Why business blogs should focus on cheerleaders, not lead-generation

It’s not clear that company blogs are a good idea, despite arguments for social media generally.

I’ll give you the bad news first, dispelling some common myths about what corporate blogs can achieve, but then I’ll show you how a corporate blog can significantly increase revenue, even without 10,000 RSS subscribers.

If you follow this kind of thing, you’re already familiar with the Oct ’08 Forrester poll that measured how much people trust various types of media.

Specifically: Only 16% of respondents said they trust company blogs. In fact, blogs came in dead last in the list of 18 types of corporate communication including print ads, direct mail, and radio. The average consumer is more likely to trust a random postcard or spam email than a blog! (Well, a corporate blog.)

So you have to ask: What’s the point of a company blog that no one trusts?

The traditional metric of marketing success is “How many leads did we generate?” Branding is good and all, but at the end of the day revenue requires leads and sales. Does a company blog produce leads?

My experience is: Not usually.

At this point I’m supposed to trot out the usual examples of Joel Spolsky, Seth GodinBob WalshJeff Atwood, Eric SinkDharmesh Shah, and even Moby, because, gosh darn, those blogs generate tons of leads and/or product sales and/or influence for their authors.

See?!?  Yay blogs!!!

But these examples don’t prove corporate blogging is worthwhile for you.
Why not?

  1. These bloggers produce outstanding, unique content, or at least they did as they rose to celebrity status. As Penelope points out so well, you’re not that good, not that consistent, and not that committed.
  2. These blogs are venerable and had much less competition for attention when they were building readership. You’re competing in the modern, overcrowded blogosphere; you won’t have thousands of daily hits for a long time, if ever.
  3. These blogs are written by one person with a voice, a personality, and a perspective, not by a “company” trying to sell something. Will your corporate blog have those properties? Can you resist the urge to sell?
  4. In many cases the writers were already famous. Moby was famous before he started blogging. Seth Godin was a best-selling author first, then captured and recycled that audience through blogging. You and your company are not a best-selling authors or platinum recording artists.
  5. For every success story there’s a hundred companies with blogs no one reads. The odds aren’t good. Blogs are too much work for this much uncertainty.

So again I ask you: What’s the point of a company blog?

Actually, a corporate blog can significantly increase revenue, even without tens of thousands of subscribers, even without generating piles of new leads, even though strangers don’t trust them.

It’s all about cultivating your cheerleaders.

Your “cheerleaders” are those rare people who are not only fans of your company, but who put their own reputation on the line on your behalf. This is the guy who single-handedly convinced his boss to open her wallet during a recession. This is the woman who took it upon herself to install your software on every computer in the company. This is the woman who emails her friends every few weeks about how awesome your website is.

This is Tom. This is Carol.

My assertion is that one cheerleader is more valuable than thousands of leads. Here’s evidence; all of the following happens regularly at my company:

  • One cheerleader can get your software installed on 800 seats at a company that your advertising, marketing, and sales reps have never cracked.
  • One cheerleader can promote you 50 times in forums and blogs and Tweets and emails — and that’s word-of-mouth promotion, not advertisement, which that same Forrester study showed was by far the most trusted form of communication.
  • One cheerleader can change jobs every two years, purchasing your product everywhere he goes, leaving new cheerleaders in his wake.

Here’s where the blog comes in. What if the point of the corporate blog is to cultivate cheerleaders? Specifically:

  1. Write convincing and insightful articles supporting what cheerleaders are telling their co-workers and friends. Help them “prove” their points. Help them be successful in spreading the word.
  2. Write articles that could shift a person from being a “power-user” to being a “cheerleader.”
  3. Highlight cheerleaders in posts. Show the Internet at large how insightful they were at implementing your product or service. Give them something they’re proud to put on their resume. This encourages others to go the extra mile so they too can be recognized.
  4. Humanize the “corporation” so that people will want you to succeed. No one cares about some random, faceless company; cheerleaders fight for good, honest, smart people. Let your corporate culture shine through with stories, funny incidents, internal debates, philosophy, how you’ve dealt with failures, and highlight employees.
  5. Track which articles are being spread by your readers and what commentary they add. Discover empirically which aspects of your philosophy, attitude, product features, and behavior motivate your cheerleaders; that in turn helps you recruit new ones.
  6. Reference other blogs that support your views. Typically the authors of those blogs will start tracking yours and often will return the favor, sending a crop of potential new cheerleaders to your blog.
  7. Include your cheerleaders in your corporate successes. Talk about how “we” won some award, where “we” means the cheerleaders too. In fact, use this attitude to rally them to vote so you can win that award in the first place.

Any company can do this, even a one-person consulting shop, because:

  1. You don’t need thousands of subscribers to cultivate 10-100 cheerleaders.
  2. You don’t need to post daily. This isn’t a news feed, it’s sharing a common passion.
  3. Your existing customer base contains most (all?) of your existing cheerleaders; getting them to subscribe to the blog is relatively easy.
  4. You just need to be yourself and talk about what’s important to you personally, whether or not it relates directly to your company.
  5. Who cares whether topics are “too general” or whether strangers will be drawn in. Your cheerleaders love you; just be honest with them and love them back!
  6. Nothing prevents you from expanding the scope of the blog later. Of course you can broaden your topics, write controversial link-bait posts, and appeal to strangers. Just don’t stress about it.

