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Social Media Will Change Your Business

Look past the yakkers, hobbyists, and political mobs. Your customers and rivals are figuring blogs out. Our advice: Catch up…or catch you later

by Stephen Baker and Heather Green
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Editor's note: When we published "Blogs Will Change Your Business" in May, 2005, Twittering was an activity dominated by small birds. Truth is, we didn't see MySpace coming. Facebook was still an Ivy League sensation. Despite the onrush of technology, however, thousands of visitors are still downloading the original cover story.

So we decided to update it. Over the past month, we've been calling many of the original sources and asking the Blogspotting community to help revise the 2005 report. We've placed fixes and updates into more than 20 notes; to view them, click on the blue icons. If you see more details to fix, please leave comments. The role of blogs in business is clearly an ongoing story.

First, the headline. Blogs were the heart of the story in 2005. But they're just one of the tools millions can use today to lift their voices in electronic communities and create their own media. Social networks like Facebook and MySpace, video sites like YouTube, mini blog engines like Twitter—they've all emerged in the last three years, and all are nourished by users. Social Media: It's clunkier language than blogs, but we're not putting it on the cover anyway. We're just fixing it.

Monday 9:30 a.m. It's time for a frank talk. And no, it can't wait. We know, we know: Most of you are sick to death of blogs. Don't even want to hear about these millions of online journals that link together into a vast network. And yes, there's plenty out there not to like. Self-obsession, politics of hate, and the same hunger for fame that has people lining up to trade punches on The Jerry Springer Show. Name just about anything that's sick in our society today, and it's on parade in the blogs. On lots of them, even the writing stinks.

Go ahead and bellyache about blogs. But you cannot afford to close your eyes to them, because they're simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself. And they're going to shake up just about every business—including yours. It doesn't matter whether you're shipping paper clips, pork bellies, or videos of Britney in a bikini, blogs are a phenomenon that you cannot ignore, postpone, or delegate. Given the changes barreling down upon us, blogs are not a business elective. They're a prerequisite. (And yes, that goes for us, too.)

There's a little problem, though. Many of you don't visit blogs—or haven't since blogs became a sensation in last year's Presidential race. According to a Pew Research Center Survey, only 27% Some newer numbers: According to Forrester, 11.2% of online adults in the U.S. publish a blog at least once a month. Of the same group, 24.8% read a blog and 13.7% comment on a blog at least once a month. The numbers are higher for youths. Of online youths, 20.8% publish a blog, 36.6% read a blog, and 26.4% comment on a blog at least once a month. But I suspect the numbers are unreliable because many mainstream sites with millions of readers—celebrity site TMZ and gadget sites like Gizmodo—are actually blogs. But are all the readers aware of this? I doubt it. This is the blurring of the blog/mainstream divide, a theme we'll see again and again in these revisions. of Internet users in America now bother to read them. So we're going to take you into the world of blogs by delivering this story—call it Blogs 101 for businesses—in the style of a blog. We're even sprinkling it with links. These are underlined words that, when clicked, carry readers of this story's online version to another Web page. This all may make for a strange experience, but it's the closest we can come to reaching out from the page, grabbing you by the collar, and shaking you into action.

First, a few numbers. There are some 9 million blogs out there, Yes, there were 9 million, but how many of them were active? Probably only a fraction. In early 2008, says Technorati Chairman David Sifry, the search company indexes 112 million blogs, with 120,000 new ones popping up each day. But only 11% of these blogs, he says, have posted within the past two months. That means the active universe is closer to 13 million blogs. Kevin Burton, CEO of FeedBlog, argues that the number should be lower, from 2 million to 4 million blogs. with 40,000 new ones popping up each day. Some discuss poetry, others constitutional law. And, yes, many are plain silly. "Mommy tells me it may rain today. Oh Yucky Dee Doo," reads only one April Posting. Let's assume that 99.9% are equally off point. What we didn't see in early 2005 was the advent of the spam blog. These blogs, produced automatically, are designed to show up in search results and to attract Google advertisements known as Adsense. Sifry estimates that fully 99% of the blog posts reaching search engines are spam. So what? That leaves some 40 new ones every day that could be talking about your business, engaging your employees, or leaking those merger discussions you thought were hush-hush.

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