Archive for the 'blogging' Category

Consequences of Forrester Limiting Analyst Blogging Activities

ForresterForrester has recently made a decision to limit blogging activities by analysts to Forrester branded blogs for any topics related to their research coverage area. Forrester analysts can continue to blog about vacations or other personal topics on their own blogs, but they will only be able to blog on the Forrester website for topics that they also cover as part of their role as a research analyst.

SageCircle has a more in-depth analysis of the issue, including an official statement from Forrester. According to SageCircle:

“Forrester CEO George Colony is well aware of that savvy analysts can build their personal brands via their positions as Forrester analysts amplified by social media (see the post on “Altimeter Envy”). As a consequence, a Forrester policy that tries to restrict analysts’ personally-branded research blogs works to reduce the possibility that the analysts will build a valuable personal brand leading to their departure. In addition, forcing analysts to only blog on Forrester-branded blogs concentrates intellectual property onto Forrester properties increasing the value of the Forrester brand.”

“Because there are relatively few analysts at Forrester and large firms that have personally-branded research blogs, this new policy will likely have relatively little short term impact. However, policies like this might hamper future analyst recruiting efforts limiting the type of individuals wanting a job at a firm.” (Quoted from SageCircle)

Given the current economic situation, I agree that this decision is unlikely to have much short-term impact on Forrester, but the long-term effects could be devastating. I suspect that several of their analysts will leave over this decision, although they may wait until the economy starts to improve before making the jump. I also think that they will have a hard time recruiting top talent. Very few people who have built active blogs in their areas of expertise will be willing to give them up. I know that I would never consider working for Forrester under these restrictions.

With that said, I understand why Forrester is making this decision, but I don’t agree with it. I suspect that it is in part an overreaction to several recent high-profile departures from Forrester, including people like Jeremiah Owyang and Charlene Li. While the desire to have all of the content written by Forrester analysts in one place is understandable, there are other ways to pull in the content than by limiting blogging on other websites.

I have been reading Jeremiah’s blog for a long time, and I frequently ran across Forrester research through his blog that I might not have found otherwise. Allowing people to continue to blog in places where they already have a following drives more people to Forrester’s research. Yes, their analysts continue to build a name for themselves, which also reflects positively on Forrester, but they also provide valuable exposure to the research outside of Forrester’s traditional channels. Dennis Howlett at ZDNet provides some more insight into the value that bloggers with an established following brought to Forrester in increased revenue over the past year or so.

It was interesting to read Augie Ray’s perspective. He recently joined Forrester as an analyst, and here are a few of his thoughts on the issue:

“Am I thrilled at the prospect of giving up Experience: The Blog, my personal/professional blog?  Well no—it’s become part of my digital identity and represents thousands of hours of time and effort.  But I also understand Forrester’s reasons for the changes.  There are obvious benefits to the company of aggregating intellectual property on Forrester.com, including Search Engine relevance and creating a marketing platform that demonstrates the breadth and depth of analysts’ brainpower and coverage.”

“I’ll be sad to see Experience: The Blog go, but I’m also looking forward to digging into the new Forrester blog platform.  There, I will continue to do what I’ve been doing for years on my personal blog:  Sharing news, offering insights, connecting with others, asking for input, and—most importantly—continuing to build my reputation within my field.” (Quoted from Experience: The Blog)

This decision is generating some high profile criticism, and I hope they reconsider this decision. These types of restrictions just aren’t practical in today’s environment where our jobs and personal lives are becoming blended, particularly through social content on blogs and Twitter.

Tips for Using WordPress as a Corporate Blogging Platform

There are some big advantages to using a single blogging platform for all of your corporate blogging activities. In this case, I’m going to talk about how to use a single WordPress installation as your corporate blog, but similar tips probably apply to other platforms. Keep in mind that these tips are for corporate blogs, not individual bloggers.

