There’s Life in the Old Blog Yet

Do Irish businesses have the write stuff? As a matter of fact, yes they do.

Never at any point in history has humanity engaged so much in the art of writing. Think about it. From people text messaging on their phones, writing on web forums, sending emails, conversing on Bebo or Facebook, writing web logs (blogs) and, lately, writing 140-character entries on services such as Twitter, the human brain has never been so engaged.

The blogging revolution, in particular, started at least a decade ago, but in the past, three to four years has gained pace; year on year there has been a 300pc increase in the number of Irish people writing blogs on anything from cookery recipes to the shenanigans of politicians.

Blogging authority Technorati says that not only are blogs hitting the mainstream, with 184 million blogs worldwide and some 346 million readers, but 95pc of the top 100 newspapers in the US now have reporter blogs.

The business world has been slow to adopt blogging, but small Irish firms, in particular, have realized the wisdom of creating an emotional touch point with potential customers. The managing directors of niche Irish firms have taken a disciplined approach to engaging with their audiences, and while it isn’t easy to quantify the bottom-line result, business bloggers admit there are benefits for their companies.

Firms such as World of Cycles in Clonmel and Ice Cream Ireland in Dingle and Killarney have witnessed the phenomenon of readers and potential customers from far afield walking in and greeting the owners as if they are close acquaintances.

However, budding business bloggers must realize that the blog is more than just a platform to drive future business. The members of their potential audience want engaging, witty and insightful efforts that will guarantee their return.

But not all business bloggers have realized this. Business blogging blunders that dominate are fake blogs (flogs), which are usually written by a PR person masquerading as a company CEO. In the case of Coca-Cola, the company launched The Zero Movement blog. What was meant to look like the musings of a hip, young guy was, in fact, a blatant plug for the new Coke Zero drink, a rebranded Diet Coke aimed at men. The content, which lacked authenticity, was soon rumbled as a Coca-Cola creation.

Real business bloggers are genuinely passionate about their subject matter, and it shows. Julian Alubaidy co-runs Bubble Brothers, a Cork-based wine company with a warehouse on the outskirts of the city and a wine shop in Cork’s picturesque English Market.

Alubaidy says the first thing potential business bloggers must remember is that it’s an opportunity to bring a human voice to the business by sharing knowledge and insights, not a sales pitch.

“It’s a ‘butterfly stamping its foot’ kind of thing,” Alubaidy explains. “A small gesture that you make can have ramifications you may not be aware of when you do it. And, of course, you have to be careful about that small stamp of a foot because it can turn out for the good or not so good.

“Another point is it takes time to build up an audience. I think I’m quite lucky in being able to churn out prose at a reasonable rate, but I find it difficult to produce posts that are more than just a glimpse.

“That’s the reason a lot of bloggers and businesses take more notice of Twitter or micro-blogging. Indeed wine does need a bit of concentration – but it’s nice to get a fact wrong and see who comes out of the woodwork. I could easily spend a day a week on my blog, but it’s not justifiable regarding what I should be doing when it comes to running my business.”

Alubaidy says his blog has led to actual sales but found that his Twitter handles ‘Slurp’ has generated more business. “I sold several cases recently on the strength of Twitter.” He has also found that blogging has indirectly boosted footfall in his store. “I have been pleasantly taken aback to know that people read the blog. Customers let slip what I’m up to. We have a stall in the English Market in the center of Cork, and if I’m not there, people make the trip to the office park outside Cork.”

But what has impressed him most is the connection he can make with a rapt audience. “On a human scale, it allows me to talk to people directly in my own voice. The current recession has got people back to basics – they are looking at the site and talking to me, looking for my opinion. In a downturn, the domestic comforts are in many cases the last things to go. People will look after themselves, so wine is a good talking point.”

In 2000, Sean and Kieran Murphy established Murphy’s Ice Cream in Dingle, Co Kerry. This enterprise was spurred by a passion for all things ‘chocolatey’ and was in no small way influenced by a grandmother in Switzerland who always brought back tasty treats.

