As corporations catch on to the potential of adding a blog to their company's marketing arsenal, our MarketingProfs Thought Leaders Summit tapped into some of the best minds in the blogosphere for advice. In a 90-minute session, I called on the wisdom of Toby Bloomberg (Bloomberg Marketing), Seth Godin, Shel Israel (Conferenza), B.L. Ochman (whatsnextonline.com), Steve Rubel (CooperKatz & Co), Robert Scoble (Microsoft), Doc Searls and Debbie Weil (WordBiz).
In Part 2 of this two-part article, our experts reveal their top most effective blogging tactics. They talk about what business bloggers must do to be an accepted member of the blogosphere. They shared their tips for getting syndicated on other people's Web sites and blogrolls. Our experts also told us their heroes and mentors and did a bit of crystal-ball gazing on what the blogosphere will look like in years to come. Read on...
Thou shalt not...
Business bloggers who know how to break the rules can create very interesting conversations. But you'd first better know what the rules are.
If you want to change a company, or change the world, or if you want to get people to adopt something new and through the process still keep your job, you can tread a fine line (or as Robert Scoble describes it, a "membrane") when it comes to The Rules. They are simple, really:
Rule No. 1—Use good judgment.
Rule No. 2—Violate Rule Number 1 and you're in deep trouble ("trouble" is a euphemism for a stronger, more descriptive word used during the session!).
The rules you exercise when conducting business extend to blogging. After all, you have a responsibility to represent your company in a professional manner.
People get fired for acts of disloyalty or dishonesty and for revealing company secrets. Things that will certainly get you in trouble include leaking product information before your executives are ready to launch it, disclosing your company's financial results a week before they're announced or playing with your company's or competitor's corporate image.
When you're representing your company in public, you must understand what you are trying to achieve in terms of its image. We've all heard of executives who've been fired because of things they wrote in chat rooms. People have also been fired because their blog did not match the public persona the company was trying to portray.
If you work in a large company, you have to understand what your boss wants to see up there and what he or she is willing to defend. An image of you in your company uniform in a provocative stance, for example, will not impress your board of directors.
Bloggers have always been known to push the boundaries. Call it a little strategic risk-taking if you like. A gold miner who walks into a mine with a stick of dynamite is taking a risk, yet his reward is that glimmer of gold among the quartz.
Remember that a good blog is both passionate and authoritative. Saying nice things about your competitors (and providing links to them) will place you as an authority above those companies, because they may not be prepared to take the risk to link out themselves.
Let's take a moment to differentiate between an authority and a hub. An authority is a site that gets a lot of authoritative inbound links. A hub is a site that links to a lot of useful Web sites.
It pays to be both. In fact, a hub may be the easiest way to start down the road to success in this medium. Rather than talking about your company's product or service, you can set yourself up as both source and expert on what's happening in your little corner of the universe.
Here's an example. Say you work for one of the 20 yo-yo companies that yo-yo people are really into, and you find yourself writing about yo-yos from you and your competitors every day. In effect, you become the yo-yo go-to guy.
Your blog becomes a natural place to show up for people who want to hear about, because they know that you're keeping your ear to the ground. And then, when your company decides to launch a new yo-yo, you've got the power to talk with authority about a new yo-yo, as long as you don't compromise that status by saying something about it that's not true.
There are some more "rules of the road" for bloggers that need mentioning. For one, attribute your sources. Say where you got your information from and link to them. Linking is one of the distinguishing features of a blog post. Another is to keep it short and stick to the topic. And do not post press releases or write in corporate-speak. A blog is a way to tell a story with your voice, with opinion, within context, and with links to others.
And, finally, a blog is new—not a place for stuff written weeks ago. It's immediate, it's fresh and it's happening now. Much of this is not obvious to companies getting into blogging for the first time.
As for your boss... well, he's likely to take less of a hands-on approach once he becomes comfortable with having a more conversational style of marketing in his arsenal.
Make a name for yourself
How does a business blogger get syndicated onto other Web sites and mentioned on other bloggers' blogrolls?
