By Leigh Andrews

Sam Jennings (@ModdityDodds),a former South African who now blogs from Oceania, commented that his first impression of worthwhile (not the ‘Dear Diary’ type), is that it’s a case of freelancing without pay, or a form of just ‘giving it away’. He adds that blogging is unpaid work that anyone can lift, recraft and sell on as their own. He asks ‘Is the free publicity worth it?’ That said, @Ntuliciano (Mzo Ntuli, who works with web PR and social media at Gullan&ampampampampGullan) feels every marketer should expand their brand into the social space, as these days, consumers are responsible for brand conversation – and where better to meet them than online?

Statistics show that the amount of South Africans who access the internet through work is growing. It’s therefore definitely a good place to market your content, but you need to be cautious about how you do so. Not just anyone should be encouraged to write for and market any topic that meets their fancy, Ntuli cautioned: “What happens to markets like finance? It’s not easy for a journalist to write freely on today’s finance!” While it’s great that everyone is ‘growing into’ social media and social networks, he feels we “can't have all of us running blogs online, as the quality of articles dies.” This is a valid point: we need to make a distinction between the ‘dear diary’ type blogs and the more serious B2B type – that’s not to say a personal blog can’t be professional though.

On the positive front, from a media angle, COUP’s editor, Marie Straub, feel blogging gives room to content that may not find an appropriate voice/space otherwise, and it means we get to know our journalists better, as they share a bit more of their personality in their blogging that they would in a regular article. Respected journalist and author, @Gus Silber, added that blogging allows journalists to be their own editors, publishers and distributors too.

At the recent IMCC Conference, online personalities and bloggers, Mike Sharman (@MikeSharman), owner of award-winning digital communication agency, Retroviral, and Dan Nash (@BangersandNash) of the, voted the second best entertainment blog in the SA Blog Awards for two years running, specified in candid workshop sessions that brands need to not just blog about their own brands, but also leverage off of existing online influencers such as bloggers and Twitter personalities, to enhance their online ‘word of mouth’ dissemination as many people the online space already have a huge following.
My colleague, Nikita Achadinha, was live-tweeting Sharman and Nash’s comments from the workshop session. Sharman stated that bloggers are not journalists, “Bloggers blog because they are passionate about it”. This implies that blogging is not purely the domain of ‘Grammar Nazis’ (I am one) – while most journalism is about accuracy, core aspect of successful blogging lies in having a passion for the topic you are writing about.

Sharman and Nash also said that bloggers are actively looking for good content to write about, so companies should not be afraid to chat to them: “scratch their back and they will scratch yours”. Nash encouraged new brands to find bloggers who already have an audience to speak about the brand to start out, as it can take a while to build up a following in the online space. Sharman added: “There are enough people online in South Africa for everyone to know about your brand, if it is appealing enough”, adding that brands need to establish relationships with their bloggers as “bloggers have egos.”

To turn your online fans into real-life consumers, you need to ensure your communication message is relevant in order to appeal to consumers and get influencers or ‘brand champions’ to talk about you. Nash recommends being a transparent brand; this means you need to do a bit of research to find out what your consumers need (he recommends looking at their Facebook profiles if they are fans of your page to see what they are talking about) and give it to them – Sharman added that “you don’t always have to be a ‘cool’ brand, you can be a functional brand.” Peer-to-peer validation is key here, as we tend to trust the opinion of people we know and we assess as being on the same level as us much more than the opinions of people who are hired to act in TV commercials.

A last word of advice? Don’t be afraid of the online space. Sharman calls the social web ‘a braai on steroids’, as it’s a place where conversation takes place between brands and consumers (as well as between consumers and consumers) at a greater pace than anywhere else, and Nash concludes, “Everything is unknown until it is spoken about.”

Do you blog about your own company? Do you make use of people who are influential on the web? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Please share them on our blog.