I spoke to Andrew Heavens from The Times (London) last week about corporate blogging and CEO blogs in particular. The resulting article is here - unfortunately, The Times restricts access when it comes to foreign web users (how annoying!), so here is an excerpt and what I had to say to Andrew.
Go back on the hippo's back...
One of the most important lessons for aspirant corporate bloggers, according to Big Blog Company associate Jackie Danicki, is how to write. Lesson One: drop the corporate speak. “It’s not just getting on your blog and talking about ‘This is why our product is the best and you should buy it’. That is not the point and people see through that.
“You basically have a lot of CEOs who are sitting there and writing about what they know. Also adding personal things in, talking off-topic, about their holidays. ..It gets readers to feel an affinity.”
Public relations website thenewpr.com currently lists 80 up and running blogs by CEOs, the bulk of them based in France and America. So far, the only UK blog listed is run by none other than the Big Blog Company. But that will change, says Ms Danicki. “We will catch up. It took us longer to get broadband too.”
Executives start blogging for a number of reasons, according to Ms Danicki. They want to raise their personal profile. They want to reach out to customers and members of their own staff without going through official channels and PR departments. They want to be seen as a forward thinking company up to date with the latest trend.
They also want to chew over ideas and share thoughts with other people in their field.
There are currently about four million blogs out there, according to the Big Blog Company, with another 15,000 added every day. The entire “blogosphere” is split into thousands of self-sustaining universes focused on particular areas from venture capital (try Fred Wilson’s - http://avc.blogs.com/) to sheet metal manufacture (Tinbasher - http://tinbasher.blogspot.com/). The bloggers within each universe spend large parts of their time commenting on each other’s posts, taking on ideas and leaving questions for others to answer.
That cross-pollination across the blogging network can lead to some unexpected results. “The real value is things that you don’t expect,” says Ms Danicki. “I know from our perspective, the amount of people we’ve ended up talking to and doing business with just simply thanks to our blog is amazing. Producers in Hollywood. People from publishing companies in the States. People who in another time without this network we would never have made contact with.”
What is a blog? It’s personality. A prosthetic device for your entire being.
- Henry Copeland at iBreakfast on 22nd September 2004
I have been talking to a Big Media journalist about blogs over the last few days, and some interesting viewpoints have emerged from the conversation. We started out talking about how blogs and journalism differ from and complement one another, and ended up talking about why that is relevant to corporations and other organisations.
In journalism, you have a large number of generalists trying to produce authoritative, extremely reliable content about subjects that may be incredibly complicated. Some of them can manage it; many of them cannot. If our interests are in an educated public as a result of journalists producing the most informative and accurate reporting possible, then the tendency of many journalists to misinform - despite what may be the purest of intentions - cannot be ignored as simply “how journalism is”.
This is why blogs as a PR/crisis PR tool can be so crucial to so many organisations and businesses: There are a large selection who know that they rarely, if ever, get a fair hearing in the soundbite culture. If your argument is more complicated than “4 legs good, 2 legs bad,” forget it. Companies that deal in serious and complex issues - especially scientific or economic ones - usually do not fare well in mainstream media representation. If the argument cannot be summed up in simplistic terms that require only scant knowledge of the industry, then regardless of the fact that your organisation is right and the other side is shamefully misinformed (and possibly actively seeking to misinform people), you lose the debate in the public’s eyes.
This is what happens when you rely on other peoples’ media to disseminate your message. Especially when your message is not simplistic enough for supposedly informed journalists to grasp, let alone the audience, you do not get a proper hearing. The business case for using your own medium - a blog - that allows for rapid and widespread distribution of your message, to say what you need to say, how you need to say it, is hugely compelling. The fact that blogs allow you to work inside the news cycle makes it even better.
By the way, I can think of one example of this off the top of my head: British Gas has been raked over the coals recently for increasing prices, but I know for a fact (a trusted business associate of mine is quite close to one of the higher ups) that British Gas has been doing everything it could for the last two years to keep prices down for its customers, and have their backs against the wall on this one. But hey, that angle might take a bit more knowledge and understanding than the usual “Big company hates its customers, eats babies at shareholders’ meetings” reporting, so it doesn’t get told. That’s not the kind of journalism we need.
