Dear Readers, today Jane is starting a new interview series. We call it Smart Blogger. Over the last year we have met some superior communicators, both men and women. We often bring their words to you through our usual Thursday Smart Man or Smart Woman Online series. But, we are finding so many of the people we meet are bloggers, and MSM (main stream media) is paying so much attention to blogging, that another series of interviews-- the Smart Blogger series-- was born. It does not, will not, replace the Smart Man Online or Smart Woman Online interviews, but will pre-empt them once in awhile.
How does this help you market to women online? Read on and you will see...
To launch our newest informative bloggersation, we offer you the educated thoughts of Neville Hobson, a truly remarkable communicator, and someone whose blog, NevOn, never fails to teach Jane remarkable things.
Jane: We would like to explain the term Smart Blogger in more detail, Neville. To Lip-sticking, a Smart Blogger is one who blogs on a regular basis and is comfortable with their voice online. We have been reading your blog, NevOn, for awhile now and you more than qualify as a Smart Blogger--just look at your post on CNET and their lame FAQs about blogging.
Our first question, then, is this: why blog? It's a question that's being asked, in one way or another, across the net-- and the answers vary so widely, they leave Jane cross-eyed. From your perspective, tell us why someone--anyone, not just a business professional--might write a blog.
Neville: Thanks, Jane, and thank you for having me on your blog! A conversation with a lot of women around the world. Wow! (Winning Over Women...wow, indeed!)
I think there are two answers to your question – the first is to do with personal blogging; the second with business blogging.
On a personal level, someone might write a blog because it provides them with an outlet, a channel, to express themselves in a way that’s different to the usual kind of self-expression.
By this, I mean talking about something that interests you and that you’d like to tell other people about. Usually, you’d talk to your friends and family. You’d develop conversations among people you know. A blog gives you the means to tell a much bigger audience about something that interests you. Now, whether they are interested as well is a different matter. They might tell you what they think of what you write. The point, though, is that you have the power to tell your story in a way that enables you to reach more people to develop interesting conversations.
However, reaching more people to develop conversations with them is not necessarily a primary motive for blogging. For instance, I have friends who write personal blogs who do that purely for the self-expression reason and who really don’t care if anyone reads what they write. The blog is purely an outlet for their self expression. That’s absolutely fine, if they’re happy with that. There’s no rulebook here. It’s their blog and they can do what they like with it!
Business blogging, on the other hand, is all about making connections, and developing conversations and relationships with people in new ways.
If you start a business-related blog, the self-expression reason isn’t why you’d do it. You’d do it for strong business reasons that are related to the reasons why your business conducts any kind of organized communication. What you’re seeking is to further your connections with your customers, partners, employees, investors, etc, in a way that lets them participate in your conversation.
A business blog complements your other communication channels and enables people to get to know you in a way that’s informal in comparison to your other communication channels. And that’s conducive to developing closer relationships. That’s putting it very simply, of course, but it is all about developing conversations and relationships.
Jane: We notice that you write on a variety of topics; business, politics, marketing, technology-- you are obviously well-read and well-connected. Do you think being well-read and well-connected are necessary qualities to 'smart' blogging? For our readers' sake, we will refer them to your post of Feb 18th, "The Shift in Balance and Power" where you write, "By their very nature, blogs are open and and provide a framework for communication transparency, don't they? They're vehicles which we can employ to develop dynamic communication and stimulate conversations with and between people, aren't they? And, they're channels via which we will see massive social change, won't we?"
All of which involves a measure of knowledge about the topic...in contrast to..those bloggers who just blog along for the fun of it. (we will bring this question around to a conclusion later on in the interview)
Neville: Yes, I do think that you need to have a pretty keen awareness of what’s going on around you.
From a smart blogging perspective, being well-read and well-connected are among the key things that define what smart blogging means.
More than anything, though, you should have passion about what you talk about in your blog, whether it’s a business topic or a personal one. Your passion will then be reflected in what you write about and how you write it. That makes other people think your blog is interesting and will help them think it’s worthwhile to come and visit you. And hopefully, join in your conversation.
Again, it’s about conversations and relationships.
