to Microsoft and Sun Microsystems are paving the way with solid guidelines, policies, and fantastic media attention.
But playing catch-up is the wrong reason to enter the blogging sphere. It's a great catalyst to consider the technology, but simply jumping in with both guns drawn and forgetting to get the right kind of ammo won't do anyone any good.
The most difficult problem(s) that many companies have to overcome aren't the strategic or technical issues of blogging—they're the misconceptions of blogging. The largest misconception is that blogging is simply another way to transmit your message; another way to tell your consumers "how it is." Blogging isn't about transmitting. Blogging is about engaging and participating with your audience.
It's about "awareness publishing." For individuals, blogging is about the personal power to publish what you want. For businesses large and small around the world, blogging is a two-way awareness builder. You become more aware of your customers as individuals, and your customers become more aware of your company, your staff, and your values.
In the late 90s, the "360-degree view" of your consumers was all the rage. It never really happened, though, because trying to look at a mob from every angle still doesn't tell you what the individuals inside the mob need and want. The best way to find out how people feel isn't to observe them; it's to ask them. The best way to engage someone isn't through a survey; it's through a question. And the best way to establish real communications—the two-way variety, which is where you will find the most value—is through a two-way medium.
Practically speaking, how do you do that? Do you actually need to start a blog to make use of it? How do you tap into what millions of your customers are saying in a meaningful and trackable way?
Answering those questions is something my company typically does over a period of several conference calls or meetings with our clients, and would take more space than we have in this article. However, we do have some time for some practical suggestions, some glances into how to use some tools, and a tip for how to realize the power of blogging—even if you're a skeptic.