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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...
  • Jennifer Rai: All points mentioned above are very well put together. Blogs having purpose and a focus on certain...
  • jessica@lukeroxas: I ran a small home based business, and lately I’ve decided to put up my own website,...
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    Business Uses: here are all the key posts


    Google Blog SearchGoogle Blog Search has just had a bit of a facelift, though it’s not so much of a ‘new look’ as a ‘news look’ given that they have essentially taken the format that they use for Google News and applied it here.

    In many respects though, that’s a very sensible route to take. Blogs do tend to fulfil a dual role of providing the latest news on topics where timing is critical as well as being a type of interactive website where good information is always in demand no matter when it was posted. In the case of Google Blog Search, their results are skewed massively towards the most recent information posted – even when sorted in terms of relevance rather than date. Probably better this way or we would simply be looking largely at a rehash of Google’s main index and that’s not what we are after here.

    So what Google Blog Search is good at is letting you find the latest information appearing in blogs – does very much what is says on the tin, so to speak – and so the redesign is clearly playing to its strengths. It also benefits from Google’s general uncluttered approach which I sometimes think that Technorati might like to be mindful of again. So check it out and don’t forget to use the RSS feature – will save you masses of time!

    A quick run through

    So what do you get for your beta now and how can you use it. Well, on the homepage, you now get a pre selected set of blog posts in the main results area and, in the lefthand sidebar, you can select one of 11 other pre-ordained categories to look at. Alternatively you can of course head straight for the search box at the top.



    Once you’ve searched on a term, you’ve got the chance to do some filtering, essentially on how recent you want the results to be – you can also sort the results either by relevancy or time, though this makes less difference than you might think. From a business perspective, a really important function sits rather inconspicuously at the bottom of the lefthand sidebar where you can quickly set up either a Google Alert or an RSS Feed for the search terms you’ve just used. Can save you loads of time and keep you up to date!


    So overall, it’s a change but not a revolutionary one by any means – more a shuffle forward and to the side rather than a giant leap. I do, however, find myself using it more than Technorati now for general searches, although to track links etc I still return to the Big T.

    As an aside, at this time of intense political as well as economic debate over in the US, I like the fact that Google chooses to re-iterate at the bottom of the homepage “The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program”. So that’s all okay then …

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    Blogs in ecommerce sitesI guess that I consider myself to be a relatively typical shopper, albeit probably a little bit more comfortable online than most. My own tendency, particularly when Im buying anything out of the ordinary, is to turn to the internet to first check out and research whats available and then to compare pricing.

    It seems that I am not unusual in this. A recent survey carried out by Nielsen online (followed up by this post by Nielsen’s Ken Cassar) and reported by eMarketer, has added additional credence to the idea that whether we ultimately buy online or in the shops, we (as consumers) routinely carry out research online before we do so. Indeed, 8 out of 10 respondents who had purchased a product in store said they had visited the store’s website first.

    Perhaps even more telling is that the survey, which focused on consumer electronics purchases, reported that more than half said they ultimately bought from the retailer on whose website they had spent the most time.

    What does this tell us? Well, clearly that we, as consumers, are becoming more and more web savvy which is re-assuring. But from an online retailers perspective, it also shows us that the stickiness of our site is going to be a crucial factor in not only keeping shoppers there but encouraging them to buy. This is going to be the case whether we are running a small online store with a few items or a full ecommerce setup.

    Enter blogs. I feel a full post on the subject of blogs and online retail or ecommerce is in order, but for now Ill restrict myself to a few key benefits of getting a blog on your site alongside your online store.

