Gone are the days of secretive scribblings in a leather-bound diary. Today's preferred medium for personal expressions is the Web log -- a small, regularly updated online journal that combines a person's commentary with links to other content she recommends. For example, people who visit Salon.com no longer have to verbalize their vitriolic disagreement. They can chronicle their thoughts about an article -- or anything else for that matter -- in their own Web log, or "blog," on the site. Blogs are not just a forum for people who like to read their own words, though. Just ask the head of your marketing department.
Though blogs first gained popularity on news sites like Salon.com, Slate and MSNBC.com, companies are beginning to realize that same brand of opinion and news content can be a crackerjack sales, marketing and communications tool. Consequently, more of them are hopping on the blogging bandwagon.
Macromedia Inc., the San Francisco-based developer of Flash and Shockwave software, has been using blogs to share information with its customers since last May. At that time, the company had just released three new software products directly to the Internet, and it wanted to get feedback as quickly as possible in case there were bugs or other problems. The company decided to put a set of blogs on its site, each administered by a single community manager who could communicate directly with customers, answer their questions and direct them to other Web content that might interest them. "Within the space of a couple days we had hundreds of thousands of posts," says Tom Hale, Macromedia's vice president in charge of developer relations. Not only do the blogs help Macromedia quickly troubleshoot its products and respond to customers' concerns, they have spawned little communities where serious users can share advice.
Unlike questions sent via an online feedback form, the blogs enable the company to amass feedback, post information and patches to the site, and reach their user community very quickly. The blogs have also become a valuable marketing tool. The exchanges that occur between the community managers and visitors provide useful content in a personal rather than PR-ish tone and present Macromedia as a trusted information provider to its user community. While it might not feel like a marketing tool, the opt-in nature of the technology makes it an appealing way to establish and maintain low-pressure, high-value relationships with customers.
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