And it’s not the kind of journalism these corporations need. But they cannot just wait for journalism to reform itself. They need to employ their own medium, their own blog, to explain themselves and foster an understanding of where they are coming from, how they got there, and where they are going next. Relying on traditional media to act as an intermediary between your organisation and the public has never worked as companies have hoped it would - the control has always resided with one party (hint: not the party that had to do four years of j-school just to learn how to report). Companies now have a new way of circumventing that process to spread their message much more effectively than ever. As Sun Microsystems’ COO Jonathan Schwartz has said:
There’s no fundamental difference between giving a keynote speech in Shanghai in front of 30,000 people and doing a blog read by several million people.
There is a fundamental difference between sending out hundreds of press releases and doing a blog: People will actually read your blog. They will then most likely pass the link on to others, getting more people to read your blog.
As crisis PR firm Sitrick & Company’s strapline says: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you. Instead of only having your say in media that belong to other people - and other interests - take your message to the people.
Make the most of a cutting-edge technology that allows you to reach a network that cannot be ignored.
Let the members of that network spread your message for you.
Make it easy for them.
From the comments to a post on blogs and journalism at Harry’s Place:
I read this and a number of other blogs. Some of them are frighteningly good, with an extraordinary amount of information in them and often very well-written. It seems to me that there is a kind of information and opinion continuum of which we paid people are now only one end. And not always the better end.
So sayeth David Aaronovitch, Guardian and Observer journalist and the What the Papers Say awards’ Columnist of the Year. If Aaro ain’t Big Media, I don’t know who is. He is also a credit to his profession, and entirely correct in what he says above. The faster other Big Media types learn to accept this, the better off Big Media will be.
See also: It’s the blogosphere, stupid.
tBBC is pleased to announce the launch of the Ideal Government blog for our clients at Kable, one of Europe’s leading providers of publishing, research and events in the public sector. As the blurb says:
You’re a web user. What do you think ideal e-enabled public services should look like?
The UK is spending a lot of money and effort computerising government. Let’s get a clear idea what we want it to look like when it’s done. Dream a little, and help set out the wish list. Otherwise we might end up with something we do not want.
Ideal Government will be a four-week online brainstorming session via blog, with thousands of civil servants invited to participate. Members of the public are also welcome to have their say - as commenters and, with the agreement of the Ideal Government team, as contributing authors on the blog. In the end, the best ideas (duly credited) for how e-enabled government services should work will be sent to the Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as other key politicos, the UK government’s new CIO, Ian Watmore, and efficiency review process boss, John Oughton.
It will be interesting to see how this experiment goes, and we are very happy to help Kable engage the blogosphere to get the ideas and input they are after. Best of luck, chaps!
A quote on the network effect of blogs, in relation to how blogs beat Big Media at CBS, from Frederick Turner:
Instapundit was getting over 400,000 page views a day at the height of the controversy; if one multiplies that by the number of other major blogs, the days the storm raged, and the amplification of word of mouth and talk radio, one is talking about near-total penetration of the US population…
What we saw was an extraordinary example of what chaos and complexity theorists call spontaneous self-organization. Out of a highly communicative but apparently chaotic medium an ordered, sensitively responsive, but robust order emerges, acting as an organism of its own. Suddenly a perfectly-matched team of specialists had self-assembled out of the ether.
Those specialists and enthusiasts are already out there, and they are growing by thousands each day. What that means for CBS and Big Media is bad news: There is a huge network of informed members of the public who will not take their reports as gospel - and whose network is powerful enough to bring the truth to the rest of the world’s attention. It’s no wonder that some mainstream journalists do not welcome that network with open arms; it means more work for them.
What that means for businesses is much better news: The blogosphere, that network of blogs at 4 million+ and 15,000 new ones each day (source: Technorati.com), does not consist of just political blogs or just kitty blogs or just food blogs or just travel blogs or just fashion blogs or just wine blogs or just car blogs or just shopping blogs or just makeup blogs. The blogosphere contains all of those sorts of blogs and bloggers, and much more besides - some of it so obscure that one is forced to wonder, Who writes this stuff? More to the point, who reads it? Frankly, that thought crossed my mind when I saw the air conditioning contractors’ blog.
