Strategic Questions for Proficient Business Blogging

The Business Process Management Life-Cycle
Image via Wikipedia

There’s all sorts of advice on why and how to blog. Everything about blogging has already been blogged about. And yet, many businesses haven’t even scratched the surface to understand what blogging is actually about and what roles it may play in their overall strategy and presence – on and offline.

But all businesses have different going concerns and goals and strategies. Every media, communications and marketing strategy is different from the other.

While helping out a friend, I offered a bunch of questions for her to answer, figuring that the exercise of questioning may be more insightful and valuable than straight tips. I’m publishing an upgraded version of those questions here because there’s a ton of “expert” advice out there which you can find simply by Googling keywords related to blogging and business. The fact is, however, your business needs to do a deep self-assessment of its goals, culture, resources, tactics and strategies before just following a pre-fabricated set of instructions.

NOTE: when I use the word “blogging” I don’t just mean the publishing of content on a website. No, for me blogging is about proficiency in communications, ecosystem awareness, audience building and dialogue: from traditional to emerging media. Blogging involves a new set of skills which business should acquire and hone, to be overlayed on top of their bread-and-butter marketing and communication expertise. Blogging is a constant learning process. It’s also a way to reveal strengths and weaknesses inherent in organizations, their cultures and their processes – and thus the importance of questioning within the larger context of strategy.

With that in mind, here are the questions.

STRATEGIC QUESTIONS FOR PROFICIENT BUSINESS BLOGGING

  1. What’s the purpose? Biz development? Customer availability? A place to house your industrial expertise and knowledge? A place to create a community where ideas and questions can be explored openly? What value do you expect to provide or extract?
  2. Who is your audience(s)? Are you thinking that your only audience would be end-consumers? Or might they be industry influencers or vendors or the public? Will you be able to track the social footprint of your audience – who they are, where else on the Web they interact?
  3. What kinds of content are you delivering? Is it informational? Editorial? Inspirational? Industrially insightful? Action-calling? How might the kind(s) of content and information you publish influence your audience? Are you willing to let your audience help determine your content?
  4. What kinds of media will you provide on the blog? Text? Video? Audio? Slidedecks? Different media have different properties. Have you thought about the properties of traditional media and how they differ from emerging media? How much of your traditional marketing expertise evolved around the properties of print, radio and TV? Given that new media possess different properties, how might your marketing strategies need to adapt?
  5. Do you know what kinds of assets a blog can build? Leads? A small but relevant community of influencers? Street cred? Search engine ranking? Which do you need?
  6. How will you distribute your content? Have you developed other web real estate – outposts on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Slideshare? Which ones make the most sense to invest in? Can you build a visual map of your entire Web presence and how different Web and traditional presences relate to the bigger picture?
  7. If you successfully build your community, do you know how to leverage it? Will you be satisfied to just have visitors? Or will you engage with your community – not only on your blog but elsewhere? Will you continually monitor your efforts and make the best of the connections you make? Will you develop a system to reach your community beyond your blog – either via email or other media?
  8. Do you think blogging is just putting content on a website – or do you believe it is a spectrum of media skills? What’s your conception of blogging? Might there be more to blogging than what you think you know? What skills may you need to develop or build upon?
  9. Do you have a plan on how to distribute your blog content to traditional media (where else is your audience)? What are your overall communications and marketing strategies? How might emerging media not only play a part, but how might their proliferation impact your established strategies?
  10. How committed will you be? Is this going to be a chore “to be done” or will you intelligently integrate it into your business routine? Do you understand the skills and resources needed to become proficient? When thinking about resources, are you considering time and talent and networks?
  11. Do you have the stamina to sustain your efforts in the long-term? Investing in new media is about sustaining long-term capital. Given your resources, will you create the kind of working environment for your employees to enjoy the art of creating content, conversing across different networks and advancing the company’s objectives?
  12. Do you know how to make it easy (and enticing) for your audience to comment? Will you thank and comment back? Is sharing via email & other sources easy?
  13. Are you willing to fail? More importantly: how do you define failure? This is important to know because if you define failure appropriately, then you’re more likely to know what to do when you encounter it: in fact, you may see it as a huge opportunity.

There they are. Take your time answering these questions because they aren’t just about blogging: they’re about your understanding of how media and your business intertwine.

I listed 13 – which some believe is an unlucky number. So if you’re superstitious, you’ll have to come up with at least one more.

What questions do you think you need to ask yourself?

