Corporate Blogging Survey 2005
 
BACKBONE CORPORATE BLOGGING SURVEY 2005
 
 

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August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina & Craigslist.org

Craigslist.org’s New Orlean’s site is providing support to the effort for Hurricane Katrina relief.

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Hurricane Katrina Help Wiki

If you don’t know already, New Orleans and several Gulf states have suffered massive damage from Hurricane Katrina, there is a wiki to coordinate relief efforts from private volunteer efforts. The site is powered by a wiki. Wiki's are websites that allow anyone to change the content of a page by using the public content management system. So if you need help or want to offer help in anyway use the wiki to communicate your needs and services.

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August 30, 2005

TV Media Uses Search To Gain Customers

A recent article in Adage reveals how several TV networks are using paid search engine campaigns to promote their programming online. As a medium search is a great way to reach customers during a critical point in the purchasing cycle or in this case viewer ship decision making process. Beyond targeting their own brand keywords, a broad caster might want to target keywords their potential viewers would use to find other information, and use the associated ads to draw in interest to their programming.

Via MarketingVox.com

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August 29, 2005

GM Customers Provide Critical Analysis of the General Motors FastLane Blog

This is the first of a series of interviews with GM customers about the General Motors FastLane Blog.

General Motors, after Wal-Mart and Exxon Mobil Corporation, is the 3rd largest company in the United States according to the Fortune 500 list of companies. The General Motors therefore probably run the most high profile blogs in corporate America. Starting with Small Block Engine blog in October 2004, and the Fastlane Blog in January 2005, both blogs has generated a lot of interested in the blogosphere and amongst GM customers.

Bob Lutz, GM Vice Chairman, regularly contributes to the Fastlane Blog. And in a recent case study presentation by GM's agency at the business blog summit I discovered the Fastlane blog has had over 4500 comments since January. Laurie Mayers, Sr. Vice President for Hass MS&L described how her agency moderates the comments on the blog. All comments are reviewed before they are displayed on the blog. Any spam comment posts are deleted, and any customer service requests about specific customer service questions are relayed to the GM customer service department.

The majority of comments, about 90%, are posted on the blog, but as Laurie explained Bob Lutz does not have time to answer every single comment. Bob Lutz does read all of the comments, as well as the comments being read internally by many GM departments. For my own part I have noticed a number of times when Bob Lutz has singled out a number of customer comments and answered them on the Fastlane Blog with blog posts.

Customers. I was interested in determining what customers thought of the GM blog, and what their perception of the blog was after a few months. So I sent emails to several customers and asked them what they thought about the blog and GM's response to their comments.

Lisa Foltz made the following comment on the Fastlane blog.


Hey GM!

I am one of the 8000 on the list of people who will get the 'early' production Solstice. I have seen others express frustration on this Blog but haven't seen any response from GM. I have called the dealership 5 times and they will not/cannot tell me even a ball park date. I was told end of July or August was likely and September if issues arise...now I see on this blog the first 1000 will not be out until Thanksgiving? I really need to know...I need a new car and am not sure I want to wait until Feb or March for this car....given we signed up without getting to test drive the car or see one in person....and now we cannot even get an accurate status...I think GM owes its potential customers some truthful updates. I have been a content Ford, Infiniti and Porsche owner....I got rid of my Boxster due to 'trust' issues with my Scottsdale Porsche Dealer...I was happy to give Pontiac a chance....but I sure hope the car's performance is better than Pontiac's communication about availability of these cars.

John Cass: I wondered what you thought about the blog, and if GM had followed up with you on your question?

Lisa Foltz: I thought the Blog was a good idea but thought I would get some answers...I have received ZERO follow up on my BLOG message...same response I get from any other path with GM. I am about one frustration point away from just canceling my order...doesnt seem them want mine or the other's business! I base most of my consumer 'buy' decisions on customer service....GM seems to be missing this piece of their business model.

John Cass: I was wondering if you comment on any other forums or blogs about GM?

Lisa Foltz: I have read some other Blogs...I enjoy reading a Blog in which the participants are professional and insightful. This is the first one I posted to. Mostly because GM didn't require a lot of personal information to be able to respond.

John Cass: How has the GM blog helped provide information to you as a GM customer? Here I am looking for any positive benefits from the blog. If there are none let me know as well.

Lisa Foltz: I think there are positives about the BLOG. Most impressive on the Solstice Blog was the passion people have for this new product. You can feel the excitement in most of the people. Gives me some reinforcement that the product is a good one. This BLOG has also made me aware that GM doesn't seem to appreciate their customers because I now see it isn't just me that has issues getting an answer from GM. The BLOG can be used to promote and also as a complaint mechanism. I think this BLOG could easily be all positive if GM used it to determine what the customers and potential customers need...i.e. more information on the status/delivery, etc.

John Cass: How would you like to see the GM blog used in the future as a way to communicate with you and other GM customers and non-customers?

Lisa Foltz: I think the BLOG could be used to provide product information, to get marketing data for their products and even services...almost free demographics. I would like to see each question / series categorized and archived so you can easily search for information that may be in a previous BLOG. This will reduce the redundancy...not eliminate it but reduce it. I would like to see GM take advantage of what these customers are saying and address questions, issues etc.