Who reads and writes that stuff? People who are into those kinds of things. I run my own multi-contributor food blog as a hobby - with food journos, authors, professional chefs and amateur home cooks alike writing for it - of which most people can see the appeal. But when I reveal that I also write for a transport blog, I get some funny looks. Who cares about cars and trains and stuff?, I can see them thinking. (Also, possibly: Man, what a geek she is.) But there are plenty of companies who want to be talking to people who are into cars and trains - like, say, automobile companies and train operators. As I have said before:
Within the wider network, within the wider blogosphere, there is a more specific (though not wholly identifiable) network, a more niche curve in the blogosphere, where your company should probably be engaged.
If the Dan Rather affair doesn’t demonstrate how quickly the blogosphere can spread a message, nothing does. I wonder what the business case might be for not tapping into that network to spread your message? Damned if I can think of one.
I’m gearing up for a combined work and pleasure trip to Paris, and it has only just struck me that my first thought when I’d booked my tickets was, let’s see what blogs have to say about where I should go in Paris. (And I am sure that I would have thought that prior to buying my tickets, if I hadn’t had an expert booker do that for me, for free - all online, of course.)
I have been to Paris before, but I would never assume I know all the best places - hardly. While there, I will be seeing my dear friend Clotilde, she of the world famous food blog, and my travel companion is someone who is half-French, owns a flat in Paris and has spent a fair amount of time there himself. Still, as he and I have pored over the information the blogosphere has offered up to us about the city, even he has discovered things about Paris that he did not know.
First stop (after blogger Clotilde, of course): Fodors’ travel blog search results for Paris. Second stop: syndicated writer Amy Alkon’s blog - Amy and I have a mutual friend in journalist blogger Catherine Seipp, and I know through Cathy that Amy is frequently in Paris. Amy had a huge repository of information on hotels, restaurants, where to get free WiFi (La Coupole, the café section, Montparnasse), and lots of other great stuff.
I don’t know if I can cram everything into this trip, but being a short train ride away from Paris, I won’t necessarily have to - but my travel will definitely be more frequent now that I know just how much there is that I must see and do there. The travel companies that recognise the benefits of offering this kind of information - permalinked, hooked into the network we know as the blogosphere, and truly engaged with their customers and potential customers - will have a huge edge on their competitors.
In light of Dan Rather’s apology and admission that he and CBS news screwed up - an apology and admission that would not have been forthcoming if not for the blogosphere - I think it is time to revisit two recent comments on this whole deal. The first, from Tech Central Station’s thoughtful piece entitled Hayek Smiled: Why Blogging Works, reads:
In 1997 CBS falsely reported that a US Customs agent was corrupt. It took three years of investigation to clear his name. It won’t take a month to get to the bottom of this one.
The same article points out the flaw in the big argument of traditionalists against the blogosphere’s ability to fact-check the asses of big media, which basically posits that because no one “controls” it, no one can control it from disseminating the most outrageous rumors and conspiracies:
This traditional criticism of the internet has now been aimed at the blogosphere and is embodied by big journalists like Jonathan Klein who, while defending the CBS story to The Weekly Standard remarked, “You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of check and balances [at ‘60 Minutes’] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.” Klein misses the point that it’s not whether you can trust some guy in his pajamas, but whether you can trust a spontaneous system of thousands of guys in their pajamas trading information and imparting small, sometimes deceivingly insignificant, bits of information.
What we’ve seen in the last few years is a gradual refutation of the Klein myth, that “Big Media” is more capable of sorting the truth than are 3,872,561 blogs. Slowly but surely a loose network of bloggers is sometimes beating the designed, controlled systems of checks and balances at deciphering what’s true and what’s not.