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Google SideWiki: How to Brace Yourself for a Communications Bitch Slap

google-graffitiGoogle is always working on new products. Many go nowhere, while others become darlings of web technologies like Gmail. Google’s latest entrance onto the Social Web its SideWiki. It’s not so much a wiki as it is an imposed commenting system. Whether you want it or not, SideWiki effectively enables anyone in the world to comment on your website.

Not only can people comment on your site without your permission but they can also share their comments via email, Twitter or FaceBook (as of today). In other words comments in SideWiki can be dispersed and distributed and Re-Tweeted and Liked across the web at the speed of light. If your organization has a website, you probably want to brace yourself for a bitch slap: whatever “control” you thought you had about your message is clearly gone. Controlling your response (and being ahead of the game by being the best at what you do) is about all you have.

Picture 225

WHAT IS GOOGLE SIDEWIKI?

I’ll let Google explain to you it’s claim about SideWiki.

In order for SideWiki to be used, it has to be downloaded and used as a toolbar. Right now, it seems to work with FireFox but as Google refines and evolves the product, we could expect to see the tool proliferate in use.

I tested out SideWiki on a post by Seth Godin regarding his Brands in Public project. I chose his post for two reasons: Seth has comments on his blog turned off (he’s remarkable with email exchanges with his readers though) and SideWiki demonstrates how little control brands have anymore in “controlling messages”. If you downloaded the tool bar, you can see my SideWiki comment on his post. Alternatively you can see my comment on my Google Profile (it just appeared there under a Sidewiki tab – Google didn’t offer this as an option, nor did it inform me it posted my Sidewiki comments on my Google Profile – but I’m sure I consented somehow in Google’s TOS).

An important feature to note is that comments on SideWiki aren’t necessarily in order of appearance – i.e. reverse chronological, as in traditional blog commenting. Rather, Google’s mystery algorithm sorts out the order of comments. I also suppose Google will somehow address spam. For more on this, see Danny Sullivan’s post.

So we not only have an imposed commenting system, we have – in some sense – Google’s algorithmic logic being applied to your website in the way comments appear. Which is to say: Google influences the volume of influencers‘ voices. You’re not just dealing with comments streaming down a straight temporal line: community voting on comments and Google’s ranking system of those comments work together to determine the pitch and tone and loudness of comments.

Finally, questions remain about SideWiki’s ramifications on search results. Clearly, there’s a lot to absorb here, which is one more reason to establish best online practices and keep focused on principled online communications.

SO WHAT?

I don’t know if SideWiki has a future or not. SideWiki isn’t the first attempt at web annotation. But now that social networking and services are growing in their adoption, we can expect to see the proliferation of distributed messaging. Whether SideWiki fails or succeeds, the technology it represents is here to stay in some form.

Organizations which already have a web presence or those who are just now planning to enter the social web, now have an even tougher task ahead of them. And yet, for every challenge or danger lies opportunity. Those organizations which not only can face the challenges that mass distributed messaging create but also leverage the opportunities will fare well in the coming years. Organizations won’t die just because they ignore social media – but ignoring these technologies and communities is now a matter of Risk Management at the least.

What I find especially interesting here is this: how many organizations will even know about this? How many hospitals or Pharma companies or widget-makers will have hundreds of comments (positive or negative) right on their website (for all intents and purposes) and not even know about them? How embarrassing could that become?

HOW TO BRACE FOR A COMMUNICATIONS BITCH SLAP

In a nutshell, individuals and organizations are going to have to endure a process of radical acceptance: the days of mechanically generating attention via advertisements are giving way to a century of organically captivating fandom.

I would categorize two approaches to dealing with commenting systems like SideWiki: the Philosophical and the Practical.

Philosophical recommendations:

  1. Meditate. Seriously. Go out into a field or sit under a shady tree and focus on your breathing, reflecting on all of the marketing principles and assumptions you’ve made since college and over the course of your career. It’s not too late for a re-view and re-think. (And never too early for a layoff.)
  2. Radically Accept. We all want control. (I was an ICU nurse – ergo I’m a control freak, so I understand how hard this one is.) The fact is, about the only thing we can control is our mind: how we view things, what we decide, what we say and how we say it. Once you forgo the controlling-mentality, it frees you up for the important stuff, such as: clarity, creativity, fearlessness, discipline and focus.

