This is the third of a three-part interview with Christine Whittemore, creator of Flooring the Consumer, a trade blog in the carpet industry, and Carpetology, a consumer focused blog on everything carpet. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.
Pushing further into social networks
As Ms. Whittemore has continued to learn more about the social media environment, she and her colleagues have reached into new areas.
In 2007, and again in 2008, she participated in writing the Age of Conversation, a collaborative book created with bloggers around the world. Each author contributed a chapter, and the book proceeds have been donated to the children’s charity Variety.
Being involved in that project was what led Ms. Whittemore into other online sharing tools, including Facebook and Twitter. “We had a reason to experiment with some of these tools to figure out whether they make sense and how to use them. I’m in admiration over Wiggly Wigglers (here on Facebook) and The Engaging Brand (here on Facebook) and how they use Facebook to nurture their community and business.”
She has now started experimenting with Facebook for Wear-Dated, and has a video series called A Foot’s Perspective on YouTube. True to form, both these properties are cross-linked and linked to the Carpetology Blog. There are Flickr sets for Wear-Dated, Solutia’s brand of carpet fiber. “These are long term projects that allow me to keep on learning and experimenting.”
Ms. Whittemore also describes herself -- accurately -- as an "enthusiastic participant" in the Bathroom Blogfest, an annual event that I was involved in instigating that created many opportunities for additional blog profile through cross-linking.
The "social media paradox"
When asked about key learning and missteps, Ms. Whittemore says, "The biggest misstep is not experimenting and trying these tools. They are efficient and powerful and here to stay. So, not becoming familiar with them puts you at a disadvantage."
Unfortunately, as many new media practitioners know, time pressures often expand with involvement in social networks, something she calls "The social media paradox".
"My biggest frustration is not having enough time. I bet you are familiar with what I term the social media paradox: you get involved because you have a bit of extra time. Before you know it, the social media project has snowballed and taken on a life of its own.
"You develop a community. You must nurture it, but that leaves less time to be looking outward at what others contribute to the conversation, and keep up with other new developments."
The challenge becomes to "still be aware of what’s going on outside your immediate circle". If you don't maintain this connection between the online and offline worlds, she believes you become "too insular".
Another key area of learning has been in keyword placement and search engine ranking. "I knew nothing about SEO when I started out. As my writing has improved, I’m developing more sensitivity for how to position ideas and keywords for greater benefit. The Carpetology Blog has helped tremendously as all postings have some relationship to carpet."
She still wishes she had more time for formal training in online copywriting principles and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), as well as Google Analytics and other tools. All in service to meet the goals of the entire exercise: "understand what matters to web visitors".
Trends: social media is growing, and the consumer is in charge
Ms. Whittemore believes that blogs and other social media tools are becoming more accepted, even in traditional industries. "I’m seeing more exploration taking place with LinkedIn groups forming", she notes, and "Corporations are getting increasingly involved in social media which means that acceptance is growing."
What isn’t changing is that the consumer is in charge and begins research at a web browser. "The only way to be discovered is by participating in the online conversation and creating content that is authentic, trustworthy, relevant and valuable. And that will only become more true going forward."
Christine Whittemore is certainly one of the people actually driving change in traditional industries. I have no doubt that Solutia's competitors are wondering how to catch up to this two year lead in online conversational presence. They could take a lesson from her, and just get started.
The development of these online properties certainly shows the potential impact available from new media involvement for any industry, no matter how traditional, or even low-engagement the category might seem.