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Firms mull over blogs, but doubt business value

New research shows a majority of companies are considering deploying corporate blogs, but see limited business value in the technology.

A majority of U.S. companies are now at least considering corporate blogs, but there are still plenty of businesses not convinced that blogging has business potential.

Forrester Research Inc. surveyed 275 IT decision makers at U.S. companies with 500 or more employees and found that while 54% of those polled said they are blogging at some level -- or at least considering an investment -- 46% have no plans to invest in blogs.

There isn't a week that goes by when someone doesn't contact me and ask, 'how do I contribute?'
Denise Stinardo
corporate communications manager of new mediaEastman Kodak Co.
According to the Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm, the reason so many of them have no interest in blogs is because they see no business value in blogging. It's a headache they don't want and many have more critical problems to solve.

"Strategic decision makers see adoption of blogs in the consumer world and they see the chaos that goes on," said G. Oliver Young, a Forrester analyst. "They see the flame wars and so forth, and they question the validity of its business value."

But the main stumbling point on blogs, Young said, is that the business return isn't as revolutionary as most people expect. "A lot of companies look at blogs and think, 'Boy it should be doing a heck of a lot more for us.' It provides incremental value, but not revolutionary value."

Blogging is used as a communications channel that allows for more improvisation and flexibility. Still, it's just not living up to the hype.

However, Young said some companies have found blogging to be critically important.

He pointed to Eastman Kodak Co., the $13.3 billion company known for its photographic technology. In an age of declining interest in film photography, the Rochester, N.Y.-based company was at a crossroads.

"Kodak was a company that was struggling with its transition to digital photography. They had their employees start blogging to share their passion for photography, and they had the scientists talking about the technology they're working on to get customers excited," Young said.

Kodak has two blogs, with about 50 employees contributing to them.

"Our motivation was to have the blogs as a digital communications medium to be a support for Kodak's transformation," said Denise Stinardo, Kodak's corporate communications manager of new media. "Kodak had always had a strong association as a film manufacturing company. As we were leading our transformation into a digital imaging company … we wanted to give our consumers and potential consumers an inside look into Kodak."

Stinardo said Kodak considered a variety of new media options, such as podcasts and RSS feeds, before settling on blogging. She said Kodak saw Fortune 500 companies such as General Motors Corp. doing well with blogs and decided to try it. Stinardo said the blogs have received a lot of attention.

"A Thousand Words," a blog where employees share their passion for photography and other personal interests, receives up to 20,000 visitors a month. "A Thousand Nerds," where Kodak scientists blog about research and development, receives up to 10,000 visitors a month.

Stinardo said it's difficult for her company to calculate an ROI from the blogs because it's nearly impossible to connect blog visitors to actual retails sales. But she and the company's executives see a clear business case for the blogs. The sheer volume of visitors has created a dialog between customers and the company and helped educate the market about Kodak's new business initiatives. Stinardo said blogging has also raised employee morale.

"There isn't a week that goes by when someone doesn't contact me and ask, 'How do I contribute?'"

Although Kodak has enjoyed success with its external-facing blogs, more companies use the technology internally.

Forrester asked adopters of blog technology to list the business reasons for using it. Sixty-three percent said they use blogs for internal communications, and 50% use them for internal knowledge and content management. Forty-seven percent said they use blogs for external thought leadership and 46% said they use them for marketing to customers and prospects.

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"There's definitely a business case for blogging internally to employees and for blogging externally to the world at large," Young said. "Opening up a communication channel to customers is valuable."

Although in many cases the business value of blogging may not be as revolutionary as evangelists claim it is, Young said practical barriers to adoption of the technology are low. It's just a question of whether IT decision makers have the time to put a relatively small blogging project in their project portfolio.

"It doesn't take a heck of a lot to get up and going," Young said. "But for most enterprises, blogging is going to require the input of IT along the way, and increasingly IT shops are pushed to the limit. IT doesn't have time to invest in it."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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