What is blogging good for

Ebay_logo Some say blogging is still an answer looking for a question.

Not bloggers, of course.  We know it’s a chance to shoot our mouths off.

But the rest of the world wonders.  What is blogging good for?

Today, notice of that eBay may have found a way to make us useful.

Ebay wants to build bridges by developing software which it can then put in the hands of bloggers, allowing them to create links between niche communities and relevant products.  … The idea behind [MeCommerce] software is to allow bloggers to recommend music, books, DVDs and T-shirts to readers who can make impulse purchases without leaving the blog.

We will serve as a tributary system for Ebay.  We will find consumers where they live…or at least where they read. We will make heartfelt endorsements.  Purchases will be made.  If this model works, blogging is the new TV, tiny and particular where TV was mighty and mass.

Then the question is whether bloggers will "flock" in a manner that allows producers to recapture big bets.  Will enough of us recommend the same movies, books, TV shows (and perhaps TV sets, cars, and suit makers?) that someone can hope to make their numbers.  Or is this truly a descent into Chris Anderson’s notion of the market as a small tail, in which small producers exist to serve small niches. 

The other question is what the Ebay harness would do to blogging.  I think there is a good chance that it would transform our editorial content quite substantially.  It might well make us less criticial. Why diss something when we can give praise that brings profit?  I think I like the blogosphere better without a harness.

And while we are glimping the larger significance of blogging, consider the interview with Fiona Czerniawska on the present and future of consulting Management Consulting News. 

See if blogging doesn’t seem like an answer to the "thought leadership" issue.  We will have to think of ways, first, to inform bloggers with better data, in the manner of all management consulting, and second, to aggregate and harvest blogging idea generation.  But clearly there is a great engine of ingenuity, creativity, and intellectual activity out there that shouldn’t be very hard to tap.  I am hoping that Steve Postrel might give us the benefit of his opinion. 

MCNews: As consultants try to make their mark among  these various decision makers, what’s working for consultants in terms of marketing, and is that changing  at all?

Czerniawska: I see a great deal of activity around thought leadership. I can’t count the number of firms that seem to be investing heavily in revamping their thought leadership, both in terms of the internal process through which they develop content but also the extent to which they communicate effectively outside.

MCNews: Do you see that as a renewed effort?

Czerniawska: Yes. Quite a few firms canned their thought leadership teams in 2002, but are now rebuilding them. And they’re by no means alone. When I say the words ‘thought leadership’ to virtually any firm, I get lots and lots of people sitting up and paying attention and saying, we’re putting millions of dollars into this. We don’t know what we’re getting, but we need to do something.                   

MCNews: Is it your sense that understanding the return on investment for thought leadership is important or is it something that firms just believe they need to do?

Czerniawska: Oh, I think they recognize that it’s important. Maybe they’ve been down the road with the big expense of advertisements, which help build a firm’s brand but don’t really help clients short-list the firm for projects. It’s an increasingly hard tool to use for differentiation. I think people see thought leadership as the key battleground at the present.

References

Callan, Eoin.  2006.  Ebay considers creating software tools to tap blogging markets.  Financial Times.  July 5, 2006. 

For the Management Consulting News interview with Czerniawska, go here.

6 thoughts on “What is blogging good for

  1. Francesca Birks

    I am growing increasingly concerned at the marketplace’s increasing attempts to harness what is still in a discovery and experimental phase. Oh and I am talking about blogging. Why is it that whenever a popular cultural trend emerges Wallstreet feels the need to rush out of their cramped quarters, capture, and monetize the phenomenon?

    Quite frankly I don’t want to send more customers to eBay. They are doing quite fine on their own. Look at the US overextension on credit. But if eBay wants to send me more readers. Please. Be my guest.It’s free.

  2. steve

    Funny that you mentioned me today because I’ve just checked the blog for the first time in a couple of weeks (travel without good internet access). Synchronicity or something.

    The issue that looms large for me in thinking about blogging and consulting is the problem of appropriation of value, i.e. who gets paid and how. Blogs are, by their nature, open venues where ideas are freely traded, whereas consulting is about disclosing just enough of your ideas to get paid for telling the full story (including in some cases particularizing your ideas for a specific client).

    On the flip side, users tend not to value ideas they don’t pay for. If they read something for free, I don’t think they are as motivated to take it seriously as if they have paid for it. (One could probably explain this with a game-theoretic signalling model where only low-value ideas are given away for free, but I’m not sure that’s the right explanation.) So there are both supply and demand issues for blogging as a consulting medium.

    The interview itself struck me as pretty shallow. I could never tell exactly what Czerniawska was talking about because she never gave examples (even hypothetical or generic ones) to illustrate what she meant. (This also may be due to my insufficient background in day-to-day consulting leading to me not picking up contextual cues.) Also, she seemed to be aggregating across a whole lot of very different sorts of consulting practices.

    The notion of “thought leadership” is a peculiar one to a scholar. We might talk about research or synthesis or interpretation; thought leadership sounds uncomfortably close to generating new buzzwords. Czerniawska’s comment that most of the thought leadership stuff getting published was general and theoretical fits in neatly with my earlier point that consultants get paid only if the client thinks they are needed beyond what is already in the public domain. Thought leadership is a come-on when generated by consultants.

