And for those that represent them…
Many of my clients that get started in social media do so because they have too. In other words, a blogger has started to cover the company in an intense way that garners attention, or someone in management says, “Get me one of those blogs.”
Then the marketing or PR department, to whom this feat has been assigned and whom often have little or no experience with it, casts its net for someone who “understands this stuff.”
Usually, they end up calling hybrid professionals who have been blogging or podcasting for some time and who also are public relations and/or marketing professionals. As those who participate in social media know, there is a chasm between traditional communications and communicating through social media.
First and foremost, the “message” cannot be controlled in these environments, although one does have incrementally more power if they have a platform from which to deliver a point of view, or more correctly, a passionately held world view.
I use a three-step process to help companies start to think and behave in a way that works for the online culture: Active Listening, Outreach and Engagement. Not all companies work all three of these steps, and some work all three simultaneously. However, taken together, they allow the most room for success in a social media program.
(Warning: Long post to follow)
Active listening is just what it sounds like. Reading and listening to what your fans and critics say about you on the Internet in blogs, podcasts, chat rooms and other venues. It requires more than just lurking, or reading without comment. It also requires that you let those talking about you KNOW that you are listening. This seems very risky at first since the corporate culture may fear making it worse and intensifying the rhetoric. However, I have found that in general, letting someone with passionate feelings know you are listening and that you plan to DO SOMETHING about it, actually lowers the volume of the complaints. In the end, your customers and stakeholders are out there making their voices herd, with or without your input. Wouldn’t you rather have some say in how this turns out? Here is how to do it:
- Get a Technorati Account. In Technorati search for your company name, your company URL and your company’s CEO and or President, add them to a Watchlist and then subscribe to the RSS feed for each search.
- Repeat the process for Google searches in Google Blogs and in Google News (each search has an RSS feed to which you can subscribe)
- Discover blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels and other social media sites that are covering you, your competitors or your field of interest and subscribe to them. You will find many of these as you monitor through the Technorati and Google that you have set up.
- Think about paid monitoring. There are many paid monitoring services that may come into play as your monitoring and active listening initiative progresses, but nothing beats getting out to read all of this stuff yourself every day and build relationships with individual content creators, which leads me to the next step
Reaching out to content creators is an incremental process. In social media, one cannot just generate a list, compose an e-mail and hit send. Even with a lot of research, this is seldom very effective. In order to build the requisite relationships, one must read the blogger, listen to the podcast and become an active member of the audience. Not only should you read and comment on things that apply directly to your company, but also to things in which you may have some knowledge and interest, but no background. In many ways, it is just like a good media relations effort, but it is also different because you are dealing with impassioned consumers that are writing out of personal belief or intense interest. In other words, they aren’t looking to be objective necessarily. Here are some of things you can expect to do:
- Read and comment on blogs and podcasts, find out who the creator is and what interests them and add value by commenting new thoughts or a different way of looking at something
- Send e-mails or make phonecalls behind the scenes to build relationships, don’t say or do anything that would be a tragedy if it were blogged or revealed in some way, these authors and content producers are not usually operating from any kind of journalistic
- Give bloggers access to information first, just after your media push (and sometimes before), but certainly before it is common knowledge
Making the decision to start your own podcast or blog is the final step in the three and often the most difficult, there are many things that have to be decided in this step that are completely tied with the culture of the corporation. Hopefully, the first two steps will help the corporate culture come around to understand what works and what doesn’t in the blogosphere. Many companies choose to start an internal blog or podcast before they do it externally. Other companies choose to dip their toe in the water with a limited external campaign. However, the most effective tool for reaching out to customers and stakeholders is a permanent presence in the blogosphere. There is no doubt that it is a big decision, in terms of human resources and the importance of response. Here are just a few of the things that need to be considered:
- Who will write the blog or be the voice of a podcast? Social media are not corporations but people relating with people. So the personality and skill of the individual or individuals is important. Some of the more successful blogs have been GM’s Fastlane Blog, which is written by senior management at GM; and Southwest Airlines “Nuts About Southwest” blog
- Write a Code of Ethics for your blog that includes a clear comment policy. GM’s Blogs use Charlene Li’s Code of Ethics which is straightforward and tells readers what to expect
- What is the topic of the blog ? You have the chance to set the tone of the blog as its author
- That said, be willing to quickly address negative buzz when it occurs, even if it doesn’t fall within the stated topic of the blog. Southwest has a recent post addressing a a complaint that went viral about how one larger passenger was treated
- Measure the success of your blog. Charlene Li recommends that we quantify and value the key benefits of blogging, which includes assigning monetary values to the various benefits; estimate the costs of blogging, which includes human resources as well as technical ones; and incorporate risk calculations into the ROI. I also have put together a delicious tag with posts about the ROI of blogging; if you see any I should add, let me know.
In this single post, there is no way that I can comprehensively cover the whole process. However, last summer, some of my readers helped me put together an outstanding list of resources about corporate blogging.
Special thanks to the students at the University of Oregon and their professor Kelli Matthews, who invited me to speak tonight and for whom I specifically created this post. I would love to hear from the students about this post and what they think, Auburn students also are welcome.