Entering the Corposphere

SAN FRANCISCO — Businesses are learning they can’t ignore bloggers. A positive mention in a well-read blog can spike sales and cred, while bloggers can be meaner than a middle-school clique if they disapprove of a company or product — or its blog.

At the Blog Business Summit, held in San Francisco on Thursday and Friday, corporate communications pros and public relations account execs gathered to grok the rules of engagement with the blogosphere.

Blogger relations can be more critical than public relations, according to Robert Scoble, Microsoft’s chief blogger. That’s because bloggers tend to be influencers within their communities.

“You’re not after me; you’re after the bigger audience, the 98 percent,” he said. “But to get to them, you have to get the connectors to link to you. If you treat the 2 percent of geeks using RSS badly, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.”

Scoble, who is considered one of the most influential bloggers on technology, said he’s quick to unsubscribe from feeds that don’t meet his delivery criteria, for example. But business blogging consultants cautioned that companies should put their business needs ahead of blogger fashion.

For example, said DL Byron, principal of Textura Design, hardcore bloggers believe that comments are an essential element of blogging. But he turns off comments on his own blog and advises clients to do likewise, to avoid having yucky stuff like porn spam showing up under the brand.

Critics also should be embraced, according to Buzz Bruggeman, CEO of ActiveWords, maker of a productivity software utility. “When you’re a little company you can’t afford bad press. You have to find a way to use the blogosphere to turn lemons into lemonade,” he said. He said linking to critics can be powerful, because it brings them into conversation — and often changes their minds.

“I ask them, ‘How can we make it better?'” he said.

Scoble said that when bad news about Microsoft comes out, he links to it immediately, then meets with company execs to figure out what to do. “By at least admitting I saw the bad news, it takes away the power of the bloggers to say, ‘We found something the company doesn’t want to talk about.'” The tactic can change the interaction from a yelling match to a conversation, he said.

Janet Johnson, vice president of communications for Marqui, which makes corporate blogging software, paid 20 bloggers to blog about the software. (They could say whatever they wanted.)

“It started a big firestorm of controversy,” she said. Corporate bloggers need to develop thick skins, she advised. “I’ll never forget being called ‘pond scum,'” she said.

Marqui now does its own blogging. Johnson said, “Participating in the conversation is much more fulfilling than having others do it for you, I think.”

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