CHAPTER 3 – THE POWER OF BLOGS FOR BUSINESS
Now that you are familiar with how blogs have added a new dimension to corporate communications and how engaging in the conversation is absolutely essential for your business’s success in the blogosphere, you are ready to begin looking at the powerful possibilities blogging offers your business. You’ve likely been asking yourself such questions as “How can blogging benefit my company?” and “What would my successful blog look like?” since you started reading this book.
This chapter covers the practicalities of business blogging and what it means for you, including how it can impact your bottom line and how it will bring in customers and affect mindshare. It also examines several companies from a variety of industries that are succeeding at blogging; these early bloggers have paved the way for later blogging luminaries-like you.
HOW BLOGS CAN HELP YOUR BUSINESS
Let’s get back to business basics-not because I think you don’t know your own business, but because I honestly believe that blogging can help each core fragment of what makes up a successful and viable company. The core needs for any business are as follows: o Decent ideas o A great product o Visibility o A well-trained team of people who work hard to make the company succeed
You also need good marketing, great customer relations, an awesome sales force, decent customer support, and a host of other factors. But if you have ideas, a product worth selling, a solid team behind it, and potential customers, the rest will follow naturally.
CREATING GREAT IDEAS
Every company has a lot of great ideas waiting to come to the surface. The problem with bringing those ideas to the surface is threefold: giving ideas space to develop, helping ideas get improved, and implementing the best ideas.
Often it takes only one person to come up with a great idea, but it may take 100 or more people to support and implement that idea. If the idea loses support, the company will need another great idea to keep going.
Great ideas can increase a business’s costs and people power, but they can also increase a business’s revenue and marketing power. This is why large companies who live or die by their great ideas employ researchers who spend their time seeking epiphanies.
The challenge for companies who invest in ideas is often that the best ideas don’t get to the top, don’t get reviewed, or don’t even get considered. This idea barrier could be killing your company. A truly open and internally viewable idea blog, or even individual employee blogs that allow people to float new ideas for peer review, should allow the best ideas to rise to the surface for selection and review. We’ll look at the concept of idea blogs more in Chapter 6, as they are an exciting way to empower your employees and generate thought.
CREATING GREAT PRODUCTS
The next challenge is deciding which great ideas get turned into products. After all, what good is thinking up the greatest idea in the world if your business can’t actually sell it?
Smart companies hire people who are able to turn a great idea into a great product. These people, often called product specialists or product managers, know customers, know the market, and know how to deliver new products on time and on budget.
However, to do their jobs well, product specialists need to talk directly to customers. This is where focus groups, customer demo days, and other customer-listening techniques come into play. Some companies even employ staff evangelists to work one-on-one with individual customers to maintain a good relationship.
We all know cases in which even the most well-intentioned products underperformed. Relying on a small sample of customers to reflect what the entire world desires is risky at best, and foolhardy at worst. If you can’t ask everyone in the world what they want, you’re unlikely to be able to deliver what everyone truly desires. With blogging, you can ask-if not the entire world, then at least your entire blog readership, who are probably connected to and/or reading other blogs all over the Net. Once you have insight into what a large community of readers wants, you can begin delivering it.
Marketing is all about visibility-making the right people aware of the right product at the right time. Allen Weiss, founder of MarketingProfs.com, says that marketing is about customers, and he’s right. The hard reality, though, is that often marketing isn’t about individual customers. Often, it’s about creating a global message to which individual customers will respond.
New methods of effective marketing include creating “viral” campaigns, customer-centric events, and otherwise helping customers spread the word through incentive programs and contests. Visibility is also sought through media reports, event sponsorship, and interactive Web sites.
However, these visibility campaigns lack effectiveness on the one-to-one level. Companies assume that millions of people will be contacted, but only a small percentage of these people will respond. This method of marketing has its upside, but it doesn’t do anything to create relationships with customers, create positive experiences, or create customer evangelists.
HAVING A GREAT TEAM
One of the best ways to build a great business is to create a great team. Great teams will think up great ideas, build visibility, and spot defects in products, which they will then correct. A great team can fix just about any problem, given the right resources, and is happy to take on just about any challenge.