Author and journalist Virginia Postrel weighed in on September 13th (and my, doesn’t that seem ages ago in blog time?), saying that bloggers are editors:
What CBS has learned over the past few days is that its editors aren’t good enough. Nowadays when stories go public, they get checked by after-the-fact editors with expertise in every field imaginable, and that checking gets published to the entire world via the blogosphere...That those memos managed to get on national television without a caveat about their reliability suggests a complete breakdown of both journalistic instincts and journalistic process.
You shouldn’t need bloggers to catch errors like this. But it helps.
Talking to a friend of mine tonight about this, he said to me, “Yeah, that’s one really good thing about the internet. Once a site is big enough, it has experts in almost anything among its readers.” But that’s not the really good thing about blogs: The really good thing about blogs is the blogosphere. A site need not be published from some monolith in order to have knowledge and competence behind it - or reading and commenting on it. I mean, heck, there are even blogs for sheet metal enthusiasts out there, now. That network of knowledge, connected more powerfully and widely than ever, is the big deal when it comes to blogs. Sure, the ability to self-publish is revolutionary, but it’s what can be done via that technology that is really world-changing. The node is not stronger than the network.
And this one comes from a meeting held right here at tBBC HQ:
I have a PR budget, but I haven’t spent one penny of it yet. I really do not see the point of paying a PR agency when you are already doing your own PR, using your blog.
So said a high-level executive of a certain software company when we spent some time with him earlier today. Agree or disagree, this is the attitude that many are taking once they see the power of the blogosphere and what it is possible to achieve when a company engages it. How the PR industry adapts to this shift in thinking is up to the PR industry.
A few years ago, I worked as the website editor for a company whose customers were HR departments and their expat employees. One of the value-added aspects of our offering was regularly updated, relevant news on the issues that mattered to HR professionals and to globally mobile workers.
In order to get hold of this news, our company had a monthly subscription to Lexis-Nexis. We started off with a discounted rate of £1200 per month, and after a year we were paying £2000 a month.
Now, Lexis-Nexis is a great resource for many companies - if you can take advantage of enough of its offering to justify the cost. All we were after was the latest news that was relevant to our target audiences; we had no use for the years of newspaper archives or the public records access or any of that. The management consultancy and marketing ‘experts’ who were calling the shots thought that this was good value for money.
I’ll leave that discussion for another time, but last night it struck me just how much money we would have saved if the blogosphere had been thriving back then. I would have been spoilt for choice when it came to news for either of those audiences. Is Lexis-Nexis happy about the proliferation of blogs and the boom in that vast network of free news and other resources, or are they taking a music industry-style If the world is allowed to change, we might also be forced to change with it - and that we cannot have approach? I don’t know, but if enough companies have caught on to the fact that there are better uses for their budgets than buying news from Lexis-Nexis, I will be watching the evolution of their business very closely over the coming years. (Yes, years: They offer enough value that I think they’re in for the long haul. But I anticipate some kind of business model alteration in response to recent developments.)
Lots of good stuff in defence of small talk from David Weinberger, Suw Charman and Stowe Boyd at Get Real. In case people still need reminding in 2004: Employees are people, not workbots with motherboards and hard drives where their brains and hearts should be. The company that devalues informal social networks not only devalues its employees, but limits its own success.
Speaking of which, Perry and I had a nice meal at ASK last night when I returned from seeing our friends and clients at the ASI. Several non-work-related subjects were discussed, and we also came away with plans of action for several projects, but it would have been worthwhile even if all we’d done was talk about our favourite colours and what trees we’d be if we were trees.
Venture capitalist David Hornik writes on Ventureblog:
In Service Based Computing, devices are not the brains of the operation. They are just pretty little end nodes on a smart data network. The real horsepower is going to be delivered in the network through managed services… Fat pipes and elegant devices make it possible to deliver immense services to the edge of the network but the real work is going to get done in the network, not the device.
See also: The node is not stronger than the network. I find myself saying that a lot these days. It’s nice to be in such esteemed company.
I still haven’t heard Friendster’s side of the story. Have they told it somewhere that I’ve overlooked?
