September 2, 2014

Is ghost writing in social media right or wrong?

This week, I posted the first of what may prove to be a series of controversial blog posts on the SAP community network (known to members as SCN).

The posts won’t be controversial so much for the content itself (although I hope that that happens eventually) as for the way I’m presenting it.

I’m going to channel other people’s ideas, not my own. You can read the entire post here. It introduces me to the community and explains what I’m planning to do.

They may not like it and you may not either.

But I think what I’m proposing is a necessary blend of realism and good ideas. Others call it ghost writing.

As I say in the SCN post and as I’ve mentioned here plenty of times, I think we are kidding ourselves if we think that many of our best SMEs are going to take the time to blog. And many who do would be better off getting some help.

I wanted to present the core arguments here to see what you think. I think that if we limit the discussion only to those subject matter experts who have the time and skills to blog, we’re missing out.

Here my arguments for letting me present others’ ideas from the SCN post and adapted for your consideration here:

  • Most people—even really smart people—can’t write worth a damn. Why do we assume that anyone can channel passion into his or her writing?
  • Social media is biased toward English. Most of the people I speak to at SAP are German and while most Germans are amazingly skilled at English, that skill rarely translates to the written word.
  • It’s not about the style, it’s about the ideas. One of the best aspects of social media is the opportunity to put ideas to the community and gather feedback. I’m excited about the prospect of not just presenting ideas to the SCN community but also in building ideas with this community. As I interview SMEs around SAP and external influencers like analysts and customers, I want to be able to share the raw ideas in their earliest stages so that I can inform people and get their feedback.
  • Transparency is the “hidden” problem. I think what people object to most about ghost writing is that the real people behind the prose are hidden. I will always blog as myself, introduce the ideas myself, and will always reveal whose ideas I’m channeling. I will attempt to respond to all comments myself, based on the work I’m doing with the SMEs. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll go to them and get the answer and come back with it. I’ll also name the writers that I have working with the SMEs as we are doing interviews and working towards the “final” products: white papers, videos, etc.

What are your arguments (for and against)?

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How to write blog posts from a white paper

If you’re a corporate marketer like me, no doubt you’ve been put in the situation I faced this week: you have a white paper that an external content person created for the company and now you need to make that content social. It’s an important part of social media management.

Let’s face it, there are some B2B executives who wouldn’t read a white paper even if you threatened them with lima beans (what, you like lima beans? Eeewww!). ITSMA research shows that buyers want the whole menu of content—not just a white paper here or a video there.

So this week I went back to the white paper writer and asked for a series of short blog posts based on the content in the white paper. This person responded with a good question: How would you like it to read and sound?

I decided to write down the ways. After circulating it with colleagues on my idea marketing team (who came up with good additions), we came up with this list. What would you add (or take away)?

  • New point of view. The white paper has one big idea. Each post should have its own strong point of view.
  • Conversational. Blogs need to take the tone down quite a bit from the formality of a white paper.
  • Humorous. White papers are serious. Too serious, in my mind. I’m trying to bring a lighter touch. But you need to try to make the blog post downright fun if possible. Need to poke fun at ourselves and our readers (without getting personal).
  • Challenging. Good white papers challenge, too, but blog posts can (and should) get away with grabbing a bigger fistful of shirt collar.
  • Passionate. Missing in a lot of white papers, this is the lifeblood of a good blog post. Readers have to feel your commitment.
  • Easy. Blogs are the comfort food of idea marketing: quick, tasty, and not great for your long-term health. That means lists and top tens and bullet points and lots of informative subheads. No long narratives. Unlike white papers, the posts shouldn’t pretend to be all readers need for their long-term thinking on a subject. We invite them to taste the healthier stuff by linking to the full menu through the blog posts.

What would you add to this list?

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3 factors in winning the social media horse race

Seems everyone has an opinion about Google’s G+. And as usual in a situation where little data exists (yet) to support fact-based opinions, most of them are extreme. Some say G+ is dead in the water because it hasn’t generated the mad rush that Facebook did and that growth and use is already starting to slow. Others say that G+ will rule because of its integration with Google’s other tools like Android, Gmail, Docs, and its media properties like YouTube and Google Music—in other words, the colossus effect that we’ve been waiting (for so long) to take effect.

