Archive for “September, 2006”

So you have a blog. Now what?

This is something that’s come up in meetings twice in the last two weeks. Once as an example, once as a question.

Example 1: well-known entrepreneur asks firm to consult on and create a custom blog template for her. Project is completed and… nothing’s happening. No one is visiting. She emails the firm and asks them if they can “make the blog busy”. They kind of chuckle and explain that… uh, she has to write regular posts and comment on other blogs to start driving her traffic – just like everyone else.

Example 2: executive is thinking about using a blog to both communicate with internal stakeholders and as a way to increase recruitment in his aging workforce (so it would be “outward facing”, i.e. not password-protected or private). He wants to know how he can make this work, i.e. get people reading it, before he commits to the project.

What’s the difference here? In my opinion, Example #1 never should have set up a blog. It was the wrong channel for her as well as being waste of time and money. She didn’t understand the committment required and the way blogs actually work.

Example #2, however, asked the right questions – wanting to understand fully how he could make this tool a successful part of his communications plan before he decided whether it was right for him. Here were the answers I gave him (and this is a short list, not including social media optimization tips and tricks). It goes without saying that, of course, the content on your blog must be engaging and entertaining:

1. Comment, comment, comment. If you’re a CEO penning a blog about your company, you can count on traffic from your already-prominent site plus all the media attention you’re sure to garner. If you’re “in the trenches” and want to use a blog to help increase your numbers or otherwise improve your performance, you’re going to need to do a little more work. Just like every other blogger out there, you’re going to have to start commenting to drive traffic. And the comments be intelligent and in context because that’s what prompts people to click through on your profile link and visit your blog to check it out for themselves. 3-5 comments per day in the early days is a good goal to aim for.

2. Reciprocate. This is part 2 of point #1. When people do start coming to your blog, and commenting, reciprocate by returning to their blog and commenting again. Repeat. Bloggers are addicted to comment traffic, and most count it obsessively. It’s the measure of success to most, and if you contribute and your blog is good, you will likely be included in their links lists, further driving traffic back to your blog.

In the end, if you’re looking for a “quick traffic fix” – there isn’t one. Unless you’re a CEO or linked to your corporate site in a prominent way, you’re going to have to goose your traffic in the same way everyone else does. But take comfort: if you build it (i.e. have great content) they will come!

Bad blogger, Bad blogger!

Hi there, yes, I have been remiss this week. I really am committed to posting every day (that’s the way it used to be on my personal blog, anyway – before I started this one!) I feel badly – I have been so busy meeting with many of you this week and talking to you about what social media (particularly blogs) can do for your business that I simply have had no time to construct a post worthy of your attention (because that’s the other part – with a personal blog, one can simply cut and paste the latest meme and leave it at that. With this blog, I want to provide you with valuable analysis and information about the world of social media. And the thinking stuff takes time!)

So, I’m going to give you a listing of some of the most interesting stories about corporate blogging from the last couple of days for you to peruse at your leisure… Enjoy!

Blogging The Hand that Feeds You
When I first started blogging, there were warnings at every turn about not blogging about your work or your boss or your co-workers, and then a million links to bloggers who had been fired for having done so (Dooce being perhaps the most famous). My, how the times have changed! This story from the NY Times

Build Brand With Targetting Blogging
This title sounds promising, no? And yet the article is strangely devoid of any sort of useful information. It actually includes the following paragraph:

“Knowing your audience is vastly important. Use your site stats to figure out if males, females, college students or minors are visiting the site more frequently and target landing pages from the blog by those numbers.”

Um, if I could figure out what gender and age people were based on site metrics? I would be a bazillionaire. This link was in one of my many Google news alerts, and I would love to know how they got there – for they truly suck. (Aw, now I’m just being mean)

Small Firms Ignoring the Benefits of Blogging
This one is slightly more interesting, but also slightly suspect as it is based on a “white paper” released by a hosting provider. Basically, they surveyed 2,000 SMBs, and while 50% said they would use a blog to “drive traffic” to their websites, only 3% had concrete plans to do so. No word on why the discrepancy, which to me is the big important question (lack of knowledge, uncertaintly about ROI or implementation? I’d really like to know!). The research also showed that 26% of blog readers said they wanted blogs to be updated daily, while 30% said they didn’t care what the schedule was, so long as the blog was interesting. While I certainly don’t think a blog needs to be updated every, single day, there must be some sort of regular schedule. Otherwise people do get tired of coming back to find nothing’s changed and they tend to wander away (just watch your numbers drop when you ignore your own blog for a few days to see what I mean).