John Cass: A few years ago two authors wrote a book called the Influentials, it talks about how 10% of a customer community will influence the other 90%. By their measure I think you might be an influential customer for GM. But it all depends on whether your active in talking with customers and non-customers about GM products. So I wondered, how many people do you talk with offline and online about GM vehicles? And do you regularly forward and post comments about GM information by email and on forums? And also, I was wondering if you hear a lot of the same issues about GM's lack of response in other places online?


Lisa Foltz:
I liked your comment about 10% of the community can influence the other 90%. The people who use BLOGs are typically very passionate about the product. They are spending their personal time reading and responding to questions. They are making bonds with others and sharing ideas/passions.

On your question about how often I talk about GM products. It was very little until I registered for the Solstice. I had the poster in my office...I told a few people about it and how exciting it was. They told others and I bet I talked to 20-30 people about the car. I have emailed the link to at least 30 people to show them my soon to be 'new baby'. HOWEVER...since GM has failed to deliver...my poster is down, I don't talk about it...when asked I don't give an energetic response just a 'who knows when or if I will get it' and we talk about other options (Boxster, Miata etc). I really don't know if I want the car any more. I gave up my Boxster due to poor customer service. If I am going to spend big money I want to be treated with respect and as a valued customer.

I would say about 90% of online help is garbage (I mean sending emails into the abyss or using a BLOG to get help). It is rare from my experience that companies provide service to email and BLOGS. On the other hand, the interactive on-line help i have found to be very helpful and not very painful.

Let me know if you want to buy a Solstice...maybe I can sell you mine if I ever get it!

As you can see I am a big proponent of customer support. I live by the fact that a happy customer tells another person about their experience and an unhappy customer will tell dozens about theirs!

John Cass: From discussions with several GM customer blog commentators it seems that the lack of response from the GM to a customer response has negatively affected the opinion and perception of several GM customers.

This is difficult problem for any company, as Laurie Myers explained it would be impossible for Bob Lutz to answer all 4500 comments. However, there does appear to be some perception amongst several GM customers that posting comments on the FastLane Blog does not elicit a response from GM. How can a company avoid upsetting their most supportive and active customers and potential customers when they do not have the resources to respond to comments and suggestions on a blog? In the next week I will post another GM customer interview and also some suggestions as to how a company can avoid some of the pitfalls of handling customer suggestions and criticism.

Update: This blog has no connection with the company General Motors, if you have any complaints or ideas for GM I suggest you contact the company directly.

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August 26, 2005

Bill Reports on IBM's First Podcast

Bill Higgins from IBM Reports on IBM's first Podcast.

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August 25, 2005

Shel Identifies The Human In You Through Blogging

Hear; hear I say to Shel Israel’s post on marketing and dehumanization. Marketing is all about discovering your customers’ needs and wants and satisfying them efficiently, and profitably. I believe anyone who has been a customer is a natural marketeer. You know how you should be treated as a customer; therefore, you know how to market to people.

Internet marketing provides a means to contact many people at once, and there in lies the danger and temptation to dehumanize people. Ironic that blogs, the web, are helping to build bridges with customers in ways we had never thought possible until recently.

A great example of this process is...

...the case study from the corporate blogging survey on Microsoft.

“With a company as large as Microsoft with 57,000 employees (2004 Hoovers.com estimate), customers don't know who to contact and the company has a very impersonal face. Employees in the company are not bad people; they just don't understand the customer's needs. Blogs are helping Microsoft to listen and become more customer focused.

The move to more transparency within Microsoft is a big change in mindset. When George Pulikkathara first joined Microsoft in 2001 he ran a giveaway campaign for some Microsoft products, when he was sending out the products he signed the thank you cards sent with the products with his own name. Management told George that he should sign the cards "Microsoft" as any benefit to the good deed should accrue to Microsoft not an individual within the company. Under the direction of bloggers like Robert Scoble and Soma Somasegar there is a new drive to have more transparency in the company. Microsoft is realizing that to remain competitive the company has to rely on the expertise and skills of its employees, by empowering each Microsoft employee, each employee effectively becomes a real functioning brand manager for Microsoft whose role is to help the customer no matter what role they play in the company. Sometimes that transparency means that Microsoft will be criticized by customers and even employees, the new management thinking is that such criticism is good as Microsoft then has the opportunity to react and respond. With blogs, communicating that response quickly and effectively has become a lot easier in the last few years.

Today individual Microsoft product teams are stating their goal is to reach out to customers and humanize their products and technologies. Blogs are helping them to achieve those goals.?

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August 24, 2005

MerchantWarehouse.com Changes Credit Card Processing Industry: Uses Paid Search To Get Results, Is Returning To Organic SEO Roots With New Hire

Henry Helgeson was a credit card rep knocking on doors in the mid-90’s, he became dissatisfied with the industry, Henry thought the margins on the merchant credit card equipment were too high for many merchants.

At a crossroads between getting out of the industry, and changing the industry, Henry rolled up his sleeves and decided to change the industry with a little thing called the web. Founding MerchantWarehouse.com in 1997 with partners, Henry’s team launched the industry’s first website to offer low cost merchant credit card processing equipment and software in 1998.

