Category Archives: Corporate Blogging News

Corporate Blogging News

Online publishing models: the grid system

I’m in the process of redesigning CagedEther after inspiration following a Theme Framework session. On investigating different WordPress themes, I came across a system to that may well help me juggle and organize the various pieces I want to squeeze into my blog’s latest incarnation. First though, a minor detour into my personal history, to illustrate the system’s heritage.

Somewhere in my distant past I was a sub-editor on a monthly print publication and this took me back to something I’d learnt then: the grid used heavily in the newspaper industry to construct those front page formats we’re all so familiar with.

For instance, here’s an example of a 5-column grid used by the UK’s Guardian:

Some elements such as the headline and the main image cross multiple columns, but overall they are still bounded by the lines of the grid.

Then along came the web and rather than designing for broadsheet or tabloid format, we have a screen to fill. Still, the grid format translates over into this world. However, rather than a 5-column layout, many news publications and blogs rely on different column formats, as illustrated here by Mark Porter:

In this instance, Mark points out just how similar the 12-grid layout is between between the online version of the UK’s Guardian and Telegraph.

In terms of blog templates relying on the grid system, take a look at the beautifully functional Neutica WordPress template:

and the highly flexible Basic Maths theme:

So where did the grid system come from?

Graphic designer, lecturer and author Josef Müller-Brockmann is credited with being one of the strongest evangelists of the grid system back in the early 70’s. Interestingly, he is also the creator of the Akzidenz-Grotesk font: a precursor to what we now know as Helvetica. I say ‘interestingly’ because many of the grid system designs rely heavily on this efficient sans-serif block font: Helvetica is a great compliment to a tightly-defined grid.

For more information on designing using this system, check out The Grid System website: an excellent resource pulling together snippets from across the web. And yes, the site is a testament to the visual order and composure a grid system brings.

If you have any experiences of designing with a grid, please share them in the Comments section!

Blog implementation: do you risk the fear of success?

Fear of SuccessThe BPI Institute website have an article covering the problems of successfully implementing a business process management  (BPM) solution. Don’t know what a BPM is? Don’t worry – I only have the faintest idea.

What was striking were the reasons for failure the piece lists:

  1. lack of understanding what BPM really is
  2. fear of failure
  3. fear of criticism/losing face
  4. unwillingness to change
  5. fear of success
  6. fear of reality
  7. belief that expensive tools are necessary to get started

It struck me that these apply to the implementation of many technologies, including setting up a corporate blog. For instance, the idea that no one will read your content (fear of failure) is a roadblock to many a blog being setup.

The fear of success really bemused me at first, until I dug further. Jealousy is a very human trait. In the workplace we can express this around projects which we didn’t kick-start ourselves. If a corporate blog solution is initiated by marketing, when you turn to the sales team for help on an in-depth post explaining customer pain points, you may meet a wall of resistance.

As a successful blog often involves the participation of many constituents across the organization, when setting up the blog it can be prudent to let all parties think they come up with the idea. For instance, don’t show up with a fully realized idea with all details filled in. Leave some room for other teams to offer their feedback, so the blog you come up with is as much theirs as it is yours.

The final point on this list is also pertinent: the belief that expensive tools are necessary to start blogging. It is true that to get to get a blog fully integrated into your core website can involve hosting, programming, design and possibly software expense (although open source solutions like WordPress suffice in most situations), you can just as easily forgo all of these and setup a pilot blog on Blogger, WordPress, Posterous or any of the other online blogging services available. These are perfect if you just want to dip your toe in and see if you have what it takes to maintain a blog long-term. If the pilot works, most platforms have tools that will allow you to pull the content onto your own site or at least link across to the new location.

So if any of these points resonate with you, go back to the BPM Institute and you may well find some guidance from an unlikely source.

What exactly are WordPress theme frameworks?

If you are a long-time WordPress developer who understands all the ins and outs of theme development then this post isn’t for you.

OK, now we’ve got that out of the way, for those of you left, let’s try and decipher where the real value lies in theme frameworks. Help comes in the shape of a WordPress Meetup earlier this week in San Francisco. We had the chance to hear a number of case studies from internet marketers, developers and blog owners – each with a different perspective on the utility of theme frameworks.

Alejo Grigera is a product expert at Google but also runs Mr Bluesummers: a blog covering 3D modeling. He talks us through Arjuna, which he terms a ‘robust theme’. What does he mean by that? Let’s step back and look at what a standard theme is.

Standard themes

The basics of WordPress themes means you can take the default WordPress blog theme that comes out of the box:

and turn it into something like this:

Themes give you the power to enforce your own look and feel around your sweet musings.

