For the Love of Blogs

I attended a presentation this week by a fellow colleague, Dr. John Whitehead, from Appalachian State University, at the Kentucky Economic Association meetings on the topic of “blogonomics“. He presented very insightful information on the topic of economics blogs. The data also shed some light on blogging and who is blogging in general. This led me to think about what role blogging plays in the business of selling online.

What is blogging?

By now, most online users that would be reading this post will know that a blog is a “web log” and the blogosphere is the online community of weblogs. A Pew Internet and American Life Project found that about 39% of the online population reads blogs. Technorati publishes an annual “State of the Blogosphere“. The report is loaded with statistics about who is blogging. According to Technorati, U.S. Bloggers tend to be male (57%), over 35 (58%), employed full-time (56%), earn more than $75,000 (51%) and college graduates (74%). Of interest to small business is that more than four in five bloggers post product or brand reviews. One-third of bloggers have been approached to be brand advocates. According to Sifry (2008), there were 70 million weblogs in early 2008 with 120,000 new weblogs started each day. 3000-7000 of the new blogs are likely to be splogs (fake or spam blogs).

What does blogging mean to small business?

Zahorsky defines a business blog as “a corporate tool for communicating with customers or employees to share knowledge and expertise.” A business can use a blog to do a number of things such as provide commentary, product reviews, event or sale information, social networking, and the like. Kyrnin suggests that blogs can be a powerful tool for marketing and promotion. Yet only about 41 percent of small businesses have their own websites, so a much smaller portion would actually have blogs.

According to Socialtext.com, 12.2% of the Fortune 500 companies have blogs that are “active public blogs by company employees about the company and/or its products”. A listing is provided here: http://www.socialtext.net/bizblogs/index.cgi. This site also analyzes 30 blogs from the list and puts them on a “bias” graph according to whether or not the blog provides “casual & colloquial” or “logical & formal” information or commentary. This is interesting information shedding light on the why’s and how’s of corporate blogging.

Blogs, however, are a simple, low-cost easy way to keep consumers informed and keep your site fresh and changing. In a recent post, I talked about the role of article marketing in raising PageRank and keeping content changing. These are important for raising your position in SERPs (search engine results pages). A blog is a similar and related way to do this. Zahorsky suggests using blogs to answer frequently asked questions, promotions, contests, new and forthcoming product information, photos, and news. He suggests keeping blog posts short, keyword heavy, and full of links. (I tend to prefer long posts less often, but there are no set rules on blogging as long as it is useful.)

So what are some economics of blogs?

Briefly, here are some thoughts on this topic.

Opportunity costs: Blogging is a low-cost, low-tech, no entry barrier, and scalable way to promote your company. However, the opportunity costs can be high. Blogging takes time. In the business world, the oft quoted phrase “time is money” couldn’t hold more true. The opportunity costs of blogging include the sales and productivity lost when blogging as opposed to operating one’s business. Technorati finds that one in four bloggers spends ten hours or more blogging each week and more than half spend at least five hours weekly on their blog. For many small business men and women, this time is better spent organizing their business and drumming up sales. Thus, blogging often gets put on the “good idea for later” list of things-to-do. So the question then becomes whether or not the benefits of blogging outweigh these costs. According to Technorati, one in ten professional and corporate bloggers pay staff to contribute to their blogs.

Marginal analysis: We just mentioned the opportunity costs of blogging. These costs increase as more and more time is spent blogging. As with most economic questions, we assume rational behavior. In other words, an activity should be continued as long as the marginal (additional) benefits exceed the marginal (additional costs). The benefits of blogging for small business include improved customer and employee relations from the provision of information and the potential increase in PageRank and SERPs positions with major search engines. There is also the potential for advertising and affiliate sales revenue as well.

