Wednesday 27 May 2009

What can you do with a blog?

A conversation about blog use

Hi there! My boss has asked me to do a blog for our company.

Oh, good. What are you blogging about?

Well that's the problem - I don't really know yet, and I don't think the gaffer has any idea either. He just thinks we have to have a blog because all his mates at the golf club say their companies have them and he feels left out. And I look after the website so I drew the short straw. What am I supposed to do for the company - blogs are just for self-centred attention-seekers with bees in their bonnets needing a good rant as therapy, aren't they?

You mean like a modern version of Speakers' Corner? Yes, there is a lot of that about, but that's by no means all a blog is for. Far from it. (One of the original and best uses is by journalists.) In fact, although the ranters and navel-gazers form a very big part of the blogging world, plenty of perfectly sane private individuals use blogs a bit like a diary, or to discuss and report on a particular interest or hobby - perfectly worthy, and useful for people with similar interests.

Well how am I do that for our company?

I hope you're not going to do that for your company! Well, not exactly. Your company make electronic gadgets and gismos doesn't it? Right, treat that as the hobby you are blogging about: announce new products; discuss new gadgets; review new gismos; pass on/link to coverage of your products in the media; encourage readers to comment on your posts and reviews; get them to post their own reviews; list which trade shows the company is attending; encourage readers to come and visit you at the shows, and so on.

Oh great! - Now I get the idea!

Wait, blogs are not appropriate for everything of course, but you can use them in all sorts of other ways too.

Can I? What?

Well firstly, if you have enough content you can split my list of topics into several precisely targeted blogs. For instance, you can use a blog for the company website updates page. The great thing with blogs is it is easy to set up an RSS feed and put it into a page of your website - or encourage other people to put it in their website. An updates blog feed goes very nicely in a column of a homepage. And here is an example of an updates blog in the sidebar of an online bookshop at It is the updates blog of a history society for which I run the website and the Lulu shop. Get the idea?
Obviously, like anything else, you don't want to overdo it, but when appropriate it works well. Similarly you could have a special blog for events and trade shows which the company is going to attend - and that is perfect to use with a geo mapping gadget so your customers can instantly see event locations and get directions to the venue. Here is an example.
It is the events blog of the history society already mentioned. There are only a couple of events posted at the moment, but it illustrates the use of geo mapping in this context.

Anything else?

Well yes - you just need a bit of 'adeptitude': apart from your main blog dealing with new products and future releases etc.; your site updates blog and your events blog, you could have something like an employee social news blog feeding into your company intranet for instance. What form that takes depends on the size and character of your business and workforce of course. And a blog is ideal for posting all coverage of your company or brands in the media. (Make sure you include all the links to these other sites to help increase your visibility.) How many blogs you have really depends on the volume of worthwhile content you have. Obviously no point in having a stand-alone events blog if the only company event in the year is the Christmas party.

How am I going to run all these blogs?

Ideally, you're not going to. Or not all of them, if you have several. Different departments should be responsible for their own blogs. That's the great thing about them: they can be updated by anyone who is capable of writing an email - you don't need any html or scripting skills.

Ah. I have seen sites - especially sites belonging to companies operating in the social media/marketing/journalism world (you know what I mean) where it looks like every employee of the company has their own blog, and the website doesn't seem to consist of much else -

Yes! That's true. but that is very special circumstances. It would be completely OTT for 'normal' companies living in the real world to do that. And even where it is appropriate it can be overwhelming to see a homepage that lists 20 or more blogs to visit! If you are a big company you can just about get away with a blog from each department including the executive if they are brave enough, and they have enough adeptitude. But please - not Accounts! There are limits. In a smaller company you should think about giving somebody from each department 'author permission' at one blog.

So what rules should I try and stick too?

OK, if you and your co-authors remember just one you won't go far wrong:

CONTENT! Don't write blog posts when there is nothing to say. Infrequent posts of quality are MUCH better than a great flood of flannel. Remember, there are only so many hours in the day for your audience. Don't overwhelm them or they will ignore you. The situation these days is fast approaching overload. Most people simply don't have the time to check on - let alone read - all the blogs they'd like to. If they can glance at the feed of your blog in their reader (or on your homepage) and only open posts that really grab them, so much the happier they'll be.

Thursday 7 May 2009

What's the betting Google does it better?

There's a lot of blah blah around at the moment about how Google may be about to, or are at least on the road to getting into the Social Networking space and challenging Facebook and MySpace. This is a recent post at by Farhad Manjoo about the possibility, and it is typical of how people see things going.

What's happening in a nutshell is that Google are encouraging everybody, not only their account holders (who are legion anyway, of course), to fill out and save a Google Profile. This is mine.

I must declare my hand: I am a Google fan - they don't pay me, they don't need to. I know for a lot of people that is akin to saying you are a Microsoft fan. No street cred in that. But Google Books, Earth, Mail, Apps, Docs, Maps, Search &c. all do it for me. Particularly Google Books. No less an advance than the first printing press in my humble opinion. And for all that - free - I am happy to trade personal details and exposure to targeted ads. (What's people's problem with targeted ads? Surely they are much less irritating that random ones?)

So Google is filling their arsenals with ammunition. It would clearly be a very easy step to the creation of a social network.

Farhad Manjoo asks, "Why would Google want a social network? To get to know you better — and, thus, to serve you more profitable ads."

And how would having a social network help with ads - surely Google already targets ads in a sophisticated manner? Yes, they do. However, knowing what your friends are looking at or searching for as well as you makes them think they can be even cleverer and pipe you ads on the grounds that as they might appeal to one or more of your friends, so, hey, they might appeal to you too.

Sound familiar? Yes, it sounds very much like what Facebook get flak for at the moment. So Google, please be careful with this one! But such is the nature of Google's ad pipe - low-profile and way better targeted compared to Facebook - that most users might not notice much difference.

Surely almost as important for Google is the creation of a very useful social database which could simply be searched for friends for networking. And that network (I like to think it might be called GoogleSpot) is very nearly all there already. It just isn't wired-up at the moment.

But will Google actually do it?

If you want to do it yourselves (something businesses are already doing of course with their Google start pages), you can create a rather decent little network using your Google Accounts; the iGoogle start page and a selection of Google gadgets and other imported feeds. Get your special group to all do it and pipe in eachother's gadgets. Not practical at the moment for large networks for space reasons, but just about perfect for families or small groups who wish to stay private, I would have thought, provided some among the group are savvy enough to put it together. Of course one of the things you can pipe in is your Facebook feeds...

So will Google feel the urge?

Will Google do it for us? Will they set up a social network open to Google Profiles with just a little bit of rewiring and new templating of what's already there?

I for one would like to think they will - provided they are not tempted to make it too cute, trendy and silly in order to compete directly with Facebook and MySpace. I think there is space in the market for a sensible social network for grown-ups. But something tells me that Google's 'social network' will remain just as it is: the Profiles database.

I hope I am proved wrong.