Category Archives: Corporate Blogging Advice

Blog early, share late: research findings

Early birds catch the blogworms. Or so suggests research by blogging metrics maniac Dan Zarrella. You have the best chance of getting eyeballs to your posts if you get that content out before 10am US Eastern time. In a recent webinar hosted by Hubspot, Dan unleashed a torrent of findings from his surveys and research of over 170,000 blog posts.

This fine infographic does a great job of summing up general reading/feedback trends seen across the blogs studied:

Whether it’s views, links or comments, most activity happens early in the day. Saturday is a big day for commenting. Which could well be related to this activity on social networks:

Retweeting follows a similar path. It looks like most people read content early in the day, with little variance across the week. As we get nearer the weekend, people start getting social: whether that be retweeting on Twitter or sharing on Facebook (and getting around to commenting).

Judging by the success of this webinar, interest in blogging definitely isn’t on the wane, which makes me somewhat skeptical about a recent study suggesting that although corporate blogging isn’t exactly dead, it’s reached saturation point.

There was no evidence of this during Dan’s study of blogging, which had the Twittersphere ablaze for the full hour of the presentation. You’ll see there was particular interest in the tie-up between blogging and other social media: in particular those duelling siblings Twitter and Facebook. And that’s where blogging can really come into its own: as the content destination for inbound marketing tactics across Facebook and Twitter.

To my mind the Dan’s research also highlights a key difference between search- and social media marketing. For search marketing, attracting those indefatigable search bots that trawl the web for new content is a time-independent task. Just make sure you get content out in short order to win favor from the recency filter was the long and short of what I was told not so long ago by search experts here at IBM. The time of day really has little importance: algorithms aren’t more likely to read posts in the mornings.  Whereas this research from Dan bears a closer resemblance to the findings you might see around email marketing which is often deemed to be time-sensitive. Readership is near-synchronous and content is highly perishable. And if you are blogging outside the time-zone of your key audience, beware. Your content could well end up overlooked. As you may have noticed, I’m taking Dan’s messages to heart and working on getting this content out in a timely fashion. Right, now time for breakfast!

For further details on this study, check out the aforementioned post by Dan or listen to the On Demand recording of Dan Zarrella: Science of blogging

The role of the social media strategist

As always, some thought-provoking research is coming out of the Altimeter group around the maturing (and increasingly frustrating) role of the social media strategist. At the crux of Jeremiah Owyang’s report is the notion that the growing challenges of the social media strategist role could push him/her into a reactive corner, just responding to the increasingly demanding needs of the business (being little more than a ‘social media helpdesk’). Less strategy, more blind execution.

Here at IBM there are a number of strategists dotted around the organization (although with a strong cluster around the marketing function), and I’m sure most would agree with Jeremiah’s research. Indeed, brand social media strategist Steve Lazarus was one of those interviewed. So, what is it exactly that keeps us so busy? (I say ‘us’ as I hold a tangential role currently). I’d broadly categorize the functions performed as follows, with the caveat that the functions can vary depending on the position in the organization and personal aptitudes:

Role of the social media strategist

Training/education

Due to limitations in resource and product knowledge, it’s unrealistic to expect social media strategists to engage in all conversations across all channels. Adopting the ‘teach a man to fish’ maxim, it can make sense for the strategists to engage product experts across the organization and teach them how to become proficient in social media communications. This could take the form of education on the use of tools, the sharing of best practice and what’s worked in the past, discussing how to react to potential scenarios, the list goes on. In fact this post on Bloomberg BusinessWeek does a good job of listing ways of engaging employees. As a trainer and educator, the strategist moves into the role of a facilitator rather than a practitioner.

Analytics – monitoring, ROI and energizing practitioners

There are various components to analytics, each with its own specificities.

Strategists can monitor the social space for conversations around the brand. If there are any conversations requiring immediate attention (eg. a crisis looming), they can pull together the experts/execs that can respond. Monitoring also helps define the social landscape and strategy that makes most sense.

Analytics can also be employed to prove the ROI of social media efforts. This could be looking at increased share of voice on a given topic measuring traffic delivered to a campaign web page from Facebook and Twitter, or calculating the value of the traffic delivered to a blog ranking prominently for target terms on Google (obviating the need for paid advertising).

A further role of the strategist can be to feed analytics back into the organization to help energize practitioners. As an example, showing bloggers how much traffic their posts are attracting can help generate posts more frequently!

