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10 Ways Your Blog Can Provide Real Value to You, Your Organization and Your Brand

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This ebook is for anyone who's been told to cut the blog from their communications proposal... …

This ebook is for anyone who's been told to cut the blog from their communications proposal...

...or who knows their social media activities could pull more of their own weight on the bottom line...

...or who wants to take their blog from the experimental stage to having real-world impact - and real-world value.

From the social media experts at Social Signal.

Published in Business
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  • 2. © 2010 by Social Signal Networks Inc. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/ca/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. Social Signal 3223 West Second Avenue Vancouver BC V6K 1K9 604-568-8787 info@socialsignal.com Twitter: socialsignal
  • 3. Introduction: Getting real value from your blog Times are tight, which is the polite way of saying that your communications budget has probably been handed to Freddy Krueger for a light trim. So whether your organization is already blogging, or just thinking about it, you need to make a strong case for your blog's ROI: the return on investment your organization can expect. Here’s how you can key thing to remember about the value of blogging to your start: 10 ways that organization, it’s this: blogging provides real value to your Blogging gives your organization a way to have and organization, host authentic, meaningful conversations with the whether it's a people that matter most to it. company, non- profit, government Keep that basic principle in mind, and you’ll be on the track to agency or tangible value. community group. And we're going to The 10 sources of value we’ll look at in this e-book are: talk about how you can get blogging Showing your organization’s human face to go that extra mile for you, and Building skills and capacity wring out every drop of golden ROI Getting high-value feedback from your posts... while staying true Creating an alternative to the news media to the principles of Building relationships authenticity and transparency that Communicating in a crisis give social media so much of their Telling a story over time power. Turning readers into messengers That may sound like a balancing act – but it in fact it isn't. Authenticity is actually Embracing openness what creates much of the value of blogging, and the relationships and conversations it engenders. And if there’s one Giving your online conversations a home 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 1
  • 4. 1. Put the I in ROI Showing your organization’s human face Most organizational communications are impersonal. Vehicles like news releases speak with an institutional voice, and generally it's either flat and emotionless or full of PR hype. Either way, there's no trust and no connection between the communicator and the audience. Even when How does that help you? There's a saying that it's harder to be individuals do step angrier at a real person than a faceless organization. Now, that forward, it's almost isn't exactly true; think of how you felt about your ex right after always scripted, your last godawful breakup, compared to how you feel about, through speeches, say, the Owens Corning corporation. But it's fair to say that it's news releases or easier to identify with a person than with a faceless canned corporate organization. videos. And once that identification has happened, real communication (The exception is becomes possible. when your CFO blurts a few Here are some ways you can stress the personal on offhand comments your organizational blog: to reporters as they're being led Have one or two people who are the lead bloggers on the away by the police, site. Let them set the tone, voice and personality of the blog. which – although compelling and Make sure your bloggers are writing under their own humanizing – names, not a pseudonym. It's easier to gain trust if you're usually doesn't do willing to show a little yourself – and a real name is the least a lot for trust you can offer. either.) A thumbnail photo of each post's author can have a big Enter blogging. impact. We connect emotionally with faces. Whether the blogger is the CEO, an executive director, a senior manager, a Blog with personality and an attitude – in the sense of frontline employee, a volunteer or even an intern hired expressly expressing some kind of emotional reaction to what you're to blog, they're going to put a human face on your organization. writing about. They'll be talking in a conversational voice and casting your organization's work in the light of their own perceptions and Keep the tone conversational. Passive voice, corporate experience. jargon, financial buzzwords – lose them in favour of plain 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 2
  • 5. language. By all means, use appropriate technical terms if You'll know you're getting a good return when you you're talking to an audience that uses them too... but aim see pay-offs like... for the kind of language friends use over coffee. And by coffee, I mean beer. More positive mentions from other bloggers, often referring to your organization's blogger by name – ideally, Share a little. Hint at having a personal life: pets, hobbies, their first name. For businesses, look especially for mentions interests outside of work. associated with purchases of your product; for non-profits, Understand there are boundaries. Don't overdisclose – look for references to donating and links to your donation chances are any blog post that begins "I got so trashed last page. In each case, these tell you if there's a link between night" isn't going to end well for your or your organization. positive word-of-mouth and actual take-it-to-the-bank And don't disclose personal details you wouldn't want money. splashed all over the web. Fewer customer complaints aired on blogs, possibly accompanied by some increase in incoming questions to your bloggers (who will become your first line of defense until you figure out a customer service 2.0 offering). More traffic to your site coming from links on other blogs. 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 3