Practical recommendations:

  1. Download the SideWiki toolbar and monitor for activity on your site – even if you don’t have a blog or are philosophically opposed to it.
  2. Set a policy (a simple one) on how your organization responds to comments.
  3. Whoever does your responding should know how to communicate, display grace under pressure and criticism and who understands the various modes of communications.
  4. Keep up-to-date with Google’s project by following it on Twitter.
  5. Currently, SideWiki doesn’t appear to offer a notification system, so be prepared to comb through comments (or monitor Twitter for your brand mentions).
  6. Keep honing your online communications skills: if you don’t already blog, consider doing so if only for the discipline and skills that come along with blogging.

It remains to be seen how popular this little feature will become: as is often the case in the Sillicon Valley hyper-echo-chamber, the uber-geeks tend to overstate the appeal of shiny new toys. Regardless, if you haven’t learned the lesson about how to prevail in a chaotic world, this is your chance. At least you’ll be able to endure and overcome the inevitable bitch slaps that you’ll sustain now and again.

HOW SIDEWIKI COULD EVOLVE

A last point to make is the future of SideWiki (or similar tools): the integration of other social features which enhance its powers.

For instance, I realized while writing this post that you could comment on a Twitter Status page using SideWiki. If Google added a FriendFeed-like commenting system, one could easily start a chat around a particular tweet – currently Twitter chats take place using hashtags and clients like TweetChat. Imagine configuring SideWiki not only as a Twitter client but also as a web-wide social device for curating, sharing and conversing. Click on the screenshot below:

Picture 229

SideWiki on a Twitter status page

It’s integrations like these that usually lead to the next big thing. All the more reason for organizations to keep current with the social web – and for hiring and cultivating the people who excel in the useful and innovative applications of these sorts of technologies.

Google, so far, hasn’t done well in the social front – at least not thus far. If FaceBook were to exploit their recent FriendFeed acquisition and make a play for a similar real-time web-wide commenting and sharing system, we could see the emergence of a new kind of war: Google has the edge in search and advertising, Facebook in social media and Twitter in real-time messaging.

At any rate, the future is open for your organization to consider. Two posts I’d recommend you read right now on Google’s SideWiki are Andrew Keen’s SideWiki: Google Colonial Sideswipe and Jeremiah Owyang’s Google SideWiki Shifts Power to Consumers – Away From Corporate Websites. Both men have wholly different opinions about the fundamental nature of the web – and both are probably right about Google SideWiki.

Oh, and you can comment on this post using SideWiki and then tweet it to the rest of the world. Let’s see if I can keep up with the graffiti.

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Healthcare & Pharma: 10 Years of Google Gone By

MUNICH, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 06:  In this photo...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I like to critique Healthcare & Pharma but I do so because I think they’re one of the most important industries in the world, not just to be controversial. I think these two separate but inter-related industries have some of the brightest people working in them. If anyone should be able to figure out technologies and how to employ them, these two are the ones. So, I’ve been puzzled for over a decade over the industries’ apparent AWOL on the Web. Why so late to the party?

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS BOARDROOM

Hindsight is 20/20, of course. It’s clear today that the Web isn’t going away and that more and more patients are searching and connecting with others online for their healthcare needs and desires. Doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals are turning to the web too. It’s in the interest of both Healthcare and Pharma to have the kind of solid presences on the web which deliver priceless value to their stakeholders. So what’s been the delay? Why the well-constructed but fear-laden arguments about learning to live in the Socially Hyper-linked Economy?

I think there are many answers to that question. I won’t go into them here: if you work in the industry, please – by all means – publish your hypotheses in the comments below.

But here’s something to think about. It’s been about ten years since Google’s been around – and in the last few years it’s become the primary gateway for finding content online, even with the evolution of social technologies. Are the right kinds of healthcare and Pharma companies turning up in relevant searches? Google will be happy to give you the answer.

Imagine if you started blogging ten years ago about your healthcare organization? Imagine if more Pharma companies started blogging and posting and sharing their ideas about the future of their services – not to please brand managers and push product – just simply to establish authoritative presences online. Think of the compound interest on that Google juice! All gone.

Not to mention, the industries by now would have groomed a generation of bloggers and social media agents who would have learned from their mistakes and be able to lead the industry forward with online presences and communities. Now, it’s catch-up time. Now, all the companies who finally understand the need to be online and to be socially remarkable have to muster through huge, steep ramps. Bonus: they now will be competing with each other, so Google Juice will be harder to grab off the table. And as “easy” as it is to sign up for Twitter and Facebook, the noise you have to compete with gets louder everyday. The cost of attention grows exponentially these days.

