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  • Warren: Blogging and Social Media definitely go hand in hand. Having a successful social presence can do a lot for a...
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    Better Client Relationships: here are all the key posts

    This will the the introduction text that I want to appear at the top of this category no 6.

    An area where companies often voice their concerns as we discuss setting up their own blog is that of negative feedback. They worry that people will use the comments section of their blog to express their dissatisfaction with the company and their products or services. Theyre also keen to understand how best to deal with them.

    From a personal point of view, I totally understand this concern. As a rule, we dislike negative comments being made about us thats just natural – and companies and company bloggers are no different. Theres an instinctive reaction when we receive anything other than glowing praise for something we’ve written: for the individual blogger, there’s personal pride at stake; for businesses, there’s the concern that it will reflect badly on their organisation and alienate customers or prospects who see it.

    So, for some, the gut reaction is to suppress it … moderate it out … pretend it never happened. Better still, don’t allow anyone to comment! That will also take away the guilt factor of knowing that the comment was made but that you haven’t approved it!

    Why this really isn’t an option

    The trouble is that this is the digital equivalent of sticking your head in the sand or perhaps jabbing your fingers in your ears and shouting La la la very loudly. Conjures up a faintly ridiculous image? Well, in social media terms, its equally ridiculous, Im afraid. Why? Because the person who wanted to complain on your blog will still do so, they will just go elsewhere … generally somewhere where you won’t have the chance to respond and engage with them.

    So whats the alternative? Well, instead, give people the chance to raise the issue on your blog let them vent their frustration. And, in the process, you’ll be giving yourself the chance to answer their concerns.

    For me, there are three key reasons why I’d want to do that and they’re nothing to do with blogging and everything to do with business:

    • Firstly, it costs much more, both in terms of time and money, to find new clients than it does to keep your current ones.

    • Secondly, customers with negative experiences are more likely to tell people about them than customers with positive experiences. However, customers who have had a negative experience which has been solved tend to be the most vocal;

    • Thirdly, it costs more to fix a problem than to prevent it in the first place.

    By responding and resolving their issues, we have the chance not only to keep them as a customer but possibly turn them into an advocate for your company again. In any case, by openly allowing the criticisms and answering them, you are more likely to gain respect in the eyes of other readers than lose it.

    Feedback has other benefits

    You may also be receiving valuable feedback which could help improve an aspect of your company’s activities and fix a problem which already exists. Without this feedback, you could remain blissfully unaware of an issue which is costing you clients who have decided not to complain but rather “vote with their feet” and look for another supplier.

    Certainly you need to make sure that the comments comply with any guidelines that you have in place – and in a corporate blog, they should exist – but those should cover areas such as abusive or racist language rather than constructive criticism. So rather than suppressing negative comments, you should encourage comments and feedback of all types. While it might sometimes seem a painful process in the short-term, the long-term benefits will prove far more valuable.

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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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    I really liked Brian Clark’s post The Five Essential Elements of an Influential Blog over at Copyblogger. In fact, that is generally my reaction to a great many of his excellent posts so I’d certainly encourage you to get him in your RSS Reader if you haven’t already.

    In this post, he proposes that, to be truly influential and by implication gain the level of readers and traffic we are looking to, a blog should have 5 key components:

    • Simple - so that the core elements behind it can be easily communicated which will help your message to spread

    • Unexpected – so that it stands out above the others in its field either because of its different ideas or the way in which it expresses them

    • Concrete – so that the information the blog contains is directly useful to your readers

    • Credible – because your readers need to trust you and what you are communicating for the blog to be valuable to them

    • Story – which brings together and helps to communicate all of the other elements of the blog in a way which triggers not only an intellectual response but also an emotional one

    I think that from a Business Blog perspective, I would probably also add Focus to this list – while it may already be implicitly bound up as part of some of the others, I believe it worthy of its own mention.

    In some blogs, this focus can result in a blog with a relatively narrow field of content, but with a real depth of comment which makes it worth reading and hence influential. In others, the focus is more of a central theme around which other ideas gravitate and spark off from. In both cases, the focus is a key factor in the blog’s success and ultimately its longevity.

