The good news is that on my final day, I didn't have to make that decision. The first session of the morning was one that I was really looking forward to. Called "The Future of Corporate Blogging," it was a panel discussion between Lionel Menchaca, Mario Sundar and Kami Huyse, moderated by Mack Collier.
There's no question that this was a worthwhile session - with two living case studies of corporate blogs that really work, rich examples of how to do things well, and some of the very individuals who made it happen. Add in a consultant's view of measurement and tools, and an insightful moderator who operates in this field, and you've got a great mix. So, on with the summary!
An introduction from the experts
Lionel is the Chief Blogger at Dell's blog Direct2Dell and Mario is the Community Evangelist at LinkedIn - and these are two great examples of corporate blogs. Both were founded in response to a particular problem that needed to be solved; the prevailing thinking was not "we need a blog." Note that. The blogs were part of an overall communications strategy; blogging itself is not a strategy.
Kami is the principal at My PR Pro and is widely respected in the field of communications measurement. She rightly observed that if you want to figure out where to connect with your customers, you need to know something about them: namely how they communicate. How and where are they most likely engage with you? Do they use Facebook? Are they on Twitter? Do they read blogs? You should also find out what they need. When you meet needs in the place they're most likely to be, you'll find a wealth of engagement. Then you can decide what to measure.
A quick word about measurement
It seems like the holy grail of social media marketing is around measurement & metrics. I think it keeps coming up because there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Invariably, at the beginning of every campaign or project, you should be asking yourself "What would we consider a success?"
The panelists offered the following suggestions as a rough set of guidelines of measuring your blog or establishing a set of social media metrics for your efforts:
- Use tools to benchmark yourself against the competition; track the number of blog posts of your company on a week-over-week basis
- Track the tonality - positive/negative posts or comments over time; track against major announcements or events
- Engagement - the word that is almost as over-hyped as 'conversation,' engagement can mean whatever you define it to mean: analytics, number of subscriptions to your blog, number of comments per post
- If one of your purposes for blogging is to drive sales (personally, I don't recommend this as the primary purpose behind blogging) you can do conversion tracking or even use good old fashioned surveys
You've got a blog. So what?
Mack raised an excellent point: customers probably don't care that you have a blog. How do you make it relevant?
Dell makes it relevant by adhering to a social media framework:
Listening, analyzing, taking action. The first thing Dell realized is that there were lots of conversations going on about Dell on the Web. In fact, when the corporate blog started, about 50% of the comments that came in were negative. But, thanks to their openness and action, now 80% of the comments are positive.
Lionel noted that taking action is the most important step, and Dell has addressed this in a couple of ways. First, they've empowered every employee to apologize. Think about it. A huge corporate behemoth has stepped away from its usual scripted customer "service" language and allowed the company to become human for it a bit. That's a huge step right there.
Next, Dell established a way for customers to share product development ideas through IdeaStorm. A core team looks at new ideas that come in, assesses them, and then figures out a way to incorporate those into the business. Dell has received about 9,000 ideas from the community, with over 600,000 comments. An example of one idea is getting Dell to integrate Linux. To show you how effective it was, Dell put out a survey and in 8.5 days received 100,000 responses from customers. Now customers are aware that they can influence product development at Dell and it's resulted in the development of a community of loyalists.
LinkedIn wanted to help users better understand the site and the technology.
Mario noted that the company's vision was to establish conversations - a "playground of ideas" - on the site. The best way to teach customers how to use the site was to show them how to use the site, through demos. The next best way is to provide them with excellent customer support.
Overall, the panelists agreed that relevance lies in how easy you make it for your customers to interact with you. A surefire way is to create multiple touchpoints that meet the goal of reducing the amount of time between the identification of a problem and a solution. Sometimes you can find answers in unexpected areas. Despite our focus on the new shiny "2.0" things, forums are still a great place to mine for information, feedback and problems.
And in order for social media strategies to take root, the panelists noted, a company's culture needs to change. It's a step-wise process that can take years with layers of tools, technologies, and management that get more complex the longer you're in the game.
But not all is lost, even if you're in the most change-resistant environment. You don't need a fully-formed answer before you respond to concerns you identify by listening. Just be human and reach out - think of it as a conversation, where you add incremental value along the way and learn more about the person, the problem and the processes along the way.
And if there are any doubtful managers or executives in your company, sometimes seeing these conversations helps to dispel the myths/fears around negative comments. It's essential to demonstrate this on an ongoing basis, especially in a large organization, in order to show how direct communication with customers really matters.
Each of the panelists was asked about which new tools they'd recommend trying out.
Mario recommended trying Twitter as a customer service tool, for monitoring and response. He also had this cool idea: try setting up a livestream (video) as a response to users. He suggested that you use whatever tools you can find that allow you to answer problems or questions in the shortest amount of time.
Kami observed that blogs can be a platform for all of these tools. In some ways, she said that a blog could almost become a home page for the customer, where they're offered a more rich experience. The only caution she noted was that we should be aware that expectations are changing: as you give more, customers will expect more.
And Lionel reminded us that internal collaboration should not be ignored in this process. Piecing all of these activities together within the enterprise is essential, in order to capture all of the value. The best advice for this was "Get it off of email." If you establish a wiki, you'll be able to share more information with everyone within the organization.
The panel had time for a few questions from the audience.
1. How do you keep your personal brand separate from your corporate brand?
Mario referenced Hugh McLeod's post about the porous membrane - step out of the way and let users speak directly with product development, to keep each separate. That way, you can maintain your own brand and let the people at your company do what they do best.
2. How do you help employees understand the value of & support a corporate blog?
Dell established an internal blog (behind a firewall) at the same time they established Direct2Dell, with the same structure & setup, in order to capture value internally. LinkedIn encourages employees to read and contribute to the corporate blog.
3. What's behind the fear of blogging in the corporate world?
On the surface, there's the fear of getting flamed by negative comments and not knowing what to do. But you know what? It's happening anyway. It's better to capture these conversations and show how you can interact with your customers.
An example is when Dell launched its blog on July 5, 2006. About a week later, Lionel wrote a post about the now famous flaming laptop. He said that within minutes, got calls and visits to his cubicle with questions like, "What the hell are you doing?" He rightly observed that people were talking about it and it was all over the Internet already; he was acknowledging it and joining the conversation. It led to 1.3 million battery recalls, but more importantly, it also led to a documented process for interacting with customers.
As I noted at the beginning of the post, this was a great session and I'm really glad I had a chance to attend. If the conference organizers recorded it, I'll be sure to share that here.