Blogging for Success – My presentation at Juniper InnoVAR

Last week I had the honor to be a guest speaker at InnoVAR, partner program of Juniper Networks in Rome. Enjoy the Video!

Companies are not islands

It’s absolutely crucial for every company to establish a healthy relationship within their ecosystem. This means having a permanent connection with partners, providers, clients and employees.

Not a single company can afford to be isolated. Companies are not islands.

Why would you spend big budgets on advertisement if you don’t wanna have any relationship but business transactions with your stakeholders? Wasted money!

Thirteen years ago was published the Clue Train Manifesto, a collection of 95 theses about businesses operating within what is suggested to be a newly-connected marketplace. The Clue Train manifesto starts with “Markets are Conversations”.

It was a pretty strong headline in 1999, we don’t have to forget that social networks and social media marketing came up only many years later. But that headline turned out to be the most relevant portrait of what is was happening.

After 13 years we can say that not only “markets are conversations” but who deliberately decides to stay out of those conversations, tends to be isolated in the market.

Let me tell you a real story. Today we are in Rome, and just a couple of hours from here there’s Naples, the city where this story took place.
Caffè Carbonelli is a family business coffee production. The company was established in 1981 and for a few years was competitive. But after a while the business became static and it was slowly fading out.

One day, Mr Carbonelli decided to shut down the company. You know it’s not easy to go back to your family and declare your failure. It was a very difficult moment but his son, Luca Carbonelli, instead of giving up, decided to try the last shot.

He decided to engage an online conversation with his customers. He started selling his coffee on e-bay and his website started to publish videos of their production. They started explaining people about the local production, the mastering of this ancient craft.

Now Caffè Carbonelli is one of the most active online brand in Italy and the company is still there, well recognized as a brand and very present in its market.

This happened only because thy engaged a positive conversation with their customers, sharing their huge experience and becoming a point of reference.

Social networks are not good enough

Social Networks are extraordinary tools to engage your customers. With over 900 million users, Facebook is an extraordinary platform to do so. I would also include Twitter and youtube in the must-have tools to drive a great online presence. But we have to remember that “online presence” is not good enough.

There is a dramatic difference between presence and position. Presence fades away very quickly. Position is rock-solid but needs to be built over time, slowly and consistently. To do so we need to produce good relevant content.

Content is the most important value what we have to consider online. There is no value without content.

I like to imagine Facebook and Twitter like the special effects on movies. You can have the most extraordinary set of explosions, rockets, super duper visual effects, but if the story lacks in terms of characters, plot and meaning, the movie is really bad.

Your company needs to have the most amazing plot, characters and most of all meaning. Then you add special effects and the result is a blockbuster movie that everyone wants to watch.

Back to the basics: the story

Your story is the most important asset you have and then you have to find the best way to tell this story to the people. In the past, company used to buy advertisement on television, on the radio or they distributed press releases to the media. But now the best way to distribute your stories is on the Internet.

But a simple website is not enough because stories evolve. They develop, they grow and then there are new stories to communicate. The company grows and so the stories do. For this reason we need a powerful platform to host those stories and put them in front of the people, so they can read them, they can comment and interact with us.

Blogs are the best tool for publishing

Blogs are the best tools to get our stories together, expose them to the people and let them interact with us.

On our blog we don’t have limitations in terms of content: we can host articles, videos, music, pictures. We don’t have term of services with third companies, like it happens on Facebook. For instance we can host a picture contest on our blog, involving our readers without the limitations that Facebook has in the term of service.
And everything happens on our premises, on our domain. It means that all the content we publish is our content and it contributes to support our reputation.

I had to consult many clients that had bad experiences with Facebook. Not because Facebook is bad by itself. I want to be very clear on this point. Facebook is a private company and it has a contract with the users. The contract is called Terms of Service. If you want to use Facebook you need to know it and follow the rules.

Your blog is a tool that belongs to you and to your company. It gives you more freedom. This is just enough to make it a better place to publish your content.

Have a plan

Great, let’s start with a plan. The first thing to do to start a blog is to answer these five questions:

  • Why
  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where

Why do we want to start a blog?

What is the reason we want to invest in such thing? Do we want to increase our brand awareness? Do we want to increase the traffic on our website? Do we want to get a better position on Google? Do we want to streamline our communication process? Do we want to improve our teamwork? Do we want to increase the sales?

Being able to answer this question is crucial. The answer will give us the basic index to measure our results. If our goal is to increase the interactions with our customers, but after a few months of resources invested in a consistent blogging activity we didn’t succeed to do so, we totally have to reconsider what we are doing.

