Date: October 1, 2005

In this new age of public participation brought on by the Internet, the phenomenon of Blogging has taken root and become a critical communications tool. A blog is a Web-based log (hence the Weblog name). It allows everyone to create their own Web pages, with content that can be updated whenever they want.

With typically brief regular updates, a blog is intended to be an ongoing dialogue with the world. Since it is so easy to create and update, it’s common for dedicated bloggers to write a small rant every day, week or whenever the urge strikes them. The blogging numbers are truly staggering. According to www.blogherald.com, as of this past May, over 60 million blogs worldwide had been established. Many blog-enabling sites are estimating blog growth by up to 100,000 new blogs every week. Many blogs out there are indeed personal (though not private) diaries of individuals, people wishing to share their thoughts out loud with whomever may be interested.

Yet, the blog has also become a business and information revolution in and of itself. Consider last year’s political conventions. Tens of thousands of square feet typically assigned to the media was set aside for the thousands of bloggers who were there to post, and give their personal spin on what was (and wasn’t) occurring. A venue, or any business, which establishes a blog on a topic of interest to their clients and associates will maintain a direct communication line with their customers. The key, as with e-mail blasts, is to make sure the communication is pertinent to their customers.

Since blogs have response mechanisms built in, many organizations are even using blogs to create ongoing dialogues with their customers, creating a greater degree of loyalty than is common in today’s business environment. Many first-time bloggers use www.blogger.com, a service owned by Google. Following the simple instructions, the user can create a free blog account in just a few minutes. While there are premium blogging services, most people and businesses use the free approach. Many other options exist. Yahoo provides bloggers a host of free (as well as premium) services at http://360.yahoo.com. MSN provides blogging at http://spaces.msn.com. Another free and easy option is Bloglines, www.bloglines.com. From a business perspective, once the blog is up and running, the next important step is to let clients and business associates know about it.

While blogs do get indexed by search engines, a more proactive approach is to announce and promote a new blog on the organization’s Web site. A clear, front-page link to it, along with some good PR, will inform clients that a venue (or company serving venues) is using one of the newest, hottest communication vehicles. Since a blog is by nature a short-form journal, it is not only easier to update on a daily basis, but many people expect to read blogs on a daily basis, while Web sites don’t have that sense of immediacy.

Keep in mind, though, since blogs are highly subjective, the information posted therein is not pure fact. The Web doesn’t have a factual gatekeeper — that has become the users job. Additionally, many blogs provide the opportunity for direct reader feedback, also differentiating from a typical Web site. The blogger should frequently monitor the blog for feedback, as it is a great way to maintain an ongoing dialogue with customers and others interested in the subject matter.

While we’re discussing blogs, a few words about a companion technology that is frequently integrated into blogs is important. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is an information aggregation service, which can be used to have news on chosen subjects delivered, that can then be integrated into a blog. One service for Outlook users, specifically, is Attensa, www.attensa.com. But one of the clearest examples of RSS is the Google News service — http://news.google.com.

Combing and combining over 4,000 independent news sources, Google News uses RSS to provide the user with the latest news information, culled into a single resource. Of course, since it’s Google, it also contains search functionality, allowing the user to search these RSS news feeds for further information. Many blogs integrate a topical RSS feed right into their blog, which provides excellent topical information on that subject matter. Feed Direct, www.feeddirect.com, is one such free service. Or NewsIsFree at www.newsisfree.com. Plenty of other options can be found simply by running a search for RSS services.

Communications on the Web are a way to stay current, topical, even hip, while maintaining the utmost level of customer interaction. That defines any successful business. Blogging is one approach to ensuring the successful client/colleague relationship. James Spellos is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), certified Microsoft Office Specialist and founder of the Meeting U. training firm (www.meeting-u.com). He can be reached at (718) 224-5516