Henry’s company makes up for lower prices on equipment by reaching a wider market through the web. MerchantWarehouse.com has also provided better customer service and efficiency in the industry, so that today, the company is getting thousands of client referrals a year. Many customers and vendors in the industry credit MerchantWarehouse.com for completely changing the industry from the 90’s to where it is today.

Henry found time to chat with me recently about his company’s Internet marketing strategy. The company started out working on getting traffic by achieving rankings on the organic search engine listings. Henry remembers finding a website called searchenginewatch.com in the early days and reading every page to help follow the rules of search engine optimization to get a high ranking. In those web search pioneer days it was fairly easy to get a high ranking, the engines were not all that sophisticated. As MerchantWarehouse.com grew, the company could afford to try some paid online advertising. They started off with a company called GoTo that became Overture and is now owned by Yahoo!

With the success and consistency of paid search, MerchantWarehouse.com migrated away from organic search optimization to paid search. The change was because paid represented consistency of traffic delivery. Optimizing the website took a lot of time, and there was no guarantee of results, it was easier to pay the paid search costs.

Paid search still consists of 60-70% of the marketing budget for MerchanteWarehouse.com with a mix between Google & Overture. But Henry tells me the company has grown to the point where they are again looking at organic search engine optimization, with over $2 billion merchant transactions a year, Henry has hired a new marketing manager to manage the organic listings of the company’s website and all other marketing programs.

Having worked at 48hourprint.com, an online printing company, as a marketing manager, I knew the importance of customer service and a company’s telephone center. Henry tells me customer service staff provides most customer service over the telephone. 60-70% from telephone, 15-25% by email support and 5-10% through live chat. They use saleforce.com for managing customer relationships.

One marketing aspect of their telephone center is the relationship with Click Path Media, the company helps drive many customers to many different 800 numbers on the web through pay per click keyword advertising. Each keyword will have its own 1-800 number, meaning the company can track results in its telephone center by keyword.

Lastly, Henry tells me the real secret to his company’s success is treating his employees well, so much so, MerchantWarehouse.com has a very low employee turnover, only 2 people have left in the last 18 months out of 80 employees. Henry believes that by treating his employees well, they will treat customers well, and customers will respond with loyalty and referrals, and that’s just what’s happening.

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August 23, 2005

Amazon.com's New Venture Given The Short Shift By Seth Godin

Seth Godin writes about the Amazon.com announcement that Amazon.com is going to charge $0.49 per short story, and he does not like the idea. I disagree with Seth, I think that while short stories or fact articles may not work for Seth in the marketing field. I believe that shorts really work for fiction authors. If we did not have short stories many of Charles Dicken’s stories would have not come to light.

I also think that short stories are a great way for authors to start a word of mouth campaign about their writing and get paid for it. Look at online music and short exerts from artists, customers try out the music and then go back to buy more if they like what they hear, I think the same applies for writing. Well it does not really matter what Seth or I think, the market will decide.

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August 22, 2005

Sales From Blogging

Here’s one post on the corporate blogging survey I’ve been meaning to post on for a while, Betsy Richter of OneByOneMedia wrote

“You'll notice that survey respondents report that they've had low impact on sales as a result of blogging - while they do claim increased site visibility due to search engine ranking and inbound traffic. I'd argue that it's nearly impossible to effectively and directly measure the impact of any marketing initiative on sales, unless there's a measurable hoop (coupon, discount offer, special URL that can be tracked, etc.) that is the only way into the special offer (especially if you have a separate sales force with competing interests.) That's why I'd argue that you shouldn't list "increase sales" as the proof point about your blog's effectiveness over time.?

Betsy’s right....

....sales was not a big pull for many of the corporate bloggers we interviewed, though I would say that for some individual bloggers, Macromedia in particular, companies have experienced some additional sales. I think that blogging is still relatively new 2-3 years and it will take some time to help with direct sales. However, the effects of blogging and search engine marketing is very positive, so long as you don’t spam, and start your conversation with other bloggers within the context of what they want to discuss, a business blogger does have the opportunity to get more links and hence higher SEO rankings, which means more opportunities for sales. Which is un-measurable as a direct result from blog links.

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August 19, 2005

Blogging For Highly Regulated Industries

Rick Murry’s short presentation at the business blog summit was good, I especially liked his final question, how can Edelman open up a conversation with heavily regulated industries, such as the healthcare industry. Blogs represent a particularly difficult problem for the healthcare industry, how do you open up a conversation with your customers, when the FDA regulates your industry, and there is a possibility of personal danger even death to patients. The risk of legal liability are high, the process of content authorization on a large pharmaceutical or biotechnology company website can be very long, while its in the nature of blogging that you want to be producing content regularly and timely.

This is a difficult question and something I’ve been thinking about for a while, here are some of my earlier thoughts from my personal blog PR Communications.

“I would suggest the solution lies in the ability of a corporate blog to teach a company more about their customers needs and wants. Patients who are sick, research the web and communicate with fellow suffers, often patients will build their own web sites on a particular topic. Why not provide free blogs to patients.?