    • More Information: the more information you give about your product or service (not just description but also how people have used it etc.), the more confident your readers are likely to be that it is right for them and the more comfortable they’ll feel about purchasing it. Just as critical, as the survey shows, the longer they stay on your site the more likely it is they will buy from you;

    • Answer their Questions: giving people the opportunity to ask questions and re-assure themselves that their choice is correct will help develop trust not only in the product but also in you as the vendor;

    • Customer Reviews: the importance we place in other peoples experiences and feedback with products has been proven time and time again. Using a blogs ability for people to leave their own comments will allow you to use the same techniques to improve your own sales that sites like Amazon, ebay and Hotels.com rely on;

    • Search Engine Ranking: you’ll always want your products to be as visible as possible. Giving the Search Engines more to get their proverbial teeth into with a specific post about an individual product (linked back to its page in your online shop) will give you a search engine friendly page you can optimise for it and so the chance to appear more highly;

    • Distribution: whether you have new products, special offers or just extra information on products, remember that a blog also distributes this information automatically through RSS and pinging, so it gives a proactive as well as passive side to your marketing.

    Whether you employ just one aspect that a blog can offer or you build it in as an integral part of your online store will largely depend on time and resources, I guess. However, do remember to think outside of the standard blog format and try to use the functionality in specific business ways, such as incorporating customer reviews. That’s when blogs can really start to work for you.

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    Promoting books with blogsOver the weekend, I popped into Waterstones book shop in Richmond a frequent haunt in the days before Amazon and still a favourite one. On this occasion, rather than my normal top floor seat in the business and foreign language section, I had to be content with the ground floor (baby + pram + no lift = ground floor) and so spent a few moments looking through the books on the current Best Sellers lists.

    There were some authors there that I recognised, and a number that I did not. What I certainly did spot was the number of books which were connected in some way either to either TV programmes or films currently on at the cinema. Jamie Oliver at Home was at the top of the hardback list while Atonement sat astride the paperback list with Nigella Lawson, The Bourne Ultimatum and Michael Palin’s New Europe all making top 10 appearances. Now, good as they may be, one thing is certain. Without the publicity afforded by the TV shows or cinema appearances, these books would never have achieved the same level of sales or enjoyed the same level of success.

    So whats my point? Well, although only a very small number of books published have TV help to promote them, all books need promotion to succeed. One such promotional medium which is available to all authors is a blog, and its a good one at that! Using a blog allows you to get in front of your potential readers, engage with them and hopefully really grab their attention done correctly, it can not only give a feel for the book but expand on it and pique the interest of potential buyers, readers and future loyal fans.

    Setting up a blog to promote your book should be an automatic step in the book promotion process and it can be a very powerful approach. However, there are some elements that you should bear in mind to make sure that it will be as effective as possible:

    • Give your Blog the same title as your book: that way, when you are promoting the book via the blog or simply promoting the blog, you are still always focusing peoples attention on the key thing you want them to remember, your books title

    • Use the same domain name too: for exactly the same reasons, make sure that you buy the domain containing your books name and develop your blog there. You are writing the blog on a specific subject and for a specific reason so make sure that you have a specific domain too. Youve probably seen film companies do exactly the same to great effect with websites to promote their films (eg. Atonement) ... so follow their lead!

    • Make sure it is linked visually with the book: take the graphics from the cover of your book and build these into your blog so that the two are instantly associated. This will really help from a branding point of view and, when someone sees the book online having visited your blog, then it will trigger their memory too

    • Make use of the layout and design: just like a general business blog, make sure that the layout and design works for you to achieve your business goals in this case, promoting your book. For example, get your newsletter sign up box and your RSS subscription logo (I recommend running both) prominent on your blog to encourage signups and then use that information to grow your supporters

    • Incentives and Promotions: remember that incentives work – if you’re not convinced then pick up a copy of Freakonomics and see why you should rethink. They do! So, perhaps you can give a chapter away free as a taster, or offer an ebook which develops on some of the themes you discuss in the book. You could even go as far as Seth Godin did when he gave away his book the IdeaVirus in ebook form … this in turn catapaulted the paper copy into the best sellers list! We might not all have the pulling power of Mr Godin, but the principle is a very powerful one

    • Use your blog marketing opportunities: just as you would do with any blog, use the mainstream blog marketing opportunities to spread the word about your book. As a start point, comment on other relevant blogs, submit your blog to blog directories, use links and trackbacks and get your RSS feed into RSS Directories. Here are some other blog marketing methods Id recommend considering

    • Dont forget your offline and other online marketing: the more targeted traffic you can get the better so dont forget to use other methods which will benefit you. Ive listed some ideas incorporating both online and offline methods in a called 52 ways to promote your blog.

