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Smart Man Online: Dana VanDen Heuvel

Lip-sticking is starting to get the hang of this interview thing. We have been very fortunate to have posted interviews with so many outstanding men and women who were willing to share their expertise on marketing, business, being online, and blogging, that it's hard to come up with appropriate adjectives on a weekly basis, but here goes this week's introduction...

This week's Smart Man Online interview is with a talented young man, a writer with a quick wit and a sharp tongue -- he calls it like it is, folks -- and someone whose blog we consider a must-read on a regular basis. Dana VanDen Heuvel was kind enough to share his insights into blogging and business -- which we know you will appreciate as his blog was chosen as a Readers' Choice Award, Best Blog from Marketing Sherpa. Read on and be dazzled...

Lip-sticking: You've been blogging for quite some time -- since Jan. of 2003 -- can you describe the changes in the blogosphere since then? Is blogging evolving into more useful content, or is it just going along a straight path to nowhere?

Dana: When I got into blogging, I was ‘inspired’ in large part by one of the most useful blogs at the time, MarketingFix (now MarketingWonk) because they were all about useful and helpful content. I guess you could say that I didn’t know anything better and started out with the perception that that’s what blogging was all about. It was only after I got started, thinking that I too had something to share from my experiences, hence “sales technology and internet marketing from the trenches”, that I found out that blogging had grown up largely under the personal journal metaphor.

That being said, I’ve seen many thought leaders from a myriad of disciplines enter the blogging space in the last 18 months and I believe that things will only keep getting better. I can now ‘hold a conversation’ with someone like Seth Godin or Laura Reis through weblog posts, trackbacks, where before, I could only sit on the sidelines and read what they postulated on their websites.

It also pays to bear in mind that weblogs are not just outward marketing tools, but rather have a range of internal corporate applications such as sales rep intranets, project management tools, and knowledge management tools.

Lip-sticking: Your blog posts on business and technology are a cut above the rest -- we find your content thought provoking and useful. It's clear you gather a lot of information from research. How much time do you spend gathering all of this valuable information to share with your readers?

Dana: There are weeks where I can spend upward of 15 hours on research and posting. It depends on how passionate I am about the topic. However, the average week involves about 5 to 8 hours of due diligence to get 8 to 12 posts.

One advantage that I have is that I’ve positioned the weblog in such a way that people are expecting a mix of both research and experience from the trenches, so a lot of the work that goes into getting to the post is a ‘sunk cost’ if you will, buried somewhere else in my daily business interactions either with clients through BlogSavant or through my day job.

Lip-sticking: Where do you think blogging will be in the next 2 years? Will businesses learn how to utilize it, or will it be a long struggle to get them to understand it's worth as an interactive marketing tool? For that matter, IS blogging an interactive marketing tool?

Dana:This is a question that I’ve seen many speculating on, and to be honest with you, I don’t know where blogging will be, but I have a few ideas on the direction it’s heading based on recent events.

The media coverage on weblogs is increasing in intensity every day. I track the media mentions of weblogs, blogging, blogs, and the like using Google News Alerts and have been astonished at how many stories are showing up that reference blogs and blogging. Many of the stories highlight political or educational uses for weblogs and are not covering the business implications of blogs. It seems that most of the discussion of blogs in business has been amongst those of us with a vested interest in the proliferation of blogs in the corporate context.

Businesses will learn to adapt to this medium, but I can tell you that it will take a large turn in the tides for your major corporations to adopt weblogs as information sources (oddly enough, my employer blogs all weblogs at the blogs.com and typepad.com addresses). Clearly, if we’re that far away on the access front, we’ve got miles to go from a utilization perspective. Large companies are not known for speed, and having experience in trying to push weblogs onto the radar screen of two very large, non-tech companies; I can tell you that we’ll be waiting a long time for widespread adoption.

That being said, we’ve seen a steady increase in weblog adoption in small & medium size business that have more to gain and fewer hurdles to making decisions of this nature. As with many innovations, small business is likely to be the harbinger of adoption for interactive marketing weblogs.

I submit that weblogs are an interactive marketing tool, insofar as they afford a timely and topical discussion between companies, readers and other bloggers. In fact, I recently finished a paper with a co-author on using weblogs as a brand community building tool. We’ll be presenting the paper at the Decision Sciences Institute conference in Boston in November. If your readers are interested in reading further, they can have a look at the paper at danavan.net/brandcommblogs.

