Back in July, Audrey Reed-Granger, a Whirlpool Corp. marketing executive learned about podcasting while listening to a story on National Public Radio. The former television news producer approached her boss and told him that this was something that Whirlpool should be doing - but it shouldn’t be focused on the companies products, Instead, they should feature interviews with “real people - moms balancing work and family, dads staying home to raise kids.” Thus was born American Family, a series of podcasts developed and sponsored by Whirlpool brand appliances. The discussion-based podcasts address matters that impact families with diverse backgrounds and experiences. The podcasts feature real, everyday people and/or subject-matter experts. Each American Family podcast explores a range of issues affecting today’s families including but not limited to parenting, education, career, health and relationships. Audrey Reed-Granger, Whirlpool brand’s director of consumer insight, moderates the podcasts.
When I tried this out a few weeks ago, my blog was worth (according to the algorithm) around $500 dollars. In just a few weeks, it has more than doubled. Now, if only I could get that type of performance with my 401k.
The dollars are based on an anlysis of what AOL paid for Weblogs Inc. coupled with the number of other blogs that link to your blog as measured by Technorati. Click on the link provided to try it out for yourself.
In my last post I took a look at IBM’s blogging guidelines, a collaborative effort by IBM’s bloggers based on what they felt was important both for them and for the company. Sun is another company that is encouraging their employees to blog and providing them with the tools to do so. Listed here are Sun’s blogging guidelines. You’ll notice a lot of similarities to those outlined at IBM. Kudos to both Sun and IBM for encouraging their employees to be a part of the industry conversation.
Many of us at Sun are doing work that could change the world. We need to do a better job of telling the world. As of now, you are encouraged to tell the world about your work, without asking permission first (but please do read and follow the advice in this note). Blogging is a good way to do this.
Advice By speaking directly to the world, without benefit of management approval, we are accepting higher risks in the interest of higher rewards. We don’t want to micro-manage, but here is some advice.
It’s a Two-Way Street The real goal isn’t to get everyone at Sun blogging, it’s to become part of the industry conversation. So, whether or not you’re going to write, and especially if you are, look around and do some reading, so you learn where the conversation is and what people are saying.
If you start writing, remember the Web is all about links; when you see something interesting and relevant, link to it; you’ll be doing your readers a service, and you’ll also generate links back to you; a win-win.
Don’t Tell Secrets Common sense at work here; it’s perfectly OK to talk about your work and have a dialog with the community, but it’s not OK to publish the recipe for one of our secret sauces. There’s an official policy on protecting Sun’s proprietary and confidential information, but there are still going to be judgment calls.
If the judgment call is tough-on secrets or one of the other issues discussed here-it’s never a bad idea to get management sign-off before you publish.
Be Interesting Writing is hard work. There’s no point doing it if people don’t read it. Fortunately, if you’re writing about a product that a lot of people are using, or are waiting for, and you know what you’re talking about, you’re probably going to be interesting. And because of the magic of hyperlinking and the Web, if you’re interesting, you’re going to be popular, at least among the people who understand your specialty.
Another way to be interesting is to expose your personality; almost all of the successful bloggers write about themselves, about families or movies or books or games; or they post pictures. People like to know what kind of a person is writing what they’re reading. Once again, balance is called for; a blog is a public place and you should try to avoid embarrassing your readers or the company.
Write What You Know The best way to be interesting, stay out of trouble, and have fun is to write about what you know. If you have a deep understanding of some chunk of Solaris or a hot JSR, it’s hard to get into too much trouble, or be boring, talking about the issues and challenges around that.
On the other hand, a Solaris architect who publishes rants on marketing strategy, or whether Java should be open-sourced, has a good chance of being embarrassed by a real expert, or of being boring.
Financial Rules There are all sorts of laws about what we can and can’t say, business-wise. Talking about revenue, future product ship dates, roadmaps, or our share price is apt to get you, or the company, or both, into legal trouble.
Quality Matters Use a spell-checker. If you’re not design-oriented, ask someone who is whether your blog looks decent, and take their advice on how to improve it.
You don’t have to be a great or even a good writer to succeed at this, but you do have to make an effort to be clear, complete, and concise. Of course, “complete” and “concise” are to some degree in conflict; that’s just the way life is. There are very few first drafts that can’t be shortened, and usually improved in the process.
