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March 20, 2007

BlogHer Business Live-blogging: How to Embrace the Social Media Culture

Blogherbus2 I am visiting New York for the BlogHer Business conference. The conference will  answer the question: How can Businesses Succeed in a Social Media World?

 The Day Two track: "How Do I Get It Right the First Time?" has three sessions that will be live blogged. Listed below is information for session two. Speaker bios and the full list of live-blog links are listed on the BlogHer site. The other two sessions of this track are listed here and here (Silicon Valley Moms Blog).

How to Embrace the Social Media Culture

They will take a closer look at these questions:

  • Who should blog for your company?
  • How do you enact €œ"authenticity"€?
  • How much "€I"€™ is "€˜TMI"€™?

Maria Niles moderates this discussion between Yahoo! Corporate blog editor Nicki Dugan, FastCompany.com editor Lynne D. Johnson and Weblogs Inc editor Karen Walrond (her blog is Chookooloonks).

Here are my apologies in advance (thanks Jen Lemen for the idea): for misspelling, missed names and other tragedies of being in a rush. Everything is a serious approximation of what was said.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

How to Embrace the Social Media Culture

Maria Niles: Welcome everyone, we will going to get started.

(Speaker Introductions)

Nicki Dugan. I run the corporate blog Yodel Anecdotal. The corporate blog is the umbrella and the product blogs are vertical. 55 employees contribute to the blogs. 

Lynne Johnson: I have a personal blog for 6 years, I am Senior Editor of the FastCompany website but I also manage the staff blog (news related). We also have FC expert blogs where we recruit technology, leadership, and so on. It is my job to put our guidelines and help the blog sound like FastCompany. 

Karen Walrond: I am with Weblogs Inc, My blog chookooloonks chronicles how my daughter came into my life. Weblogs inc’s products are our blogs (including Engadget, Styledash, Blogging Baby, Slashfood). We make money on advertising. 

Nina Belcher: I am a lawyer that represents clients that are afraid to blog. They ask “How could that not blow up on us?”. How can blogging help larger companies? 

Nicki Dugan: It was hard to talk our legal team into doing a blog, because there is so little control you have about what comes back to you. I told them that people are already talking about us, blogs give us a chance to join in on the conversation. We have guidelines and a review process. We worked in partnership with the legal team, and tried to be edgy. The more reverent we are the more well received it will be. It took a couple of weeks to click for them that it was not such a scary place.  We had an innocent blog posting about a new feature, Digg fashion thumbs up and thumbs down on new features. Digg fans felt that we stole something from them. The comments started to turn the tide: “Isn’t it a good idea that Yahoo gave users a voice in product features”. It turned into a positive experience. 

Karen: I was also a lawyer, and I keep hearing people say “those darn lawyers”. But I am also a blogger so I see both sides. The authenticity of voice is very powerful. You should not just get anyone off the street to blog for your company. You need someone that has a good understanding of what the goals of the corporations are (even if they are not writing about the goals). So they know what is risky, then the corporation needs to let the writer go – you need to offer them a certain amount of trust. There are SEC guidelines that require training, but trust is important. 

Audience member: Could FastCompany get away with not blogging? 

Lynne: Our staff blog has been around for 3 or 4 years and is about the first of its type. Most magazines like Wired and 2.0 had blogs. On our homepage, the blogs are foremost. We are about daily news and keeping people updated. 

Audience member: What is it like to manage a stable of bloggers? What are the issues involved, like personalities, production? 

Karen: For me it has been different, we have more freedom because we are not the voice of the corporation. We recruit people that are passionate and who can write, then let them go. They know how often they need to write and are all over the world. One blogger talks about financing college and the other about potty training. The whole company is virtual (all of us work out of our homes). But it works because we have a common platform; we instant message each other all day. 

Lynne: Our blogs are journalistic because it is based from the magazines. Our interns needs more training because they may want to write about topics like Britney Spears. Instead, I say how about writing about the ‘brand” of Britney Spears. Our expert’s blogs are all over the place, from all walks of life. They might be a professor, tech, or business experts. It has been interesting to manage. I may need to send them emails if they plug their own product. I ask them to make the blog post more news related. We offer a wider distribution network then their own blog. I don’t edit blogs but I do minor changes to make it more search engine friendly. I have not had to mess with them much because they are experts. 

