Blogging


Yesterday, Jeanette Gibson of Cisco’s new media group talked about the launch of their new Web 2.0 site on October 2.  (See my post here about the site.)  Why did Cisco add Web 2.0 features?  They’ve recognized that there is a shift of power in the market, according to Jeanette. They are changing the way they communicate and collaborate. It’s clear that consumers now drive content. Cisco marketing launched the ‘human network theme’—and asked consumers to post their own pictures and share stories with Cisco about how the network has changed their lives.  She said that they learn from their customers every day. (Very cool statement, right?)

Other key web site changes at Cisco:

  • Press room contains lots of videos. They are exploring how to maintain interactivity with customers and partners on the site. For example, how to deploy video, click to talk and more.
  • The ‘employee experience network’ internal blog, and wikis (project workspace/web site that all members can update) is place for employees to learn about new interactive communications and provide feedback.
  • Customers want more personalization on web site. Cisco offers folders for customers to add info that they want to return to—favorite white papers, etc. (Doesn’t ‘favorite white papers’ sound like an oxymoron?)
  • According to focus groups, personalization should also include the ability to post a sticky with notes about a piece of content, a great video and email to their boss, friend.

On how to measure results.  (Isn’t measurement always a sticky-wicket?)  Some of the ways Cisco is  gauging how the new Web 2.0 features are working. Execs ask:

  1. Who are the influencers we want to reach? Are they blogging/talking about Cisco?
  2. What are the Alexa (site that shows traffic rating for web sites) results for key pages. 
  3. How does info flow? They have to maintain a genuine dialog with each community. Cisco knows they cannot just shove messages out any longer. 
  4. How well are they pulling in new and different people (A-list bloggers) into mix with traditional influencers (editors, analysts). 

The Policy Blog is the top public Cisco blog.  Visitors find more specific, targeted views on a blog. They get the opinion of someone inside Cisco—more interactive, not just a press release.

In the future, brochures could become more authentic, like a blog. And lose the spin.

They know they need to engage with customers honestly; with more openness and authenticity.

How can you engage more interactively with your customers, web site visitors?

The Blog Business Summit’s  (in Seattle) first set of panelists today was Jeanette Gibson from Cisco, Corporate Communications and John Starkweather of Microsoft.  They shared insights about how their companies were adopting the so-called new media—blogs, wikis (web sites that can be updated by web visitors), and podcasts, etc..

At Microsoft the openness started with their developers.  Many of the rest of Microsoft had to be brought along.  Even though everyone knows the internet makes it easy for  geographically dispersed folks to talk to each other—it still had to sink into the majority of the rest of Microsoft how that really changes things (like company communications, marketing). You cannot just throw messages out there anymore.  The challenges, he said, for the company was to how to be open and still preserve the intellectual property aspects of their tech-company traditions.   The challenge for all companies is to be both open and closed, when engaging customers and influentials in the new social networking-world, especially blogging.

An example of how communities work and benefit business:  Microsoft started the Mobius community, make up of online writers/bloggers that are passionate about mobile devices and gadgets. The community evolved on its own. Now it is loose moderator role that he plays.  Microsoft benefits because the Mobius community-members provide specific things they would like the mobile platform to do.   Microsoft has made feature and functionality changes, based on these community requests.  
John Starkweather’s advice to companies:

  • Take hard feedback.
  • Listen. Change. Evolve. 

And use new vehicles to reach people, think, small screens on handheld devices.   He describes the Mobius community as one of Microsoft’s “…most valuable professional program.  Members are very engaged and will share.” 

How could your company benefit from more feedback and insights from customers and users?  More from the Blog Business Summit later.

With the launch of its new web site on October 2, 2006, Cisco is taking a leadership role in showing businesses how to use a web site to get closer to customers, build communities and improve collaboration with those customer communities.  These are three goals  companies of all sizes can aspire to.                                                                                                                                                                   

How is Cisco doing this?  Well, the short answer is they are using the emerging, so-called Web 2.0 tools.  Web 2.0 is the catch-phrase for new Internet capabilities that really do make it easier for all of us—especially businesses—to interact online in new, easier ways.  Blogs, Podcasts (audio recordings), and Wikis (workspaces for online, group collaboration)are part of Web 2.0.  The longer answer is, Cisco is simply taking advantage of some new Internet tools that many companies of all size can also tap into.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Some Some of the new features and capabilities Cisco has added to their site include:           Networking Professionals Connection—this is an online forum where registered customers and users, can ask questions and post experiences and comments online about using Cisco’s products. Customers and users can then actually, answer each other’s questions.  Hence, a ‘community’, or, user groups on steroids.  And some of the ‘work’ can be accomplished by customers/users helping each other.  It is not all on Cisco employees to answer every question—and there are a lot of them already! 