Jane: Recently, Yvonne, aka Jane, was fortunate enough to meet you in person at a conference in San Francisco (but, she forgot to get your autograph, darn!). We're impressed that you flew in all the way from Amsterdam. How was the conference, from your point of view? What kind of people attended? What, in your opinion, were they looking for? How would you rate the overall effectiveness of the conference...as a place to actually learn about blogging, as opposed to being a place smart bloggers came together to share experiences?
Neville: It was great to meet you, too!
The conference was simply phenomenal. All those people gathered together to find out about blogging and other tools. It was the first event that addressed new communication channels like blogs and RSS from a communication perspective – PR, marketing, employee communication, etc. It was not a tech event by any means.
So if you didn’t know anything about how blogs work, how the underlying tech platforms work – and didn’t have much interest in such things – but, instead, you wanted to know how to make blogs work for your business, this was the event to be at.
There were nearly 100 people there, most of whom were communicators, who wanted to find out how to get started with corporate blogging. How a company could use a blog as part of crisis communication planning. How PR people should pitch bloggers. Or how blogs can help you really engage your employees. There were panel discussions, really thought-provoking conversations on blogging and branding and blogging and journalism, with some top-notch speakers.
One of the great things about being part of that conference was just seeing light bulbs lighting up in people’s eyes as the event progressed over the two days. Everyone I spoke to said they had learned something new by attending.
Of course, it was also simply great to meet other business bloggers, smart people all of them. Putting faces to names you already know but had never actually met. That was the icing on the cake.
The learning opportunity is still there as the conference is being repeated in Paris in early April. If you’ll be there, Jane, we can exchange autographs then! (alas, we will be in Chicago with LexThink! But, we will think of you, Neville.)
Jane: Are you into reading blogging books? Everyone seems to be writing one (even Jane...more on that at Lip-sticking soon!). Have you read Hugh Hewitt's book, BLOG? We did a review of the book, both on Blogcritics and on our blog...and, while we learned some useful and valuable things from it-- we were a bit put off by Hugh's lengthy discussions on the politics of blogging-- i.e. his repeated references to how poliblogs drive information. If YOU were to write a blogging book, what would you call it, and...what would your message be?
Neville: Funnily enough, I’m currently reading Hugh Hewitt’s book. Before I got it, I’d never heard of Hugh Hewitt (I’m not American and I live in Europe).
He certainly is pumping a political agenda! But, what I find interesting about the book is that it’s not too difficult to put aside the political messaging and focus on the valuable substance of what the book’s about. And there is much of value in this book. It’s not a ‘how-to’ book by any means. Instead, what it gives you is history and perspective – from this book, you can gain some clear understanding of why blogs are such an irresistible force today and why organizations ignore them at their peril. (we must agree-- that aspect of the book impressed us, also.)
As for writing a blogging book, I wouldn’t at the moment! There are a good half-dozen books on blogging in preparation already, so there’s quite a bit of saturation.
One such blogging book that I’m paying close attention to as it develops is Blog or Die by Robert Scoble, the Microsoft ‘geek blogger,’ and Shel Israel, the writer and business counselor. It’s a unique approach to book publishing, one that may well change how books are published in the future, as the content of the book is being developed to take into account the ideas, suggestions and other inputs from business bloggers via The Red Couch, the book project’s blog.
And ongoing dialogue – conversations – with those bloggers continues on the blog as the project develops. Expect to see the end result in the bookstores next January.
Jane: A reader of Jane's blog recently commented that 'men' own the Internet, especially blogging. Jane, of course, took offense to this-- we know there are more women online than men, and our research shows that men abandon blogs in greater numbers than women-- but, we must also admit that much of this is conjecture. Blogging is still too new to truly quantify numbers. We wonder if you would care to comment on the gender issue. Tell us-- what's the difference between men's and women's blogs, and...IF men are blogging more than women, why do you suppose that is?
Neville: You know what, Jane, I just don’t believe in this ‘gender issue.’ I don’t see any difference between business blogs written by men and women. I read quite a few blogs written by women. But when I go to one of these blogs, do I think to myself, “this is a blog written by a woman”? Do I go there because it’s written by a woman? No, I do neither of these things. I go for the content, whether it’s written by a man or a woman. (applause all around, please.)