It’s way too early to make a call, so I’m not going to presume to know G+’s prospects for success (especially when it hasn’t even been officially launched), but there are a few things that the rise of a possible new giant in social networking points out:

  • Social networks are porous. One writer claims that the attraction of G+ is the opportunity to start over in social networking. The argument is essentially that we’ve screwed up everything in Facebook and G+ is our social media morning after pill. But as even the worst one-night stand movie comedy will tell you, starting over is tough to do. Erasing or simply stopping our lives on a social network is possible, but it’s much easier to just start sharing across many at once. For example, just when I was lamenting having to do over all the work I’ve done to build up a Twitter community with some true interaction and conversation in G+, along comes a browser extension called SGPlus that lets you post on G+ and share it across Twitter and Facebook at the same time. When and if Google releases an application programming interface for G+, no doubt one of the social dashboards such as Tweetdeck will build G+ in. It’s easier for tweets to flow across all the various social networks because of their short nature and the fact that they usually contain links to longer content that can show up on Facebook and G+.
  • There are only two types of relationships in social networking. G+ is touted as something new, but it’s really a combination of two elements that I’ve talked about here before: Permission-based and viral-based relationships. G+ combines the viral model pioneered by Twitter, in which you can follow someone you don’t know and hear what they have to say, and Facebook and LinkedIn’s permission-based models, in which you can only engage in relationships with those you know. All the social networks we’ve seen so far are based on one or both of these models. G+’s relationship model mix of the two is a little bit complicated. So much so that it takes a PhD. to explain it.
  • There are only two types of content in social media. Short or long. That’s it. One of the reasons that Twitter is compelling is because its content is so short. You have to come up with something really pithy and link to the deeper thinking. Twitter kills the long-winded entry about nothing. The reason that blogs are so popular (and the cornerstone for social media in B2B social media marketing) is that they are long. They satisfy our need for stories with a beginning, middle, and end, and give us room to support our arguments with facts and proof (the cornerstones of thought leadership). Gone are those annoying blogs from the early days that just posted links to other stuff. Twitter killed them all. G+ tries to split the difference. Most of the posts I’ve seen on G+ have been twitter posts that go on for too long—140 words instead of characters, with little in the way of deep thinking or factual evidence to justify the wordiness. In this sense, G+ looks more like the blogging platform Tumblr. And we all know how Tumblr has taken off, right?
  • Commenters rarely engage in conversation. All the social networks allow for various kinds of real-time, texting style conversation, but when it comes to commenting on content, there’s little true conversation. It’s rare to see threaded conversations (unless the discussion is political, in which case the conversation usually happens at the shouting level). G+ and Facebook allow comments to specific entries that are pretty easy to follow. Twitter has the re-tweet button, @replies, and hashtags. I don’t think any of them have a particular advantage in the conversation department, but I think that G+ is at a bit of a disadvantage here. Those 140-word entries don’t have much depth to them, which means that many of the comments are inane. There’s just not much to say about something that didn’t have much substance to begin with. I also think there’s a piling on factor in G+. Maybe I’m being too cynical, but when I read posts by the A-list bloggers, there are tons of people who seem to think that saying something—anything, even “So true, so true”—is good for their street cred and exposure. I just don’t want to wade through it all. I think longer blog posts inspire more thought and better comments, even if they don’t rise to the level of conversation.

What do you think?

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How social media muteness endangers your company: The crisis at McKinsey

McKinsey recently learned a difficult lesson about what happens when the world takes your thought leadership marketing seriously—and when you lack the ability to respond in the moment through social media.

The trouble started when the McKinsey Quarterly published an article in early June entitled How US health care reform will affect employee benefits,  based on a survey the firm did about what will happen to employer-sponsored health care insurance coverage when the President’s health care law goes into effect in 2014.

A textbook example of pragmatic thought leadership
The article itself is one of the best examples of thought leadership I have ever read. It is bold, clear, authoritative, and based on solid research. It is a textbook example of what we at ITSMA call pragmatic thought leadership: it takes a current issue of concern to the company’s target audience and evaluates what may happen in the near term without any mention of company methodologies or offerings. The piece settles right into the Florsheims of the average HR manager and paints a picture of what might happen to their benefits programs when the law takes effect.

