At our recent DIALOG user conference I managed to catch up with marketer/IT consultant/uber-blogger James Taylor. He was there as a live blogger and attracted awe from the other journalists for the pace at which he could get out informative yet opinionated posts. Beyond that, James is one of the early adopters of corporate blogging as a marketing tool and is an authority blogger on the subject of business rules (and the larger discipline of business intelligence).
James is what you could call a veteran (if such a term is applicable in this nascent industry) in the area of live blogging and it shows: he is one of those rare writers who can cover sessions real-time. James claims it’s all about ‘how quickly you can edit’. Getting thoughts down isn’t a problem, but organizing these into a coherent flow is the hard part. It’s easier when the presenter has a clear structure but can be more troublesome for panel events where the sequence works well live, but not so well on paper.
From emailer to blogger
James was effectively blogging before the medium existed. Whilst holding a senior marketing role at Fair Isaac, he began sending out his interpretation of articles he found online via email to the sales and marketing organization. Keeping the distribution list organized was a problem with this approach. As blogging was emerging as a communications tool, James realized that this would be perfect to deal with his distribution problem. The blog was rapidly picked up by the inside sales team and officially went live in 2005. By mid 2006, the blog was outranking the corporate website on Google for key terms like ‘business rules’ and ‘brms’ (as it continues to do to this day).
A lot of this success he puts down to not trying to position the blog as a promotional tool for his own company, but rather was more interested in participating in the growing online discussion. Many companies fall foul of this distinction:
“A problem many corporations run into is confusing blog technology with a blog.”
James explains you can use the blogging technology to put out press releases, event notifications or other news that has inherent corporate bias. This is a different approach to an individual who writes about an industry or who tends to write posts that are responses to other articles. This naturally is not promotion. Following on from this idea, James believes “to write a blog you have to read other blogs”. Blogging is all about being engaged in a conversation online. This cannot be automated.
That doesn’t mean that you should ignore expertise within the organization: sales engineers are a good source of information as they are technical but also clued in to the customer base and what are their needs and pain points.
So, what advice for the blog owner/manager? Given a blog’s reliance on search engines to deliver traffic, the blog owner should ensure that the blog takes in SEO (search engine optimization) best practices and that the bloggers are aware of target keywords the blog should be ranked for. A good point given that most corporate blogs still receive the majority of their traffic from the Google.
When it comes to structure and layout, corporations will have to start acting more like media: showing the content that changes and injecting more personality. Most corporate blogs could segment more and move away from the traditional single scrolling page, especially as these blogs generally cover a number of topics or subject areas. For instance, you could follow the approach of USA Today and include channels for each author of a multi-author blog. On the subject of personalization, having a photo of each author is a good idea.
Just as traditional media generally demarks editorial and advertising content, on corporate blogs the corporate messaging (eg. PR section) should be separated from the personality-led blogging.
Maintaining a blog requires both resource and widespread organizational acceptance. So if senior people are willing to participate, this really helps.
Use of Twitter
James’ view is that few companies write interesting Twitter feeds. Many offer little value on top of already-existing RSS feeds. This makes sense given that the tool is great for aggregation and output. Developing good content is the tricky bit.
James suggests setting up internal feeds and then being the traffic cop – that is moving content where it should go and deciding what should jump the firewall.
Measuring blog value
When it comes to measuring success, do not get obsessed about the metrics: concentrate more on building up your place in the blogging community and thinking whether something should pique interest. If you get this part right then the traffic will come. Having said that, James does keep an eye on where his blog ranks for key searches (and I presume occasionally pepper keywords into content for lower-ranked terms).
Deriving an exact ROI for a blog can be tricky. One of James’ blog objectives is to drive up sales of his book [link]. However this is tricky to calculate. The only thing James can say is he is surprised at the number of inbound leads for his consulting business that come through the blog.