  • 6. 2. Training Skills development Social media should be a no-brainer. After all, it's all about conversation and relationships – and in fact our conversational instincts can serve us well in blogging, podcasting, social networking and other social media channels. Instinct alone, But when you're out there on behalf of your organization, there however, won't may be more at stake. People are less forgiving of institutions suffice. You need than individuals, and depending on your organization's profile, skills, knowledge the damage to its reputation could be significant. and experience to succeed in social That's where your blog comes in. Smaller in scale, more media – from tech manageable in scope and simpler in concept than more chops, to the ambitious social media projects, your blog can be the perfect unique demands place to build your skills and experience – and those of your of various social embryonic social media team. media venues, to the social nuances Here are some of the ways you can make your blog of dealing with serve as a training platform as well as a conflict between online antagonists. conversational communications channel: You can develop Go in prepared. Yes, it's a training ground – but it's also those social media happening in the full light of day. So before you begin, give yourself a grounding in blogging by reading other blogs, muscles with training (self- commenting on them, and seeing what appeals to you and directed or with a what doesn't. Consider blogging behind closed doors for a teacher), by little while before going public, and you'll not only start watching others settling into a consistent voice, but you'll have a solid body of posts to show the world. and – most important – The same applies to team members. They don't have to be through practice. seasoned hands, but be sure they know some of the basics before you give them the keys. (And by "the basics", I mean And "practice" in more than one sense: learning involves making about blogging generally ... but also about your blog's mistakes, sometimes big ones. Those can be hard enough to goals, tone, policies and culture.) swallow if you're communicating as an individual, although you'll find a lot of people willing to cut some slack for teh n00bs. 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 4
  • 7. Assemble your blogging team with some thought to the sessions or monthly seminars can help spread the future. Choose folks you'd like to develop as potential social knowledge about tools and strategies. Alternatively, social media team members, and let them try on different roles – bookmarking, a wiki or an internal blog can let you organize from writers to community animators to editorial managers your collective expertise and share that blog or podcast you – and discover their strengths. And if you'd like to try just discovered. someone on for size and see how they adapt, bring them on as a guest blogger for a little while. Offer training opportunities to the rest of your organization. An internal internship on your blog could help a customer Set learning goals and milestones for yourself and your care rep learn more about engagement, a marketing team, and take them seriously. Plan a curriculum that manager get a handle on social media culture, or your ED's includes self-guided study, practical experience and – if you speechwriter brush up her conversational chops. have the budget – formal training. And think strategically. What skills do you need not just as a blogger, but as a Here's how you'll know you're creating a high-value manager and strategist? Learn about analytics, conversions training platform: and calls to action. You have a clear picture in your head of exactly what skills Look to the future: what kind of social media initiative will and knowledge your team has, where you need to improve, your organization likely want to pursue? Draft your blog's and where individual members' strengths lie. roadmap in a way that will take you in helpful directions, anticipating and honing the skills that will serve you well Blogging, blog monitoring and other social media activities when the time comes – by adding the odd video or audio are faster and easier, because they're becoming second clip if a podcast is in your future, for instance. nature. Look for overlap. Think about your organization's training Team members' performance assessments show needs; where do they map onto some of the skills you and improvements in areas related to their social media your team members can develop through the blog? activities, such as facilitation, collaboration and communication. Build a peer social network on Twitter, LinkedIn or other services, and ask questions. There's a strong sense of You and your team members start trying out new skills, community among social media types, and asking for help because you've mastered the old ones. with a technical issue or a pointer to a resource will almost always get you – if not the definitive answer – a solid You've developed a network of people – peers, mentors, starting point. prospective new hires – you can count on for sharing ideas, knowledge and support. Share what you learn among your team, and broaden it to your organization. Holding lunch and learns, lightning 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 5
  • 8. 3. Get into the feedback loop Getting high-value feedback Think for a moment about how much your organization spends to find out what your audience, supporters, stakeholders and community are thinking. Maybe you're the whole range of subjects that could touch on your doing opinion organization's products, services or mission. polling or focus groups. Maybe you Enter blogging. More to the point, blog comments -- where your have labs where readers respond to your posts and, often, alert you to issues, your prospective opinions and ideas you need to know about. Sometimes you'll customers are find a valuable gem in response to something you've said; other testing your times, a side conversation between readers will reveal an newest products important insight; and on still other occasions, people will and services. volunteer something to you from out of the blue. Maybe you've hired consultants These are things you aren't going to hear through the feedback to mine your form on your web site. There is a lot that your audience will share customer service with an actual person -- especially someone they feel they have logs for golden a relationship with -- that they'd never even think of dropping nuggest of insight. into your virtual suggestion box. Maybe you're just Some suggestions for getting valuable feedback thinking of getting through your blog: a psychic on staff. (Hey, we're located Make it clear what kind of feedback you're looking for, and in Vancouver; we what you can't help with. There's no sense having people can hook you up leave tech support questions for your company's with someone.) Squidinator 2000 if you have no way of dealing with them. Feedback is Thank people for their comments, critical and positive. And tremendously be genuinely grateful: they've given up a little of their time valuable stuff. And and attention to help your organization be more effective. you don't just want to hear reactions to what you're doing and saying; you want to know what's on your audience's mind about 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 6