Friendster reminds me of an infant who can’t figure out that, just because he can’t see the jack-in-the-box once it’s stuffed inside and the lid is closed, it doesn’t mean that the jack-in-the-box ceases to exist. The lid was blown off this story long ago, and Friendster is still pretending that the jack-in-the-box isn’t there. For a company whose business is social networking, Friendster has a very tenuous grip - at best - on the fact that not showing up for the conversation does not mean that people aren’t talking about you.
...I propose that all war memorials to the dead are knocked down and replaced with war memorials to the survivors (the people who did their job PROPERLY), not to all the idiots who couldn’t even parachute into a barrage of gunfire and manage to carry on living. After all it was not dead men who liberated Paris or shot Zulus (in that equal tussle between guns and spears) or captured Saddam Husseins. The people who were dead were no use at all (I would almost go as far to call them lazy, but certainly unhelpful) and should be ignored and forgotten...And when they’re being thrown into their graves, [there] shouldn’t be ceremony or flags or 21 gun salutes. No, a man should just sarcastically shout, “Oh thanks a lot,” and then add “For nothing” in case anyone hasn’t picked up on the sarcasm. And then punch their grieving widows in the face for good measure. And let that be an end to the whole embarrassing episode.
So says British playwright, author and comedian Richard Herring on his blog, Warming Up. Yes, it is meant to be funny. No, do not send us complaint comments or emails if you do not personally find it funny.
I talked to Richard about his blog recently, and he tells me that as well as the increase in traffic to his site (it has nearly doubled, with the one million mark looming after less than two years online), his blog readers have helped him to raise more than £8,000 ($14,000+ US) for charity. On a really cool note, more than 8000 of his blog’s readers around the world contributed to his book and one man show entitled - and let us clear our throats here again - Talking Cock. Richard adds to that:
Obviously a lot of those people would have come to the shows or bought the book.
Summing up his experiences with and feelings about his blog, Richard says:
[I]t has helped keep a dedicated army of fans interested in what I’m up to. And thus has some promotional benefits, though that’s not why I really started it....Generally I think it makes great sense to do a blog from my point of view. It keeps fans in touch with me and what I’m doing...[P]eople seem to love reading personal stuff...[P]eople do seem to get well into these things.
That they do.
In addition to keeping existing fans abreast of what Richard is doing, his blog has also helped him to create new fans. And just check out how many blogs are linking to his. For a British comedian whose humour is far from the mainstream, that is saying something. In an age of unfunny jokes forwarded to us from our older family members for whom the novelty of email has not worn off, a truly hilarious comedian engaging people via a blog is giving a better name to the concept of humour on the internet. If I could only get Chris Rock (warning: audio plays upon opening) to dump the slick-but-good-for-absolutely-nothing Flash site and start blogging, then Richard Herring’s blog might have some competition in the online comedy stakes.
We had dinner here last night with a familiar face at tBBC HQ: Alan Moore, who blogs for his company, SMLXL.
As always, the food was fantastic, the wine bountiful, and the conversation stimulating. I was slightly cheered when, after Alan pointed out that the word blog is kind of funny and hard to take seriously in a business context, I responded:
Yeah, well, that’s what they used to say about the word Google. Now? Not so much.
I hope that Alan will elaborate on the SMLXL blog on the idea, which he spoke about at length last night, that branding professionals need to move away from the touchy-feely, brands-are-an-opportunity-for-a-social-love-in attitude and address more concretely the financial issues that surround branding. I have a feeling that the brand bloggers in our midst may have a thing or two to say about that one.
One thing we talked about was how certain industries are dying on their feet - and doing absolutely nothing about it. Why? Because they don’t do change - and no, I don’t mean handing out pennies and nickels. For instance, just how many times does the music industry have to get pounded by the dynamic changes that are affecting its bottom line before the guys in charge decide to stop trying to halt progress and start figuring out how to adapt to an evolving world? As Alan put it, they need to realise that the choice is to hold on as long as they can, doing what they have always done, or do something clever and live to fight another day.
For some companies - or entire industries - this means taking an honest, hard look at what’s broken. This isn’t an activity that most will be eager to undertake, especially if it could mean the culling of high-paid executives at the top - which probably has more than a little to do with the fact that these evaluations aren’t done as often as they should be.