Nicki: Someone either comes to pitch a post or I need to go out to find a person to blog about. 90% of the issue is finding the right voice (no “we” – more personal). I tell them I care about what you say, but people outside want to know who the individuals are, what keeps them out at night – “who are you and why are you presenting that opinion”. That should be different then what is in a press release. 

Nicki: We are all voyeuristic at heart – that is what draws you into the post. It is not about the big company, it is the individual that is interesting. You should write something the same way you would write a conversation. People that read press releases are used to seeing things a different way. 

Karen: Many of our freelance writers are authors themselves. For example, I am a big fan of Bill Bryson. I would love to meet him or read his blog. Instead of just reading about them, you connect with the person behind the words. Instead of “I had eggs today” write about “I met a person who said X, and that resonated with me because….”. We often get featured at the AOL welcome page. This helps people feel like they are relating to people instead of a conversation (you mean you can’t potty train your child at 2, I did it at 14 months). 

Lynne: I see the same at the FC blogs. Jory Des Jardins talks about books that she read or things that interesting her. People are more engaged with that style of writing instead of news. For example, I talked about a company that makes “green/eco” skateboards. When I blogged about it I started by telling the story of that I started skateboarding. 

Elisa Camahort: There is an audience for everything. I decided to blog about becoming a vegan. I had 0 readers. Then I published my food diary – and got a whole community of readers. It feels like it is my own little neighborhood. The business reason is that people care about what people use, buy, eat… 

Audience Member: Squarespace is a web hosting company. We just started a blog to speak to our customers. I found that we needed an extra person to help contribute to our blog. We turned to our PR firm. We had that luxury because we are an established firm. My question is: how do you decided who is going to write? 

Nicki: We launched our blog to present a wider range of voices. You may find great writers in unexpected places. We want those who have their sleeves rolled up working with products. We are happy to work with them on learning the blog writing style. 

Maria: I blog for Kleenex and they found me from the outside. 

Karen: See if there is anyone already talking about your company. That is the person that you may want to hire for blogging. 

Elisa Camahort: We have a job listing form on the BlogHer site. 

Audience member:  What about ghostwriters? 

Nicki: There have been some people that are so busy they don’t have the time to write themselves. So we have, on occasion, used a ghost writer. But we make sure the post has the original voice. I recommend that you use ghost writers sparingly. You can also have someone structure a post, and then the blogger goes in and writes it. 

Audience member: Do you get more traffic when the posts are written from the “I” perspective? 

Lynne: The most traffic comes from the most intriguing posts. For example, there is a company called Wikio. The title of the post was “Can Wikio Make Digg S*** it’s pants?”. That got lots of traffic and comments, it generated a discussion. 

Nicki: Some of the formulas are: Controversy, unexpected or just a hot topic and something the blogger feels passionate about. 

Karen: I think personal posts engaged commenters far more then announcements. If we blog about an announcement for New York then we get traffic, but if you really want to get people talking you need to add personal opinion it really gets the conversation going – “When I went to New York, I stayed at XYZ hotel and really enjoyed it…. 

Lynne: The way to get someone to speak (comment) is to make sure they feel comfortable. 

Audience member: How do you ensure that bloggers do not go for the lowest common denominator? Going to the lowest level so they can joke with the readers? 

Nicki: The whole idea is to peel back the curtain to let the world see the personal side, letting our hair down. 

Audience member: I have a business job and a personal blog but wonder where I draw the line about being too personal (like potty training). Is my kid going to think I am sharing too much? 

Karen: I decided that I will stop writing about my daughter before her fifth birthday (I did it when she was three). That was right for me. People love to read about Britney Spears. If you rant you need to do it in a thoughtful, intelligent way. If you say “XYZ is a stupid company”, then that is not engaging. But if you say “I don’t like XYZ company because of these reasons……”. That is engaging. If you are smart about how you argue or vent then the commenters are thoughtful and smart (not always). 

Audience: We talked about impact of social media in the public, but how about internal blogging? 

Lynne: We do not do internal blogging. The CEO is very open and sends emails out to the company. 

Nicki: Yahoo does not have internal blogging but we do use wiki’s. For those of you who don’t know what a wiki is: It is a document that multi people can go to update. We also have an internet that has information across the business. 