  • 9. Engage with commenters, including the negative ones. It's Don't let your blog get overrun with comment spam; it can a way of compensating people for that time they're giving drive out real people faster than anything else you might up – and for keeping the comments flowing. do. Invest in a service like Akismet or Mollom if you find yourself overwhelmed. Recognize that complaints are at least as valuable as kudos. One legitimate complaint on your blog could well Remember that your readers, valued and wonderful though represent dozens, even hundreds of people who are fuming they are, are in no way representative of your broader in silence. Fix that problem, and you could make a lot of audience or constituency. Don't take their input as gospel. people happy. That said... And remember what Henry Ford was reported to have said: if he'd asked people what they wanted, they would have Recognize when a commenter is just being abusive; no law said "faster horses". (Actually, in retrospect, that might have says you have to play with bullies. Don't feel like you have been for the best... but you get his point.) to respond to them, either. The other readers on your blog will recognize inappropriate behaviour for what it is. Find channels to update your organization's decision- makers on what you're hearing on your blog. No matter Be sure your organization buys into the idea that you'll be how high the quality of feedback, it's worthless if it isn't allowing critical comments as well as favorable ones. That's heard and acted on. And when your organization does act the table stakes of blogging – and the minimum level of on it, let your readers (especially the one or ones who openness you need to get honest, useful feedback. offered the relevant feedback) know about it. Know the limits to what your organization can accept, and You'll know you're getting valuable feedback when: make those clear on your blog. You don't want your users to feel they've had the rug pulled out from underneath them You're bringing up blog comments at business meetings. when and if you need to edit or delete an inappropriate comment. A co-worker asks you to run an idea past your blog audience. As you develop a relationship with your blog's readers, start asking them directly for feedback. Float a trial balloon; point Others in your organization mention blog comments them to your latest online ad campaign; ask them about they've read to you. their lives and the problems you can help them to solve. Just remember that you're doing all of this in public. Your colleagues start asking for more frequent feedback updates. Offer more than one way to give feedback. Blog comments are great – but consider inviting your readers to take polls, The feedback is resulting in identifiable changes and post on their own blogs about a particular subject, or improvements in the way you operate (such as fewer upload a YouTube video with a unique tag. You'll get more complaints to customer service). diverse input, and potentially expose your blog to a wider audience. 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 7
  • 10. 4. Throw out that news release An alternative to news media Many organizations have only two ways to talk to the public about the issues that matter to them: advertising, and mass media – often through a news release. Ads, of course, cost newspapers, get spokespeople clipped on the evening news, or money. So the talk reporters into covering a particular angle. answer is frequently to And sometimes it works. But the hard truth is that a lot of what pump out news you have to say isn't actually newsworthy as far as the mass releases... lots of media is concerned... even if it might be interesting to an news releases. And important sector of your audience. any reporter can tell you that the That's where your blog comes in. Your reflections on a news vast majority of story that affects your organization can fit in perfectly. So can an news releases that anecdote about how customers are finding a new use for your come across their product, or a behind-the-scenes look at how you're taking desks aren't worth extraordinary steps to fill orders despite, say, a weather crisis. the three seconds they spend on the Stories that are too small to capture an assignment editor's monitor before the imagination can still get some precious attention from your reporter hits the audience. And a blog can be the channel that gets out a "delete" key. The message which may not have any value to a metropolitan daily, perverse result is but is worth the world to your organization. that communications Sometimes, your story actually will work for reporters. But when shops, seeing so it doesn't... few of their news releases ever ...here are some suggestions for using your blog as an making it onto the alternative to mass media: front page or into a newscast, try to Understand the basics. Know your audience, your goals increase their odds by... issuing more news releases. and your message before you even start to think about what channel to use – including your blog. A lot of communications professionals are more savvy and subtle than that, of course. They'll try to place op-eds in Show restraint. Resist the temptation to shovel everything your organization wants to get "out there" into your blog, 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 8
  • 11. and think of your blog's readers. Is this a story that will That gives you two things: a new relationship with a blogger resonate with them? Will it entertain, inform or offer value to or commenter, and a way to begin tracking the them? communication impact your blog is having. Remember the medium. Blogs – nearly all of the good Keep the door open to the mainstream media. If one of ones, anyway – are conversational and personal. This isn't your post has had real traction – a lot of comments, say, and the place for cut-and-paste jobs; an authentic human voice a lot of links from the outside world – you suddenly have a is crucial to success. And once you've posted, be ready to powerful argument for an assignment editor's attention. respond to reactions from your readers. You'll know you're getting value from this channel Equip your readers. Feeds, social bookmarking tools and when: send-to-a-friend features can help them spread the word quickly and easily. And... Your readership begins to rise, and you know you're reaching people. Respect your readers. They're here to engage with good stories, useful information and real people. For them, Other blogs begin linking to you and reposting. passing along your message is a by-product – something they'll do either because the content is compelling, or You deliver a message exclusively through your blog, and because they like you (or like to be associated with you). start hearing it repeated back to you through another channel. Monitor the results and join the conversation. Posting something on your blog isn't the end of the process – it's Quotes from your blog start turning up in the mainstream just the beginning. You need to actively monitor the social media, and reporters call to ask you about something media world for reaction to what you've said, and wherever they’ve read on your blog. appropriate, reply to it and keep the conversation going. 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 9
  • 12. 5. You can relate Building relationships Most traditional communications and marketing stresses top-down flows: pushing out a message, and interrupting whatever your audience members would rather be doing to get it through to them. Feedback from your audience typically comes in the form of metrics, impressions, survey results and – if it all works out – the desired response to your call to action. What's missing is doubt. They're more likely to give you honest feedback, pass human-to-human along valuable suggestions... and take your brand out into the connection. world, and make it their own. Blogging can help They might even stick with you if your prices are a little higher change that. It than the competition's. allows you to open a conversation, And the value doesn't end with external relationships. Building find areas of links within your organization is at least as important. Those common ground, relationships can break down internal silos, bridge departmental develop trust – divisions and cultural factions, create organizational resilience and ultimately and surprise you with innovations and insights. build a relationship. Blogging helps build those relationships because you're speaking with a real human voice, and because you're listening – Relationships can the two critical ingredients of a genuine conversation. be valuable for both parties. They Here's how to make the most of it: can get you through tough Enter conversations as yourself, not as The Organization. times: a kink in Use your real name and upload an avatar photo. That your supply chain, doesn't mean you pretend to be someone off the street a cash flow crunch who just so happens to have a passionate interest in or a safety recall Flegmar Steel-Reinforced Cupcakes Inc. (peanuts, anyone?). Make your affiliation clear. Let your readers know where Customers, you're coming from, so you start your relationship off on the supporters or right foot. members of the public who trust you are willing to give you more leeway, more time to solve problems, more benefit of the 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 10