What more than a few may find is that the kid who delivers the mail or makes the tea actually has more value to offer them than the MBA-possessing bullshitter with the corner office, company car and expense account. In a similar way, giving the guys on the bottom a voice, especially in a top-heavy organisation, can reveal value in a company that the powers that be never knew they had. Obviously blogs - internal and/or external - are an extremely good way of ripping the top off a company and exposing where the real value lies. And I daresay that the companies that have the courage to do this will be much better off than the ones who are afraid to peel back the lid and find nothing but rot and hot air. But how long will the latter type of company last anyway?
Daniel pretty much sums it up:
I have a job that makes you lie. To everyone. All the time. It’s tearing at my soul.
Check out the lie-filled email he had to write to one director who has produced what Daniel calls “the worst, most offensive movie I’ve ever seen,” which he closed with:
Thanks and best,
[too humiliated to sign my own name]
But at least it gives him good fodder for amusing blog posts.
What I am hearing from these execs is that whatever benefits they imagined would come from blogging have been more than surpassed - and, in many cases, they just were not sure that any tangible benefit would come of it. As Five Across founder and CEO Glenn Reid told me:
I was unconvinced that it would be worthwhile, that no one would ever read it, so what would be the point?
...I was still not convinced that it was valuable to the business, but I type very fast, I’m a pretty good writer, and I thought: what’s there to lose? I have been quite amazed by the response, I have to say. People really are reading my blog, people I’ve never even met - like you! - and, well, it surprises me even now.
That is all well and good, some might say, but what does that mean to the bottom line? Show us the metrics! comes the usual cry from the traditional business contingent.
Expanding your network and giving the business greater visibility and credibility isn’t enough - we need to see numbers
Glenn Reid reports that, apart from the increased traffic to the company website (which is certainly measurable), there has been another significant boon to the business as a result of the blog:
My blog delivers results comparable to our Google ad campaign in terms of delivering visitors to our site, an unexpected benefit!
Those are metrics that any cake decorator (as an IT Director friend of mine refers to marketing people) should sit up and take notice of. As Glenn put it to me:
My take-away is that you can’t predict or control the network effect…
That may be scary to some people - Spend money without knowing exactly what the ROI is going to be? There’s some risk there! To me, it’s far from scary: It is perhaps the most exciting element of what is possible with emerging technologies like blogging and RSS. I have written here before about the unpredictably beneficial, pleasant results of this network effect, and I could write a hundred more posts about other such connections. As movie blogger Stephen Reid keeps saying:
The node is not stronger than the network.
Not every company needs a blog, but every company needs the support of a network. Some companies make the mistake of thinking that their node is strong enough to circumvent or even topple the network - just think back to AOL’s ‘walled garden’ delusions only a few years ago. They thought that their content could supplant or compete with the entire internet.
The network that each respective company needs in order to succeed will vary. We have had conversations with enough people to know the usual objections - My company doesn’t need to engage with angsty teenage bloggers! Our customers and industry peers are high-level executives in a very specialised area! - so I will utter something that should go without saying: Within the wider network, within the wider blogosphere, there is a more specific (though not wholly identifiable) network, a more niche curve in the blogosphere, where your company should probably be engaged. If the curve is currently unoccupied, be the seed that kicks it all off and watch the flora flourish.
Ignore the network at your peril. Engage it and reap the benefits.
Wednesday evening saw some of the good people we collect (as Adriana puts it) descend on us for an evening of blogtalk, good food, copious amounts of wine, and - as always - plenty of emergent value that we could not have predicted would come from the evening before it happened.
Rocking up to tBBC HQ for the night were Alan Moore of SMLXL, Kate Whalley and Adrian Bailey of PeopleFanClub (yes, you have read about them here before), as well as tBBC tech maestro Dominic and his girlfriend Clara Zermani, a very clued-up communications scientist (yes, really) from Italy.
Rest assured that blogging was only one topic of conversation for the evening - we do know how to talk frivolity. (That said, at the point when we were all laughing at Johari Window jokes - “Alan, thank you for sharing your love of Marilyn Monroe-emblazoned accessories with the group. That was a bit of information that used to reside in your facade, but is now in the arena. This may not be an entirely good thing.” - one had to wonder at our sanity.)
