Someone asked me how blogs help companies, and I've been giving it some thought.
My first response is that it makes me better at my job, and it connects me with others that care about the same things I do. I’ve met a number of passionate, skilled, smart people that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I’m learning from almost all of them. And in the end, I am more engaged in my own job because of it.
As a marketing manager, I find that my blog helps me stay “on top of the game,” and forces me to focus on a topic I’ve been pondering long enough to write about it. Often, the conversation that follows by other bloggers leads to changing the way I think about things. Ultimately, it’s about being engaged in my field and building a community as much as it is about “attracting customers.”
I started my blog because I believe in the clarity that comes from carefully listening to customers. I believe marketing comes down to understanding customer needs, and creating products or services that meet those needs. The best way to understand what customers need is listening to them. And I’m convinced that really listening (and appropriately responding) leads to a more trusting relationship.
Blogs offer a way to start a conversation. I’m amazed at how much more involved I am in customer issues from the hour or two a day I spend blogging. Most of the time is spent reading what our customers are writing. Because the best blogs are so current, and because they link to other blogs, I find I can easily follow a thread, and get a great deal of information about what everyone’s buzzing about.
Perhaps more importantly, blogs offer a great way of aggregating comments, asking questions, and addressing issues. I’m often amazed at the insight I get on a topic I’m pondering when someone posts a relevant comment.
As a company, I think Microsoft is doing some great things by encouraging technical blogs. Even though we’ve never hired anyone just to blog, blogs are growing organically because it makes it easier for people to share ideas. MSDN blogs are a great way for the tech community to share ideas, tools, even code.
One of the key benefits of blogs is that they connect people as individuals, rather than rely on thinking of customers as an indefinable mass of “users.” Robert’s blog helps me understand the issues our customers are concerned about (good, bad, or otherwise!). And putting a “human face” on Microsoft helps build trust, and hopefully helps customers know that we’re listening.
I’d love to see more product marketing folks like Sean Alexander blogging about products they’re involved in. I think it’s a great way to get the most actively engaged customers insight into upcoming products. It gives us a chance to ask what things customers care about the most. And sometimes they help spread the word about a little-known feature, service pack release, add-on utility, or upcoming event. I learned about Photo Story 2 on Sean’s blog, and got great feedback when I posted the link on my blog.
From a purely internal perspective, I love it when I get a piece of email from someone else in the company—someone I never would have met otherwise—who reads something I wrote that’s helped them with their job. Sometimes it’s a tip about listening to customers, sometimes it’s a book recommendation, sometimes it’s a notice of an upcoming seminar or webcast, sometimes it’s a tip on how to work with a manager or write an employee appraisal.
While I don’t see many “internal only” blogs that are successful, I think they could grow into an effective way for managers to post ongoing instruction to a team, for executives to maintain more of a connection with a large organization, and for technical teams to share details of their work. I also think it could lead to establishing “communities of practice” across the company—ultimately replacing many of the public folders or discussion forums that exist today.
How are blogs helping your company?