That picture is stark and scary.

The survey predicts that 30% of employers will drop health care coverage for employees altogether, throwing them into the government-mandated health insurance pool of individuals without company coverage. Among employers with the higher level of knowledge about the law, the percentage that would drop coverage rises to 50%.

Such a bold and relevant piece of thought leadership was bound to capture mainstream media interest, and this one certainly did—another coup in McKinsey’s long string of thought leadership marketing successes.

The chattering classes intrude
However, something as politically charged as the healthcare debate is not the normal territory of buttoned-down consulting firms like McKinsey. It was like letting a dumb teenager into one of McKinsey’s glass conference rooms with a stack of fireworks and handing him a match. Something important was bound to get damaged.

And so it did.

Republicans cited the article chapter and verse, because it lent some credence to the idea that the world would fall into communistic chaos as soon as the evils of Obamacare were unleashed. Meanwhile, the White House attacked McKinsey’s survey as an “outlier,” saying that other studies from Rand, the Urban Institute, and Mercer all showed that the law would have little impact on the number of companies with coverage.

Journalists look for trouble and McKinsey stonewalls
The political stir encouraged journalists and bloggers to try digging deeper into the story and that’s when McKinsey got into trouble. When a blogger for Time asked for more details on the survey methodology, she says McKinsey stonewalled. That information vacuum led some bloggers to fill it with questions about the quality of McKinsey’s research and its motives. The biggest credibility blow was struck by a blogger at the New Republic, who pointed out that unlike reports from the firm’s own “semi-autonomous think tank” the McKinsey Global Institute, the healthcare survey did not undergo a formal peer review process. Ouch.

Too late, transparency—and defensiveness
Of course, you know what happened next. On June 20, long after the bloggers had already moved on, McKinsey finally made the survey and its methodology transparent and issued a cranky and defensive statement about the survey that helped things not at all. Here’s why: One of the most compelling things about the article is its boldness. In one passage, the authors take on all those who think healthcare reform will be an easy ride, including none other than the Congressional Budget Office Itself:

“The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that only about 7 percent of employees currently covered by employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) will have to switch to subsidized-exchange policies in 2014. However, our early-2011 survey of more than 1,300 employers across industries, geographies, and employer sizes, as well as other proprietary research, found that reform will provoke a much greater response.”

Wow. That’s pretty unequivocal. Hey CBO, you’re wrong!

All of which makes McKinsey’s too-late response to the criticism all the more mealy mouthed. Check this out:

“Comparing the McKinsey survey to economic estimates, such as the CBO’s, is comparing apples to oranges. While the McKinsey Quarterly article about the survey cited CBO estimates, any comparison is not apt. We understand how the language in the article could lead the reader to think the research was a prediction, but it is not.”

Oh, I get it. We readers are just too stupid to know a prediction when we see one. That wasn’t a prediction, it just looked like one to the uneducated. Maybe if we had all gone to the upper two percent of business grad schools like the folks at McKinsey we would have known better. That’s the height of arrogance.

Companies without a human face will suffer
But hey, I’m not here to say yet again that companies should be transparent in a crisis and respond quickly and in a non-defensive manner to criticism rather than letting it fester. You’ve heard all that before.

I’d like to posit another important piece missing from the McKinsey picture: people.

Despite its prowess in thought leadership—McKinsey is simply the best—the firm is falling dangerously behind in social media. This crisis unfolded online and in social media. All the company needed was to get some of its well-spoken hot shots out there blogging to clarify thinking behind the survey and things would have gone a lot better. Companies that lack a human face and hide behind their brands—no matter how good those brands are—will suffer in the era of social media. That static, institutional explanation of the healthcare survey on McKinsey’s website is like a billboard flashing “We don’t get social media!”

It’s ironic, but there is a person who could have responded to this controversy in a very interesting way. It turns out that a McKinsey internal expert on the healthcare industry, Bowen Garrett, was one of the authors of the Urban Institute paper that claims that healthcare reform will not cause a big disruption in employer insurance. Gee, how about a quick blog interview with Garrett, or a video, or podcast? But McKinsey doesn’t do blogs or anything else timely on its website. It’s a slave to that big (admittedly wonderful) publishing machine called the McKinsey Quarterly.