Clara was telling us that she is interested in customer-focused brands. She reads the SMLXL blog, so she has probably read Alan’s recent post on how customers use brands, not the other way around. You should, too.
Companies need to recognise that the value of their product or service is increasingly in the role it plays in consumers’ lives. It is in the every day that real value is found.
Companies that are information rich have an asset which they can offer to their customers in more meaningful ways. Be that retailers, financial services, travel companies, media etc. It is more of a question of sitting down and thinking through what this value is that can surround a product or a service. Tesco‘s is a good example of a company that has worked at unlocking and creating value to the benefit of its customers & shareholders. For example: 72% of all UK expectant mothers sign up to Tesco’s baby club.
Alan Moore is exactly right in what he says about brands finding their everyday value to customers and using it to benefit them and shareholders. Engage by making yourself truly useful, instead of enraging by making yourself truly intrusive. Exchange value for value and let everyone reap the rewards.
That is kind of what we try to do at these dinners and parties, and considering that people keep coming back, we must be doing something right. (The wine helps, I suspect).
One thing I have learned over the years since I emigrated to the UK from America is this: In the age of the internet, being 3000+ miles away from your family does not necessarily mean that you escape knowledge of the minutiae of their daily lives. (Just as importantly, I find that I don’t want to escape the minutiae of their daily lives. Learning about it makes the distance between us seem far less than it is.)
So of course, when my parents decided to get the carpets in their home cleaned, I knew all about it. Today, my father emailed me with a full report on how things went:
The carpet cleaning went well...The guy said it was fairly easy to do so he did a few extras like clean four rugs we have at no charge. He also left me some spot cleaner. He even cleaned our little rug we have in the garage before you go up the steps. Needless to say, he has the right idea to encourage repeat business.
Looking more closely at the site, I was surprised to find a lot of valuable information that Personal Touch is giving away for free. There’s a guide to the most common carpet stains and how to remove them, a tutorial on different styles and fibres of carpets, and tips on how to keep your carpet clean. (I never knew, before reading that, that you’re supposed to vaccum carpets in both directions. So there’s my value take-away from their website right there.)
This site ought to be a blog. Jeff and his employees could blog on a regular basis about different jobs, show satisfied customers with their clean carpets, inform and pontificate about new developments in fibres and styles, talk about disgusting or funny pet-related stains, announce special offers...there is lots of scope for good content here. Running ads in the local media is one thing. But using Personal Touch’s own medium - their website, in the form of a blog - to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, and to establish themselves as experts in the field, would take their business’s success to a whole other level.
Personal Touch is selling its competence - in order to employ (and re-employ) their services, people have to believe that Jeff and his staff know their stuff, know what they’re doing, and will do a good job cleaning their carpets. Scope for repeat business is high, which is why Jeff has figured out that making customers happy is worth doing - he wants people to be pleased with his services and to evangelise his company to other potential customers. Giving them valuable content that is easily linked to and passed around, updated on a regular basis and often amusing, would make that customer evangelism a million times easier and more infectious. Air conditioning contractors are doing it, so why not carpet cleaners?
Blogs are not just suitable and beneficial for monolithic, global companies. If an evangelistic customer like my father has me, all the way in London, totally sold on this small business and its services, imagine the value in making it even easier for local customers to evangelise to local potential customers.
Personal Touch’s website oughta be a blog.
We got together this morning at tBBC HQ over muffins, fresh cut mango and copious amounts of coffee with Alan Moore and Axel Chaldecott of SMLXL, as well as Adrian Bailey and Kate Whalley of PeopleFanClub.
The bunch of us see each other fairly regularly, and I am pretty familiar with Alan and Axel’s business, but today was the first time that I had had the chance to see the nitty-gritty of what Kate and Adrian do for companies. By the end of our time together, my hand was somewhat sore from note-taking, and my head was buzzing with ideas. (No, really: I was the only one who abstained from coffee.)