  • 13. Wear your listening ears. Watch your posts for comments, conversation with them there. Think of it as dropping by for and monitor the wider social media world with tools like coffee. Technorati and Google Blog Search. Give a little link love. Linking to their posts from your blog Open your hailing frequencies. Turn on commenting, and is a way of giving them a little public attention (plus traffic), if at all possible, let posts go live before you moderate as well as paying them a compliment: you think they've them. (A spam-fighting tool like Akismet or Mollom can posted something worth paying attention to. That can go a help you loosen those reins.) It's a sign of trust on your surprisingly long way in building your relationship. part... trust you want your readers to reciprocate. You'll know you're building those high-value Answer promptly. When people do comment on your relationships when: posts, reply to them – and not just a generic "Thanks for your thoughts." Engage them the same way you might in Bloggers and readers begin talking about your organization conversation: asking for more details, offering your take on and brand in the context of their relationship with you. what they've said, inviting another reply. Your conversations are growing in density, with longer Talk about your readers as well as with them. Mention exchanges and more repeat visits. readers by name in subsequent blog posts, and credit them for the ideas they've offered. The same goes for bloggers More people are talking about you and your organization, who've posted about your blog. and they're talking about you more often. Take an interest. Ask people questions directly and, if your People you first encounter on the blog develop growing relationship makes it appropriate, start venturing relationships with you on other sites or – especially with into personal territory: shared interests, concerns and internal blogs – in the workplace. challenges. You find yourself posting and hoping particular individuals Knock on their doors. If someone's commenting about comment... you on their blog or social media presence, strike up a ...and they do. 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 11
  • 14. 6. Firefighting Crisis communications You'll never find your communications skills put to the test more strenuously than during a crisis. Even the best of organizations feels the strain when a crisis hits, whether it's a scandal, a service interruption, a product recall or a natural disaster. Yet crises are jeopardy. So when we're thinking about ROI, that's some exactly the time tangible value you're defending. when good communications Relying on the media to get the word out can be a dicey bet. can make an Your agenda isn't the same as a reporter's, and whether it's enormous through an editorial decision or a misunderstanding, your difference. You message can get seriously garbled by the time it hits the front need to convey page or the evening news. And that's assuming the news cycle clear, consistent is fast enough to reach people with timely information. messages and information to the That's not to say you shouldn't turn to the mass media &ndash; people who need you almost certainly should. If your crisis is big enough, they'll it... and you need to be talking about it, and you want to be part of that be listening well conversation. But they'll be editing, interpreting and filtering – enough to know and even if your key message emerges intact, you're unlikely to whether those deliver much detail or context that way. messages are getting through With a blog, on the other hand, you get to communicate the and having an whole message. It stays up 24-7, so you don't have to worry that impact. And, as all your audience missed a newscast. And you can link to resources of that swirls and detailed facts, giving people access to as much information around you, you as they need. need to know if the situation out there Better yet, it's instantaneous: you aren't waiting on anyone's has changed, and if editorial schedule. That can be critical in a quickly evolving so, how to react. situation, when an urgent update has to reach people now. Some of those people – including reporters – will be happy to What's at stake? The goodwill of your audience, your be able to follow the situation via your RSS feed, giving them relationships with decision-makers, your entire brand real-time updates. reputation, even the personal safety and well-being of your customers – depending on the situation, it could all be in 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 12
  • 15. But perhaps just as much value comes from the fact that you narrow channels) and work out a streamlined process for get feedback, in the form of comments and trackbacks, from any approvals that might be needed. the people you're reaching. They can let you know when the information you're giving them isn't adequate, isn't clear When the crisis hits, activate the plan, and be sure that enough or doesn't ring true. If your relationship with them is everyone connected to the blog knows it... including your strong enough, they may alert you to online critics and media audience. Let them know it won't be business as usual for a coverage you hadn't come across. And they may well while, and that this is the place to come for the very latest rebroadcast your message through their own channels – this news and information. time with the added weight of their implicit endorsement. Manage expectations around engagement and responding to comments. If it looks like the person who Here are some of the ways you can get the most normally manages the blog is going to be sucked into the value from your blog in a crisis: larger communications maelstrom, let your readers know it may take longer to get back to them. But... This chapter can't begin take the place of a crisis communications strategy – but your plan should be a fully Leave comments and trackbacks on if at all possible... and integrated part of that strategy. Make sure you have the full ask your readers for their feedback and questions. Explain buy-in of your communications leadership now... because you may not be able to get back to everyone individually, convincing them in the middle of a crisis is a lot harder. but that you'll try to answer as many questions as