Archive for September 2008

How Print Strategists Can Integrate Social Media.

September 4, 2008

Social media reminds us of soccer in America about 25-years ago. Youth leagues across the county were playing the game. It was inexpensive, fun, good exercise and even the youngest players could handle the fundamental skills of running and kicking a ball. Soccer was a grassroots, community-based movement that flew under the radar for a time while attracting millions of participants.

Social Media is a grassroots movement with many of the same characteristics. Its draw is the ability to share personal human stories on a grand scale. Participants relate their own experiences to others of like interests. These conversations can and do encompass product/service experiences and recommendations allowing for powerful viral marketing and sales referrals.

Social media tools offer a way to participate in dialog outside your own backyard. Let’s start by looking specifically at one tool that’s been around the longest: blogs. We’ll discuss other important tools, like social networks, in subsequent issues of Print Strategist.

Blogs in General.

Blog is short for weblog, or websites that use a dated log format with the most recent entry listed at the top. Most provide alternative views on a variety of subjects, and the top bloggers challenge traditional offline media counterparts for both readership and advertising.

As recently as 1999 only 23 blogs existed. Today’s worldwide blogosphere is more than 75 million, though some authorities believe the number of active blogs is more in the 2-4 million range. Forester Research says that approximately 25% of adult Americans read a blog every month.

The proliferation of free weblog-creation software helped blogs gain their immense popularity. Originally link driven, the new blog software made longer text entries possible. While many blogs remain primarily textual, there are also blogs devoted to:

  • Videos (vlog)
  • Photos (photolog)
  • Portfolios of sketches (sketchlog)
  • Links (linklog)
  • Brief posts and mixed media (tumblelog)

Corporate Blogs.

These can be used internally to enhance the communications and culture within an organization or externally to help achieve branding, marketing or public relations objectives. Many organizations keep a blog on their website. These blogs usually contain content appealing to the demographic that the organization seeks.

The content may primarily relate to the activities of the organization, or it may have very little to do with the organization itself. Frequently, a blog will focus on the kinds of content likely to attract the desired web surfers, even if that content is not related to the product or service that the company provides.

More often, though, the content is at least a mix of subjects with business-related posts carrying the heavy load. For example, Mike Critelli, executive chairman of mailing solutions provider Pitney Bowes, covers a wide range of topics in his “Open Mike” blog.

Most topics do relate to his business with commentary on subjects like “Environmental Impact of Mail,” but a few are more personal in nature and reveal a bit of the chairman to his audience. In Critelli’s words, “In spite of my obvious passion for the mailstream and the industry I have been a part of, I will comment on a broad range of subjects, including some of those I have called out in my biography.” How you structure your blog, as well as who does the writing, really depends on your objective.

Print Strategist is a blog as well as an e-newsletter. We post newsletter articles to the blog and use an online tool from StatCounter.com to provide weekly pageloads per day, unique visitors, first-time visitors and returning visitors. We use WordPress’ blog stats as an additional source of information for gauging the popularity of particular topics and to track clicks on links within the articles.

Blog-site Advertising.

If you don’t want to start your own blog but would like to reach the targeted audiences of other blogs, you can use Bauer Associates to handle ad placement. We try to match marketers with independent blog owners and their highly valued audiences. But keep in mind that a desire to advertise doesn’t automatically mean you will be accepted. Many of the best niche-community blogs are not owned by corporations and are more likely to pick and choose whom they will associate with their blog.

Relevance is critical, and blog owners often engage with marketers to share thoughts about what might work best for their readers and communities. That’s because authors generally require approval of every campaign in advance, which also helps deliver a valuable endorsement about your product or service from the blog’s leadership.

How to Get Started.

A good way to begin is by subscribing to other blogs in your market category. Technorati and Google Blog Search are among the leaders in blog search. Technorati can list search results either by authority or by date. Authority is important to consider in evaluating a blog, because the higher the authority—translate “popularity”—the more impact the posts and comments will have. Once you identify the blogs you want to track, “really simple syndication” (RSS) makes subscribing easy.

What if Your Social Media Skills Aren’t so Terrific?

Bauer Associates can help you develop and implement a social media strategy. We can identify high potential opportunities, set up blogs, create videos, craft offers, develop landing pages and provide metrics. For more information, email Print Strategist Larry Bauer.

— by Larry Bauer

Social Media Pros & Cons.

September 4, 2008

Social media is a vast experiential toolbox containing communication, collaboration and multimedia tools for sharing user-generated content. Here are some of the pluses and minuses of social media tools in general.

