Sailing the seven Cs of corporate blog marketing
RMIT researchers have come up with a model to help companies get the most out of their corporate blogs – by navigating the seven Cs. By Aaron Lane.
Corporate blogs have gained popularity and importance over the last decade as corporations and their customers have moved to social media. They are a tool to encourage and support conversations that may be of value to individuals and businesses. The blogs are often perceived as the human face of the corporation as they are used to share information, ideas and insights rather than traditional marketing tools. Existing customers pass information about the company, its brand message, and its goods or services, to peers and social networks – including potential customers. Having a corporate blog can be a major source of online word-of-mouth activity.
But how does your business get the most out of a corporate blog? New research provides the answers.
RMIT University researchers Angela Dobele and Marion Steel and PhD Student Tony Cooper conducted a study that examined how a company developed long-term effective relationships and sales growth by using their blog to generate and enhance viral word-of-mouth message diffusion.
The researchers explored the corporate blog of a technology company that develops and writes software programs. The company has over 10,000 customers in 100 countries and maintains three offices around the world – including one in Australia. The firm manages the majority of its marketing and communication efforts online. While the firm uses a suite of social media platforms, the firm’s corporate blog is the main means of facilitating conversations with customers. The exploration of the blog included analysis of both content and metrics. The blog roll and the ripples from blog posts were analysed to determine the use and spread of messages.
The project’s lead investigator Dr Angela Dobele – a self-described word-of-mouth marketing advocate explains that “this new research identifies seven critical success factors to utilise blog marketing to its maximum effect”.
Dobele, Steel and Cooper helped Marketing to navigate the seven Cs so that you can get the most out of your corporate blog.
First, the content – both the volume and the variety – that appears on the blog is highly important. The research shows that there is a clear link between blog content and the number of responses, and that blog posts about products were shown to generate the highest level of responses.
However one-way content posts are not enough. Corporate blog content must be bidirectional and combine product and service information with discussion. For example, answering questions and providing demonstrations on the blog as part of customer support will take communications beyond the traditional one-way message afforded by traditional marketing. Allowing customers to post about their own usage experiences adds a personal touch to the information being provided to other users. Also, this engagement drives customer ownership of the content – which is powerful for building loyal relationships.
Content, by itself, is not king. Content must be contextually relevant. That is, the corporate blog content needs to be targeted at the right people, at the right time, with information that is specific to the industry, market or situation. This is critical for engaging audiences. The research findings showed a strong correlation between contextual relevance and customer activity.
Therefore, all blog posts must be crafted with an audience in mind.
Your corporate culture needs to be developed so that it supports blog activity by staff.
The new research has shown that consistent posts from staff encourage and enable responses from your community. The research showed that the company received an average of almost two community responses for every corporate blog post.
In terms of content, blog posts can include staff commentary, highlighting staff developments, staff offering product information, communicating events and activities, and providing a two-way forum for discussion and suggestions by current customers. This requires a culture where all staff members are encouraged to contribute to the corporate blog – not just those in a specific marketing role.
Think about your channels, that is, the groups that will broadcast information on your product and brand. These may be existing and potential customers, news sites, corporate partners, or even other blogs. These channels are important because customers find word-of-mouth referrals highly credible.
The content will determine the most appropriate channels for information sharing – and these are most likely to be online. The case study showed that content around product discussion tended to occur via direct questions and answers attached to the corporate blog, while product launches and conference announcements were often reposted.
It is also important that you are sending the same message through every channel.
5. Connected community members
Most social networks will exhibit a clustering effect. That is, a member of one small network will also be a member of other networks, and can be connected to individuals in both networks through multiple pathways.
As such, customers, users and bloggers are often interconnected. Information is spread rapidly between individuals in networks, as the friendships and connections are not one-to-one but many-to-many. The speed of the information spread will depend on the number of network links between network members.
Network members will contribute to the rapid sharing of information when they perceive the blog posts as being of value to their whole network. Practically, this means that a message needs to be considered compelling enough – humorous, disgusting, heart-warming, topical – to warrant forwarding, so that a user will voluntarily pass the message on to others.
Incorporating share tools (e.g. Widgets for email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, reblog, etc.) on your corporate blog site will allow your community members to easily pass on content – and enable you to make the most of their connections.
6. Committed community members
The research showed the repeated occurrence of names and external site addresses appeared on the corporate blog. This indicates that network members that interacted with the company did so on multiple occasions, and did so across a range of topic areas – some at the same time, and some over time. Respondents to the corporate blogs included customers, corporate partners, independent bloggers that also use the products as well as industry news sites that are used by customers to evaluate products and companies.
Researchers were able to track activity on external blogs. This tracking revealed that a number of sites act as repositories for ideas, recommendations, and solutions for problems. This suggests that the respondents may also be linked externally and generate new information about the products in their online communities.
The research found that the most commonly reposted blogs were from the product discussion blogs, webinars, and relationship building and networking blogs. So although a blog may not receive a direct response, it may still have a measurable impact due to information sharing by your committed community members.
Finally, co-creation is particularly relevant for blogs. This is because the community network is not merely involved in sharing information, but community members are also involved in the creation of conversations, with the company and with each other, and also with other partner companies (e.g. up and downstream networks).
For the company being studied, the researchers found that the best sources of potential and new customers were referrals from the networks of current customers, and referrals through the company’s open source project. In that case, the project allowed the co-creation of new program code for some of the software suites (similar to Wikipedia). This provided prospective customers with the opportunity to engage and personalise the software, or contribute to the development of program upgrades.
A company that engages effectively in online platforms enhances the spread of word-of-mouth information and also the generation of new content in collaboration with customers and users. It is important to leverage networks of connected and committed community networks to enhance innovation through potential and existing collaborators.
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Dr Angela Dobele summarises that to ensure success through corporate blogs, “firms must have content firmly grounded in context which affirms their corporate culture, sending the same message on every channel, in order to best reach and engage connected and committed community members, to afford the best mix of participation in co-creation opportunities within that network. When these seven Cs come together, they make waves.”
RMIT University research referred to in this article has been accepted into Marketing Intelligence and Planning, ‘Dobele, A., Steel, M., & Cooper, T. (2015) Sailing the Seven C’s of Blog Marketing: Understanding social media and business impact’.
Aaron Lane is a freelance business writer.