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Handling Criticism On A Blog – Should Criticism Stop You From Blogging?

Sitting in the 2005 business blog summit today I found this slogan and article quote on Handling criticism at the BrainWareMap for Personal Development website after one gentleman asked a question about how to handle criticism on a blog.

“To escape criticism:
Do nothing
Say nothing
Be nothing?

As a former toastmaster when I lived in San Francisco in the mid 90’s I really appreciated one aspect of being a toastmaster, fellow toastmasters would provide a critique of my speeches, while the opportunity to give the speech was great practice the feedback was tremendous to improving my speaking skills. Here are some more ideas on why criticism can be valuable for your company and blog.

“However, as with failure, criticism has a very positive side. In the first place, if you are being criticized it may well be an indication that you have taken a risk and chosen to tackle something, which is a challenge to you. Receiving such criticism may be infinitely preferable to being praised for something, which is simple and predictable. Secondly, as with failure, criticism may be regarded as valuable feedback and a necessary part of the learning process.?

In the business blog survey, we had several examples of customers providing feedback of a company’s product. The spelling mistake incident at Microsoft http://www.backbonemedia.com/blogsurvey/52-Microsoft-case-study.htm, and “why a simple fix is not always so simple? at Macromedia. http://www.backbonemedia.com/blogsurvey/48-simple-fix-not-always-answer.htm

Knowing how to handle criticism is an important step to removing the fear of being criticized, your company will receive feedback, but in a good product development process you want to know what your customers think of your products, the companies that are actively engaging their customers with corporate blogs and responding to criticism are gaining tremendous benefits, including links, building better products, turning people into customer evangelists and higher search engine rankings.

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Include lawyers into your blogging policy discussion early…

Dean Hachamovitch and Robert Scoble discussed the issue of legal issues in their keynote presentation at the business blog summit this morning. Basically the opportunity of connecting with your customers is a risk a company should take in order to gain the benefits of establishing your company as a leader in your industry. Employees should act responsibly, a tip I’d recommend is not only to develop a policy but also make sure you train your employees on how to use blog tools and represent your company. As a marketeer I think of this as really teaching employees how to manage your brand, what’s responsible and not.

If your legal department are nervous about starting blogging, its always important to remember that lawyers have to serve the business; you have to take some risks if you are going to be successful in building your business. One piece of advice was that you should not treat the lawyers like pariahs, treat them like humans and involve them in the process.

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August 18, 2005

Brownrigg Flys In To Give 30,000 Foot View Of Boeing Blog

Chris Brownrigg, a web designer at Boeing, was given two days to set up Randy Baseler's blog. Searched through a lot of blogs, most blogs written in xml, he was writing in xhtml. Built a design that met the Boeing Web standards. All he had to go on were the existing design standards. Boeing.com nosearch/blog/. The original blog was all static html, the company received a lot of flak for not using a blogging tool. The calendar was an image and had to be updated manually. Commentators suggested the blog was a pseudo blog or a fake blog, no comments or RSS. Chris said, “Noticing we did not hit the mark, we brought in DL Byron?. There were growing pains; the environment may not have the infrastructure for it. Bought Byron in, redesigned the blog. Installed moveable type. Evolved the existing elements forward.

Took no comments, they were flamed on that, set up email, flamed on email. Built in something that would take comments. Randy is never going to answer his comments. Would not have the time. Accept negative comments and positive. Boeing is doing blogging their way.

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Dave Suggests You Tailor Your Titles For The Keywords Your Audience Uses

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Title keyword research, Dave Taylor at the business blog summit makes the comment that when you are developing your title, think about the keywords you use in your title. Use the keywords that you know your customers will use to find you.

Also, I’d recommend thinking about your keywords when you are developing your categories.

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Bob Wayman's Thoughts on the ability to measure your campaigns

At the Business blog summit, Bob Wyman from Pubsub.com made some great comments about the ability of companies to now monitor what’s happening in your customer online communities. You can actually measure the effectiveness of your articles and press campaigns.

I especially liked Bob’s point that his service monitors newsgroups and forums.

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Evelyn Rodriguez on the Marketplace

Evelyn Rodriquez, chatting about pike place market, used a metaphor for the market to describe what a blog can do for a company. I always loved markets, I used to attend college in Leicester in the United Kingdom, and Leicester is a small market town in the east midlands. I remember the calls of stallholders shouting out their wares and prices, “fifty pence a pound for tomatoes!? Evelyn’s description of the blogosphere as a marketplace is right, when I think back to that market, I had the opportunity to compare prices, and quality from amongst a number of market gardeners. This describes the current blogosphere, customers more than ever before have the ability to compare company’s products and services on the marketplace with their fellow customers.

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August 17, 2005

Business Blog Summit

Just arrived in San Francisco for the Business Blog Summit, looks as if the blogging 101 event went well today.

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August 16, 2005

Jeremy Allaire of Brightcove's Interview

Jeremy Allaire was one of the founders of Allaire Corporation and merged the company with Macromedia a few years ago. Always on the edge of technology, Jeremy is finding new business opportunities with his new Internet video company Brightcove.

Jeremy took some time out from his busy schedule to answer a couple of questions I had about the changing nature of the Internet as it relates to video.

