Eric Rice is the founder of Audioblog, a publishing service that enables you to put audio and video on your blog. I spoke to Eric over a Skype connection that was so clear I could hear the birds singing in his garden.
JH What exactly is your role at Audioblog?
ER I am the founder and chief evangelist so I do lots of the marketing, the word of mouth, evangelizing the product and also the concept of audioblogging. I have a lot to do with the product management. We're a small company, about 4 people. I look at the product, look at what's happening in the industry and decide what we need to work into the product.
JH How satisfied are you with the blog as a marketing tool?
ER I don't necessarily look at the blog as a marketing tool. Maybe it's because I've used blogs for so long. I've probably done it since 2000 and prior to that I would still do blog-like things on the website. I know that it's there. If it's important enough news, if the blogosphere thinks it's worthy, then they'll link to it. I really don't have to engage in any word of mouth activities. I think the blog is a very useful marketing tool because people can take part in it and ask questions and that conversation surrounds a marketing effort. The other thing is that when people start publishing audioblogs or make podcasts by phone, the little player's got the URL on it. People see it and they follow it up. I like the viral nature of how the blogosphere works. I can actually save dollars that I would probably spend on big marketing campaigns for other offline marketing activities.
JH How much time do you spend blogging?
ER Well, I have multiple blogs. I think for me it just slipped into the daily routine like checking e-mail or voice mail. It's just part of the flow, it doesn't strike me as anything that's out of the ordinary. What I love about having audioblogging available to people is you can actually get out of the house and post your thoughts of the moment and it takes very little effort. People do this when they're moving and they're packed up and they don't have their computer. They just pick up the phone and call it in.
JH What would you say are the marketing possibilities of audioblogging or podcasting in the small business context?
ER I think it really depends on the content that somebody might talk about. There's a customer that we have who does something very innovative. The gentleman is a retired advertising executive who lives in the southern United States and gives fishing tours. His website traditionally has been "Well, here's where we're located, here's how much it costs, and here's some pictures." Very basic stuff. Then he put up a blog to talk about fishing things. Then he got set up with an audioblog. So what he does is that he calls in reports from the river and when people come down and book fishing trips with him, he interviews them and he says "I'm out here with so and so from this city and we had a great day and he caught a big fish." It actually makes for an interesting piece of content because it's almost like listening to a little fishing show. And his customer can now come back to the website when he goes home and send a link to everybody going, "Look at this, this is cool." So I think it can be used as a viral tool but then I also think that it can be used as an information tool. Things like the Hobson and Holtz reports - that's just pure business and gets right to the point. I think that having an audioblog or having a podcast is almost like having a blog. It's a different form of getting information out there and talking to an audience. Motivational speakers could really benefit from this. Their product is their voice. So give me ten minutes of motivation every morning. So on a case by case basis I think it's going to be really useful. I think big companies can also take advantage of this. Sue Sharman, who writes for Strange Attractor over on Corante, had a post some time ago that said street teams do not maximise the technology that's available. Street teams being when you have a local radio station and you go out to do an event on location. What do they do? They park a van, they hand out T-shirts and that's about it and the conversation stops there. I would be podcasting that. I would be reporting that live to the web so that when everybody goes back home it ties it together. It becomes part of the customer experience. So that could be a good opportunity for big business like a radio enterprise.
JH Do you see any weaknesses or threats with regard to blogging as a marketing tool?
ER The medium's not for everybody. I do regular good old-fashioned blogging, I do audioblogging and podcasting and I do videoblogging. And those are three distinct forms of media. None of these media are better than the other, they're just different. So if your content doesn't lend itself to a certain medium, then it's probably not the best thing. It's like a travel agency - I think a travel agency would be better off doing videoblogging than they would doing audioblogging. I mean, show me the beautiful vistas of France. You could tell me about it, and you could write about it but show me how beautiful it is. I think that that would be the weakness - not picking the best medium for your uses. I think the threats are for people who don't get involved in lots of different types of media publishing. I'll give you an example. There's a magazine called Fast Company. I would love to have Fast Company as a podcast but they're not doing it and all these other people that are providing similar content are doing it. I'm going to be paying less and less attention to Fast Company as a source of information even though they might have great people. So I think the threat's more for the people who don't do it, just because those who show up get the benefit. You see that all the time. Robert Scoble had a post in which he chewed out a marketing person going "If you don't have RSS, then you should be fired." OK, that was maybe a little extreme but I'm very busy. I don't have the space to remember to go to some place, I need it to come to me. If you're not part of the RSS party, I can't follow your content. So you kind of miss out on information if you don't jump on the appropriate technology.
JH How do you see the blogosphere developing in the next few years?
ER Well the blogosphere is a very, very big place and I'm starting to segment the types of blogospheres. I think that inadvertently when we talk about the blogosphere we're talking about the blogger blogosphere, you know, the people who talk about blogging. There are communities and massive ecosystems that exist and that do quite well that have nothing to do with blogging. They don't even care about blogging - they just do it and they talk about their content. I think it's going to be huge for all these niche and cottage industries and communities. eBay is a massive business. Imagine if there's a blogosphere attached to that. So it's going to benefit a lot of smaller communities or, in eBay's case, bigger ones. I think that the mainstream media will eventually adopt parts of it. You're seeing that with blogging, you're starting to see that with podcasting right now and I don't consider that to be a threat because I listen to both the independent voice and the corporate voice and I just balance my consumption of it. I'd love to get some stuff from mainstream radio on my iPod in addition to stuff that's made by everyday people.
JH The take-up among small businesses seems to be quite small.
ER It's early. Because I live in the Silicon Valley, San Francisco Bay area, it's a lot more tech-oriented out here and if any place has got the connection first it's us. But I am always running into everyday folks, people that are very technical in some aspects, and they still go "Yeah, what's a blog? I've been hearing about that a lot lately." In just a few weeks I'm giving a talk about what's a blog and the room is going to be packed. We have this expectation that it's supposed to happen tomorrow. It's not going to happen tomorrow, it's going to happen in two years, it's going to happen in five years.