                                                                                                                                                         

Cisco also is hosting, Member Product Reviews (member refers to the fact, I think, that you must register in order to post questions and comments on these new web site sections).   So think of user forums—right on Cisco’s corporate web site.  And with all of the comments customers, users and other interested parties are allowed to make about using its products—after registering—you might ask why Cisco would need to maintain blogs.  (After all, the networking giant is trying to build communities, and you cannot build a community without knowing who your members are, so you must register.)  And more importantly, just how long will it take them to answer the questions?       

If your company takes this approach, be sure to have your employees available to respond to the questions. I viewed some questions on the Cisco site that were posted on October 9 and not answered yet.   See here for Discussion Forum on IP Telephony (Internet Protocol Telephony) where the red check mark indicates an answered question.  As of this writing on 10-15-06, I see only a couple of red check marks.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 In the Ask the Experts section, you find 2-week long conversations where you can post questions to key Cisco engineers and product managers and have an “…opportunity to learn with…” their experts on various technical topics that relate to how products, solutions and technologies function.                                                                                           

There is much, much more.  You should cruise Cisco.com to find all the nuggets.  I applaud Cisco for its openness, and willingness to collaborate.  Cisco always had lots of content on their site (they now even have ‘video datasheets’ for featured products).  But now Cisco has extended the content and added true, two-way conversations among their experts and their customers.         

                                                                                                                                  

How could your company participate?   Well, it could be easier than you might think.  Despite the fact that your web site budget is no where near Cisco’s, many of the web 2.0 technologies are within the reach of many smaller companies.  For example, you could host a question and answer forum on your company’s (soon-to-be-launched) blog or make a 15-minute audio recording interviewing your employees about what was behind the development of a new product or service.  You know,  a conversation-starter.  More on using new Web-based technologies to engage customers and prospects to come in future posts.

Three diverse companies that have had long-term and short-term success with word of mouth marketing are Jones Soda, Sprint/Nextel and Stormhoek Vinyards (a South African winery).   Below is my summary of how they applied word of mouth marketing to grow.  Maybe there are some parallel lessons for your company.

 

 

Jones Soda (their complete story is here) began as a beverage distributor in the late 1980s and by 1996 had established its own unique brand, in an industry full of Coke-and-Pepsi behemoths.  In the words of the founder and CEO Peter van Stolk, “The big guys spill more soda in a day than we sell.”   Jones Soda built their popular brand from the ground up, getting to know their customers (teens and young adults) and selling soda at Xtreme sports events, tattoo parlors and independent music stores. They created passionate fans—even using customers’ own photos on their unique soda bottle labels.  Jones Soda is now available at national retailers such as Panera, Barnes & Noble, and Target and has expanded into a successful online music store, MyJonesMusic.com. And it all started with word-of-mouth, grassroots marketing.

 

 

 

Sprint/Nextel recently launched the Sprint Ambassador program.  The company leveraged the blogosphere by offering a free phone and six months service to about 400 bloggers. The result was 389,000 hits on Google, said David Dickey, Sprint online and interactive advertising manager.  “We have more than dipped our toes in the space now,” he said, according to www.DMNews.com  Sprint experienced the risk of the lack of control that is typical in word-of-mouth marketing.

 

 

Mr. Dickey said that the effort generated both positive and negative feedback on the brand. Sprint’s experience demonstrates that businesses must prepare themselves for anything and define specific success metrics before beginning word of mouth marketing. Word of mouth requires that marketers and business owners keep a close watch on what is said about their brand and how the conversation impacts the specific initiative.  

Stormhoek Vineyards is a South African winery that wanted to increase sales of their wines in England and France. They knew that had to do something to make them stand out in a cluttered market. So last year they turned to Hugh Macleod, a well-known European blogger and artist known for cartoons that are drawn on the back of business cards.

Macleod set up a program where he offered a free bottle of Stormhoek wine to the first 100 bloggers each in England and France who contacted him. In order to receive a free bottle the bloggers had to be of legal drinking age, been actively blogging for at least three months and live in either England or France. They were not required to talk about the wine.

