Blogs: The Marketing Killer

Executives are seeing dollar signs in RSS feeds, as corporations are no longer relying solely on the official corporate statement to get the message out.
The tried and true marketing and PR departments may one day make the endangered species list thanks to a rush of corporate interest in blogs and RSS feeds.

Weblogging -- or blogging -- is taking social networking to new heights. And with the improvements to the technology, the personal journals are now supplying tens of millions of bits of information every day. Now multi-million dollar corporations looking for cheap and effective ways of getting their message out are using the technology to their advantage.

Netscape originally designed RSS -- blogging's main backbone -- as a format for creating portals for online news organizations and entities. Though it was deemed excessively sophisticated for this primary mission, Netscape pulled out of its development when the company pulled out of the portal business. The addition of XML, and Atom have augmented RSS, making posting and retrieving information easier than ever.

Now aggregators of all sorts can offer a variety of special features, including combining several related feeds into a single view, hiding items that the viewer has already seen and categorizing feeds and items. Mobile devices may also turn out to be a key client for syndicated content. If a feed is customized enough to be useful to an individual, they may well want to read that feed from wherever they are (e.g. an SMS message telling an online bidder that the auction they bid on has just closed).

The question by some is, ''Do companies need a full-blown marketing or PR department when the employees themselves and the conversations they have on these blogs are getting the corporate info out more effectively?''

''Business can use syndication as a communications channel to their customers, partners, or employees. And their technical staff or IT department can use it as a simple way to exchange data between applications or locations,'' says Anil Dash, vice president of Business Development at Six Apart. ''The combination of update notification when information is updated or changed and the ability to deliver content to a person on any device or in any place is extremely compelling from a business standpoint.''

Corporate Blogs Compete

Some of the major IT players have all their hats in the ring early. One of the largest projects is Microsoft's Channel 9.

Launched in April, the community was built in two to three weeks and includes text, video and a collaboration site, or wiki. All are used to humanize Microsoft and get people talking.

In some cases, blogs are used to connect special classes of users. For example, HP sponsors a blog for its HP labs engineers. Dell has a company-sponsored Linux blog. And Web graphics software maker Macromedia keeps its developers informed through a series of feeds.

But the boldest move so far to capitalize on the blogging craze has been by Sun Microsystems. The company allows not only its engineers but also its general employee base to post their musings. In one case, Sun's roadmap to open-sourcing its Solaris operating system was discussed in its blogs well before executives acknowledged the strategy.

Sun has also tapped into its sales channels through its blogs. During the company's recent JavaOne conference, Sun executives hinted at an auction on eBay that centered on a dozen Opteron-based workstations that had yet to be revealed or advertised.

Sometimes, blogs can raise more than capital. Sun's Jonathan Schwartz raised a few eyebrows after he suggested on his blog that the Santa Clara, Calif.-based systems vendor could acquire SUSE Linux owner Novell and put IBM in a pickle. The blurb was discounted as speculation, but it forced investors to think more about Sun's other potential acquisition targets.

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