Think About Consequences The worst thing that can happen is that a Sun sales pro is in a meeting with a hot prospect, and someone on the customer’s side pulls out a print-out of your blog and says “This person at Sun says that product sucks.”
In general, “XXX sucks” is not only risky but unsubtle. Saying “Netbeans needs to have an easier learning curve for the first-time user” is fine; saying “Visual Development Environments for Java sucks” is just amateurish.
Once again, it’s all about judgment: using your weblog to trash or embarrass the company, our customers, or your co-workers, is not only dangerous but stupid.
Disclaimers Many bloggers put a disclaimer on their front page saying who they work for, but that they’re not speaking officially. This is good practice, but don’t count it to avoid trouble; it may not have much legal effect.
Tools We’re starting to develop tools to make it easy for anyone to start publishing, but if you feel the urge, don’t wait for us; there are lots of decent blogging tools and hosts out there.
There was a good Financial Times article out last week called Who’s afraid of the big, bad blog?. In the article, Kevin Allison writes about the struggle corporate executives are facing as they try to get a handle of the soaring popularity of weblogs and how to incorporate them into their own businesses. One observation he makes is that “some companies have begun to find ways to interact successfully with the blogosphere. The key to success, it turns out, is to take the company out of the picture and let the employees do the blogging.” He notes that even when employees come out with statements about their companies or products that might make the PR department cringe, this “warts-and-all” approach is what experts say is necessary to becoming a credible participant in the blogosphere.
The article concludes with an overview of how blogging has taken shape at IBM.
When IBM decided to encourage its 320,000 employees to start blogging, it asked them to develop a set of simple guidelines themselves. The result was 11 core principles, which IBM published in March.
James Snell, an IBM blogger and software developer, described the process: “The final draft was polished up a bit by the corporate communications and legal folks, [but] the bullet points were written by IBM’s bloggers based on what they felt was important both for them and for the company. In other words, this isn’t a policy that IBM is imposing upon us, it is a commitment that we have all entered into together.”
IBM’s guidelines read more like a list of best practices than a rulebook. Along with the obvious advice about not sharing company secrets or commenting on sensitive financial information, they encourage IBM bloggers to use their real names, state their position in the company and stick to writing about what they know.
IBM’S HOME-GROWN BLOG GUIDELINES
When IBM decided to encourage its 329,000 employees to start blogging, it asked employees to develop a set of guidelines. The core principles – written by IBM bloggers over a period of 10 days using a collaborative internal web page or “wiki” – drew on the employees’ own experiences and best practices at other companies.
IBM’s core blogging principles:
■ Know and follow IBM’s internal conduct guidelines.
■ Be mindful of what you write. You are personally responsible for your posts.
■ Use your real name and state your role at IBM when writing about IBM-related matters.
■ Use a disclaimer stating that your postings do not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
■ Respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.
■ Do not leak confidential or other proprietary information.
■ Do not talk about clients, partners or suppliers without their approval.
■ Respect your audience. Do not use profanity or ethnic slurs.
■ Find out who else is blogging about your topic and cite them.
■ Do not pick fights, and correct your own mistakes.
■ Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective.
Swickis are search engines that are tailored to you and your community. They learn from your users and show what’s hot. Derived from, I’m guessing, “Search Wiki”, a swicki is a natural extension of personal publishing on the web. Just as you can create a webpage, blog, or podcast, now you can publish your own search engine, tailored to produce only targeted search results that you and your audience care about.
I created the swicki that is located at the bottom of the right side-bar. In just a couple of minutes, I was able to train the swicki to pull only results that are relevant to the topic of “online community”. The swicki shows a buzz cloud of what my audience is searching for and makes it easy to find the best content, news and info on the web. The search results from the swicki are much more focused than a general search engine and the swicki will continue to learn and adapt, anonymously and automatically, based on the terms that people type into it. Over time, I can continue to fine tune the search results by promoting sites I know are useful or excluding sites from search results that are not relevant.
The swicki is currently in beta, but the folks at Eurekster are looking for people to try it out and provide them with feedback. You can build your own swicki and add it to your website by going to the Eurekster Swicki Home Page. Try it out and let me know what you think.