Who is going to do what?

It’s crucial to have clear in mind who’s gonna take care of the blog. Sometimes just a person is enough, sometimes you need a team. It’s very important to dedicate those people to the blog, you cannot expect that people are blogging if they are too busy in other activities. They need to know that their job includes blogging therefore they need to have dedicated time to do it.

The word is “empowerment”. People need to have the time and the resources to read other blogs, find the right content and blog about it. They need to get the tools and the knowledge. Sometimes they need to be trained.

And then, when they are going to interact with the readers they need to have the power to solve issues. If we blog about one of our products and a reader points out a problem with that product, our team need to have the power to take action. Send out a replacement or set up a direct connection between the unhappy customer and the customer service.

Bloggers are not typing monkeys, they need to be employees with special powers in order to solve people’s issues in a consistent way.

Empowered bloggers

A few weeks ago I was in Singapore and after a few days of street photography I got in contact with the Social Media Department of Marina Bay Sands, one of the biggest hotel properties in the world. They found me on twitter and they invited me to visit their amazing skydeck on top of their hotel. A member of the social media staff was so kind to take me on top of the deck and she gave me a complete tour of the property.

This happened because at Marina Bay Sands they do it right: they give enough power to their employees to go the extra mile and engage positive conversation with their stake holders.

What are we blogging about?

We need to be focused. We can blog about a single topic looking at it from many different angles or blog about the world seen from a very specific point of view. We can only pick one.

We need to be vertical. it’s crucial. We are lucky because our company is already a vertical example. We have a hotel? great, we blog about hospitality. We have a multinational food brand? we blog about healthy food.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to be focused.

When are we blogging?

ALWAYS!

Don’t wait for christmas to update your blog to announce a special offer! You need to have a constant channel of information for your customers. Every day is the best, but if you have a small company you can decide to blog on a weekly basis. It’s fine, as long as it’s constant.

And my advice is always to plan 2 months in advance.
Start writing blogposts and start publishing them only when you already have two months of blogposts ready. Your content, at the very beginning don’t need to be up-to date. You are not the CNN news. You need to plan your content in advance.

One of the main issue with blogs is the lack of planning. Companies open a blog and they publish 1 post per day for two weeks. Then they slow down and in a couple of months the blog is dead. Plan ahead and keep a low pace at the very beginning.

Your blog will reward you on the long run. Results are coming after at least 6 months, so there is no need to run. For this reason don’t expect to have any significant result in the first few months.

Plan ahead and keep the pace.

Where is your blog going to be hosted

First: use your own domain. Mycompany.com/blog is the best URL for your blog.

No need to start a new domain just for that. Then you can decide if you want to use a free platform like wordpress.com or have your local instance of it.

My suggestion is to use wordpress on your own server or on wordpress.com but the blogging platform is totally irrelevant. The content is going to make a difference!

Once you have an answer for there five questions you can start your blog. Don’t start if you are unable to answer “Why, Who, What”.

Positive side effects of blogging

A few years ago I was consulting a software house. During my activity with them they decided to open their corporate blog. Four people in the company started the blog: The CEO, the Head of Sales, the CTO and the head of Customer Service.

The had never blogged before and when we started they were totally unexperienced. They committed themselves in publishing two blogposts per week. They have been consistent for almost three years now and the results are amazing. They found out that having a common commitment is a great way to keep the team together. They slowly involved their customers and partners and recently they organized an event with more than a hundred people. They have become a point of reference for their ecosystem.

Blogs are relevant on Google and on search engines

Blogs perform amazingly good on google’s ranking for several reasons. The first is that a blog is made of discrete pieces of information called blogposts. Every blogpost has a title, a body of content and a topic. This is the best way information can be packaged for google. One page, one topic, one headline and one specific content.

Then blogs tend to be updated on a regular basis, while standard websites tend to be updated every several months, or years.

And then blogs are more exciting. Traditional corporate websites are really boring. Always the same information, always the same boring look. Blogs instead are made of people and they offer interesting stories. For this reason they generate interaction and google knows about it, rewarding blogs in its ranking.

How to measure the success of a blog

We need to go back to our first question: WHY. Why are we starting a blog?
Success happens when we have a target and after investing money and time we meet the target. If we blog to increase traffic on our website, we are successful if we increase the traffic to our website. period.

If we want a blog to increase the interaction with our customers, we are successful if such interaction gets better than before.

We need to be careful to have reasonable targets though. In my experience is very difficult to directly increase the sales, multiply the revenues or have direct economic benefits though blogging. I’m not saying that is not possible, but it’s definitely very difficult.

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