Advantages

  • Gives people a single place to find blogs from the various groups or people within your organization.
  • Take advantage of having all of this together on your domain to get better Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your corporate website. Having blogs on sites like blogspot.com will probably have a negative impact on your SEO as people create links to content that is off your domain.
  • Centralized management of the blogs to make it easier for people to blog while maintaining branding that is consistent with your corporate branding guidelines.
  • You have one WordPress installation, but it can look like a single unified blog with multiple topic areas or it can look like multiple blogs depending on how you want to position it.

Tips for using WordPress

  • In most cases, you should be hosting it yourself using the WordPress.org download, and integrate it into the rest of your online presence.
  • Replace the built-in feeds with Feedburner feeds to get better analytics on your subscribers and don’t forget to integrate your analytics package to track traffic on your blog.
  • Use WordPress categories to separate the different topics into channels and allow people to subscribe to specific topics using the built-in category feeds to create Feedburner feeds.
  • Use full names as author’s display names and allow people to subscribe to specific people using the built-in author feeds to create Feedburner feeds.
  • Go easy on the plugins. As you add more plugins, the stability and performance will usually start to degrade, and you can end up with conflicts between plugins that generate strange behaviors. In general, if you can do what you need to do with a couple of lines of PHP, don’t use a plugin. For example, I always embed the Feedburner feeds and Google Analytics in the PHP header and footer files, instead of using plugins for those functions.
  • Use themes to make your blog look unique and to highlight high profile authors or important categories.

Webtrends Example

Webtrends is one of the best examples of using existing WordPress functionality to create a really great blog. All of the main functionality they are using is built into WordPress, but they have done some extensive design work on the theme to make it look unique.

http://blogs.webtrends.com/

  • Featured articles at the top of the page provide focus and highlight important blog posts.
  • Focused topics: Inside Webtrends, Best Practices, and Industry News. Behind the scenes, they are using categories to create channels or sub-blogs based on topics. Notice how you can get a feed for just a particular topic or for the entire blog.
  • Recent Posts: All of the most recent posts regardless of the category.

http://www.webtrends.com/blogs

This is just another view of the same blog as above, but it is focused on their executive bloggers using authors instead of categories to display posts (and feeds) for each of their executives. You might use something like this if you had a couple of high profile people blogging for your company.

  • The main blog is linked at the top.
  • The most recent post for each executive along with an RSS feed is displayed.

While they are using the default functionality in WordPress, they have some extensive work on the theme / design to make it look the way it does. However, the categories, users, and feeds are all built-in functionality existing in WordPress.

Summary

This blog post assumes that you’ve already selected WordPress, so I tried to focus on just a few tips, but there are many, many more tips for corporate blogging and using WordPress.

However, it is important to spend some time upfront thinking about your goals for the blog and the strategic topics that you want to be the focus of your blogging efforts. After you have your goals and strategy defined, then you should start thinking about picking a blogging platform and getting started.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts

Ideas for Corporate Blog Posts

When I talk to clients about writing regular blog posts and coming up with a content roadmap, the most common question is this: “How am I going to come up with that many ideas for blog posts?”

People seem to think that only the most brilliant, creative people can consistently come up with new ideas for blog posts. The reality is that there are some tricks for finding good blog content that I wanted to share.

Keep it Short

Blog posts should be more like conversations, not dissertations. The shorter the post, the more likely it is that people will finish reading it and remember the content. You can even break large posts into shorter multi-part posts, which means less writing for you.

Reuse and Recycle

Look within your company for existing content. Documentation, memos, intranet content, emails and other internal content can frequently be repurposed into a blog post for an external audience. Keep your eyes peeled for existing content that you can tweak to quickly make it into a blog post.

Highlight Existing Content

Linking to some existing piece of content is a quick and easy way to make a blog post that people will find useful. This could be a video, webinar, white paper or any other content that your readers would want to see.

React and Participate in the Conversation

When you read content written by other bloggers or in the mainstream press, think about your reaction to what you are reading. Do you agree or disagree, and do you have experiences that relate to the topic? These reactions and information about your related experiences can make great blog posts.

Use Research

When you read industry research or studies that are conducted at your company, think about how you might be able to use the research in a blog post. Post a few pieces of data or your reactions to the research as a blog post.