Advertising: Blogs can be used to promote your brand or as a direct revenue producer via advertising revenue. According to Technorati, professional and corporate bloggers are more likely to include search ads, display ads, and affiliate marketing. One in four bloggers uses three or more means of advertising. In the same study, Technorati, reports the mean annual investment in a blog is $1020. Bloggers that include advertising tend to invest more, about $1800 on average, and corporate bloggers invest the most with an average of $3,790. The average annual revenue is more than $6,000. This revenue average is deceptive because most advertising revenue is earned by the top 1% of bloggers. The major determinant of advertising revenue is traffic to the site. The high earning bloggers receive more than 100,000 unique visitors per month. If no one reads the blog, then the profits earned from the blog will be quite low. Therefore, it is important to provide good quality content that will keep folks coming back.

Asymmetric Information: Nobel prize winning economist, George Akerlof, received his Nobel in 2001 for formalizing the concept of the “lemons” problem. The lemons problem is a result of asymmetric information. Asymmetric information is a situation in which one party in a transaction has more or superior information compared to another. With regards to blogs, this situation is one of adverse selection - deceptive behavior that takes advantage of information asymmetries before a transaction. Akerlof explained adverse selection using the case of used cars. The seller of the car knows more about the history of the car than the buyer. The seller will happily take the price of a good quality car for a lemon but will not accept the price of a lemon for a good quality car. If the buyer on the other hand believes there is some positive probability that the car might be a lemon, they will not want to pay the price of good used car at all. As a result, fewer good cars are sold on the used car market, and a distrust of the entire market develops. Read more. In other words, when someone reads a blog, they don’t always know about the qualifications of the author. Anyone can fire up a blog at a moment’s notice without any need for experience or knowledge. If a person learns that the information is uncertain after they have read the blog, they may grow to distrust all blogs as a result. The amount of time they invest into reading blogs will be reduced by the suspicion that the information may be frivolous, untrue, or incomplete. As a result of this problem, you will begin to see more ratings systems and listings develop to help sort the good quality information from the vast sea of frivolities. In consideration of this issue, I am honored that you have read this far!

Demand and Supply: Much of the conversation above alludes to this topic of supply and demand. My colleague, Dr. Whitehead, and his co-author, Aaron Schiff, are making one of the first attempts of which I am aware to actually estimate the supply and demand for blogs. Their focus is more on the economics blog writers, who, like myself, tend to write for self promotion, or, as I would prefer to put it, “the dissemination of knowledge in our area of expertise.” The major problem, of course, in this market is the determination of a “price”. The demand for such information would likely yield a low price for many of us. And as they show in their research, the concentration of the market is very low with no real entry barriers. The supply of small business blogs would more likely depend on the costs mentioned above for the provision of information concerning products and services and the demand for such information by consumers, employees, and advertisers.

Moral to the story

Blogs can be a very useful tool for promoting your small business and boosting your online sales. The provision of a blog is inexpensive in dollar terms, but the costs are not negligible when the value of your time is considered. These costs must be compared to the value of sales conversions from improved search engine results, direct promotion, information provision, and advertising revenue. Done properly, blogs could be profitable for selling online.

Bibliography and Additional Readings

Sifry’s Alerts, David Syfry, http://www.sifry.com/alerts/archives/2008_09.html, September 2008

How to Blog Your Way to Small-Business Success, Matthew Bandyk, September 26, 2008, http://www.usnews.com/articles/business/small-business-entrepreneurs/2008/09/26/how-to-blog-your-way-to-small-business-success.html

All Technorati information comes from Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2008, http://www.technorati.com/blogging/state-of-the-blogosphere/

Blogging Is Bringing New Voices to the Online World: Most Bloggers Focus on Personal Experiences, Not Politics, 7/19/06, http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/130/press_release.asp

About.com, What a Blog Can Do For Your Small Business, Darrell Zahorsky, http://sbinformation.about.com/cs/ecommerce/a/bblogs.htm

How to Use a Blog for Non-Diarists: A Blog Can Hellp Your Business Even if You Don’t “Blog”, Jennifer Kyrnin, http://webdesign.about.com/cs/weblogs/a/aa061603a.htm

The Worldwide What? Only 41% of Small Business Owners Have Websites, Warrillow & Company, 2008, http://www.warrillow.com/weeklyNews.aspx

Blogonomics, John Whitehead, http://www.env-econ.net/2008/10/blogonomics.html, October 2008

Leave a comment