I've been very interested in marketer and author Christine Whittemore's approach to social media in the carpet industry, a space not necessarily well known for innovative marketing. She graciously agreed to answer some questions about the two business blogs she is now responsible for. In this second article in the series, (read the first one here), we'll focus on how she keeps the target audience engaged, and metrics for success.
Focus on the message and bridge the new and the old
Ms. Whittemore believes that the relative ease of using social media tools -- versus traditional marketing communications -- allows the marketer to “focus on your message from the beginning", rather than the mechanics of delivery. But there are no quick results.
“Regardless of your industry, you still have to start from scratch to build your credibility, reputation, trustworthiness and your voice - one post at a time. And, then, you have to find ways to cross-merchandise your posts by bridging new and old forms of communication.” Among the methods Ms. Whittemore uses to do this cross-merchandising: sending out press releases about the blog, mentioning it at presentations, and listing the blog address on a business card to hand out.
Marketers need to be prepared for ongoing learning. “I’ve heard it said that there’s no such thing as a social media expert because we are constantly learning and figuring out new approaches to what we are doing", she says."It takes time to internalize what works, and it’s easy to miss the obvious.”
As an observer, I can see a very consistent and significant effort to cross-link to previously published posts, and to engage other bloggers with comments, shout-outs and links to related content. It's an impressive effort, and really highlights that this sort of initiative requires real resourcing and time commitment if it is going to work.
The personal rewards: clear thinking and disciplined process
When people ask me about my own blogging experience, one of the things I always tell them is that my writing has improved enormously. This is Ms. Whittemore's view as well.
"Becoming successful in this environment has definitely been a stretch." She is now responsible for 3 blogs (Flooring the Consumer -- the trade blog, Carpetology -- the consumer blog, and a personal blog about her community -- The Smokerise Blog).
She publishes two to three times a week on the business blogs, in addition to writing trade articles, press releases, website updates and presentations. “Although I enjoy the written word, I never considered myself a writer. I do now!”
She finds the glut of information a marketer needs to deal now with a challenge to process, and hopes that the writing discipline will help with that. “I’m hoping that it will also force me to process information more quickly as it’s hard to keep up with and share the wisdom that is available.”
Engage your target audience with relevant stories
Ms. Whittemore has found that ideas, stories and examples need to be very relevant to the audience, and not too abstract. The blog needs to communicate with passion and relate to the retail experience, whether it’s in flooring or not.
While this sounds simple enough, a quick read of her blogs shows the effort that goes into this. For example, the January 12 Flooring story was about holiday store windows, and links to three other articles about store windows, complete with images, and highlights the web sites of some of the most interesting ones, such as ABC Carpet and Home, and Bergdorf Goodman. Like all the articles in this blog, there is a highly personal tone -- she explains why she doesn't have more of her own pictures of windows due to family commitments over the holidays -- and a veritable link-fest of connections to relevant content, pictures and even embedded videos.
An example of the consumer oriented content is shown in the image above, taken from the December 12 post on Carpetology. The carpet-buying sheet is a consumer-oriented one page sheet that outlines useful tips for buyers, such as keeping a sample of the installed carpet to support warranty claims. This is the sort of material that is usually buried deep inside the corporate website, and probably doesn't reach nearly as many people as it might located inside social media. The blog posting goes on to talk about how all vacuums are not the same -- "beware the beater bar!" Practical, relevant advice.
Ms. Whittemore believes the challenge now is to find ways to connect online and offline effectively. “There’s so much rich and relevant content available online that all can and should benefit from. It’s up to us as marketers to figure out how to engage those offline conversations … and make it part of the rich online discussion. Otherwise, we’re just talking amongst ourselves.”
This theme is the topic of a new social media initiative called Bridging Old/New, “that I hope you will participate in.” [Yikes!]
Measurement and impact: tie it to the business objectives
Many bloggers are free agents of some sort, and pretty much in control of where they spend their time. We may want results, but no one is looking over our shoulder and asking the question. An employee spending this kind of time on social media is going to have to justify it for at least one stakeholder. I was curious how Ms. Whittemore is doing that.
“The beauty of this digital medium” she said, “is that there are all kinds of measures available: visitors, pageviews, subscribers, bounce rate, time on page, comments, and more.” It all depends on the purpose of the blog. Which is why her measures vary across the blogs.This is truly one of the smartest things I have yet heard spoken on the topic of social media measurement: to have objectives, and link your measurement to the objectives.
“For Flooring The Consumer, I monitor subscribers over time, comments both online and offline (I get many offline or email comments), and whether posts lead to other conversations.
“For the Carpetology Blog, I monitor overall traffic and which terms visitors have searched on, whether they have come from or go to the Wear-Dated website (http://weardated.com), and key word rankings.
“And then, I look to see whether traffic I refer to the website is better qualified and stays longer than traffic coming from other sources. The Carpetology Blog was launched at the end of December 2007; and we redesigned the WearDated.com website on June 1, 2008. Although it’s still early, it’s exciting to be noticing improved results!”
External recognition is always nice, though, so Carpetology was submitted to the Forrester 2008 Groundswell Awards. The submission required quantification of the value of the blog, which Ms. Whittemore kindly shared with all of her readers in a post on the Flooring site. Note that the application was for the consumer site, but the sharing was on the trade site, a neat trick that continues to support the advocacy mission with retailers. Ms. Whittemore reports that that particular article generated some great feedback from readers. The site now also has a very short pop-up survey to gather feedback from readers. Few angles are missed here.
Focus on value for audience, not measures
Despite having a good measurement strategy for her own initiatives, Ms. Whittemore cautions that measures are built over time, and there are no quick fixes. “You will NOT see sustainable radical day to day changes across any of these measures. For improvement, you will need to show up day after day and produce authentic, relevant and valuable content. So, don’t fixate on the measures; better to focus on your audience and how to create value for them.”
The third and final article in this interview series will be about the lessons learned from this work, and Ms.Whittemore's view of trends.