Lip-sticking: Some of our clients worry that writing a blog will reveal too much of their company secrets to competitors. Do they really have anything to worry about?

Dana: Companies threw up the same arguments to putting anything but the most basic information on their websites back in 1996. We’re migrated from there to companies posting virtually everything they know about their products and customers in plain view for everyone. Seriously, does anyone in any company really think that there are many corporate secrets left? Go ask your competitors. If you think that you’ll be giving away too much, you’ll be the same person who is flabbergasted by how much your competition already knows about you.

Rationally speaking, in most cases the people writing the weblogs are not going to be the same people with access to confidential data with dire strategic consequences. I personally question those companies who raise such objections to blogging because it goes to the root issue of the level of trust that leadership has in its employees. At the end of the movie, it all comes back to leadership.

As I alluded to earlier, I’ve experienced a great deal of corporate resistance as well, but I discount that resistance as just a phase and something we simply need to work through. Realistically, most corporate leaders don’t even know what weblogs are yet, let alone how they work, what their benefits are, or how to control the medium. They see them only as risk resting on a foundation of a fear of the unknown. The story of the benefits of weblogs needs to be told in C-level publications and circles of conversation to increase awareness and credibility.

Lip-sticking: A recent post of yours mentions that blogging in Canada has a way to go. Can you comment on blogging in other countries? Do you have any sense of where blogging stands in the UK, or Japan, or China? Are we Americans missing out, once again, by sticking too close to home with our blog posts and readings?

Dana: While I’m not going to pretend to be an authority on international blogging, I know for certain that bloggers from other countries have influenced my thinking a great deal in the past 2 years. In fact, some of the first bloggers that I connected with when I started out where from the UK, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. I was just elated to be able to dialog with people from other nations on common business topics. I specifically recall some exchanges between Martina Zhivagno of Adverblog on interactive marketing in Italy that shaped my thinking for some of the interactive marketing programs I was working her stateside.

When I look at the 120 weblogs whose feeds I subscribe to, about 15-20% are from other countries. The business weblog community is a meritocracy that doesn’t care about where you’re from. You post, you comment, people like what you have to say and link to it – it’s that simple. If you’re from Denmark and have great business ideas or a unique perspective on your weblog, you’ll get links and traffic from around the world.

Lip-sticking: This question might be a little out of your realm...but not really. Hearst Magazine just started a website to support its latest publication, Shop Etc. The website has a blog feed called Shop Talk where customers can post comments on things they buy. Lip-sticking would like to hear your opinion of this type of blog. Do you think this is just blatant advertising, or valuable customer service?

Dana: I like what they’re doing out there! The weblog is true to form in that they’re linking to other sites of interest and providing something of a service to writers, and they’re recruiting volunteer bloggers to discuss shopping finds and helpful topics. I think that this is an innovative way to involve their reader community and I don’t feel it’s even something I’d consider in the advertising realm. Maybe I’m just too optimistic about weblogs, but I think that the Shop Etc. blog is really cool!

In fact, this is precisely the thing that I talk about in the paper I mentioned earlier. I see this as a prime example of using weblogs effectively in your marketing and advertising strategy.

Lip-sticking: Can you tell us how important blogging is to you? On a scale of 1-5, where

1 = It's just a fun thing to do.
2 = I blog because I know a lot of other people who blog.
3 = Blogging is a great way to get information out to a lot of people.
4 = Blogging is my way of sharing what I know with interested readers.
5 = Blogging is better than emailing because it's true pull marketing, not push marketing.


Dana: I’m not sure that I’m tracking with your scale above, but my response would be 'off the scale!’ I give blogging a 7.

How? I combine 3 and 4 as my top reasons for blogging. Blogging is the ultimate virtual mentworking tool, the phrase coined by Beverly Kaye , meaning “a process of giving and receiving by participating in relationships in which everyone is a learner and a teacher.”
We told you you'd be impressed. As with every interview Lip-sticking has had the privilege to bring our readers, our interview with Dana VanDen Heuvel is a small glimpse of the world from the viewpoint of a truly unique person. We hope you will visit his blog and his website to learn more. And, we hope you will return next week for a Smart Woman Online interview. Or, something even more thrilling...stay tuned!

What's not to like about that?


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Evelyn Rodriguez

Yvonne, thanks so much for conducting these interviews. They're great!


Wow...thanks for sharing the info...you're right sounds like a very smart man! :)

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