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Monday, August 28, 2006

Business Blogging - How to Succeed

The Premise

As businesses slowly discover the blogosphere and the benefits and repercussions that come along with it, too many marketing managers are simply applying the principals and practices learned in Advertising 101 and/or sales training seminars to construct their blogging strategies. In other words, I have noticed several blogs on corporate Web sites that have been written in a manner similar to what one would find on a product description page. This is in fact a significant blunder in blog creation because it dilutes the true purpose of a blog; which is to organically engage with people in meaningful and purpose driven dialog. The fact is, consumers don’t read blogs because they’re interested in hearing a sales pitch, but rather they desire to scratch beneath the surface so as to discover the degree of actual value a product, service, or brand may provide to them personally.

How to Write a Blog

In actuality, there is no set formula or templated prescription for writing a successful blog other than to keep the content real and relevant for the reader. The content should be structured so as to capture the emotions of the reader/consumer and in a manner to solicit feedback. In many cases, this strategy goes beyond product-centric content and taps into the lifestyle of the audience; creating a customer-centric forum that harnesses emotions and develops a level of interest with significant impact for the reader.

Taking this customer-centric theme a little deeper, Ford Motor Company used to spend millions of dollars to scream at the general public about torque, towing capacity and horsepower, now they have redirected that energy toward engaging the folks who actually use, or who are contemplating using, their product through what they’ve branded as “Bold Moves.” Although Bold Moves has come under a great deal of scrutiny by some business analysts and media pundits, the concept strikes right at the heart of what today’s consumers are looking for: transparency in marketing. If you compare Bold Moves’ commentary response compared to other business blogs, you’ll find that readers are responding with passionate, informative, and respectful dialog. For instance, CLICK HERE to read a commentary on alternative fuel sources.

In addition to soliciting feedback from customers and relevant stakeholders, Ford has implemented a mechanism that allows readers to pass the information along to others so as to increase the pool of contributors. From my own observations, the result of the pass along mechanism has kept the content of the site fresh and engaging.

In summarizing the elements required to produce a successful blog, remember to:

- Develop content that is beyond the scope of your product

- Emotionally engage the target audience by talking about values, lifestyles, and subjects that keep people awake at night

- Ask for honest feedback

- Develop a mechanism to pass the blog along to other readers

How to Promote a Blog

The pass along mechanism should provide a great precursor into how to promote a blog … namely through viral methods. Although Ford has been advertising Bold Moves on commercials, a good amount of buzz has been created through non-traditional methods such as word-of-mouth via other blogs, public relations, media commentary, and personal engagement with customers – inviting them to visit the Bold Moves site. In fact, the very reason I’m writing about Bold Moves is because of the buzz generated from their non-traditional methods. I was not compelled to visit their site as a result of their television commercials.

Truth be told, successful blogs really don’t require a major media blitz to create a following if they are constructed around relevant content, as mentioned above, and if they incorporate a technological infrastructure to support a loyal following. For instance, RSS integration is a tool that is designed to build traffic to a blog site while encouraging repeat visits through a syndication method that is non-intrusive. In other words, RSS doesn’t clog up email and it helps the audience discriminate relevant information from spam through keywords and descriptions. Practically every page within Bold Moves is equipped with an RSS subscription module. Combining pass along mechanisms, non-traditional buzz, public relations, and RSS has helped Bold Moves develop into a customer-centric forum with a significant amount of traffic and passionate commentary that should intrigue most consumers in the market for a new car.

The Benefits of Blogging

Cutting through all the complex definitions of blogging, the most direct description is that of an online forum for authors to post comments and/or questions so as to solicit feedback. For businesses, blogging should not be viewed as an extension of an advertising campaign, but rather a medium to connect with customers and stakeholders. Companies that utilize blogs effectively will discover that their audience is more than willing to provide constructive feedback, in some cases eliminating the need for focus group style market research.

