Insights on The Blogging Decline in Business

Posted by Rich McElaney

As part of my business development efforts, I regularly speak with business leaders (CEOs, Presidents, CMOs, small business owners and marketing staff) about the things they're doing well and the areas they feel they're deficient in. The comments are widely scattered - ranging from discussions about marketing technology to what the best lead generation techniques are. For some strange reason (maybe it's me subconsciously guiding the discussion in a particular direction!) the subject of blogging comes up frequently. When it does, the reaction I get hasn't really changed much from the one I got one, three or five years ago - kind of a thousand-yard stare and eyes-glazing over reaction and a quick change of subject. 

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I thought I was imagining things or blowing the feedback out of proportion - this type of reaction couldn't be emblematic of low levels of blog adoption, could it? To allay my suspicions I did some Google research and was not that surprised to find studies indicating that the majority of businesses are still not blogging, and worse yet, have stopped their blogging efforts entirely.  In 2011, 23% of Fortune 500 companies "maintained a blog" ( I would love to know what qualifies as maintaining a blog.) - so 77% are on the sidelines if my math is right.  Another survey of Inc. 500 companies showed 37% of the companies on the list blogged in 2011 (down from 50% in 2010) - part of a downward trend in blogging for businesses in general. (Research from UMass Dartmouth's Center for Marketing Research)

I did my own non-statistically valid research by looking at a random sampling of companies that were part of several marketing-oriented groups on LinkedIn. My expectation was that I would see a higher percentage of companies blogging in these groups due to the high penetration of marketing companies within the groups. The trend was slightly higher than the Fortune 500 trendline - 27% for the LinkedIn groups versus 23% for the F500 group, but l thought the LinkedIn number would be in the high 30's to low 40's.

So what's the thinking behind these trend numbers - why aren't businesses blogging at greater rates - especially when it has been proven that when done correctly, blogging can be instrumental in driving incremental traffic to these sites? Here are some of the oft-cited reasons (culled from a variety of sources):

  • Too much of a time commitment 
  • Don't know what to write about
  • Ran out of ideas/topics to write about
  • Fearful of negative reaction
  • Concerned about legal ramifications of blog content
  • Shifting focus to social media platforms
  • Tried blogging and it failed
  • Too much competition in my industry
  • Our blog writer left the company
  • It wasn't worth the investment
  • The boss/C-suite won't approve it
  • We already publish a newsletter
  • We don't have anyone to write it 

 If you're a business owner or marketer and you aren't blogging because of one (or more!) of these reasons, let's look at some potential solutions for your business.

 For the time commitment-we don't have anyone to write it-our writer just left-we don't know what to write about-we ran out of ideas: it's rare to find one writer capable of covering the depth and breadth of potential material present in most companies. At a minimum, consider gathering key players from every customer-facing department within your company to brainstorm ideas. A great place to start is with the questions (especially the repeatedly asked ones) that come in from prospects and customers. A good way to frame this exercise is to look at the frequency with which you want to blog (shoot for 2X per week at a minimum x 52 weeks = 104 per year) and develop a list of 104 questions. When you think of the departmental breakdown in a typical company - Sales, Customer Service, Marketing, Accounting - that's four groups contributing roughly 25 questions each.

Ideally, if you can develop a writing resource within each department it will spread the writing load over more people and provide opportunities for developing collaboration amongst the writing team. If you can't develop the talent from within, you can still use this process to provide raw material to a professional writer and have one internal person provide oversight to maintain the right voice and brand direction. Writer resources such as Zerys and WriterAccess make the job of finding qualified writers easier and prices are market competitive on these sites.
For those fearful of negative reaction: the reality of business life is that negative reaction to your business is a natural consequence of being in business and whether you blog or not has no impact on that. If someone brings a complaint or negatively reacts to your content - you have a public platform to deal with it in a professional manner and show the public the character of your company. If your company culture supports ignoring legitimate customer complaints than you may have a legitimate reason for not blogging, but for most companies that's not realistic. If it's disagreement you're worried about - as long as you are consistent, positive and transparent in your reaction you should be fine.
Concerned about legal ramifications of blogging: I would recommend two things - screen your blogging intentions and your topical ideas with your company's legal representation first and then go out and look at what others in your industry are doing. Most trade groups have excellent resource material dedicated to the do's and don'ts of content marketing - research their sites for additional insight.
Shifting to social platforms: the big platforms are proving to be successful traffic generators for many companies but keep in mind you're renting space. You have to abide by their rules. The social platforms are excellent places to share your blog content for wider reach. Think more in terms of how you can integrate your blog activity on these platforms and not in terms of either/or.
Too much competition in my industry: the marketing industry easily has the highest CSI (for more on the Content Saturation Index - check out Marcus Sheridan's post on The Sales Lion) and yet there are many successful bloggers in the space. In highly competitive industries (from a blogging perspective) you have to be committed to producing great quality content on a consistent basis. And, take a look at the numbers above - if the data are correct, blog and you'll be in the minority. Go for it when the road is open!
C-suite approval and investment pay-off:  to me, these two are inextricably linked. C-level objections to blogging are usually rooted in the belief it's a low or non-revenue producing category. It's marketing's job to show the causal link between blogging, increases in site traffic and incremental sales. 
We already publish a newsletter: first thought - repurpose it! Roll that historical newsletter content out as blog posts and update the content as needed. The newsletter and blog can work well in tandem - the newsletter can be a call to action on various blog posts and the newsletter can direct readers to the blog. Typical newsletters don't have the frequency and recency as blogs do and often their purposes will be different. Newsletters also don't offer the opportunity for dialogue like the blog does. Bottom line - clearly define their respective purposes and content directions and look for opportunities to achieve synergy between the two.
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Your Thoughts?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on business blogging and ways to work around real and perceived obstacles. If you're not blogging, what are your reasons? If you are and it's not meeting your expectations - what are you going to do about it?

Tags: blogging, reasons for not blogging, blog use stats