Strategic Questions for Proficient Business Blogging

The Business Process Management Life-Cycle
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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.

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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:

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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...
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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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