There are many things that social media can’t do, but one thing they can do is give you the opportunity to turn on a dime and inject thought leadership into the conversation when it is most needed. Companies that can’t do it will suffer the consequences.

What do you think?

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2011: The year of personal brands

This is the year that the personal brand begins to do battle with the corporate brand. I think we need to let the personal brand win—especially in B2B.

Featuring big pictures and bios of your subject matter experts on your website is a good start, but it is the equivalent of paid search. It’s relevant but still a step removed from the truly personal connection. We need the equivalent of organic search, where our people rise to the top on their own, independent of their corporate affiliations. Then as marketers, we create a virtuous cycle that links these personal brands to the corporate brand. But it’s going to mean letting these people roam free outside the corporate firewall.

Pitting the corporate brand against the personal brand
Forrester Research is testing both sides of this argument. Now, awhile back I wrote a post criticizing Forrester’s decision to prevent its analysts from hosting their own personal blogs. I still believe what I said is right, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

The reason I bring up Forrester again is because they are actually so far ahead of the curve on this issue that they are the Sputnik dog of personal and a corporate brand testing. It’s a good problem to have, to be grappling with this issue as Forrester is.

Testing the popularity of content
If you follow social media, you probably know most of the story already. One of Forrester’s former analysts, Jeremiah Owyang, developed a big following on his personal blog “Web Strategy” in part because he hits on all cylinders of blogging: frequent posts, engaging content, and an active audience that contributes interesting and insightful comments. (And it should be mentioned that he started his blog before he came to Forrrester.) Another reason for his popularity, at least more recently, was because he was a Forrester analyst, and that brought instant credibility and gravitas to his words, because Forrester has such a strong brand.

But Owyang didn’t just post on his own blog; he also posted on a Forrester blog that was created around his business line. In other words, you had two avenues of attention and traffic that both complemented and competed with one another, at least from a branding perspective. In the early days, Owyang’s personal blog was driven by his personal brand and enhanced by the Forrester corporate brand. First you found Owyang, and then you found that Forrester was behind him.

Meanwhile, the Forrester corporate blog that he contributed to was driven by the Forrester brand and enhanced by Owyang’s personal brand. First you found Forrester, and then you found Owyang.

What better a, b test of personal vs. corporate branding could you get?

I wish I had the numbers to prove it, but my sense based on my own experience in social media is that Owyang’s personal brand won that battle. It certainly did in my own view. I found him on his own blog before I found him on Forrester’s and the conversation on his personal blog was more interesting and his community more engaged than on the Forrester blog.

What happens when your personal brand quits?
Of course, then Owyang left Forrester for a startup, Altimeter, that was started by a former Forrester analyst and which has since scooped up a number of other Forrester analysts. Right around that time, Forrester announced that it was ending the cross-posting experiment—no more personal blogs for its analysts. Any blogging would now be done from behind the firewall. I don’t want to assert cause and effect here, just pointing out the change.

Co-branding the individual and the company
As part of the change in its blogging policy, Forrester revised its blogging strategy as well, making its analysts more visible and giving them their own personal blogs behind the Forrester firewall. For example, Owyang’s replacement, Augie Ray, has his own personal blog, but his posts also appear on a group blog targeted at the business line he serves, “Interactive Marketing.” It’s a kind of co-branding strategy: individual analyst, line of business, and company brand all have equal billing at the top of the blog. So when Ray leaves, Forrester banks that people will want to follow the replacement analyst in interactive marketing for Forrester.

Meanwhile, Owyang still has his personal blog and it is as popular as it ever was—if not more so—than when he was at Forrester. And that’s a really good thing for Owyang’s new company, Altimeter Group. If you don’t agree, just go to Alexa and compare traffic at Owyang’s personal blog, the Forrester site, and the Altimeter site.

For smaller companies like Altimeter, the personal vs. corporate branding decision should be a no-brainer. Owyang’s traffic dwarfs that of the company. They should be thrilled that Owyang is still blogging, because he is constantly driving traffic to their site and exerting an upward pull on the corporate website’s traffic chart. People are going there to find out what company is backing Owyang and what they offer. If he left, would that traffic diminish? No doubt, but in the meantime, it’s all good for Altimeter.