Process optimization and workflow

Social media touches many parts of the organization. You may have customer feedback that could help product development and should be forwarded to product management. Maybe there are support issues/discussions happening on external forums which require the input of the support team. Organizational processes should be put in place to deal with these kinds of scenarios. For instance interlocks need to be built between functions like marketing and support which traditionally have existed at opposite ends of the organization.

In addition, workflow tools need to be put in place to track individual conversations and issues to ensure these are dealt with effectively. This could be as simple as a spreadsheet recording each issue together with the response (when deemed necessary), but as these issues grow in number and complexity, more powerful tools will be required.

Web marketing integration

As Jeremiah points out in another part of his analysis, 2011 will see an increase in the integration of social elements into websites[

http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2010/11/07/analysis-2011-corporate-social-strategy-will-focus-on-corporate-website-integration/

]. In its simplest form this could be the addition of Facebook Like or Tweet This buttons on web pages. Whilst some web marketers may be savvy to this, in many cases social media strategists can offer valuable insights on what conversations should be highlighted and the format used to display social elements (eg. a sidebar showing the latest 5 entries from a blog may be more effective than a mere button).

As the mobile space continues to become more important, consistency and tie-ups across mobile, web and social presences will also need to be managed effectively. For instance, adding QR codes on event web pages could help attendees transfer information from the PC to their smartphone.

Corporate sponsorship

With employees engaging more and more in social media on behalf of their company, someone needs to make sure the management/executive team are cool with this and hopefully promote this interactivity. A strategist may propose and promote an incentive program for employees. They may also gently advise the executive on where their involvement would make most sense. As one social media strategist here at IBM explained it, a major part of his role involved keeping the corporate forces out of employee social interactions (unless of course there are policy violations requiring intervention).

Social media campaign marketer

A strategist can help bolster campaigns undertaken by the marketing team. This could take the form of creating a social media kit around around a campaign that is then emailed to experts and evangelists across the organization. Or maybe a YouTube strategy developed in conjunction with an agency would make sense. The role in this instance is one of energizing employees and major stakeholders to supplement the work of the marketing team.

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These, to my mind, are the core functions of the social media strategist. In addition, a strategist will also have to juggle a number of managerial/administrative demands, as any manager in the organization has to perform: eg. collaborating with internal/external teams, reporting on performance, people management.

It’s worth pointing out that the role of the strategist can be significantly different to that of the social media evangelist. An evangelist tends to be much more hands-on: many in this role excel at using the different social media channels to get the message out. Whilst they may have considerable following on their Twitter account or blog, they may be less proficient at energizing others in the organization to get involved, or analyzing conversations and defining processes to deal with these.

As Jeremiah points out in his report, the role of the strategist is due to change in the near future. We may see something in the social space akin to what has happened to web marketing over the last ten years: a splintering of roles and responsibilities. Some may focus on developing processes and implementing tools to help the organization effectively deal with its social ecosystem. Others may extract value by focussing solely on integration between web and social.  Others could focus more exclusively on training.

On a positive note, this role is definitely not going away. There is a supply imbalance for the social media strategist skillset with more companies chasing the rare individuals who have the requisite skills and experience. Against this, the fact that social strategists are a rare commodity means that they are stretched in their roles and risk falling into becoming what Jeremiah calls the ‘Social Media Helpdesk’.

I can see two main ways the social media strategist can avoid this. One is to facilitate rather than execute. For example, spend time ‘persuading’ knowledgeable experts to blog, rather than blogging yourself. The other is to pick a specialty and follow this. eg. become a trainer and focus on this area. Teach the web marketing department how to integrate social aspects, rather than get buried in the weeds yourself.

Do you agree?

(The original post from Jeremiah)

What is the ideal blog template width?

Got caught up on a discussion around what screen resolutions most people use these days to view blogs. Made me dig into the trusty Google Analytics to see if I could discover anything for this very blog.

This is what I found:

Less than 10% of the audience use 1024×768 or less. Given that the majority of visitors are using around 1280, I’d suggest you can happily design a template at 1,000px with the sound knowledge that practically none of your audience will have a horizontal scroll. This is slightly wider than the advice from BloggingPro earlier this year.

Looking at some of the top blogs out there, Mashable weighs in at around 970px wide. Politico is a royal 1,000px and Robert Scoble’s blog sits at around 960px.

Any web designers out there know how this compares with regular websites?

Blog posting made easy: Windows Live Writer

If you’ve ever had a problem losing a blog post to an errant web-based WYSIWYG editor, or have struggled cutting and pasting from an MS Word document into a blog post, then you might want to take Windows Live Writer for a spin.

