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    Product Blogs: here are all the key posts


    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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    I’d love to be able to describe a blog as an all powerful “magic wand” which will single-handedly solve all your marketing woes. Unfortunately, in spite of what some over eager blogging enthusiasts might have us believe, its simply not the case. What blogs are, however, are excellent tools which sit perfectly at the centre of your online marketing activity and which you can use to drive your business development efforts. Now thats not too shabby, is it?

    The problem is that that, all too often, a business blog is set up and run in isolation within the company rather than treated as part of a larger set of activities. No matter how successful you make your blog, it is still important to consider it as part of the overall mix – any company thinking of running one in splendid isolation is just guilty of actively stopping it from fulfilling its full potential. Running it in conjunction with other activities will prove to be far more effective both for the blog and your company.

    If, as is often the case, the blog is designed to help market the company and its offerings or enhance its branding efforts, then treat it as a part of the overall marketing mix. Make sure to link it with the other activities you are using or even use it as a hub to coordinate them online and gather the responses they generate.

    Ideally this coordination should happen at the planning stage so that the main interlinking set out in advance and all of the marketing strands can work in tandem. If not, then you will find that a blog is flexible enough to be able to adapt to a change in focus and direction later on if required. Employing this approach will give results which go far beyond those you could achieve using any of the activities on their own, boosting your blog and the overall campaign. The diagram above, while clearly only giving examples of the many online, offline and social media marketing methods available, tries to show the type of integrated approach that will produce the best results.

    Likewise, if you are using the blog for Customer Service or Product Development reasons, then again make sure that it is part of the overall process, integrated with your Call Centre, your Developers or your Product Marketing team and not stuck out on a limb under the control of a separate department. Use the information that your customers provide through it and share it with others. Treat it as the tool that it is, rather than a solution to all ills, and you will be able to tap into a collective resource that your readers and staff can jointly add to – you can then in turn make that available to all those who visit and use the blog, both internally to your company as well as externally.

    So, whatever the job you have in mind for your blog, make sure that from the planning phase onwards you run it in conjunction with the other activities you have in the same area. A blog can be a real hub for your customers, prospects and staff alike so dont isolate it connect to it and through it!

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    5. What makes a successful corporate blog?

    Successful Corporate BlogsI guess that this is probably the key question for any organisation looking to create their own corporate blog. My answer: one which fulfils the purpose that it was created for.

    This may sound evasive – a “cop out” if you like – and I suppose that, in a sense, it is. However, with so many different types of corporate blog, it’s simply not possible to give a single definitive blueprint for creating one.

    For example, the style and goals for a so-called CEO blog are going to be very different from one designed as a product blog. Likewise a corporate blog which brings together a community of users and developers for market research or product development, will have a very different definition of successful from an “expert blog” written by a specialist lawyer looking to directly improve his/her profile and reputation.

    However, what they will have in common is likely to be a clear set of objectives, albeit all different, which they are focused on achieving. These objectives would have been identified as part of the planning process and should always be in the back of your mind when writing and promoting your corporate blog.

    What might your objectives be?

    Ideally, aim for specific objectives and where possible ones that you can measure – attempting to quantify the ROI of a blog may seem a long way down the line when you start but believe me you will be asked the question at some point! However, in reality, you are more likely to have a mix with a number of general objectives and some specific targets thrown in.

    In most cases, people start with general objectives such as increased branding, improved reputation or a greater level of recognition. But, if you can add in areas where measurable results are possible, then this will help determine whether the blog meets those objectives and hence “qualifies” as a success.

    Some possible metrics that you could consider, include:

    • Increased enquiries generated through the blog using specific email addresses or forms

    • Incremental sales which can be tracked back to the blog

    • Sign ups either to your newsletter, white papers or other sources of information

    • RSS subscribers to the blog or individual categories within the blog if the level of content warrants it

    • Inbound links generated by the blog when others reference and link through to the content

    • Better Search Engine positioning because of the blog’s regularly updated content, internal structure and inbound links

    • New products identified and developed through the market research or product development carried out on the blog

    • Customer queries answered leading to reduced customer service or technical support calls

    Of course, not all of these will be relevant to you so use specific criteria which focus on the reasons for establishing the blog in the first place. In some cases, there will be a single overriding criterion which will be the sole indicator of a blog’s success or failure.