    Brian also concludes the post by stating:


    How you say it is important.

    But what you say is critical.

    Absolutely, but it is the combination of the two that makes certain blogs really stand out – Copyblogger among them, in my opinion.

    Business Blogs, whether run by large corporates or individual professionals like myself, should certainly aim for this. However, we need to remember that it is an ongoing process so making any change, no matter how small, will be a step in the right direction.

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    The post was inspired by some of the commentary that followed Jason Calacanis’s keynote speech at Blog Business Summit where he effectively had said that if you were not an A-list blogger (and ideally in the Technorati Top 100) then your blog is rubbish.

    In fact, effective business blogs should never even try to achieve so called A-list status – if they do, then the focus of the blog will undoubtedly be too broad to achieve its real business goals. The most successful type of business blogs should be focused on a market sector or niche and designed to attract a specific audience interested in that area. Lose that focus and you lose your audience.

    In fact, as I think about it, the title of this post is itself misleading – trying to become an A-list blogger in your niche is also totally pointless.

    What you want to do is become the recognised expert in your niche. Now this you can achieve with your business blog – through your posts, you can build credibility and gain both recognition and trust from the market and customers that you work with. Being considered as an A-list blogger in your area may come about as a result of your blog but it shouldnt be its aim.

    So are there any special steps to follow to achieve this? Not really. Just follow the key principles of blogging mixed with some business and marketing common sense:

    • Know your subject area inside out you probably do already – and communicate that through what you write and how you write it

    • Keep up to date with what is happening in your industry (RSS really helps here) and then put it in context on your blog together with your views on it

    • Write passionately and intelligently about subjects which will be of interest and of use to your readers within your niche

    • Build your credibility and demonstrate your expertise through the information and knowledge that you share in your blog

    • Link and reference to others as well as your own work so that you become the key information source for your market – if your readers don’t need to go elsewhere for the information, they won’t

    • Promote and market your blog to help people find you – hopefully your posts will then keep them coming back

    It’s impossible to be all things to all people. So by picking a subject area or market niche which we can focus on, we have a much better chance to establish a reputation in that area and so attract people to our blog who are really interested in what we do. Exactly the people that we want to talk to and do business with!

    (Oh, and in case I forgot to mention, the Search Engines will love you for it too!)

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    Theres been lots of talk about Edelman and the WalMarting across America fake blog (or flog) episode across the blogosphere over the past two weeks as you’d expect – lots of accusations and finger wagging, most of it justified. (In case you are blisssfully unaware of this then this, this, this or this will fill you in on the background).

    My own issue isn’t so much with the initial action (naive as it was) or the delay in Edelmans reply but the impact this type of action has. This impact is felt not only by those already blogging and using the blogosphere, but is even more telling on those companies still examining it and deciding if it is something they should get involved in. An episode like this can have a huge impact in terms of trust, something which is essential if people and companies are to consider blogs as a source of reliable information and hence worthy of their attention.

    A survey run by Globescan earlier this year indicated that the blogosphere still suffers from an image problem with only 25% of those polled indicating that they trust of the information they provide, less than other types of media. This is clearly an issue yet is one that can only be changed over time – episodes like this will only serve to set back that process.

    The need to be whiter than whiter at this stage of the blogospheres growth is critical. To many, the blogosphere seems to have a more of a reputation for outing information like a tabloid reporter rather than providing critical updates and valued opinion. This isnt necessarily true but thats not the point – its perception that counts.

    But like anything, there are differences. Trust in online sources has to be earned – not just for blogs as a whole but individual blogs within that. Those blogs which have shown themselves to be reliable and informative will build an audience which trusts and values the information that they provide, though it is all too easy to lose that trust.

    Episodes like this one with Wal-Mart and Edelman are embarrassing for the companies involved and also potentially damaging for the image of the blogging in general. If it gets tarnished by so called spin then it loses credibility and that could impact us all.

    I find it slightly ironic that blogs, which are such a perfect tool to help build trust and reputation, can result in such a public loss of both when misused. At the same time, I also find it reassuring that the reaction this has provoked shows that there is a self-regulatory force at play which will I hope dissuade others from attempting something similar.

