Monday, June 09, 2003

Weblog Business Strategies 2003 VIII

Chambers, Lawlor, Lloyd, Suitt, and White: Strategies and Tips for Business Blogging Success

Major Chris Chambers is a deputy director for America's Army, John Lawlor is a business blog consultant for, Greg Lloyd is president and co-founder of Traction Software, Halley Suitt blogs at Halley's Comment, and Don White is director of communications for Piedmont Preferred Properties. Here is a rough transcript of their discussion:

John Lawlor: I started off as a photographer. I made infomercials for Fortune 500 companies. I ran an email marketing company. And for the last year, I've been promoting blogs as a marketing tool. I'd like to thank Google for buying Blogger, as interest is rising, and blogs are being taken seriously as a business tool. I look at blogging with a much broader brush than many of the people who've been on previous panels. Blogging is at the intersection of technological innovation and public acceptance of online communication. We're at a position where the expectations of what technology is able to do is in line with what people actually need to do. But when you talk to a Fortune 500 company about blogging, most of them don't what it is. And frankly, they don’t care. They don’t care about blogging. They don’t care about voice. They want to make money.

Blogging has to be used reponsibly. Companies realize they can't abuse it. Blogging is really an opportunity. But there are five questions you need to ask. Who should blog? Who is our target reader? What are you blogging about? What are the benefits that we expect? What is important to my business? What needs to be restricted? Where is this blog going to appear? When will you find the time? When will we see the results? Why are we doing this? Why do we need this? These are the questions you need to ask before you can have a successful strategy for blogs.

Chris Chambers: I feel like a fish out of water to a degree. I was an active duty Army major until nine days ago, and here I am at a business conference. Two years ago the US Army decided to create a video game to reconnect with the youth of America. It's not a first-person shooter. It's a first-person perspective action game. We do run as a business, but we give the product away for free.

I went to Afghanistan for Operation: Enduring Freedom. Before I left, someone suggested that I do a Weblog while I was there. It seemed like a great fit for the project. Being part of the development team but being an active member of the Army, it seemed like a great way to directly connect a real experience with what is depicted in our game.

It's been a great experience. We polished ours up quite a bit. When I look at Dr. Weinberger's definition of a Weblog, I don't think mine fits at all other than they're in reverse chronology. This is a picture of the Web site that supports the community of players in our game. My goal in all this was really to highlight soldiers, real people with real experiences and many experiences.

Greg Lloyd: I came into the Weblogging area through an early focus on systems that help teams of people deal with developing creative solutions for non-repeating situations. There are many conversations that happen within organizations. And each of those conversations are an application for Weblogging technology.

I'd like to step back and give you two dimensions. One is that a Weblog can be a conversation within a particular group or between one individual and the rest of the world. The second dimension is the audience of the Weblog. I'm going to classify the audience in three separate chunks. An audience can be internal. Conversations within a company, let's assume, in general are public. But they're still going to be grouped into distinct spaces. Some conversations are going to be privileged and private. But most are visible to everyone in the company. Some conversations are explicitly public. Third is a domain that's what I call the partnership domain. It's a conversation that crosses the firewall but deals with it in a selectively private way. Both the personal and group and aspects are important. And the ability to provide public and private spaces is crucial for businesses to buy into Weblogs.

Halley Suitt: My name is Halley Suitt, and my blog is Halley's Comment, I'm here to blame David Weinberger for getting me into this. About a year and a half ago, David Weinberger and I were talking. I had sent him and email, and he said that's it. You need to stop this. You need to do a blog. We had the What's a blog? conversation. Someone described Halley's Comment as a sexy, saucy, spicy Weblog. But at the time, my dad was ill, and I wrote for six months about his spiral into death. That was the place I started.

I was writing about things that were important to me. I was not employed. On the day my dad died, I was talking to AKMA about all things deep and dark. And the day after, I wrote a piece called "The first thing my dad will realize when he wakes up this morning is that he's dead." My dad was fascinating. I was also getting divorced, and I thought a lot about my ex-husband. For sure, I am a very personal Weblog.

At the same time, I worked at Harvard Business School Publishing putting on conferences and events. Through that affiliation, I was asked to write a fictional case study for the Harvard Business Review about a fictional blogger who'd been blogging secrets about the company. There are grounds for firing the employee. There are also grounds for maybe promoting that person to the head of marketing.