Begin by identifying your audiences. There are two constituencies:
- First, there are other bloggers—in other words, the blogosphere. When you're going to promote a blog, you really need to get out there and talk to other bloggers. Begin by reading other blogs and responding to them—using trackbacks and comment when somebody says something interesting. Get into conversations with other bloggers. Having a blogroll is an important part of this, so that people can see what kinds of things you're looking at.
- Your second target is a much wider audience—the clients you're trying to reach within your particular niche who are not necessarily bloggers themselves. For the most part, those people are unaware of the blogosphere. The latest statistics from the Pew Internet & American Life Project reveal that 27% of Internet users are reading blogs. Well, that means over 70% are not! This is really the key. You may be amazed at how many marketers out there don't know about blogging... so how can you expect your customers to know about it?
So how do you promote your blog to Internet users? For your non-blogging audience, the key is to get them intrigued with your company and the voices behind it.
The promotional strategies you put into place will include both online and offline strategies. If you're already sending out newsletters and emails, tell them you have a blog. Tell them to go to your blog. Give them a link.
You could also encourage them to sign up by Really Simple Syndication (RSS). And of course there are the subtle things you can do to promote your blog, too, like putting it on your business card and in your email signature.
The importance of having an RSS feed cannot be understated. Robert Scoble proclaims on his blog: "If you're running a marketing site and you don't have an RSS feed, you should be fired!" RSS is a huge opportunity, not just for bloggers but for Web sites in general. It's a new distribution channel for your content, so use it to its full potential.
Provide your constituents not just one RSS feed but a feed for each of your categories. That way, if there's a certain category your readers are interested in subscribing to through their newsreader or Web-based aggregator, they'll be able to do that easily. And from your perspective as a marketer, all your RSS feeds should support tracking of the subscribers and the reads and click-throughs.
Even though your blog isn't the place to post press releases, press releases are a great place to announce that you are starting to blog. Try contacting or emailing reporters about what's on your blog. If you're a Fortune 500 company, it's news! Every time one of these big companies starts a blog, all the bloggers start blogging about it. And then the Fortune and Newsweek columnists pick up on it, and so it goes.
In 2003, former President Jimmy Carter began his first foray into blogging, at Netconcepts' suggestion. It was only for an eight-day period during his trip to West Africa, and it wasn't even a full-featured blog in that it didn't support trackbacks or comments. The posts were, in fact, just Web pages that were published on the Carter Center site.
But the fact that an ex-President blogged made big news in the blogosphere. And the next thing you know, there were thousands of sites linking to his blog and buzzing about it. The Carter Center figures that it was the most successful Internet marketing it has ever done.
Take a look at other blogs, particularly the ones you like, and see why so many people go to them. Try to add something to a topic. Follow what other people are writing and write back about it. All you have to do is write interesting stuff about things you care about. If other people care about it and you've got an RSS feed, they'll find you.
How to win bloggers and influence the blogosphere
Bloggers are evangelists to the blogosphere. They show both passion and expertise in what they're doing. Great bloggers use their heads and their hearts and speak in a clear language that makes sense. They avoid corporate-speak. They link to other sites. They refer to companies that share an interest in their topics—whether they agree with them or not.
Bloggers need to be brutally honest, because at its core a blog aims to build a new level of trust. The stuff of brochures and press releases really doesn't work any more. No one is listening to it!
An effective marketing blog is more like conversational marketing. It's getting closer to your customers by just showing them there are real people doing real jobs inside your company—a company that cares about what its customers and constituencies think about it.
Treat other bloggers like people. Bloggers are not people you "pitch" to. You contact them and you get to know them and you develop a relationship with them.
One way to influence bloggers is to give them information before anybody else gets it. Bloggers like to break news. They like to be the early identifier of trends. And they like to know about things before others do.
If you've got a product, you can send it to bloggers. But be aware of the new freebie mentality that's developing in the blogosphere. In effect, you're buying off the blogger. You may end up courting an audience of bloggers who are happy to send you email, comment all the time and maybe even link. It may take you down the path to having an audience that you actually don't want to talk to. Get back to people who are blogging for a living as opposed to just spreading ideas. And remember that not all bloggers are created equal.
If you're pitching to a blogger, do it carefully. Bloggers like Robert Scoble receive pitches all the time. He likens it to receiving an email with a paragraph that says, "Hey, I think I've got something that's interesting to your readers. Here's a link."
