Blogs--web logs, or journals, intended for public consumption--are popping up all over the Internet. Chances are, you have one, or know someone who does.
But some companies are doing more than reading blogs. They're hiring bloggers to promote products. Earlier this year, Dr. Pepper recruited a group of teenage bloggers to build buzz for its new milk drink, Raging Cow. Nokia, meanwhile, is giving bloggers product samples to mention on their sites.
Blogging could be a grass-roots marketing boon for small businesses over the next few years, says John Lawlor, a self-described blogging evangelist in Boca Raton, Florida, and operator of Blogs4business.com, which discusses business blogging issues. "Blogging gives a company the opportunity to be the leader in talking about [its] product," he says.
A blog can also give small businesses quick feedback at little cost. "For businesses that can't afford a lot of marketing, this is a phenomenal opportunity," says Todd Copilevitz, director of Richards Interactive, the Dallas online development strategy group that heads the Raging Cow and Nokia campaigns. But all is not happy in Blogville. Irritated bloggers who see corporations invading their turf are boycotting the Raging Cow effort, one of the first blog-based marketing campaigns. "We've stumbled into a gray area where there are not a lot of answers [but] a lot of opinions," says Copilevitz, adding that everyone's still trying to figure out the ground rules.
The gray area includes contracts companies will want bloggers to sign to cover potential trademark, copyright and defamation issues--something sure to be a challenge for businesses since bloggers don't like to be controlled, says Michael R. Cohen, a partner in the Minneapolis office of intellectual property law firm Merchant & Gould. Can bloggers and business find some common ground? Says Cohen, "It's going to be interesting to see where the freedom of speech the blogging community is entitled to butts up against infringement of [a company's] trademark or copyright." Stay tuned.