What is the difference between business blogging and forums
June 19, 2006 10:51 AM   Subscribe

How can I convince my boss to use business blogging instead of forums? Or, how can my boss get A Clue?

I work for a Clueless web business. In an effort to get the company to go "Web 2.0" (for lack of a better word), I've been trying to convince the boss that we should at least start business blogging to get a feel of what's really going on out there. Instead, he wants to set up a forum. Now I don't think that the advantages of a forum outweighs the advantages of a well-run business blog and I'm having a helluva time trying to convince him so. I explained how it can organize our communications, leverage our knowledge base, create more incoming links and foster community, all at the same time, but he still doesn't get it (or is perhaps too stubborn).

Now I'm at my wit's end 'cause another company virtually exploded onto the scene and it looks like they're going to take a huge portion of our potential market share (my boss also doesn't believe in The Long Tail). Of course, this new company is completely Web 2.0-savvy and knows a thing or two about blogging: a Google search for my company comes up with around 10 hits and a search for this other company comes up with nearly 65,000 hits. Our company has been around for nearly a year, and this new company has been around for around a month.

Ultimately, how can I convince my boss to get A Clue? I already got him the book (Cluetrain) a while back and he wasn't impressed. Sorry, this is probably the core question, but I'm trying to start with baby steps.
posted by freakystyley to Work & Money (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So, you're trying to say that knowing about blogging is totally Web 2.0 and will suddenly result in a massive increase in the Google PageRank?

Perhaps the other company just has better marketing & advertising to begin with. Maybe they have a web designer that understands SEO.

Has he explained why he's not jumping on your blog idea? If he's not impressed with the Cluetrain manifesto, why push the issue further? hopefully you won't find yourself out of a job. :P
posted by drstein at 11:13 AM on June 19, 2006

Response by poster: Oh no... that's not what I'm saying. Blogging just happens to be a communications method of preference for Web 2.0 and the PageRank was just an indication of how many people are actually talking about our "competitor".

Honestly speaking, our competitor does a better job than we do for this particular market segment. I've watched them since day one and they've made their way well into the blogosphere. Hell, I've even recommended the competition to my friends and I even use their free service instead of my own company's!

My boss isn't jumping onto this blog idea 'cause this is (or seems) completely alien to him. Let's just say that he's had a substantial amount of success in web businesses during the tech boom and doesn't want to mess with a formula/philosophy that worked for him in the past.

However, I'm pushing the issue again for the sake of my sanity. I suppose I'm just tired of working for someone who's stuck in 1998 and I don't like the fact that I'm totally losing whatever sense of ownership I initially had on the project. It's relaly a last stab... I don't wanna get dooced again :P.
posted by freakystyley at 11:42 AM on June 19, 2006

Web 2.0 is more about cross communication and user-generated content than dictating from on high. You mention how the blog needs to be a community, so I'm not really seeing how the forum is so bad, since it will give people a sense of involvement and give you a better stickiness if you get more people participating. I'm a little leery of starting a blog for the heck of it, especially if the person who you'd probably want to be your star blogger just isn't into it. There are other things you can do to get a feel of what's out there.

On a sidenote, another book would be Blog by Hugh Hewitt. I wasn't a fun of his heavily conservative stance or the religious undertones, but his general message about blogs, their importance (and yes, he mentions the long tail), and why you need one was good. I'm sure there are plenty more out there though. But if you've already given him information and he just refuses to believe anything, you're either going to have to try another approach with him or perhaps just go with the forum (or find a new job).

p.s. Why can't you have both? You could start the blog as a small invite-only pilot project where you can form a community with your existing clients and then once it has matured a little bit, you can revist it to determine if it's still a good idea and if so, you can begin to market it.
posted by ml98tu at 11:58 AM on June 19, 2006

Maybe you should go work for the other company instead...
posted by reklaw at 11:58 AM on June 19, 2006

Blogs and forums are totally different!
Does your boss want to have a place to communicate with people on a variety of topics without any opinion or topic being more important than the other (forum), or does he want to announce several things for which he maybe wants some feedback (blog)
Blogs aren't the answer to everything, and many people don't see it as an invitation to communicate because the big post is already there and you can either agree with it or disagree. Not everyone leaves blog comments, but a forum really invites people to come and discuss a topic.
posted by easternblot at 12:04 PM on June 19, 2006

Have you spelled the numbers out to your boss? Some people won't believe anything they don't see on a PowerPoint slide. Really.
posted by mkultra at 12:06 PM on June 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

In general, I advocate for blogs over forums for businesses because blogs are better for pushing a company's agenda directly to the audience while in a forum, the company's presence disappears and the primary participants are the forum members, not the company. And let me stress that neither is "Web 2.0." They're two different communication mediums that serve very different purposes. Forums allow people to connect with other people, blogs allow companies to connect with their audience. You could argue that a customer service forum allows the customers to connect with the firm but in truth, the customers are interacting with specific people within the firm rather than the firm as an entity.