Unfortunately, great teams can be difficult to create and keep motivated. Anyone who’s built successful teams knows that more often than not some particular “X Factor” will make or break the team: often the ability to find common ground and common interests can be a make-or-break issue.
A team comprising colleagues with common interests, backgrounds, or passions will be able to rely on those commonalities, even in the most adverse circumstances. The challenge is to find employees who fit together; few employee profiles include information that will help you find the common ground.
To solve this dilemma, many large corporations are turning to self-forming and self-sustaining teams. These people have found that they have things in common and they work well together. Companies post internal team opportunities that “ultra teams” can choose to tackle or ignore. Sometimes projects will be assigned based on need, but, generally, having a team own a topic is a more effective tactic.
The challenge for companies looking to enable these dynamic teams is in figuring out how to enable employees to connect based on passion. Passion is an important part of any successful team-without passion, a team will not only find itself quickly in a rut, but it will likely find its members unable to gel, have fun, or help the company in a meaningful way. You’ll learn how to create dynamic internal teams in Chapter 6.
CHAPTER 2 – GETTING INTO THE BLOGGING MINDSET
For decades, businesses tried to determine what their customers’ wanted using focus groups that offered feedback about how well customers liked certain products. As the business world got more complex and markets became more competitive, the kind of information that could be gleaned from focus groups became inadequate for most businesses. They didn’t provide enough information, nor was the information valuable after a product was already release.
Realizing the limitations of focus groups and similar marketing practices, companies decided that they needed to know more about who were their customers, how they interacted with the company, and how the company could reach out to customers in a meaningful way. This idea of getting a “360-degree view” of customers was a nice concept, but it was never really achievable within the limited spectrum of marketing and communication tools that were available.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software was designed to try to pull together information from various systems to provide an idea of not only whether a customer had interacted with your business, but what kind of interaction occurred, who was involved in the interaction, and what it meant to the company. Unfortunately, most companies could get only limited answers to these questions: whether a customer had bought a company product or ever called in with a question or comment, and whether his or her current contact information was valid.
CRM software didn’t contextualize any of the information it collected. It simply created a repository of information. It didn’t create any data on what the customer actually thought, nor did it allow a way for customers to provide direct feedback. To supplement this CRM data, businesses began to hire customer relationship specialists and product evangelists-individuals whose sole job was to make customers aware of the company products on a one-to-one basis-to interact with customers directly.
For most businesses, this created some sense of value, but the practice simply couldn’t be applied to a large number of customers. Because each individual customer relationship staffer had only so much time, the staffer typically spent most of his or her time nurturing the relationships that had the greatest return-the big spenders-and the majority of other customers were left out in the cold.
KNOW HOW TO TREAT YOUR CUSTOMERS
Every successful company uses some type of measuring stick when comparing itself to other similar companies. But businesses looking to succeed in the current interactive, customer- and conversation-driven marketplace must consider factors other than the financials. Companies need to value the knowledge made available to them through employee and customer input. One way to do this is by never confusing customers with the popular marketing term: consumer.
A customer should never be called a consumer. A consumer is someone you use for profit; a customer is an asset. Customers are your best product managers, your best evangelists, and perhaps the only people in the world who will tell you the truth about your company. Listen to them. The easiest way to help customers become more involved in a positive, passionate, way about your business is to talk to them and treat them as equal partners.
JetBlue CEO David Neeleman realized early on that without talking to his customers he would never be able to build a customer-centric airline. As a result of his unique approach to customer interaction, Neeleman has been featured in a variety of business magazines. When he flies, he flies just like everybody else, in coach. He even drives himself to the airport. Once there, he waits in line-just like you and me. He is, for all intents and purposes, just another customer-at least until the plane gets into the air.
Then he walks up and down the aisles, talking to customers, hearing what they have to say.
At the end of the day, every company lives and dies by how well it serves, supports, and interacts with its customers. Every customer experience is put on the global scale of “success” or “failure.” Neeleman is doing everything he can, not only to reduce the number of negative experiences with JetBlue, but to create a positive environment where he leads by example-showing that employees need to care about customers.
CUSTOMERS ARE ASSETS
Too often, businesses look at their customers as they would rows in a spreadsheet. Businesses spend time figuring out how to get more money out of them, analyzing how often they come back and how much they spend on each trip, and figuring out how much a customer will spend on a particular item. But customers can and should be much more than just an income stream.
