As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I will be at blogher in Santa Clara this weekend. I will be part of a marketing panel, sharing some of my experiences developing a customer-written blog.
As I always do, I have prepared my notes as both a speaking outline and a two-part post. Below is Part One: What type of company should consider a customer written blog.
Hi. My name is Susan Getgood. My role here is to talk to you about customer blogs. And not independent blogs by customers or fans of a product. Rather company sponsored blogs for which the chief writers are customers.
As a marketer, I am a strong believer in the voice of the customer. For a long time, I have felt that the true voice of the customer has been missing from corporate marketing efforts. Mostly because we are afraid. Of what they might say. Of what we might have to do. Of the unknown.
So when I first learned about blogs not that long ago, one of my first thoughts was how this form would allow a company and its customers to really connect … if the company had both the character and commitment to make it happen.
Not long after, I found myself working with a client company that wanted to find a way to involve a happy customer base more actively in its marketing.
Long and short, we decided to do a blog.
Along the way, I developed a list of company characteristics that lend themselves well to customer blogging. As well as some tips about developing a customer written blog.
Let’s start with who should consider a customer blog.
I will use my client Software Secure and its blog Multiple Choice as an example throughout this discussion. Software Secure is in the education software business. Specifically they develop solutions that allow schools to prevent cheating on tests administered using laptops. Multiple Choice is at http://softwaresecure.typepad.com
Criteria number one: the customers must LOVE the product. If you don’t have fans, you probably don’t want to do a customer blog.
Your fans, or evangelists, are both advocates and references. It is not just what they say, it is the mere fact that they are willing to say it to their peers in a public forum that offers value for your marketing program. Yes, of course, they have their occasional issues, but in my client’s case, they were happy, and articulate, customers who were already presenting about the company’s products at conferences on a regular basis. So, you have to know your base, know that by and large they are happy with your company and its products. If they aren’t, spend your time fixing that before worrying about blogging.
Second, the audience has to be online, and receptive to participating in an online community. The customers have to already be talking in some fashion.
Generally, the education software market is a highly engaged market. People know each other, and communicate through trade associations, loose affiliations, and yes, blogs. The existence of a strong blogging community and fan blogs is a good clue that you have an engaged market 🙂
It helps a lot if there is an information gap you can exploit. As we were doing our marketing research, we discovered that there weren’t many online resources that focus specifically on developing a secure learning and testing environment. There were lots of big general sites, with lots and lots of information. Sometimes too much information.
We decided that this gap would be a good spot for our collaborative weblog written by Software Secure customers and other educational experts.
Finally, you have to be willing to give up some degree of control. No one wants to read a blog that just talks about a product, no matter who is writing.
You must develop an editorial mission for your customer blog that is related to your products, but is broad enough to allow a real conversation to develop among your customers and prospective customers. That means having the confidence that the sponsorship of a valuable, vibrant blog will build brand awareness and preference. You don’t need to control every word. And go back to point number one: your customers must love the product and the company.
Here’s how we describe Multiple Choice:
Multiple Choice brings together educators who are leading the way in building secure online learning and testing environments at schools and universities across North America.
Our sponsor is Software Secure, developer of technology that secures the computing environment from cheating and digital distractions.
The sponsorship is clear, the bloggers post directly to the blog (no company review) and they can write about whatever they like within the topic of secure online testing and learning. They are not limited to blogging about the company. How boring would that be.
So, in theory, customer blogging is a great idea. What about in practice?
That’s part two: what you need to do to make it work. I’ll post it on Saturday after the blogher session 🙂