And, if you’ve read this far – you get a real treat. This little gem from Comscore Networks and it’s called Behaviors of the Blogosphere: Understanding the Scale, Composition and Activities of Weblog Audiences. And it’s a must-read for anyone considering using a blog as part of their marketing/communications plans – especially helpful in building your business case. Here’s a top-level summary:

50 million U.S. Internet users visited blog sites in the first quarter of 2005. That is roughly 30% of all U.S. Internet users and 1 in 6 of the total U.S. population
political blogs were the most popular, followed by “hipster” lifestyle blogs, tech blogs and blogs authored by women
Compared to the average Internet user, blog readers are significantly more likely to live in wealthier households, be younger and connect to the Web on high-speed connections
Blog readers also visit nearly twice as many web pages as the Internet average, and they are much more likely to shop online

You can read the whole thing online – enjoy!

What's a Plog™?!?!?

A “personalized web log” being used as a promotional/engagement tool by Amazon.com:

“…your Plog is a personalized web log [i.e. a blog] that appears on your customer home page. Every person’s Plog is different (hence the name) and just like a blog, your Plog is sorted in reverse chronological order. Each post also gives you the opportunity to provide feedback to the sender as to whether you liked the post or not. This feedback loop means your Plog becomes even more relevant and interesting over time…. Your Plog will appear if you are logged into our web site and is visible only to you.

So of course I immediately checked out my Plog™ to see what was there, and why, it was a post from Debbie Weil, in which she discussed (extremely briefly) this story by AP technology reporter Rachel Konrad on the topic of CEO blogging:

“…She quotes Jonathan Schwartz, the only Fortune 500 CEO to date with a public blog:

“The blog has become for me the single most effective vehicle to communicate to all of our constituencies – developers, media, analysts and shareholders,” Schwartz said in an interview in his Silicon Valley office. “When I go out and have dinner with a key analyst on Wall Street or a key investor from Europe and ask them if they’ve read my blog, they almost universally say yes.”

“Ultimately, a good blog is good writing. Most CEOs are not good writers,” said Debbie Weil, a Washington-based consultant and author of The Corporate Blogging Book.

“The packaging and controlling of the corporate message has always been done for them, so often they don’t realize that writing well is hard work and takes time and thought and practice,” said Weil…”

Now, I’m all for companies using their innovative muscle to leverage new methods of communication, but I’m not sure that this particular use is anything more than more advertising noise, for two reasons:

1) I didn’t choose (subscribe) to Debbie Weil’s Plog™ (it’s actually kind of the reverse of a blog, when you think about it – the content comes to me, rather than my going to the content, and I am assuming, based on Amazon’s literature, that I can expect posts from all sorts of different people to appear in my Plog™. Actually, the more I think about it, the more this model starts to sound like email. Email that’s 100% spam). Ultimately, this model removes the thing that makes blogging so durable and attractive – choice. My ability to filter in and out exactly what I want to read about.

2) There are three posts in my Plog™ from Debbie. One dated September 16th and two more from August. They are also very short and not very deep. In other words, the quality and frequency of the content is insufficient to keep me coming back. And, because Debbie already has several blogs, if I’m really interested, I am going to leave Amazon.com and go to her place instead.

I have to wonder, branding opportunities aside, why Amazon chose to re-invent the wheel?

My new favourite evolving phrase: "the mash up"

Okay, I know it’s not that new, but the term is evolving from something that was used to refer to hybrid web applications into something that now refers to more theoretical combinations, i.e. how we perceive, think about and use communication channels and technology in new ways. In case you’re unfamiliar with the original definition, here it is, courtesy of wikipedia:

“A mashup is a website or Web 2.0 application that uses content from more than one source to create a completely new service.”

Tamera Kremer had an excellent post Friday about… how AOL missed the mash-up boat when a new Weird Al Yankovic video was leaked* to YouTube.

Basically, instead of strategically leveraging all the social networking hype that surrounded the leak, according to Al, AOL cancelled the world premiere of the video, putting it up with little or no fanfare a short time later.

Tamera said, “a good strategy would have been (and still could be) to mash it up. Engage the community. Give them something exclusive. Ask them to create something themselves. Initiate and take it in stride.”