One of things I want to do in this weblog is to highlight successful online communities and the community managers who help make them successful. Christine Halvorson, Chief Blogger at Stonyfield Farm graciously agreed to be my first interview. We sat down (virtually) earlier today to discuss her work on the Stonyfield Farm Blog.
David: How long have you been blogging for Stonyfield Farm?
Christine: When blogs burst into mainstream consciousness, our company CEO, Gary Hirshberg, immediately saw that this new tool had great business potential. Stonyfield hired me in March, 2004, specifically to launch and write five blogs, which debuted on April 1, 2004. We’ve shuffled the five around a bit, and now there are four. One is written entirely by an organic dairy farmer, while I write and produce the other three. All four are geared toward certain target groups–1) women 2) people concerned about junk food in schools and healthy eating for children 3) parents of very young children and 4) people interested in organic agriculture and organic food.
David: What are you and Stonyfield hoping to achieve through blogging?
Christine: We want to maintain a conversation with our extremely loyal consumer base, in a real and authentic way. We are a company that has a vision–that we can do well by doing good in the world–and we hope that our consumers can join us in those efforts, tell us what they think, and help us in our mission.
David: How successful have the blogs been in meeting your goals? Do you use any metrics to measure success?
Christine: We’re aren’t very concerned with metrics, though we do want to be providing the type of content that interests people. The ones who come to read our blogs tell us they love them, especially the one from the organic dairy farmer’s point of view. It gives them a glimpse into a different world, an insider’s view of our company, and a place to come and “talk” and meet with others who are like-minded. Our page visits grow slowly, yet steadily, in addition to a subscriber base which receives each post directly into their emails (not necessarily what every reader wants, but we like to offer the option).
David: What type of feedback have you received from people?
Christine: Our readers, as noted above, love to come visit, rant, chat, and learn in this real way. We’ve engaged them with polls, questionnaires, etc.–even sought their advice on who they would see as an “authority” in a given field. The person they recommended is now one of our spokespersons!
David: What advice can you give other companies who are thinking about publishing corporate blogs?
- Don’t do it because everyone else is doing it.
- You can not approach blogging with an attitude of fear. I hear this so often–”What about the legal implications? What if someone writes
something bad about you for all to see in the blogs? What if we don’t have time? What if we have nothing to say?”
If you have nothing to say, you shouldn’t be thinking about blogging. If you’re overly concerned about legalities, you shouldn’t be thinking about blogging. If you don’t have time, hire someone specifically dedicated to the task–but not a marketing, advertising, or p.r. person. Hire someone who can write and grasp things quickly. That’s all! People may post bad things about your company. You still have control over this medium. You can hit the “delete” key any time, but a more likely scenario is that you will engage your readers in a conversation and this will produce positive results.
David: Christine, thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
Christine: Sure. Happy to do it!
In September, Newsweek wrote an article about Mini-Microsoft, an anonymous blogger who works for the software giant. Mini-Microsoft is on a personal mission to “slim down Microsoft into a lean, mean, efficient, customer-pleasing profit-making machine.” Mini-Microsoft had a small, thoughtful audience until Businessweek profiled him in their September 26 issue. (”A Rendezvous with Microsoft’s Deep Throat” ). Since then, he has made CNET News.com’s Blog 100 list and the traffic to his blog has gone through the roof. Posts which had previously gotten up to 50 comments from readers spiraled to over 200. And with them, the comments went from largely respectful to downright mean and disruptive. So much so that Mini-Microsoft had to suspend comments for a while. “I grieve the loss of comments, as I’m sure a lot of you do out there,” Mini-Microsoft wrote. “It was just becoming harder to find the gems in the middle of the egregious brain-misfires.” On October 24th, he turned comments on again but now finds himself spending a lot more time on comment moderation.
This past week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver hosted the 19th Annual Conference on Women and Families in Long Beach, California. The annual conference honors women and families for their leadership and activism. This year’s theme was “Women as Architects for Change: Lessons on Leadership, Activism and Family.” Speakers at the event included Sandra Day O’Connor, Tom Brokaw, Barbra Walters and Billie Jean King.
