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Blogging Declines in Inc. 500 Survey




The past few years have been one of severe upheaval in the marketing world. As we continue to shift from the traditional world of marketing to a mix between the ways of marketing from the past 20 or so years and the digital / social media environment the landscape shifts regularly.

One area of social media that carries a wide array of opinions regarding its use is blogging. I am tempted to put quotes around social media in reference to blogging because social media as it is defined by most today makes many blogs look like the long form journalism of the past. Maybe that point of view is a reason why a recent study by the University of Massachusetts / Dartmouth shows that within the Inc. 500, which tends to be smaller, more nimble and less social media averse organizations, the use of blogging declined quite significantly in 2011. See the chart below for the comparison to blogging’s use by the Fortune 500.

This kind of data doesn’t make me fear for the future of blogging. What it does do is make me wonder what factors might be included in a decrease of the discipline. But before we look at those reasons you have to wonder what exactly are Inc. 500 players doing in the social media space. Here’s a look.

Well, it looks like one conclusion is quite easy to make. Since Facebook and Twitter were the only two social media outlets to increase it is likely that resources are being pointed more at those social media anchors than other options.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I have a theory why this is. Whether you agree or not this might be a good discussion for the comments but I’ll leave that up to you. Here it goes: companies are looking for the easy way out. It’s that simple. You can use Facebook and Twitter as more of a customer service and customer retention tool by its more conversational nature (that is quite limited though depending on the level of talent that is maintaining it). It’s also easier to put together quick blasts of content rather than develop an idea in a blog post.

Here’s where that strategy is both short-sighted and likely doomed for under performance at best and disaster at worst.

1. B2B companies are looking for real information – Twitter and Facebook are not true engagement tools on a deeper level. They are hooks. They get people’s attention but you can’t develop concepts in 140 characters or in Facebook updates. People are not using those outlets for depth of data. Most people making real business decisions (in other words not buying a pair of fabulous shoes or whatever) need information of depth and value. While easier to create and easier to track “volume” Twitter and Facebook are not replacements for real data sources. They act more like advertising in the complex sales space in that the idea is to hook in a quick manner rather than educate.

2. Twitter and Facebook responses are a mile wide and an inch deep – Do you really want to learn something about how your product or service is viewed by your customers and prospects? Give them somewhere to say something more than a product or service sucks. An example. On a radio show I heard this morning, reaction to a bit on the show was overwhelmingly positive from Twitter while e-mail responses (more in depth) were negative. Why? Because on Twitter it’s more fun to pass around “feel good” than give a true opinion and some detail. I believe that a lot of what we see on Twitter has little or no substance outside of the person who stated the original tweet. The rest are usually less than thoughtful retweets to look engaged.

3. Blogging requires real investment - I know from my daily routine that blogging can be difficult. It can be time consuming and it can seem, well, tedious. Why? It’s because in a blog you can’t just say something quickly, drop it in the middle of a crowd then let them take it places. People have to read a blog post whereas someone can simply scan a Facebook or Twitter update. The investment required to create a good blog post is time, money and talent. Don’t you think that these Inc. 500 companies aren’t feeling the sting of a still miserable US economy? They are. Growth in revenue is one thing but that is not a true indicator of success. People are looking for the cheapest and easiest way out. In social media, there is no easier or cheaper way than Facebook and Twitter.

4. Everyone wants a measurement and they are settling for inferior data - Followers, likes and just plain retweets mean nothing really other than it is a number that can be manipulated and bumped up with a few tricks of the trade. Push an increased number of likes up the food chain to a less than informed higher level executive and you can pass that off as a success. Seeing if there is any real engagement from Facebok and Twitter puts this all in a very different light. Honestly, in most cases raw measurement data in social media is crap. We all know it, we just don’t have many great options right now.

5. Blogging requires more truth - You can play the slick sales guy in social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. You can say something catchy or cute and get a lot of attention. In most cases, the truth is not a critical component in the engagement. It’s getting attention. Catchy, quirky less substantiative material gets people’s attention and then they blindly pass it along. Blogging requires the truth because you have to develop ideas and concepts more completely. It’s real easy to spot a bullshit blogger who is milking something or has no experience in the subject area they are writing about. In 140 characters, not so much.