John: How will Internet TV change the way consumers are using the web to exchange information about products and vendors?

Jeremy: We expect to see a significant transformation in how brands and marketeers sponsor content, including both richer forms of interactive advertising, to deeper engagement between the brand marketeer and the content creator. As a result, consumers should benefit from richer, more relevant and more engaging forms of marketing content that is integrated into their television programming.

John: How do you think companies will combine the use of Internet TV with corporate blogs in the future?

Jeremy: Video is clearly a powerful communications medium, and Brightcove is built around the premise that the tools of production and distribution are becoming commoditized. With this we will see surging growth in the number of institutions that originally create and distribute video programming. Whether it's explicitly part of a "corporate blog", or woven into broader communications and marketing, it's clear that Internet TV will weave it's way into corporate communications.

John: With the increasing popularity of reality TV, and citizen journalism beating professionals to the punch, how will online broadcasters find new ways to develop online video in the future?

Jeremy: There's definitely a powerful, global phenomenon happening around self-produced video, and the prospect of a much broader range of creators to be involved in the development of TV programming. To me, the most exciting area is new content startups that are looking to build highly focused, niche-oriented content channels leveraging audio and video and so forth, and routing around traditional broadcast distribution.

Afterward – John: It think that Jeremy is right, Internet video will increasingly become more important to companies as a means to get their message out to their audience. While customers now have the tools to easily self publish their own online video, the content will become part of the programming mix of Internet TV companies. Keep up to date with the latest Brightcove happenings at the Brightcove blog.


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August 15, 2005

Join The Blogging Bandwagon

Counter to the conversation Stephen Turcotte and I are having about big vs small companies using blogs to connect with their companies, I am quoted in this article in the Florida Sun-Sentinel by Kathy Bushouse “Join the blogging bandwagon: It could pay off for your small business,? as stating small businesses can in particular gain the benefits from blogging. Here I was thinking about customer service, small companies in particular survive because of the level of customer service and contact they provide to their customers. Blogging is proving to be a way to converse with customers on a one-to-one basis that is magnified in the marketplace to a wider public.

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Blogs Boost Google SEO Rankings

Steve Broback’s article “Want traffic and great Google placement? Evidence that an expensive name can’t compete with blogging,? is absolutely correct. Blogs can be a great way to out compete other rather more static websites. As its in the nature of blogs to actually converse with a group of customers, and so if a customer feels that a blogger at a company is making a valuable contribution, the customer if they have a blog will blog about the issue and link back to the company blog site. Links are very important in helping to generate higher search engine rankings. But the focus should be on content strategy rather than spamming customer blogs to get links. The benefits of higher search engine rankings will be a consequence of following a strategy of engagement with your customers.

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August 14, 2005

Response to Kirsten Osolind's comment

Kirsten Osolind's made a comment on my post, 'Does blogging work for service companies?' about an article in the Chicago Tribune on why Kirsten’s company is no longer publishing on their company’s blog.

Kirsten, Oh, I meant the PR and marketing blogging community is much more crowded now rather than a few years ago. I was thinking your impact would be less now that a few years ago. Though it sounds as if you targeted a particular category of marketing keywords, women led businesses and are getting good results.


I think I know of several companies who are generating profits from their blog. Macromedia is one such company, Mike Chambers a Senior Product Manager at the company has told me the company has generated sales, links, higher search engine rankings and increased customer loyalty with their blogs. The blogging strategy has also helped the company to build better products by involving their customers in the process of giving feedback during the software development process.

Here’s a blogging story from France about a small company that is making money from their blog, Patrice Cassard’s blog, La Fraise, a one man ecommerce blog and ecommerce site that sells t-shirts.

While I agree that different marketing vehicles will be better choices for reaching certain people and markets, one of the aspects of blogs is their ability to reach the influential people in a marketplace. Keller and Berry’s book “The Influentials? describes how 10% of the people in a marketplace will through active participation influence the attitudes and behaviors of the other 90% of people. I think that bloggers influence the conversation in their marketplace by creating a content rich website that generates a lot of links. Here’s the rub, this is precisely the type of website that search engines love to give high rankings too for keywords. Many companies are spending $000’s if not millions of dollars on pay per click ads, by investing in a website that generates a top ranking on the top search engines they can get a payoff by generating more traffic through the editorial listings on search engines.

Backbone Media, Inc. helps a lot of our customers with search engine optimization services and Internet marketing strategy, we’ve had a few dilemma’s over the years with encouraging customers to create more content for their websites, and also think of way to generate more links for a customer’s website. I think a blog solves many of the SEO challenges our customer’s face on a daily basis, the opportunity to develop a lot of good relevant content, and through active engagement with customer bloggers some of our customers have the opportunity to develop more links because their customers believe they are providing valuable content that deserves a link.

While journalists are using the web to search for stories online, if they are search on your keywords, and find your blog, then you have the opportunity to influence what is written in the Mass media about your company and industry.

To me the reason why companies like Microsoft, Macromedia and General Motors are using blogs is because they realized their customers are using the web to self publish content, and share information about the products and vendors they are interested in purchasing. The market came first, and companies are building blogs to interact with their online customer community.

