Why it’s ridiculous to argue about ghost blogging

It seems like “ghost blogging” — the practice of penning posts for others –  is always under attack.

Jon Buscall wrote a fine piece about it recently as did Mitch Joel.

Philosophically I agree with them.  In a pure and perfect world executives should write their own copy.

But practically speaking I don’t agree.

Here’s why.

  • It’s not a pure and perfect world. Ghost writing is going to happen and it always has.  Wishing and pontificating will not make it different.  So why not at least do it well?
  • Most executives don’t have the time or ability to blog consistently and effectively. So if they don’t get help, it just won’t happen. Isn’t it a good idea to help bring their ideas to life?
  • Personal connection and “community” is probably less important to somebody at the “rockstar” level of chairman.  I know this will get hollers from the crowd that community is “everybody’s business” — and to some extent that is true, but again, I’m being practical. Most CEO’s are not being compensated to build community through a blog.
  • The chairman does not pen his own speech, yet nobody questions that they own it. They don’t write the shareholder’s letter in the annual report, yet this is deemed as authentic. Do you think Former GE Chairman Jack Welch sat there and pecked out his own book? And yet it is seen as his.

So why do so many people seem to want to put blogs in a different class of writing?  In the world of corporate communications it could be argued that blogs are even less important and critical than a major speech or a document being submitted to the SEC.   Why are people on a quixotic mission to fight against reality?

Here’s a better solution. Establish guidelines to have an effective ghost blog in an effective and ethical way.  A few months ago there was a debate on this topic on {grow} that resulted in some guidelines for ghost blogging:

  • The host executive should provide general ideas for a ghosted blog post and a few bullet points expressing key thoughts for the writer to work from. Obviously the writer needs to spend as much time as possible with the host to get a feel for their language and opinions.
  • The executive should approve every blog post before publishing under their name.
  • Content aimed at a personalized connection – such as responses in a blog comment section – ideally should be authored by the executive, not the ghost writer.
  • Be sure there is an approval process in place that can handle the need for flexibility, responsiveness and the opportunistic tendencies of the social web.
  • Guidelines of the corporate blog process and a list of blog contributors could be contained in an “about” section.

Do these make sense?

A fascinating B2B social media success story

With many companies now engaged in social media marketing strategies for nearly two years or more, success stories are starting to emerge, even in the difficult marketing world of industrial B2B.  I discovered a great success story to share with you through a masters thesis being developed by Haakon Jenson of Norway.

The case exemplifies an integrated approach to CRM, customer research, SEO, web design, content development, and social media marketing that I think you’ll enjoy!

BACKGROUND

ShipServ is a leading e-marketplace in the maritime industry providing a portfolio of software, services and hosted applications designed to enable efficient global shipping.   Their core product TradeNet, an e-commerce platform connecting industry buyers and suppliers. Currently ShipServ serves 150 shipping companies managing 5,000 ships and approximately 30,000 suppliers. In 2008 the company turned to the social web to help them through several marketing challenges:

  • Image of being an impersonal software company.
  • Limited marketing budget and employee resources
  • Increase awareness of using eCommerce as a shipping solution — a big change for traditional customers
  • Customer base not early technology adopters. A survey showed 65% regarded the social web as a “distracting waste of time”

OBJECTIVES OF THE MARKETING PROGRAM

  • Drive 50% more traffic to website in three months
  • Raise awareness of brand throughout global shipping industry
  • Attract new sales leads through relevant content
  • Change focus from “shouting” at customers to “listening, engaging and inspiring”

STRATEGY

The company began with research to find out where customers were receiving their information, their participation in the social web, information needs and the current “state of the conversation” for the ShipServ brand. Key discoveries included that there were very few online communities for their industry and that the mention of their brand was rare. Despite the fact that their historical customer base largely did not use the social web, they saw an opportunity to seize the lead and become a thought leader in their marketplace.

ShipServ partnered with an outside marketing firm and their CRM vendor to create an integrated social media plan that focused on leading the creation of an online community, developing outstanding content and using social media channels to drive new sales leads through their website.

ACTIONS

> Conducted research to determine customer information needs and keyword themes.

> Revamped website to be more customer and content driven — New design was more easy-going and personal. Developed custom landing pages for groups of keywords used to find the company and specific calls to action based on individual customer needs.

> Created a blog that frequently featured their customers. They also used the blog as a way to establish conversations in the industry.

> Established “scorecard” through their CRM system to track lead nurturing progress. All reactions and visitor behavior was examined for possible sales leads.

> Developed quarterly content plan based on themes established from research. Content was leveraged and re-purposed in various ways across all the social media sites.

> Promoted original content through variety of social media channels, which were used as “beacons” to drive traffic back to the main website. These channels included:blog, e-newsletter, Twitter, light-hearted videos, podcasts, Facebook and LinkedIn.

> A series of valuable white papers (like 10 Essentials of Online Marketing in the Shipping Industry) were created and promoted through the social channels, website and newsletter, resulting in 1,000 downloads in seven months.

