Sunday, September 25, 2005

The "Experts" Are Wondering About Ghost Blogging

PR "gurus" are wondering (from the website and blog of Morgan McLintic). His thoughts are specifically about PR firms, but his questions are fair. I may not agree with his conclusions, but the thought processes are fun to kick around.

I've been discussing the acceptability of ghost-writing blog posts on behalf of clients lately with other PR firms and industry insiders. Now that blogs have been on the cover of BusinessWeek, many companies I talk to are seriously evaluating their blogging strategy. However humble and niche-focused, most companies feel that a blog would help them communicate and provide an additional vehicle for interaction. The constraint is, of course, time. Who is going to update it? Many CEOs and senior execs simply don't have time. Or rather, at present, it's hard for senior execs to prioritize blogging given the benefits are hard to quantify in hard commercial terms. That may change, but for now there is a void, an unfulfilled need. And that spells opportunity for PR firms.

PR agencies already write opinion pieces on behalf of senior execs which are published in print magazines. They help write the letters to editors which are published in newspapers. They already draft speeches given directly to target audiences at conferences. They script soundbites for broadcast interviews. Is it such a leap to imagine a PR firm ghost-writing blog posts on behalf of a client CEO? But how long will that last? As the number of corporate blogs increases and new rules are made, At present, while blogging is still in its infancy, the watchword of transparency must be obeyed. The active corporate community is small enough to be self-policing and we're not quite ready for ghost-written blogs. We know speech writers help presenters, but given the intimate nature of blogs, we really want to feel like we're connecting directly with the author. It would seem a betrayal to learn that someone else crafted those words.

I wonder if we'll lose that transparency among the noise. At the moment, you'd have to state that the post was written on behalf of the author or approved by the author. In future perhaps that will be taken as given. And perhaps it's better for the CEO to have someone ghost-write a blog on their behalf based on a short conversation, than not to have one at all? Do we care if their wisdom and vision comes wrapped in another's words?

How long will it be before a high profile corporate blog turns out to be written by
someone other than the author? Will we be offended? Is it such a crime given
other common communications practices? At the moment, probably yes. In future,
maybe not.

Here's what I'm thinking. As a ghostblogger, I'm not trying to deceive anyone. I'm not trying to convince readers I'm someone I'm not. I ghostblog as the "voice" of an organization. An interested party whose desire it is to communicate. I'm not the CEO, or pretending to be. That can be clearly delineated up front. I am not speaking "for" anyone. I'm speaking as the organization, or more specifically, the heart of an organization. That's an important distinction.

I represent the people and philosophy of my clients. Agencies try to convince people that they do the same. Some do, some don't, but that's not the point. A blog should never, repeat NEVER be an advertisement for your organization. You'll lose whatever credibility you were hoping to gain from having a blog. It should never be deceptive or misrepresent. You'll probably not see any short or long-term benefit. Consumers of blogs are generally more sophisticated and will see through it. Actually, more correctly, consumers of blogs are more cynical. They know that there are loads of BS travelling the information superhighway, and they are harder to convince your 'vehicle' isn't full of it too!

So what I'm saying is that what I believe is the future of blogging, and ghostblogging in particular, is an honest conversation. Whoever blogs has to understand that, and be committed to doing it.

Let's discuss how to take your organization the the next level of communication.

Friday, September 23, 2005

A Simple Technology

This post is just really a reminder. In the wake of the hurricanes that have devastated the gulf coast, it's been fascinating to follow some of the impromptu blogs that have sprung up from that area.

I just want to encourage you to see the immediacy that blogs have, and the good they can do. Just imagine that for your business. The stakes are not nearly as high, but the point, I believe, is well taken.

Please continue to keep the millions affected by these storms in your prayers, and donate what you can when you can.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Business Blogging That Reaches People

If you're more than just someone who uses a blog to vent, rant, or inflate your ego, your goal is communication. If you're brave it will be 2 way communication.

The best way to communicate is to be genuine. Now, for corporate types, who are always looking over your shoulder, being genuine is not a bad business strategy. It's not unlike what I try to teach my children. I am adamant about them not lying. It's bad on so many levels. But, in this day and age of terrible things happening to people, being truthful - or genuine - doesn't necessarily mean giving everyone access to every bit of information.

To appropriate people, give appropriate information. If someone is not "appropriate" then don't reveal inappropriate information. It's the same for business. Give appropriate information to those who have a vested interest in it. To those that don't, don't.