possible, including the most urgent. There's conflicting advice out there on whether you should use an existing blog for crisis communications, or prep a If the flow of questions is overwhelming, don't even try to dedicated blog ready to launch whenever it's needed. My reply one by one. Instead, take a few minutes to cluster the advice: create a category on your current blog for crisis questions into themes, and then address those – possibly posts, with its own feed. (If you think it's necessary to have in the form of an FAQ, with an emphasis on answers to the a dedicated crisis blog, use that feed to populate a separate most frequently-aseked, important and urgent questions. blog.) That way you can draw on your existing relationship capital when the time comes, while still maintaining a If you realize a previous blog post is in error, or worse is dedicated channel for crisis updates. fueling or even causing the crisis, don't give in to the temptation to go back and change history. By all means Have a crisis blogging plan in place now, when you have correct the mistake – please – but do it in a transparent the luxury of time (and the clear-headedness that's hard to way; combination of strikeout text through the error and a find when your fight-or-flight mechanism is in full cry). Lay correction styled for emphasis will serve you better than down the wiring for either a blog category or a dedicated trying to fudge things. Your reputation is already on the blog; set out the protocol for deciding when crisis blogging line, and this is the the worst time to risk it. is in operation, and when it comes to an end; decide who will write crisis blog posts (and what happens to regular Let your readers know how they can help. Encourage them blogging for the duration of the crisis); what levels of crisis to spread the word, especially if you're dealing with you'll plan for (some demand the full weight of your rumours or misinformation. Arming them with facts rather communications apparatus; others may require very than spin, and positive rather than negative messages, increases the likelihood that they'll be enthusiastic and 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 13
  • 16. effective communicators on your behalf. (And never hang And here are four ways you'll know your blog has your readers out to dry. Don't equip them with a message helped see you through the storm: that won't stand up to scrutiny; they'll end up looking like idiots, and they'll never forgive you.) Your readers thank you for keeping them informed Give your readers a peek behind the scenes. Let them see Your messages are picked up on other blogs the human face of your efforts, the people who are working day and night to resolve the situation and get things back Your responses show up as rebuttals to your critics to normal. It's a lot easier to be patient with Cathy, who's plowing tirelessly through a stack of customer complaints, You emerge from the crisis with more readers, a more than with Humongous Impersonal Company Inc. engaged community and stronger relationships After things settle down, give your readers a debriefing. If your organization was at fault, apologize; if not, commiserate. Tell the entire story, including the causes of the crisis, the steps you took to resolve it and what you're doing to keep it from happening again. And if your readers are part of that story, give them plenty of credit and thanks for their role. 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 14
  • 17. 7. Spinning yarns Telling a story over time Not every story fits in a few neat paragraphs – especially stories that are still unfolding. Maybe you're taking on a major advocacy project. Adding a green roof to your office building. Or tracking an intern's apprenticeship in the skills and culture of your industry. Either way, you A blog, on the other hand, lets you tell an extended story easily. have a story that Devoted readers can follow every development via RSS; others can engage readers can check in from time to time. And if your story is a compelling over an extended one, you can build an audience over time – people joining you period: weeks, halfway through can experience it from the beginning, thanks to months or even your blog's archives. years. And when it's a story that Commenting allows readers to become part of the story, reinforces your whether it's by cheering from the sidelines, as active brand and engages participants with offers of help and support, or as story-tellers in readers, you have their own right, inspired by your tale. That's the kind of something with the engagement traditional media can't offer. potential for real value... if you can Here's how to put extended story-telling to work on tell it to them. behalf of your organization and your brand: But telling that Tell the right story. You're looking for something aligned story through with your brand (which doesn't have mean a story about traditional your brand itself, but rather a story that reflects its channels can be underlying attributes and values). You want something difficult. that's interesting to your readers, and can sustain that Advertising is interest over time. And you want a story that you can tell expensive, and it's a well – where you have ongoing access to the people major commitment involved, so you're delivering first-hand information to your to devote an readers. extended ad buy to one story; news Look for concrete details. Any good storyteller looks for media, while they may cover you from time to time, almost those nuggets of tangible, sensory detail: the way snow certainly won't broadcast every development – and there's no squeaks under a construction worker's boots in extreme guarantee they won't lost interest. cold, the tangy aroma of cilantro hitting a frying pan, the 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 15
  • 18. papery-thin skin of an elderly woman's hand clasping yours. Welcome the new reader. You want to build your audience Used judiciously, they can bring a story to life. over time – so it shouldn't be hard for someone to get up to speed on your story. That might be hopeless with, say, Lost... Use photos, audio and video. They can often tell your story but you can include a sidebar with an overview of the story more efficiently and more evocatively than text. The right so far, linking to a more detailed summary page. And sound or image can quickly engage a reader's senses and consider offering an occasional "the story so far" post. emotions, and impart a sense of immediacy and shared experience – especially when we're seeing people's faces Involve your readers in the story. Can they suggest and hearing their voices. something – a name for a new building? Can they collect questions to pose to the people at the centre of the story? Stories are ultimately about people. Find the people behind Encourage conversations about the story in your blog's your story, and let us hear their voices. A choice sentence comments, and keep those conversations going with your quoted from someone at the heart of the story can do much replies. And if your readers can have an impact on the more for you than paragraph after paragraph of factoids or story's outcome – by raising funds, for example, or lending statistics. Pair it with a photo, and you can deliver something some volunteer labour for an afternoon – find a way to