Wait a minute. It’s not about engagement after all!

I’ve been invited to be a presenter on an upcoming B2B Blogging webinar (announcement forthcoming!) so I’ve been studying many company blogs that I regard as best practices.  As I moved from site to site, I noticed something surprising.  There were very few comments.  In fact, there were virtually none.  It was kind of an “a-ha moment.”

As an example, I would direct your attention to General Electric, a gold standard for corporate blogging.  Their site is a glorious mix of art, entertainment, news and inspiration. GE combines beautiful writing, graphics and video to tell their story in a compelling way. And there are no comments anywhere.

Does the fact that there is no engagement on this forum mean GE is failing?  If one of the largest and best-managed companies in the world can’t create a community through their blog, how do we hold out hope for our own clients and company blogs?

As I’ve stewed on this issue, I’ve determined that we need to re-think the whole notion of engagement on company blogs.  In fact, we need to forget about it in most cases.  There are two reasons why.

Nobody’s home

I am blessed with a vibrant, intellectual, caring community on {grow}.  It’s not unusual for me to receive more comments in a day than GE and many corporate blogs receive in a year.  I believe the distinguishing factor is that there is a face to the {grow} community. You know me as a person and once you bump around a bit, you start to know the other community members too.

Company blogs are usually written by a team of people.  There are notable benefits to this approach:

  • Diversity of views and topics
  • Spread out the workload
  • Consistency of coverage even during vacations and attrition

So I’m not criticizing this blogging strategy.  But the downside is that there is no personality to connect to. People are unlikely to form a community around an anonymous team of people.  If you’re employing this approach, I think it’s a long-shot to expect meaningful engagement.

Example of an exception: Randy’s Journal, the personal Boeing blog of Marketing VP Randy Tinseth. Real guy. Real community.

Let’s look at the numbers

A recent study by Compendium shows that 92% of B2C companies claim that 60% or more of their blog traffic are first-time visitors and a vast majority of the time, more than 80% are newcomers every day.

The numbers for B2B are a little better with 64% of companies claiming that 60% or more of their visitors have never been there before on any given day.

In other words, visitors to a company’s blog are not a core group of loyal community members. It’s a constant churn of people who have never been there before … and may never be there again.

Re-thinking the meaning of engagement

For those who have been chanting the “it’s all about community” mantra, there are some pretty shocking — but also exciting — implications to this:

1) Except in very few cases, engagement as measured by subscriptions, return visitors and comments may not be a realistic or desirable goal for your company blog.

2) The data show that corporate blogs act as superb targets for search engines. We already knew that but perhaps it’s time to codify that and respond with an appropriate social media sales strategy. You probably have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of strangers buzzing by your blog every day. Stop trying to engage them.  Just get them to pause.

3) The B2B data show that prospects are almost twice as likely to stick around a B2B blog than a B2C blog. This is great news for the B2B marketer. The B2B sales cycle is long and buyers need lots of information to make decisions. While visitors may not be engaging, they do seem to be reading and coming back for more.

If you’ve made your living touting the engagement benefits of corporate blogging, you’re probably either reaching for your oxygen mask or your flame-thrower.  In any event, I’d like to hear from you in the comment section. What do you think of this re-framing of the objectives of a corporate blog?

How to sell stuff on your B2B blog without being annoying

I’m hoping by now the “selling is bad” phase of the social media mantra is passe and we can all freely embrace our inner capitalist.  Right?Earlier this week I wrote about a growing trend toward sponsored posts and outright selling on blogs.  Frankly I think this defeats the community-building aspect of a blog. Why read it when you know the author is taking money to pimp stuff? I personally think this is a trend that will run its course.  One day, sponsors will figure out nobody is reading the blog when it is obviously nothing more than an advertisement. People will self-Tivo.

However, I think there are some appropriate and customer-friendly ways to sell things on a blog. I’m going to focus on the tricky world of B2B …

  1. Feature blog-only special offers and discounts — This can also build readership if you can condition customers and prospects to look to the blog site for exclusive deals.
  2. Post product ads somewhere on your blog — This doesn’t have to be in your face and ugly. For example SAP routinely offers ads for their training programs on their blog. Why not? That’s a smart thing to do and also helpful.
  3. Involve sales in the blog chats and comments — Why not use the engagement in the comment section of the blog to let your sales folks build connections?
  4. Give away something away that requires an opt-in — Many blogs feature product samples, or eBooks that allow the site to collect info for the company CRM.
  5. Add a feature for customers to opt-in for specials and eNewsletter — Do you have other communication touch points customers might like to know about it? An opt-in for newsletters creates a sales lead.
  6. Write blog topics that feature helpful uses for your products and services that encourage people to buy more stuff.  That’s what we want them to do. “Grow”  … remember?

Any other ideas?  Have you seen any great best practices out there?

How to Use the Social Web to be a Star at Work

toothpaste for dinner
A few years ago, I was in a graduate leadership program at Carnegie Mellon University and took a class from a talented educator and author named Robert E. Kelly.  Dr. Kelly had just written a book called “How to be a Star at Work.” (disclosure: I am receiving no affiliate income from this or any other book!)

Honestly, I thought it was going to be one of those kick-your-feet-up, blow-off kind of classes, but it ended up being one of the most interesting sessions of the program.