Karen: It is not encouraged, but not discouraged that our bloggers have their own personal blogs. 

Audience Member: How do you decide to do a blog on a particular topic? Who owns the intellectual property?

Karen: Who owns the intellectual property? The writers do, but it is exclusive for a certain period of time for Weblogs, Inc blog. We do have people that scrape the content, but that is not right. There are times that articles are allowed to be reprinted, with approval. 

Karen: How do you decide to discuss a certain topic? It is a marketing decision? For example, we have StyleDash. We also discuss if we need male StyleDash or home StyleDash. We monitor the buzz. It is a group decision, usually above my head. 

Lynne: We have an exclusive period (two weeks), but the bloggers own the intellectual property. I wanted people to be able to post it on their own sites. People can make their own books, but we can also make “the best of” book. 

Jory: Do you engage women differently then men? 

Nicki: I have not seen a trend but most of our commenters are men. We had a post on Yahoo about a women who had written a book about being a football widow and that attracted women. 

Karen: For our lifestyle section (like blogging baby) are mostly visited by women. Our travel site is adventure based, and more men read that.

Jory Des Jardins: Is there a way to get a better mix of women and men to your blog? 

Karen: I don’t find that women/men respond to tone. I do think that the gender of the writer helps. I think that the fact that we have male writers on blogging baby attracts dads. The female writers on our travel site attract women. The mix of writers does have an effect. 

Lynne: I do notice with the expert blogs (that have head shots), that interaction is race based as well as gender based. We have this one guy who talks about urban entertainment. Those in urban entertainment respond to him. Those in general entertainment do not. 

Karen: Blogging Baby has a mostly white female audience. I found this out during a Flickr photo contest, where all the pictures except for a few were white. I have no idea on how you attract a mix of races, I would like to find out how… 

Audience member: My experience is that the design can affect what type of gender and race is attracted to the site. 

Audience member: Have you met your goals from the social media tools, and what have been the surprises? 

Nicki: We set low expectations because we were not sure if a corporate blog would be interesting. I am really pleased with the results, we blew past our RSS feed expectations. We are not happy with the level of comments. Maybe we could be more controversial to attract commenters. Once you have the right formula, more subscribe to RSS feeds which brings regular traffic. 

Lynne: I am also disappointed with comments. We may think about taking away the email address signatures so people don’t reply via email. We want FastCompany to be a community. We have family of friends, which is a place for groups to meet up – a hub for activity. As we move to do redesigns of the site we want to bring it all together: community around business issues. 

Audience Member: I am noticing that feed readers are becoming a trend. But the issue is that some don’t click through to the site.

Lynne: I think you are right, we met our RSS goals. Our point is to have community and interaction around business issues on the site. 

Audience: Some users read, but do not want to comment. 

Nicki: We struggle to find the right business metrics for blogs. How much traffic, are you being talked about (i.e. Technorati). I may not get a comment from John Batelle, but he just linked to my blog post. Or we were in the front page of Techmeme…. That is also a measure of success. 

Maria: What is the one best tip to encourage a company to embrace social media?

Karen: The power of blogging is that it puts a face on your company. If I were a company and I needed a blogger, I would look for a smart blogger that can quickly learn what the company goals are. 

Lynne: They can’t not do it! You have to convince them that if they want to be where the people are, then they need to blog. 

Nicki: Just look at then numbers of people doing it. But make sure you have the resources to feed the beast (post at least three times a week)? If you have pressure from within, pushback if you don’t have the right resources. It is the way the world is going…..

 

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Beth,

Thank you so much for this awesome live blog! You've done a terrific job in capturing the conversation we had. Just one correction - the first response to Nina Belcher's thoughtful question was from Nicki, not me. The insight should be attributed to her.

Thanks again.

All the best,
Maria

Done, thanks for coming by for a visit.

beth, i'd also like to thank you for this live blog. it was great to read this and to capture this information. one thing i was thinking about, that you may have missed, was the one woman who asked who should blog for her company's blog. She was looking at an outside PR firm, and I told her to find people who were already talking about her company and its products. To find the evangelists--that's who she wanted to blog. Nicki also told her the same thing basicaly. I think that's one of the biggest question anyone managing a corporate blog is going to have, how do I decide who blogs?

Thanks for adding that! There was so much interesting information discussed, my fingers could not move as fast as I wanted!

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