Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Reminder: Everything is global online

The old Usenet client, rn, has a warning about thinking before you post, because thousands (later, millions) of people will see your post. The web is just like that, but without the need to learn a different way to connect to the Internet. You never know where your reader may be.

A few days ago, I (in North Carolina) posted a few comments on Liz Strauss's (Chicago) blog. Now, Mirona Iliescu has written a follow-up post linking to both Liz and me from Bucharest, Romania: Yay! I'm an octagon!

I'm used to seeing international traffic on my web site, because of the international affairs site I've run since 1995. A broadband over powerline report I wrote in 2004 still gets visitors from around the world, too. But this is the first time (I think) that my blogging has generated links outside North America.

The Death of Distance, indeed.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Blogs are becoming standard on corporate web sites?

Adotas reports on a new study of corporate blogging in Corporate blogs to grow through end of 2006:

According to JupiterKagan’s “Corporate Weblogs: Deployment, Promotion, and Measurement” report, 35% of big companies will create corporate blogs this year. By the end of 2006, 70% of corporate websites will contain blogs.

I've always been a fan of the equalizing power of technology—how new applications like desktop publishing, broadband Internet and e-commerce gave smaller companies capabilities that had been beyond their budgets. As corporations adopt off-the-shelf blogging platforms for their own use, this looks like a reversal of the process—big business taking advantage of capabilities that were developed for individuals first.

The tools are widely available. Is this the year that your company should start blogging? Are your customers conversing without you? I'm not completely sold on the idea that every company should have a blog (I can think of some that probably shouldn't), but I do think that every company should make an informed decision about blogging before so many companies start blogging that customers start to expect it from everyone.

This isn't the year for informed executives to wonder what a blog is.

Update: Jupiter's report has generated some skeptical discussion and a negative review from one blogger who went out and bought it. So, let's not put too much trust in those optimistic numbers.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Is poor customer service a brand attribute?

There's only so much you can do to counteract bad publicity—online or otherwise—if your business operation is generating gems like this:

While Comcast was sleeping

Comcast technician falls asleep on the customer's couch while on hold with Comcast. Customer puts video of sleeping tech on the Internet. Oops.

Comcast generated lots of heat last August with a customer invoice addressed to bitch dog. For their sake, let's hope this isn't a new summer tradition.

Update: I like Jim's advice to Comcast.

Update2: "Your Call Is Important to Us. Please Stay Awake," The New York Times.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Blogger relations in a nutshell

WOMMA's Andy Sernovitz summarizes blog PR in blogs are upside down (via Applied Blogging Workshop):
Five steps to earn a good reputation with bloggers
  1. Follow the conversation
  2. Participate
  3. Show that you are listening
  4. Convert critics when you can
  5. Write for the record

Short, sweet and essential reading.

Blog monitoring for proactive customer service

What's the point of monitoring blogs? I'm not referring to reading blogs that interest you, or that are relevant to your business. I'm referring to the practice of using search tools and feeds to discover blogs that mention you, your company, or your products.

The obvious answer, which is supported by popular examples such as Dell Hell and the Kryptonite bike lock debacle, is to be aware of negative comments that can gain traction in the blogosphere long before they appear in mainstream media. Catch 'em early, and you have an opportunity to correct the problem, defuse the complaint, and avert the crisis. Miss it altogether or react badly, and "why you're bad" becomes part of your image online. That's the "paranoid defense" school of blog monitoring, though the standard paranoia observation applies (just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you).

David Churbuck has suggested blog monitoring to provide proactive tech support (via Naked Conversations):
A month ago I posted a modest proposal of using blog monitoring to proactively deal with service issues rather than using monitoring as a paranoid defense against assaults by product haters.

...So, on a daily basis, me and a bunch of people look at Blogistan to see who is saying nice and naughty things about us and our products.

(Go to the original post for the long, but very worthwhile, explanation.)

Now, if your product is a high-end PC (Churbuck's is the ThinkPad), your market is more likely than most to include bloggers (and highly-opinionated customers). But it's a great approach to interacting with blogging customers. Just extend the notion of tech support to customer service as it applies to your business.

If you already plan to monitor blogs in the defensive mode, catching these opportunities to provide customer service is a tiny additional effort. As you screen the results of your vanity feeds for PR opportunities, forward the customer service items to someone who can take care of them. Your blog monitoring activity becomes another point of contact into your service activity. Do this well, and you could even start generating the other kind of blog PR—the positive kind.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Review: The Radical Edge

My review of Steve Farber's book, The Radical Edge, is up at the 800-CEO-READ blog.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Using RSS is like having a 28-hour day

When I talk about social media and Internet-based market intelligence tactics, I try to avoid too much tech-talk. I'm showing non-technical business people how these tools can make them more effective and efficient in their work, and for the most part, it's not really a technology topic. You can do most of what I talk about with your web browser and e-mail client. All you have to learn are a few new web sites and, more importantly, a way of thinking about how these services can be useful.

The one exception is RSS. A feed reader with relevant subscriptions converts your web-based information habits from a tool that you use to an autonomous system that actively scans the Internet for the information you want. I've always been a fan of letting the computer do work for me whenever possible, and this is a big step in that direction.

RSS automates information-gathering tasks, freeing you to focus on things that matter. The simplest use of RSS is to gather the latest updates from sites you follow, so instead of visiting each site with your web browser to see what's changed, your feed reader retrieves it for quick scanning. RSS is growing in popularity, so you're likely to find it in a wide variety of sites relevant to your role or business.

What kinds of sources can you track? Trade journals (both print and online-only). Local and regional news media. News services for items about your company, competitors, customers, or partners. Blogs from industry insiders, analysts or observers. Professional associations and their newsletters. And the big one is search engines, which now offer subscriptions to search results through RSS and e-mail. Your feed reader is the tool that allows you to track topics of interest as soon as new items appear on the Internet.

Sound useful? That's why RSS is the exception to my goal of avoiding tech-talk when I discuss new Internet tools for business. It's still an early-adopter tool. Most Internet users are unaware of RSS, and some IT departments would rather block RSS feeds as a waste of resouces (see HR and legal perspectives). But it's a powerful tool for anyone who values the efficient gathering of pertinent information.

If expertise and current knowledge are relevant in your position, you need to learn how to use RSS.

Friday, June 02, 2006

DIY Due Diligence

The word is spreading that companies are using Internet search techniques in a sort of do-it-yourself background check. The message is directed most strongly at college students, who may be posting pictures and stories about their youthful indiscretions that can come back to haunt them at job interview time. The same technique can provide valuable information in other business relationships, too.

A new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that 35% of all internet users have posted content online (via Emergence Marketing). It's even higher among younger users and home broadband users (and broadband penetration is still increasing). So, in addition to the information already available from corporate web sites, trade show speaker bios, and trade press articles, the people you interact with are becoming more likely to publish something about themselves.

That suggests that an increasing number of the people you interact with in business have posted original content somewhere online. Spend a little time with some search engines, and you can gain insights that you wouldn't get from the usual, guarded business contact. You might find the types of problematic content referred to above, but you may also learn something about their interests, hobbies, or professional lives. In other words, you may learn about the human being you're dealing with.

Of course, it's useful to check up on candidates in the hiring process (and assume that they do the same check on you). I recommend doing the same with the other people you interact with—customers, suppliers, partners. You'll learn more about them professionally, and you may discover just the right personal connection.