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Marketing Moves to the Blogosphere

Marriott has made more than $5 million in bookings from people who clicked through to the reservation page from Marriott's blog.

Viget Labs, a Falls Church Web consulting firm, began a blog in 2006. In his field, it's practically obligatory, chief executive Brian Wynne Williams said. "If we didn't blog," he said, "people would start to wonder about us."

The one blog has since expanded to five, each focused on a division of the company.

Wynne Williams said Viget's blogs, which target industry peers, have had a "huge impact on recruiting."

"Anybody that we've hired in the past couple of years, I think any of them would tell you that they read the blog heavily to get a sense of our people," he said.

Designer Samantha Warren said her decision to take a job with Viget was sealed by the blog. "The design was fantastic. It just made me feel like, 'I want to be part of something this good,' " she said.

Smaller businesses are experimenting, too, since a blog can be an economical way of getting attention.

"It's a small business, so we don't have a marketing budget," said Robb Duncan, who began a blog for his Georgetown gelato shop, Dolcezza, about two years ago. "We've never done any ads or promoting because we can't afford it. So I guess it's kind of guerrilla marketing, and it's free."

When his second store opened in Bethesda in July, Duncan used his blog to advertise an opening night ice cream giveaway. He ended up serving over 300 gallons of ice cream to more than 1,000 customers that night.

Though blogs may not always yield immediate results, they can be part of a "halo effect" that ultimately gives a business a bigger online presence, says Debbie Weil, a corporate blogging consultant and author of "The Corporate Blogging Book." "I think that the really important thing about using a blog as a business strategy is that usually you cannot connect the dots directly from blogs to revenue," Weil said.

The strategy part is important because a blog may not work for every business. Before starting one, companies have to "make sure that the blog fits in with the existing culture of the company," said Walter J. Carl, a professor of communications at Northeastern University who has studied corporate blogging. He says a blog is a "really bad idea" for companies that are secretive or tend toward non-disclosure.

As Weil said, "Some brands are just not hip, informal, conversational."

For well-read blogs with active reader feedback boards, there are tough decisions about how to deal with comments that are off-topic, negative or downright offensive. Marriott's comment section is moderated, which means no comments go up until someone approves them.

Matthews says they do not remove a comment simply because it's negative, but they do cut those not germane to Marriott's original post.

Wynne Williams, on the other hand, does not moderate comments on Viget's site, because he said it "stifles the discussion." In fact, Viget's blog for its Web strategy division has a post titled "You're Moderating Your Site to Death."

Calacanis now focuses on a personal e-mail list, not directly affiliated with Mahalo, with about 4,000 subscribers. With the list, he said, "I have a much tighter relationship with people." He said it's more intimate and generates more substantive feedback than his blog did.

"It's basically become a mudpit and it's very loud," he said of the blogosphere. In his final post, he wrote, "Today the blogosphere is so charged, so polarized, and so filled with haters hating that it's simply not worth it.

But "the limitation of the medium is the strength of the medium," he said. "It's open to everybody."

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