Well, that’s all behind us now. A lesson learned I hope.

LOOK FORWARD, ANGEL

Looking forward: if you’re running one of these industries, learn your lesson, reflect on the psychology that held you back from the powers of the web and think seriously about your overall business strategy (not just online) and where you need to go next. Do you understand how the Web may be affecting your business’s ecosystem?

I think for years we have been entering a period of Web Illiteracy – not among the poverty class, but among Corporate Cultures. This is a problem that may be costing our economy billions of dollars: it’s up to you to overcome it.

Here’s my tip to you (I’m including C-suite here): spend an hour a day learning something about the web – no matter how busy your day is. If you’re “old-fashioned”, buy some books about the web (Amazon is generous in this regard – and if you want suggestions or if you want a personal touch, call me 484-362-0451 – I’ll be happy to converse). Here are some offerings for you (they’re just pointers):

  • Learn a tiny amount of HTML (you don’t need to be an expert, but it enhances your understanding of what’s under the hood)
  • Build a simple web page (again, you can skip this, but it helps to know a little something about how a web page works – it’s the practice that may give you an important insight)
  • Learn a bit about SEO (yes, this is still important) – [UPDATE: Social SEO)
  • Ditch Internet Explorer 6.0 – On Windows use Google Chrome or FireFox (to learn the value of extensions). Better yet: invest in a Mac.
  • Learn what blogging really is (it’s not just posting content on a web page) – even if a few people read your blog
  • Learn some things about  Analytics
  • Find out why  RSS is still an important tool (you see those objects on the side of this site – do you know what they mean?)
  • Sign up for Google Reader – it’s been getting social lately
  • Get a Twitter account and play around with it (Copy and paste this into your first tweet: “@PhilBaumann I just signed up for Twitter. What the heck do I do now?“)
  • Tinker with Facebook – poke around all the crazy settings and find out if you can make sense of it yourself
  • These are just tools and tidbits, but they’ll help introduce you to the way things are on the web

Bonus:

  • Question everything you learned during the course of your career and see if any of it means anything anymore. Do you know  what’s changing?
  • Get everyone’s attention in your organization and ask them who knows how to blog or otherwise use social media. Take them out to lunch, listen and learn.

There are other ways to get up to speed on the web. I’m offering the above because they’re rudimentary – they’re the building blocks of the Expanding Web.

THE WEB WILL NOT BE OUTSOURCED

You see, the lesson of the web is this: once the costs of publishing messages reaches zero, the models developed when the costs were in the $Millions cease to hold their relevance.

It’s not enough to outsource your social media practices – I’m not referring only to outside agencies but also to your direct reports. None of us know everything about the web. Since it’s human nature for careerists not to admit to their bosses that they “don’t know”, you can’t rely completely on others to develop your strategy. [Sidenote: in my days as an accountant and analyst in Enterprise, I irritated my executive leadership with “I don’t know”; you know what?: I was promoted like a golden boy. You can’t learn if you’re not curious. Just something for you to think about during your human resources choices.]

You’ve invested decades in climbing to the top. What will be your legacy? Will you discover after all that hard work that you gambled on a dying world?

If you’re an executive of any kind, you need to understand the problems which the web pose – and you can only do that by sitting down, getting online and learning this crazy stuff on your own; and by connecting with the multitude of helpful smart people you can discover via social media. The web is now becoming a brain-to-brain network. Take advantage of that.

Ten years of Google indexing has gone by you. Are you going to let another ten years go to waste?

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Commenting is Dead. Long Live Commenting!

Is commenting dead? Or is it more alive than ever before? No and Yes. And Yes.

Here are some thoughts on why.

DARN IT, I JUST STARTED BLOGGING AND NOW YOU…

Just when Corporate America was catching up on blogging and other social media, Twitter and FriendFeed swoosh out of the blue, grab comments out of blogs and sprinkle them all over the interwebs.

Comment fragmentation, as it is called, has a lot of people talking on blogs and Twitter and FriendFeed. The fear is that commenting on blogs is dead or at least 2/3 dead.

Is this true? Are comments really dead or dying?

POPULATION BOTTLENECK

The rumor of the death of the blog comment may have been over-exaggerated, but there’s actually a poignant truth to it. Evolution via natural selection suggests that change is almost always inevitable.