  3. Geoffrey Long

    Grant’s definitely on a synchronicity kick today, Steve. No sooner did I post to my own blog with my first-ever shill for Threadless ( http://www.geoffreylong.com/journal/2006/07/im_such_a_player.php ) than Grant’s post pops up in my RSS reader. Naturally, I feel inclined to comment.

    I don’t really have a problem with what eBay’s trying to do – in fact, a lot of would-be prospectors have come close to this particular goldmine. When you link up the notions of micropayments, product reviews, and personal collection management, you come pretty dang close an extremely rich vein. Amazon’s been providing kickbacks through their recommendation system for years; when I was regularly producing issues of my webzine I dutifully linked each and every book, film and CD we reviewed to the Amazon page, but we never generated enough sales to cover our overhead, much less pay our contributors. I imagine that a very large reason for this failure was exactly what eBay is trying to overcome – resistance to leave the site you’re currently reading.

    This is a problem banner ads have had since the Web’s early days; while they’re great for building exposure to a brand, the idea of tracking their value on click-throughs alone is as ridiculous as saying that any Pizza Hut TV ad that didn’t make a viewer drop what they were doing to order a pizza *while the commercial was still running* was a failure. I like to think that lots of people picked up a copy of the stuff we critiqued, but since very few people bought their copies from Amazon through our links, I have no quantifiable numbers. I’ll never know how many went on to pick up copies at Borders, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy… As a content producer, I didn’t mind that – I wanted our content to be compelling enough to keep people clicking through our site. As the guy paying the hosting bill, I wanted those people to get their butts over to Amazon as quickly (and as often!) as possible. If eBay can figure out a way to “make impulse purchases without leaving the blog”, I’m all ears.

    Personally, I suspect this system will need the following to succeed:

    – a running tally of how much you’re purchasing through this blogger (like a cart)
    – a running tally of how much of your purchase goes to this blogger (like a tip jar)
    – Flickr-esque integration with blogging tool APIs for dead-simple “post this” links

    A lot of businesses are, as I said, getting close to this goldmine – Threadless does a decent job, for instance, but they still need good, solid API integration in order for it to really take off. Both the content producer and the bill-payer sides of me are hoping that eBay hits the motherload. (Wow, Grant, I didn’t realize I had so much to say about this. I’m going to cross-post this over to my own blog if you want to swing by and say hi. Thanks for the spark!)

  4. Peter

    Steve, you wrote:

    “consulting is about disclosing just enough of your ideas to get paid for telling the full story (including in some cases particularizing your ideas for a specific client).”

    This makes it sound like consulting is simply information provision. From my two decades’ experience, the vast majority of managament consulting, including most of what the majors do (McKinsey, Booz Allen, BCG, etc) is not info provision, but provision of a service, ie doing something for the client. If McKinsey develop a business strategy for a client, then they may use some of their own information on the particular industry, but they will also typically collect new information (eg, market research, internal costings, etc) which by its nature has to be both client-specific and problem-specific. In other words, it is usually not readily transferable from one client to another, even when they are in the same industry.

    However, whatever its source, this information is rarely the main part of the consulting firm’s added value. The main value-add is the expertise involved in providing the service — eg, developing a business strategy or a cost reduction plan. In this case, there is no commercial benefit to be gained by the consultant in withholding information from the client, but rather the reverse. The more info the consultant provides to the client, even before the assignment is awarded, the more impressed the client is likely to be with the consultant’s expertise.

    Thought leadership is about providing (a) relevant information and (b) ways of thinking about a problem which together lead potential clients to be impressed with the consultant’s expertise in the area.

  5. steve

    Peter: My point is simply that any framework that can be applied by the client effectively after merely reading an article about it will not likely make much money for the originator. The distinction between “service” and “information” is a pretty thin one.

    When McKinsey goes around gathering firm-specific information about internal costs, relative margins in different segments, etc., they are applying their superior “information” or “skill” to do something which one might think should be the responsiblity of well-paid professional managers. (One might even go a step farther and suggest that the firm’s reporting systems are seriously screwed-up if they need someone (whether consultant or manager) to go on an extended treasure hunt just to pull together basic internal information about costs, margins, etc.) In any case, McKinsey is selling a) the IQ of its people, b) a series of frameworks that all managers should be able to master, c) overall experience and industry knowledge, and d) reputational assets that makes its product more credible to internal and external audiences. It is element b) that I was referring to, because that is the one that “thought leadership” applies to. I agree that the other elements are not vulnerable to disclosure and diffusion, but that’s really not the point.

    Or think about Stern Stewart. They got lots of articles published about EVA and MVA, but were careful to withhold all the details about how they calculate the various capital costs that drive their system.

    So with respect to blogging and consulting, I can see it used as a marketing tool–see how smart I am and how I sound like I know what I’m talking about. But I can’t see public problem-solving on blogs (or framework development at a level of specificity sufficient for application) as viable business models. But maybe I’m missing something something.

  6. EH

    Being linked to the social network through things such as blogging is very important because not only does it provide resources for the company but it also is a form of marketing and can increase their clientele. In today’s society one of the first places people look for businesses or services is on the internet; if a business is linked into the social networking scene, there is a better chance that they will be found.

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