I had the honor of speaking at Blog Indiana 2010. My session was about why using a community of real people might be the right strategy for your organization’s blog. After creating and managing the FitCity Moms blog, I am a firm believer in letting your own consumers be a voice of your brand. But doing that also means giving your consumers control over your brand.
Here’s the thing about control…it comes down to trust. Can you trust a bunch of people to stay on message? But then again, can you entrust your message to those within your organization?
Corporate blogs rank at the bottom of the trust scale. (Source: Forrester’s Research) Other corporate voices are often viewed with cynicism. Take the Director of Social Media at PepsiCo. We should trust him – PepsiCo has grown from 250,000 likes on Facebook to 877,000 (still lagging Coke’s 10 million). But do you even know his name? (It’s Bonin Bough.) If he is doing his work correctly, you don’t need to know and trust him. His job is to connect you to Pepsi through people you trust.
The opinion of a friend or acquaintance ranks highest in Forrester’s Research studies for opinion, news and referrals. That’s why my session dealt with ways to add real voices to your company blogging strategy. The community approach to blogging adds personality. Builds loyalty of shared experiences. Presents different perspectives and different opinions on the same topic.
The FitCity Moms blog is a good example of how different voices can give your audience a variety of ways to connect to a brand. Launched in March 2009, we started with three moms and have grown to 7 moms with kids ages 11 months to 20 years and the periodic guest blogger. To date, they have posted 130+ times on health, fitness, family activity, dinners in the car, oreos and triathlons.
Here are 7 things I’ve learned from managing the FitCity Moms blog that you can use if you want to start your own community blog, or add voices from the community to your existing strategy.
1. Know Why. Understanding your audience to make sure you are speaking with the right voices. FitCity targets Moms – Tourism targets travelers of all ages, backgrounds – Art blogs target artists, patrons and causal collectors.
2. Pick the Right Mix. You can recruit established bloggers (selected to get to their followers and bump your numbers). Or you can train new bloggers to fill a void on your blog (overlooked region, different ethnicities). Staff and guest bloggers can fill in as well. Before you get started, do your blogger research. Whether it is a Google Blog search or a keyword search on Twitter, find the right blogger. But that is only the first step. (See tip #4 and 5)
3. The Control Factor. You have to strike a balance between protecting your brand and letting your bloggers’ authenticity shine through.
- Be upfront with expectations
- Train them on keywords and things your brand does and does not talk about. For example, FitCity does not talk about dieting. You may see posts about healthy weight, about food choices but bloggers can’t use the word diet.
- Create a schedule so they don’t blog over each other
- Edit them for a time if necessary.
- Don’t censor them
- Don’t refuse to post negative blog entries. Encourage them to be honest about experience.
4. Don’t Let Them Blog Cold. Don’t assume bloggers know your topic, business or cause just because they agree to blog for you, have blogging experience. If you have done your research, you should understand how your prospective bloggers write, what their reputations are and what tone they take. Once you do hire them, give bloggers background and ramp-up time. FitCity uses a three-month editing/vetting period. If they are new to blogging, be sure to train them on the basics of writing for a blog.
5. Don’t Walk Away. Life gets in the way of even the best blogger, so we make sure to keep them engaged. We’ve started hosting quarterly luncheons so the FitCity Moms can meet and share in person. We also provide topic ideas, information on resources in the community, and monthly stats on the most popular blogs so they know what works, what topics are popular and what can be improved.
6. Pay them (maybe). I pay all my bloggers. Have a letter of agreement and payment helps provide accountability. A contract also removes the potential for misunderstands since it outlines the blogger’s responsibilities. Guest bloggers we don’t pay, however. They have a platform to promote themselves, their company or their agenda. That is often payment enough.
7. Invite Them to Do More. Your blogging strategy needs to be about more than just the posts. FitCity’s Moms participate in Twitter Chats, promote their blog posts on Facebook, make community appearances and participate in our partners’ events. The best thing though: The moms are so passionate about the topic of family health that they want to do even more. Three of the moms have started exercise groups and two have recently asked to write even more often.
All this activity is getting results for FitCity. 1,000 new, unique visitors. 30% increase in referrals from Facebook and Twitter. Traffic to www.fitcityindy.org.
There are more examples of good community blogs in my presentation: Building a Community of Bloggers v2. One I want to single out is i.see.Kissimmee. To date, 25 bloggers have posted a minimum of 11 blog posts each about their vacations in Kissimmee, Florida. The Kissimmee tourism bureau started the blog to get real opinions about their destinations. They’ve succeeded and then some. I might have to plan a vacation…