with real power. And don't feel like you have to bring in make that possible. someone new in each post; seeing how someone's situation and perspective change over time can be one of the most And here are three ways to tell when your storytelling engaging parts of a story. is building toward a happy ending for you and your Stories are also about conflict. What are the opposing forces organization: in this story? Who are we cheering for... and against? The "villain" doesn't have to be a person or organization; often, Your story's audience is building over time, enhancing this we're fighting against time, a natural disaster, illness or a channel and extending your reach. social condition. Your readers begin talking about the story and the Identify your theme. Usually a particular story speaks to underlying brand values, on your blog and elsewhere in the some deeper idea... hopefully, one that has a lot to do with social web. your brand or mission. That theme should help keep you on track as you tell your story... as well as helping you find Other channels – including the news media – pick up on the story. echoes of your theme on other blogs that can open up opportunities for engagement and conversation with them. 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 16
  • 19. 8. Psst! Pass it on! Turning readers into messengers When you're talking about yourself, your brand or your organization, you may have first-person credibility... but you also have a pretty obvious conflict of interest. Add that to the growing distrust of advertising and public relations – in fact, of institutional communications generally – and you have a challenge. These days, your But here's the thing: they often don't just pass your message audience is putting along. Your readers aren't automatons; they're active much more trust in participants in a conversation, and they'll transform your their personal content – sometimes in ways you never anticipated. networks: their friends, family, And you don't get to pick which messages get disseminated neighbours and and which don't; a blog's audience chooses those for colleagues. When themselves. The content that gets sent around is the stuff they they hear a find compelling – the message they're motivated to run with. personal message from someone If you think that sounds like you're giving up a lot of control, you they know, it aren't wrong. But what you lose in control, you gain in power punches through and reach. The unexpected twists that can drive a traditionally- in a way that minded brand manager wingy are exactly what lend the weight organizational of personal authenticity – and engagement – to the results. communications can't. Here's how to enable your readers to be effective, motivated messengers on your behalf: Blogging can help connect you to the The readers who are most likely to bring your message (or, power of those rather, their take on it) into the world are the ones who feel personal networks. some level of personal investment in your organization or It gives you a brand. It won't be hard to recognize them; on your blog and vehicle for on others, they'll be the ones sticking up for and bringing content encouraging others to check you out. Build relationships to your audience in with them. a way that makes it easy – sometimes even irresistible – to pass along to the people they know. 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 17
  • 20. Your critics are also worth talking to, at least the reasonable arena). Greet them graciously as part of the conversation ones, and not just to keep them from saying "That without making a huge deal about them, and they likely organization wouldn't even reply to me." Whether they won't overshadow your message. have good-faith complaints about you, or their beef with you comes from a misunderstanding, talking with them can Choose messages and content that people will want to be the first step toward building a positive relationship. convey. News releases, talking points and marketing-speak won't work with any but your most dyed-in-the-wool Don't waste too much time trying to deliberately create supporters (and you should in fact have a separate strategy content that will "go viral" – that is, turn into one of those for working with them). You'll get a lot more traction with memes that flashes across the web like a wildfire across dry engaging, compelling content that gives readers and their prairie. Instead, concentrate on offering great content: friends some kind of value. engaging stories, unique perspectives, entertainment or practical information. Include calls to action in your content – the kind you can track, like a landing page with an URL keyed to a particular Make it easy for your readers to tell your story. Include blog post. The results will give you clear metrics... and if logos, photos and video and audio clips... along with you've chosen a call to action with tangible value, a simple permission to not just reuse, but remix them as they please; way to calculate ROI. the Creative Commons Non-Commercial Attribution license is your friend. Even easier, adding a single snippet of code Measure your reach by tracking searches on Google, to your blog template will generate one-click links that let Technorati, Twitter and other services. Get a baseline for the users share your posts with every major content-sharing metrics that count for you, and then monitor what's site on the web. (Here's an alternate service for the same working and what isn't. Experiment, watch and learn, and kind of one-click sharing.) you'll find your viral reach growing. Offer full-text news feeds (aka RSS feeds) from your site, so You'll know you're getting value when: your readers can get whole blog posts in their newsreaders. Many of them, especially power users, have You see your content reinforcing your brand and messages set up workflows to let them quickly share posts in Google – not on your site, but in the blogs and social media Reader or similar services with their friends. streams of your readers. There may come a time when you wouldn't just like your You see that content being reproduced by people you readers to pass your content along – you need it. Go right weren't aware of before. ahead and ask them; be transparent about what you're hoping to achieve, and suggest ways they can most effectively deliver the goods. Just be sure your tone makes it clear that you're asking for help and making suggestions, not giving orders. Be ready for unexpected, even hostile uses of your content (especially if you work in a contentious or competitive 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 18