For well-established brands like Forrester, the decision is less clear. The site already has lots of traffic and most people have heard of Forrester. Forcing analysts to start over again to build a personal following after they leave the fold may make it easier for replacements to follow acts like Owyang—at least from the corporate brand’s perspective

No doubt some will say that that proves that Forrester should never have allowed Owyang to keep his own blog. When he left, so did a lot of traffic that could have stayed with Forrester had he been surrounded by the corporate firewall.

The legacy of the corporate brand in the personal brand
But who’s thinking about the customer here? Will they really think less of you if one of your stars leaves? Was it a waste of time letting Owyang promote himself like that?

I don’t think so. Owyang’s blog is still packed full of references to Forrester and his work there. It’s clear searching on his blog today that Forrester played a big role in bringing him to prominence. And that association will never go away unless Owyang decides to one day just erase all traces of his past. There’s a very positive association there that underscores Forrester’s ability to nurture talent.

Now let’s look at that from the opposite perspective. Let’s say Ray builds as big a following through his Forrester blog as Owyang did through his personal blog. What happens to that content when he leaves? To me, the association is less positive over the long term. Do you really want a former analysts’ content to dominate your corporate brand’s search rankings after he or she leaves?

What about the customer’s view?
Now, I think that if we look at this from a traditional corporate branding perspective, your immediate reaction would be to expunge the analyst from your audience’s memory and start pushing the new content instead. And no doubt since the blogs are all behind Forrester’s firewall now, they can decide what stays and what goes, and can probably create ways through SEO to make the newer stuff more prominent in searches. I don’t want to speculate too much here because I’m not an expert on SEO.

But looking at it all from a customer’s perspective, I think Forrester looks better being a legacy on a star’s personal blog than having a star that leaves a void in content upon leaving. Let me underscore again that this is a good problem to have.

But as social media raises the ante for putting a personal face to the corporate brand, we are going to have to work through the issues that Forrester is grappling with right now. And we will need to avoid making knee-jerk decisions based on traditional brand thinking, because, like it or not, the brand game has changed forever.

What do you think?

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13 questions about social media and idea marketing

Earlier this week I participated in one of MarketingProfs’ TechChats (just do a Twitter search on the #TechChat hashtag to find the dialogue).

It’s a warm-up for the great dialogues we’ll be having at MarketingProfs’ SocialTech conference later this month in San Jose, where I’ll be speaking about social media and the B2B buying process. If you’re in B2B marketing, you gotta go to this thing. All the top social media pros will be there and the focus will be all B2B. I can’t wait.

MarketingProfs’ Megan Leap came up with some excellent questions for me about thought leadership and social media for this week’s TechChat. My answers sparked a lot of debate, so I’ve put them together for you here to see if they will spark the same kind of discussion here. (As an extra added bonus, due to Twitter’s typical evening queasiness, we weren’t able to post all the questions during the appointed hour. So they are all here for your enjoyment.) Please add your thoughts!

Q. Let’s get back to the basics. What exactly IS thought leadership?
A. Ideas that educate customers and prospects about important business and technology issues and help them solve those issues—without selling.

Q. Why should B2B companies try to be thought leaders in their industry?
A. Because online search has become so important to the B2B buying cycle. Content is replacing salespeople in the earliest stages of the buying process. If buyers find your content you’re a step ahead.

Q. What are some ways B2B marketers can position themselves as thought leaders?
A. Marketers can never be thought leaders! Especially in social media, their subject matter experts need to take center stage. But marketers must lead and support SMEs in the development and publishing processes. http://j.mp/8YsPBg

Q. What are some ways B2B marketers can improve their thought leadership?
A. By investing more in the idea development piece of thought leadership. Marketers today are too focused on the publishing part. Another way is by picking themes to help guide your TL development. Smarter Planet helps SMEs at IBM focus. http://j.mp/dzaioo

(Note: At this point, we had a lot of discussion about how ITSMA divides thought leadership into two pieces: development and publishing. Some people thought that publishing was too limited a term for describing the process of getting your ideas packaged up and out into the market. My feeling is that it is apt, because the best model we have for doing this is publishing—i.e., traditional media companies. Just because their business model doesn’t work anymore, that doesn’t mean that their model for developing ideas and getting them out into the marketplace should also be tossed out. It works.)

