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Don’t Be Boring, Don’t Sweat Page Views: Ten Company Blogs Analyzed

Courtesy of user 'twob' on Flickr

Courtesy of user twob on Flickr

I read an amusing and insightful post by B.L. Ochman, 10 Reasons Your Company Shouldn’t Blog. Several reasons don’t argue against blogging (e.g. “A blog is not a quick fix”), but a few are worth considering. Here are a couple that I liked:

1. The blogs most companies want to create are guaranteed to join the 900,999 out of every million blogs with no readers. Why? They’re boring.

2. A blog has to have a personal voice. If you sound like a corporate drone, nobody will read your blog.

In a similar vein, Wall Street Journal blogger Ben Worthen reported on a  study by Forrester Research. Forrester reviewed 90 B2B blogs, and came away decidedly unimpressed: most corporate blogs are “dull, drab, and don’t stimulate discussion.”

I’ve just started to blog for my company Connectbeam. I’ve got a couple posts under my belt, and I’m curious as to what other companies are doing. I decided to take a look at 10 companies’ blogs. I looked at 10 posts each for the 10 companies, and scored each post on 10 content attributes. This “10 cubed” analysis is presented below.

Ten Companies’ Blogs Compared

The table below shows counts for each company on the different content attributes.

Links to the ten companies’ blogs: Adaptive Path, Amazon Web Services, Boeing, Emerson Process, LinkedIn, Marriott, Pitney Bowes, Petro-Canada, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks. Hat tip to SocialText for maintaining a list of corporate blogs.

The table is sorted by the number of instances for the different types of content. And the content types? Made ‘em up myself. They are the kinds of things I’m thinking about with regard to Connectbeam’s blog.

What About Those Different Types of Content

Explain Company’s Actions. The idea here is that the blog enables more freedom to give details behind the things a company does. I imagine for public companies, there are limits on how open they can be. But certainly there is opportunity for more than the canned quotes we often see in press releases.

Petro-Canada is currently very big in this category. I don’t know the company, but from reading its blog, it appears they’re having trouble getting gas to western Canada stations. One of their refineries is down. So they’re using their blog to keep people updated on progress.

This is a good use of a company blog.

Warmed Over Press Releases. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? And it can be if that’s all a blog is. But there is a role for the press release type of information on blogs. After all, a press release tells a company’s latest activity, which fits a blog’s purpose. Another aspect is that a lot of blog entries are essentially mini-press releases. They have the quality and informational value of press release, but for a minor event that wouldn’t normally warrant a full press release.

Amazon Web Services leads this category. But that makes a lot of sense to me. AWS is hot. They’re getting traction in the cloud computing arena. Right now, they probably are best served dishing out updates to current and prospective customers. They are in a good position to lead industry thinking around cloud computing.

Company Events. Companies are having, and participating in, events all the time. They are good opportunities for blog write-ups, usually because of interesting things learned when people come together. Events may also relate to things outside the companies control, but which affect them nonetheless.

Boeing blogged about events related to the strike against it by the IAM union. Marriott blogged about the bombings outside one of its hotels in Pakistan.

Wax philosophical. This is one of my favorites. Companies are deep into the machinations of an industry, and of their markets. They see a lot, and are working hard to understand customers’ pain points and the future of their industries. This gives them both information and motivation to put forth interesting thinking. Admittedly, the thinking will slant toward what benefits the company. But I like different points of view.

Starbucks does this a bit on its blog. One entry discusses efforts in Costa Rica to establish sustainable coffee farming. Adaptive Path is really good about this. This post describes the merits of simple presentation styles using hand-drawn graphics. Reminds me of Common Craft.

Link to another blog. Linking to another blog establishes a company blog as being part of a great conversation. It says that the company is following activity in its industry, and finds value in things outside what its own employees do. It also gives a sense for the areas that a company is looking at.

Adaptive Path does this a lot. Their blog includes a lot of linking to other blogs, which makes their posts an interesting place to find more information. LinkedIn also links to other blogs, generally those that include something related to LinkedIn.