If men do own the internet, then blogging presents women with a great opportunity to level that situation. (much louder applause, and some shouting, thank you.)
If you write compelling content, you will attract the attention of others who will want to engage you in conversation. That’s true whether you’re a man or a woman.
Jane: We want to go back to question #2 for a moment: bloggers who blog, just to blog. In other words, with no other purpose than to post ideas, thoughts, and conversations--something we are calling "bloggersations." Do you read any blogs like this? Do you think they can be helpful in a business sense-- to give the PR department, or the CEO of the company, a glimpse into exactly what his customers think? Jane thinks so. Jane reads a number of "journal" blogs...and gets a lot of great insight from them. Comment?
Neville: Using a blog to post ideas and thoughts is a great way to develop conversations. You have an idea about something, post it to your blog, see what happens. See what someone else has to say about your idea or thought. Then you can develop that idea or thought.
So I do read such blogs. (To be more accurate, I subscribe to lots of blogs’ RSS feeds.) And yes, I believe they can be very useful in gaining additional insight into people’s thinking and, hence, further insight about the company and the kind of people who work there.
If you think about it, many blogs are like this – collections of ideas and thoughts made up of posts by the blogger plus contributions (comments) from visitors.
Jane: Here's a bit of a tricky question, but we think you're up for it: what is it about the Internet that makes doing business on it so successful? Okay, there is the "worldwide" marketplace--but few people know how to use it properly; and there is the connectiveness-- something blogs are marvelous at developing--but, for the really small, two-ten person, local business... why bother? A Web site, the Internet, blogging-- it's just more work for them. They get customers from billboards on expressways, or ads in local papers. Without the staff to handle an Internet presence, aren't these small companies just asking for trouble?
Neville: In a word – connectivity.
The internet is a facilitator, a conduit which enables you to conduct business more effectively and efficiently than you could otherwise. Can you imagine trying to do business today without email? Without online e-commerce transactions? No way for people to find out about your product or service after office hours?
Some people say that you don’t need these things. Well, think about this. You can be sure that it will become ever more difficult for you to do business with others if you’re not connected, whether that’s doing business two blocks away or two countries away.
I’d argue that the internet is an absolutely essential tool for the small local business, and one that can mean less work, not more. It’s what enables such a business to stand right up there next to the big conglomerate who also sells a similar widget to the one you make, and compete on the same terms.
And with blogs, you’ve got an advantage. Unlike most big businesses, you can be up and running with a business blog in as little as 10 minutes. No approval hurdles!
Jane: In your opinion, after reading your post from Jan. 9th, "The Agony for Sweden Continues," could you comment on the power of blogs to aid non-profits in their fund-raising efforts? We think blogs are a much better tool than phone calls or even direct mail. We think your post on Jan. 1st, "Blogs Can Keep the Awareness Alive," is perfect for this. Yet, Jane does not see non-profits taking advantage of the power of blogs and bloggers. What's holding them back? More importantly, what can we, the smart bloggers, do to help them in their most worthy efforts?
Neville: I think non-profits face exactly the same fundamental issues that for-profit businesses do when it comes to taking advantage of blogs. How to start? Where to start? What to start with? The same questions companies are asking.
On using blogs as an aid to fund-raising efforts – in tandem with traditional fund-raising activities – I think this presents non-profits with unique opportunities to develop relationships with donors in more effective ways than phone calls and direct mail – far better for developing long-term relationships where you can interact with the organization more dynamically.
There’s some excellent wisdom on how non-profits can use blogs effectively in the Global PR Blog Week blog. This online event took place last July and there is specific reference to blogging by non-profits.
As for what we can do to help non-profits, the amazing response by bloggers to the Asian tsunami tragedy in December is a great example.
No matter what your blog is about, you can include links to charities and other fund-raising efforts. Write about what non-profits are doing. Act like the mainstream media and keep awareness up by posting, frequently.
Dear readers, we thank Neville Hobson for taking time out of his overwhelmingly busy schedule to be with us for this marvelously delightful interview. As with every man and woman we talk with, we're inspired to be better people, to get out and accomplish something for the greater good, to do what we can, where we are, with what we have.
What's not to like about that?