Pros

  • Opportunity to show your human side—that you’re more than a business.
  • Demonstrates a willingness to be open with customers.
  • Potentially fertile new marketing ground with still limited competition.
  • Participants tend to be early adopters—more likely to interact with vendors and offer feedback to improve your products and services.
  • Presence builds loyalty among early adopters—often rewarded with referrals and leads—high potential of viral marketing.
  • Ultimate relationship-building opportunity.
  • Can help your executive team gain a better customer perspective—particularly those normally without direct customer contact.
  • Can help you monitor complaints that don’t make it to or through the service desk.
  • Good vehicles for increasing brand awareness and driving website traffic.
  • Presents opportunities to learn about problems early and correct them.
  • Can improve your reputation as an authority—opportunity to promote and spread ideas.
  • Effective for building relationships with targeted audiences.
  • Versatile—can be used to build both internal and external communities.
  • Search engines love social media such as blogs, because the engines have a passion for frequently updated text and links.
  • Offers a variety of tools that can be used to provide interactive training for your products and services.
  • No specialized technical skills required.
  • Relatively low capital costsi.e. you can set up a blog virtually for free.

Cons

  • Can be time intensive—demands frequent content updates and at least daily monitoring of comments.
  • ROI is not immediate and direct—you’re building relationships, so get used to measuring traffic, page views, links and comments as well as intangibles like community “buzz” and conversations.
  • Relevance is everything—better have something interesting to say.
  • Risk of your organization sounding like it has multiple tones and positions.
  • Risk of non-communications people doing the communicating.
  • Discomfort of not completely controlling the brand message.
  • Plenty of excellent content still gets overlooked.
  • Potential for developing the “wrong crowd” of friends.
  • Can work against you as well as for you.
  • Still difficult to reach mass audiences—these are more 1to1 technologies.
  • Lots of unknowns.

And the Winner Is…

YOU. Technology tools are expanding each day, and that’s good news for your company. There’s no reason to hop on all of the social media bandwagons, but it’s worth your time to consider the benefits of each alternative in helping you achieve your organization’s marketing goals. Likewise, it’s important to understand how your customers are using social media.

One thing we know for sure is that the marketing landscape is changing rapidly. Smart printing companies don’t get caught on their heels while the market sprints ahead. Sometimes you never really catch up. So our recommendation is to get off the blocks when it comes to social media. Remember, websites were once an unproven tool.

Social Media Tip: If you worry about how much time incorporating social media tools might take from other activities, investigate software tools such as Firefox extension MeeTimer or RescueTime, which tracks the time you spend at different sites. Use the data to determine how much time you will spend at each community based on interest and benefits received.

— by Larry Bauer

Blog Design and Writing.

September 4, 2008
  • Brand expression: Integrate your brand look and feel into your blog using a custom theme designed specifically for your brand. You’ll look professional and readers will more easily recognize you. Just remember, your blog doesn’t and shouldn’t look exactly like your website because its purpose is different. Consider your corporate blog your brand’s outgoing sister who makes friends easily.
  • Use standard blog interface design principles: Increase usability among blog readers by sticking with what they know and use:
    • Incorporate the topical tags and categories for quick sorting.
    • Include relevant links to other related sites or blogs in the sidebar.
    • Customize your CSS to choose a highly readable font and size.
    • Include your authors’ names.
    • Above all, keep it clean and easy to read.
  • Be unique and useful: That’s the goal. Your brand is about more than product details or specs. Open a dialog with actual buyers of your brand and be prepared to learn, expand and be surprised.
    TIP: Also be prepared for any negative brand feedback. You can moderate reader comments so they don’t appear right away but avoiding negative posts will look bad. It’s also likely to result in brand bashing on other non-moderated forums that you don’t control. It’s best to address criticisms openly and up front in this brave new world.
  • Become a better writer: Communicating in writing is completely different than oral presentations or interviews with a trade journal. Keep your sentence length under control and use the active voice. Additionally, be aware of non-disclosure agreements and financial regulations that guide what you can write. And if you’re uncomfortable writing, you can always have a ghostwriter express your ideas.
  • Be real: Skip the company mission statement and other corporate-speak on your blog. This is about having real conversations with real people. Authentic conversations incorporate everyone’s personalities and engage at a level not possible if you write blog entries in the same voice as your annual report. Writing in the first person helps to naturally encourage authenticity.
  • Have a plan: Most blogs close down in three months. You can ensure the longevity of your blog and readership by enacting an annual editorial plan along with allowing the spur of the moment posts. Make sure the topics planned reflect your company’s product releases, are integrated with your PR releases and have specific people assigned to handle writing and posting.
  • Think like an analyst: Set up a Google Analytics account to monitor your blog and ensure your blog template is search-engine optimized.

— by Julia Moran Martz

Upcoming Newsletter Topics.

September 4, 2008

Just a few of the topics we’re working on for future newsletters:

  • Tips for creating the all-important identity brochure.
  • Ideas to improve your trade show results.
  • Using research to improve your bottom line.

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