Discuss industry issues. As participants in their industries, companies can illuminate issues that affect them. Customers and suppliers will have an interest in these type of blog posts, because they want to know what’s affecting the market. Companies can also apply some influence on industry standards, legislation and developments through their words and analysis.

Emerson Process covers issues that affect its industry. In The Value of Inherent Safety?, there’s a discussion about the need to incorporate incident avoidance into the financial analysis of projects. Seems like a smart idea.

Link to another company. Linking to another company is a Profile In Courage. OK, that’s overstating it, but linking to another company is probably a little worrisome. Will I lose my reader when they click a link? Am I confusing a reader by mentioning a different company? I like when companies do this, because it’s an acknowledgment that there are other entities in the universe.

LinkedIn does this fairly often. For them, the links are to companies that have had some success on the professional networking site. Adaptive Path links to fellow panelists from a conference it attended.

Unrelated to core operations. This is a funny content category. Blog posts about things that don’t relate to company operations or industry issues. I guess it’s a way to attract readers who usually don’t read the company’s blog.

The Pitney Bowes blog is an example of this. Or perhaps it’s better to describe it as Pitney Bowes CEO Mike Critelli’s blog. He doesn’t really cover his company. Rather, he takes aim at wasteful spending and regulaiton by the government.

Describe product use cases. Blogs are great homes for product use cases. There really isn’t a place for these in a press release. You can put some on the company website. But blogs are conversational and open to all types of content. And use cases help customers see the possibilities for a product.

LinkedIn goes after this type of content hard. Their posts name names, tell how the social networking site was used and quantify the outcomes. They’re well-done.

Silliness. A bit of  irreverence can lighten a company blog. Put some fun in reading it.

Southwest Airlines’ blog incorporates plenty of good wholesome silliness and fun. Not surprising, considering the company’s personality. I like this one about this summer’s earworm, Kid Rock’s All Summer Long song.

Special bonus points to the Emerson Process blog for including a link in one its posts to a FriendFeed discussion.

What conclusions to draw from the above table?

  1. Explaining corporate actions is a key use of company blogs
  2. I was pleased to see that “waxing philosophical” is a recurring theme for blogs – this gives context to companies’ actions and product releases
  3. Describing product use cases seems like a great idea, but perhaps is not the right approach for the companies whose blogs I analyzed

One last thought…

Companies Aren’t Blogging for Page Views

Implicit in the “boring” analysis of blogs is the idea that the poor companies are suffering anemic page views.  Of course, high page views are something everyone would love. Google’s blog is daily reading for a lot of people.

But many companies will get value from blogging to a smaller audience. I think this is particularly true for companies in the B2B space. It’s the old quality vs. quantity situation. Earning the attention of key people in your markets justifies the time investment in blogging.

*****

If you want an easy way to stay on top of Enterprise 2.0, I invite you to join the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed. The room takes feeds for Enterprise 2.0-related items on Twitter, Del.icio.us and SlideShare. To see this room, click here: http://friendfeed.com/rooms/enterprise-2-0

*****

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Microsoft Is Getting Much More from Its Investment in Facebook

When Microsoft invested $240 million in Facebook at a $15 billion valuation, the general reaction was one of disbelief. The valuation is too high to justify. But some people at the time felt like the dollar amount was well within the comfort zone of a giant like Microsoft. Here’s how commenter Prashant put it on TechCrunch:

I don’t think that MSFT expects to make money on the $250MM at a $15B valuation. Internally for them it is a $250MM investment to get an exclusive advertisement deal over the next 4 years. The 2% stake is only icing on the cake. Had they announced that they have given $250MM to Facebook for a 4 year exclusive ad deal, no one would have flinched, this is cheaper than the Google/MySpace deal.

Over the past few days, I’ve read a couple other blog posts that make me think Microsoft may be getting much more from its investment. Here’s a quick list of what what Microsoft seems to be getting:

  1. Exclusivity on a huge number of page views, and experience with social context advertising
  2. Insight into an emerging competitor to its operating system and productivity apps hegemony
  3. Model for bringing social networking into the enterprise

Let’s look at #2 and #3.