Rather than the extinction of an entire means of dialogue, mutations are spawning new species of commenting tools (think FriendFeed). As these tools proliferate across the interwebs, comment fragmentation becomes increasingly more common in spite of tools to fold them back into original blogs.

As comment fragmentation grows, a critical mass of comment fragmentation builds (see the red line pictured above). This critical mass creates a bottleneck in the flow of information across the web which traditional blog commenting may eventually face.

Think of a population bottleneck as a horizontal version of Seth Godin’s Dip, except a lot crueler. Population size is the number of traditional blog comments, assuming services like FriendFeed do what Robert Scoble expects them to do in the coming years or even months.

The Recovery line would be the new species of commenting that will evolve over time. Extinction is possible, of course, but not inevitable. There are tons of businesses on the web which have yet to adopt blogging. And when they do, blog comments won’t necessarily be their primary purpose of the blog. Rather original content would be.

I believe that these bottlenecks will not extinct comments per se, but they will help to evolve new forms. In fact, that’s just what population bottlenecks can do: they help spur novel changes that lead to new ways of doing things.

SURVIVAL OF THE REMARKABLIST

Remarking will become an almost standard feature of future web-based socializing (personal and professional). Those vectors of remarking which are easiest to use and to help spread messages, will be the ones increasingly adopted.

Right now FriendFeed, Twitter, Disqus, ping.fm, etc. don’t hold a substantial share of the interwebs. But eventually, such services will go mainstream. When that critical mass hits, traditional commenting will likely reach its bottleneck.

THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF COMMENTING

So I don’t think this a time to mourn the death of comments. Rather there’s a rebirth of the original spirit of blogging which is now taking place. That spirit was in part was to establish a place on the web to have a *conversation*.

Blogging also evolved into a sort of financial instrument. That also will see change. Comment fragmentation will have positive and negative financial impacts on many blogs.

Yes, as services like FriendFeed and its ilk evolve and grow in web presence, the traditional dynamic of leaving comments on a blog’s post will likely erode. Bloggers will still be a vast source of content, but the comment-genie is now out of the blog.

Even with WordPress plugins and other tools to loop web-wide comments back into posts comments are now going to be everywhere.

Commenting is an important link between people online. There’s tons of revenue in comments. Tons. You can strip-mine them of course and hope that you have control over the selective pressures of the web. Or you can accept the fact that our world is now getting asymptotically closer to a perfect word-of-mouth paradigm of information flow.

If the brains over at FriendFeed are smart (and I think they are), they will launch an algorithmic revenue-sensing model that will tap into the commenting–not exactly in the way AdSense works, but by exploiting all of the social data being generated between and among people.

COMMENTING IS DEAD. LONG LIVE COMMENTING!

If you’re worried about the evaporation of comments on your blog, remember: your commentary is now being published without much effort on your part. If you play it right and get involved in the new ways of communicating then you just might figure out a way to make good returns from those small efforts.

So keep talking. Keep blogging. Keep commenting. Commenting is content and content is still king. It always will be.

Commenting is dead. Long live commenting!


Image source: Wikipedia, markup via Skitch

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Bloggers Wanted: Why You Should Volunteer for a Hospital Blog

Of the billions of bloggers out there (albeit most with an average readership of 1), how many talented ones would be willing to volunteer their time to help out a community hospital with its blogging?

As I’ve discussed in the last post, hospital blogging can be a costly project. The opportunity costs of blogging can be huge (time spent on research or improving operations). But: the opportunity costs of not blogging can be even bigger (not showing off your knowledge base and expertise or establishing community trust and authority).

So to help the community of hospitals (large and small), one possible route is to solicit help from the community of bloggers. The blogosphere a disparate and often talented community. It includes soccer moms, engineers, web designers, doctors, politicians, forest rangers, comics, and a whole assortment of other resourceful individuals. Many of them also have other skills pertinent to business and process management.

I’m willing to bet that there are plenty of bloggers (some amateur, others experienced pros) who would be delighted to offer their services to community hospitals. There’s really no University of Blogging per se. And no one company that stands out to fill the role of uber-consultant. So hospitals interested in looking into blogging or other Web 2.0 projects could reap handsome rewards by reaching out to the blogging community.

Why would bloggers volunteer their time, even it would be for an hour per week? Here are some off-the-cuff benefits to volunteer hospital-blogging:

1. Boost traffic (slightly) to their own site (as appropriate)
2. Help enhance their reputation and authority
3. Develop another blogging “voice”
4. Build their brand (or resume if that’s what they want)
5. Expand their horizons
6. Offer a chance to become evangelists for healthcare technology on the web
7. Enhance their value to other bloggers
8. Network with other bloggers
9. Change the mix of their daily grind
10. Gain a sense of participating in a noble cause.