Quotes and Interviews

This is where you can pass the buck and get other people to write content for you. Ask a co-worker or industry expert a question or two that you can use as all or part of the content for a blog post.

The List Post

Readers respond well to list posts like “the top 3 ways to do X” or “the 5 tools I use for Y”. These can be fairly easy to write, since you don’t need to go into very much detail on each item.

What tips and tricks do you use to come up with blog posts?

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

Communication Issues and Corporate Blogs

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about Why Your Company Should Have a Blog. In the comments of that post, we had an interesting discussion about some of the communication issues that can result when you have employees blogging. I decided to elaborate a bit and turn it into a full post about how to minimize communication issues on corporate blogs.

Jason Mauer, Developer Evangelist at Microsoft, made this point in the comments:

One issue Microsoft has run into: as blogs turn into more of an official voice with announcements coming through blogs instead of customary PR channels (press releases, etc), people can’t tell the difference between when someone is talking as an official mouthpiece of the company, or when they’re just stating their own opinion. One recent example is the release of an open source CMS app called Oxite. The team that built it had good intentions, but when they released it the community interpreted it as some sort of best practices guidance from MS about how to do a MVC-style web app on .NET, which it definitely is not (at least at this point). (Quoted from Fast Wonder Blog Comments)

Managing communications can be easier when you have a single company blog with fewer authors. It can get very tricky when managing corporate communications for a company the size of Microsoft or Intel with many blogs and many people communicating with the outside world.

Many companies use their blogs as a way to make announcements and other official communications for the outside world. For your readers, it can be difficult to know whether a blog post is an official announcement or something less formal. In companies, like Microsoft, with bloggers spanning across many blogs, it can help to educate people to clearly state whether something is opinion or official statement. When I worked at Intel, my intel.com blog and this blog had disclaimers at the top of the sidebar making it clear that the posts were my opinions and not official statements. It can also help to educate bloggers about including clarification within the text of certain types of posts. For example, a short paragraph about why the team released the open source CMS app along with a note about how it wasn’t the best example of how to do a MVC-style web app on .NET might have diffused your issue. We get so wrapped up in our work that we don’t always take the time to think about how what we do will be perceived by people outside of the company, but it can help to give bloggers a little training with things to think about. Lightweight social media guidelines might also help in some situations.

I suspect that this is mainly an issue for larger companies or ones that tightly control communications. I’ve worked at several smaller companies where this issue never really came up at all. In other words, don’t sweat the communications issues unless you really think that it might be an issue at your company.

Summary: A few tips for managing communications

  • Include disclaimers in the sidebars for blogs that contain opinions and not official statements.
  • Clarify whether a blog post is an announcement or something less official if readers might be confused.
  • Train bloggers to think about how their posts might be perceived by those outside the company.
  • Put a very lightweight set of social media guidelines in place.
I’d love to hear more examples of communication issues that you have encountered or steps that have worked for you to avoid misunderstandings in blogs.

Why Your Company Should Have a Blog

While doing some research for a consumer products client over the holidays, I was surprised to discover that almost half of this company’s competitors, distributors, and other related companies did not have any type of corporate blog presence. Since most of my clients are technology companies, I sometimes forget that companies in other industries aren’t as focused on social media technologies and blogs.

The research shows that more people are reading blogs, those people expect your company to have a social media presence, and blogs influence their purchasing decisions. Those sound like very compelling reasons for companies to start blogging or to improve their existing blog!

The Research

Cone Finds that Americans Expect Companies to Have a Presence in Social Media: September 25, 2008

Sixty percent of Americans use social media, and of those, 59 percent interact with companies on social media Web sites. One in four interacts more than once per week.

According to the survey, 93 percent of social media users believe a company should have a presence in social media, while an overwhelming 85 percent believe a company should not only be present but also interact with its consumers via social media. In fact, 56 percent of users feel both a stronger connection with and better served by companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment.

