During last week’s BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas, I heard lots of compelling advice for hobbyists, amateurs, entrepreneurs and other individual bloggers — but I kept wondering if any of it would fly in a corporate environment. How exactly is running a corporate blog different that having one that supports a personal hobby or entrepreneurial venture?
I sat down with social-media strategy consultant Jay Baer to figure out which blogging best practices can be readily adopted by businesses, which ones need to adapted to work in a corporate setting — and which ones businesses are better off avoiding. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Let’s start off with a piece of advice from one of the keynotes today — that bloggers should “offer” products on their blogs rather than “sell” them. Is using a soft-sell approach a viable strategy for corporate blogs?
I think it’s entirely viable, but it requires executive buy-in to the extended detonation time of social media as a revenue-generation tool. You have to understand that there’s no such thing as a social-media grenade, there’s only social-media bayonets. You’re winning hearts and minds and clicks and attention one at a time — or a few at a time — instead of “lots of” at a time. The history of marketing has been, “Let me reach a number of people who are presumably relevant and let’s reach them all of them simultaneously — because it’s a monthly magazine, it’s a television commercial, it’s an outdoor ad, etc.” Social media turns that relationship on its head and says, “You have to earn your audience a little bit at a time.” And the reality is … that’s the only way you can do it … is a little bit at a time. And that’s the one component that doesn’t get communicated very successfully to the C-suite. They still think of the dynamic as the same, and it’s actually the opposite.
How can you tell if you’re selling too hard on your blog?
Your audience doesn’t grow steadily. If you’re not growing your own eyeballs, then something is probably wrong. … If you already have eyeballs, a subset of that group are going to tell you you’re selling too hard. Either to your face or indirectly. Which is why social-media monitoring and things like that are so important.
There’s been a lot of emphasis at this convention on bloggers learning to “share their story” with readers. How do businesses determine what the cool inside tidbits that readers want to know about are — and what’s just inside baseball?
I think there is a linear relationship between how much social chatter there is about your brand now and how much content you need to create. If people are already talking about you brand a lot, you don’t need to create as much content proactively, because the conversation is already happening. If there’s not very much social chatter about your brand, then the impetus for creating chatter through content needs to be more on you.
In terms of storytelling and story-harvesting … It requires a fair amount of brand anthropology. You really have to discover what’s special about your company, as opposed to intellectualize what’s special about your company. Even somebody like Zappos … They thought they were all about selection and price, then realized, almost accidentally, well down the road, that they were a customer service company that happened to sell shoes. That was an epiphany, that wasn’t a boardroom decision.
I think, in practice, the best way to do that is to ask your customers and really mine your customers’ insights, but also make sure your executives are out there … experiencing the brand the way customers experience the brand. The people who are the best storytellers or story harvesters within an organization oftentimes are customer service. They’re the ones who see the little moments of insight, the glimpse of something special that your marketers never see.
Is brand anthropology better done by talking to rank-and-file employees or by bringing in an outsider to examine the company and figure out what’s unique about it?
I find that one of the things that [advertising] agencies do particularly well in the social space is that brand anthropology. … When I was kid, my first job … was as an intern at a public relations firm in Phoenix. One of our clients was Rockford Fosgate — they make car stereo speakers and amplifiers. So we went on a factory tour and they had a guy at the end of the assembly line who was like 6’4″, 250 [lbs], ponytail, [with a] long gray beard kind of thing. And he had a lab coat and big rubber mallet. And amplifiers would come down the assembly line and he would take them and he’d put them on a table and he’d … bang on the amplifiers [with the mallet] and then he’d plug in the amplifiers. If the light turned green, he’d put them in a box and send them down the rolling conveyor belt.
We’re sitting there with their marketing director and we’re like, “Is he always here?” … And she was like, “Oh, that’s Bob. He’s our quality control guy, because you want to make sure that the amplifier connections stay tight. That’s how we do it.” … We ended up building an entire campaign around him. … “Rockford Fosgate: If we can’t wail it, we fail it.” — with a picture of that guy and his story. It was massively successful. But the people inside the company? The marketing director? It was not special at all to them.
What’s best way for corporate blogs to go about attracting readers?
You’ve got to communicate to anybody who already has shown affinity. So if it’s existing customers, people who call your company, website visitors, e-mail subscribers — anybody who’s already raised their hand … anybody like that is job one.
I believe the best way to market a blog is to make it about a lot more than a blog, is to atomize your content and make the blog just one manifestation of the kind of content you are creating. Have a blog post, but also do stuff on Slideshare and do podcasts and do videos and do stuff on Scribd and Squidoo and Wikipedia and sort of be everywhere. Because each piece of content you create is more bait in the water. Both for Google and for people finding it. Deconstruct your thinking and spread it more widely. I think that’s a more reliable method than saying, “We have a blog. Now let’s promote that blog.”
Are there any best practices out there that work really well for amateur or entrepreneurial bloggers but just don’t apply to corporate blogs?
If you are a hobbyist blogger, your readers want you to be topically focused. Because they are super down with building model trains [for example]. They want every post to be about building model trains. Very few companies can be that narrow, topically. … I can’t read 30 posts in a row about any company. I don’t care that much about any company — including mine. You have to have a broader topical spectrum. … Make the story bigger. Don’t make it about you. Make it about your customers or about the industry or about trends. Only make it tangentially about you and that gives you a lot more room to move from a content perspective. I think it burns your reader out a lot more slowly.
Image credit: Jay Baer