I hear people laugh and offer a lot of (understandable) sarcasm at the idea of bringing blogging and other social media to hospitals. That’s fine with me. As long as they have ideas for improving healthcare. And understand what it is that I’m driving at.

Cynicism is not skepticism.

Cynics put down the truth. Skeptics lift it up.

For you folks who find it a nutty proposition, please argue with any of the ten items I listed above. If you reject them all, would you just do me a favor and offer your own lists for improving healthcare. People are suffering. They could use your help. You’re brighter than me, so radiate your brilliance!

For those of you who believe in the values of hospital blogging let me know why you think volunteer blogging makes sense. Do you think it’s a realistic proposition?

Are We Generalists, Specialists or Speneralists?

I’m a speneralist, aren’t I? And you: aren’t you as well? I don’t know if that’s a good or bad characteristic these days. Maybe you can help me decide (because you need to know too). Let me explain.

speneralist
Photo: Tidewater Muse’s photostream

A Brief History of Our Species
A long time ago, most people were generalists. They knew how to hunt animals and cultivate the best plants, made living quarters out of mud, and maybe even painted on cave walls in their spare time or uttered poetic stories at night. They specialized of course, but in order to survive they had to be generalists. They had to know it all and do everything. Or die.

Then these generalists got better at refining their civilizations. Their economies sprouted up and out. They invented new gadgets, like printing presses and steam engines and assembly lines. To be good at something, these people had to become specialists. They had to specialize in printing books or navigating ships or installing gear shafts. Poets started to get paid less. Painters starved. And our modern world arrived like a thief in the night.

Our World Soul Got Owned
And this modern world brought forth more gadgets and grew things like computers and transmission protocols and weblogs and AdSense. Specialization became a specialization onto itself. And the unconscious manifestation of all this specialization was the invention in 1968 of the cubicle with its eventual domination of our Anima mundi (world soul).

We’re all now plugged in. Soon we will be enmeshed. Information is flowing so fast at us now, that we can’t depend on others to do specialized things like journalistic investigation. We have to specialize a bit in journalism and skepticism ourselves if we are not to be fooled again and again. We have to write our own blogs and tweak our CSS or compose our own slide shows for those special presentations. We are able to specialize in many things in order to accomplish our specialized tasks. But wait: doesn’t that make us generalists? What, exactly, is going on here?

Outsourcing Your Marketing Department to Your Customers
On one hand, in order to thrive in the economy of the 21st Century you must specialize, you must be better than best: you must be so damn good that your customers become your marketing department. Being a know-it-all doesn’t cut it. And yet you leave out so much of the life radiating around you when the very focus onto your specialty is laser-guided. You’re stuck in a trap my friend, or fast approaching one.

So, again, the question: we’re Speneralists, arent’ we? Isn’t that what you call a stressed out, Moore’s-Law-spaghettied group of human beings tweaked between the need for specialty and the widsom of generality?

Those two animals up there in the picture. What are they? Well, they’re both mammals. Is the dolphin the specialist whose evolved refinements enable her to sleekly fly in and out of ocean waves? Is the cow a generalist who learned to specialize in acquatic miracles and really good Photoshop? Or is she a speneralist? Evolution is a snappy bitch, ain’t it?

Long You Live and High You Fly
That cow. That cow is what we are beginning to look like I think, dear friends. A swimming cow that leaps over turbulent green. But should she be doing that? Is it cool? Or is it utterly nuts?

So, what do you think that you (or the company you work slave for) is? A generalist? A specialist? Or a speneralist ready for anything under the sun?

The dusk is coming. Will your personal or corporate philosophy open its wings, or fold?


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Blog ROI: It’s About Value, Stupid!

Simple question: why would a hospital have a blog? Or use Twitter? Or maybe even FriendFeed? Simple answer: value.

A hospital aught to be one of the most valued kinds of facilities in our communities. Every effort aught to be encouraged for such organizations to optimally utilize those resources which can improve the delivery of care, expand an organization’s presence, and even generate positive returns from the investments in those resources.

But not every organization blogs. Not every one needs to. Why? Because the theme of returns and cost efficiency have been propounded so heavily into our heads that we overlook the obvious. We need to kick ourselves and say: It’s about value, stupid.