  • 21. 9. Open wide... Embracing openness There's a convergence going on, and it revolves around the word “open.” Whether it's open-source software, or enormous information repositories that are open to be accessed and sometimes even edited by anyone, or the growing requirements for transparency on the part of organizations and governments, your customers, supporters and audience are expecting you to be open to them. Not just in the sense of conversation that cuts across departmental walls, can give your open-minded, or having organization new opportunities to collaborate. a contact form on your web site. But open in the Even the more intimidating aspects of openness, like the sense that they know increased accountability it imposes, can be positive when it what you're doing, how keeps organizations true to their mission and their brand values it affects them, and why. – and aligned with the communities they serve. That your organization's leadership is available There's a lot more to openness than blogging, of course. But a and accountable. That blog can be the way your organization opens the windows a they can engage with crack, sniffs the air outside and decides whether to go further. you as peers. Here's how to start opening up: Books like Wikinomics and Tactical Nobody's expecting you to run naked through the digital Transparency explain not streets – and certainly not right off the bat. Get buy-in from only the forces driving your organization, start small, and open up gradually... the trend toward validating what you've done at every step. openness, but the real value that businesses Your first step can be a modest one: bringing in a manager and other organizations as a guest blogger, for example, available to respond to can gain when they let reader comments and questions about their area of in some sunshine. responsibility. A successful outing there can lead to more Freeing some of your ambitious efforts later on. intellectual property, for instance, can allow your Focus your efforts on relevant openness – things that users to run with it – sometimes as brand ambassadors, other actually matter to your readers. And aim at first for the areas times as analysts who generate new and unexpected insights with the least controversy and risk, while you build up your for you. And opening up internally, by creating a place for 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 19
  • 22. organization's comfort level (and your own knowledge of Try to make your organization's logo and wordmark your community of readers and commenters.) available for reuse (perhaps under a Creative Commons license), and post them to your blog. Invite your readers to Openness is as much about getting to know people as it is use them, even to remix them, when they're talking about about hard facts and controversial issues. Introduce your your organization. Do the same with photos of your readers to the behind-the-scenes folks who make things organization's leadership, audio and video clips of products happen. If those people are willing, give your readers access or services in action, and other digital assets that your to them with a Q & A or live chat on your blog. readers can run with. Let your readers in on what goes on backstage. Take them Do at least as much listening as talking, and build the reflex through the process of making that hot new product you're of responding with access. If you're seeing a lot of blog selling, or walk them through the processing of a donation chatter or reading a lot of comments about a particular all the way to where it makes a difference out in the world. issue, find ways to open up around it – by exposing some of your internal conversations about the issue, for example, or Share your challenges. Is the economic downturn causing inviting a conversation between your readers and some of breaks or bottlenecks in your supply chain that are causing your organization's key people. delivery delays? Has heightened interest in your organization meant a slow web server or site outages? Be Look for ways to bring people inside – both virtually and in the first to tell that story to your readers, before they hear it the physical world. Hold a meetup in your offices, or a from others or experience it themselves; they'll appreciate townhall with your organization's key leaders. And the candor, and respond well to your lack of defensiveness. complete the circle by linking it to the online world – for instance, via a Twitter feed or liveblog of the conversation. Anticipate the risks of openness: backlash, criticism and tough questions. Plan in advance for how you can deal with You'll know that openness is starting to pay off when: them, so a brief spark doesn't have the time to flare into something more destructive. Your research and monitoring show an increase in public perception and description of your organization as open, "Open" doesn't mean "floodgates". You probably have accessible and accountable. reams of data you could share on your blog, from the cafeteria's daily specials to the new guidelines for office Ideas from your blog's readers start getting discussed in allocation. Be judicious, and choose the information that will your organization, and taken seriously. mean the most to the people you want to reach. Your organization steps back from the brink of a bad If you have an especially thorny problem, consider throwing decision because of concern over how it will be received in it open to your readers. Be very clear about the kind of help the community. And your organization takes a courageous you'd like, so you can focus their contributions and ideas good decision for exactly the same reason. where they'll actually be useful. Internal collaboration starts to cut across silos, as the culture When the time comes to make a decision that affects your of openness soaks in. readers, use your blog as consult them People in your organization start to approach you with things they'd like to ask or share with your readers. 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 20
  • 23. 10. Homemaking Giving your online conversations a home base Visiting someone else's place is great. You eat their food, drink their imbibables, and meet their guests. But eventually the urge to host a gathering at your own place takes hold. You want to choose the hors d'oeuvres, cue up the playlist and invite your own friends – in your own home. It's no different sets the agenda. And it's your voice that sets the tone and pace with blogging. for your audience. True, your organization can The conversations here are branded indelibly as yours – for go quite a ways in better or for worse. It means you have to be involved, steering engaging the the conversation back on track if it heads off-topic or into anti- online world by social territory. But it also means you become known as a place commenting on to go, maybe the place to go, to talk about the values and issues third-party blogs. that lie at the heart of your brand's values and your But if you want to organization's mission. Call it thought leadership, public be serious about relations or civic participation – those conversations have real joining the value to your organization. conversation, you'll want a place of Your blog houses those conversations. And here's your own: an online how to make the value of that house appreciate: home for the conversations you Set the table. When the first visitors arrive at your blog, they want to have. should find a healthy supply of blog posts all ready for them. So when you launch, make sure you have at least five And while you have posts already published... and make them your best work. no more control over where those Be involved. A good host doesn't just set out the crackers conversations and spray-on cheese and then sit back; they interact with ultimately lead and their guests, asking how they're doing, making what other introductions, freshening drinks. Your job is to keep the conversations may conversation well-stocked with compelling blog posts and start than you do engaging responses to comments. when you're hosting a party, Keep it lively. Freshen people's virtual drinks with a regular you're the one who schedule of posting to your blog. There's no law that says 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 21
