Dave Taylor is right about not providing too many personal details in a professional blog, if that’s what the audience prefers. I think that Dave makes a very compelling argument for technical audience or where the product is complex.
In the northeastern and backbone media blogging success study Eric Anderson, a product manager with adobe described his thoughts about personalization, he did not think it would work for him or his blog readers. This was especially interesting as in an earlier interview with Mike Chambers from Macromedia/Adobe, he had told me that Adobe encourages its employees to not talk about personal topics on their blogs. It seems where an audience is technical personal content may not be all that relevant.
Here's an interesting quote I did not include in the podcast commentary from an article I wrote about Mike Chamber's interview:
Macromedia developed a blog aggregator early. The aggregator has been running for two years, the second version is six months old. The aggregator contains all 50 to 60 Macromedia employee blogs and over 400 customer blogs. Content is syndicated into the blog aggregator as bloggers post. To be accepted into the aggregator, a customer submits their site. The site is then reviewed for content. Once the site is accepted, Macromedia doesn't monitor the content.
Before the aggregator, the Macromedia blog communities had grown so quickly that both employees and customers had difficulty keeping up with the community. The aggregator enables Macromedia employees and customers to filter through what's most popular to find the content they want to read. Customers can subscribe to daily, monthly and category RSS feeds in the aggregator.
An issue arose in the first version of the aggregator: bloggers were categorizing blog posts on technical categories, but the posts were off topic, with social commentary not related to Macromedia products. While the information was valuable for community discussion, a lot of customers check the aggregator 10 to 15 times a day, so when off topic feeds were included it would hinder a customer's experience. Users wanted a way to focus on the Macromedia-related content.
Macromedia developed a type of category called smart categories. Smart categories index the posts, analyze the posts for keywords appearing on the page, and -- based on the conversation -- put the post into a smart category. The smart category feature can also exclude off topic posts, not including content, or contain other language Macromedia wanted to exclude. Macromedia maintained the existing regular categories for community continuity, but positioned the smart categories higher up the left hand navigation on the blog aggregator page.
In the latest version of the blog aggregator, Macromedia's traffic has risen dramatically. Most traffic to the aggregator does not come from search traffic, but blogger direct traffic from links and RSS readers pointing to the aggregator.
So Dave is right in some circumstances, however, I do think the majority of blog audiences are looking for personalization in content. In the Northeastern study of 20 bloggers the majority of the bloggers stated that personalization was important to the success of their blog, however this was not a very scientific poll or sample.
I recently conducted some blog reader interviews. I thought I’d read a quote from one of the blog readers that illustrate the importance of personalization by a corporate blogger.
Tim Jackson is the marketing manager for Masi bike and runs the MasiBike Guy blog. James Thomas reads Tim Jackson’s blog Masi Guy James answered my question, "Has your impression of the blogger's company changed since reading his/her blog? If so, in what why has your impressions changed?"
“I have always had a favorable impression of the Masi brand. My collage roommate, who I traveled to races with in the early nineties, had a couple of very nice Masi bikes. To be honest, I didn’t really know much about the new iteration of the Masi brand until I started reading Tim’s blog. The fact that I can see the passion for cycling that goes into the bikes makes me, maybe subconsciously, like the brand a bit more. I have never met Tim personally, but through his blog and the comments that he makes on my blog, I feel like I know him a bit. That personal connection that the blog creates certainly influences my perception of the company. I would probably not buy a new Masi just because I read the Masiguy blog, but if all other factors were equal, the personal connection created by the blog would influence me to choose a Masi over another functionally equivalent, similarly priced bike. I guess a better way to express that is that people are more comfortable buying from someone they know. Tim’s blog makes readers feel like they know someone in the bike business.”
If you are wondering what to do as a company, my recommendation is take Shel’s advice and consider your audience, look at what your peers are doing in your industry, or in your peer role, such as the CEO in Shel’s example. If people are successful with personalization it’s probably a good idea to introduce such content on your blog, if not, you might experiment but it might not work.
One last point, Dave Taylor states that off topic content is not a good idea for a professional blogger. I don’t think that Dave means that a corporate blogger should not have an opinion or be passionate in writing a blog. You can write compelling content that also reveals the personality of the writer by using writing industry related content. In fact Dave’s post about this issue reveals he is passionate about the issue and has strong opinions. Some listeners will also recall Dave’s opinions about CEO’s blogging or not blogging.
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.
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.