“The news here is that Americans are eager to deepen their brand relationships through social media,” explains Mike Hollywood, director of new media for Cone, “it isn’t an intrusion into their lives, but rather a welcome channel for discussion.” (Quoted from Cone: September 25, 2008)

Forrester Research: The Growth Of Social Technology Adoption on October 20, 2008

One in three online Americans now read blogs at least once a month, while 18% comment on them. Blog readers as a group grew by nearly 50% over this past year. (Quoted from Forrester Research: October 20, 2008)

BuzzLogic: Blog Influence on Consumer Purchases Eclipses Social Networks on October 28, 2008

Blogs influence purchases: One half (50 percent) of blog readers say they find blogs useful for purchase information.

According to the study, blogs factor in to critical stages of the purchase process, weighing most heavily at the actual moment of a purchase decision. When it comes to respondents who said they have trusted blog content for purchase decisions in the past, over half (52 percent) say blogs played a role in the critical moment they decided to move forward with a purchase. (Quoted from BuzzLogic: October 28, 2008)

Quick Summary: What This Means for Companies

For those of us who regularly consume information from blogs, we expect to be able to grab an RSS feed of your company’s blog to keep up with news and information relevant to your industry. The research above shows that the number of people who read blogs in growing, and these people expect you to have a blog. Not only are more people reading blogs, these blogs are influencing purchasing decisions, which is important for every company.

Additional Benefits

Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is probably one of the biggest advantages of having a corporate blog. Because blog content is updated frequently, blogs have some built-in search engine benefits. The blogging culture also encourages linking to other blogs, which can also improve your rankings in search results.

Thought Leadership. A great blog can position your company and key employees as thought leaders within the industry, which puts your company in a position of greater authority within your industry. The O’Reilly Radar blog is a great example of how O’Reilly employees and the company are seen as thought leaders, thus putting O’Reilly in a greater position of authority for books, events, and other products.

Should Every Company Have a Blog?

Yes and no. The benefits of blogging seem to be fairly clear; however, these benefits are only achieved when the blog is updated regularly with great content. Unfortunately, this can be a significant time commitment. For companies who are not willing to put in the time and effort, it is better not to have a blog than to have a blog that hasn’t been updated in months.

Here are a few things to think about:

  • Can you commit to at least one post per week? (2-3 is better)
  • Do you have people who have interesting things to say and with good writing skills?
  • Is someone available to manage the process and make sure that the blog never gets neglected?

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, this might not be the right time for you to start a corporate blog.

If you are still on the fence, here are a few tricks to help overcome the above hurdles:

  • Start a group blog with several authors to spread the load across more people. With 4 authors, each person could write one post a month to meet the minimum requirement of one post per week. A dozen authors writing 2 posts per month would give you content for a post each business day.
  • Recruit bloggers from the lower ranks of the company who are smart and passionate about the industry. While the CEO might not have hours to spend blogging, someone further down the org chart might be able to carve out a little more time.
  • Manage the blog process by having someone who already manages content for other purposes also pick up management of the blog. A community manager is a good choice for this if you have one.

Recommended Reading

Top Fast Wonder Posts for 2008 and Some Silliness

I was looking at my Google Analytics for 2008, and I thought it would be fun to share some of the info.

Here are the top 10 posts or pages that generated the most page views for 2008:

  1. Taking Your Idea From Side Project to Startup
  2. Yahoo Pipes and RSS Hacks
  3. Starter Kit: Social Media and Social Networking Best Practices for Business
  4. Monitoring Dashboards: Why every company should have one
  5. Consulting
  6. Why You Should Avoid Mozy Backups
  7. Using Twitter for Brands or Corporate Identities
  8. Web 2.0 Starter Kit
  9. Hiring a Community Manager
  10. Starting Point

Most of my traffic comes from the typical sources: Google, Stumbleupon, and Twitter, but I also had a fair amount of traffic from ReadWriteWeb, eLearning Technology, Silicon Florist, and Metafluence.

The most common search results included: dawn foster, best community software, mozy restore, facebook for companies, community manager, shizzow, fast wonder, mozy sucks, and blogging tips.