Customers’ experiences can range from completely unhappy to glowingly positive. Both types of customer can greatly influence your company’s reputation. Generally speaking, customers fall into one of five categories:
o Saboteurs These customers have had so many negative experiences (or perhaps only a handful of incredibly negative experiences) that they will go to whatever ends necessary to do whatever harm they can to your business.
o Occasional sufferers These customers don’t enjoy your product or service, but they buy from you when they have to, and only because they have to. Some people who eat at fast food restaurants fall under this banner-although they will never evangelize or even talk positively about what they’re buying, they’ll buy it when absolutely necessary.
o Reluctant consumers These customers have had negative experiences with your company-often many negative experiences-to the point at which they simply expect a negative experience or a poor product every time. Occasionally, they’ll be pleasantly surprised and will leave contented, but generally they simply accept that they have to buy from you and they move on. In many ways, these customers are living a balance of positive, negative, and blasé experiences.
o Regular customers These customers enjoy your product or service. They may admit it’s not the best in the world, but they buy it because it has value, it is the cheapest, or they haven’t found anything better. They’ve had enough positive experiences that the negative ones seem paltry in comparison.
o Evangelists These types of folks have had so many positive experiences with your company and/or product that whenever a subject even mildly related to your company, products, or services comes up in conversation, they just have to tell everyone about it. Many different companies enjoy this type of customer-for example, Apple Computer evangelists can be so passionate that they’ll say Apple is a religion. These customer evangelists are the types of passionate people that will transform your business, and the currency they deal in is positive experiences.
Each of these personalities is created over time through a pattern of individual experiences with your company. Successful companies strive to create positive experiences for customers through positive environments, well-trained staff, great value, and quality products; whatever your customers are looking for, that you are able to provide, is a potential positive experience.
Do you provide a storefront? Investing in a positive shopping space is vital. Do you provide food or hospitality services? Smiling, courteous, and energetic staff are a must. Do you provide analysis or consulting services? Knowledgeable consultants, value-added services, excellent communication, and constant follow-up will create positive experiences for your customers.
Most customers don’t look for reasons to be unhappy; in fact, most are looking for positive experiences, and often it takes only one of those in a given industry to transform the way customers look at every single service provider in that industry. The influence wielded by businesses who create positive experiences is disproportionate to their size: Apple Computers isn’t the largest or most popular computer manufacturer (not by a long shot), yet it is one of the most-watched tech companies on the planet. BMW and Mercedes don’t sell the most cars in America, but the consumer desire to own one is palatable. Starbucks may make great coffee, but people aren’t necessarily buying just the coffee-they’re buying an overall positive experience.
But creating positive experiences isn’t really about being a luxury supplier like Apple, BMW, and Starbucks are in their industries. You can create positive experiences no matter what business you’re in by having friendly and knowledgeable staff members, offering exclusive discounts, and generally building your business by contributing to their experiences.
Positive experiences create emotional responses, and nothing is worse than a customer who feels no emotion toward your business: no emotion means no loyalty, so customers really have no reason to stay.
Opera’s Blogging Policy
A key part of any business’s blogging strategy needs to be answering the “what happens when employees start to blog?” question.
Opera, a small web browser company, has decided that the best way to control what their employees blog about is to simply trust them to do the right thing and be smart. Their blogging policy is open and fair, with key points such as:
1. Share your thoughts
2. Be active
3. We’re not your mama
4. Don’t give away the farm
5. Check your sources
6. Our friends are your friends
This refreshing blogging policy is great at laying down the lines (don’t share secrets) but also empowers employees to be individuals, to take risks and to represent the company.
Too many companies these days are doing the exact opposite: mistrusting employees, firing them when they mis-step in any way and even forbidding them from blogging.
Smart businesses that actually want to value their employees can learn from companies like Opera.
Blog Marketing Reviewed by Bloomberg
Bloomberg.com issues an generally positive review of Blog Marketing.
Blog Marketing is apparently good at laying out the nuts and bolts of what blogs are, why to blog and what strategies to use. It also moralizes a bit much, has too many typos and doesn’t mention enough products specifically.