Also at this point, participants started a really interesting debate about the qualities of a thought leader—but that dialogue is too long to reproduce here—you’ll just have to check out the hashtag!)

Q. Who should be in charge of developing thought leadership? Marketing? PR?
A. Marketing. Marketing has more peer relationships with thought leaders inside the company than PR. Marketing is helping develop offerings.

Q. What social media vehicles are best for promoting B2B thought leadership? Video, blogs, Twitter?
A. Whichever channels your prospects are interested in receiving it and at the stage of the buying process they are at. Research them!

Q. How can marketers integrate thought leadership with traditional marketing tactics?
A. ITSMA research shows that nothing comes close to peer networking and small-scale events. So we should find ways to use social media to support and enhance the live meetings. IBM does that. http://j.mp/c9fWuX

Q. What are some qualities of a good social media voice? (Yes, stole this one from your blog ;)
A. I see 15 qualities, but if it had to pick the top one it would be authenticity. More about it here: http://j.mp/cdcbo9

Q. What are some examples of B2B companies who are successfully using social media and thought leadership? Companies who aren’t?
A. I think B2B companies that have social media policies are ahead of the game in using social media and thought leadership. Companies that don’t let their SMEs talk are going to fall far behind.

Q. Let’s say you market a highly commoditized industry. Would you say thought leadership is even more important?
A. I think it’s important for any B2B company. Anywhere there’s a business process you have the possibility to create thought leadership. That’s where the trade magazine explosion of the 60s-90s came from. Heck, I remember a trade magazine about coin-op laundromats! Everyone wants to improve what they do and how they do it. .

Q. Where will social media and thought leadership be in 2 years?
A. More integrated. Companies and customers and prospects will have a more continuous relationship than they do today. Marketing is still very episodic today, even with social media.

Q. What works better: a blog with a multi or single author approach?
A. I think single authors work best, but it’s much more work and can distract from the brand. I see companies adopting multi-authors for that reason (brand defense). But in B2B, people want to connect with other people, not with brands. Most multi-author blogs are really boring, with few posts and even fewer comments.

Q. How can B2B marketers measure their thought leadership investment?
A. There is no measurable ROI from thought leadership. Period. You will never track it through to a sale and if you do, you’ll never be able to separate it from other factors affecting the sale. I wish the pundits would stop selling that fiction. But I guess it keeps consultants in business. Thought leadership has a role to play, but it’s more to do with building a relationship than making the sale. Content builds intimacy between the company and the prospect until you can put them in touch with a salesperson.

Like these answers? Hate them? Have something to add?

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Do too many cooks spoil the blog?

Scoble, Longhorn Evangelist
Image via Wikipedia

Companies who want to add their voices the blogosphere have a decision to make: Do we allow individual employees to be the dominant force in our efforts, or do we keep the focus on the company by creating group-authored blogs?

In part, this is an issue of control. Some companies have decided to let a thousand flowers bloom—i.e., individual employees can blog as long as they adhere to the company’s social media policy. The other is to take a more controlled approach and put a blog or a handful of blogs on the corporate website.

Multi-author blog are easier for companies—but what about the audience?
It seems that most blogs that are on the corporate website are multi-author affairs. The advantage to multi-author blogs (though not necessarily to the audience’s advantage), is that the workload can be shared, reducing the dreaded gaps in posts if bloggers get really busy in their day jobs. There is also less disruption when a blogger leaves the fold. And the brand or the issue that the brand wants to promote (say cloud computing, for example) remains the focal point of the blog rather than a particular personality.

The downside to this approach is that the blog can seem muddled, with bloggers of varied interests and abilities going off in their own preferred directions, leaving the reader to wonder who’s in charge here. It’s also harder to avoid the perception that the blog is a corporate organ rather than a natural outgrowth of your employees’ passions.

Multi-author is part of traditional branding
The multi-author approach is more loyal to the traditional marketing approach that says that the brand comes before the individual. Yet there’s no question that blog readers are looking to connect with a person, much as people follow their favorite columnists in a newspaper or a favorite character on a TV show. They enjoy getting to know the blogger over time.

