The following post is based on studies conducted by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts as well as studies by other leading researchers.
Social media is rapidly changing the way business operates. Many firms have ventured into the world of social media in hope of generating greater revenues and profits as well as increased market share.
However, to our knowledge, little research has been done to look at not only the adoption, but also the replacement of a social media tool, like blogging, with a substitute or newer generation tool.
Is New Better?
Understanding the life cycle of social media tools and the propensity to introduce new tools will be instrumental in selecting and adopting the best approach for a specific company and target audience.
Specifically, blogging was one of the first tools to be adopted by businesses in the late 1990’s, but the use of blogging by the Fortune 500 is declining and newer tools are emerging to take its place.
Due to the labor intensive and time-consuming nature of blogging, it is likely that it will be slowly replaced by the newer generation of microblogs, such as Twitter.
Unfortunately, microblogs cannot offer many of the core benefits of blogging and businesses may be abandoning an important tool too soon.
Popularity of New Tools Peaks
Typically, the belief is that a new generation of a product will eventually replace the older generation. However, often old and new generations may coexist for a long period of time. The adoption of new competitive platforms seems to have dramatic effects over a short duration of time.
However, studies show the popularity of any given form of social media peaks after four years. As blogs are one of the most mature social media tools, we believe the while blogging is now declining, it will not become extinct, but slowly be replaced by a substitute or new generation of tools.
Today, Twitter has become a dominant force as one of the most widely recognized microblogs, allowing users to share information, pictures, and links with a limited amount of text. Despite allowing users to share content, microblogs function in a remarkably different manner.
Typical blogs allow for more text and information, as well as offer better search optimization and branding options. Microblogs offer short and more visual alternatives for sharing information.
Microblogs are not appropriate substitutes for blogs, in our opinion. The number of distinct benefits offered by blogs that are not offered by microblogs makes microblogs unacceptable substitutes.
There is agreement on at least three major advantages of traditional blogging that do not typically result from microblogging tools:
- Thought Leadership. The discussion of topical industry issues, answers to significant product/industry questions or taking positions on more complex topics like sustainability, global threats, health and safety or clean water/food.
- Driving traffic to the website. Blogs cue search engines that a website is active and provide opportunities to show up in organic searches. This not only brings in traffic, but potential leads and sales.
- Serving as a repository of content. The blog can inform other social media and they in turn can point back to the blog. This relationship unifies the message and supports the brand
In addition, there is the issue of ownership. A blog on a corporate website is owned and operated by the company without restriction on length, content or tone. This is not true of the microblogging platforms, which all impose restrictions.
For all these reasons and more, the decline of blogging may have a serious impact without a suitable substitute. Despite the decline in blogging, the Fortune 500 uses blogs to accomplish goals they believe cannot yet be met with newer tools.
Fortune 500 Blogs Will Continue to Decline
The leveling off of blogging began in 2011 and, except for a bit of a surge in 2012 and 2013, Fortune 500 companies have decreased their use of blogs.
The decline in blogging among these leading corporations will be contrasted with an increased in the adoption of a newer “generation” of tools that allow for microblogging or a shorter and faster format.
Rise of Instagram:
Despite the decline in blogging, the Fortune 500 uses to blogs to accomplish goals that cannot yet be met effectively with other tools.
The primary objective these blogs are thought leadership (42%), branding (26%), informational (24%) and Other, including charity/mascot (8%).
For example, Ford Motor Company writes extensively about sustainability, safety and innovation. Whole Foods Company dedicates posts to sustainability, animal welfare and GMOs in food. Others, like Coca-Cola and Starbucks, use their blogs predominantly to promote their brands.
What the Future Holds
What’s lacking is current research to ascertain why certain tools are being adopted. Despite Twitter and Facebook being popular platforms for consumers are they the best platforms for generating sales, increasing brand recognition or communicating with a target audience?
If there is a disconnect between brands trying to reach consumers in a comfortable setting, and yet consumers do not appreciate this outreach, it is possible some tools may do more harm than good.
New tools may come and go in accordance with well-established theories of adoption, but when it comes to blogging, companies should remain vigilant in utilizing a blog for information, and for securing a reputation of expertise and trust.
Despite their decline in adoption, blogs still serve a greater purpose, and companies should think twice before jumping ship for a smaller and less substantive experience for their target audiences.
Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes is Chancellor Professor of Marketing and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The Center conducts several studies every year of social media usage by the Fortune 500, the Inc. 500, Millennials and social media, and social media usage among charities and in higher education.