In 2006, we've seen unabated growth in blogs. Just since February, the blogosphere has grown from 27.2 million blogs to 50.1 million, continuing the trajectory that David Sifry references that cites that the blogosphere doubles every six months. Companies like Boeing, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Intuit continue to use blogs effectively, from high-level corporate communications vehicles to intimate conversations with their customers and other partners.
But these pioneers remain the exception among Fortune 500 companies. Dell is a notable addition to the list of corporate bloggers this year, but today's count at the Fortune 500 Business Blogging Wiki shows only 30 companies, or six percent of the list of the premier companies in the United States, have public blogs. A Jupiter report published in June confirms that smaller companies surpassed larger companies in their embrace of word-of-mouth strategies and communication tools.
Recently, I've seen five indicators that lead me to believe that 2007 will be a breakthrough year for corporate blogging.
Indicator #1: Mainstream industries join the corporate blog list.
Nike, Starwood Hotels, McDonald's and Wells Fargo Bank have joined the technology and internet companies who first embraced the blogosphere. Microsoft, Oracle and Google have clear business reasons to adopt new technologies. The fact that these new entrants, which offer distinctly non-digital products, have begun to see the value of blogs will encourage their peers and competitors to join.
Indicator #2: Corporate blogging topics are diversifying.
The McDonald's "Open for Discussion" blog presents the fast food chain's corporate social responsibility initiatives, from their employment practices, packaging and purchasing. Starwood Hotels' "The Lobby" taps a group of travel writers to post items like travel tips, news about new mobile devices and information about their hotels. Wells Fargo Bank took advantage of the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake (and the role the bank played in helping the city recover) to launch its "Guided by History Blog." The blog addresses emergency preparedness, and given this year's extremes of rainfall, temperature and predictions for the hurricane season, their choice of topics is very timely.
Many of the early corporate blogs, including GM's "Fast Lane" and Boeing's "Randy's Journal," involved executives discussing corporate strategy. Understandably, some companies may not want to take this approach. The range of topics in these new examples will stimulate creative thinking about topics that best fit a company's goals and strategies.
Indicator #3: Interest in best practices continues to grow.
We recently had direct experience with the level of interest in the market for blogging knowledge. Cymfony teamed up with one of our PR agency partners, Porter Novelli, to survey business bloggers to learn more about their experiences with this emerging communication tool. For the webinar presenting the research findings, well over 300 people registered, and 82 percent of those attended! We also conducted a poll of the attendees and while 36 percent of them currently have blogs, 66 percent indicated they were at least somewhat likely to have a blog in 2007. In the survey itself, 89 percent of respondents agreed that blogs will grow in importance over the next three years.
Indicator #4: Positive results decrease the fear factor.
Many companies I've talked to are reluctant to engage in the blogosphere for fear that they will receive negative comments and criticism. The results of our research indicate negative experiences are the exception, not the rule. Of the 42 percent of companies who said a blog post had impacted their company, over 90 percent said the impact was positive. Three-quarters of respondents further indicated that blogs had achieved their initial goals and cited increased media coverage, website traffic and sales leads. The lure of these benefits will bolster blogging, while fear will fade as a deterrent.
Indicator #5: Social media can be a source of market insight.
Just as fear of criticism is subsiding, so is the belief that monitoring the blogosphere is only about detecting potential attacks on the company. The top three reasons for monitoring blogs were to discover emerging trends, to gain competitive insight and to understand the word of mouth about their company. Since crises are (fortunately) rare events for companies, alone they are not sufficient reason to devote resources to blog monitoring. But staying in tune with market trends and competitive moves are vital daily activities for companies.
2006 was the year for early adopters of corporate blogs. Based on these indicators, 2007 is shaping up to be the year that the fast followers will kickstart corporate blogging. This wave will spur greater experimentation with topics, audiences and formats, leading more companies to jump into the blogosphere.
Will all this change the freewheeling nature of blogs? I doubt it. The blogosphere thrives on diversity of voices. But this time next year the voice of business, currently almost absent from the dialogue, will have a more prominent presence.
Jim Nail is chief strategy & marketing officer of Cymfony. .