 

This small Windows desktop client plays nicely with all the major blog platforms out there and offers more formatting options than you may get with your standard blogging interface (eg. tables for starters). 

Go ahead and download Windows Live Writer or read my post over on IBM developerWorks for more information on this nifty little app.

Your blog homepage: To excerpt or not to excerpt?

I manage a small coterie of blogs that on average receive about 20,000 page views per month. Somewhere between 16-19% of these visitors touch the homepage somewhere on their travels. The clear majority actually enter through the homepage. Bottom line: the homepage is pretty damned important.

This recently brought me onto an argument on what is the most effective way of displaying posts. Here I’m not talking about the intricacies of laying out the front page of your blog like a magazine or a photo gallery. Rather just talking the basics: what options do you have with the straight forward roller approach that originally was one of the key defining features of a blog and arguably still remains the most common blog format. It commonly looks something like this:

This opens up a big question: how much of each post do you show on the homepage?

Most blogging platforms, including WordPress, Blogger and the Lotus Connections platform we use here at IBM show the entire post on the homepage. However, you’ll also see many popular blogs abbreviating posts on the homepage with just an excerpt and a link to the individual post in its entirety, eg. Altimeter, Read Write Web and TechCrunch.

Which approach is better?

Here I my thoughts on the blog excerpting question:

Advantages of excerpting posts

  • Easy to scan many posts
  • Easy to track interest/engagement at the post level
  • Added Flexibility: decide on length of excerpt, inclusion of images
  • Works well for group blogs: you have a greater chance of seeing the multiplicity of views from different authors upfront

Advantages of listing full post on homepage

  • Remove an extra click between viewer and full blog post
  • Good for display of short posts (‘Read More…’ could link to only one more sentence)
  • Attracts more comments (visitors can often comment directly from the homepage)

As you can see, there is no clear-cut solution, but I favor the approach of displaying excerpts on the homepage with links to the full articles. Why? To appease the scanners. A homepage listing multiple excerpted posts makes it easy to move quickly through the content and see if you find something relevant. The caveat being if you are a blogger that tends to write short, pithy posts.

Am I over-fixating on a minor detail? Probably. As Mark Murnahan points out, content generally trumps structure. A well written, relevant piece will do well, whether or not it’s excerpted on the homepage. However, I would still contend that if you run a network of blogs and have to and have key objectives and targets to achieve (for instance average page views per article, number of comments per article) playing around with the homepage structure can have a dramatic effect.

How to excerpt with WordPress

If you are blogging using a standalone version of WordPress you can simply excerpt your homepage posts using the the_excerpt function within your homepage template. This will display the first 55 words and will strip out all images and HTML. If you want more control, you can use the Advanced Excerpt plugin which gives a lot more flexibility. I see the main advantages being the option to select which HTML tags to include and options over how much of the post to excerpt.

Blogging: the Google way (webcast with Karen Wickre)

Those SES guys in conjunction with Hubspot just hosted an excellent presentation by Karen Wikre, Google’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications. Karen has been at Google for over 7 years and in that time has played a prominent part in bringing blogs into the center of Google’s communication strategy.

Why the empasis on blogs?

As Karen points out, blogs allow you to reach customers, those who know nothing about you, critics and the press all through a single post. In some ways blogs can be thought of as surrogates for newsletters, where you don’t have to wait to collect 16 articles before publishing. She also points out that posts serve well as your statement on an issue that can exist for years. She draws on the Googlebomb example, where the original post served them well years later when the issue arose again. There is a downside to this approach: especially if you are in an industry/organization where the viewpoint can shift over time. A blog post has a serious shelf life so be prepared to stand by what you say for months, if not years.

Blogs also allow you to put out information that you wouldn’t consider for a press release. Think about the back story into how a product came to life. You can also go further and integrate customer stories, video footage and geeky stuff about what’s going on under the hood. There can be an audience for all of this, but the traditional press release really doesn’t offer the breadth.

As an aside, I’m you’re probably aware that Google owns the Blogger platform so it makes sense for them to adopt this tool for company communications.

Just how many official blogs does Google have?

Karen mentions that currently Google has more than 150 product-related blogs (with over 10 million unique visitors a month). supplement that with around 80 Twitter accounts reaching 2.3 million followers and you get some idea for the scope of this effort and the payback in terms of visibility. There are Facebook pages for the consumer products, however these are a newer addition.

What should you consider when starting a blog?

I think Karen gives as good a criteria checklist as I’ve seen:

  • Do you have a lot of regular announcements?
  • Are you in a busy area with a lot of activity?
  • Do you have a lot of customers (eg. Gmail)?
  • Do you have a strong community of developers (maybe around an API)?