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August 12, 2005

Does Blogging Work For Service Companies?

This Chicago Tribune article provides more indication to me that blogging does not always work for small companies. Ann Meyer writes about Kirsten Osolind's decision to stop blogging on her company’s blog at ReinventionInc.com. Kirsten thought the blog was just not paying off for her small business.

I’ve been wondering whether blogs really work as well for service companies as they do for product companies. Plus the example gives me fuel for my discussion with Stephen Turcotte, about blogs for big vs. small companies. I think that blog work really well when there is an existing community of customers for a product or service. If you provide the only blog in a space, Dr. Ron Lasky of Indium is one such example, Rick Short of Indium tells me Dr. Lasky’s blog was a first in the industry, and now there are only three. But, Kirsten’s blog was in an already crowded space, lots of PR and marketing blogs.

When I chat with people at Microsoft and Macromedia and they tell me their customers are asking questions online about their products, and this makes a lot of sense to me that customers would ask questions about products online. But I think its becomes more difficult for customers to ask questions through blogs when it comes to strategic issues relating to a company, the marketing of a company or the technological future of a company’s product as with Indium Corporation. Rick Short tells me he gets many more emails and calls then blog comments on the company’s blogs.

Another factor in building an active blog is how much you conduct blogger relations with people on the web and get your name into the community. The more you do the more likely people will be to interact with your blog.

Thanks Dana for the Chicago Tribune article.


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August 11, 2005

Reasons To Use A Content Management System

I am a member of the American Marketing Association’s Internet Marketing Shared Interest Group, and recently someone asked a question about how useful content management systems (CMS) were to companies.

Blogs are powered by content management systems. But any website can be powered by a CMS. Backbone Media, Inc. builds content management systems for our clients, we recently helped to update Goodway Technologies with a content management system.

Here are some compelling reasons for building a content management system (CMS).

- Gives control of when content will be published to the marketing department
- Let's non-technical people create, edit and maintain content on a website.
- Fresh content is important in developing an ongoing conversation with your customers online.
- Fresh content is also important to search engines; some search engines partially rank web pages on their freshness.
- Big cost savings. Non-technical people are updating the content, valuable programmers are no longer dealing with the day-to-day running of the site.
- The IT department no longer has to worry about updating content, they can concentrate on what they do best, making sure the website is running and secure.

Depending on the complexity of the website and who needs to submit content, CMS's can be very simple or complex. A CMS will give different rights to different users, some users will be able to add content and publish others may only be able to add content but not publish.

Posted by johncass at 1:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 10, 2005

More on Big vs. small

Stephen Turcotte, my boss and all round SEO guy states, "blogging has leveled the playing field giving smaller companies the stage and leapfrog ahead of their," larger competitors. I agree Stephen that blogs give small companies the same ability to communicate with online customer communities as larger companies.

I do think that blogging has not really phenomenally changed some of the advantages larger companies have in marketing to their customers, by that I mean resources. Larger companies have more resources to let more people to blog, and by having more people blogging. A company can make a bigger impact on their online customer community.

However, I do believe its the strategy that counts rather than the size of the company, and where a larger company uses blogging as a method for communicating with their customers, if the larger company puts more resources into the effort and uses a strategy of blogging outreach, the bigger company will gain more from the effort than a smaller company.

A corollary to the matter of resources is good writing and charisma, an individual can through hard work, style and good writing can do make a big impact through blogs. A smaller company can succeed but they have to work hard to do it, either through the quality of their content or the personality of the blogger. Larger companies can also have their own bloggers with engaging personalities.

I remember when I first started blogging, I searched the internet for marketing bloggers and discovered John Porcaro at Microsoft, and I was more interested in John’s blog because he worked at Microsoft. I was interested in how blogging would change Microsoft.

Stephen suggests that the "key currency of blogging is ideas, a small company is not limited by the size of their budget; they are only limited by the importance of their ideas." I agree with this statement, the importance of ideas was something we discovered in the Backbone Media Corporate blogging survey. Many bloggers stated it was important for them to establish themselves as leaders in their firm and through that positioning they would and do gain sales and other marketing benefits. However, in the case studies we prepared for the study we explored how blogs affected product development, and we reported that both Macromedia and Microsoft experienced even more interaction between their customers and increased customer loyalty where both companies asked for their customers ideas on products.

In the bloging survey we suggested that customer feedback is an important way to build better products, and turn more customers into evangelists. I would suggest a company could succeed even more by getting more ideas from its customers. The term "influentials" was coined by Ed Keller and Jonathan Berry from RoperASW in their book The Influentials in 2003 and refers to the 10% of the U.S. population whose robust engagement with society influences the attitudes and behavior of the other 90%. I believe where a company actively engages the 10% of influential customers in their customer community for their ideas and suggestions a company will succeed in building better products and creating more loyal customers. Therefore the company that wins through will be the company that can get more ideas from customers and translate them into products customers want. This Wired article illustrates that some people are more infectious and than influential. The advantage in customer ideas would I suggest lie with larger companies by having more customers than their smaller competitors. Though I do understand that it’s a free country and smaller companies can talk to a larger company’s customers.