This year, Sun Microsystems partnered with conference organizers to set up an online community where attendees and the broader community can actively participate and form lasting communities of interest both during the event and beyond. The Sun-powered, online communities allow participants to communicate with each other through message boards and interactive online chats with community leaders.
“Connecting communities and fueling collaboration has been the core of Sun’s business since our inception and we are proud to be able to provide the resources that can serve as the online center of gravity for event attendees,” said Ingrid Van Den Hoogen, senior vice president, Brand Experience and Community Marketing, Sun Microsystems. “Sun has a long and successful track record supporting issues that positively affect women and families, so we are pleased that our efforts at this conference will help the women of California to advance and address key social and business issues by allowing them to share their experiences, skills and ideas.”
While many companies are starting to look at how blogs might fit into their corporate strategies, the folks at Stonyfield Farm have been blogging for the past year and a half. The Stonyfield Farm Blog is actually a set of four blogs that Stonyfield uses to create tighter relationships with its customers, and with consumers who have not yet been converted.
As the third-largest yogurt distributor in the United States, Stonyfield is always looking for innovative ways to get its message across that don’t require multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns. “It is all about our relationship to our consumer. It is all opt-in; people are choosing to read it or not. We’re not forcing you to buy more yogurt,” said Cathleen Toomey, Stonyfield’s vice president of communications, during an interview last year with Line56. “The more you know about our company and the way we operate in the world, the more loyal we think you will be.”
Three weeks ago the second annual Web 2.0 Conference took place in San Francisco. Over 2000 people crammed into the Argent Hotel to listen to executives and entrepreneurs from Internet giants and other innovative companies discuss their plans for transforming the way we use the web and do business. To many it must have felt like 1998 again: venture captialists were handing out business cards, people were talking about “eyeballs”, and instead of talking about starting one business, entrepreneurs were talking about starting three. But now there are new buzzwords - words like “B2B” and “push technology” have been replaced with terms like “user-generated content” and “AJAX” (which Kevin Maney, technology columnist for USA Today, defines as “an acronym for something you use to get money from venture capitalists). It’s great to see that “Tech is back!”. Whether another “bubble” is on the way remains to be seen. But what is clear is that the web continues to evolve providing new ways to entertain, educate, make money, save money and connect us all.
Most simply put, Web 2.0 refers to a perceived transition of the World Wide Web from a collection of websites to a full-fledged computing platform serving web applications to end users. Proponents of this thinking expect that, ultimately, Web 2.0 services will replace desktop computing applications for many purposes.
The term was coined by Dale Dougherty of O’Reilly Media brainstorming with Craig Cline of MediaLive to develop ideas for a conference that they could jointly host. Dougherty suggested that the Web was in a renaissance, with changing rules and evolving business models. Dougherty gave examples — “DoubleClick was Web 1.0; Google AdSense is Web 2.0. Ofoto is Web 1.0; Flickr is Web 2.0.” — rather than definitions. He recruited John Battelle for a business perspective, and O’Reilly Media, Battelle, and MediaLive launched the first Web 2.0 Conference in October 2004.
According to O’Reilly, Web 2.0 can be compared to Web 1.0 in this way:
|Web 1.0||Web 2.0||Utility|
|personal websites||blogging||Personal pages|
|Evite||upcoming.org and EVDB||Event planning and RSVP|
|domain name speculation||search engine optimization||Business promotion|
|page views||cost per click||Ad pricing metrics|
|screen scraping||web services||Content syndication|
|content management systems||wickis||Content management|
|directories (taxonomy)||tagging (”folksonomy”)||Content classification|
In his paper What is Web 2.0? Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Sofware Tim O’Reilly dicusses the key themes of Web 2.0. In short, these are the things we can expect to see:
- The web will become a platform where users control their own data
- The web will be used to capture and categorize our collective intelligence (through wikis, blogs, tagging, etc.)
- Data becomes the “Intel Inside”, and there is currently a race on to own certain classes of core data (e.g., mapping information)
- No more software release cycles since the Internet offers software as a service and not a product
- Complex, proprietary software applications will be replaced by “lightweight”, open-source programs that can easily be hacked and remixed
- New web services will offer rich user interfaces and PC-quality interactivity