"If somebody leaves a paragraph on a blog I just wrote, I'm all for that and will put it in my blog folder to look at later. But if they're only pitching me, and I don't see any repetition in the blogosphere, it makes me nervous," Robert says. "But if I see five other people writing about something, it makes me more comfortable in that this isn't something lame or that other people haven't seen value in. So, I'm looking for that repetition, particularly in the early stages of a news article. It also gives me stuff to link to. But you need to show me you have, at least, taken time to read my blog."
Scoble adds: "I get really defensive about people who are pitching me stuff that does not have RSS on it. If you don't have an RSS feed, I'm going to be very defensive. And if you don't have a blog of your own, I'm going to be very defensive. So if you're pitching me a static Web site, I'm going to be yelling back at you, and I'm probably going to even make fun of you on my blog."
Another really great tactic is to link a lot. And thank the people who have linked to you. Thank those who have made comments. If you have 5,000 people commenting or linking to you... well, writing back may be a little difficult, but every once in awhile it sure is nice to receive a little note back. It creates a relationship and opens some doors.
Heroes and mentors... and villains
Our Thought Leaders certainly constitute a mutual admiration society! They looked to each other for their heroes. Robert Scoble named panelist Doc Searls—he's been reading him for five or six years now. Dave Winer is another winner with Robert, as is Steve Rubel. In fact, Robert admits to reading about 1,300 blogs, but few stand out for him. He likes reading people like Evelyn Rodriguez who survived the tsunami, and others not on the A-List, like IT blogger Mike McBride.
Returning the favor, Doc Searls named Robert Scoble as his hero; in fact, he went so far as to say that Robert is the hero of the entire blogosphere. Dave Winer's name came up again in many respects as godfather of RSS, PowerPoint, weblogs.com and html. We have Dave to thank for badgering Doc into blogging!
Debbie Weil abandoned the predominantly white male fraternity to mention a heroine—Halley Suitt. Halley's Comment is one of her favorite blogs, for her writing style and for not being afraid to reveal she's a woman. Halley writes about things that women are hot on—stuff like her feelings about men, her son, her clothes and her shoes. She earns big points from Debbie because she's also intellectual.
Steve Rubel also cites Robert Scoble as his hero, with Buzz Bruggeman being another. And Tom Murphy, one of the first PR bloggers out there, as he's been blogging for a couple of years now. He also cites Jeff Jarvis, Dan Gilmore and Marc Orchant, who writes the Microsoft Office weblog.
As for the villains... ah, let's see. The only one that comes to mind, although it's been pretty good so far, is the US government. But also a few lawyers.
What the future holds
There's no doubt about it. In the next five years, we will be seeing many more blogs. In fact, among the huge number of blogs there will be niches. People looking for blogs will find them in the niches that interest them, whether they are businesses or hobbyists. It will be difficult for people to keep up with the number of feeds they keep up with now—although, hopefully, there will be tools to make it easier. As more and more blogs come online, people will begin to narrow their focus to 10, 15 or 30 blogs—or, for those with real appetite, 100 blogs.
More importantly, we're likely to see a merging of mainstream media and conversational media in the sense that they are going to be using the same tools. We are already seeing this with some sites adding trackbacks and comment features.
Another interesting development will be the end of corporate-speak. People will have a hunger and appetite for things that are written in a human voice.
The general public are also going to learn more about their power to influence corporations and their ability to get what they have to say into the search engines. A recent Pew study said that 25 percent of all content on the Internet right now is generated by consumers. Consumers are generating posts on blogs and forums. As they begin to realize they can have an impact, people are going to have more interaction in both the blogging world and the corporate world. Corporations are going to have to find a way to deal with their publics.
One of the annoying things about the Internet now is the proliferation of Web sites where you can't find a human. In the blogosphere, you find humans. A lot of companies that are apprehensive about blogging may well be saying, "What would we do if we had all those people responding to our blogs." Yet they need to join the conversation, because the voice of the consumer will have such impact. Not only will this be one of the biggest changes that companies will have to deal with, it will be a very positive change that will come about because of blogging.