I also enjoying going to the end of the list to find search results that brought a single person to my blog. Here are a few of the most amusing / interesting:

  • beer consultanting
  • breakfast places near san francisco bridge where king of jordan ate
  • bubble tea facility
  • clarinet atari
  • death of myspace
  • what is going on with all the social networking sites like wikis,blogs and twitter
  • man + woman + online communitties
  • handy tips + how to change a fluorescent kitchen unit bulb
  • green dragon dawn foster
  • facebook rss stalk
  • community manager career — why?
  • “highly illogical” spock
  • bill gates quote faster

OK, enough silliness for today. I hope all of you have a happy new year!

Writing for WebWorkerDaily and The Holidays

Many of you already noticed that I have started blogging on GigaOM’s WebWorkerDaily site. Thank you so much for all of the congratulations, well wishes, comments, and more. The plan is to post an article or two a week on a freelance basis. I even got a head start before I left, so I have a couple more posts in the WebWorkerDaily publish queue that should go out sometime next week.

My first post was about making productive use of my holiday time, and I am happy to say that I am off to a good start. I’m posting this from the Chicago airport (where my flight has been delayed), but at least I managed to edit and encode 2 more 2 minute Yahoo Pipes demos during my last flight, but you will have to wait to see them until I post the next one on December 29th.

I’ll also be mostly off the grid until December 27th. I’ll be in rural Ohio hanging out with family and playing scrabble, but my internet connection will be pretty spotty during the trip. They have dial up access (no DSL or cable on the farm), and even my EVDO access is painfully slow. In other words, you could be kind to my inbox and wait to email me until after the 27th *hint, hint*.

Have a great holiday season!

My Favorite Technology Blogs and Podcasts

People often ask about my favorite technology blogs and podcasts, and I was inspired by the recent ReadWriteWeb post on a similar topic to do a post with a few of my favorites. These are in no particular order.

10 Favorite Tech Blogs:

10 Favorite Tech Podcasts:

Wow, it was hard to pick my favorites. Limiting to technology helped, since I could leave all of the NPR podcasts (love Science Friday), NYT, etc. The blogs were really hard, since I could choose from the 250 feeds in my reader.

What are your favorites?

Trust and Corporate Blogging

I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking on this blog and in other places about what to do and what not to do with a corporate blog. Here’s a short summary:

  • Don’t regurgitate press releases. Do focus on content relevant to your industry
  • It’s not all about you. It is a conversation.
  • Don’t focus on marketing messages. Have a personal tone.
  • Make sure the blog doesn’t get stale. A content roadmap can help you stay on track.

This morning I read Josh Bernoff’s Forrester Report, Time To Rethink Your Corporate Blogging Ideas, which focused on whether or not people trust corporate blogs. I was not surprised by the finding that only 16% of online consumers who read corporate blogs trust them. I don’t usually trust press releases, which tend to tell one side of the story (the company’s side) always in the best possible light and sometimes with so much spin you can’t find the meat of the announcement. Too many corporate blogs seem like a series of press releases, and I don’t trust those blogs. However, there are also many excellent corporate blogs written by people that I do trust.

I tend to agree with Richard MacManus on ReadWriteWeb:

To the larger point of whether corporate blogs are trustworthy, it depends on so many things that it’s difficult to make a sweeping judgement. For example, I trust some Microsoft blogs more than others – depending on the person blogging and perhaps even the department they work for. It depends on the style of blogging, the content that’s published, the way the blog is promoted, and so on. (Quoted from ReadWriteWeb)

Based on the recommendations in the report, I suspect that Josh agrees with us:

Like any other marketing channel, blogging can work. But it’s not about you; it’s about your customer. Our rule of thumb is that if the person reading the blog says, “Sure I don’t trust corporate blogs, but I don’t think of your blog that way,” then you’re on the right track. (Quoted from Time To Rethink Your Corporate Blogging Ideas)

Josh includes a few tips for improving the trust on your blog (his article has a few more tips and a paragraph with more explanation on each one):

  • Blog about the customer’s problem.
  • Blog to your hordes of fans.
  • Blog about issues at the core of a community.
  • For B2B companies, get your employees in on the act.