Stephen also suggested "I believe blogging provides a medium for the best ideas to rise to the surface," where blogosphere communities have developed to a stage where it is difficult to review all of the conversations happening across the community, larger companies are starting to develop blog aggregators so that their employees and their customers can access all of the data easily. Macromedia is one such company. The company is using its blog aggregator to aggregate nearly 500 blogs that cover Macromedia products, including all Macromedia blogs. Customers and employees subscribe to category RSS feeds and most daily post RSS feeds to filter through all of the content contained on the blogs. Customers use the aggregator to search the Macromedia community and then post articles about other bloggers or comments on blogs.

I'd also argue that to be able to conduct blogger relations with an online customer community a company needs the resources to afford people to monitor the web constantly, and as tools appear with increasing sophistication, the resources to purchase the tools to get the job done. A larger company dedicated to the strategy would have those resources available more easily than a smaller company. This business week blog article by Stephen Baker illustrates my suggestion that blogging can be tougher for a smaller company with fewer resources.

On the issue of a smaller company having more to gain and less to lose, I think its a matter of strategy if a company, large or small realizes that customers are self publishing online and chatting with one another about products and services they will understand that if they don't get involved in blogging they lose out on the opportunity to connect with customers in the blogging medium. I also think that larger companies have more resources to monitor and advise on the development of their corporate blogs as through careful planning they can take more precautions against failing prey to liabilities.

On return on investment, I think I agree with Stephen, a single blogger can influence a whole industry. Dr. Ray Laskey at Indium corporation is a great example of a scientist who blogs for his company. By blogging about his industry he has further established himself and his company as leaders in his company's industry. Rick Short of Indium tells me that Dr. Laskey was the first scientist in his industry to blog, and has established his blog as a place for discussion and community.

Seth Godin’s discussion about small is the new big is interesting. The craigslist.org example is very compelling, and demonstrates that by harnessing the power of a customer community a small company can succeed against the classified newspaper business and new upstarts (new economy) like eBay.com

American airlines are an $18 billion company with 92,000 employees, and Jet Blue has 7,400 and $1.2 billion in revenue. By the way to be considered to be part of the Fortune 1000, a company has to have revenues over $1.4 billion, so I am not sure if Jet Blue is really a small company. That’s roughly $196,000 per employee for American and $160,000 per employee for Jet Blue. American made a loss in 2004 of $760 million, and Jet Blue made a profit of $47 million (source hoovers.com). The reasons for the large losses at American include higher costs, and an older fleet, as well as the repercussions form 9/11. To me the two companies illustrate a difference in strategies; Jet Blue chooses certain lucrative routes while American provides more services in more markets. The competition from low cost providers has meant a loss of profits for larger carriers in the airline industry. Again its strategy, Southwest Airlines had revenue of $6.5 billion in 2004, with 31,000 employees and $312 million in net income. Southwest can now be considered one of the big carriers.

My real point is that it’s a company’s strategy that counts more than its size. What happens if Southwest becomes the largest carrier in the industry? We will probably all agree that it was their strategy that got them to the top position not their size. I believe a larger company that uses blogs as a strategy will gain even more benefits than a smaller company.

Posted by johncass at 11:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 9, 2005

Blogher comes to Boston, maybe…

The first Blogher was held in San Jose, I understand the organizers of the conference are thinking about holding the event on the east coast. I’d like to encourage the women bloggers in Boston to petition the organizers to hold the event in Boston, just think they might hold it in that other city. Maybe if we can create some buzz early we can get the event to Boston!

What do you think? Jill Fallon, Lisa Williams, Susan Getgood

Posted by johncass at 1:27 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 8, 2005

Comscore Blogging Study

Comscore released a new study on blogs today. They discovered 30% of their survey of 1.5 million online users is reading blogs, Comscore estimates 50 million people visited blogs during the 1st quarter of 2005. Interestingly, blog readers are more likely to buy online than non-blog readers.

Posted by johncass at 5:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 4, 2005

Number of Blog posts Increases

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David Sifry at Technorati.com has been writing a series of blog posts on this blog with great stats on the state of the blogosphere.

There are 900,000 blog posts every day, or 10.4 posts per second.

Posted by johncass at 5:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Community Journalism in the 21st Century

IUpload provides a number of powerful content management systems to its clients; the CMS systems are focused on blogging platforms. Backbone Media, Inc. is considering partnering with IUpload to provide their CMS systems to our clients.

The IUpload systems give publishers the ability to create a location for their newspapers to allow community members to post articles. Many local community newspapers have faced stiff commercial competition from national companies like craigslist.org and Yahoo! Local by providing a lot of free classified advertising, the local newspapers would normally sell. To counter the local advertising content, local newspapers are fighting back with blogs, but many of their bloggers don’t even know they are using a blog.

The Northwest Voice a local community free newspaper based in Northwest Bakersfield California is one such newspaper. The editor of the newspaper has encouraged community members to contribute articles on local news. Each new piece of content is reviewed and either approved or not, and if approved published on the newspaper’s website.

When a member of the community becomes a community journalist they sign up on the Voice website, they are setting up a blog account. When community journalists provide content that is approved by the editor, the editor categorizes the content, either by putting the article within an existing category or by creating a new category for the content.