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    Transparency has become very important whether it is in terms of accounting requirements following in the wake of scandals such as Enron or, at the other end of the scale, the ability for customers to know what is going on with an enquiry or order.

    Despite all of the press about how we need to do business in a more transparent way, interestingly it is seemingly this fear of transparency that that I often come up against when talking about the use of blogs within a corporate environment, whatever the size of the business.

    Even when considering internally focused blogs, for example for team communications or as an alternative to an intranet, there is sometimes clearly a fear that the open dissemination of information that the blog will provide will somehow weaken a managers position. A throwback to the old version of the mantra that “knowledge is power”.

    However, when we look at the possibility of using a Business Blog to open a company up and make it better able to interact with clients, suppliers and partners, then you can get a real look of panic crossing their faces. In most cases, it is not that they have anything to hide, it is simply the fear of the unknown but that is just the point! If the opinions and requirements of these important groups are unknown, then that is something to be afraid of as you have no chance of knowing what they really want or, by implication, delivering it.

    I tend to compare going through this process to crossing a rope bridge over a ravine:

      - it’s scary to look at before you cross as all the things that you think could go wrong flashes through your mind;

      - it is quite tense as you are crossing as you take every step with care, but you gain confidence as you cross as you realize your worries were unfounded;

      - and, there is a real sense of release and achievement when you get to the other side and you realise what youve achieved.

    Then of course, you wonder why you were worrying about it at all and generally you want to do it again!

    Gaining trust is critical in today’s business environment and being transparent and open with the people that your company is dealing with is a big step towards achieving that.

    The idea of knowledge is power is changing. No longer is it the knowledge and information that you keep to yourself that provides the power, but rather the knowledge that you share. In the same way, as you open yourself up to receive feedback from your marketplace, the information and the knowledge that this provides is also power, the power to provide them with what they really want rather than what you think they want.

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    It seems to me that, while most businesses could benefit from using a Business Blog as part of their marketing and business development activities, there are some types of companies which would find them particularly beneficial.

    Companies which need to present a human face to their activities: some professional services organisations have been known to suffer from a bland image. Using a blog, you can break down some of these preconceptions and reveal some of the personalities carrying out the work which will help to engender greater trust in what is a customer focused environment.

    Companies which rely on their specialist knowledge to attract clients: consistently demonstrating expertise in a chosen field can quickly help to build a positive reputation and encourage potential clients to gravitate towards you. Client case studies go part of the way, but displaying both your general and specialised knowledge over a period of time in a Business blog helps more than a sanitised case study can ever do. Think of it as multiple case studies on steroids if you like. This is particularly relevant for independent consultants and specialist consultancies.

    Companies which have progressed beyond the hard sell approach: direct advertising and the hard sell has become less and less successful as an approach. However, an educational marketing approach, where you provide potential clients with information on which to make their own informed decision on their purchase, has gone from strength to strength.

    Companies wanting to become more of a partner than a supplier: as you engage potential clients through your Business Blog, you develop trust and a relationship which can position you as a partner rather than a simple supplier. People prefer to work with and buy from people and companies that they trust and a blog will help to achieve this.

    Companies wishing to be THE information resource for their market niche: most of the information that your prospective clients are looking for is available on the web, it is just a case of finding it. So rather than let potential clients find it on a competitors site, provide it yourself or provide links to it on your Blog. You will become the preferred place to go for this type of information and so attract anyone interested in your niche to your blog. This is turn provides you with the ideal opportunity to open a dialogue with them.

    Companies organising conferences, seminars and exhibitions: blogs are the ideal focal point for collating and distributing information to attendees pre-Conference and for gathering feedback from them during and after the Event. You can update the conference details and add new information yourself, and you automatically develop a powerful online Search Engine marketing tool as well.

    Companies looking to develop a network or community around themselves: as a networking tool, a business blog can help in many different ways but one of its most powerful is when it allows the creation of a network of like minded people interested in a particular area. It is particularly positive for the company setting this up and running it because they find themselves at the centre of this network and therefore in a high profile position.