Just having a blog is not going to push your company's Google rankings up. If your boss or the company doesn't generate quality content or believe in what's being said, the prettiest, AJAX-enhanced blog or forum isn't going to mean squat. I'd take a step back and analyze why and how your company wants to take this step. If it's because "all the other Web 2.0 companies are doing it" then you're best off not even starting one.
posted by junesix at 12:19 PM on June 19, 2006

I'd go both. Develop the forum first, and then integrate a blog into it, so that new blog posts create new threads in the forum automatically. A blog doesn't create a sense of community the way a forum does. People can't start new threads on your blog.

So, do what your boss wants first, and build the forum. Then start doing a blog. If your boss won't let you do a blog, use the forum as a blog.
posted by fcain at 12:47 PM on June 19, 2006

Response by poster: ml98tu, I'm not fond of compromising by allowing for both blogs and forums. It just means more work on the long run and we're a little short-staffed. Ultimately, you're right: it really depends on the resident blogger. Given that we don't have one and I doubt that my boss is gonna invest in one or let me blog for the company, I think the blogging idea will have to wait :(.
posted by freakystyley at 12:47 PM on June 19, 2006

Junsesix is close to my way of deciding between the two.

I see blogs as more top down. It is much easier to maintain the focus of a blog.

Forums are more prone to inter-personal conflicts, tangents, etc. Unless part of the goal is to promote inter-user interaction, I tend to stick with blogs.

But you can't really prove whether one or the other will be better at acheiving your goal until you pin down what that goal is.
posted by RobotHero at 12:50 PM on June 19, 2006

Blogs and forums are totally different!

Yeah, I'm totally confused by this question, and it comes off sounding like "blogs are new and cool, forums are old and tired!". Blogs and forums are two different applications that serve two different purposes.

The real question is, what's the problem you are trying to solve? If the answer was something like "create a way for users to offer tech support to each other" or "help to create a community for the fans of our clueless company" then a forum would be vastly superior to a blog.
posted by malphigian at 12:52 PM on June 19, 2006

Response by poster: junesix, I agree whole-heartedly. While both methods will offer a good reality check or allow for greater bottom-top decisions, I'm favouring blogs only because it gives discussions a little more focus.

What I enjoy(ed) about this company is that its product is pretty disruptive and has the potential of shaking things up in an industry that's often regarded as rather elitist. It simply bothers me that our communications strategy isn't a little more, for lack of a better expression, up-to-date.
posted by freakystyley at 12:56 PM on June 19, 2006

Response by poster: malphigian, the objective really is to do all though, but also to communicate with our users in an effective manner. I find that the forum method for this is a little too willy-nilly, and I'm afraid messages/announcements often get lost in the conversation.
posted by freakystyley at 1:00 PM on June 19, 2006

Response by poster: okay, yeah, a blog is more top-down than forums, but that's what's required to give your communications a little direction.

The objective, in this particular case, is to communicate announcements, features, publish articles, all the while fostering dialogue between our users regarding us, the industry, as well as our role within it. Additionally, we need a means to obtain feedback regarding service features as well as a means to collect support-related FAQs.
posted by freakystyley at 1:13 PM on June 19, 2006

malphigian: Yeah, I'm totally confused by this question, and it comes off sounding like "blogs are new and cool, forums are old and tired!". Blogs and forums are two different applications that serve two different purposes.

Well, if I can play my online community curmudgeon since '89 card here, I'm confused by this. There certainly have been no lack of structured asynchonous communications systems that consisted of a "FPP" + comments prior to the invention of the word "blog."

And I really don't understand the question because of the large numbers of ambiguous buzzwords sloppily used in this discussion. "Blogs" have a wide range of interactivity from glorified hyperlinked collections of announcements to systems that can qualify as a community. "Forums" also have a wide range of structures from what we would now call "bloglike" (although "bloglike" forums predate the neologism by several years) to something that looks like wikipedia.

My suggestion is to stop talking about technologies, and start talking about discourse and communication. What modes of communication does the company need? What is it willing to support? What will that communication look like? Then you can say "we need a system that permits us to make announcements with facilities for user feedback," "we need a peer-to-peer community to help with support," "we need an open process for informal documentation." Then while you are at it, you can talk about moderation, leadership and norms. At that point you can start shopping for a system that meets your specifications.

On preview: It looks like you are headed that way. One of the things you can do is to do a quick and dirty prototype of the kind of system you think the company needs. In an afternoon, you can download and demo an example system on a laptop loaded with company-specific information.