Operating System and Productivity Apps

Dan Kimerling wrote a great piece on TechCrunch about how Generation Y looks to the new wave of social media apps for functionality previously provided by Microsoft’s desktop and web offerings. As Dan notes:

Facebook succeeds because it is the killer web application for communications and personal information management

These are in-the-flow tools. Facebook users don’t leave Facebook, open email and send a separate message. They do it all, right there. The level of functionality is just right for their usage.

The original Microsoft email and productivity apps were pretty simple, but they did just what people needed, and with skillful marketing tie-ups, Microsoft became the standard for millions of us. Over time, Microsoft has added new features to each release, because that’s how they grew their revenues. You had to get the latest. But what happened was we got to feature bloat.

Via Kathy Sierra, Creating Passionate Users Blog, 2005

Via Kathy Sierra, Creating Passionate Users Blog, 2005

I think Kathy Sierra’s graphic is spot-on for general mainstream users. Personally, I probably use only 5% of the functionality available with the applications.

I’ve talked previously about the Innovator’s Dilemma here. As market incumbents grow, they tend to move up-market in terms of functionality in their offerings. What this does is open the door for competitors with new functions that are simpler to use. These new competitors target a niche, and grow slowly upward from there.

Facebook’s niche is still heavily Gen Y. But they’re gaining a foothold. Microsoft’s investment gives them a ringside seat for what’s happening there.

Social Networking Inside the Enterprise

I was reading a blog post by Doug Cornelius where he reported out notes from a session at the Real World SharePoint Experiences conference. A Microsoft Solution Specialist was describing the roadmap for SharePoint. If you don’t know, SharePoint is Microsoft’s enterprise collaboration software, where teams can build out individual sites to shhare and work on documents and to communicate. Each employee has a MySite, which includes their corporate directory information as well as the the list of groups and documents that are theirs.

Here’s a quote from Doug’s post:

Social networking. Mysite will be the hub of the social network. There will likely be Knowledge Network integration. They are looking to take some lessons from their investment in Facebook.

The Enterprise 2.0 space is hot, and social networking is a big focus for companies and vendors. Through its investment in Facebook, Microsoft can learn a lot of what drives interactions, how people connect and watch the mistakes the young company makes. As Dave Ferguson put it:

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. The corollary is that the bad judgment doesn’t have to be yours.

Microsoft continues to evolve its SharePoint offering, and I look forward to SuperPoking my colleagues one day.

Wrapping Up

At first, the only purpose for the Facebook investment appeared to be advertising related. I’m sure that’s still primary, because of the huge dollars involved.

But Microsoft is also gaining an information advantage for the new wave of social computing that is finding its way into both consumer and business experiences. Given the vast reach of the company’s product lines, that’s pretty valuable as well.

*****

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WordPress Acquires IntenseDebate. Disqus Just Got Big Competition.

VentureBeat reports that Automattic, provider of WordPress blogs, has acquired social commenting application Intense Debate. [Update - IntenseDebate has a post about this]. As a blogger on WordPress.com, I welcome this. I’ve seen the power of Disqus for other blogs, and I’ve wanted it here. But there wasn’t a way to add Disqus to WordPress.

In an earlier post, Could WordPress.com Create a Disqus Killer?, I wrote about what would happen if WordPress enabled a similar social commenting system. Here’s a quote from that post:

Imagine if a lot of those folks streamed their comments into FriendFeed. The viral nature of FriendFeed would be an accelerator on that volume. A WordPress.com commenting system would dwarf disqus.

WordPress.com has the built-in advantage of already hosting millions of blogs and comments. Disqus is still in its infancy in acquiring new blogs.

If Automattic is serious about this, they should enable a new commenting system to work on non WordPress.com blogs as well. As a blog reader, once you have a profile set up, you’d like to use it everywhere.

Interesting to see where this leads.

*****

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“What’s the Difference Between IM and Yammer?”

It’s been a couple weeks since Yammer launched at TechCrunch50, and I assume Yammer is getting a road test out there in the workplace. One thing I saw after the launch was people wondering if Yammer was really just a copy of instant messaging. Here’s a representative tweet:

What’s cool about it? What’s the difference between IM and yammer?

