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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle

9/18/2005

Reflections on Blogging and Customer Intimacy

I found the news that Google has just developed a search engine for blogs to be really exciting, and it had me think about blogs on a much larger scale, and their impact on customer intimacy.

The new Google search engine can be found at http://weblogs.google.com.

Of course, I immediately did a search for this blog, and of course, Google has already done a fantastic job in indexing this blog in their search engine. As I saw my posts appear on the list, it began to dawn on me that easy access to blogs is going to accelerate a process that I already see happening that I think has a profound impact on how companies come to be known by their customers. But I go too far too quickly.

In a conference workshop I gave this week I shared my blog address with the participants who attended, which was a first for me. It was the first time that I was sharing the existence of my blog with a public audience.

Given that the workshop was located in the Caribbean, I wasn’t too surprised that almost no-one in the room even knew what a blog was. Blogging is yet to enter the mainstream in either the Caribbean or North America, and I’m feeling like some kind of pioneer.

It’s made me think about the role of a blog in bringing customers closer to companies, in several ways.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit David Allen’s website – www.davidco.com. The topic he is an expert in – time management – is one that I’ve been interested in for all my years as a professional, and I’ve read tens of websites and books on the topic. When I read his book, I liked the ideas, but when I read his blog I was hooked. Here he was honestly and openly discussing the base of his ideas, which is basically his daily life.

Here was someone who was brave enough to be sharing his most early ideas, almost from the point at which he was developing his newest thinking. This runs counter to the idea that ideas are like tangible assets like gold and diamonds that are limited in quantity and therefore can be stolen.

Ideas cannot be “stolen” unless the person who originated the idea stops innovating, and turns instead into protecting them.

A blog such as David’s helps to establish him as an expert, and also makes it very clear to anyone who will do the basic research that he is the source of the ideas, and no-one else. It’s easy to see that he has been developing his ideas over a period of several years, and that while anyone can read his book, hearing it from him is truly hearing it from the “horse’s mouth". All other time management systems can be openly and clearly compared against his, and when I actually did this for a time management system that I am familiar with, I noticed where the developers of that system had clearly lifted some of his ideas, and were re-packaging and re-selling them.

The blog has helped to protect David as the originator of the ideas behind his unique system.

(To view a Quick Time video of David in action, click here.)

In contrast, other competitive products to David’s are the typical ones that one finds on the internet – glorified advertisements. They talk about how great their systems are and how much it costs to sign up for them, replete with opportunities to use a credit card online to sign up.

They offer little or no information or details on the system, and are quite static, with no opportunity to do any of the kinds of things that are possible with a blog such as:

1) hearing about new ideas as they are being developed

2) giving feedback on new ideas, how the system is being used, ask questions, make complaints, etc.

3) hearing about future plans for the company, and present-day problems or issues from the CEO/MD of the company rather than from hired PR flacks

Of course, there is also the possibility of a company being either embarrassed or criticized publicly, and openly. Anyone can respond to a blog that allows feedback and use it as a way to publish lies (at least until the company removes the offensive responses). If a company has something to hide, it’s quite possible that a reader will use the system to make the issues public.

Here in the Caribbean, there is not a single CEO or MD from the region that has a blog. I imagine that that will change in the near term.

At the same time, many do not even have websites, so they remain completely out of the website loop that their competitors overseas are using daily.

While companies can talk forever about wanting to develop customer intimacy, and do their best to get their customers to do their basic business with the company over the internet (thereby saving them a lot of money) ,it doesn’t seem to occur to them companies that there is a way to accomplish both through the skillful use of a blog. What could possibly generate more customer intimacy than a blog in which the CEO or MD shares interesting information? What could be more responsive than a blog that answers customer’s questions?

The joke is that companies that either have no web presence or only a web-based billboard will have their presence in blogs defined by others, who can say anything they want. When the company finally realizes (as many did in the 90’s in the case of email) that they must adopt and use the new technology or die, it will be quite late. Others will have defined the company in their blogs, and attempts to answer the question or balance the messages will probably be a case of “too little, too late”.

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