Friday, November 13, 2009

Maybe I've been wrong all this time?

It’s not clear that company blogs are a good idea, despite arguments for social media generally.

I’ll give you the bad news first, dispelling some common myths about what corporate blogs can achieve, but then I’ll show you how a corporate blog can significantly increase revenue, even without 10,000 RSS subscribers.

If you follow this kind of thing, you’re already familiar with the Oct ‘08 Forrester poll that measured how much people trust various types of media.

Specifically: Only 16 percent of respondents said they trust company blogs. In fact, blogs came in dead last

in the list of 18 types of corporate communication including print ads, direct mail, and radio, the average consumer is more likely to trust a random postcard or spam email than a blog! (Well, a corporate blog.)

So you have to ask, “What’s the point of a company blog that no one trusts?”

The traditional metric of marketing success is, “How many leads did we generate?” Branding is good and all, but at the end of the day revenue requires leads and sales. Does a company blog produce leads?

My experience is: Not usually.

At this point I’m supposed to trot out the usual examples of Joel Spolsky, Seth Godin, Bob Walsh, Jeff Atwood,Eric Sink, Dharmesh Shah, and even Moby, because, gosh darn, those blogs generate tons of leads and/or product sales and/or influence for their authors.

See?!? Yay blogs!!!

But these examples don’t prove corporate blogging is worthwhile for you.

Why not?

  • These bloggers produce outstanding, unique content, or at least they did as they rose to celebrity status. As Penelope points out so well, you’re not that good, not that consistent, and not that committed.
  • These blogs are venerable and had much less competition for attention when they were building readership. You’re competing in the modern, overcrowded blogosphere; you won’t have thousands of daily hits for a long time, if ever.
  • These blogs are written by one person with a voice, a personality, and a perspective, not by a “company” trying to sell something. Will your corporate blog have those properties? Can you resist the urge to sell?
  • In many cases the writers were already famous. Moby was famous before he started blogging. Seth Godin was a best-selling author first, then captured and recycled that audience through blogging. You and your company are not a best-selling authors or platinum recording artists.
  • For every success story there’s a hundred companies with blogs no one reads. The odds aren’t good. Blogs are too much work for this much uncertainty.

So again I ask you, ” What’s the point of a company blog?”

Actually, a corporate blog can significantly increase revenue, even without tens of thousands of subscribers, even without generating piles of new leads, even though strangers don’t trust them.

It’s all about cultivating your cheerleaders.

Your “cheerleaders” are those rare people who are not only fans of your company, but who put their own reputation on the line on your behalf. This is the guy who single-handedly convinced his boss to open her wallet during a recession. This is the woman who took it upon herself to install your software on every computer in the company. This is the woman who emails her friends every few weeks about how awesome your Web site is.

This is Tom. This is Carol.

My assertion is that one cheerleader is more valuable than thousands of leads. Here’s evidence; all of the following happens regularly at my company:

  • One cheerleader can get your software installed on 800 seats at a company that your advertising, marketing, and sales reps have never cracked.
  • One cheerleader can promote you 50 times in forums and blogs and Tweets and emails — and that’s word-of-mouth promotion, not advertisement, which that same Forrester study showed was by far the most trusted form of communication.
  • One cheerleader can change jobs every two years, purchasing your product everywhere he goes, leaving new cheerleaders in his wake.

Here’s where the blog comes in. What if the point of the corporate blog is to cultivate cheerleaders? Specifically:

  • Write convincing and insightful articles supporting what cheerleaders are telling their co-workers and friends. Help them
    “prove” their points. Help them be successful in spreading the word.
  • Write articles that could shift a person from being a “power-user” to being a “cheerleader.”
  • Highlight cheerleaders in posts. Show the Internet at large how insightful they were at implementing your product or service. Give them something they’re proud to put on their resume. This encourages others to go the extra mile so they too can be recognized.
  • Humanize the “corporation” so that people will want you to succeed. No one cares about some random, faceless company; cheerleaders fight for good, honest, smart people. Let your corporate culture shine through with stories, funny incidents, internal debates, philosophy, how you’ve dealt with failures, and highlight employees.
  • Track which articles are being spread by your readers and what commentary they add. Discover empirically which aspects of your philosophy, attitude, product features, and behavior motivate your cheerleaders; that in turn helps you recruit new ones.
  • Reference other blogs that support your views. Typically the authors of those blogs will start tracking yours and often will return
    the favor, sending a crop of potential new cheerleaders to your blog.
  • Include your cheerleaders in your corporate successes. Talk about how “we” won some award, where “we” means the cheerleaders, too. In fact, use this attitude to rally them to vote so you can win that award in the first place.

Any company can do this, even a one-person consulting shop, because:

  • You don’t need thousands of subscribers to cultivate 10 to 100 cheerleaders.
  • You don’t need to post daily. This isn’t a news feed, it’s sharing a common passion.
  • Your existing customer base contains most (all?) of your existing cheerleaders; getting them to subscribe to the blog is relatively easy.
  • You just need to be yourself and talk about what’s important to you personally, whether or not it relates directly to your company.
  • Who cares whether topics are “too general” or whether strangers will be drawn in. Your cheerleaders love you; just be honest with them and love them back!
  • Nothing prevents you from expanding the scope of the blog later. Of course, you can broaden your topics, write controversial link-bait posts, and appeal to strangers. Just don’t stress about it.

Is a corporate blog necessary for every company? No. There are other ways to cultivate your cheerleaders, but blogging is an easy path to a cheerleader support system.

This doesn’t mean you should stop advertising and otherwise get in front of new potential customers — of course you should! It just means that a blog, as one of your marketing tools, is better suited for cultivating cheerleaders than for generating vast numbers of new leads.

Those cheerleaders are worth the effort.

What do you think? Do you have more tips for corporate blogging? Leave a comment and join the conversation.

This post originally was published July 18, 2009, on Jason Cohen’s blog, “a smart bear.” Check there to see comments and more tips from his readers!

Jason Cohen founded Smart Bear Software, maker of Code Collaborator, a tool for peer code review and recent winner of the Jolt Award. He took Smart Bear from start to multiple millions in revenue and 50 percent profit margin without debt or VC, then sold it for cash. He also is a founding member of ITWatchdogs, another bootstrapped startup which became profitable and was sold. He’s also a mentor at Capital Factory (like TechStars or Y-Combinator in Austin). And, he’s the author of Best Kept Secrets of Peer Code Review, the most popular book (35,000 copies) on modern, lightweight methods for doing peer code review effectively without everyone hating life. He blogs at asmartbear Email him: jason (at) asmartbear (dot) com

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