Thanks to Joan Oleck for the honest review. It’s always hard to see a year of your life pulled open for the world to see, and the issues sounded honestly, but I can honestly say I’m glad she did. Obviusly I’ll be working harder on subsequent books to deal with these issues in my writing style.
Here’s a quick excerpt of the review:
Blogs also have spawned many tools that make blogging more efficient, Wright tells us. Software in the Really Simple Syndication format sends to e-mail inboxes “feeds” that alert bloggers when other bloggers have mentioned them.
Technorati provides a blog search engine. Typepad or Movable Pad software make starting a blog feasible for everyone from your nerdy cousin to General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, whose Fastlane blog went live last January.
Because the average executive might not penetrate the “blogosphere” as easily as Lutz, Wright’s biggest strength is assembling in one place the nuts and bolts of what blogging can do for businesses and what decisions owners need to make about software (blogware) and linking.
You must have blogrolls, or lists of links, because you aren’t really a cool blogger, Wright tells us, unless you link to other blogs in your subject area. NewsGator, a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook, makes new feeds arrive the way e-mail does. PubSub offers a tracking system for feeds.
Wright makes all of these programs fairly clear, though the book would have benefited from some hints about which software packages are essential.
I received an email from Paul Chaney this morning:
On November 1st, just at the beginning of the holiday sales season (a time crucial to jewelers) her store caught fire and was literally gutted. You can only imagine how devastated she and her husband Stephen must have felt. A store she has owned for years, her livelyhood, now burned to the ground.
But, Patti and Stephen are courageous people. They have made the best of a bad situation and are reopened in a temporary location – a room in an adjacent building owned by a tire shop. In fact, before Patti moved it was a storage room for tires! The tire shop owner graciously moved the tires to another location and made it available for Patti and Steve. They have worked long and hard over the past few weeks to make it presentable and are now open.
Here’s the kicker – Patti is blogging the entire story! In fact, the very day following the fire she talked about it on her blog and is keeping her readers up-to-date chronicling the rebuilding process via her blog, DiamondDivaOnline. To me, this represents not only one key way blogs can be used effectively as a communications medium, but also represents the highest ideals to which we bloggers aspire, that of transparency, honesty and authenticity.
This is a great example of an established blog not only talking directly to its readers, but also of chronicling an important moment in their business. Some of the posts are heart warming and others are more like heart-rending.
Either way, this is a little company full of hope, energy and life. Keep it up guys!
John Mudd Says…
Author’s Note: This is the first real review of Blog Marketing that I’ve seen from someone who wasn’t involved with the project. Thanks John! Wrapping It Up
Wright says that marketers can use blogs to enhance search engine marketing, provide direct communications to customers and potential customers, build brands, differentiate yourself from your competitors, build relationships with customers and potential customers, market yourself to various niches, create successful media and public relations campaigns and to position you as the expert. I already do all of these things with my blog, and I have been doing it successfully for years.
Project managers and administrators can use blogs for a multitude of communication methods, including internal marketing, as well as for project management. I have yet to use a blog for these purposes, but I do hope to use one for project management in the not too far-off future.
[…] How Was the Book?
Overall it was a great book with insightful information, although somewhat of a long read, however, if you are new to blog marketing, you should definitely add it to your reading list. If you already use blogs in your marketing or project management campaigns, you may find some useful tips, but you may also find them around the blogosphere, as well, although not all of Wright’s tips can be found in the blogosphere. Either way, Blog Marketing is a fantastic book, and definitely worthy of your readership and a place on your shelf. Buy it for that special someone in your life, or just for yourself.
About John Mudd
John Mudd is the author of Blogging For Profit: Turning your point of view into a marketing tool, published in REALTOR Magazine and Broker Agent News. He writes for and publishes the Tampa Bay’s Inside Real Estate Journal blog and the Tampa Bay’s Luxury Real Estate Journal blog.
Seth Godin is a talented man. If nothing else, he is able to take important ideas and boil them down to their most important components – and then he is able to communicate his message in an incredibly clear and easy-to-read manner.
One of his recent offerings is an eBook which answers the question “Why Blog?”.
It’s a nice little primer for those who want to hand something simple to people who don’t necessarily understand the fundamentals of blogging.