I just got a job at, and one of the things we're looking at is how to help bloggers monetize their blogs. It's a good match between what I do and what I want to do.

Don White: I'm an independent marketing consultant. My company is Mentor Marketing, and Mentor Marketing is basically myself. My experience prior to the entrepreneurial phase of my career is that I worked as brand manager for consumer good companies. For the last 14 years I worked in an advertising agency in strategic planning. What I've been doing for the last two or three years is working with companies to develop marketing strategies. And blogs have emerged as a key tactical way to leverage those strategies.

We have a brand manager here from Microsoft. I don't know if they can confirm or deny my view of the world. But the more important characteristics of their personalities is that their risk averse, change averse, and uncertainty averse. A fixed price is much better than a low price. If any of you are presenting the prospect of blogging to one of them, you need to walk in their shoes and consider risk from their perspective.

In one project, we're taking the tools of blogging and applying it to a specific need. Most approach a blog as being a self-expression publishing vehicle with a journalistic agenda. My approach was more of an expert point of view than a personal point of view. We're trying to meet the needs of a real estate brokerage business. In real estate, the first step a consumer takes is going to the Web for information. It's a huge market with lots of competition. And this small broker needed to stand out.

The tools of blogging to create a real estate site were very useful. We were creating a number of sites drawing on the expertise of the employees of the firm. We were able to create 14 of these sites that helped establish the small firm as the community real estate firm. And all of this was done for less money than it would've cost to do a single Web site one or two years ago. And we've done it in a way so it can be managed by one or two people with very little time.

Lawlor: If Halley were blogging the way she does inside a company, it would probably be frowned on. Chris' situation has its own issues about security. Id like to address managing and controlling and not having negative things go out to the marketplace.

Chambers: It was extremely self-managed. If the concern is what goes out, the way to get around that is to find a trusted agent who will self-express but will self-express in a corporate way. The Army is a pretty risk-averse organization in terms of its public image. I can't think of any other blogs that came out of the Army. Well, there was one, but it got canned pretty early. If you have an agent that's bought into the principles of the org, even if there's no control, there's going to be a consistent message. There were times when I self-edited. And because our purpose was purely strategic, they weren't overly personal.

Suitt: Can I jump in? You have a really cool Weblog. There's a lot there, and I was there with you, plating with it. It has a lot of tone. Blogs can help create customer intimacy. You have different customers than I do, but against all odds, it does just what a good Weblog should do. It created a customer intimacy. Obviously, my writing and ideas about intimacy take on a different meaning.

Lawlor: Why didn't you blog the next war? The Afghanistan blog had a natural end. How do you not provide for the audience the next thing?

Chambers: We wanted to continue with this because it really is a good way to connect with people -- and not just youth. There is a disconnect between the military and the rest of the population today. We wanted to continue, but there were some problems. When we were in Iraq, we looked really hard t find a blogger, but everyone was pretty busy. In Afghanistan, there was a little more time. It was a mature theater. There was infrastructure.

What we have done is continue the blogging with our development team. Kids like to talk to developers of the games. And we're hoping to drop some bloggers into the next hot spot, assuming that there's interesting things going on.

Lloyd: Set some reasonable expectations about what's appropriate. And give people more than one place or more than one space to express themselves. Someone who's an engineer might be more forthright talking to other engineers than they would be talking to a broader audience. Give people more than one option and some norms and examples about what is appropriate.

Lawlor: Let's talk a little bit about search engines. Blogs are attracting search engine results, provided they're done right.

Suitt: I notice I don't have Favorites any more. I simply use Google to find things. My browser crashed and whatever Favorites I had were gone. We just use search engines in a different way now. I'm No. 1 in Google. And Sir Edmond Halley, who's my namesake, is down there. He's dead. He can't blog. When you get into this conversation about how dare the Weblogs rise to the surface of the cream in search results. That's second-class citizenry, and I don't buy that.

I recently had a referrer log for Halle Berry Porn. They had the name Halle. I had once bought and eaten a berry-berry bagel. And a long time ago, I'd written about porn. Search engines can find things that aren't even closely related.

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