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Marketing Moves to the Blogosphere

By Sarah Halzack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 25, 2008

Jason Calacanis, who got into blogging early and big, has quit.

He co-founded a network of blogs called Weblogs in 2003, before the medium cracked the mainstream, and then sold it to AOL in 2005, working there until 2007. Today he is chief executive of Mahalo, a search engine guided by editors rather than algorithms.

After five years of writing on tech industry topics as well as personal ones and building an audience of 10,000 to 20,000 daily visitors, Calacanis said he got tired of all the nasty commenters and opportunistic "link-baiters," people who post just to promote their own blogs.

So he signed off, leaving the blogosphere to others. One group that has been firing up its keyboards is corporate types. Of the approximately 112.5 million blogs on the Web, almost 5,000 are corporate, according to blog indexer Technorati. Calacanis blogged to start conversations and be a part of a virtual community, but corporate bloggers are in it for other reasons: talking directly to customers or giving a personal touch to a big business.

"It's a phenomenal promotion vehicle for a company, or a great crisis tool or a great customer service tool," said Geoff Livingston, a public relations strategist and social media expert.

Bethesda's Honest Tea launched its blog in late 2005 as a way to get close to customers. With a name like Honest Tea, chief executive Seth Goldman said, "we're trying to be as open and disclose as much information as we can." When the company announced that Coca-Cola would acquire a 40 percent interest in the brand, many of Honest Tea's customers who opposed the agreement took their complaints to the blog.

"We gave a very loud voice to the people who said they weren't happy about this decision," Goldman said.

Goldman then took one of the most thoughtful, detailed customer criticisms and responded to each point. Even if readers still didn't agree, "The blog at least helps people see how we think about it," Goldman said.

Kathleen Matthews, who heads global communications at Marriott International, came up with the idea for chief executive Bill Marriott's blog. He saw it as a good way to communicate.

"That's the importance of public relations, of advertising, of everything we do," Marriott said. "And this is just another channel." Marriott also likes how the blog shows that he's "a human just like everybody else." He sometimes breaks from writing about corporate issues to post about the movies he sees on Saturdays with his wife.

Marriott has thousands of employees around the world, who make up about one-fifth of the blog's readership and comment frequently. "It is the virtual substitute for Bill Marriott visiting every hotel," Matthews said.

He's not your typical blogger -- he doesn't use computers. Instead, he dictates entries into a recorder and a staff member transcribes and posts them. The audio is also on the site, which averages about 6,000 visitors per week and has had more than 600,000 total visitors since its inception in January 2007.

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