> Established online industry community by creating a group on LinkedIn. The company introduced this forum to both shipping company suppliers and procurement professionals and had 863 members as of last week.  Content for the community was developed based on the initial research of user needs and included research, surveys, and of course content re-purposed from other sources.

> Search engine optimization campaign, including keyword content planning.

RESULTS

Website

  • Website visitors increased by 59 %
  • Pageviews increased by 70 %
  • Average time on site increased by 25 %
  • Generated over 1,000 downloads of a white paper

Community

  • 378 members in the ShipServ Maritime Network group on LinkedIn
  • 300 visitors to the blog
  • Over 600 views of the company videos
  • LinkedIn and Twitter have gone from zero to the top 20 traffic sources

Business statistics

  • Increased contact-to-lead (landing page contact) conversion by 150%
  • Increased lead-to-opportunity conversion by 50%
  • Decreased campaign management costs by 80%
  • Increased the number of sales-ready leads by 400%
  • Measurable increase in brand awareness

Break-even on the $30,000 social marketing media investment was achieved in three months. The company estimated the results they achieved would have cost $150,000 through traditional media.

What are your thoughts on ShipServ’s project?

Pump up the jams

This is post #300 on {grow} so I thought this would be a good opportunity to pause and just say THANKS!

If you ever want a case study for somebody who has fell in love with his blog community, it would be me. The true friendships, new connections and opportunities that have come through {grow} have been one of the highlights of my career. You take me to school every day.  And if we haven’t connected personally yet, I would love to hear from you by phone, email or maybe even a live visit some time.

We’ve come a long way. Monthly page views have already doubled in 2010 and as you may know, {grow} was nominated for blog of the year in an industry competition.   For me, the true highlight was that we were nominated by a man I admire so much and one of our great community members, Danny Brown (who won the award last year).   In addition to Danny, the other award nominees are Jason Falls, Todd Defren and Gini Dietrich. Are you kidding me? They are all TREMENDOUS!  So if you would like to vote for {grow} or one of these folks, you can do it HERE.

By the way, a sort of extemporaneous “get out the vote” for {grow} campaign broke out on Twitter today.   Thanks for this sentiment and your passionate enthusiasm!   Compared to some of the other communities, we’re still small but hey, we’re mighty!

Thank you for spending your time here so faithfully and for letting me be your “chief conversation starter.”  I never take you for granted and can’t wait to pump up the jams with you on the next 300 posts!

Cleaning house on Twitter: A drama in 10 tweets

Part ONE.  The curtain rises.

There was a brouhaha on the Twitterstream recently when Spike Jones, a blogger and SVP at Fleishmann-Hilliard, challenged some people by name to delete their huge Twitter accounts and start over.  The original (excellent) article sparking the discussion by Leah Jones can be found HERE and a follow-up post by Spike, HERE.  The idea of eliminating followers created a  … stir.

Part TWO.  What’s the fuss?

I presented this drama because … well, I couldn’t resist it.  Antagonist, protagonist, love, hate, a leading lady, conflict and resolution in 10 tweets? Give me a break. Who doesn’t enjoy a good drama? Plus I found it refreshing that a few folks on Twitter actually showed up as real people.

So besides the question of honor and bileful little men, what raised this ruckus?

The idea that “numbers don’t matter” is one of the most emotional subjects I’ve witnessed on the social web.  It’s our precious little secret: Most people pretend they don’t care, but they do.  Here is the yin and yang of the social media “numbers.”

YIN

The number of friends or followers might be a reasonable indication of a person’s presence on the social web.

… YANG

But for Pete’s sakes, treat EVERYBODY with respect.  All too often I see people forgetting that there is a real person behind that little icon.

YIN

Larger numbers of followers can enhance reputation. I recently saw Chris Brogan present and he admitted honestly that he has 180,000 followers “but half of them are spammers and porn stars.” In some (rare) cases, quality of followers really doesn’t matter. It’s a badge.

… YANG

Quality of followers should matter in most cases. Why would you knowingly surround yourself with porn stars …. unless you’re a porn star? I want to surround myself with relevant, interesting people.  My audience is a public record of who I am.

YIN

In many cases, large number of followers can deliver higher numbers of potential connections, business benefits and information.

… YANG

Even with wonderful utilities like Tweetdeck, it’s a stretch to have a meaningful connection with more than a couple hundred people.

Part THREE. A simple truth about followers.

So, there are arguments both ways.  But let me give you another perspective.

When I became active on Twitter, a young lady followed me with a provocative profile picture. This was at a time when porn folks were absolutely over-running Twitter and I was blocking them as fast as I could. The next day this same young lady wrote to tell me she was a university student in the U.K. and was following me to learn from me. She was disappointed that I had proven to be so elitist by blocking her and not including her in my audience.

Obviously I corrected the situation and apologized, but here’s the lesson I learned — I need to consider it an HONOR to have interested followers.

I realized that Twitter is not necessarily about me, what I gain out of it, and what’s convenient to meet my needs.   Every person on the other end of the tweet has their own reason to connect to me too. Eliminating them wholesale as Leah and Spike suggests seems disrespectful to good people who followed me in good faith.

I realize this is a very personal point of view and may not fit for you, but what are your thoughts about cleaning house on your followers?

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