Robust themes

But what if you want to take this a step further if you have different types of posts (eg. video vs. articles) or different sidebar elements? Well, certain themes out there have a number of options allowing you tweak certain elements. Arjuna is one of these. It allowed Alejo to turn the standard Arjuna theme:

into this:

Notice the changed header (including translation flags) and different elements running down the right hand side. All possible due to options within Arjuna. He also has the flexibility to change the layout based on the type of post (eg. 2 column versus 3 column) – all from within the WordPress admin console.

Theme Frameworks

If you’re still following, let’s start delving into theme frameworks proper. Jeremy Reither from R3R consulting showed us what he has achieved with Thematic on his side project My Family Law. Here customization goes a step further with different sections of the sites having completely different layouts.

Such as the library page:

And the article view:

Again, there’s a way you can code this with PHP but theme frameworks make this level of personalization possible from within the admin console. This is important for My Family Law as there are multiple authors – more skilled in the ways of law rather than development. Each author can have their own blog and some flexibility over how their posts appear, yet still adhere to the overarching ‘framework’.

Thematic also supports a number of widgets from Google Ads to Twitter, and by combining with a plugin like Widget Logic, you can fine tune which sidebar elements you want to display on which pages. Powerful stuff.

Child Themes

A big advantage of theme frameworks prior to WordPress 3.0 was the ability to add child themes: that is related themes that share common elements but can be substantially different. Since WordPress 3.0 came out, this functionality is included in the core, however depending on your implementation, you might still want to use the frameworks to handle children.

What exactly is a child theme? Chancey Mathews from GigaOm summed this up perfectly (he uses the Carrington theme framework). Look at these sites…

GigaOm:

The Apple Blog:

Earth2Tech:

All have the same structure and share common elements (including that signature thick black underline), but there are obvious differences. However they all share the same core display code. This makes it easier to maintain and easier to control updates across all the sites. I can say this from experience having spent hours adding extra navigation to a series of five blogs which were essentially identical save for minimal elements like headers and sidebar links. A framework could have saved me hours.

Anatomy of a framework

Jeremy Reither showed this image explaining where the framework code sits in the WordPress template.

(click on the image for more detail)

The framework effectively wraps its code around the existing WordPress code, extending the functionality. The architecture of each framework does differ so it is worth investigating which one makes sense for you.

I’ve just started work on a redesign of this site using the Thematic framework and so far have been surprised with the ease with which you can built out a fully-functioning site. One word of caution: most frameworks rely heavily on the power and flexibility of CSS (especially in terms of child theme implementation) so brush up on your CSS skills if you are looking to modify an existing theme.

More information on theme frameworks

Theme frameworks covered in this article:

Other popular frameworks:

Further reading:

  • WordPress codex
  • Lorelle on WordPress

Conclusion

So if you are looking to create a stylized blog/CMS with WordPress, look further into the world of frameworks. If you have have experiences to share around theme framework implementation, please comment!

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:

Create an online newsroom with attractive social media content

News evolves. We’ve gone from print to radio, TV and wait for it… the internet. The humble press release has had to evolve too. As an in-depth piece in Econsultancy points out about the emergence of TV:

Companies sprang up to service this need and PR people had to learn a new skill – video news.

So why is the Internet and the social media news release any different? It’s not a case of killing the press release. It’s just presenting your news in the format that gets the best results.

After all, from the position of a hard-pressed journalist, the easier a story is to construct, the greater the chance that it will make it to publication. As I’ve said earlier, the blog format works well as the canvas on which you can paint your story.

The entrance or portal into your news stories is equally important. On a quick scan of all the usual suspects in the tech field, I’d agree with Econsultancy that Cisco have done a neat job with their news room:

Journalists are spoilt with links to both the blog post AND press release on major stories. Both formats have heavy doses of videos and photos. The homepage has links to all the major networks: Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube et al. RSS feeds abound. As do embed scripts so you can pick up the content yourself. You can even personalize the experience so you only see the news most relevant to you (ideal for any company with a wide portfolio).

One thing strikes me about this Cisco example: what they have come up with looks suspiciously like a reputable publication’s online outlet. For instance, here is the current homepage of the BBC (a traditional UK TV/Radio outlet):

Similarities include the heavy treatment of a featured news story, powerful use of images, prominent display of video content.

So is this just an evolution in the humble press release?

One key difference with online news is that people are consuming news from beyond the traditional news outlets. So beyond attracting the press industry (I include bloggers/analysts here) with a rich newsroom, companies have a greater chance of going that step further and getting their message out directly to their target audience, bypassing journalists completely.

Still not convinced there is value in creating social media-rich online newsrooms?

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:

Read more

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!