Being genuine won't torpedo your boat, it will set you apart from the crowd. It might be a challenge to have to tell someone to their face, or in a public forum that they aren't an "appropriate" person for certain information, but that's the price for genuineness. It's a price that will bring great returns in the vast majority of cases.

Now, if you're a Defense contractor, etc., maybe blogging isn't the best choice for you, but for most organizations, a case can be made for it. Let us make it to you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Economics Of Ghostblogging

OK, I know, that sounds like another euphemism, like "Sanitation Engineer" in place of garbageman, but hear me out.

Likeminded entities can combine resources, mission, and message, while still being very specific in their focus. Here's a couple of examples:

I'll be meeting next week with the head of a not-for-profit organization that has similar goals and core values as a number of others in a particular area of the country. My pitch to them is to start a separate on-line presence that meets all of their shared "mission objectives" and to split the cost between all the groups. Simple math really (see, this 'blogging' thing doesn't have to be difficult. Heck, life doesn't have to be as difficult as some of us make it).

The separate on-line presence is to provide some distinction between this new venture and each original one, but without creating another legal/business/beaurocratic entity. We're trying to make life better for these folks, not create more paperwork.

The additional benefit of a ghostblogger is the ability to communicate in a distinct, yet consistent voice.

Now for those who turn up their noses at the notion of someone outside of an organization becoming an honest voice for it, I offer this thought:

If you were to hire a person to do your PR/Marketing/Media Relations, would they not know little about your organization at the start? There would be a learning curve, n'est ce pas? (6 years of French...).

It's the same with a ghostblogger. There will be a learning curve, but a passionate professional can take something that begins as a distant concept and make it his or her own, if they really want to. All it takes is desire.

Find out how deep our desire is.

Monday, September 12, 2005

CEO Blogs - Is That All There Is?

As a part of my research to see what my "market" is up to, I'm finding a tremendous amount of information dealing with 'Executive Blogging'. A CEO starts a blog on the company site and...well, acts like a CEO on a blog, I guess. But blogging for a business means more to me.

Many of the CEO blogs are IT related. Software or technology companies that seem to want to be able to be the first on the block with the latest tech "gossip". Well, software and technology companies are not the only types of businesses out there. In fact, they're a very small (but vocal) part of the business world.

I look at blogging in a number of very simple ways. Tony Dowler captures the essence pretty well on his blog. Again, he's focusing on CEO's, which I think is limiting, but the points are still well taken.
  • A blog builds credibility - if you do it well!
  • A blog shows you're an expert - it you're not though...
  • A blog demonstrates you'll talk honestly about your business - and why wouldn't you?
  • A blog builds recognition for your name - your company's name?
  • A blog is a great way to deliver information
  • A blog is responsive
  • Blogs are excellent value added marketing
  • Blogs give you the opportunity to provide a customer with useful information, and let them know that there's more where that came from
  • A blog builds a body of writing
  • A blog gives you a chance to say something and say it well in a place where others can appreciate it
One of the very simple ways I use this blog is that as I'm trolling for work, I just send people to this site and let them look at what I'm doing. It's better than a resume because it's always changing and growing. It's not a static web page, or a boring list of my "accomplishments". It's almost a "living" document. So far I'm very happy with the results. I only expect more.

Now, it's your chance to jump on the bandwagon with our help.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Strategic Blogging Basics

Sally Falkow at Website Content Strategy put together a nice overview of 'things you should think about before you start blogging' (my title). I like.

The 'just do it' approach may work well in many other fields, but I am not so sure it's the best advice when it comes to corporate blogging. If you don't have specific goals in mind you'll never be able to measure the effectiveness of your blog.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you rush in where angels fear to tread.
  • Do we know which key journalists are blogging?
  • Do we know which keywords or phrases we want to be found for in the news engines and news sites?
  • Do we know which keywords, in which news engines and new sites, bring us the most qualified traffic?
  • Does our business depend on building relationships with customers?
  • Do they need to have a strong interaction and trust level with our brand?
  • Does our company have a strong point of view and/or opinions that we’d like to have heard in the public conversation?
  • Are we ready to participate in the public conversation and deal with public
  • Is our company is prepared to be open and transparent?
  • Would we be comfortable if our employees were to speak about the company in blogs?
  • Do we have definite, measurable goals we believe can be achieved by blogging?
  • Do we have the resources to achieve this – time, writing talent, enthusiasm,
    new content on a regular basis, understanding of the blogosphere and the search engines?
  • Have we thought through the pros and cons of hiring a full time blogger – or
    engaging a blog consultant?
How to get started.