Additionally, blogs provide consumers with content they can search out for themselves, without having to rely solely on corporate-generated commentary. As a consumer, I appreciate the opportunity to view reader responses to corporate-generated content since it allows me the opportunity to experience the product/service from a peer’s perspective. For instance, if I’m preparing to make a purchasing decision, I as a consumer want to be well informed of the value that I would possibly receive from others that have bought before me. This is a great lead in for some common objections companies hold toward blogging.

The Objections

In my experience as a consultant, the two most common blogging objections that I run into include 1) the risk of negative feedback and 2) the lack of time. Starting with the negative feedback dilemma, companies must come to grips with the fact that not everyone can be overwhelmingly satisfied; and whether marketing managers like to hear it or not, the conversation about their company’s products and services is already taking place amongst consumers. Blogging simply provides an avenue for sellers to participate in the discussion.

To overcome this first objection, any company of worth will have loyal customer evangelists who are willing to extol the company’s virtues and provide testimonials via an online forum if provided the opportunity to do so. For companies wondering how to accomplish this feat, the key is in identifying those customer evangelists and inviting them to participate in the online discussion, similar to what Ford has accomplished through Bold Moves. Although Ford certainly has its share of detractors, it also has a large network of customers who will willingly go to bat for the company so as to defend it from critics. If a company is unable to identify any customer evangelists, that organization is in serious need of evaluating their customer service program because they probably won’t be doing business 5 years from now.

To address the second objection, time is always a factor in business operations, one of the critical resources that is severely limited and often leads to the downfall of organizations that are unable to manage it wisely. However, blogging shouldn’t be viewed along the same lines as a company picnic or corporate birthday celebration, but as a critical component of customer relations. Without a doubt, blogging requires a significant commitment, however the burden of blog management can be mitigated through a smart and comprehensive strategy involving multi-blogger participation, strategic content parameters, and scheduled posting dates. For instance, my partner Doug Case and I both blog, he writes on Thursdays and I contribute on Mondays. We agree that our content can be as many as 10 printed pages or as short as a single paragraph. Finally, we both view blogging as a fun exercise, an opportunity to share our opinions and experiences with other people. Our strategy may not work for everyone, but the point is to develop an infrastructure that will work within corporate time constraints and encourage proactive participation.

The Conclusion

In all, blogging is merely a tool that companies should leverage to envelop customers into brand loyalty and evangelism. If thought of as an extension of traditional advertising, the blog will ultimately fail because there will be a disconnect between the corporate message and the expectations of the reader. To succeed, keep the content real and customer-centric, and remember to implement technical mechanisms such as RSS or pass along links to broaden participation.

YOUR FEEDBACK is appreciated, please reply to this blog with any questions or comments.


Erik, great post! Your points on the two most heard objections are spot on.

If a company does receive negative feedback, what better place than where they can respond, engage and improve. Not having that space doesn't stifle the conversation.

As you point out, enthusiastic customers will often come to the aide of a brand they co-own.

Your clients are fortunate. Stay contagious.

Thanks for your feedback. As a consultant, I've battled with these perceptions for quite a while. Fortunately, more people are buying on to blogging and its benefits for businesses. Take care and feel free to drop in again.


BTW ~ I liked your content on www.converstations.com as well! Keep up the good work.
Well said! But businesses also ought to be cognizant of what concerned observers, critics and more impartial "evangelists" are saying about their products, leadership and strategies.

The difficulty seem to be how to screen, weight, process and interpret this "self-selected" "virtual focus group" data.

While I think you're probably a little too enthralled with www.fordboldmoves.com, it is a nice start at a culture of openness and receptivity to feedback.

Ford is screening out some of the comments on their Bold Moves blog. I've tried to post 2 comments about how their strategy is wrong, and they haven't appeared. I guess they're too bold for Ford.
Speedzzter and anonymous, thanks for your feedback. It's interesting to hear that your comments haven't been posted because I noticed some criticism on the site. I'm unaware of their screening policies but it would beneficial for Ford to utilize constructive criticism for market research.
Looks like their blog idea was too bold . . . it seems they've yanked the site.
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