Social Enterprise

Blogging can be a viable customer service feature for some companies

Before implementing a blogging feature, be aware of where it best fits so you don't unnecessarily take away from developers' resource time. This article explains the potential benefits and where it can work.


Blogging has come to a turning point and is moving into the corporate Internet space, a subindustry that is desperately seeking the next big thing. At some point, your staff will approach you about adding a blogging system to the corporate network. Based on your industry and product, you may decide that blogging could offer benefits to your corporate network. Before proceeding, consider the effects on your in-house programming staff and Web team. Then, consider your options and look at your long-term needs and goals so you don't select a solution that won’t scale for your organization.

What it is
A blog is a publicly accessible journal. In its most basic form, it appears as a series of text entries saved into a single HTML file with some very basic formatting. At the other end of the scale are blog systems like MovableType and Blogger, which bill themselves as personal publishing systems. Each entry is little more than a simple text message, possibly with some formatting and an image or two. Systems like MovableType make adding simple formatting and images very easy. The message is dated, marked with the author’s username, saved in some fashion, and posted. Many blogs then allow reader comments.

MovableType is closer to a content management system (CMS). The authors, Todd and Mena Trott, have essentially begun the process of divorcing themselves from the blogging scene by adding more CMS-related features to their Perl-based application.

Mastering the killer app factor
Getting a leg up against your competitors often means adding features and functions the others don't yet have. On the other hand, as the CIO, you're fighting internally to get all departments to reduce spending and cut costs to protect the bottom line, which might mean removing those same features and functions. In the case of blogs, you must answer the question, how does a customer service blog tool make my corporation outshine another? It really doesn’t, when that blog is merely output. If the company implements a blogging tool, it will be customer service that is communicating outwardly when it is the customer who should be communicating inwardly. Sure, a customer could attach a comment to an employee’s blog post, but that's not exactly customer service.

Where blogs can work
The best blogs reflect the strongest driving interest of the author(s). In the enterprise, if the workforce is doing what they like, they will write about it. How this can translate to a benefit to your customers depends on what your company is about. If you sell industrial cleaners and sanitation products it is unlikely that Bob in sales will be interested in blogging about his cleaning supply experiences. In a computer game development house, however, Bob might be interested in writing about the 3D-rendering engine his team is working on. Since video game fans are often rabidly interested in the development process, many of them will closely follow the blog and spend time commenting in it.

Taking Bob's video game development blog as an example, what can the host company derive from the blog? First, the number of people who spend time with the blog is likely the same number of guaranteed sales you can expect. Since games are social, a high percentage of the visitors' friends will likely buy the game, garnering more sales.

The blog can also be a source for news and stories that may be picked up by other news agencies, spreading even more inexpensive advertising. Giveaways and contests are also big draws. Any additional interest drawn to the site and to the project can only help sales when the final version ships. It can also be a source for knowledgeable beta testers, people most project developers have a hard time finding. Finally, a blog helps personalize the project and can possibly make the developers celebrities in their own right. John Carmack of Doom and Quake fame became well known to fans of the games through his weekly .PLAN postings, a preblog, text-based work journal.

Which blog to use
You can choose from several blogging tools, most of which cost nothing, either as freeware or open source software. The most popular tool and the one that is credited with starting it all is Blogger, a free service from Pyra Labs, which was recently acquired by Google. Blogger offers a free version and a for-fee Pro version. If you prefer to run your own server, there are a couple that I suggest, the first of which is the powerful and easy to use MovableType. It’s also free to use, though it would prefer a one-time donation to assist in further development. MovableType can be modified, but not redistributed.

Another solution is Greymatter, a blogger that is licensed under the Creative Commons License, which is similar to the Linux General Public License (GPL), yet disallows commercial usage without permission. Getting permission is easy, though, so you shouldn't leave Greymatter out of consideration. The code can be modified and redistributed as in the GPL. If you need something a little more complete or would like to integrate your company site with blogging tools and a myriad of other functions, look no further than PostNuke, a PHP-based content management system that has many blogging tool features. PostNuke is produced under the GPL so it's free to redistribute and modify at will. Of course, this also means that the production group cannot be held liable for any data leaks.

Finally, several desktop tools for various platforms allow easy blog updating. Perhaps the most popular is w.bloggar, which supports Blogger, b2, MovableType, Nucleus, BigBlogTool, BlogWorks XML, Blogalia, Drupal, and PostNuke. I must warn you, though. I've never been able to use w.bloggar to post anything, much less log onto a supported system. Of course, I cannot discount the thousands of successful users. Also, I've spent many man hours modifying my sites long before I attempted to use the tool, likely causing w.bloggar to not connect. If you're using Mac OS X “Jaguar” you should check out BlogApp. BlogApp supports Blogger, Blogger-2-LiveJournal (LiveJournal is a commercial blog site), gir.blo.gs, b2, Drupal, and Userland’s Radio and Manila commercial CMS solutions.

Keep in mind
The Web-based interfaces for all of these bloggers are easy to use. PostNuke even has a JavaScript-based word processor entry field for users of Windows Internet Explorer. If your entire system is already based on PHP and MySQL, avoid a blogger that uses Berkley Text database stores and Perl for an interface. You will only add to your developer's workload.

 

 

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