It is often cited that companies should join the blogosphere because that is where their customers and audience are publishing content. Is that always true? During the process of researching my book, “Strategies and Tools for Corporate Blogging,” to be published in April 2007 by Elsevier, I discovered that many of the bloggers in the automobile community were either professional bloggers sustained by advertising, journalists, or vendors. I reviewed fifty blogs in the community, and took an educated guess at the background of each blog author. There are only a few ordinary citizens who blog about cars and automobiles. If the number of ordinary citizens who blog is small, this opens the question is it worth starting a corporate blog? After all the reason why a company might blog is to be able to interact with an audience. Just because customers and an audience is not blogging does not mean that the audience is not reading and commenting on the blogs that do exist. Therefore there may be some good reasons to write a blog even though a customer blogging community is not very big, as in the case of the automobile blogging community, you can connect with your audience who are readers.
In my book, in addition to writing about corporate blogging and how to become an effective blogger, I also researched how companies can use podcasting, social media and web 2.0 websites to reach an audience. Since finishing the book I’ve been curious about where communities exist online. If a particular community is using forums, email list serves, blogs, wikis, social media networking websites such as MySpace or Friendster, or web 2.0 websites like YouTube or Flickr? With the automobile industry, where does most of the audience read content related to the industry online, and connect with other people interested in the industry, maybe in existing forums, such as the forums found on AutomotiveForums.com.
Really there’s nothing special about the online automobile community in the sense many online communities have forums where a lot of members contribute. In fact many consumer generated media measurement companies such as Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Cymfony, or Umbria all suggest the majority of consumer content can be found in forums. No what I’d like to understand is why a community will use a particular form of social media networking website or tool such as forums, blogs, wikis or YouTube. Is it a matter of history and the evolution of the web, perhaps related to the culture of the community in question? Or something to do with the available tools new technologies provide to each community?
Really I am asking the question why do particular online communities prefer certain technologies to other technologies to form a cohesive online community? This question is an important one for companies to ask because if you have a good understanding of which social media tools a community will use, you will be able to develop a comprehensive communications plan that will reach your audience where your audience is using social media tools across the Internet and web.
David Wilson answers this question in a different way in his article, “Building a Social Media Marketing Campaign,” here Dave suggests you should ask four questions to build a social media marketing campaign.
What is the goal of the campaign?
Who is the Target Audience?
How long will the campaign last?
How will you engage your audience?
David’s final question is looking for the best way to reach your audience, and he provides an overview of the steps to answer that question,
“The final question is how will you engage your target audience? What tools will you reach your audience? Some typical social media tools are blogs, MySpace or profile Pages, YouTube videos, advertising/sponsorship, etc. There are pros and cons to all of these tools, and they each can be successful with the right campaign. You just have to make sure that the goal and the tactics aligned to meet that goal are feasible.”
To go beyond David’s four questions, I’d say you have to complete an assessment of your audience online community across each social media tool. In my book I provided an outline of how to develop an assessment of a blogging community, that same template can be used for each social media tools and websites. The assessment of how your company’s audience uses each social media tool and website will determine the resources you commit to each tool and community, and your own company’s capabilities in reaching your audience effectively using the social media tool.
A next step in this process is actually to build an assessment of a community online. I’ve built such community assessments for blogs, but not a comprehensive online social media assessment of a particular community. One of my goals with this blog in the next year will be to explore these questions, and conduct a social media assessment of a community or communities. I will need to talk with community members to understand the importance of each social media tool to their community, and this will require interviews as well as online research, the interviews will help to answer the question why a particular social media tool is more relevant to an online community than another. This assessment will help to determine if a particular community is a good prospect for very active blogging campaign, or should rather be approached via Second Life, a podcast, a video log, or all of the above.
My thanks to Dr. Walter Carl for his time in sounding out some of these ideas and providing some suggestions.