Hats off to ROI Harper and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)

Before addressing the specifics of hosptial blogging we aught to dip into some accouting theory, finance and arithmetic.

Organizations benefit greatly anytime they can create interactive means for people to find, experience and share value. A company’s Return on Invesment (ROI) is a simple quantitative method to express the expected gain from a deployed asset. But often, analysts focus so much on the number that they forget the value that drives it from the start.

Investing in social media is an investment in an intangible asset. Intangible assets generate both tangible and intangible losses and/or returns. Tangible assets include hospital beds, ventilators, infusion pumps, buildings, operating rooms, etc. Accounting theory offers ingenious methods for quantifying these assets in order to provide valuable information to investors and other stakeholders to make the soundest decisions about their resources.

Intangible assets include competent nursing care, physician experience, goodwill, communication styles, etc. They also include blogs and other social media that are currently evolving. Accounting theory has yet to work out how to measure a blog’s asset valuation (it could use a market costing methodology perhaps).

But the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) hasn’t yet seemed to issue a promulgation on the matter. If you’re a CEO, CFO, CIO or CAO of a publicly traded company maybe you can get a conversation going with the SEC or FASB (who knows, you might be able to get some tax deduction rules going: hint, hint).

Until someone establishes a standard measure of Blog ROI, I think it’s helpful to focus our lens on a fundamental question:

What information is needed to decide whether a blog is worth its cost?

There’s probably a complicated anwer to that question, one which depends on the economics of your particular organization. In its place, I’d like to offer up three simple intution pumps:

  1. Value drives ROI
  2. Price is a function of Value
  3. Value-Multiplied is replacing Value-Added


Value Drives ROI

ROI is just a noun. A number. A goal. It’s important.

Value is a verb. A movement. An infection. It’s essential.

If you want to generate positive ROI, you will have to create the setting through which customers (who these days aught to be called citizens) feel the value they seek (consciously or unconsciously). You will not only have to be the creator of value, you will also have to provide the means through which citizens can express their passion for the value they perceive.

So if you’re not able to derive an equation that gets you to ROI, you’re still not in the dark. If you’re trying to decide about developing a blog for your organization, you can just follow one word: value. What value would your blog offer to the people who read or join? Could you list out the (hypothetical) values? I think you could: around a conference table or in your armchair.

Price is a Function of Value
If your service isn’t valued there is no price strategy that will keep your going concern, well, going on. Price is simply a numerical expression of value. It’s either determined by monopolistic Short Snouts, oligopolies, government regulation, or the Long Tail of perfectly competitive market forces.

Be the Genhis Kahn of social value.

Mongol Lego-Archer

Photo: Dunchaser’s Photostream

Your strike-price is a derivative of the value people perceive. So strike value right into the hearts of your target. Be the Genghis Kahn of social value. I say Genghis Kahn because his small horde of lithe soldiers wearing silk shirts conquered more land mass while ridding on tiny horses than any other force in history. His enemies wore thick, heavy, metallic armor and everything they did was big. Why did his strategy and tactics work? Because in silk, there’s value. (Lesson: you’re going to get wounded, so make it easy to pull out the arrows.)

Value-Multiplied is Replacing Value-Added
It’s no longer good enough to “add value”. You’re sinking down the Long Tail. You might be in denial about this, but it’s true. Technology will own you (sorry, we’ve passed the singularity). The value you create and which your customers/citizens perceive has to be multiplied, not simply “added”.

And that’s where intelligent applications of social media come into play. Can you think of a better way to multiply the shared values of your going concern? Word-of-Mouth (WOM) was always king. But know the kingdom of WOM has come. Know thy king. He’s a little different this time around. He’s wearing new clothing: a crown of truth, a cape of respect and a staff of democracy. In fact: he’s you!

You cannot lie in the New Kingdom of WOM without being cast out. This is good news: you can now multiply your value with nobility. You can now impress your citizens with your infectious passion.

Value-Multiplication. That’s the new math you need to learn. And learn well.