    Of course, you need to make sure that you can deliver the content – but this should be the easy part, you are the author after all! :) Take the opportunity to expand on the themes that you covered in the book, talk about adjacent areas that lead into the subject matter of your book and talk about background areas which will be of interest but which you were unable to include in the book itself.

    Use the blog to pique the interest of readers at every opportunity and ensure they remember the name and branding clearly – give them a link to Amazon or your preferred outlet too. Display comments and recommendations from others who have already bought it and ask them to refer people to your blog who might enjoy it. Intrigue them and give them every opportunity to decide that they wish to buy BUT … a word of warning … avoid overtly / directly selling to them.

    Above all, enjoy doing it, just as I enjoy sitting and reading what others have written, whether I’ in a Richmond book shop or online. If you enjoy it, then it will shine through in the writing on your blog. When that happens, your readers will be able to share your enjoyment and enthusiasm and, as likely as not, then enjoy reading your book as well.

    Footnote: if you are considering writing a book but need help and guidance as you do it, then can I recommend a chat with Mindy Gibbins-Klein “The Book Midwife – you’ll find it will be time well spent!

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    HR, Human Resources, Personnel and blogsI was interested to see two opposing views expressed recently in Personnel Today of whether blogs and social media were of use in general and particularly whether they had a role to play in the area of company HR (Human Resources).

    On the one hand, there is the take that blogs and social network sites are nothing more than gimmicks and toys used by the younger generation and for time wasting by chatting with friends. The other view is that they are tools which have real potential to help HR managers in their work by improving internal communications and employee engagement, as well as changing how recruitment is carried out.

    As you might imagine, I am hardly an unbiased observer but I will try to give an objective overview of the value of blogs and social networks here.

    Using online Social Networks

    When we consider “social networks”, there is a range of different ones that we need to consider. These vary from primarily social to business social and through to purely business networks – examples being MySpace, Bebo and Facebook to eCademy, Xing and LinkedIn. The relative value of each from an HR perspective will vary, but I believe that when it comes to recruitment, the use of the internet and hence these networks is a legitimate (and increasingly important) method to identify potential candidates as well as gather additional information about candidates. Therefore my advice to individuals looking to use these networks for business purposes, either now or in the future, is to remember that you should never say something online that you wouldn’t stand by and be quoted on. The internet doesn’t forget and is seldom forgiving! Recruiters much less so!! ;)

    Using Blogs: external and internal

    In terms of blogs, they can be used in a number of different ways from an HR perspective. On the recruitment front once again, from a Researcher angle, an HR manager interested in recruiting a candidate can get a much more in depth and rounded view of an individual’s knowledge and general suitability via a blog rather than simply from a traditional CV. This approach may also help with the anticipated skills shortage which seems to be expected by the majority of companies. If the company is open to embrace the use of blogs (as a ‘Builder‘) in their own recruitment process, then using them to demonstrate how current graduate recruits view working for the company, as Cadbury Schweppes did, is certainly an excellent option.

    However, perhaps the biggest gains can be made through the use of internal blogs on general HR issues and the opportunities that they provide to open up the channels of communication within an organisation. Improved internal communications, dissemination of important HR information, better team working opportunities, improved employee participation in the company are all benefits that have been reported by companies such as Allen & Overy, Dresdner Kleinwort and Microsoft. They are also all benefits which are available to companies of all sizes through the planned use of blogs internally which can be combined with other collaboration tools such as Wikis.

    Safety Measures

    Of course, as with anything, this is open to abuse. It is possible that employees spend too much company time on social networks or in writing either their own or company blogs. It is also possible that there may be inappropriate posts made by employees on blogs which could lead to problems or even legal issues. For these reasons, it is always advisable that a company has a blogging policy, whether they are actually running a company blog or not. (For help in drafting one, contact details here.)

    Just as important is the employees’ education in the whole area of blogs and online communications. Running workshops which help employees to understand where blogs can be beneficial and which also outline the corporate lines which should not be crossed will often be the best way to approach this matter. They should give clear guidelines without stifling the benefits that blogs can accrue.