Increasingly, I think the multi-author approach will become old school. An interesting article this week, Brand Building, Beyond Marketing, essentially argues that the issue of brand has gotten beyond the control of marketing and is increasingly embodied in the actions of individual employees. (This is especially true for services companies, which don’t have concrete products that can do the branding for them.)

Individuals can burn out—or just leave
Now, it is possible to highlight individual contributors within a group-authored blog to give readers a better sense of connection, but for me it never works as well as when the individual takes responsibility for the whole enchilada. Individuals can’t afford to play it safe if they want to build and keep their audiences.

The downside to this approach is that individual bloggers can get burned out easily (most already have day jobs, right?). Another problem is that they may move on to another company, perhaps taking their audience and any brand cred they’ve helped you build with them (most people pick on Robert Scoble as an example of this).

I don’t think there’s a definitive answer to this question yet—at least I haven’t seen any good research comparing individual vs. multi-author blog performance.

What do you think?

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How to establish a voice of authority in a blog

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how to get others to blog. But it’s not enough just to support bloggers. For them to be successful, we need to help them establish their voices in a blog.

The way that we establish trust and relationships with buyers is through authority. We want readers of our SMEs’ blogs to see them as experts. But you can’t establish that authority by putting a link to their LinkedIn profile on the blog. You have to establish authority through the writing voice that your SMEs use in their blogs.

It would be wonderful if your bloggers were the only experts writing about their fields. If that’s the case, great. Stop reading. But most likely, there are already other experts out there who are more expert and write better than your SMEs. In this case, just showing how smart they are won’t cut it. SMEs need an angle. Here are a few to consider:

  • Lead a niche. Pick a subject that few others have staked out. SMEs with deep expertise in a particular niche can build a strong and loyal following—if not necessarily huge blog traffic.
  • Show your age. A former colleague that I really admire managed to mention his 30 year experience in marketing into the first minute of conversation with anyone new. The voice of experience is powerful.
  • Be timely. Being the first with the latest news builds authority.
  • Have the data. This is how analysts (like me) establish their authority. They can make assertions based on what everyone is doing—not just what they themselves think.
  • Aggregator. If your SME is a person who loves to collect information, then becoming an aggregator is a route to trust. People know that they can count on this person to provide or link to the most insightful information in the topic area—no matter where it first appeared.
  • Futurist. Some SMEs are always looking to see what happens next. If they are focused on developing new offerings, for example, this is a natural voice for them.
  • Iconoclast. SMEs can construct a great voice around questioning existing practices and trends. But be careful; these SMEs need to have thick skins and handle negative comments constructively.

What suggestions do you have for establishing a voice of authority in a blog? Let’s get a conversation going.

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How to build emotional engagement in B2B marketing

I got a really interesting question last week through my Skribit box: How do you use emotional engagement when talking about dry technology?

This may be the ultimate question in B2B, especially as we struggle to integrate social media into the overall marketing mix.

Let’s face it, even if it was possible to curl up in front of the fire with a glass of wine and our B2B products and services, no one would do it. Most of the things we sell are about as emotive as army ants.

That’s why I’m going to answer the question (and invite accusations of copping out) by saying that we shouldn’t try to use our dry technologies as the basis for emotional engagement.

We have to stop torturing ourselves trying to write interesting things about our dry technology. That’s what has led to the horrific vocabulary of mindless marketing speak that makes us utter things like “demonstrable value” with straight faces while deluding ourselves that it leaves an impression on customers. (Hey, it was the best thing we came up with at the meeting, so why wouldn’t customers like it, too!?)

Where are thepeople and the stories?
Journalism has long understood that people respond to other people and to stories. Those two things are built into the process. You get fired if you don’t interview people and feature them in your story. And you never get any interesting assignments if you aren’t able to communicate information through a narrative structure—a story with a number of star characters and a beginning, middle, and end.