The newspaper is generating a lot of ‘hyper-local’ content not available to national websites. The community journalists give the newspaper the opportunity to cover in more depth the community of Northwest Bakersfield, all by using unpaid community journalists. The community journalists’ benefit from the standing in the community they gain from writing a local column. The editor then uses her professional journalists to cover subjects written about by community journalists. The editor now spends more time in reaching out to the community encouraging more people to start writing for the newspaper.

Interestingly, as a community journalist progresses in credibility with the paper, the editor may decide to include an article in the print edition of the paper, and overall the community journalists are generating more content than the professional journalists.

Another publication, the BlountCountyVoice uses iUpload’s system and their version let’s every customer have the ability to create a calendar and they can publish forthcoming events for their organization. Local sporting events, mountain bike clubs are all the types of events and organizations that get content into the newspaper on a regular basis.

Posted by johncass at 11:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 3, 2005

Word of Mouth Comment

Responding to my word of mouth post yesterday at brand autopsy, Paul Moore inspired me to write a comment on his blog, it got too long, and I wanted to reference some links so I made a post here about Word of Mouth Marketing instead.

I think that consumers are very good a weighing lots of information from a number of different sources. Are we all not becoming more media savvy in this media saturated world?

I do wonder though, as a customer I tend to search for many sources of information, maybe the real issue for the buzzAgents is that a product or vendor is now part of that consideration. After getting a lead customers can still go to the web and look for a critic of the product or vendor. If they only see a majority of positive feedback, they will trust the original report, if not and they find a lot of negative information, then a customer will discount the credibility of the agent.

It's my argument that companies can only really succeed by encouraging both negative and positive feedback on their products. If a company does receive negative feedback, how did the company handle that issue? Dare I say, from a PR perspective, its almost as if you wish something would go wrong (minor hopefully) so that a company can demonstrate they can handle the complaint. I don't know about you, but as a customer I don't care so much if things go wrong, that's life, its how the company handles the situation that concerns me.

Now in a one-to-one situation maybe a small number of people will hear about a complaint handled successfully, but online, 100’s, 1000’s of people will read the incident. That’s what’s happening at Microsoft and Macromedia, both companies are using blogs to monitor or ask for feedback from their customers. The companies either handle the complaint and solve the issue or explain why they cannot solve the issue in a reasonable manner. The interchange is exciting for customers, wow people say, these guys are really listening to me and my feedback is helping to build a better product, and customers state this on the company blogs or better yet write about the interchange on their own blogs.

Creating BuzzAgents is one strategy that works for some companies, I would suggest that concentrating on product development, and feedback and complaint handling will get you more results online. And as a marketer, and a believer in the “marketing concept? I think it follows what marketing people should be doing.

I also enjoyed reading Ben McConnell’s series of questions on the word of mouth study, Ben any thoughts on how feedback and handling complaints can actually be a net positive to company’s marketing programs?


Posted by johncass at 11:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 2, 2005

Word of Mouth Marketing & Blogging

Inspired somewhat by several posts on word of mouth marketing (brand autopsy), and in preparation for my presentation at the blog summit in August I read a great article on brandchannel today.

Randell Frost’s article on brandchannel talks about the power of word of mouth marketing and targeting the influential within your customer community. With only 7% of Internet users authoring blogs at the end of 2004, there is still some discussion about the relevance of blogs to companies. Randell wrote in this article that, “in The Influentials (The Free Press, 2003), RoperASW pollsters Ed Keller and Jon Berry argue that consumers today place more weight on the word-of-mouth insights of their more influential neighbors than on what they hear on TV or read in the newspaper. Just who are these opinion leaders? Is it possible to target them in a marketing campaign??

According to Randell Keller and Berry’s research indicates “opinion leaders constitute roughly one in ten Americans,? now I am not saying that the 7% of Internet users who are blogging are all influential, but bloggers do exhibit some of the characteristics of the influential, getting involved in their community and complaining about products and ideas. If maybe that few people will actually blog in our society, I think we discovered this when we counted the actual number of Microsoft blogger posts written by many bloggers at Microsoft but many more people are reading blogs 27% in end of 2004 or contributed community content on line 44% in 2004. Blogging gives companies the ability to become an influential voice in their community or influence the influential.

Posted by johncass at 2:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 1, 2005

Business Blog Summit San Francisco August 18th-19th 2005

I am going to be speaking at the business blog summit in San Francisco on August 18th for the following topic.

Buzz Marketing: Using Blogs, Forums, Conversations and Community to Build Brands and Traffic
John Cass, Buzz Bruggeman

A recent U.S. study found that two-thirds of all consumer goods sales are now directly influenced by word-of-mouth, and the Web is becoming more and more central to these discussions. As many organizations have learned the hard way, a good product and happy customers isn't enough--you've got to fuel the fire. This session will feature real-world campaign success stories where tapping into online communities and enhancing discussion yielded impressive results. Targeting the right influencers * How much can you really "manage" word-of-mouth? * Shortcuts for mining discussion groups and customer blogs * Can you manufacture "coolness"? * How do secrecy and exclusivity fit in?

Posted by johncass at 5:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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