You can also have a system that combines features of both by using a weblog for your annoucements and a threaded or unthreaded bbs for discussion (an example of this is Ars Technica).
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:27 PM on June 19, 2006

Oh, and I can't say that I'm overly impressed by the Cluetrain Manifesto myself.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:29 PM on June 19, 2006

I second working for the better (other) company.

When interviewing, state that you wanted to wanted to work for a company that sells the same widgets, but has a clue.

They get someone with experience in the sector, you get to work for the more clueful company.
posted by Wild_Eep at 2:08 PM on June 19, 2006

What exactly is the difference between a Blog with comments and a forum? I honestly can't believe people would be having this argument. I don't think your boss is particularly 'clueless' at all. A forum can be blog-like and have comments, be linked too by other blogs, etc.

*rolls eyes*
posted by delmoi at 2:11 PM on June 19, 2006

Develop your business strategy. Break it down into goals, then work out the tools. Don't start with the tool and try to map it to the strategy. If you build a business case, the tool will emerge as the answer and you won't be fighting an uphill battle.
posted by acoutu at 2:13 PM on June 19, 2006

Whooo. If you talked to your boss the way you asked your question, he heard a lot of trendy jargon from someone who wants a promotion.

No offense. I'm not saying that this is what you meant, or that your ideas aren't actually good. It's the vocab that's killin' me. Buzzwords tend to be (over)used by a new generation of professionals to describe the same basic marketing principles plus new technology plus enthusiasm. This can be a very very very good thing -- a fresh take. But if the jargon isn't elucidating a concept to your audience, drop it and speak to his interests. And quantify.

The objective, in this particular case, is to communicate announcements, features, publish articles, all the while fostering dialogue between our users regarding us, the industry, as well as our role within it. Additionally, we need a means to obtain feedback regarding service features as well as a means to collect support-related FAQs.

From this description, I don't know if I like either forums or blogs, strictly speaking. I could envision a well-designed Website with blog and/or forum capabilty for discussion between professionals, but a more aesthetic and effective design for those articles than a blog would permit, strictly speaking. Something like The Scientist. Except I like the design of the "blogs" on New Scientist better (ignore their tragically cluttered homepage.)
posted by desuetude at 3:04 PM on June 19, 2006

Response by poster: It sounds nuts, but I'm actually sorry it's come to semantics and buzzwords and the such. That shouldn't have been part of the question. The goals have already been determined (and stated) and my homework has long concluded that blogging would be more useful to us than forums. Due to the serious lack of resources, I wanted to go with one solution, rather than two.

Actually, I don't talk to my boss the way I'm asking this question. I usually carefully walk him through a buncha sites (MeFi is actually one of them) showing him what would be useful for us and how it aligns with our business strategy... and for some reason it just doesn't click. In essence, that's the real question: how do you teach an old boss new tricks?

Thankfully, this thread pretty much answered that question too: I should still start with forums to see where it goes, but in essense, I think it's time to move on.
posted by freakystyley at 3:37 PM on June 19, 2006

how do you teach an old boss new tricks?

Oh, you know, you convince them that they'll save money and increase productivity immediately.

Can you find a website that he would love that is doing what you want to do? Or, can you convince him that this competitor is the devil and your company should one-up all of their tricks? (Um, this is actually what worked for my company.)

do feel your pain -- I'm stuck adminstering a significant time-suck of a listserv. There are members of the group who still think that this is the best way to encourage discussion. Those people all unsubscribe within days, (though insist on the thing's existance) leaving it to me to explain the concept, repeatedly, to the rest of the group.
posted by desuetude at 4:10 PM on June 19, 2006

A recent article on Why Business Blogs Are Important. Not a blog vs forum article but it does highlight some business blog "why's" that might help your case.
posted by junesix at 4:29 PM on June 19, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks desuetude, perhaps I can find a way to play the money/productivity angle. It's a worth a shot at his point.

Unfortunately, this guy's somewhat of a web hermit and therefore can't be inspired by anything new and different. Also based on the simplicity of the competing site, he quickly dismissed it as a service for "neophytes" and therefore concluded that there's nothing we can learn from these guys.

Sigh, sometimes I really wonder...
posted by freakystyley at 5:16 PM on June 19, 2006

My CEO was like that too. Then she started hearing numbers from business sources about our competitor and how valuable the services provided were. Eventually she came up with the brilliant idea that she should hire someone to advise her to cautiously proceed with the ability to compete. But she wouldn't listen until someone her own age that she felt was really respectable told her to "look into it."
posted by desuetude at 5:51 PM on June 19, 2006

Response by poster: Jesus, that sounds just like him. Only that this so-called "advisor" is an advertising executive and I have no respect for this guy 'cause IMHO, "advertising" is the BS extension of marketing. I call him "fancy pants" 'cause he's the metrosexual type too.
posted by freakystyley at 6:10 PM on June 19, 2006

Best answer: (Disclaimer: I work for a company that sells business blogging tools. On the other hand, that might also be why I'm credible.)

