How do you build a successful business blogging strategy? I'd suggest following Macromedia's strategy. I've looked at several large software companies and Macromedia appears to be getting the best results in terms of search engine rankings, traffic, community building, product feedback and suggestions from customers from amongst the software companies I recently interviewed them during the Backbone Media Corporate blogging survey. Here's the background to Macromedia's successful strategy:
Macromedia's blogs were started three years ago to build a better community and send information to customers more quickly than existing channels. Over time, Macromedia discovered that blogs could be used for the development of their products. This shift in product development thinking was gradual, and eventually a big change in thinking about the Macromedia product development happened.
Blogging has completely changed the way in which Macromedia conducts its software development process. Before blogs, Macromedia would not release any product information until two to three weeks before the release day. (This was how most of the software industry worked.) Software development was a relatively closed process for Macromedia: some feedback was gathered from customers, but a lot of the work was completed inside the company.
Now Macromedia is using blogs to query customers on product feedback.
Mike Chambers, senior product manager, developer relations, explained that the Macromedia software development process, "was a very closed process, the blogs made it a more open and transparent process." Chambers had been working on the Flash team for about eight months, and the he thought it was very important to be working directly with customers on the development of future release updates. Chambers said, "customers use [our products] more than we do; they know them better them we do; we wanted to tap into that."
Macromedia realized there were big benefits, and manageable risks to opening up the process of product development to their customer community. Internal blogs helped to evangelize the idea of using blogs to encourage feedback and suggestions from customers.
Customers responded to Macromedia's request for their feedback by commenting on Macromedia blogs, and also by posting on their own blogs then linking back to the original employee post. Macromedia's request for feedback turned more customers into customer evangelists. Slowly, through trial and error, Macromedia determined how best to make blogs work for them.
Macromedia developed the following rules of thumb for their blogging strategy:
- Only those employees who have something useful to contribute -- with relevant and quality content in terms of product information -- blog
- It's okay to personalize, but only about as much as their employees would in a face-to-face meeting; employee bloggers stick to product info.
- Product managers ask for feedback on products and request suggestions from customers
- If Macromedia cannot implement a product suggestion, then they explain why
- The company actively watches online conversations about Macromedia, and when they see something that solicits a response, a Macromedia employee responds
Macromedia built a news aggregator that now has over 500 blogs, including 50 to 60 Macromedia employee blogs.
There have been no major issues for Macromedia in terms of negative PR or competitive intelligence losses, and the whole process of using blogs to communicate with customers for the development of new products has been a success. That success has come in terms of better products, more committed customers, more sales, positive PR results and higher search engine rankings.
An important factor that determines the ranking of a web page in a search engine is the number of sites linking to a web page. One of the biggest benefits from blogs to Macromedia has come from the higher search engine rankings. The blog posts of 50 to 60 Macromedia blogs has meant the company has more content on the web. Furthermore, since the posts are valuable to Macromedia customers, the company's blogs receive links from customers when the customers in turn blog about or link to a Macromedia employee blog post.
Chambers explained, "Weblogs will appear first on search engines, even before our site, because of conversations, we were getting linked." Through online conversations, Macromedia's blogs are getting a lot of links, which in turn is giving Macromedia higher rankings and producing more traffic from search engines.
The Macromedia Blog Aggregator
Macromedia developed a blog aggregator early. The aggregator has been running for two years, the second version is six months old. The aggregator contains all 50 to 60 Macromedia employee blogs and over 400 customer blogs. Content is syndicated into the blog aggregator as bloggers post. To be accepted into the aggregator, a customer submits their site. The site is then reviewed for content. Once the site is accepted, Macromedia doesn't monitor the content.
Before the aggregator, the Macromedia blog communities had grown so quickly that both employees and customers had difficulty keeping up with the community. The aggregator enables Macromedia employees and customers to filter through what's most popular to find the content they want to read. Customers can subscribe to daily, monthly and category RSS feeds in the aggregator.
An issue arose in the first version of the aggregator: bloggers were categorizing blog posts on technical categories, but the posts were off topic, with social commentary not related to Macromedia products. While the information was valuable for community discussion, a lot of customers check the aggregator 10 to 15 times a day, so when off topic feeds were included it would hinder a customer's experience. Users wanted a way to focus on the Macromedia-related content.
Macromedia developed a type of category called smart categories. Smart categories index the posts, analyze the posts for keywords appearing on the page, and -- based on the conversation -- put the post into a smart category. The smart category feature can also exclude off topic posts, not including content, or contain other language Macromedia wanted to exclude. Macromedia maintained the existing regular categories for community continuity, but positioned the smart categories higher up the left hand navigation on the blog aggregator page.
In the latest version of the blog aggregator, Macromedia's traffic has risen dramatically. Most traffic to the aggregator does not come from search traffic, but blogger direct traffic from links and RSS readers pointing to the aggregator.
The company's goals are to send traffic to the employee blogs and to develop more customers. Macromedia has achieved this by engaging their community with blogs, who in turn write posts with links to Macromedia, resulting in overall Macromedia search engine rankings increasing and rising. The aggregator has played a part in that by giving tools to employees and customers so they can find the content they want on employee and customer blogs.
Macromedia's blog strategy is working.