(Quoted from Time To Rethink Your Corporate Blogging Ideas)

The real message here is that trust has to be earned. Trust has to be earned for each new corporate blog and each individual blogger. Jeremiah Owyang put together an informal checklist to help you evaluate your current company blog. A great corporate blog can be a trusted source of information, but it takes real work and diligence to get to that point.

How’s your corporate blog performing?

Are Corporate Blogs a Joke?

Yes and no. Many corporate blogs are neglected, dull, and unimaginative, but they don’t have to be like this.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Many businesses have launched corporate blogs in an effort to better communicate with customers and capture a little Web-2.0 mojo. But Huffington Post they ain’t: Not only are these corporate blogs boring as paint, but the businesses behind admit they don’t have much value. (quoted from the WSJ Business Technology blog)

The WSJ article also refers to a Forrester report (I don’t have access to Forrester data):

Forrester found that most B2B blogs are “dull, drab, and don’t stimulate discussion.” Seventy percent stuck to business or technical topics, 74% rarely get comments, and 56% simply regurgitated press releases or other already-public news. Not surprisingly, 53% of B2B marketers say that blogging has marginal significance or is irrelevant to their strategies—the rest call it somewhat or highly significant–and the number of new corporate blogs among the companies Forrester tracks has dropped from 36 in 2006 to just three in 2008. (quoted from the WSJ Business Technology blog)

This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen many corporate blogs that were as dull as dirt: filled with press release content, marketing fluff, and old content. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Corporate blogs can be interesting and useful with a little focus and time devoted to it.

Here are a few tips to help turn your boring corporate blog into something successful

  • Have a person who is responsible for your blog (probably part of someone’s job). He or she will need to be responsible for driving (but not necessarily writing all of) the content for the blog. Nagging and writing will be a big part of this person’s job.
  • Create a content roadmap to map out the next 5-10 posts, identify an author for each post, and make sure that the author has everything needed to complete the post (data, etc.)
  • Diverge from the content roadmap frequently to allow for serendipitous blogging.
  • Monitor popular blogs, news sources, and events in your industry and respond to what others are saying. Join the conversation.
  • Focus on thought leadership. Blog about the things in your industry where your employees have expertise that can be shared with the world. Don’t just talk about your products; focus on your entire industry.
  • Talk about a variety of topics. Don’t get stuck in a rut where all of your posts have essentially the same or similar content.
  • Monitor and respond to comments on your blog. Also monitor what people are saying about you on other blogs, forums, Twitter, etc. and respond where appropriate.
  • Have fun. Don’t be so serious. You can include interesting things that are happening within your company that aren’t necessarily work related (photos from a company ski trip).

Examples

There are a few companies that do a good job of corporate blogging from a content perspective.

  • Vidoop. A wide variety of employees pitch in on the corporate blog (not just the execs) to talk about a wide variety of topics. You’ll find some very interesting perspectives and thoughts about their industry (OpenID, identity, etc.) mixed in with links to important industry news, interviews, new features, announcements, site maintenance, and more. One of the more interesting topics lately is a series describing their move from Tulsa, OK to Portland, OR.
  • Google. While this blog has a lot of posts that look like they could be press releases for new products, most of them don’t read like press releases. Google has a pretty good mix of product pieces along with general information (keeping kids safe online, fighting spam, etc.) and a few fun posts about activities that Googlers participate in.
  • Southwest. Along with announcements about when booking opens for the winter holiday flights, the Southwest blog talks about environmental concerns, awards, burgers, beer, and water balloons.
  • Zappos. This is probably one of the most fun corporate blogs I’ve seen in a while. They talk about the origin of French heels, running tips, history of the penny loafer, baby quail, rock band, Mexican food, and much more.

I have noticed that corporate blogs, even many of the good ones, tend to get fewer comments than other types of blogs, but I’m not sure that the number of comments is a good measure for the success of a corporate blog. I would be curious to hear in the comments whether others have noticed a similar trend. Does it matter how many comments you get on a corporate blog post?

With a little effort, you can have a successful corporate blog. It just takes focus, dedication and resources; however, the payoff in search engine optimization and thought leadership in your industry is well worth the time and effort to put together a great corporate blog.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts