July 2007


Sony BlogsWell the last time I looked at a Sony blog, it was with mouth open wide in disbelief as the ill conceived and executed ‘All I want for Xmas is a PSP’ fake blog hit the blogosphere and was in turn hit by it.

Things have moved on and, over the past two months, Sony has launched two new blogs for different parts of their business:

  • one is the Sony Playstation blog aimed fairly and squarely at game players and developers of the Playstation product range;
  • the second is the Sony Electronics blog from that arm of the company which intends to focus on “Electronics-related activities, products and customers in the U.S.”.
Two very different blogs, aimed at different audiences and done in very different ways but both ostensively Sony corporate blogs.

Sony blogs: Sony Playstation blogSony Playstation Blog
The Sony Playstation Blog is run by Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) and is a highly stylised blog built on a WordPress platform which is being written by a host of authors across a range of different departments within the PlayStation division. Development was carried out externally by Josh Hallett together with marketing firm Clark/Nikdel/Powell according to The Ledger.

Posting is both regular and frequent as you would expect with the number of authors (though that takes a real level of organisation, I can assure you), but that is no more than the readers would expect in this market sector. The content is generally good with a mix of games information, firmware details and a more strategic view in some posts from “the top”. Good use of imagery and linking as well.

The blogs colour scheme uses a black / dark grey background with the white text and the colours from the Playstation logo featuring on top. Altogether, very slick and supports the overall branding really well – though a slight concern that the colour scheme might prove difficult on mobile devices due to the smaller screen size, something that might be relevant considering the blog’s target audience.

Even in its structure, the blog has been nicely put together with friendly permalinks, judicious use of categories and emphasis in the sidebar highlighting the comments that the posts are attracting a nice way to both encourage and emphasise them.

Sony Electronics BlogSony Blogs: Sony Electronics Blog
The Sony Electronic Blog has a totally different feel to it, not only in look (obviously!) but in the way that it is put together and presented. This would be fine it has a totally different target audience after all but there are aspects which struggle in its current state.

Like the Playstation blog, this is also built on WordPress and while visually clean, the overall look and feel is relatively standard and uninspiring. It also gives the feeling of not yet being finished with:

  • the URL as part of news.sel.sony.com rather than its own domain;
  • calling it the “SEL External News Blog” in the Title Tag rather than using any specific Sony branding;
  • no link back to the blog homepage on the blog itself;
  • and, indeed no real homepage but instead going directly into the latest posts.
Reinforcing the lack of posts with a (current brief) Recent posts box at the top of the sidebar is probably not the most sensible move either.

In this start up period, there is a single writer who is Rick Clancy, the head of Corporate Communications for Sony Electronics. While clearly someone skilled in writing and who has both the ability and the authority to speak openly all good characteristics for a corporate blogger he is currently writing alone and the resulting weekly post is probably not sufficient for the sort of blog that this is trying to be.

In short there needs to be more content though the quality of what is there looks to be good and certainly has managed to elicit responses and indeed readers leaving detailed comments, appraisals and criticisms. It’s difficult to know whether there is a follow up which is going on off blog to answer the comments but that would probably be sensible – perhaps some additional resource required? In any case, they are certainly throwing up topics which warrant posts focusing on the areas being asked about, thereby allowing Sony to put their side of the story.

Summary
I should start by saying that it’s great to see Sony using blogging to communicate with its customers and developers – for a company which is not known for its openness, this is a great move and one that I hope we will see others following.

However, in looking at the two blogs, you will have no doubt gathered that, as they stand, I consider that the Sony Playstation Blog to be an excellent example of a well constructed blog while the Sony Electronics blog has had a less auspicious launch.

And yet, which has the greatest potential? Well, this time my vote goes to the Sony Electronics blog and not just because of the relative position it is starting from. Its Playstation neighbour is vibrant but may find it difficult to create a real central personality because of the large number of authors and the nature of the gaming industry.

Conversely, I get the feeling that the SE Blog has a potentially important role to play in the Electronics side of Sony’s business and presents a huge opportunity. The type of comments coming in show the areas which are most of interest to the readership and are giving Sony the chance to address these concerns for a whole raft of their customer base – what an opportunity and the ideal mouthpiece to achieve it through at their disposal! Let’s hope they grab this opportunity with both hands!

As it stands: Sony Playstation Blog, a straight A grade. Sony Electronics blog, a C but with signs of real future potential if handled correctly.

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Blogging in the News - UK BlogsSome articles which have appeared in the UK online press over the past week which looks at blogging (primarily business blogging) and its uses. If you find any good articles that could be highlighted here, then please post the links below or send them to me directly at mark[at]betterbusinessblogging[dot]com and I’ll do the rest.

Welcome to our new look site
Clearly convinced of the medium, Technology Guardian has relaunched and redesigned their blog as part of their overall site rebranding apparently taking it from Web 1.5 to Web 2.0. So I guess that’s only half a redesign then?

Blogging is ten, maybe twelve, or twenty-four years old
A little bit of navel gazing on just where this blogging thing came from and how old it might be together with a reference to the Wall Street Journal’s article “Happy Blogiversary which discusses it further.

Air Cargo Blog Goes Live
Feels a little bit like the guest publication round from “Have I got News for You” but Air Cargo News has launched its blog with its coverage of ‘every major issue affecting the Air Cargo industry’. Link to the Air Cargo blog here. Good luck to them , I say!

Playing by modern marketing rules
Interesting short piece from “Director of Finance Online” which acknowledges the change (and need for change) in advertising and marketing practices with new media forging ahead.

Builder’s blog to report on progress
Nice use for business blogs from an unexpected source in that technology hotspot that is Norfolk. Builders keeping clients updated on building work and asking for feedback – whatever next?

How blogs and social networking sites can be used to commercial advantage
Good piece looking at a BT roundtable event which looked at blogs and social networking sites as well as BT’s BTTradespace offering.

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Business Blog Design SeriesWell, this may not have been the quickest series that I’ve ever written, but over the past weeks I’ve written a series of posts looking at some of the business elements to consider when designing a Business Blog.

As I’m no graphic designer, I’ve been focusing on blog design in terms of how to use the layout and key components of your Business blog to your best advantage from a business perspective.

Anyway, here are links to the posts all together.

Business Blog Design: Initial Post
Business Blog Design: Profile and Contact Details
Business Blog Design: Navigation and using your Content
Business Blog Design: Generic Blog Templates
Business Blog Design: RSS Feeds & Subscriptions
Business Blog Design: Onpage Advertising
Business Blog Design: Comments
Business Blog Design: Categories, Archives and Search

Do let me know if they’ve been useful and also what other things you considered when you set up your own blog and perhaps they can be included in a follow up post.

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Last week, I was asked for some ideas on the time management of blogging by someone who knew he wanted to create a business blog, had gone through the initial planning stages with me and yet was still hesitant because of the time commitment he perceived was involved.

Anyway, I went through some of the methods that I use in the two main areas that cause problems which are coming up with ideas for the posts and then actually getting down to writing them. Even though my own time management could do with some help just at the moment, I thought that I would share them here as well along with a couple of other methods that I haven’t yet used.

Gathering ideas

  • Always carry a notebook with you to jot down ideas as they occur to you – this is probably the biggest source of topics here. However, you could also use your blog as a notepad, in which case you could consider using one of the voice to text services such as SpinVox.

  • Use your RSS Feed Reader to keep up to date with news from blogs which cover your areas of interest – the information comes to you, you don’t have to go looking for it everyday. What other bloggers are writing about is always a great source of both inspiration as well as information;

  • Use Google Alerts to generate ideas and research your marketplace and industry youll find some excellent ideas on using google alerts as a research tool on Krishna Des blog;

  • Use questions that you have been asked as the basis of a post. You might have been asked via email, at a seminar or conference or just in conversation, but if one person has asked then the likelihood is that others are wondering the same thing and so the answers in the post will be of interest to them all;

  • Develop ideas which expand on one of your earlier posts or themes, or from the comments which have been left on your previous posts. They come from your readers so are likely to be relevant to them.

Writing

  • Use the (non private!) content of emails that you have written on the subject as these will often contain the core of a good information post;

  • Schedule a regular time when you sit and write your posts – it could be at any time during the day but just set some time aside as you would for other marketing tasks;

  • Consider writing a number of posts in one go. Some people find it much easier to write when they are in the flow so if “the mood grabs you” (!) then make the most of it – you can then schedule the posts to appear over the following days;

  • Plan and write a series on an important subject area for your readers – it’s much easier to keep going once you have started to write on a subject so a series is a great way to achieve that;

  • Divide a longer post into smaller chunks and present them over a couple of days;

  • Focus on what your readers want to read and this will help to focus your writing too as Seth Godin commented this week, “The mistake most blogs and books make: they are about the writer, not the reader”;

  • Bring in additional authors to post alongside you, either as guest bloggers or as co-writers on an occasional or semi-permanent basis.

I hope that some of these prove to be useful and help in your own blogging.

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I’ve often talked about just how important comments are in the make up of a blog, most recently as part of the Business Blog Design series – indeed you could say that they are just as important as the post itself because they are what actually facilitates the communication element of a blog.

Anyway, Mashable has published a nice list of plug-ins for WordPress which relate to comments which is well worth having a look at. Pick and choose a couple from there which are particularly relevant to you and try them out on your own blog – I’d suggest concentrating on those which encourage your readers to contribute or make it easier for them to do so.

Another one not mentioned which I also think would be worth including is Subscribe to Comments which allows those who have already left a comment to receive notification when additional comments are made on the post – great for encouraging them to return and develop the conversation further.

In the same vein, this might also be a relevant time to remember that services such as CoComment, Co.mments and Commentful exist which all allow you to follow the conversation on the blogs and posts where you have left comments yourself.

All of these plugins and applications are designed to make the conversations in the blogosphere more “joined up” and that can only be a good thing. Have fun!!

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Trust Seth Godin to come up with a nice little soundbite which so nicely sums up the attitude of many companies when it comes to taking on new ideas or new ways of working.

Granted he wasn’t referring specifically to blogging or the take up of social media marketing but he could very well have been because, in corporate organisations of all sizes, this attitude certainly exists.

He comments:

Most organizations need a good reason to do something new.

All they need is a flimsy excuse to not do something for the first time.

And they often need a lawsuit to stop doing something they’re used to.

But should we really be surprised? After all, organisations, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us take on new ideas very early and others are more cautious, preferring to wait to let others try, evaluate and report back.

This is certainly the case with corporate blogging, with companies moving at very different speeds in taking these new marketing opportunities on board. For me, the attitudes are well explained by the technology adoption life cycle which I feel is very relevant to what we are currently experiencing I’m sure the diagram (taken from Geoffrey Moore’s book “Crossing the Chasm“) is familiar to most.

Certainly, we have a number of innovators and early adopters in the corporate world who have led the way and, in many cases, made mistakes that the rest of us will (hopefully!) learn from. Presuming that blogging successfully crosses the ‘Chasm’ (and that’s for another post, another time) then the early majority should be able to build on the lessons learned, though they will be looking for well established references before taking the plunge themselves.

Equally, there are those organisations which will wait even longer, perhaps uncomfortable with the new technologies that they are being asked to adopt to market their businesses or perhaps still dubious of their use in their own business areas. Much will depend on the company culture as well as the personalities and outlook of those in charge.

In the case of corporate blogging, the trouble for the late adopters is not really that they have failed to adopt it per se. Rather the problem is that they have failed to take on board that they are no longer reaching their customers using their old marketing methods and so need to be consdering these new methods if they are not to lose their established client base.

Likewise our role in helping them is to keep them focused on their business goals (and their customers) rather than be distracted by words such as “blogs”, “podcasts” and “social networks” which are merely the new tools they have at their disposal to achieve these goals.

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Business Blog Design Series[This is part of a series following on from a post called “Business Blog Design“]


One of the key elements which makes a blog easy to use (as an author) and to navigate (as a visitor) is the fact that it is self structuring and self organising. The main way this happens is that posts are automatically stored in both Categories and Archives. However, even aspects like these can be used to our advantage if they are used properly.

Categories
Essentially, the categories on a blog allow you to organise your posts by filing them into various folders according to their subject matter. From a usability and navigation point of view, this has three main results:

  • it makes it easier for people to find what they are looking for either browsing through the subjects covered by the blog

  • it allows them to go directly to an area they are interested in

  • from the author’s point of view, it gives us the chance to try to direct their investigation of the blog rather than just let them search blindly.

If I take the example of my own blog as well as those that I monitor for others, I find that the categories are where readers tend to look first when they explore the blog further rather than turning immediately to the Search function. So if we can get the naming and positioning right, then this is really going to help to increase the areas and posts which get explored.

The choice of Category names is also important and has an impact both with regards to our readers and also to search engines. It impacts in a number of areas namely:

  • Visitor focus – using clear names allows readers to get a quick view of your content and focus just by scanning your category names;

  • Friendly Permalinks – with certain permalink structures the category name is included, so make it count by covering your keywords in your category names;

  • Category Headings – these are included at the top of the individual category pages usually in a ‘header tag’ and then of course relevant content follows below in the posts in that category. Great focused search engine content.

  • Anchor text – the anchor text is the word(s) which make up a link. In your blog, the category links on every page point at your individual category page with relevant keywords as anchor text – Search Engines give added weight to this.

  • Keywords on page – as well as everything else, just having the category names (and the keywords they contain) on each page is going to be beneficial!

Basically, category names need to be descriptive (there’s no getting away from that) but at the same time they should naturally include your primary as well as secondary keywords.

Don’t forget, that if you are using WordPress, then you can have subcategories as well as the main ones. This can be of use if you want to have different divisions on your page such as Geographic areas and Business areas because you can split your categories automatically into separate lists.

Archives
The Archives are another ever present feature on blogs although they come in a variety of forms, primarily monthly but also sometimes weekly or in calendar format. It’s good to keep them on the blog but I don’t recommend that they feature prominently, simply because visitors are less likely to search by date of posting (unless it’s something very specific) than they are by topic.

A long list of archives can sometimes help to give a feeling of gravitas and substance to a blog, though really this should come out in the writing in any case. Therefore, so as not to clutter a sidebar which could be used for other purposes, there’s no real need to give direct links to more than 12 – 18 months worth.

There is also a school of thought which says that it is better not to allow indexing of archives by search engines because they just end up in the supplemental indexes and clutter the results. Personally I’m not in favour of doing this, though I agree that the robots.txt file is the best place to control it from – however, I am in agreement that the calendar display formats can cause problems and hence recommend avoiding them where possible.

Search
While I find that many people dont use this function, often preferring to navigate using the categories, it is nevertheless one that most people are familiar with and would expect to see on a blog or a website. It particularly comes into its own when they are looking for something specific and when the blog has grown to contain a large number of posts or perhaps a particularly large number of topics.

Make sure that the Search function delivers as much of the functionality that they would be used to as possible … and, let’s face it, that experience is likely to be based on Google. Particularly, try to make the results page as familiar to users as you can as it will help them explore your blog.


Make use of all opportunities available to help your visitors find the content they want and also to attract those Search Engines!

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Business Blog PostsI am confused.

This wont come as a shock to some of you who know me and have watched the increased addling of my brain through sleep deprivation caused by fatherhood. Just at the moment, though, I feel wide awake and a little bit peeved (yet still confused) by Jakob Nielsen’s latest offering “Write Articles, Not Blog Postings“.

As you might imagine, I was intrigued by the title, so I started to read. The summary of Nielsens article states:

To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough value added content that attracts paying customers.

So far so good. I agree totally – this is the basis of a good focused business blogging strategy, particularly for consultants, topic experts and professional services companies such as accountants and lawyers. Value added content is the perfect way to develop and enhance your reputation as well as encourage the spread the word about your expertise – in the same way, a blog is the perfect way to publish and distribute this information and engage with the people interested in it who respond to your ideas.

So where’s the issue?

Nielsen continues that “Blogs are … fine for websites that sell cheap products”. From this, there is a very clear implied conclusion that blogs are not fine for other types of website – though why the link with websites at all, I’m not sure.

In any case, patently not true.

Blogs are communication vehicles to be used as the author sees fit. To link them to low value products shows, I feel, a narrow and outdated view of how blogs can be used in business, ie. an approach which concentrates purely on search engine rankings as his Pistachio nut example does. Good search engine rankings should be the expected byproduct of any well written blog on a certain subject, rather than the main goal. The main elements should be the conversations and the connections they generate as well as a focus on community and collaboration.

It was at this point that I started to wonder whether Nielsen might just be being ironic. Was he perhaps using this long article as an exercise in linkbaiting, a concept more normally associated with the short posting that he dislikes?

I read on.

“Blog postings will always be commodity content: theres a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody elses work.”

Arghh! So all blogging is commenting on somebody elses stuff? So who does produce the content in the first place, only people and companies who don’t blog? I’m well aware that I am using a blog post to pass comment here, but that is only to support my stance on the use of corporate blogs in a business environment, which I do in the other articles that I offer here and in other forums.

A mixture of content and post types is vitally important. If you are looking to show expertise in an area, then you do this not only through new thinking (leading edge if you like) but also through an understanding, appreciation and indeed appraisal of other ideas and debates in your field.

Ok, a few deep breaths and I’m feeling calmer, just calm enough to write that I feel very insulted by the distinction that Nielsen makes between his interpretation of articles and blog posts. Perhaps he should read more blogs? Personally, I find that I am drawn to those which are indeed in-depth with original content and driven by the author’s expertise, all of the attributes that he considers blogs to be devoid of.

Rant over. I would have liked to had the opportunity for an open discussion with the author about his article but, as you may have guessed, he doesn’t use a blog so that is a bit of a conversation stopper.

However, I’ll finish by saying that, for me, blogs need to be written with their audience in mind and that they should therefore include posts of all types, from indepth articles, to commentary on others’ opinions, to links to useful resources and news articles. It is in this way that we best show our expertise and engage with others, and also the way in which we raise the profile of our business and develop its reputation.

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Spotlight on UK Blogs - all postsNow back again on Better Business Blogging, I will be highlighting from time to time some of the Business Blogs which exist in the UK. The aim is to show a cross section of what people and businesses are writing about and how they are approaching the task of using blogs in their business activities. As a result, you’ll find that these posts will contain a mix of Blogs displaying a range of topics and styles.

In addition, I am working with others to build a list of Business Blogs in the UK. So if there are UK blogs which you have visited and would recommend (including your own!), then please let me know by leaving a comment or sending me a message. Thanks!

Dangerous Thinking
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing … luckily Dangerous Thinking from David Rosam seems to contain a lot of knowledge on SEO and Marketing. Does that make it an oxymoron?

The Diary of the Diary
Extracts from Alistair Campbell’s diaries with some added pieces thrown in as well for good measure. Looks kosher (albeit to help sell the book) ... but that could just be spin of course.

The Rat and Mouse
Self styled as London’s Property Blog, there’s certainly lots of good information here on all aspects of housing, development and London. Have a browse without fear of bumping into any estate agents.

Have you heard about?
A nice daily selection of the arty and the quirky from Michelle Penny

Shedworking
Well, I have a personal interest in the area (!?) as I’m thinking of getting a garden home office, which I think equates to “shedworking” – one of those highly specific blogs that you would never really expect to exist but does, and successfully so, it seems.

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When creating a successful corporate blog, there are a number of elements which come together to make it what it is. The content itself is key to this, but the words just form the final part of the blog and one which is supported by a number of other layers or building blocks. Together, they help to determine the blog’s focus and its effectiveness.

The more that I work with companies (large and small) on their business blogs, the more I see how these different layers must work together to give the right results. This is the case whatever the size of the organisation, though the timescales can vary enormously. A large corporate blog may take several months to come to fruition, not because there are additional elements but due to the number of “interested parties” involved. With a small business blog, the decisions are often made instantly and so the timeframe is shorter; however, the business challenges are similar.

In both business and corporate blogs, the structure and elements involved are made up as shown below.

Anatomy of a Blog: Layers and Building Blocks

1. Philosophy Layer
The foundations of any business blog should include the basic principles of blogging, which hold true for organisations just as they do for individuals writing their own personal blogs. These would include openness, two-way communication, passion, writing with an authentic voice, authority and personality.

An organisation intending to establish a blog should consider these carefully as well as the business ideals they embrace. If the company culture is one which does not have the flexibility and openness to accept and apply them, then it is unlikely that it will be able to use the blog to its full potential and it may be better served using other online marketing media.

2. Technical Layer
The selection of the blogging software to be used forms an important part of the technical layer together with how the blog is integrated with the company website (or set up separately), the internal IT requirements of the company and the hosting structure required.

The choice of blogging platform can compromise a corporate blogs potential from the outset if it cannot support the elements needed to achieve the blogs goals. To help future proof the investment in time and money, the platform should therefore not only cover the initial requirements but also have the scope to develop over time as the business needs of company and blog develop.

This might also take into consideration the technical aspects of Search Engine optimization, for example, which should ensure that the blog has the flexibility to allow page level customisation of elements such as title tags, blog tags and metatags.

3. Business Layer
Some of the most important decisions during the preparation phase relate to the overall business requirements of the blog and how it will be used by the company. The basis for these decisions will come from the answers to the 3 key questions which need to be answered right at the start of the process, namely what the aims and goals of the blog are, who its intended audience is and what it is designed to achieve.

The answers to these questions will effectively decide the format and focus of the blog which in turn will dictate who is the best person/people to write it, how often to add posts, how it will be marketed and what impact it will make on various departments throughout the company. All of these elements form part of the business layer.

Every successful business blog will have a particular business focus which will influence the way that it looks, its focus and the content that it contains. This focus can take many different forms given that the blog could be an internal blog (sometimes called a “dark blog”) serving a company, project or team or an external one used for branding, customer service, product development or any number of customer facing uses. [Some examples of business blog uses.]

4. Blog Interface & Graphic Layer
The graphics and branding elements are important parts of this, but they do not make up the whole story. In addition, the layout of the blog needs to be consistent with the business requirements of the blog so that best use is made of the space available to promote the elements which will support its business goals.

If your business requirements dictate that you are pushing to get subscribers then your RSS and email subscription areas will be very prominent. If there are special offers or specific service areas which are key to achieving the blog’s goals then these should be made highly visible within the layout and design. Some of the other elements relating to the interface and graphic layer can be found in the Business Blog Design Series.

5. Content Layer
Last but certainly not least, the content itself. This is the most important single layer because it is the one that the blogs readers are most aware of and it is the content which will attract them back and turn them from “passers by” into avid readers. However, the content only comes into its own because of the interaction and support of the other layers.

In truth, many companies and businesses tend to concentrate solely on this layer. However, the blog’s content needs to build on what was outlined in the business layer to achieve the right business focus for the company. This content will then be promoted, highlighted and pushed by the elements in the other layers.

One important, yet often overlooked, part of content element is the specific use of the individual post titles and specific Search Engine oriented elements such as the titles tags, meta tags and general blog tags, all of which should be provided for in the technical layer.

Summary
A blog needs all of the different components to be working together to be really successful and, for a corporate blog, doubly so. A blog using a standard template rather than the organisation’s branding will be less effective, as will one built on a platform which makes leaving comments difficult or one that reads like a sales brochure. Equally, a business blog where all the other aspects are in place but which is aimed at the wrong audience will not achieve the success that it perhaps warrants.

However, with each of these different layers working together, then the results can be excellent. The day-to-day focus can then be firmly on maintaining the quality and focus of the content and promoting it in the right areas to ensure that it can (and will) achieve the business goals it was designed for.

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