Let’s hold off from noting the irony of posting that question on Twitter…

It is a fair question, because of their high similarity: short messages to a group of subscribers. But there’s so much more to the story.

Comparing IM and Yammer

The table below describes similarities and differences between instant messaging and microblogging (e.g. Yammer):

The table is pretty self-explanatory. Let me add a little more context from two blog posts related to this.

Sam Lawrence of Jive Software has a nice post, 18th Century Twitter. A quote from his post:

Everyday thousands of employees miss the opportunity to find people who can make what they’re doing less redundant or more valuable. What’s the ROI of a fully networked, 100% connected workforce? What’s the value of having all those connections saved for others to profit from?

And John Tropea writes about 140 characters to knowledge share. He makes several points about how Twitter inside the enterprise (e.g. Yammer) is a powerful basis for surfacing knowledge. In this quote, he comes at microblogging from a blogging perspective, not an IM perspective:

Twitters value contribution to the knowledge flow-spontaneous, unpolished, work in progress, thinking out loud-lends itself to this type or quality of participation due to its brief, immediate, and intimate publishing format…let’s hope internal blogs generate the same calibre of tacit value without being hindered by their format.

The fact that John looked at services like Yammer from a blogging perspective as opposed to an instant messaging perspective illuminates a key difference between IM and Yammer.

When you know what you write is visible to everyone, trackable and does not have the burden of being “on point” to recipients, you’re somewhere between instant messaging and blogging. I think Sam’s post does a nice job of summarizing the value of that.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

 

Using Social Media In Hollywood – An Interview with MADtv’s Chris Kula

Chris Kula is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He currently writes for MADtv, seen Saturday nights on the Fox Network. I learned about Chris through an unusual connection – a link on my blog.

A few months back I wrote How to Write a Farewell Email to Your Co-Workers. The post ranks pretty high in the search engines, and is a consistent traffic source. It includes a link to a parody farewell email blog post by Chris, and I’ve noticed each week that many people click on that link. I was curious about who Chris is, so I reached out to him. He’s social media savvy, and I wanted to find out what’s happening in Hollywood these days with regard to social media.

First, some background.

Chris Is a Funny Dude

On Chris’s site, you’ll find a number of creative videos he’s put together, hosted on Vimeo. Check them out when you get a chance, they’re very good and are terrific displays of his comedic talents. These videos are Chris’s work done on his own time, not because he was being paid. Here’s one of Chris’s creations,”This Is Budweiser”:

more about “Chris Kula – This Is Budweiser“, posted with vodpod

Chris started Flickr Punch on blogspot. Flickr Punch is a site where Chris applies punch lines to pictures he and others find on Flickr. He includes several of these “punchlined” Flickr pix on the home page of his personal site.  Here’s one for Storm Trooper fans:

Finally, Chris has also written for the Onion News Network. Perhaps his best known creation for The Onion is Child Bankrupts Make-A-Wish Foundation With Wish For Unlimited Wishes. This spoof is so realistic, concerned citizens contacted the charity about the news. The Make-a-Wish Foundation issued a press release saying that the charity was indeed OK. Chris’s creation even earned its own Snopes page.

He’s Got Social Media Chops

Chris clearly knows his way around Web 2.0 and social media. Above I’ve noted his work with Vimeo, Flickr and Blogspot (Blogger).  He finds humor in Wikipedia entries in a couple of his videos. He maintains a Tumblr blog about food he eats. He has his own blog, and includes links to his Facebook and MySpace profiles.

I was curious about the role of social media in the entertainment industry. Most coverage of entertainment focuses on industry efforts to clamp down on copying music, TV shows and movies. But what about people that work in the industry? How do they use social media in their personal and professional lives?

I’m particularly interested because Facebook has attracted a solid user base, and now faces the work of penetrating parts of the market that are less likely to try social media. Twitter hit a growth inflection point in March 2008, and continues to move forward into the consciousness of the mainstream. So how is social media playing outside the technology geek hot house?

I asked Chris eight questions, which he answers below. Obviously, these are just Chris’s experiences, but they do shine a light on what’s happening in Hollywood.