In the next five years, blogging will become an established communications channel in business. The power of people to reach and access real humans inside the corporation will have a liberating effect. In the end, marketing departments, as we know them, will be reconfigured to some degree. Blogging is going to change the structure of corporations down the line.
Panelist Doc Searls proclaimed that marketing, as we now know it, will become virtually useless. In many companies, the sales and marketing manager was always a salesperson rather than a marketing person, anyway. Marketing had less power in the company than Sales did, because it was the job of Sales to touch the customer; Marketing's job was to stay away from the customer and to be strategic about messages. Messages are going to die. The notion of coming up with a message to send, while still having some arcane uses, will fall out of favor. Conversation is going to be far more important.
People will look for credibility in blogs. Smaller companies will have to put "about us" pages on their blogs. You would be amazed at the number of blogs that don't have an email link, essential to supplement credibility.
What we understand now is that mainstream media is going to change radically, in part because there are just so few channels there. Yes, we have DishTV, and we've got channels up to 9,999, and you can't begin to surf from one end to the other in less than half an hour, but there's a lot of nothing on there.
It's only a matter of time, especially with bandwidth issues getting worked out, before everybody is able to feed the new system—the opinion system, the political system and the economic system—with fresh information. That information can then be shared and improved upon, and all this is going to be facilitated by blogging.
Whatever blogging becomes, or whatever the next big thing to descend from blogging is, bloggers will inevitably become trusted stringers for local newspapers. And local news radio will be supplemented by people who are seen in podcasting right now.
Podcasting is going to be an enormous phenomenon, and the video equivalent will be enormous, too. The music industry is going to be revolutionized by podcasting. Just last September a search for podcast on Google revealed 24 results. There are now close to a million, and not one big company among them! That was mostly the work of a couple of stand-out guys like Adam Curry and Dave Winer. It's a potentially huge phenomenon.
Our panelists love podcasting. One can take in more blogs and scan them more quickly than he or she can take in podcasts. With only so many hours in the day, only so much of one's time can be spent listening to podcasts. But with cars coming out with MP3/CD players, you can now dump around 200 hours of podcast material onto each CD and listen as you drive. Then it's as easy to scan a podcast—punch "scan" to the next one, fast forward or rewind—than it is to dial up all those radio stations.
In addition to podcasting, v-logging (video blogging) is going to come into its own soon, and that's going to be very exciting.
We also foresee the integration of social networking software. The users and visitors will take our blogs, and they'll convert them to their own uses. They'll turn them into what they want them to be. For example, the March of Dimes blog was put up initially as a resource, but the organization found that people were using it as support for each other. So the blog is not only a means of information—it's also a means of social networking.
The blog-podcast-video trio is an interesting trend. Now you're able to share yourself on the Internet in a range of different ways. You can do your illustrations with Art Rage, photos with Flickr, and podcasting and video blogging with Freevlog. This just wasn't possible a few years ago, and certainly wasn't possible without broadband. That is exciting in terms of corporate life.
Look at Microsoft's Channel 9 (channel9.msdn.com), and see people adding to the conversation right underneath the video. It's open-source-style marketing, which is really interesting. You get to have your say as a representative of your company, and then everybody else gets to have their say right underneath. In fact, you can get to say anything about the company you like. That's fascinating!
We're also going to see passive, static Web sites become passé, replaced with much more engaging sites with striking similarities to MMORPGs, or massively multi-player online role-playing games. Consider that the hugely successful photo-sharing site Flickr, which was recently acquired by Yahoo, is based to some degree on a MMORPG. You get to wander around and meet new and interesting people, go on quests, get lost and eventually find your way back home... and so forth.
How do we keep up with it all?
We can't. We can't possibly scale. Indeed, the information glut is already problematic. And it's going to get a lot worse. But thanks to RSS and related technologies like Attention.xml, we'll still be able to maintain a steady diet of useful information and commentary without drowning in that information. We're going to see RSS become the channel of choice.
It's an accelerating world. And once marketers figure out the usefulness of these new technologies—like blogs, RSS, podcasts and v-logs—and of being really conversational and even bringing your customer right into the conversation on your homepage, then you know the world has really shifted. We'll get there.