Karen also points out the notable exceptions where blogs can make sense. If you have an area where less frequent detailed stories may exist, this can still make sense for a blog. For instance a research department, or security team. In this case the content does not appear very often, but when it does, it tends to be deep. An external example of this is Clay Shirky. His posts are infrequent, but read like book chapters.

What are key parts of the content strategy?

While Karen points out her team tends to take a light touch approach and isn’t in the business of editing posts, she does give some content pointers that are used in training:

  • A good title is very important: especially as more people consume information on mobile devices and through channels other than directly visiting your web site
  • Use a consistent style (eg. around capitalization)
  • A post should have one designated author, even if it has been worked on by a team
  • If the message is global, think about translating the content
  • For product announcements, specify the availability
  • Offer the most useful links
  • Clearly mark any updates you make and don’t alter either the title or the timestamp

Closely related is the voice with which you write. Google relies on an informal tone (one person talking to another, rather than a company broadcast). The language should be clear and direct, peppered with examples and understandable real-world examples. If humor is used, make sure it is appropriate.

When should a blog be terminated?

Occasionally, it may not make sense to continue with a blog. It could be that the blog is not being updated, there is a new related blog that is more relevant, visitors have stopped coming or a project has been terminated. In these cases the blog should be shut down: a final post should be written as explanation, the blog removed from the public directory, but importantly, the blog should not be deleted. The posts should still be available on the web.

Do Google have official bloggers?

Whilst there are some in the organization who blog frequently (such as Matt Cutts), Google does not have official bloggers. Blogging is a part of the job description of some employees and others may be asked to create a blog post (a product engineer that comes up with a new gadget). Google prefers to go to the source of the story and have that person tell it, rather than have official blogger/journalist types.

Karen provided a great insight into how one of the world’s most successful companies makes blogging a cornerstone to its communications strategy.

More on this topic:

Google’s use of its corporate blogs for handling announcements

Google recently acquired MetaWeb.

Interest was piqued in the tech industry press.

For instance Giga Om’s Liz Gannes tried to explain why the big G picked up this relatively unknown semantic web service:

The Register also picked up the news, gleaning information from a YouTube video on MetaWeb’s site, amongst other sources:

Where do they source their news? Both cite Google’s official blog:

Not too surprising given there’s no press release process in the Google world. Both GigaOm and The Register seem comfortable linking to the blog: both sites have arguably blurred the line between blog and news outlet, and I’d contend a blog has a certain that goes beyond a flat press release (which I’ve written about previously).

To Google’s credit, the blog post is:

  • More in-depth than a standard press release
  • Written informally
  • Detailed in its description of the benefits of the merger to Google and MetaWeb and customer base (webmasters/web users)
  • Attributed to a Director of Product Management
  • Open ended, with links to a video explaining what MetaWeb does (in ‘Plain English’ style)

There’s been a lot of talk about the SMR (social media release) but I’d say this approach although somewhat similar goes a step further too. SMR examples I’ve seen are essentially a press release with multimedia elements (eg. audio/video/images) listed on the sidebar. Blogs on the other hand offer a more fluid approach. Have some video? Embed it into the fabric of the post. Images likewise. Less clunky than having a specific multimedia section (although there’s no reason to keep this in addition).

So, next time you have something to say, why not get a product expert to crack open the blog editor and say something of real value – for journalists, analysts, your client base and the wider public. Think beyond the puffy press release, footnoted with a solitary link to the company website: frame a clearly explained story, and if you can, use audio and video to add color and create a compelling experience.

You may just find your message stretching further than you imagine.

Engaging a social media agency? SMG provides template questions

Those far-reaching tentacles of Shel and Neville over at the FIR Podcast picked up an informative new document from the Social Media Group titled ‘Social Media RFP Template’.  As more and more agencies from across the marketing spectrum (and in particular SEO and PR) now offer social media services, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

Apart from dealing with the obvious stuff you’d cover with any agency engagement, such as agency background and their past experience in this area, the RFP also covers the following areas:

  • Integration of social media across marketing/communications functions
  • Social media channels employed
  • Reputation management and social media monitoring
  • Establishing social media profiles
  • Influencer outreach
  • Crisis management
  • Social media training
  • Compliance with legal requirements
  • Metrics and measurement

I’d say this list is equally valid if you are in the situation of having to prepare a job description for a social media manager or associated role.

Download the report

SMG also run the hugely popular Social Media Today blog aggregator. If you write in this space, you should definitely hook up your blog!