Eight Questions for Chris Kula

1. You’ve got some great stuff on social video site Vimeo, and your Flickr Punch site is great. What made you create those?

When I was working crappy day jobs in New York, I was really proactive about creating my own online content – be it videos or photo caption stuff (like FlickrPunch) or writing on my blog. At the same time I was doing improv and sketch at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, but that was more an ensemble type thing; making web videos and producing blog content was my way of establishing my individual voice as a writer. I got my first comedy writing job (at the now-defunct Time Inc. website Office Pirates.com) based largely on the content I’d been producing on my own.

2. Looks like you stopped updating on Vimeo and FlickrPunch a couple years ago. Did your social media stuff tail off after getting a job with Onion News Network and MADtv?

Yeah, I started producing less of my own stuff once I started getting paid to write. So now I don’t get as much chance to do my own thang as I used to, but on the other hand, I’m able to pay my rent and, you know, eat. It’s a fair trade. (But, given the very fickle nature of TV writing jobs, it’s really only a matter of time ’till I am once again updating my blog with sparkling new content just for the pro bono joy of it.)

3. A couple years ago, The New York Times ran a piece about United Talent Agency sourcing new talent via social media. Have you seen an increase in studios/talent agencies’ use of social media to source talent in Hollywood? Are the next generation of people trying to break into Hollywood using social media a lot more, with link to examples of their work instead of portfolios?

Absolutely. I think that’s the number one thing you can do as a writer/performer type today: have an online presence. The potential audience you can reach online is just so great, be it on YouTube or something more comedy-specific like Funny or Die. And yes, that audience includes the suits – I know a lot of sketch groups whose online body of work has earned them agents, managers, pilot deals, magic beans, etc. There are still the “conventional” routes to getting representation – writing a spec script, or putting up a live sketch show – but now you should absolutely be posting your own videos *in addition* to working on that stuff.

4. What’s your favorite social network these days? Why?

I really should make Facebook the Home page on my Firefox, as it’s basically always my first click. I like that I can keep up with what my friends “are doing right now” in an entirely passive fashion. Highly useful: event invitations for plugging shows, photo/video tagging. Highly ignorable: invitations to become werewolves, vampires, zombies and/or slayers of these creatures. (My second favorite social network is Tumblr, and these days I check my Myspace only about once a fortnight.)

5. You and your friends ever tweet?

Twitter has yet to infiltrate my friends. How I’ve managed to survive this long without knowledge of Julia Allison’s every waking activity, I do not know.

6. I checked out your Tumblr blog, Kula Foods. It’s cool. You really like food, don’t you?

My food blog is quite literally an exercise in self-indulgence. Delicious, savory self-indulgence. I post all the photos and text directly from my Blackberry Pearl. I’ll keep updating it as long as my metabolism allows.

7. What do you think of Ashton Kutcher’s Blah Girls?

re: Blah Girls – As a celeb-obsessed teen girl, I’m so loving it! Annnd… now I’m so over it. LOL

8. You’re a big Michigan fan. Are they going to make a bowl this year?

As a proud-bordering-on-elitist Michigan alum and fan, I used to complain about how other major conference teams can win, like, six games and still end up in a bowl game. Cut to: present day – Michigan football is the shakiest it’s been in, oh, three generations and I’m praying that FIVE wins might get us into the prestigious Carquest Motor City Bowl. Go Blue?

Thanks Chris.

You can see Chris’s work on his blog, and on MADtv Saturday nights.

*****

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How to Mess with Bloggers’ Heads Using FriendFeed Lists

Steven Hodson, blogger extraordinaire at Winextra, posted this on FriendFeed:

“Okay this is cool .. someone has setup a Curmudgeons list and I’m apparently part of the list ROFL”

Inside the blue highlight box, you can see a referring URL that someone used to get to his blog:

http://beta.friendfeed.com/list/curmudgeons

That is someone’s List on FriendFeed. They’re put him into a List called “Curmudgeons”.

You can customize your own referral URLs with FriendFeed Lists. The tags you use for a blogger will be seen by that blogger as they look at their referral traffic.