  • 24. exactly how often you need to post... but if you want to be from other web sites (e.g. a Facebook page) as well. Make part of the conversation, the more recent your last sure your blog's URL is simple and easy to remember – contribution, the better. organizationname.org/blog or blog.organizationname.org – rather than some alphanumeric soup, like Aggregate. If you're commenting on behalf of your organizationname.org/pages/n/public/content.asp? organization on other blogs, consider using a tool like category=300475629&page=461394&type=581&whatthehell Disqus or BackType to list those comments on your own wasthedevelopersmoking=420. blog as well. Other tools will let you include everything from your latest Twitter contributions and your most recent Flickr Promote your blog. What's a party without invitations? photographs to your Facebook status updates, Digg Drop bloggers in your field a note to let them know about submissions and YouTube videos. Including this content your blog, and invite them to give their feedback. Talk up gives users a window on your broader online presence, and your blog at real-world events; add a link in your email increases the impact of your off-site activities. subject line. Consider making a modest investment in online ads like Google AdWords and see how that works for Join conversations on related blogs. A comment on you. Do what you can to let potential readers know about another blog with a link back to your own site drives traffic, your blog, and why they'll find it interesting. but more to the point, it encourages participants to read and engage with your blog. (Of course, your interventions You'll know you're building equity in your online on those other blogs shouldn't be spam-like "come read my home when: blog post!" comments; add real value to the conversation. As a rule, the link to your own site should come in a distant You develop a cadre of regulars: positive contributors who second in prominence to your contribution to that blog's comment regularly on your blog, link to you from theirs, and dialogue.) add to the conversation. Consider joining a blog aggregator. For pretty much any You and your colleagues start finding useful information by topic, there's at least one popular site that aggregates searching your own blog archives. related blog posts, offering one-stop reading (and often rating, ranking and featuring) of posts from dozens or even Your blog becomes a significant source of traffic to your hundreds of blogs. Those sites can give you a big boost in organization's primary web presence, and not just the other visibility, and bring even more people to your party... as well way around. as exposing you to the writers of other blogs, and vice versa. Your organization recognizes your blog as an effective way Make it easy to find your blog. People can't come to your to spark and respond to online conversations about party if they can't find your home. Link prominently to your subjects that matter to your organization. blog from your organization's primary web presence, if possible in the main navigation, and where appropriate 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 22
  • 25. Conclusion It’s easy to let your passion for social media and your awe at its enormous potential get the better of you. And it’s just as easy to lose patience with a manager who wants you to spell out exactly what value they can expect for their tiny social media investment, as you watch them spend huge budgets on traditional advertising with a lot less attention to detail. But take a breath... and look at it from their perspective. They’re account- And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that value is a bean- able for the money counter’s concept. Value means you’ve done something they spend. If you worthwhile for your organization – and that their scarce want them to resources have earned at least some return. spend it on a completely new Sometimes that return comes in the form of new relationships, field, one that greater brand recognition, a shift in positive perceptions, or even doesn’t have a pro- more sales or donations. Other times that return may just come ven track record in the skills and insights you and your team have gained. and a stack of anec- dotal evidence to Whatever the value that comes from your blog, you need to be reassure skittish able to recognize it and report it... not just so you can sell your executives, be proposal internally, but so you can be sure you’re doing prepared to back something worthwhile for your organization. up your request. The challenge in social media, as an emerging field, is to keep As you’re plan-ning your eye relentlessly on value while giving yourself permission your blog, look for to experiment, to try something unproven, and – frequently – to every opportunity fail. (Even then, if you’ve prepared properly, your learnings will to yield value – provide value that helps to compensate for a misadventure.) ideally, a tangible, measurable return Ultimately, this is about using blogs with intention, and with a on investment. view to achieving something worthwhile. And if you succeed – as you very likely will, if you pay close attention to value – then Think too about how you’re going to be measuring that return: your project will be worthwhile not only to your organization, positive mentions on other blogs, on Twitter, in the mainstream but to your audience as well. media? Comments and participation on your own blog? Traffic referrals to the rest of your organization’s site from the blog? Good luck! Increases in your organization’s followers on sites like Facebook? (Measurement is a whole other topic, but a solid starting point is Katie Paine’s book Measuring Public Relationships.) 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 23
  • 26. Image credits: All cartoons from Noise to Signal http://robcottingham.ca/cartoon Page 1: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2007/10/25/2007-09-15-blog-king/ Page 2: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2007/10/11/2007-08-28-roi/ Page 4: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2007/10/15/2007-09-04-team- building/ Page 6: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2008/09/25/2008-11-25-marketer/ Page 8: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2007/11/29/2007-12-10-remote-hit/ Page 10: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2009/05/07/2009-07-11-friend/ Page 12: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2009/05/21/2009-08-08-outage/ Page 15: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2007/10/15/2007-10-01-liveblog/ Page 17: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2007/09/03/2007-08-08-soylent/ Page 19: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2009/10/14/2009-10-14-spies/ Page 21: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2008/05/26/2008-06-13-shower/ Page 23: http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon/2007/10/22/2007-09-11-sunset/ For more on using social media to get the results you want, visit www.socialsignal.com 10 ways your blog can provide real value to you, your organization and your brand Page 24