We all know that certain people tend to rise to superstar level at work. They may not be smarter or harder working than others, but they have a certain “something” that seems to push them up the corporate ladder.

Dr. Kelly had a research grant to determine the factors that these high-fliers had in common. After all, if you could actually test for these factors, wouldn’t that have a powerful impact on corporate recruiting and training?  Turns out it wasn’t that simple, but after years of investigation he eventually found the magic formula.

According to Dr. Kelly’s research, one of those key characteristics of a corporate rock star is an ability to effectively network and find information quickly.  Let’s say you had two employees — Tom and Tammy — equally well-educated, enthusiastic and nattily-attired.  But Tammy had just one advantage — she knew how to use technology to rapidly find the people and resources she needed to accomplish a task while Tom picked up a phone and started calling people in the company directory. The research showed that Tom had no hope of ever catching up and the more complex the task, the further Tammy would outshine him.

It makes a lot of sense.

I’ve already written about the importance of personal “technological adaptability” as an increasingly important life skill. But Dr. Kelly’s research seems to indicate that expert networking skills like an ability to navigate the social web can also be a crucial differentiator in your career.

So there.  Now you can explain to your spouse that all that time you’re wasting on Twitter is actually a career-advancement opportunity! You may be just 140 characters away from the tweet smell of success.

Illustration: toothpastefordinner.com

The End of The Trust Agent?

It’s uncommon to see much written about individual personalities on the social web — in fact it’s taboo.  However, it’s important to occasionally look at Chris Brogan as a living social media business case study for two reasons:

1) It’s hard to comment on the state of the nation without mentioning the president.

2) Chris Brogan is a pioneer. The issues and opportunities he faces are instructive to all churning in his wake. As Lisa Foote once wrote, Chris is the canary in the social media coal mine.

Chris has created a tremendous amount of value and popularity through his tireless engagement but has also stirred up more controversy than any social media personality, whether through his aggressive use of “sponsored” posts or his apparent sponsorship “flip” at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show.  As I said, he is plowing new ground.  Sometimes you hit a rock.

But last week might have been his biggest buzz-killer when he revealed he charges $22,000 for a day of his services and then subsequently posted (and dropped) an appeal for un-paid interns for his company.

Just to be clear, I’m not in the whiney camp that thinks everything Chris does should be free.  I’m probably the most capitalist, business-driven blogger out here. I like it when people make money. I like it when Chris makes money. I think he should take advantage of his white-hot celebrity, celebrate it, leverage it, and roll in the dough. I hope he can double his consulting fees.

So making money is good.  But from an academic view, it would be useful to look at the “how” — the dramatic shift (or perhaps evolution) in strategy that is enabling Chris to become a money-making machine.

For years, Chris has built his core brand promise on:

  • Passionate audience-building through authentic helpfulness
  • Relentless nurturing of that audience through tireless engagement
  • Putting the audience above personal business needs
  • Never, ever “selling”

In one video from last summer, he literally screamed at an audience “This is NOT about YOU and your STUPID COMPANY!”  That effectively sums up his mantra, and the “brand” Chris built around himself.

Around the time of his book release last year, Chris flipped this philosophy upside down and took steps to aggressively monetize his audience.  He explained this change by saying that he had been giving stuff away for a long time and that it was time to make money.  Selling of his products, services, companies, book, affiliate links, and paid sponsors became a common theme. He transformed into the social web’s most visible and highly-paid pitch-man, the Billy Mays of blogging.

Chris also increasingly put himself at the forefront of his topics, including video documentation of a day in the life of himself, photos of himself with near-celebrities, announcements of his new business ventures, and detailed explanations of how hard he works to achieve his success.  As you would expect, some readers expressed disappointment with these changes, and they were sometimes categorized as “haters” instead of “creators” and implored to “get over it.”

In other words, Chris has disassociated himself from that core brand promise to his audience.

In the business world, this would be tantamount to Disney opening a Tia Tequila-themed ride, or Nike doing a fitness cross-promotion with McDonald’s.  When a brand becomes incongruent by building a reputation communicating one thing and then executing another, it can be a recipe for disaster.

In the near-term, Chris and his ubiquity seem to have a limitless ability to capitalize on the goodwill of his audience (heck, loyal customers even bought Toyota cars after the first recall).  From a traditional business perspective, one might predict that if Chris doesn’t practice what he preaches and take steps to return to his core competencies, his brand and his ability to monetize will be increasingly vulnerable.

The furor over the posts last week were not the first signs that people have noticed the new Capitalist Chris.  If it persists, negative outbursts from loyal fans might eventually call attention to the problem with his sponsors and erode his brand and his value.

Or will it?  Another possibility is that Chris is going to be just fine losing some — or even most — of his core followers because he is developing a new audience of corporate folks who don’t care what his brand promise WAS as long as he can deliver results to their bottom line NOW.

In any event, the Trust Agent as we knew him is probably coming to an end as he transitions from social media folk hero to mainstream business consultant.  It will be fascinating to watch the results.

What do you think about this strategy shift?

What are the risks of jeopardizing his core audience for launching a new stage in his career?

With the new demands of the business and publishing worlds, is it possible for Chris to be successful at holding on to both constituencies? If so, how?

Illustration: www.chrisbrogan.com
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