Last week the good folks at SocialSignal.com posted a fabulous 10-step program to help nonprofits and small businesses use their blogs to create interest, educate clients, and develop brand loyalty. The downloadable PDF is the culmination of a series of blog entries (of course) by Rob Cottingham and is entitled “10 Ways Your Blog Can Provide Real Value To You, Your Organization, and Your Brand.” The guidance in the e-book is fabulous, and the materials so rich that we wanted to dedicate a couple of entries to it this week. So, without further ado:
“1. Put the I[nvestment] in R[eturn] O[n] I[nvestment] – Showing your organization’s human face”
We all feel more comfortable communicating with an individual than with an organization or institution. Moreover, we tend to remember our experiences about those organizations or institutions based on any individuals we worked with. Therefore, blog with the writer’s real name, and the writer should be willing to share a bit about him/herself as appropriate to the blog and its themes. A photo of the writer would also engage readers at a personal level, even if the person is volunteering or being paid to speak for a large company. Finally, write in a conversational tone that balances informative with entertaining. Think of it as “Casual Friday” but with your words instead of your clothes.
“2. Training – Skills development”
Social Media can seem intuitive because those who would participate already have a degree of literacy and social skills that would seem a pretty easy fit for a blog (so what’s my excuse?). ‘Fair enough,’ suggests Rob Cottingham, but blogging takes training, technical, literary, and ‘business cultural.’ The blowback for mistakes can be inversely proportional to the good will developed with ‘Way 1’ above: when a newbie makes a mistake, people can be quite forgiving. When same newbie is speaking for an organization, the audience is likely to be turned off by something that seems unseemly or unprofessional.
Thus so too should a small business or nonprofit be prepared to get a team of bloggers prepared: “Team members don’t have to be seasoned hands, but be sure they know some of the basics before you give them the keys. (And by “the basics”, I mean about blogging generally … but also about your blog’s goals, tone, policies and culture.)”
“3. Get into the feedback loop – Getting high-value feedback”
“Feedback is tremendously valuable stuff. And you don’t just want to hear reactions to what you’re doing and saying; you want to know what’s on your audience’s mind about the whole range of subjects that could touch on your organization’s products, services or mission.” Company bloggers should be on the lookout for comments and be prepared to answer them in a full and timely manner. Even the negative ones can lead to a learning moment, and the writer should be prepared to admit as much in her/his response. That said, Cottingham warns bloggers not to get caught up in ‘content spam’ and he suggests some online services that can help prepackage that stuff to be dealt with in a more efficient manner.
By the way, have YOU posted a comment or given feedback to the MKCREATIVE blog?
“4. Throw Out That News Release – An Alternative to News Media”
Press releases are free (financially; someone gets paid to write and send them), which provides the perverse incentive for small companies to send out dozens of them in hope that at least a few will stick. Given the precarious life left to print media, the ratio of releases-to-published reports is growing ever wider. In this gap the blog can step in because it can be a low cost/high readership relationship. Moreover, the readership builds as an audience actively engaged in your messages and interested in being associated with you and your company. That is where the ‘human face’ of Way 1 again becomes so important: “Blogs – nearly all of the good ones, anyway – are conversational and personal. This isn’t the place for cut-and-paste jobs; an authentic human voice is crucial to success. And once you’ve posted, be ready to respond to reactions from your readers.” (Am I allowed to cut-and-paste this quote?)
“5. You Can Relate – Building Relationships”
For readers of our blog, the idea that such an enterprise can develop relationships between an organization and its audience is no surprise. What Cottingham adds to the mix is that a company’s/nonprofit’s blog can help breathe new life into intra-organizational relationships as well: “Those relationships can break down internal silos, bridge departmental divisions and cultural factions, create organizational resilience and surprise you with innovations and insights.” Bloggers should therefore open opportunities for comments and respond to them with the respect and specificity they deserve (they have taken time from something else to respond to you, after all). Be ready to offer longer and shorter postings as well: some of the audience will not want more than a few hundred words to keep apprised of your group. Others will want an extensive read, at least often. Try to keep everyone engaged, even if you can’t keep everyone happy.
None of these steps/strategies/considerations means your organization should ignore traditional media, limit face-to-face meetings, or cut the advertising budget. One of the things not included in this discussion but of great value within Rob Cottingham’s ’10 Ways’ is the ‘You know you’re getting…’ at the end of each ‘way.’ Once you see bumps in reaction to postings, once you get sustained and specific comments, once you hear some of your blog’s talking points in traditional media, once other bloggers point to or develop extended commentary on your (company’s) blog, you know you are working in the right direction. But the process will change as you, your organization, your audience, and the technology change. We shall return to cover the last five ways in a second blog later this week.