Monday, June 09, 2003

Weblog Business Strategies 2003 VI

Butler, Guterman, Levin, and Stone: Managing A Business Blog

Jason Butler is senior product development manager for Jimmy Guterman is president of the Vineyard Group. Adina Levin is vice president of products for Socialtext. Biz Stone is author of the best-selling book, "Blogging." Here is a rough transcript of their discussion:

Jimmy Guterman: Guys, you're welcome to talk, but if you're going to do it, you're welcome to do it outside of this room. Before I start I want to talk about reconnecting. I've seen a number of people who I haven't laid eyes on for six, seven, or eight years. We might not have active email or phone relationships, but I read their Weblogs every day. And when I see them, I feel really close to them. The intensity surprised me. We're here to talk about business blogs, but it's important to keep in mind the personal side. You can use blogs for promotion, to influence thinking inside and outside the organization. Something we might see in the coming months is internal processes that others can get involved in. We're going to steer clear of theory and focus on the nuts and bolts of getting a blog going. Marketing has a way of ruining Net media.

Jason, one of the blogs you have at BostonWorks is an HR blog that you open up to HR professionals. How did you get that started, how did you decide who would participate, and how did you get it going?

Jason Butler: Online, we have a couple of very strong competitors -- Monster and Yahoo. We have to concentrate on what we're really good at. One is the local. If it's west of Worcester I don't care. The second thing is editorial content. I don't know if Monster won a Pulitzer this year, but the Boston Globe did. Coming out of the business newsroom, we get eight stories a week looking at the job market. What we wanted to do was focus primarily on HR. It started in January, and it's called HR Blog. It's a collaborative Weblog, and there are three people working on it. We scour the Web for resources that will be of use to our clients. We're going to be doing more to attract practitioners. I can talk about HR. I care about it very deeply, but the people who are practicing it every day are better able to talk about it.

Guterman: Adina, could you talk a little bit about the difference between a blog and a wiki?

Adina Levin: There've been some interesting debates and a discussion about this. From a technical perspective, there's not much difference. A blog is more identified with a voice or a team of a group of people. A wiki is better for collaborative authoring. That tends to blur an individual voice into the group consensus. What does the group agree on?

Guterman: Biz, you've talked a lot about the difference between a blog voice and a corporate voice.

Biz Stone: I don't know if I've talked much about a blog voice vs. a corporate voice, but it's important to develop a blog voice. A lot of people get really excited about blogs and they decide that they're going to do a blog about movies. Then they realize that nobody really cares about what they say about movies. They care about what they say about something else, like usability. You've got to find your niche. In a corporate setting, that can be more difficult. Instead of a logo, you can have a person back there. Everyone says, how do we start up a blog? It's easy. Just start a blog. It doesn't even need to be about your business.

Levin: We're in the business of serving groups who need to communicate. People at work are saying things to each other all the time. But they're drowning in email. Either the information is going to too many people -- or it doesn't get to enough people. What we see our customers doing is harnessing the communication people are already doing and making that communication more effective.

Guterman: Anyone here who's started a blog is that they can find out that what the blog turns out to be about is completely different than what it started out as. That's fine for personal blogs. As a business, you don't really have that flexibility. Or do you?

Levin: You do and you don't. Sometimes a business meeting at the behest of people at the meeting can diverge. We already have a lot of cultural constructs for deciding what conversation is relevant in a business. It's a matter of applying those constructs to this medium.

Stone: If you have a few people in your company doing blogs, let them find their voice as well as it continues to relate to your company.

Levin: Blogs are conversations. It might end up as relevant even if it's not relevant in the way it started out.

Butler: We have pretty broad guidelines. Working in the newspaper world, it's kind of like working on a beat. It has to be somewhat related to the topic. We are what we advertise. We're information about this particular topic.

Stone: At Wellesley, I'm supposed to be redesigning their alumni site and rebuilding their alumni community. Because I'm interested in blogs, I'm trying to get students and professors interested in blogs. We've already got 200 students using LiveJournal. Then we had a company approach us saying they're working on a tool that will help bringing blogs to schools. One professor has his students keeping paper journals all year. But they're just for him to read at the end of the year. He wants other students and teachers to comment on their work.

Guterman: There are existing means of communication. In corporate environments, a blog doesn't come out of nowhere. How do you integrate a blog into an existing communications strategy without screwing things up?

Stone: Some people take to it. Some people don't. If you told 10 people to go start up a blog, two people would emerge as blogging superstars. It takes a certain personality to want to do it. Some people can't take the feedback on their work.

Butler: Most of our blogs are external, but internally we've found something interesting. Some of our more technically savvy sales people will read the blog every day and use an article or a resource as an excuse to contact a sales lead.

Levin: We're also seeing that with clients. People working with a product communicating with the sales people. It's not so much integrating with the outbound marketing but integrating it with the email communication that people do every day.

Dan Bricklin: If we link to a competitor's Web site, they get the referrer and know we're looking. How do you deal with the observer effect? And how do you deal with wikis giving your information away?

Levin: I get some traffic on my personal site from government agencies, and that makes me a little nervous.

Stone: In my referral logs I've seen things like referral blocked by this service.

Guterman: Firewalls are very smart. Working with one client, we did a combination of password protected, not public, and a really mundane domain name so if you came across it, you'd really have to be looking for it. Let's assume that you've got your blog up and running. How do you get people contributing?

Stone: A few weeks ago, I got this girl blogging at Wellesley. And if we're not blogging, we're talking about blogging. We didn't want to be shut down. We went up to this one girl who was totally against blogs and said, if you have a blog, we'd write about you in our blogs, too. On the first day, a couple of people linked to it because it was kind of funny, and she had 100 visitors. You're huge! Enthusiasm will work well.

Question: Just because you're not talking to people doesn't mean that they're not talking about you.

Levin: Peer pressure works, too. When a behavior is positive and is modeled, it gets picked up. There's the somebody jump ahead strategy. In a context in which you're actually trying to catalyze change within the organization, think about who are the key people with this desire. Be the leader or identify the leaders and work with the leaders. Identify the conversation that already exists. Identify the process that already exists. And introduce blogging to what already exists.

Guterman: One of the things that's beautiful and infuriating about personal Web sites is the lack of anything between the writer and the reader. With a corporate blog,

Butler: I work for a journalism company, so we take our editorial content very serious. Lying is a fire-able offense. We have some guidelines. Most of what we do isn't time sensitive. And we cache, so we don't publish directly. We use Blogger Pro, and I get an email every time someone posts. So I check whether they're crazy.

Stone: It helps to have some sort of role models, too.

Guterman: Something else I'd like to talk about is measuring success.

Butler: The biggest measure of success is whether someone wants to buy a full-page color ad in the Sunday newspaper. It's a way to get more reach out to market than we wouldn't otherwise have. Traffic is important. The RSS feed is also a way to measure people. On the HR side, we get maybe 200-250 unique people a day.

Levin: If you have a marketing blog, the number of viewed articles, how many people are viewing your news feed are relevant metrics. Inside an organization, the Technorati approach is going to be interesting. There are going to be citation metrics. What articles and pages are cited most frequently? What people are cited most frequently?

Stone: That's the coolest part. The way people can pull together what's the most popular page, what's the most commented post.

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