Family Values are Social Values

There is an endless list of things people value in general. Here are some activities that I think most people value greatly:

  1. Kvetching
  2. Praising
  3. Sharing
  4. Bragging
  5. Linking
  6. Being flattered
  7. Being Right
  8. Never Being Wrong or Hurt (unless it’s a Dominatrix service)
  9. Loving
  10. Being Loved
  11. Inputing
  12. Suggesting
  13. Being Listened to
  14. Commenting
  15. Creating
  16. Meeting Others
  17. Learning
  18. Getting Great Free Stuff
  19. Taking Action
  20. Being Offered Simple, Easy Choices
  21. Hearing “Thank You” (even when they mess up)

These are all ingredients to successful blogging. Successful relationships. Successful business. Succesfful Successful anything, really. You don’t need Excel for the formulaic recipe. But you can cook. Be creative, use your senses, surprise yourself and become a remarkable presence in the kitchen of your marketplace.

Remarkable Opportunity Ingenuity (ROI)

Let’s redefine ROI. Let’s give ourselves permission to take a few steps back from the professorial whiteboard, put down the calculators and take a look at where we are along the Long Tail. If you don’t know where you are or what value your blog will create, how will you ever hope to properly calculate the returns on your investment? Would it even matter?

“There are some things that count that can’t be counted. And some things that can be counted that don’t count.”

John C. Bogle’s paraphrase of an old proverb

You’ve read Seth’s blog (I hope!). So you already know what to do. You know the answer: be remarkable (don’t just feign it). Be remarkable in your decision about whether to blog or not. It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s hard. It’s costly. Which means it can be numerical and maybe calculable. But do the calculations AFTER you do the valuations. If you lay down the tracks for your customers’ value-train then ROI will come chugging along.

Some Rationales/Reasons for Hospital Blogging

Let’s return to hospital blogging, since it seems to be one of the most challenging. There are considerations in the healthcare industry that may not exist in others, including but not limited to:

  1. Patient Privacy
  2. Empolyee Privacy
  3. Safety
  4. Efficacy
  5. The Provision of Authoritative Content

There are of course other considerations. But they are manageble Dips. They’re not dead-ends (although I think many hosptial cultures automatically conclude that these are the dead-ends that deceptively justify the easy choice: not to blog at all).

So what are some of the rationales for crafting a remarkable hospital blog? Here are some suggestions (I use the word citizen in place of patient, family member and general public because it’s the only word that makes sense in a remarkable democracy):

  1. Citizen Complaints (These Should be Prominent!!!)
  2. Citizen feedback and praise
  3. Services updates (a new Operating Room or Surgical Procedure)
  4. Introduction of New Staff
  5. Nursing Notes (I Know a Bit Nightingalish)
  6. Up-to-Date Content on Disease Processes and Management
  7. Community News
  8. Pledge Drive Announcements
  9. Guest Posts from Prominent Doctors, Nurses & Other Healthcare Professionals
  10. Staff Recruitment (Show Off What a Remarkable Facility You Have – Be The Zappos of Healthcare!)

The same could be (partially) true for services like Twitter or FriendFeed. Here are some values to be shared through those media:

  1. Tweeting facilities about emergent crises
  2. Using Twitter for staffing needs
  3. Using FriendFeed to keep a stream of blog posts and other information about your facility for the whole world to see (also: if Google purchases FriendFeed, wouldn’t you want to be listed on their prime SERPs?)
  4. Using Twitter or FriendFeed as an educational tool for nursing and medical students (let them follow the best in the business)

Conclusion: Value Multiplied by Infectious Interaction Equals Gross Blog ROI

If all of this is new and bewildering to you, perhaps you aught to focus your investing efforts on a blog. For one, blogging develops the kinds of skills needed for effective social media marketing. Also, it offers a simple interface with your citizens.

Being passionate about your hospital and the services it provides is important. But: that passion must always be subordinated to something even more important. Be passionate about infusing your citizens with the infectious vectors of value that they can spread through the community.

A blog is one component of the passion-pump. Additional social media tools offer more options, which I will talk about soon (Twitter & FriendFeed). For now, you can follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my feed and we can continue the discussion. And feel free to (respectfully) obliterate my arguments here. Quality of life is at hand here.

Whatever your background, a blog is a good start to a healthier hospital. Then again, you could just let someone else do all the talking for you while you keep handing cash over to lawyers and PR wizards instead of your nurses and doctors and capital equipment. Who knows, with all of the ultra-portable devices around these days, you could just let your organization become a featured superstar on Youtube. Just what are you waiting for?


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For remarkable resources on blogging and social media, follow these links:

Darren Rowse Problogger (No Nonsense Mate from Down Under)

Chris Brogan (Knows his stuff and knows how to communicate it!)

Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop Blogging (A Great Collection for Beginners & Pros)

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