John Cass is the Director of Internet Marketing Strategies for Backbone Media, Inc., a Search Engine Marketing and Web Design Agency based in Boston. Cass was lead author on "Corporate Blogging: Is It Worth the Hype?" a 70 page study and website on the value and benefits of corporate blogging. The study reveals how such companies as Microsoft, Macromedia and IBM are using blogging. A member of the American Marketing Association, Cass is the 2005/6 President of the Boston Chapter of the AMA. Cass has been blogging at his PR Communications blog since 2003 and now run's blogsurvey at Backbone Media.
The "please delete me" email train wreck
I've seen this happen several times over the years. One time it took the intervention of the CEO to shut it down. This gets started when someone in a company or on an email list inadvertently sends an email to a much wider audience than intended. The first thing that happens is a couple of folks respond to all with funny comments. And then it happens -- someone hits reply all and asks to be removed from the string. And then another person does the same thing. Soon, recipient after recipient on the email string is asking to be removed. The irony here is that there would be no more spam resulting from the first email if everyone would just settle down. Listen, we know you need to publicly declare you are too important to be bothered by this particular email thread. But so do 50 to 100 of your closet colleagues. The best thing to do when this happens is to simply stay off the string and delete the emails as they come in.
The auto fill wrong recipient debacle
I recently received an email that the sender definitely didn't want me to see. How did that happen? I happen to be one of several Chris's in his contact list and because Outlook will auto fill the address if you aren't paying attention, I got the email rather than the intended "Chris." Most of the time the message sent isn't necessarily sensitive information you don't want falling into the wrong hands. But even when it's not, you may not be aware that the intended recipient never got your message. And that can cause you problems down the road. You need to really pay attention to the list of people to whom you are sending an email. In the name of convenience, Outlook makes it too easy to screw up.
OK, now that you've blown yourself up among your office colleagues, let's look at the ways you can do the same thing with your email subscribers.
The cross-channel disconnect
I had the pleasure of speaking with a customer service rep of a large American airline recently trying to change the dates of a flight I had booked. Now we all know they suck the life out of you with change fees under normal circumstances, but this time I thought I had out-smarted them by purchasing a first class ticket. Apparently at this airline, all first class tickets are not created equal, and mine came with a change fee. After sputtering to the agent "since the dawn of man, first class tickets have always been fully refundable…that's why they cost so much!" I was basically told, "Tough luck." Now this is an airline with which I have flown more than one million miles. It has an excellent email marketing program that is well tailored to the individual and their status and travel routines. From reading the company's constant stream of email, you couldn't blame me for thinking my business actually matters to them. But when push came to shove on another channel, the email goodwill built up over time was blown to bits in less than a minute.
The lesson for email marketers here is that you need to be sure that the way you treat your subscribers in one channel is matched in other channels as well. Because what happens in other channels can irreparably harm the email channel for which you are responsible.
I don' wanna know!
The art of suppression is one that is not practiced as much as it should be in e-commerce and email. Consumers expect every purchase they make to be instantly registered throughout a company's infrastructure. And yet, how often have you made an online purchase from a company only to receive a site wide sale notice the very next day (or something similar)? Whenever this happens to me, I hear the song by REO Speedwagon in my head:
"I don' wanna do what I'm supposed to
I don' wanna wear what I'm supposed to wear
I don' wanna, I don' wanna, I don' wanna know"
Because your customers really do not want to know that if they'd waited one more day to buy that winter jacket, they would have saved an additional 20 percent. It makes you look disorganized (or worse), and it makes your customer angry.
All of your site transaction data should be made available as quickly as possible (instantaneously isn't too soon) to your email marketing database so that suppression rules can be applied against certain campaigns to ensure they are not sent to someone who would rather not know about your sale/double points/bogo. An additional bonus to having the information available quickly is that beyond suppressing someone who just bought, you can also use that purchase information to send a more relevant communication to that person -- people who bought your winter jacket also bought this.
I'll see you in September
There's another important thing you can do with transactional data -- stop hammering your subscribers with "buy now" messages every single time you interact with them. Depending on the normal purchase cycle of your particular product or service, the time between purchase can vary greatly -- from days to weeks to even months (even longer than that for automotive marketers). You obviously don't want to go silent in between those purchase occasions, but neither do you want to have your subscribers tune you out because your messaging is of no value or use to them at the moment. Because once they tune you out, you're going to have a lot of trouble getting their attention once again.
So what do you do in between? You're going to need to find other ways to engage with them, and that's where content marketing can come in handy. And the good news is, I've already written a column on this very subject, so you can learn the tricks of the trade here.
I have no doubt that there are a lot more bad habits that I could list here, and I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. Some of the habits are things too many marketers don't do -- things like not sending a welcome campaign to new subscribers or not using transactional emails to cross-sell and upsell people who have just purchased from you. Other habits are things some marketers continue to do. Things like renting lists from the wrong people, not setting some sort of touch governance levels to avoid over-communicating to customers, or continuing to use a home grown email solution (I ranted about that recently). The email channel is not unique in the marketing world for having bad habits. Marketers have lots of bad habits, both in their places of work and in how they engage with their customers. But if you want to look better in your office and perform better with your customers, these five habits are a great place to start!
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