    Some pointers for your Corporate Blog

    If I had to make some suggestions as you start a corporate blog, which I believe will help it to achieve the goals that you have set for it, then I would recommend:
    • Don’t try to be everything to all people: the best type of corporate blog will identify the people it wishes to appeal to and will be written in such a way that it attracts, retains and develops that audience;

    • Plan, focus and stay true to your goals: you planned your objectives when you started, so try not to be distracted from them. If those are what you want to achieve, then make certain that you concentrate on them and don’t get pulled off in different directions;

    • Write interesting, compelling, focused content: you know the audience you wish to attract and hopefully you also know what will interest them. So try to present them with that information in a way which is authentic and which communicates the passion that you have for the subject;

    • Launch it properly: Plan the launch and make sure that you use all of the means at your disposal to tell people about it. Get your Foundation posts in place, use your mailing list, pre-announce it if applicable, create online press releases to support it and ensure that you put some weight behind the activities. If you believe it’s worth reading (and let’s hope you do!) then tell people and enthuse about it;

    • Market it religiously: there is no point in having a blog and just letting it sit there – tell people about it. Use all the methods available both online and offline, generic and blog specific and then use all of them again! While your writing will hopefully attract readers over time, you should still “spread the word” at every opportunity.

    Ultimately, the person best placed to judge whether the corporate blog you are running has been a success is … you! So give yourself the best chance to make it a success by knowing what you want to achieve with it and then going all out to make it happen.

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    A second post about Sony and their Playstation blog so soon after my blog review post on the two Sony blogs, I hear you cry? Well, yes, but it’s a great example of dealing with a situation that has arisen on the blog, so I just had to. (And no, I’m not angling for a free game!)

    As you might expect, Sony’s Playstation blog has been attracting a lot of comments, a situation that most of us no doubt view with a tinge of envy. However, it seems that a lot of the comments have been rather too off topic and the “noise” factor has been deafening, drowning out relevant comments on the posts. Effectively it’s been creating a free for all ‘bulletin board’ type of feel which isn’t great in a blog environment.

    Following a number of requests from their readers, Sony have decided to take steps to reduce this, and they announced what they were intending to do about it in a post from Patrick Seybold which stated:

    Since we launched the blog we have been extremely liberal in our monitoring policies because we wanted you guys and gals to get to know each other and share ideas. Lately, however, we have been getting complaints that there is so much noise accompanying each post that people cant separate the good meat from the chatter. We definitely hear you. So, we are going to step up our moderation of off-topic, nonsensical posts or posts on topics that we have already addressed (Yes, we hear you on wanting more demos consider that box suitably checked). If you have suggestions not related to the particular topic of a post, please use our comment form.

    Why’s it good to have done it like this? Well, I reckon there’s a few good reasons why:

    • Listening: they’ve been listening to what their readers have been telling them, in this case that there is too much “noise” in the comments section – they’ve listened and have adapted accordingly. When you are running a business blog, it’s important to remember that it is written for the readers, not for the authors.

    • Clarity and openness: they’ve explained clearly what is happening, why the actions have been taken and what they hope will happen in the future. The more open (and authentic) you can be in how you deal with your readers the more successful your blog is likely to be.

    • Forward Thinking: they’ve kept in mind the audience that they wish to attract and wish to participate on their blog – in this case, it was an audience which seemed to be alienated by the “noise” factor in the comments section. Making the changes allows them to focus back on their target audience.
    • Developing: a blog is always going to be developing. While it shouldn’t be seen as an unfinished development project, it’s important that we learn as we go along and change accordingly. Therefore it’s encouraging to see a large corporation both willing and able to address an issue and ring the changes.

    • Giving Options: it’s important not to shut down the channels of communication and if people want to ask or comment about other topics (as had been the case)then they still need to be able to. Here, readers have been offered a specific way to post their other comments using a alternative method.

    There is of course the possibility of this swinging too far in the other direction with over zealous moderation of comments, but I think the likelihood of that is small – personally, I’d prefer to focus on (and learn from) the way in which it was handled which I think has been spot on.

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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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