Blogging and Facilitating Conversation

A few weeks ago, I spoke on a panel at WordCamp Dallas where we discussed the concept of business and blogging. Three years ago, this would be breaking all precedents of marketing and PR, but slowly companies have figured out that the best way to cultivate a loyal customer base in the age of social media is via transparency.

Direct2Dell demonstrates a company that has figured out that conversation with customers is a valuable trust and brand builder. Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathon Schwarz successfully blogs in an ongoing conversation with Sun customers. Zappos Shoes is fanatical about their communication.

These are just a handful of corporate blogs that exist today. It’s increasingly difficult to find companies that do not have blogs and those companies would likely tell you that they don’t regret it one bit.

The old style of marketing and communications said that there were such things as “internal memos” where a company could say or do something internally and pretty much ignore what happened outside and chalk things up to being “internal”.

Realistically, though, the conversation about a company’s brand and reputation is going to happen anyway. Simply ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Facilitating that conversation in such a way that builds trust and confidence in the brand is crucial.

Today, it is ever more impossible for companies to not be “out there” and be successful. Podcasting and video are great new media tools to put a human, approachbale face on a company. The next key , of course, is to actually be approachable.

Organic Feed Reading

There is so much information shooting around on these interwebs that sometimes I have a hard time keeping track of all the conversations I want or need to be a part of.

Yes, of course I use Google Alerts to do vanity searches on my name, but I’ve found that in the past three or four months, I’ve got more value out of subscribing to search feeds. Now I search for everything – particularly on Google Blog Search. I’ve put much less focus on subscribing to individual site feeds (though I do that too), and instead search keywords and track them around the blogosphere. Actually, it’s been a fantastic way of keeping track of conversations and making sure I’d know about the conversations I need to be in.

I could see PR folks making use of search feed aggregation more than site feed aggregation. Do you use search feeds? Do you use them a lot? Have they begun to take up a significant portion of your reading patterns?

In case you don’t know how to get search feeds from Google Blog Search, this video demonstrates how.

Controlling the Conversation

Social media is all about conversation. Some people get that, some people don’t. Regardless, conversation is where it’s at if you want to have a transparent relationship with your readers, customers and community. Some people, by nature of the fact that they know how to control the conversation, are much more adept to have the magnetism necessary to succeed in the conversation.

Now when I say controlling the conversation, let me be clear. I don’t mean telling people what to talk about and being an arrogant twit in having that conversation. I mean, be transparent and honest. People love that because it makes you approachable. On Twitter, for instance, there are people who cause me to notice them even when they say something completely insignificant. Chris Brogan is one of those. Jason Calacanis is another.

These are folks who are outside of Twitter as well, and that is good. Meeting them at conferences, reading their blogs, following their trends makes for a global reputation that attracts people to them. When they speak, people listen. A great example of this was last week when the Yankees were on the brink of elimination by the Cleveland Indians.

There are an abnormal number of Red Sox fans on Twitter, myself included. While the Sox fans caused lots of commotion and beat our chests alot, Jason taunted us one time with, “Let’s go yankees! Clap clap… Clapclapclap! Bring the Sox :-)”.

There is nothing particularly significant about this Tweet. Another Yankee fan talking shit (they all do that!). What was significant about this Tweet was the engagement J-Cal commanded. I know I sat up and gave him a quick one-liner. Others playfully threatened to boycott Mahalo. Whatever the reaction, Calacanis commanded the conversation with one line. He caused reader engagement.

Do you cause readers to engage?

On Facebook, do you ask your friends questions that taunts them to engage? Do they engage? On Flickr, do you post photos that create conversation? Do you meet people at conferences, or simply attend as many sessions as you can? It’s one thing to listen. It’s another to engage.