Using these questions as a starting point, hold a strategy session and identify:
  • The goals you want to achieve with blogger relations and corporate blogging
  • Who the key influencers are
  • Who your target audience is
  • What content would hold their interest
  • How many blogs or feeds you will need to meet these content requirements
  • What keywords do your audience use to find this kind of content - and think about journalists doing researchonline for a story, as well as other stakeholders
  • What keywords and phrases you’d like to dominate in the search engines
  • What keywords and phrases you’d like to be found for in the news engines
  • Resources in terms of time, money, content, talent and enthusiasm
  • Top management buy-in for the project.

That should give you something to "chat" about at your next office get together! To chat with us-

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Blogging As "Thought Leadership"

More thoughts on why blogs are different, and why you should do one. The whole article can be found here:

A......benefit of publishing a weblog is its proliferation into the databases of Google. Every weblog headline you write is an entry to be searched and found by a potential client. Google and other search engines like continually changing content and that is a primary element of a weblog. Apart from Google, weblog entries permeate themselves into a vast collection of weblog-specific databases and that, along with frequent linking to and from other........related weblogs, can propel your (organization's) presence to the forefront of many a search engine inquiry.

The specific post on this site was talking about ad agencies starting blogs, but there are some well-made points here that are important. Actually, everything I post here is important, but I digress...
If you do choose to start a weblog, keep in mind the tone needs to be vastly different than your corporate site. The corporate site is your glossy brochure. The weblog is the demonstration of the smarts that walk the hallways of your (organization) - spoken in a conversational, human tone. Unlike press release quotes that are clearly not spoken by an actual human, a weblog must carry the human aspect of the agency. It's akin to an insider's wink that says, "We know you know we have to say those corporate things on our corporate website but we also know you know we are regular people who enjoy tearing down corporate blather as much as you do."
Exactly. Blogs are the "casual Friday" of business marketing. But they need to be managed by someone who can give them the attention they need to be a vital part of your organization's communication efforts.

That's where we come in. Let us show you.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hired Guns?

There is more and more talk swirling around the 'blogosphere' regarding ghost bloggers. And it's not pretty.

Here's a post and some comments from a blog written by Douglas Fisher called "Common Sense Journalism".

In noodling around tonight, I'm reminded that we should not get too teary-eyed and righteous about the "purity" of blogging.

That model probably will always exist in some corners of the Net. But now, as corporations discover the form, it's possible the "blog" you are reading (not this one) is produced by hired guns specifically to "seed" it and drive traffic to it. And of course, that's touched off lengthy thoughts on what paid blogging is worth. (By that writer's reckoning, $10 to $20 a post, with bonuses possible. (Of course this is $CAN, so the actual U.S. value may be lower...)

Wonder how long it will be before some "guest" blog on a media site is found
to be ghostwritten?

I've written before about what I think blogging needs to be. The "hired guns" mentioned in this writer's post are not what I envision as ghostbloggers. I believe that it will become increasingly easy to differentiate between 'real' blogs and mere ads for products and services. And the internet savvy will reject the blog "spam".

Just remember that when I talk about "ghostblogging" I'm talking about real communication to real people, not just "target markets".

By the way, If I'm hired by a company to blog for them, am I not then essentially (not technically, I know) an employee of the company and as such can speak as a representative of the company? Just a thought.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Look Before You Leap

From a blog by Amy Gahran, called "Contentious"

OK, time for a reality check. Here’s the dirty secret about blogging: to do it well and produce quality content, you need someone who’s motivated and skilled from the outset. Of these two blogging prerequisites, motivation is the most important. You need someone who really “gets” blogs – who grasps how they work, why they matter, who their audience is, and what their audience wants. This person should have sufficient motivation and fodder for content to keep them posting not just a few times, but over the long haul. For years.

Yep, I said years.

That’s a HUGE commitment. No good blog is a casual sideline project. Anything that gets in the way of that commitment (such as lack of time), or that interferes with content quality (such as an inability to use the blogging software well or lack of writing skills), will probably cause the blog to deteriorate and ultimately fail. This could happen quickly or it could drag out, but either way it won’t be pretty.

For a blog to succeed, especially a corporate blog, it’s more important to pick a blogger who’s already sufficiently skilled and motivated to take on this long-term commitment than to try to turn someone “important” into a good blogger.

