Twenty years ago, the word "blog" didn't exist. Think about that. In the two decades that the Web has grown from a quaint but useful academic aid to a global commercial necessity, blogging has pursued its own dynamic evolution from personal soapbox to marketing must. Where did blogging come from, why it so critical for your business right now, and where can you expect blogging to take you in years to come? Hop into your mental time machine and let's take a quick guided tour.
In the Beginning: Electronic Journalism for (and by) the Masses
The World Wide Web was still in its infancy when Justin Hall set up a personal home page called Links.net in 1994 (and yes, it's still up and running today). As the name implied, it was made of primarily of links to various categories of online content that Hall found fascinating enough to share with the public, strung together by bits and pieces of editorial content. This is pretty much what blogging was for the first couple of years of its existence -- a combination bulletin board and editorial column created by individuals who wanted to share their favorite stuff. But things took a decidedly more professional (and journalistic) turn in 1998, when the Charlotte Observer used its blog to cover Hurricane Bonnie, demonstrating the potential power of this communications medium.
The next logical step was using blog posts to promote products and services. I actually got in on the cutting edge of this trend, even though I didn't realize it at the time, when a promotional products company asked me to write a series of case study articles that they could post on their website's blog page. That was around 1999 or 2000, I think, when businesses were still laboriously hand-posting directly onto their web pages. Soon afterward came the debut of blogging programs and platforms that made it easy for any business to post regular blog entries and get their brands circulating throughout cyberspace.
The Rise of the Thought Leaders: Business Blogging Gets Real (and Social)
Today, blogging is considered an essential method for maintaining a steady stream of marketing content on the vast virtual shopping mall/newsroom/entertainment center that the modern Web has become. Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media have created a voracious hunger for engaging, enlightening blogs that genuinely fulfill needs and solve problems. The days of insipid, keyword-stuffed filler are long gone; today's search engines reward relevance, authenticity and trustworthiness of content with higher search result rankings. This is the age of "thought leadership" or "expert" articles -- meaningful editorial pieces that address specific issues while referring readers toward a specific brand or company as the place to go for the solutions. And the more you blog, the better it works; companies that boost their output from 3-5 posts per month to 6-8 posts, for example, enjoy nearly twice as many online leads.
Whither the Business Blog?
Will the humble blog get buried underneath all the other distractions created by so many online media channels, from podcasts to videos? Not likely. Instead, your blog content will see more targeted distribution than ever as online analytics engines get smarter and more powerful. Audio and video presentations can be thought of as just another form of blogging -- and even if you take full advantage of those media, you'll still want to serve the segment of your target audience that prefers reading to watching or listening. I predict that I'll be blogging for all kinds of businesses for many years to come -- and I'll be happy to add you to my client roster!