    Companies developing new products or services: customer feedback and input is essential in the product development process. By taking the step to allow this feedback to take place on a Blog, you are allowing discussions and generating ideas which can be invaluable to the process. Added to this, you have a group of people who have contributed to the product and so are likely to be its strongest evangelists and advocates.

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    Earlier in the week, I referred to the results of the UPS Europe Business Monitor survey which showed that a large percentage of executives in Europe were blissfully unaware of blogs and hence the opportunities and changes that were going on around them. Others, it seems, were aware of them but didn’t use them either as a source of information or as a tool for their own companies.

    The obvious question is “why”?

    Have they not yet discovered the business uses of Business Blogs or do they still consider them to be simply online diaries and so ignore them? Or does the reason run deeper and they are actually afraid of what they might do?

    If so, what are they afraid of?

    It could be that companies are still worried about opening a dialogue with their customers, perhaps afraid of what they might hear. They might also feel that they involve giving out information which their competition could use to copy their ideas. Effectively, it seems to be communication that they are resisting. Or is it perhaps the technology which is off putting? It shouldnt be it is important to ignore the technology and concentrate of what you can do with it.

    Perhaps what they should be more afraid of is the advantage that their competition is gaining over them by creating a more open dialogue with customers, suppliers and partners. They might also be a rightly concerned about what is being said about them which they are not monitoring and not being able to respond to.

    Business is all about Communication and so are Business Blogs.
    Business is also all about Relationships and so are Business Blogs.

    There seems to be a perfect match here so it is important to get out there and get involved in the conversations. They present an opportunity and not a threat! If you make sure that you listen to what is being said then you become part that communication loop and have the opportunity to lead what is being said. Customers will talk to each other using the tools that are available so make sure that they hold these conversations on your Business Blog where you can answer their concerns and direct the dialogue.

    Don’t be afraid of Blogs – get involved and use them!

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    Business blogs are an excellent business marketing tool for consultants. In fact, consultants and professional service providers are one of the best placed groups to capitalise on the key marketing and business development benefits that blogs can offer.

    As blogs can be both quickly and easily updated, and because they are inherently interactive, they provide the perfect opportunity to both display expertise and initiate a relationship with clients. The additional benefits such as a more prominent profile with Search Engines is a clearly a plus but the ability to show what you can do, and the knowledge and experience that you can bring to a project are critical.

    Looking at it from an overall business perspective, some of the main benefits that can be achieved through business blogs are:

    • Create a human face for your business: consultancy in its various guises can be very impersonal. What you know is clearly important, but who you are and your personality are also key to a successful customer relationship, as well as being critical branding elements and business tools for your business – so USE them!
    • Educational Marketing approach: use the content of your blog to show your potential customers about what you can do as well as inform them about developments and best practice in the area that you work in. This is a much more powerful approach than traditional direct selling methods and it will help to build better relationships with your marketplace and give you a positive “trusted partner” image.
    • Demonstrate your Expertise: as a consultant, gaining recognition as an expert in a certain field and being able to demonstrate real credibility is hugely beneficial. A blog can act as a shop window to these skills and is doubly effective if it is THE place to go for information in a specific niche. Using the internet for research, potential customers will certainly find the information they are looking for – so make sure that they find it on YOUR blog!
    • Interact with your marketplace: give a tangible feel to the services you offer and the benefits they provide by letting people interact with you by commenting on your articles, case studies or news releases;
    • Knowledge Leadership: when people are interested in what you are writing about, they will want to hear more and recommend you to others. By expressing your ideas and thoughts openly you will encourage this and help position yourself as a leading exponent in your field.

    There is still a reticence on the part of companies and individuals alike to open up and share more about what they can do – they prefer to keep that under wraps until a contract is signed or reveal parts only behind closed doors.

    In today’s environment where information is readily available, unless a consultant brings something totally proprietary then there will be many others in the marketplace offering the same. To ensure that customers find you first, it is critical to broadcast the knowledge you have – the greater the level of quality information that you share, the greater the chance of being found and taken on.

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