Most businesses, if they've heard of blogs at all, are afraid of them. Your boss has the added defense of having been successful with other strategies in the past, but most bosses can find a legitimate or semi-legitimate excuse for not making the leap, and it can be frustrating to those of us for whom the benefits are obvious. Here's a couple strategies that I've seen work succesfully in the past.

1. Acknowledge that blogs are scary, (relatively) new as a business tool, and have a bad reputation for being unmanageable. Much of what they've heard about blogs is either "OMG Dateline says they're full of pedophiles!" or "OMG that's how Dan Rather got fired!". The voices talking about the many business benefits of blogging get drowned out. Try this: "I know you're skeptical about blogging; Let's see if there's a really cheap way to experiment with this without taking a big risk."

2. The perception of blogging is skewed by the fact that they're for personal use. I always use the analogy that most people's personal email and IM are used for sending cat pictures and bad forwards about urban legends; So are most people's personal blogs. But a business without email these days seems weirdly anachronistic. With email, we went from having companies with a single email address, where messages got printed out and handed off to the right person to one email address per department to, eventually, one email address per person.

With blogs, we'll progress from a single experimental blog as a marketing project, to one blog per conversation. And it'll be a familiar medium because we'll use blogs at home like we use email at home.

3. "Don't worry -- blogs are just like the other tools we're already using." Make it seem familiar, like a simple evolution of existing technologies/tools, and it'll be much less scary and much easier to pitch. Have a newsletter now, either in email or print? Perfect. Blogs let you maintain that same newsletter much more easily, plus you get a web archive of newsletter issues for free! Already updating your site with news and updates? Great: Blogs let you do the same updates more easier and faster (read: cheaper) plus they automatically deliver those site updates to anybody's homepage. (This, of course, is using RSS/XML/Atom feeds to go to someone's My Yahoo/My AOL/My MSN homepage.)

4. Don't call it a blog. The terminology doesn't matter, the technology doesn't matter, and the (ugly) work definitely doesn't matter. Just say "I want to use these tools to update our site news, it says it automatically gives us an 'Add To My Yahoo' button, too." Even Mr. 1998 can't be against Yahoo, can he?

5. I'm going to presume he already knows the benefits of being attractive to search engines, or that you can at least explain them to him. It seems the search engines want useful content that's frequently updated, well formatted, and richly linked. Huh. "What about a lightweight content management system that's Google-friendly? If we appear organically in the search results just for buying a $500 CMS, that saves us from buying $3000 worth of AdSense ads."

6. Talk about measurable results. "We have this many visits. Are you willing to bet $500 we can double it?" If you're interested in driving leads to a website, calculate your current cost per lead, divide the cost of implementing blogs by that number, and you'll know how many leads it'll take to justify the investment. THen promise you can deliver that many leads.

7. Appeal to the other examples out there. Maybe your competition is for neophytes, but there must be a reason General Motors, Wal-Mart, Boeing, Intel, Amazon, and thousands of other companies are blogging. Surely they're not all populated by amateurs.

Finally, about the subject line, here's the lowdown on forums vs. blogs: A sense of ownership. An unsuccessful forum is controlled by the person with the most time and/or passion about the topic. Chances are, since you're gainfully employed, that's neither you nor your boss. Appeal to his obvious ego by saying "don't you want a site where you're the authoritative voice?" and appeal to his professionalism by saying "i think we should be the definitive source of information about our industry; right now these other sources come first." In a blog, you're clearly the host and it's your prerogative to control the conversation as you see fit. With a forum, you're a peer to almost any random person who walks by. You wouldn't let a stranger on the street write your customer newsletters; a business should expect the same level of control over its web presence.

Anyway, good luck with your effort, feel free to email me (anil at sixapart dot com) or IM if you want any help. I'm happy to help you make the pitch.
posted by anildash at 6:11 PM on June 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

(Additional disclaimer: I've been called a metrosexual and I think there are some good types of advertising.) :)
posted by anildash at 6:13 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Jesus anildash... no wonder you guys get the proverbial big bucks :P. I think your response was exactly what I was looking for! Thanks a zillion!
posted by freakystyley at 8:44 PM on June 19, 2006

Response by poster: Sorry 'bout the hasty generalization on advertising. This guy was seriously wasting our money though; I still don't know how spending thousands of dollars on industry-themed tableaus for our office is going to improve the bottom line.
posted by freakystyley at 8:50 PM on June 19, 2006

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