Exploding the diary myth

Bob Bly is meeting rather a lot of resistance at the moment for his piece Can Blogging Help Your Product? in which he fairly firmly decides that blogs have no value as a marketing tool. Unfortunately the article is rather flawed, illustrating more Bly’s lack of knowledge and understanding than potential problems with using blogs in marketing.

Bly’s initital error, and the one I want to address here, is an assumption I have come across repeatedly over the last couple of weeks. He quotes Debbie Weil:

“A blog is an online journal,” blogging expert Deb Weil explains in her Business Blogging Starter Kit (www.wordbiz.com). “It’s called a journal because every entry is time and date stamped and always presented in reverse chronological order.

In Weil’s response to Bly’s piece, she says that her quote was taken out of context, yet Bly’s use of it reinforces the mistaken characterisation of blogs as nothing more than personal diaries. This then blinds non-bloggers to the potential uses for blogging software because they write it off before fully exploring the possibilities.

Just recently I had a long conversation with a friend of mine who, despite working in IT, confessed that he didn’t ‘get’ blogs. He also sees only the personal diary aspect of blogs and because he sees no use for personal diaries in business he doesn’t see the relevance of blogs to his work.

At the root of this problem is the confusion between the blog tool and the blog content. A blog is no more a diary than an empty notebook is a diary. Blogs become a diary when people use them to publish diary entries in the same way that a notebook becomes a diary when you write a diary entry in it.

But an empty notebook can also be a sketch book, a novel, an exercise book, a dictionary, or an infinite variety of other things, depending entirely on content. Equally, a blog can also be a tool for disseminating important news, or a project log, or a team building tool, or a marketing tool, or whatever its user chooses to make it.

In fact, blogs are a lightweight content management system which are easy to use, have strong archiving, cross referencing and search facilities, and are cost effective and flexible. That is what they are. A diary is what some people make them.

This leads me on to another conversation with another friend who brought up familiar concerns about even using the words ‘blog’ or ‘weblog’ with clients. He finds it counter-productive because frequently they neither understand the terms nor do they wish to expend the effort to get to grips with what they consider to be new and unusual (therefore potentially threatening) concepts. In other cases, he suffers the same blog=diary misconception.

Instead, he advocates using any other words or phrases which is appropriate to the client’s existing paradigm, whether that is ‘e-newsletter’, ‘event logging tool’, or CMS, it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is to get the client using the blog software and seeing the value in it. Later on you can explain that what they’ve been doing is blogging, but by then they’re so familiar with the process that the label is irrelevant – it’s water off a duck’s back.

Of course, none of this is really news. Anyone who’s tried to explain blogging to a non-blogger has probably come up against it. But it does cause a problem for those of us who work with blogs in business – how does one explain what one does if one can’t use the word ‘blog’?

One thing’s for sure. I shan’t be saying ‘Oh, well, it’s like a diary…’.

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