Free tools seem to be the way of the Web these days. Most of us use them daily, however how appropriate is it for businesses of all sizes to use these tools? Google for Office, Blogger or Typepad for Blogging, 37signals suite of productivity products, do they make sense in all business scenarios?
With these freely available tools comes the idea that maybe businesses could utilize these free services to keep their costs down. The most well known of these would be the Google’s Docs & Spreadsheets service to replace the costly licenses that Microsoft provides. This particular example is more then likely not a problem for the majority of businesses. The product is used internally and doesn’t show to the public. There will obviously be the need for some people in most organizations to maintain their copies of Office, or Open Office, however this would be a valid option for the most part.
Sticking to the Google suite of products what about Google’s Blogger software as a blogging platform for your business? Although business blogging I think is a greatly valuable tool, using a a free tool that is hosted for you and maintains the Blogger branding throughout the pages as well as the blogs URL isn’t the appropriate way to go. Although very unobtrusive the co-branding of Blogger onto your business blog gives the impression of cheap, and maybe even being unreliable for a news and information source. Using the top-down, left to right theory of the readers they are going to find Bloggers brand before your own.
There is a large variety of blogging tools that are freely available that you can skin to your own liking. WordPress, Presstopia, Nucleus and many others. Most of these applications can be installed with very little effort onto your own hosting service and most of them have built in skinning tools to allow you to maintain your brands look and feel on your blog. Your domain name will also stay the same as a result of hosting the site yourself contributing to the credibility of the information your provide via the medium.
Overall if you cannot brand the product as your own and it is public facing where your clients or customers are interacting with it you are losing credibility, and therefore opening yourself up to questions about the integrity and reliability of the message you are putting out there. Your brand is who you are, what you represent and how you do your business and should not be compromised by using a free service out of convenience.