Talk about hitting the nail on the head. The traditional “no longer exclusive = no longer valuable” stance taken by AOL is very out-of-touch indeed. They clearly understand neither the social networking environment nor Weird Al’s fans (and they are a different breed, for sure**). The cycle is now all about the long tail, where properties morph and take on lives of their own, thanks to the constant distribution, the “mash up”, wherein users take control of the content and make it into something new, and the proliferation of forums like blogs and social neworking sites, which have created a conversation space that often bests the major media channels in both reach and speed.

As Tamera said, what AOL needed was a good old mash up – they needed to know about the new channels, get past their fear, THINK about how they could use them, and dive right in. Instead? A giant missed opportunity to engage and a perception that they are living in the land that time forgot. Ouchy.

Anyway, didn’t get a chance to meet Tamera at the AIMS Canada event last week, but I would have liked to! I learned of her after listening to the podcast of the “Geek Dinner” at A Shel of my Former Self, and will be a regular reader of her fine blog, 3i. I suggest you do the same.

*Though I must say the post about this on Weird Al’s MySpace page seems a bit disingenious – and he raises a good point, how the hell did the video get leaked by “accident”? Publicity stunt? Maybe.

**Full disclosure: in 1996, I worked developing promotions for MuchMusic’s marketing department. I came up with a concept for a contest that we ran in support of Al’s Bad Hair Day album. The “cost” of entry was a photograph of you and your bad hair. We broadcast and posted the most ridiculous pix, with hilarious results (no pun intended). In contesting, any time you ask people to actually do more than write their name and address down, you dramatically cut down on your number of entries. We decided to take the chance with this one, knowing how rabid Weird Al’s fans were. In the end, we got hundreds of entries, all including photos, and it both taught us a lesson about committed fan bases and provided quite a bit of good programming – for free. (I’ve been at this engagement game a long, long time…)

Talking to Marketing Magazine

I had the pleasure yesterday of meeting Chris Powell and Rob Gerlsbeck, Media Editor and Associate Editor, respectively, at Marketing Magazine. Of course I always make a point of keeping in touch with new people that I meet (blogs are pretty handy for that sort of thing), so I dropped both gentlemen an email when I got back to the office. Chris responded, asking, “I’m interested to know just what… kind of traction you’re getting from clients re: establishing corporate blogs. I think you mentioned that you’re about a year away from it becoming profitable? I’d love to include an agency perspective in my piece.”

I replied,

“We’re getting a lot of curiosity and interest; I think everyone realizes that this phenomenon is not going anywhere, it’s more an issue of “how” rather than “whether” to deal with it. Of course, as with any shift in the communications model that we’re all so comfortable with, there’s a lot of fear, which comes from not knowing what to expect. That’s a big part of my job right now, speaking to clients and addressing their laundry-list of concerns about blogging. Which, frankly, isn’t hard to do once we get into it.

One of the main issues that comes up (which Shel didn’t really address) is concern about time and resources. In fact, I just got an email from a potential client… in which he listed “time required” as his number one worry (along with IT and legal, of course). The email itself was almost 300 words long, and well-written. So I asked him how long it had taken him to write me, because the same missive could easily have been published as a blog post. That was a real eye-opener for him, and we’ll be meeting next week to discuss the whole notion of blogging in more detail.

Ultimately, when I speak to clients, after working through that laundry list with them and helping them find the answers to their particular institutional issues, I tell them that the discussion is taking place. Customers are already saying bad things about their products, they just can’t hear them. Creating a corporate blog lets firms own the conversation AND the forum… it’s about completely controlling the message, just in a different arena.”

I’m not really willing to put timelines on profitability at this point. We’re in the education phase, and things could move much more quickly than expected… we tend to forget that marketing folks have largely become early adopters as their space has become more crowded; they need to find that edge to stand out. And they should also know that they need to adapt to what’s already happening “out there” – in the blogosphere.

Now, I hope I didn’t just scoop Marketing

Having trouble subscribing to this blog?

You wouldn’t be the only one – there’s something nasty wrong with my RSS feed, so don’t be discouraged! We’re in the process of rolling out the new Social Media Group branding, so this blog is very much still “under construction” – we hope to have both the migration to WordPress and the new theme in place by the end of next week. Until then, you’ll have to sit tight and read this the old fashioned way: by stopping by for a visit!

