Sometimes, answers reveal themselves and you have to decide how you will participate. Other times, you seek to identify an emergent trend that may provide a new opportunity to improve your product, service, or how you operate. As we enter the second half of this decade, we certainly can count on some of these trends to influence or even change how we do business.
At University of Phoenix, we work as a team to scan and evaluate the emerging trends in business not only for the next few years, but the next few decades. In fact, we recently overhauled our entire MBA program based on years of research and planning with Fortune 1,000 companies. Executives told us that the dominance of e-mail, wireless connectivity and internet-based information has forever changed the norms of effective business communication.
More than a blip
One of the most prevalent, and challenging, facets of business communication we’re tracking is the blog boom. Five years ago, many business people considered the phenomenon to be an interesting Internet curiosity. Blogs did not represent a significant blip on the radar yet. The influence of blogging dramatically increased, and by 2004 “blog” was the most looked-up word on the Internet, according to Merriam-Webster’s. Today there are an estimated 27 million blogs on the Web.
A blog is basically an online journal, updated daily, weekly or sometimes even hourly. Since their inception in the early part of the decade, many authors of blogs called “bloggers” have been at odds with the corporate world. They claim to expose product flaws, corporate scandals and political mishaps. Yet, the public loves reading blogs. Mainstream media have even begun to follow blogs, and the public is starting to look more seriously at blogs as legitimate sources of information.
How did the business world respond? Well, as the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
There are many benefits to a blog. They enable you to build a community around your service or product. They can also help your company earn a higher ranking on search engines such as Google and Yahoo. And they are a great cost-effective and time-saving way to get your message out to a large number of people.
Getting blogged down
So, how do you lead a blog-friendly business?
One way is to encourage employees and customers to write their own blogs about your business. Starting In 2004, Microsoft encouraged employees to become “technical evangelists” and write blogs that included discussion about the company, even if those blogs were negative. According to Microsoft, blogs help communicate with consumers and track what Internet visitors are saying about the company. Many software flaws are first discussed in blogs. Bloggers have the capability to become loyal consumers and your company’s best spokespeople if you take them seriously.
The second way to embrace blogs is to write one yourself. In addition to consumer-generated blogs, a growing number of executives are now starting their own blogs with some impressive results. A couple of years ago, Jonathan Schwartz, president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems began writing his own blog. He tells BusinessWeek that his key customers began reading his posts, allowing his sales force to close deals faster. He even reports a surge in traffic from his competitors those with e-mail addresses ending in “ibm.com” and “dell.com” as evidence of the penetrating influence of his blog.
Many corporate titans have now jumped on the blog bandwagon. Everyone from the Trump Organization to McDonalds and General Motors has entered the “blogosphere.” Some blogs feature entries from CEOs. Others, such as Sprint’s blog, are written by corporate officials and guest bloggers. Corporate blogs can discuss everything from the company’s finances to new category trends.
However, there is some danger in writing your own corporate blogs. According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, there is a growing backlash against fake blogs written by company PR representatives. Called “flogs,” they are easily spotted by tech-savvy consumers and often do more harm than good. In fact, according to the Tribune article, carmaker Mazda has come under fire for inventing a blogger who posed as a consumer and wrote several positive postings for the company.
It is crucial to understand the potential impact of blogs on any business. As this trend and others like it grow, remember the two overriding business rules regarding the Internet: (1) If you don’t do it, your competitor will. (2) If you don’t understand it, ask your kids.
Eric Ziehlke is campus director for University of Phoenix - Columbus Campus. University of Phoenix, the largest privade accredited univeristy in North America, is owned by Apollo Group Inc. As of Nov. 30, 2005, 315,400 students attend Apollo Group Inc. institutions. Reach Ziehlke at firstname.lastname@example.org or (614) 433-0095.