Monday, October 24, 2011

"The number of Twitter followers is a terrible judge if your blogs are effective" 
- Felix Salmon, Finance Blogger at Reuters with 37,878 Twitter followers. 

Felix Salmon, along with Shanta Darvajan, David Roodman and Cathleen Farrell participated in a blogtastic round table on October 20th, 2011 called "Blogging with Borders", hosted by the Inter-American Bank and organized by the WebManagers Round table here in Washington D.C.. Valuable insight was shared by each participant on their blogging experiences, ranging not only from the basics of blogging and why they do it, but also shared important tips on how to build a successful blog for yourself and the organization you represent. 

Instead of live tweeting, I decided to write my very own first blog (I know, who cares really) by providing a synopsis of key points and information shared. I also want to see for myself, how easy, or hard, it is to find and maintain an inner voice to my own blog. Without further adieu:  

Why should we care about even writing blogs?

We are busy. We are distracted and our attention span gets progressively worse every day. People don't have the time or patience to read massive, or detailed reports. We want the tidbits, insight and information in a format we can digest and enjoy. 
  • Blogs are a perfect forum for specialists, SME's, thought-leaders or anyone else who has any thoughts, opinions, summaries or commentary on a topic. 
  • Due to its collaborative and conversation-friendly format, it can be a solid forum to get feedback on ideas. David Roodman mentioned how he submitted a draft of his book via his blog, from which he got fantastic feedback to build up. 
  • The beauty of starting blogs is that you don't have to be strategic about it when getting first started. The participants told the audience several times that we didn't have to worry about it, it will take a life of its own. Let's hope they are right. 
Tips to successful blogging:

Blog's have to be engaging. Don't "blog" it down with facts. Find your inner voice. Don't be formal and distant, but instead find a tone that engages and encourages your reviewers to share their thoughts with you.  
  • Always link to topics your responding to. Your blog should state your opinion and thoughts, and link to information or facts you reference. 
  • People love visual blogs! If you can integrate them into your communiqué, good things happen, like an increased number of hits and more comments.
  • If you don't like blogging, don't do it. 
  • You don't always need a conclusion or the answer. Putting out the idea however will allow you to discuss with others and perhaps get closer to the meaning of the truth you seek.
  • Comment on other people's blogs. Show that you care about other people's opinion, thereby recognizing their work.   
Tell tales of a successful post - there are none. 

99% of the people who read and enjoy your blog will not leave a comment. Even if you think the post will generate lots of interest, you may be disappointed and wonder why. The alternative is certainly the case as well.  
  • From the 1% of readers who do comment, Facebook users leave the most caustic, mean-spirited comments. This behavior could be explained, but not excused by the fact that readers often only see the thumbnail in the status update, and do not actually read the entire post. It depends on the topic, but here is a good example of Felix's blog entry that drew a lot of negative attention for him. It's clear how it could easily taken out of context. 
  • Setup your blog properly in Facebook so that the introductory paragraph is also displayed in Facebook's Status Update. Look at the Twitter feed to see if it is was re-tweeted or received 1 question. 
  • For Shanta Devarajan, he enjoys seeing conversations started in the comments field that encourage discussion amongst the participants and he can watch and chime in if necessary. 
Getting internal support to blog:

External relations, public relations, and every other relations department yearn to control information, especially the thoughts and opinions being shared about an organization. One participant during Q/A mentioned her organization has 3 layers of editing before a blog post is released. This is of course removes most incentive to even entertain the idea of blogging.

In my humble opinion, organizations can't control social media, especially the message and conversations had using them. At best, they can join it. Worse, they ignore it and worst of all, they attempt to control it. 

  • Blogging is not part of the public relations department. The content has to be organic. They can, however set the tone and guidelines how blog and social media can be used. Here's an example from Intel on their social media guidelines.
  • At the World Bank, Shanta Devarajan received approval from his VP to accept any responsibility when starting his blog. In doing so, however, the VP also set the example of what benefits this has for the World Bank. A culture for sharing and conversing with a range of constituents, from economists to farmers in Kenya, helps spread the message easier than formal communication structures previously allowed. 
Group blogs: Magazine or columnist?
  • Our panelists made it clear that all blogs have to have a personality - a voice. It needs to be protected and preserved, even with guest blog writers. 
  • If group blogs don't have an owner and no one is taking responsibility for it, it will fall apart. There needs to be someone to get people to talk to each other, respond and most importantly, encourage its use. 
  • Hitting people over the proverbial head to write blogs will not work. 
  • If people use blogs inside the firewall to share information, then group blogs will succeed more easily. 

Our panel stated that many people don't blog for too long. It takes time to keep them fresh, exciting and  relevant. Interestingly enough, they did not mention the benefits from SEO that blogging provides (search engines love fresh, tasty content). Instead, they focused on the benefits they as individuals, and their organizations, experience from using blogs and social media in general: to share information with the interested public, exchange ideas that draw attention to their work and converse with constituents to drive engagement that benefit their primary customers.  

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