Oh the possibilities…

  • beta.friendfeed.com/list/brilliant
  • beta.friendfeed.com/list/dumbass
  • beta.friendfeed.com/list/stop-blogging-about-twitter
  • beta.friendfeed.com/list/free-trial-of-viagra
  • beta.friendfeed.com/list/can-you-come-upstairs-for-dinner-please

You can create a List, click through on it, and the blogger will see your special anonymous message. Lists are easy to create and delete, meaning you can do it as much as you want.

So have fun with your favorite bloggers – send ‘em those subtle messages with the tags you use in your Lists.

But you don’t have to do that with me…uh…we’re cool, right?

*****

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Business Week Launches Info Sharing Social Network – Will It Float?

Business Week Magazine has entered the social networking world with Business Exchange. Business Exchange is built around the sharing of information and discussing it with others. Here’s how Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler described it:

“Business Exchange, a free online information hub, is a new initiative of BusinessWeek.com. It enhances the ongoing reporting and analysis of Business Week writers and editors in print and online by aggregating other sources of news and analysis (including other media brands, blogs, videos, and research reports). Readers can use it to track business trends, with hundreds of topics available at launch, or create a specific topic that’s not currently on the Exchange.

The best part is the social underpinning of this platform. Users (including our journalists and editors) can share their own knowledge about a subject to enrich each topic far beyond what any single person or search engine can accomplish.

Business Exchange is a mix of:

  • Social bookmarking
  • Forums
  • Social network

Business Exchange vs. FriendFeed

FriendFeed actually has a similar mission to that described by Business Week’s editor-in-chief. So I put together a quick comparison of the two sites:

FriendFeed feels like a hotbed of activity, the kind of site where you’re compelled to hit the F5 refresh button. Business Exchange is more staid, partly because it doesn’t yet have an active user base, partly due to its design. The key design points from the table above that make a difference are:

  • Bounce to the top – Adding a comment or a save doesn’t move an item to the top of the Business Exchange page for a given topic, losing that feeling of “what’s hot”.
  • Forced segregation of content – For a given topic in Business Exchange, you can look at News or Blogs or References. But you can’t take them all in at once.
  • View Saves by user – In the list of entries on Business Exchange, you can’t see how many times an item has been Saved. This information is available for an individual item. But it’s not an easy experience to see what others found valuable.

As seen in this discussion, community, conversations, variety and outstanding design are making a difference for FriendFeed.

That being said, Business Exchange is new and it’s beta. Let’s see what they are doing.

Business Exchange’s Features

Content is both streamed and added. Being streamed into Business Exchange seems like a nice bonus for a media site or blogger. Check out the difference below in the way these two items made it into Business Exchange:

The MyDebates post was “published” into the topic. The Soul of the Enterprise post was “added” to the topic. From what I can tell, designated media sites and blogs are automatically added based on either key words or tags.

Full Profile. You get a full profile page on Business Exchange. Work, education, picture and up to four links to other sites. It also shows your recent activity, which is nice.

Building a social network. You can’t search for other users. So you find them when they’re displayed as “Active Users” on the site, via the items they Save or Comments they make. It makes it a bit challenging to build out your list of subscriptions. Your subscriptions are simply a list, and you can click an individual to see their activity. There is not currently a way to see the aggregated activities only of your subscriptions.

Focus on Most Active. At different points on the site, Business Exchange gives a list of what’s most active. The home page tells you the most active Topics, and gives a list of Active Users. Each topic includes a list of Most Active, which does aggregate from News, Blogs and References.

The definition of Most Active inside a topic is probably based on the number of Views, Saves and Comments. You can see all of those stats for an item when you go to make a Comment. I like seeing those stats.

If You’re Business Minded, Check It Out

It’s early in the life of Business Exchange. Getting more users will, of course, make it a more interesting place to hang out. It doesn’t hurt that it hangs off the businessweek.com site, and that it can get periodic boosts from the print magazine.

I’m still learning the site, and maybe the Most Active tab for each Topic is the place to be.

My profile on Business Exchange is here. If you sign up, add me, and I’ll add you back.

*****

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