Is a corporate blog necessary for every company? No. There are other ways to cultivate your cheerleaders, but blogging is an easy path to a cheerleader support system.

This doesn’t mean you should stop advertising and otherwise get in front of new potential customers — of course you should! It just means that a blog, as one of your marketing tools, is better suited for cultivating cheerleaders than for generating vast numbers of new leads.

Those cheerleaders are worth the effort.

What do you think? Do you have more tips for corporate blogging? Leave a comment and join the conversation.

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  • http://www.Hware.com Brenda Horton

    Great post. So true about finding the cheerleaders. It just takes a few loyal fans who are wild about your product/service to help spread the world. I also believe that RELATIONSHIPS play a key role in everything you do as a business person, whether it is blogging, tweeting, facebooking, networking etc.

    On another note, I noticed that you are in Austin. I grew up there and graduated from UT. I Love Austin! Hope to get back there someday!

    Brenda Horton
    Hware

  • http://al.exbaldwin.com Alex Baldwin

    Very different way of looking at it. It also allows you to gain word-of-mouth marketing to people outside your immediate marketing area. In example, I am reading as much as possible about startup businesses, but would never buy code reviewer because I don’t have a need for it. By sharing your articles with some of my programmer friends, they are more likely to check out your programs. Keep up the good writing, hope Capital Factory is going great!

  • http://www.laurasoftware.com Santiago L. Valdarrama

    For my company, word-of-mouth has been the key factor to succeed. No advertising at all, only people to people communication has been so effective for so many years! And those people, who start talking about you can be "recruited" with an effective blog site. Don’t focus in selling yourself, just be honest and personal. They will love you, and step by step you will see your audience (and clients) growing quickly.

    Santiago L. Valdarrama
    Owner – Laura Software
    http://www.laurasoftware.com
    Twitter: @svpino

  • Jason

    @Brenda — Yup Austin’s a blast. A town both small and large.

    @Alex — It’s true that this blog might encourage someone to buy Code Reviewer, but actually at Smart Bear it’s the company blog (http://blog.smartbear.com) where we cultivate cheerleaders by talking about code review strategies, previewing new product features, and promoting other bloggers who talk about code review (even if it’s about a competitor).

    This blog is my personal blog. In this case it’s not a "business blog" anyway so the goal is different. Here my aim is to connect with people who like talking about startups, mostly people who are thinking about doing it or are in the midst of one. I also enjoy a good debate, so healthy disagreement in the comments is personally satisfying. Finally, it’s a chance for me to practice writing and get my philosophy and thoughts out on paper.

    @Santiago — So true about being personal instead of "selling." No one likes a sales pitch!

    By the way everyone — I noticed Santiago’s consulting company Laura Software claims that they’ll fix any bug for free for 100 years. I’ve never seen a promise like that! Impressive.

  • http://www.dukky.com/blog Kristen

    Thanks for the refreshing look at how to connect the dots between a blog and a lead.

    Kristen

  • http://virtualimpax.com Kathy|Virtual Impax

    My father – a serial entrepreneur – uses the term "loading their lip" all the time. As you so eloquently point out, that is what a corporate blog does best!!!

    However, when the bean counters and policy wonks get involved – and want to see graphs illustrating just how many RSS subscribers were converted into high dollar customers over the past 30 days…UGH! It sends shivers down my spine. Some people just don’t GET IT!!!

    Human beings are SOCIAL creatures by nature. When they chat over the backyard fence, it’s word of mouth. When they blog about it, it’s social media marketing.

    Cheerleaders for a business are also not a "new" phenomenon. When someone discovers a new restaurant and tells their friends – they’re acting as a cheerleader.

    The thing is – when a cheerleader BLOGS about your business – that blog post has a hell of a lot more "staying power" than the words spoken in a conversation in line at the grocer’s.

    Even if a corporate blog has the absolute WORST conversion rate in the world – at least it provides some "online reputation protection" when a disgruntled customer releases a social media shit storm (such as United Breaks Guitars).

  • Jason

    @Kathy — Great point about your blog being your public reputation. Somehow it’s more compelling in a blog, clearly authored by people at the company and not the sanitized "about us" page. You’re right of course that the idea of a "cheerleader" isn’t new, but perhaps the idea that blogs aren’t about "lead gen" but rather "cheerleader-cultivation" is less widely accepted.

  • http://qrisper.com Jung

    Those haughty entrepreneurs are good for a quick boost of "Yes I Can!" But follow their gospel for too long and it’s like "Alright I get it you’re great now shut it!"

    But I would argue that these outspoken bloggers get the cheerleaders because people want to emulate the success of someone who sounds like they know what they’re talking about. Alternatively, because people prefer relate-able content, success-minded people cheer on others that sound successful. I just made that up.

    One things for certain, no one’s going to retweet a debbie downer.

  • http://www.creativeagencysecrets.com Rebecca Caroe

    Great observations Jason. In fact this could form a useful ‘self-test’ for a B2B organisation.

    If your company hasn’t got someone enthusiastic enough to write aobut your product or service then why are you in business? Never mind the blog…