However, I wrote out my comment initially, so I can reproduce most of it here:
Commenting on Shel Holtz's and Neville Hobson's For Immediate Release show on the 1st of January. Shel and Neville continued the discussion concerning the Microsoft vista review program. Microsoft had sent out a number of laptops with a copy of vista to several bloggers. Unfortunately the review program was poorly executed. Bloggers were not asked if they wanted to receive the laptops, and no system was set up for the bloggers to return the laptops. This review program can be contrasted with the Nokia cell phone review program launched last year by Andy Abramson. In that program bloggers were asked if they wanted to receive a phone initially, and given the ability to return the phone. Overall the execution of the Microsoft vista blogger relations was poor.
If we are commenting on the success of a public relations or blogger relations program, whether we agree or disagree with receiving product to review a product or not, it appears that the program has received some bad press as a result of the execution. It may be that another company other than Microsoft or its agency Edelman might not have received as much bad press in the blogosphere about their actions. But that's all the reason to be more careful in the approach to such programs.
Neville had mentioned that bloggers are not journalists. He is right, however, for a blogger to establish credibility with an audience, that blogger has to ensure that there is an appearance of credibility. The reader who reads a magazine, newspaper or blog is the same reader and will judge the quality of an article on its merits and the reputation of the media and the writer, whether written by a journalist or blogger. A blogger might not be a journalist but if the blogger wants credibility, as credibility builds trust, and recognition in the community that can produce higher readership and many more benefits. I think any blogger should start to think about how accepting products for free will affect an audience’s perception of their credibility.
Part of the code states that journalists should “Act Independently, where Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know. And journalists should Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.”
I know that some journalists do accept products for free to review, and would return the product if received in this way, while some do not. To me everyone blogger or journalist should declare how they procured a product for review.
Neville had mentioned Chip Griffin, the CEO of CustomScoop. Chip had suggested there was too much criticism of Microsoft and Edelman, or at the very least Chip had thought that the way in which people had discussed the issue was over the top.
I’m not sure exactly what Chip had said as I did not see the reference but I think Chip brings up an important issue if I have a correct understanding of his concerns. To me this whole discussion is healthy and lively, and one that would not have been possible just a few years ago. Certainly, readers have always commented on newspaper articles or called into television stations, but ordinary people now have much more power as they have the ability to publish their own content on a blog. A feature of this new reality is that there are many more opinions expressed and sometimes those opinions are not going to be polished. That’s okay with me; I think it’s an important part of the evolving landscape of blogging, podcasts and videologs. I also think the actual discussion about the ethics of product reviewing is good. We do not have this discussion with newspapers and magazines. I’d like to know how many traditional media companies actually do follow the Professional society of journalists’ guidelines and don’t accept gifts and payment? I also wonder how many independent writers do accept free products for review and then publish their reviews in traditional media publications and websites? I also think the only reason there is any debate about Microsoft and Edelman is because bloggers have the ability to write about the background to a story, whereas most journalists don’t have the time or space to write about the research that went into a story. I believe this debate helps the whole community think through these issues, and shows the relevancy of ethics in today’s media rich world.
However, what’s really important is what the customers think? Do customers want product reviews from people who receive the product for free or who pay for the product? If you have to pay, and you are a blogger reviewing many products, and you don’t have a company paying for the review products or are independently wealthy does that mean many bloggers will have to stop reviewing products? Or is there an alternative for bloggers without funding can the bloggers ask their audience for funds to review products? Is there an example of this available?
If I was advising a company to run a product review program I’d have done a few things differently than what Microsoft was advised to do. Anyone looking for a great example of a well executed product review program could not do better than look at Nokia phone product review program starting at the end of 2005.
If you are building a social media company, one way to ensure more people use you is by partnering with other web 2.0 companies. WordPress, Six Apart with Typepad and Moveable Type and other blog publishing platforms all encourage software developers to build plugins for their software. I'd like to create a list of plugin and API sites to help the community. Please post any social media sites with links below.
Thinking of starting a podcast but not sure how. Well the Boston podcamp is the place for you to gain all the knowledge and expertise in a two day period and its free. Find knowledge, friends and colleague at the Boston podcamp. September 9-10th.
I am excited about the announcement about the BBC’s revamp of their new website following social networking principles. Though there appears to be a few disgruntled people about the effort, see this article on News corp’s opinion of the change. I’ve been encouraging journalists to use more citizen generated media for some time, therefore it makes sense an institution like the BBC would embark on this sort of endeavor.
Blogging is all about starting a conversation with another individual. I don't mind if someone from a company posts useful and relevant information on my blog. But that information has to be within the context of an existing conversation. I reserve the right to delete or edit content and links from comments on this blog if I think you are just making a sales pitch or trying to increase your SEO standing.