    Conclusion

    So which view of the interaction between blogs and HR do you go with? Well, for me, without doubt, there are potential issues raised by the use of blogs and social networks within a company. However, it is clear that trying to suppress this is unlikely to work and dismissing it is simply handing a golden opportunity to your competition to steal a march on you.

    Instead, I believe that embracing these communication media will reap rich rewards for companies though I’m also all in favour of ensuring the confidentiality of company information through education of potential bloggers among the workforce. Harness the energy, passion and ideas rather than try to suppress them and you’ll be onto a real winner!

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    Over the weekend, I was chatting with a friend who used to work for one of the larger pharmaceutical companies here in the UK and, as you do, I mentioned my professional involvement with corporate blogging. Having given her a brief overview of how the business world is using blogs, she commented that she felt it was unlikely that there would be many blogs from the main pharma companies, and I agreed … in part.

    My own thoughts were that, on the drug side of the business, the legal elements would be too stifling and would never allow the openness and free comment that a blog requires. However, I felt that on the consumer side of the business, product blogs would be the perfect vehicle for some product lines – the example I gave her was from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) where I felt the Lucozade line would benefit immensely from a product based blog linked with their other online and offline marketing activities.

    Well, I decided to do a little investigating today, what did I find? Not one but two pharmaceutical companies have in fact recently launched blogs – GSK and Johnson & Johnson – so, of course I had to have a closer look.

    From GSK has come AlliConnect which is focused on the Alli Weight Loss product line which apparently is “the only FDA approved weight loss product available over the counter” – in the US, I presume. From a blog perspective, clean look (if a touch bland) with clear branding and has all the main components in place, as I guess you would hope since they have been working with Debbie Weil on this, who is also named as one of the authors. Wide subject matter from a small team with a lot of potential for development and some innovative uses of this product blog, and so one that will be interesting to follow from a professional perspective.

    The other from Johnson & Johnson is called JNJ BTW and has a little bit further to go, to be honest. It is written by one of the media relations team which rather sets the tone, and it seems to have a much less well defined remit in terms of what it is looking to achieve. With very little corporate branding, there are certain elements of the set-up which need to be dealt with (non friendly URLs, ‘Uncategorised” category, RSS all but hidden) and I don’t get the same feel of focus which concerns me when considering the impact it will make. I believe that they would have been better placed if they had focused on a single product area (and they have enough to choose from) rather than a wide ranging corporate blog which seems to be what they are attempting here.

    All in all, GSK have certainly the better starting position here and it does make me wonder whether engaging a blog consultant would have avoided a lot of the early pain that I foresee for the J&J blog – though, I admit that I might be biased here, given that it is what I do for a living. It’s good to see large corporates embracing blogs, of course, but I think that the public already has certain standards they expect and so therefore the planning and delivery of blogs is going to need more and more attention if they are to make the right impact from the start.

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    Cadbury SchweppesHopefully you will have gathered by now that one of my key messages regarding business blogs is that they are there to support you in your business activities consider them simply as tools to help you to achieve business goals and work forward from there. Once you manage that, then a whole range of potential uses will start to appear.

    For me, one good example of this has been at Cadbury Schweppes where they have been using blogs as a way of promoting their graduate recruitment. They have encouraged some of their current graduate recruits to talk about their experiences at Cadburys across different business areas and have given them the opportunity to do this through a series of individual blogs. Hopefully by posting their experiences, they are giving a more personal view of what they are doing and what their opinion is of it and allowing potential applicants a little more insight into what the company offers.

    Its impossible to tell how much editorial control is going on and the blogs themselves are not that exciting but that isnt the point. The point is, do they achieve their goal of giving people interested in working at Cadburys additional insight into what it is like to work for the company and whether they should consider it. I believe that it does and therefore, as such, is a good blog set-up because it achieves its goal.

    Only time will tell but I think that alongside the huge increase in companies implementing blogs to help their internal communications or customer relations activities, we will also see a whole raft of specific uses for blogs appearing such as this one.

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