A website was set up, which was swiftly followed by the Ice Cream Ireland where Kieran Murphy imparted recipes and all kinds of observations on the world as a whole. Very soon Mercier Press commissioned him to write a book, Murphy’s Book of Tasty Treats. Last year, Ice Cream Ireland was named ‘Best Business Blog’ at the Irish Blog Awards and just before Christmas the book won the Gourmet Cook Book of the Year award at the Gourmand World Cook Book Awards.

“People were always coming up to me looking for recipes; beyond the business website I found the blog gave me the space to express a more personal outlook,” says Murphy. “While I’ve found the blog hard to quantify regarding sales, the biggest quantifier is publicity for the shops in Dingle and Killarney. Journalists who research online come across me on Google and see me as an expert on ice cream and chocolate.”

Getting the context right is essential, Murphy believes. “You have to have something to start with, and for me it was recipes.”

Murphy sees the onset of sites such as Twitter as interesting places where people can rattle off a sentence about what they’re up to. However, he prefers the flexibility blogs offer regarding length as well as picture and video uploading. “I haven’t truly wrapped my head around Twitter. But being able to put up a video showing the trickier parts of working with chocolate makes interaction with your audience a lot more immediate.”

Working as a technical writer in a technology firm in Cork a few years ago, Damien Mulley of Mulley Communications stumbled on blogging and quickly found his feet. The growth in popularity of his blog, where he railed against the lack of broadband in Ireland – among other things – resulted in him becoming a popular media figure.

He has since launched the Irish Blog Awards as well as the Irish Web Awards and now runs his own public-relations firm and new media consultancy Mulley Communications.

The impact of blogging on the business world cannot be underestimated regarding the intimacy that can be established between business and customer, he says. “It broke the dam. It revealed the cracks in the dam in many businesses; people realized that communicating in a non-formal manner was really good for their company. Being transparent, they found, is good for you.

“It began as a trickle, and now a flood of other things have arrived – companies are using social networking sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook where they can talk in the natural language of potential audiences.”

Twitter, the micro-blogging site, is accelerating this. “People are communicating, letting their guard down and being a personality instead of a formal entity that broadcasts the same message again and again.

“Some companies have bypassed blogging to focus solely on Twitter. A wine shop in Cork called Curious Wines, led by Michael and Matt Kane, started talking on Twitter before their warehouse was even open. Very soon 100 people in their area knew them and their brand almost personally. They have bloggers and individuals linking to them, buying from them and suggesting them to other people. That wasn’t planned, and they had delays opening their warehouse, but they used Twitter in a fantastic way, and it helped drum up business.”

Mulley describes the blog as the digital equivalent of meeting up for a chat with a customer. “The company website is a necessity, but blogs and Twitter posts (called ‘Tweets’) can start and continue actual conversations.

“Businesses are now engaging in Twitter, Facebook and Bebo campaigns and this trend will continue, not necessarily just on business blogs but as an entire revolution in personal-to-person communications between businesses and consumers.”

In terms of a good strategy, firms can follow before immersing themselves in a blog, Mulley suggests setting up listening posts on Twitter and Facebook to get feedback on your company and what people are interested in.

“Even if you spend your time writing and responding to people on Twitter, you can direct them to your blog or website where you can then elaborate with prose, pictures, and videos.”

In conclusion, Mulley uses the metaphor of the Model T Ford, which only came in black, as the way business communications have been carried out for decades. “It was formal, structured and very linear. But with blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Bebo as well as the many other channels yet to emerge, businesses can create a presence with which prospective clients can identify.

“They can create a personality, an identity. Instead of having a Model T Ford approach to communicating, give people a choice about how they want to be part of your business journey – on your blog, through a quick Twitter post or via your Facebook profile.”

Social networking for business

Blogs

An individual can start blogging this minute by registering on sites such as www.blogger.com or www.wordpress.com

Micro-blogging

Twitter is probably the most recognized micro-blogging site where swift sentences are all an audience requires. Go to www.twitter.com

Social networking

Major brands have established presences on sites such as www.facebook.com or www.linkedin.com to engage with interest groups.