And “Hello!” to everyone I met at yesterday’s AIMS Canada event – hopefully we’ll catch up again at the next get-together. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about social media – this is a great place for a discussion; I look forward to your comments!

Own the Conversation

Well, I’ve rarely heard a better answer to the #1 fear facing companies considering blogging (which is):

“They might say bad stuff about us!”

Guess what? THEY ALREADY ARE, except you don’t know about it. So you can’t participate, and you certainly cannot control or rebut, because you don’t have the forum, you don’t have the tools, and you don’t have the expertise.

At the AIMS Canada 10th anniversary event Shel Holtz raised some good points, addressed some serious issues and made a great case for the wisdom of blogging. For me, it came down to this…a corporate blog allows you to own the conversation.

Because it’s happening, whether you like it or not.

More Blogging Company

That’s right – more and more are joining the party. Today’s press release touting the launch of Halvorson New Media, LLC was interesting, and exciting. Christine Halvorston is someone who’s been bringing blogs to corporate America for awhile now, and she’s upped the ante by launching one of the first specialist companies (besides ours) that I’ve heard of. (but I think the next six months will see an explosion in those numbers as the VCs start descending…)

The press release stated that Christine’s “Work was featured in … several industry books on corporate blogging” I remember specifically reading mention of the Stoneyfield Farm Blog in Debbie Weil’s “The Corporate Blogging Book”. I noted with interest that the release didn’t specifically mention Debbie Weil or her book. Concerns about giving free PR to the competition?

And another thing, PR Web: if you’re going to charge what I presume is about $5,000 to do a release? You should at least figure out how to include actual links in it, instead of just static text. Especially if it’s, you know, a web release.

Our latest project

Please stop by for a visit at JuliaKollek.ca. She’s a political candidate in the local elections, referred to us by a colleague of mine from my newsroom days. She needed a website, and of course a blog was the perfect answer. Development and design costs were minimal, search engine rankings likely to be high… and of course the benefit of creating a space where voters could have their say is immeaurable, both in its functionality and novelty (which will also likely help garner her a little more local press attention).

Of course, we’re not exactly pioneers in this; lots of politicians are now using blogs as part of their communications strategy – Howard “YYYYYEEEEAAAAAHHHH!!!!” Dean being an early – successful – adopter (if you recall, his team raised millions via internet donations) and pretty much all of the candidates for the Liberal Party leadership here in Canada have done exactly as we have – used a blog engine for all or part of their campaign sites (with two notable exceptions – Bob Rae and Scott Brison). In my opinion, the very best user of new technology to communicate is Michael Ignatieff – he’s even got a podcast!

The municipal elections are about 2 months away (Monday Novermber 13th), I am really looking forward to seeing how Julia’s blog evolves and is used – this isn’t a national event like the Liberal leadership campaign, it’s a small local election, albeit in a very wired place. Julia has committed to updating her blog daily if at all possible, and I have strongly reminded her to mention it in every interview/meeting/printed piece she does.

Now, if I could only find out who did Michael Ignatieff’s site – they did an absolute kick-ass job!

The numbers are there – we just have to grab them

I read with interest a silicon.com story from September 8th titled, “Corporate Blogs Split Cyberspace (Opinion divided on worth of your company’s latest missive…)”

They did a reader poll that showed 37% thought corporate blogs were a bad way of communicating. But here’s the interesting part – 32% disagreed, 17% are undecided and 15% don’t know what a blog is. (I know that adds up to… 101% – I have a feeling the author was rounding up).

My point is this – everyone acknowledges we’re in the early days of this method of communication, which is both good and bad. Bad because hey, you could get behind something that flops*, good because if the notion of a “corporate blog” doesn’t flop – i.e. if it becomes a du rigeur part of every forward-thinking company’s marketing plan, if you get in early enough, you both get to help write the rules and get a reputation for being innovative.

I found the poll and story of interest because I think it shows we’re at the tipping point (as in “mark this date!”). If 68% thoughts blogs were ineffective, or didn’t like them, then it would be fair to say that the writing is on the wall. Rather, we have about 2/3 with their minds made up, pro and con, with another 1/3 undecided. That’s a pretty big opportunity, and I think the next six months or so will be very instructive.

*Still trying to decide? Think about what’s happened in the personal blogosphere. Think of the exponential, almost scary, growth of blogs. Blogs are intoxicating, irresistable – they’re not going anywhere, so you might as well join ‘em; you’re sure not gonna beat ‘em.