So in the end this trend is one that will turn in the other direction, especially in the B2B space. Why? Because people need more in depth information to buy. 140 character bursts and business pages of shorter form data quickly turn into ads rather than buying cycle information. They are very different animals. One starts the process (Twitter and Facebook) while the other (blogging, white papers etc) develop a deal and move it down the funnel to the close. If you feel that you can sacrifice this process of your sales cycle then you won’t be long for this business world.

I’m done. What’s your take?

  • http://www.carolynfrith.com Carolyn Frith

    Great post. I agree these companies are being short sighted. So many think they don’t have time for blogging and for some reason people are unwilling to pay for someone to do the writing for them. Personally I think you need to feed Twitter and Facebook with information blog posts. That’s where you can really build engagement and credibility. And you need that before you can turn your followers and ‘likes’ into paying customers.

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      @Carolyn – Good point. If you hook a customer / prospect on the social media front end but don’t have any real information for them to dive into beyond the shallow end of 140 character laced bait, then you stand the chance of losing them. Most are simply choosing to ignore this issue. That will come back to haunt them.

  • http://justinwise.net Justin @ Monk

    Spot-on assessment, Frank.

    Studies show that when the time, effort, and resources are put into blogging, only good things follow. I think you’re theory is correct, though: The only platforms to show increase are the ones that take little-to-no-time to facilitate.

    Bottom line: Blogging is work. We have to be honest about that.

  • http://www.stephaniesammons.com Stephanie Sammons

    Absolutely agree with your assessment Frank. This is a great opportunity for the little guy…the business owner that outworks and out hustles the big corporation! I get excited when I see studies like this.

    Stephanie

  • Cynthia Boris

    I’ve been pondering writing a post like this for awhile now because it does seem like blogging is on the way out. I think you’ve hit it on the head with the difference in effort. Social media (especially the way most people do it) is fast and easy. Blogging take a lot more effort. I think blog posts also sit there and mock you – what? No comments? But a Tweet blows by so fast you don’t even notice.

    Let’s get back to blogging people. It’s a valuable source of information for your customers and it’s another link for Google every time you post.

  • http://outwardmediablog.wordpress.com/ Nancy Arter

    Great article Frank! I agree with your assessment and have a comment. Blogging is a lot of work, and like other marketing messaging the content has got to be relevant, engaging and thought provoking (sort of like this post). And I agree with Stephanie . . . if more companies are not blogging, those of us who continue to do so will get more readership, higher search rankings, etc.

    I also post my blog posts to my company facebook, twitter, linkedin and google + accounts. This way, the short blast that I leave there leads to a deeper dive into the content of the post AND drives people to the blog.

    Great article — and if we’re good bloggers, let’s keep on doing it!

    • http://blogs.aerohive.com/ mandy

      We haven’t deviated at all from our blogging, but most definitely have kept up with the Twitter trend. I find the two venues (blogging &. FB/Twitter) work best if they complement one another – i.e. tweeting and/or Facebooking about a new blog post. It’s a short cut, and a mistake, to think you can rely strictly on pithy Tweets and FB posts and expect that to consistently turn into real customer engagement.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/shawnpatrickharrington Shawn Harrington (@eDossea)

    Great post! Use Twitter & FB to introduce the discussion in another forum where ideas can be more deeply discussed.

  • http://sigmawebmarketing.com Larry Levenson

    Agree with your assessment, Frank, and like the comments so far. Companies are made up of individuals, and as individuals we all like to take the easy way out when possible. Social media LOOKS like the easy way out, but as noted in several comments, this is shallow thinking.

    If a company is using their website to generate sales leads, they should know that companies that blog get 55% more sales leads than companies that don’t (Hubspot statistic). I’ve written more about this at http://2.ly/qam8, “Why Should My Company Have a Blog?”.

    By the way, small businesses easily get drawn into this same trap of using social media thinking they are getting ahead. The best solution is to rely on clear metrics, that show visitor-to-lead ratio and lead-to-sale ratio, so that you can compute exactly how much traffic you need to produce the sales you want. Then have similar metrics that show the breakdown in these ratios between direct visitors, social media, and other sources. Now you’re on the way to really being able to identify what works for driving targeted traffic to your website and converting it into sales.