If the person who “should” blog “can’t,” then that wasn’t the right person after all. Your dream blogger may be ready for blogging someday – but for now, accept the reality of blogging and choose a blogger who will be a logistical and content asset, not an obstacle. Blogging is all about people, which means that you have to choose the people best suited for this medium in order to succeed in the long term.

I don't know if I consider myself a "dream blogger", but I might...

Let's see what we can do for your organization.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Blogging For Non-Profits

You didn't think I was going to simply focus on the for-profit sector did you?

To me, blogging is for organizations who have a story to tell. And who has better stories than non-profits.

Here are comments by Whitney Smith, Co-CEO for Girls For A Change, writing for Voce Communications.

When first approached about the concept of blogging by Voce, I first had visions of middle aged engineers posting photos and stories about their recent robowars competition or crafty people posting their latest sock monkey pattern. As a non-profit we had all the technology communication tools that were being used by other cutting-edge organizations. We had a website and it was updated 2-3 times a week and we had a well received html enewsletter so why would we need a blog? I didn't speak it out loud however because somewhere in my conscious was a feeling that my perception might not be the most up to date. My preconception was that blogging was something for the edification of the ego. Little did I know....

So we embarked on the process of learning how to blog. As an organization we have a value around being risk-taking and also to live into the concept of abundance, rather than scarcity. If we did not have this mantra many times along the way we might have seriously considered tossing in the towel. It isn't that it is difficult to learn how to blog or that it takes a great deal of time, but there is always something to do which seems as if it will have more immediate gratification. Also in groups of other non-profit professionals, I would mention our blog endeavors and receive strange looks and comments such as, "Don't you have enough to do without adding something else." Along the way as the path unfolded it became clear that we were developing an amazing tool and that the doubters would be proven wrong.

As I learned more about blogging, I discovered many things. Yes, there are engineers and crafters out there and there are a lot of them, however there is a huge section of technology, industry and individuals using blogging as a tool to increase their sales, boost their marketing efforts, attract talent, and even run for president. Blogging is being used widely in many, many venues which are increasing the success of the public and private sector. Since we have learned about the basics of blogging and how to apply it to have a major impact on the strategic goals of our organization I have become a fervent believer and promoter of blogging to the non-profit sector.

Did I happen to mention our expertise in ghost blogging for all types of organizations?

Friday, September 02, 2005

To Blog Or Not To Blog

From a white paper put together by The Content Factor entitled, "To Blog Or Not To Blog":
Imagine if you could get closer to your markets. What if you could engage your customers and influencers in a discussion, or join a discussion they were having, about a problem your product or service resolves? Imagine if you could give a voice to your customers—who, in turn, give you important feedback about what delights or disturbs them. These are exactly the types of interactions taking place where blogs intersect with business.

With companies like IBM, Sun, Microsoft and Boeing blogging, you can bet that blogs are here to stay. How you decide to participate – if you decide to participate – is an important strategic decision that has implications both online and off.

Now, just because the "big boys" do it doesn't necessarily mean you should (or could), but because of the technological ease and minimal cost of starting a blog, it's really a no-brainer.

We're ready and willing to help you tell your story to the world. Both the virtual and the tangible.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What Are You Waiting For?

I don't mean to sound pushy, but...

Don't just take my word for it.

It's time for a frank talk. And no, it can't wait. We know, we know: Most of you are sick to death of blogs. Don't even want to hear about these millions of online journals that link together into a vast network. And yes, there's plenty out there not to like. Self-obsession, politics of hate, and the same hunger for fame that has people lining up to trade punches on The Jerry Springer Show. Name just about anything that's sick in our society today, and it's on parade in the blogs. On lots of them, even the writing stinks.

Go ahead and bellyache about blogs. But you cannot afford to close your eyes to them, because they're simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself. And they're going to shake up just about every business -- including yours. It doesn't matter whether you're shipping paper clips, pork bellies, or videos of Britney in a bikini, blogs are a phenomenon that you cannot ignore, postpone, or delegate. Given the changes barreling down upon us, blogs are not a business elective. They're a prerequisite.

That's what BusinessWeek Online wrote recently.

A potential client I spoke with recently shared some of his reservations with me. What I was able to share with him was the upside of communicating with the markets he wanted to reach. One of the tremendous upsides is that you can afford to try something new! Isn't that amazing. When was the last time you could afford to do something to separate yourself from the pack?

Don't wait. In the words of pitcher Satchel Paige, "something might be gaining on you." Let's get to work.