Thomas Nelson Blogging Policy
Thomas Nelson is one of the larger publishers in the world, so it was refreshing when they became one of the first companies to publicly post their blogging policy. In fact, the feedback they received on their first policy was so great that they updated it to the following one:
Thomas Nelson Blogging Guidelines
At Thomas Nelson, we want to encourage you to blog about our company, our products, and your work. Our goal is
To raise the visibility of our company,
To make a contribution to our industry, and
To give the public a look at what goes on within a real live publishing company.
Therefore, we have established a “blog aggregator page” that is linked to the ThomasNelson.com Web site. “House Work,” the name of this page, contains links to employee blogs, along with the first few sentences from the most recent entry. The page is automatically updated whenever a blogger creates a new post. This way readers can quickly scan new entries, click on those that interest them, and then read the entry on the blogger’s site. This makes it convenient for people who are interested in reading employee blogs. It also helps publicize individual blogs and generates traffic for everyone.
In order to give some direction to employees who wish to blog, we have established a “Blog Oversight Committee” or “BOC.” This is a group of fellow-employee bloggers who are committed to promoting blogging within our company and making sure that the Company’s interests are served.
If you would like to have us link to your blog, you must submit it to the BOC. Before doing so, you should design your blog and write at least one entry. Once you have done this, send an e-mail to Gave Wicks with a link to your blog. The BOC will then review your blog and notify you whether or not it meets the criteria.
In order to participate in this program, you must abide by the following guidelines. (Please keep in mind that review by the BOC and participation in this program does not absolve you of responsibility for everything you post.)
1. Start with a blogging service. We do not host employee blogs. We think it adds more credibility if the Company does not officially sponsor them. Therefore, please use one of the many third-party blog hosting sites on the Internet. Some of these are free, such as Blogger.com, LiveJournal.com, Blog-City.com, Xanga.com, and MSN Spaces. Others charge a nominal fee. Examples include TypePad.com, SquareSpace.com, BlogIdentity.com, and Bubbler.com. If you use one of the latter, any expense is your responsibility.
2. Write as yourself. In other words, please use your real name. We don’t want people writing anonymously or under a pseudonym. Your name should be prominently displayed on your blog’s title or subtitle. This will add credibility with your readers and promote accountability within our company.
3. Own your content. Employee blog sites are not Company communications. Therefore, your blog entries legally belong to you. They represent your thoughts and opinions. We think it is important that you remind your readers of this fact by including the following disclaimer on your site: “The posts on this blog are provided ‘as is’ with no warranties and confer no rights. The opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.” You assume full responsibility and liability for all actions arising from your posts. We also encourage you to put a copyright notice on your site in your name (e.g., “© 2005, John Smith”).
4. Write relevant. Write often. Whether you know it or not, you are an expert. You have a unique perspective on our company based on your talents, skills, and current responsibilities. People what to hear about that perspective. Also, in order to develop a consistent readership, you should try to write on a regular basis. For some, this will be daily; for others, it may be weekly. The important thing is consistent posting. New content is what keeps readers coming back. You may also write on company time, provided it doesn’t become excessive and doesn’t interfere with your job assignments and responsibilities.
5. Advertise-if you wish. While there is no requirement to run ads on your blog, you are free to do this if you wish. Some of the free blog services run ads as a way to offset their costs. If you use such a service, you won’t have a choice. On the other hand, if you pay for your service, you can avoid advertising altogether or participate in a service like Google’s AdSense or Amazon’s Associate Program. These types of programs will pay you based on “page views,” “click-throughs,” or purchases made on participating Web sites. You might want to ask the BOC or fellow bloggers for suggestions. The only thing we ask is that, to the extent you have control, you run ads or recommend products that are congruent with our core values as a Company.
6. Be nice. Avoid attacking other individuals or companies. This includes fellow employees, authors, customers, vendors, competitors, or shareholders. You are welcome to disagree with the Company’s leaders, provided your tone is respectful. If in doubt, we suggest that you “sleep on it” and then submit your entry to the BOC before posting it on your blog.
7. Keep secrets. Do not disclose sensitive, proprietary, confidential, or financial informa-tion about the Company, other than what is publicly available in our SEC filings and corporate press releases. This includes revenues, profits, forecasts, and other financial information related to specific authors, brands, products, product lines, customers, operating units, etc. Again, if in doubt, check with the BOC before posting this type of information.