It’s the same in B2B. It’s why our latest ITSMA marketing budget survey shows (free summary available)that thought leadership has risen to a higher priority level than in any recent year. Ideas can create an emotional connection. Okay, so it’s not big emotion, but it hits some buttons:

  • Gratitude. This company understands my pain
  • Loyalty. I may need to keep an eye on these guys in case they say something else that moves me.
  • Respect. These guys are smart.
Press photo of Sockington.
Image via Wikipedia

But for all of these things to hit, customers need to be able to connect them to people. Social media offers some new ways for us to build emotional connections with customers by connecting them with other people and their stories. (Ever wonder why Sockington is so popular? Even making a cat more like a person works.) Blogs let us feature our subject matter experts (SMEs) not just as brainiacs but as people that customers can eventually feel comfortable reaching out to directly. Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. all do that, too.

But let’s not get too hung up on social media. This has to permeate all that we do. It’s why those expensive private events work so well.

What do you think? How do you use emotional engagement when talking about dry technology?

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How to get others to blog

One of the biggest challenges for B2B social media marketers isn’t creating content, it’s helping others create content.

Marketing is the default head of social media management in most companies. And while marketers can create some social media content, they can (and should) rely on their subject matter experts (SMEs) to create most of the stuff that’s going to build trust and relationships with customers.

At our two ITSMA briefings this week in Boston and Washington on social media, (we have two more coming up in New York and Santa Clara, CA that you can attend), marketers offered up a common complaint: They have a hard time getting their SMEs to start contributing (and keep contributing) content.

It’s no surprise. Creating content such as blogs is hard. That’s why marketers have to step in and help out. Here are some ways to do it:

Send them what interests you. If you’re in tune with your SMEs, then what interests you should interest them (at least from a business perspective—no need to go nuts and take up golf). Set up an RSS feed of key news sources and bloggers and forward the good stuff to your SMEs.

Get ideas from customers. When blogger’s block sets in at IBM, bloggers can get inspiration through software that lets customers suggest the topics they’d like to see covered. (Okay, so you need to work for IBM to access it, but Skribit is available to the rest of us.)

Filter research. Customer research can provide tons of fodder for content, but you can’t just dump it on SMEs unfiltered. Pick some key themes and ask them to comment on them.

Incite them. If you see a controversial assertion or question somewhere, forward it to your SMEs and ask them to craft a thoughtful (not attacking) response and link to the original through their content.

Interview them. If your star SMEs are struggling to come up with ideas for starting a blog or for keeping one going, start thinking of yourself as a reporter. These people are your beat. You don’t have to write their posts for them, but you must interview them regularly to find out what they are hearing from customers and what trends they are seeing in the market. Just as reporters take the heat for missing a story or failing to file regularly, you have to take on the responsibility for making sure these people keep posting regularly by checking in with them regularly and getting them talking. Record the interviews and get them transcribed. Then take a look at the transcript and highlight the sections that you think would be interesting for them to write about.

Have regular pitch meetings. Very few writers are able to get their best thoughts out on paper without some help. That’s why magazines and newspapers have pitch meetings, where writers blurt out their rough ideas and get feedback from others on how to turn those ideas into cogent stories. This all happens before the writing begins. When you check in with your bloggers, ask them to talk through their ideas before they start writing. It will improve the quality of their posts and it will also help you keep them focused on the issues that matter most to your business.

Create an editorial calendar. Companies have strategies and goals. Marketers should use them to help inspire their content creators. Pick topics that matter to your customers and your business and ask your SMEs to create content for those topics. Create an editorial calendar with a new topic at least each quarter (e.g., sustainability or cloud computing). Then make a plan for hitting those topics in as many different types of content as possible (blog posts, conference presentations, videos, etc.) so that buyers can consume the information in any form they choose. And target that content to all of the stages of the buying process so that anyone encountering your content will find something that speaks to them personally.

Hire a content director. Have you noticed what’s been happening to the media lately? There are many unemployed journalists and editors out there. Hire one to help your SMEs develop and disseminate their ideas. Journalists are trained to separate the compelling ideas from the chaff and develop them with supporting evidence and case examples.

Buddy them up. If your SMEs refuse to go solo because they think it will be too much work, find them a partner or partners to share the load.

Write for them. If all else fails, you can interview them and use the transcript to write something yourself. Just don’t relieve the SMEs of the responsibility for feeding you the ideas and thinking.

What have I left out? How do you encourage your content creators?

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