May 30, 2012

In the Company of Bloggers: Where Enthusiasm Lives.

Earlier this year, Inc. magazine published the results of a survey of the social media strategies and planning of the Inc. 500.  Titled “The Inc. 500 Social Media Update: Blogging Declines as Newer Tools Rule” the study got a lot of attention, and decline in corporate blogging was put under the microscope.

The decline in blogging surprised me, given the increased interest in content marketing.  After all, blogging is a constant exercise in content creation.  So why have so many brands abandoned blogging? I had a bit of an epiphany a couple nights ago that offers an answer.

The personal side:

First, some context.  I really enjoy social media.  Updates from friends old and new pack my Facebook news feed.  Twitter and LinkedIn are invaluable professional networks.  Pinterest is full of inspiration and dazzling eye-candy, as are Tumblr, Instagram and (an admittedly old-school favorite of mine,) Flickr.  But for me, blogging is at the core of my social experience.

I have two personal blogs (one on mushroom hunting, and one on a specific horseback riding sport) and I obviously spend a lot of time writing for the Beyond PR blog, too.  As much as I enjoy social media, I like writing even more.  And even more than I like writing, I like reading.  For me, the blogosphere has been a gift.

I was thinking about this a few nights ago, as I raced home from a riding lesson, itching to blog. What a strange sentiment, right?  While I did kick off my dirty boots before firing up my laptop that was my only concession to creature comfort.  I wanted to record some thoughts from my lesson even more than I wanted to shower off layers of sunscreen, bug spray and general barn grime.   I tapped away furiously at my keyboard, and hit “publish.”

Was it time for that shower?  No.  It was time to read some other blogs.  It was time for my reward.

I love catching up with the favorites on my blogroll, learning from their experiences, commenting on their posts and responding to the comments they leave for me.  These are some really nice people, most know a lot more about the sport than me (and are more accomplished) and they are generous with their advice.

And finally, we’ve reached the point of my little aforementioned epiphany.  There’s more to this little cluster of bloggers than simply positive reinforcement.  Within this loose association of people is a community, and one that is highly, highly specific, focused on a particular type of horse (retired racehorses) and a specific riding discipline (dressage.)   In terms of subject matter and interest, this is the needle in the haystack.   And like most bloggers, we have a real connection from our shared common interest.   We pay attention to what each other says, we share links and product information, and we respect each others’ opinions.   This is where enthusiasm lives.

For me, this is where things get interesting from a marketing and communications standpoint.   When we talk about “targeting audiences” we’re really talking about finding nodes of connected people who care about a subject enough to write about it, obsess about it and build tribes of their peers.

The “tribes of peers” notion is very real.  This coterie of bloggers with a similar (and very narrow) interest is also active on Facebook and a variety of internet discussion forums.   In addition influencing each other, we influence others, too.   Collectively, we have an audience of thousands of fellow equestrians.

Taking the time to find people who share common ground with your brand – and are in fact passionate about related issues – is an invaluable piece of community building, and it’s necessary for your brand to build traction with an audience.

The business context:

I’ve developed similar relationships with fellow bloggers and thinkers in the PR community, who share my focus on the intersection of interest, intent and messaging.  I’ve met some of them in person, we’ve shared ideas and promoted each other’s blog posts and white papers, and we’ve given each other access to beta tests, speaking opportunities and un-published content.   As a vendor to the PR space, these interactions are invaluable to PR Newswire’s brand and business.  As a person who is really interested in this stuff, these interactions are rewarding, informative and help me build the network of socially connected, like-minded people who are also talking and writing about these topics.  Another word to describe these folks is influencers.

So I guess don’t have much patience for those who say corporate blogs don’t work.  Blogging is incredibly powerful if you do it right.  Like all other social media pursuits, it needs to be authentic and in tune with the audience.  Ghost-written, ego-driven missives espousing the brand’s POV, issued from the ivory tower, will not gain traction with readers.  Ultimately, the blogger has to care about the subject.  From caring comes credibility and passion, two qualities no successful blog lacks.  To win, you have to have some enthusiasm for the subject!

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.  She’s the author of the free eBook, Unlocking Social Media for PR.

PR Newswire loves bloggers as much as I do.  We recently launched PR Newswire for Bloggers, a site dedicated to serving the blogger community.  There, bloggers can access featured news releases, a free widget for adding relevant content to their sites and a host of other services designed to help blogs thrive.

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