8. Respect copyrights. For your protection, do not post any material that is copyrighted unless (a) you are the copyright owner, (b) you have written permission of the copyright owner to post the copyrighted material on your blog, or (c) you are sure that the use of any copyrighted material is permitted by the legal doctrine of “fair use.” (Please note: this is your responsibility. The Company cannot provide you with legal advice regarding this.)
9. Obey the law. This goes without saying, but by way of reminder, do not post any material that is obscene, defamatory, profane, libelous, threatening, harassing, abusive, hateful, embarrassing to another person or entity, or violates the privacy rights of another. Also, do not post material that contains viruses, Trojan horses, worms, or any other computer code that is intended to damage, interfere with, or surreptitiously intercept or expropriate any system, data, or information.
10. Remember the Handbook. As a condition of your employment, you agreed to abide by the rules of the Thomas Nelson Company Handbook. This also applies to your blogging activities. We suggest you take time to review the section entitled, “Employee Responsibilities” (pp. 36-39). If you do not abide by the above guidelines, we reserve the right to stop linking to your blog.
Thomas Nelson’s policy is outstanding not only because it highlights the expectations in a clear and approachable manner, but also because it tells employees how to succeed in their blogging – a rare thing amongst any company.
Groove Networks Blogging Policy
Groove Networks’ blogging policy is a great example of a company believing in its employees. While Groove has since been acquired by Microsoft (which is also a firm believer in its employees), the blogging policy is still worth outlining.
Personal Website and Weblog Guidelines
Some employees who maintain personal websites or weblogs, or who are considering beginning one, have asked about the company’s perspective regarding them. In general, the company views personal websites and weblogs positively, and it respects the right of employees to use them as a medium of self-expression.
If you choose to identify yourself as a company employee or to discuss matters related to the company’s technology or business on your website or weblog, please bear in mind that, although you and we view your website or weblog as a personal project and a medium of personal expression, some readers may nonetheless view you as a de facto spokesperson for the company. In light of this possibility, we ask that you observe the following guidelines:
· Please make it clear to your readers that the views you express are yours alone and that they do not necessarily reflect the views of the company. To help reduce the potential for confusion, we would appreciate it if you put the following notice – or something similar – in a reasonably prominent place on your site (e.g., at the bottom of your “about me” page):
The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.
If you do put a notice on your site, you needn’t put it on every page, but please use reasonable efforts to draw attention to it – if at all possible, from the home page of your site.
· Take care not to disclose any information that is confidential or proprietary to the company or to any third party that has disclosed information to us. Consult the company’s confidentiality policy for guidance about what constitutes confidential information.
· Please remember that your employment documents give the company certain rights with respect to concepts and developments you produce that are related to the company’s business. Please consult your manager if you have questions about the appropriateness of publishing such concepts or developments related to the company’s business on your site.
· Since your site is a public space, we hope you will be as respectful to the company, our employees, our customers, our partners and affiliates, and others (including our competitors) as the company itself endeavors to be.
· You may provide a link from your site to the company’s website, if you wish. The web design group has created a graphic for links to the company’s site, which you may use for this purpose during the term of your employment (subject to discontinuation in the company’s discretion). Contact a member of the web design group for details. Please do not use other company trademarks on your site or reproduce company material without first obtaining permission.
Finally, please be aware that the company may request that you temporarily confine your website or weblog commentary to topics unrelated to the company (or, in rare cases, that you temporarily suspend your website or weblog activity altogether) if it believes this is necessary or advisable to ensure compliance with securities regulations or other laws.
If you have any questions about these guidelines or any matter related to your site that these guidelines do not address, please direct them to the company’s Vice President of Communications or its General Counsel, as appropriate.
The Challenge of Employee Blogs
Employee blogs (internal and external) are one of the most rewarding ways to use blogs. Whether it’s allowing employees to make valuable connections in the industry or letting them find similar people in the company or creating ways to brainstorm more effectively, employee blogs are just downright great for businesses of all sizes. That said, sometimes things go awry. Over the next few days, I’ll be posting a number of blogging policies from companies that are trying to head off potential issues before they happen both by empowering their employees to blog and by clearly spelling out the company’s expectations.