One of the important points behind what Kate and Adrian do for organisations via PeopleFanClub is the fact that, in trying to improve teams and teamwork, many companies ignore completely the individual. Anyone who has ever been on a “team away day” or retreat will likely be familiar with all of the probing into how one sees the company’s values, or the team developing, or the company moving forward...with no consideration given to the individual’s values or goals or aspirations.
This reminded me of the tired line, often fed to us at sports practice when I was growing up in America, that “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team.” Total disregard for the individual for the sake of the group is taught to children as axiomatic. Leaving aside how truly disturbing that is, let us concentrate on what utter garbage the idea is. As we were all talking about it this morning, I could not help but think of someone who makes a sandwich with bread from the bakery that was once good but allowed to mould, fine meat from the butcher that has been sitting out on the counter for a few days, cheese from the fromagerie that has been poorly stored and so dried out, and organic, gourmet mayonnaise that has not been refrigerated. The person then sticks the sandwich in a plastic baggie and leaves it on the dashboard of their car in the hot sun all morning. And when they are finally hungry and take a bite of the thing, they’re surprised that it tastes like crap (and maybe makes them ill). Okay, so it’s not the most brilliant analogy, but that’s what I think of when I hear of companies who expect to produce great output with components that, while they may be of fine quality at their core, have not been treated properly and so cannot be expected to deliver the kind of results the organisation wants and needs.
Adrian and Kate also talked a bit about the idea from research done by psychologists Richard Ryan, PhD, and Edward Deci, PhD - and central to the self-determination theory - that the intrinsic motivation of individuals flourishes when three key human needs are satisfied: competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
People feel competent when they get feedback on what they say and do, and when they are able to respond effectively to challenges they face.
People feel they have autonomy when they feel they are trusted - “empowered,” even (it is a word that has been abused by far too many, but it is still appropriate) - to take initiative, to learn and develop their own skills and talents, and to explore and expand their horizons.
People feel relatedness when they can tell that others are sitting up and taking notice of the fact that they are doing good work and thinking interesting, clever thoughts.
Far be it from me to be a blog bore, but it seems fairly obvious that these three needs are all met when a company opens itself up and lets selected employees use a blog to talk to the world about what they do, what they think about what they do, what they think about what others in their field are doing, and about the new things they’d like to be doing. The benefits of blogging are not just felt in the areas of a company marketing itself and relating to the public; the very people who are producing those benefits will also feel the benefit, and - no small matter, this - deliver a tangible commercial pay-off to the organisation when their needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness are being satisfied in this way.
Oh, and you can achieve this with a blog that is either external (public) or internal (exclusively engaging those within an organisation).
So it was an interesting morning all round: I learned some new things, had some new ideas, and was further assured that there really is more to this blogging thing than most people realise - even though the b-word never actually came up.
And the muffins weren’t bad, either.Go back on the hippo's back...
In his piece Olympic Sized Arrogance, Dan Gillmore paints a vision of the future:
Look past today’s technology. What’s coming will utterly wreck the Big Media monopoly over Olympic images, and all Big Event images. When all spectators have a high-quality video camera in their phones, will the powers-that-be ban phones? Unlikely. But even if they could ban phones that are obvious, what will they do when we’re carrying video cameras in the buttons on our shirts, and when our eyeglasses contain phones or other transmitting devices?
This reminded me of something I observed the other night at a Madonna concert in London. All around us, people were whipping out their mobile phones and sending still photographs and video of the show to their friends and family. When the first person did this, security told her to stop. But before long, there were so many people waving their phones in the air and using them to broadcast their impressions of the gig to those not present that security gave up trying. They could not stop the flow of information - it wanted to be free and it was.
American Olympic athlete Scott Goldblatt is blogging for NJ.com and at his own personal blog - despite the International Olympic Committee’s ridiculous ban on blogging for competitors, coaches, and anyone else involved with the games. As Jeff Jarvis puts it, the IOC is saying they do not have any right to free speech and can speak only through journalists. Dan Gillmore goes further:
This is about greed, nothing more and nothing less. It is about the historically corrupt International Olympic Committee’s desire to please the giant media organizations to which it has sold “rights” to tell and show the world what is happening.