What happened was that they did, indeed, talk about the wine and as a result created enormous buzz in the industry. All the talk stimulated sales and the result was that Stormhoek doubled its sales within a year. They have embraced blogging and WOM. If you follow the link to their site you’ll see that it is not a traditional web site but in blog format. Total cost, $400 of blogging software and whatever they paid Macleod. We are sure it was significantly less than the ad budgets ofNapa
Valley vintners who attempt to grow market share.
  

Here is a blog post   from a U.K. blogger talking about Stormhoek’s rapid, international growth stimulated in large part from their use of blogs & established bloggers.    

Lessons learned:

1. Use blogging to reach your market and grow your business.

2. Reach out (respectfully) to bloggers with good followings in your target market.  Make a create offer to get them engaged with your products or service.

3. Take action based on the feedback from the blogosphere.  It is gold.   It is some of the most cost-effective market research you will ever obtain.

                                                   

On July 30, the Sunday New York Times, a favorite ritual of mine, ran an insightful article, All the Internet’s a Stage. Why Don’t C.E.O.’s Use It? by Randall Stross (author and professor of business at San Jose State University).

Stross points out how few Fortune 500 chief execs are currently blogging and possible reasons for the lack of engagement.  The top two reasons: fear and time shortage.  His poster child for successful CEO-bloggers is Sun Microsystems’ Jonathan Schwartz, widely recognized as a natural communicator/blogger.

Debbie Weil, corporate blogging guru and author of recently released, The Corporate Blogging Book was quoted in the article.  Weil believes that blogging could save executives the time they now spend on hundreds of daily email exchanges.  Why no do it more efficiently? She suggests in her book that “Instead of a one-to-one communication, why not a communication from one to many thousands?”

So—since at this blog we’re about Small Company Big Image—let’s assume that chief execs and small business owners have similar feelings (fears) about blogging.  A partial list might be:

  • I do not have time to blog.
  • What will I write about?
  • I have to write??
  • I’m the CEO, business owner, President—don’t I have a pr agency for this sort of thing?
  • It’s risky…

What is risky about blogging for a CEO/Business owner?  Two risks come immediately to mind: tipping off the competition, or thinking out loud too candidly.

Tipping off the competition: 

  • Blogs are not the place for proprietary information or for breaking news. 
  • Blogs are excellent for communicating thought leadership with all key audiences—both inside and outside the company.  Key audiences that will benefit from a CEO biz owner blog:
      • investors, industry leaders
      • partners
      • current  and potential customers
      • employees

What do these audiences want to read about?  They want to hear about the driving force behind the company.   What is the company’s leader thinking with regard to key industry issues including:

  • Directions of the technology and the industry
  • Needs of customers and users today, next year and beyond? 
  • What you learned from your customers that caused you to choose the specific direction of your most recent product or service 

So in summary—the CEO-blog is one of the best tools for a firsthand chronicle of (Stross’ words) the way a company is growing.  A blog from the company’s leader provides a window into the company.

Thinking out loud too candidly:

If markets are conversations, then communicating is job-one of a business owner, leader.  A business owner’s blog allows her to speak directly to each audience, with passion and conviction.   There are lots of topics (beyond your products and services) that allow you to communicate, without being too candid.

A business-owner blogger can talk about such topics as:

  • The reasons she founded, or joined, the company

  • What got her excited about the business/industry in the first place

  • What he learns from his customers

  •  Why the industry should go in a particular direction

  • How globalization (or other trend) is impacting his company and the overall industry

  • What he thinks the industry ought to do about it

  • The technology, the industry, educating the blog readers about  whatever his or her particular area of business expertise is

  • How exciting it was to release the most recent product and why

  • The background of why you believe your company’s approach works best for your customers and partners

  •  Answer the most often asked questions she receives from customers, partners, analysts, employees

When blogging as the business owner, you are having a conversation, in your own words, with your “market”.  You are not selling, exactly. You’re talking about the types of things you’d discuss over a Starbuck’s.  Topics that are of mutual interest and that you have something to say about.  You know. The way you talk when you’re having a business-like conversation with friends, colleagues, customers.  

Only instead of a small group of customers, the blogosphere makes it a conversation with (potentially) thousands of customers/partners at one time.  Anytime they wish to read what you have to say.  And blogs are infinitely more interesting than emails.

How cool is that?

And as for blogging taking too much time. Well, as our friends at Nike tell us, Just do it.