During a recent panel presentation on blogging, accounting firms considering launching their own blogs kept turning the discussion to the worries holding them back -- an inherent fear factor that encompassed concerns about everything from liability issues, to their work getting lost in the cyberspace shuffle.

Kevin O'Keefe, whose company LexBlog has found a niche building blogs for law firms, tackled the issue head-on as part of the New York Metropolitan Chapter of the Association for Accounting Marketing's May 3 panel on "Blogging for Clients: How It Works and Why You Should Care."

"There's a permanency factor that worries some people," O'Keefe said. "But in answer to the question, 'Should associates use a blog?' I always ask, 'Should associates use the phone?'"

Many of the attendees also fretted that their blog would be lost amidst the growing din of the Internet's Blogosphere -- statistics show that more than 12,000 blogs are being launched daily.

"But I don't hear all those discussions," O'Keefe said, "The Internet is very democratizing. The people with good stuff get linked to. And the other people, you don't see."

O'Keefe paraphrased comments Microsoft head Bill Gates made back in 2004, talking about the inherent obstrusiveness of email and the fact that Web sites require people to come to them. Gates said then that RSS feeds, which automatically pull together headlines from a number of online sources (and most bloggers rely on to sift through volumes of information that might spark an entry on their sites), are the future.

Blogs are incredibly search-friendly when it comes to major engines, like Google and Yahoo!, he said. Blogs offer up substantial information, rather than just the static promotional material on a firm's main Web site; they're currently updated, meaning that their keywords are more likely to come up when someone's doing a term-specific search; and finally, successful blogs will eventually be the beneficiary of incoming links to content -- which O'Keefe summed up as, "The holy grail for search engines."

Attorney Arnie Herz, who has his own blog at www.legalsanity.com, said that the important thing is to always remember who your audience is when blogging. Noting that there's more than one book on baseball out there, he said, "The importance is in the collaboration -- the back and forth of a discussion through comments creates a community and that leads to a real depth of subject matter."

O'Keefe suggested that marketers consider how they buy a book at Amazon.com -- generalizing that people read reviews (in blogging, links from other sites) and that people read the author's blurb. He said that last part, identifying an author, is crucial in establishing credibility, and is something many blogs don't think to contain.

Susan Ward, director of marketing at New Jersey's Carlin & Ward LLC law firm, said that it took some time for attorney William Ward to find his voice and "un-legalese" his posts.

"Being pithy and controversial and talking about things that other people don't want to talk about it a differentiator," she said. "Reading a person's biography and seeing a picture doesn't tell you about a person's voice or their thought process. A blog can help bridge that gap, big time."

At Citrin Cooperman & Co. LLP, a New York accounting firm, marketing director Tracey Segarra said that the two traits to keep in mind when choosing a firm's blogger is their personality and their existing knowledge, passion and interest on the chosen topic. Michael Rhodes, partner in charge of corporate governance at the firm, meet both those criteria when the firm decided to launch a blog at www.corporategovernanceblog.com, featuring his take on the topic. Rhodes' blog contains a link back to Citrin Cooperman's home page, but otherwise, the firm presence on his site is muted and he said that he acts as his own thermometer on what topics he tackles.

"When you have a partner writing a blog, you assume they have a certain level of discretion and the firm's best interest at heart," Segarra said.

The basics of blogging terminology, and another case for the technology as a marketing and public relations tool, is made in a white paper from PR firm Edelman, and the former technology research group Intelliseek (now Nielsen BuzzMetrics). Entitled, "Trust 'Media:' How Real People Are Finally Being Heard," the first in a series of papers was published last spring, and is available at http://nielsenbuzzmetrics.com/whitepapers.asp.

Another great resource on writing for the Web in general is A List Apart, at www.alistapart.com/.

If you decide to go your own route in starting a blog, a great article, "Time to check: Are you using the right blogging tool?," is available at the University of Southern California's Annenberg Online Journalism Review, at http://www.ojr.org/ojr/stories/050714gardner/. While it's relatively easy to get a blog up and running for free using programs like WordPress or TypePad, keep in mind that those tools won't necessary be programmed to maximize their appeal to search engines, and you won't be able to customize the look of the blog to fit graphically with the rest of your firm's Web site.

Though blogging might be new to the world of accounting firms, it's hardly a risqué practice or marketing tool. It's hard to quantify precisely how many companies, executives and employees are actively blogging, Intelliseek estimated in early 2005 that there are probably more than 100 official corporate blogs, with hundreds more in the works. Other tech researchers estimate that nearly half of the largest 1,000 publicly held companies in North America already had a blog, or planned to start one, in 2005.

I'm with O'Keefe, who said that the best blog policy to have in place is, "Don't be stupid" -- though he did add that his company automatically includes a standard legal disclaimer as part of all the sites it creates. The major key to blogging is having something to say, and having someone with the authority and personality to not only say it, but blog about it.

Previously on WebCPA:

Blogging: Is the Time Worth the Return?

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