about their blogging efforts. Now as we move to 2013, I find it interesting to look back at the early days of business blogging. I will only include cases from people who are still blogging now. These cases have not appeared on this blog before.
James Robertson is the Managing Director of Step Two Designs, a content management consultancy located in Sydney, Australia. James still writes the blog, Column Two. He started blogging in June 2002 when the his business changed it's focus to pure consulting in the areas of knowledge management, content management and intranets. Looking for ways to increase its business profile, James saw that blogging was a good way of communicating in a different way to those interested in these topics.
So basically his blog was initially a marketing tool for the business first and foremost, with the goal being to drive traffic to the site, hopefully leading to greater sales of our reports and new consulting clients. In addition, there was a secondary goal to provide him with a personal communications tool to share his thoughts. In both cases, it certainly was a "work tool", not a personal diary.
James found that his blog was hugely successful. In the first two months of posting the blog, traffic to the site almost doubled, which was quite amazing. At the time of our interview in 2005, the blog was the consistently highest source of visitors to the site, rating ahead of all the articles that he published. More importantly, James constantly bumped into people at conferences and the like who say: "you're the one that runs that blog, aren't you!".
Having a picture clearly displayed on his blog helps in this, and many people have commented that it was useful when wanting to pick him out of a crowd, or when he was meeting people for the first time. So as a "profile raising" tool, it has certainly worked. And as a tip to those running blogs, James advised, don't put your personal identity in the background! He says to clearly list yourself as the author on the main page, providing e-mail and web links. Give a small bio of yourself, and include a photo if at all possible. Beyond just giving your blog a personalized identity, it makes the words much more your voice than some corporate message.
James also found that his blog worked well as a marketing tool, as it operates somewhat like a newspaper that he owns. It's his blog and his content, so there's nothing to say that he can't use it to market his reports, workshops and activities. James doesn't think the readers mind either. Using the blog allows him to remind people about early-bird dates for workshops, or to post new reviews of our reports and products. These all have a noticeable impact on our sales and registrations. All in all, it has been a valuable investment of his time, and one that he will continue to make into the foreseeable future.
At the time we talked, James had made the decision to increase the amount of unique (self-written) content on his blog, beyond the links to other articles and resources. The objective of this was to increase the value of the blog, and to ensure that it continued to be useful to his readers and the wider blogosphere. James feels that the timing was good for this change as he was doing quite a few interesting (and very diverse) projects at the time. These were forcing him to explore new areas of thinking, and it's the insights (however small) that he was hoping to blog more of. The challenge was, of course, finding time to write this additional content. So far, he has managed to write a number of entries designed to be thought-provoking. James felt that only time will tell whether he is able to keep up with these writing demands.
James feels that these changes are incremental, however, and the fundamental purpose of the blog as a marketing tool continues unchanged. When we spoke it continued to meet this objective well, More significantly, James now had two blogs. One was external, which is the topic of this discussion, and now another was an entirely internal blog. Every staff member in the business now has an internal blog that is used to keep everyone up to date on compnay activities, major changes, new clients and the like. This internal blog has proven to be a great tool. Since many in his firm were traveling, or out at client sites, the blogs make it easy to catch up on what's happening, and to feel part of the business. When we spoke, James posted upwards of 6-10 very short blog entries every day internally, and it's his main way of communicating to all his staff.
These internal blogs are part of his company’s efforts to apply good knowledge management principles to its own work (beyond just recommending them to their clients). The purpose is not to necessarily convey information, but simply "awareness". If people have a vague recollection that some relevant to their current project has been done somewhere else in the team, they can then chase up the specific details. In other words, all actual knowledge is conveyed person-to-person, but the blogs help connect people.
The biggest challenges James faced was finding the time. What he ended up doing was increasing the working day in order to fit in both his blogging and other work. Basically, when he first got into work, it took him about an hour to get through most (not all!) of his e-mails, and his blogging. Only then was he able to start into the actual work. While this can sometimes be a burden, he generally found it's a useful way of letting his brain slowly wake up in the morning, before starting into business or client work.
The blog also helped James to be disciplined. He set himself a schedule of posting at least one blog entry a day, if at all possible. This was an entirely self-imposed goal, and he didn't imagine that anyone would complain if it didn't happen. It did however help to ensure that he sets aside the time to make blogging actually happen.
James also found that his blog was a useful way of filing away information that he personally might want in the future. So instead of bookmarking something, he blogs it. This is an added "what's in it for him” factor that makes it easier to devote the time required to keep the blog ticking over. James found that there are also some "slow news days" in which there isn't much to post.
In early 2005, James’ blog was primarily a "link" blog. That is, the many entries point to recently published articles, books, and other similar resources. In this way, his blog acted as a human-filtered "aggregator" of useful information within the specific field in which he works. This content came from his keeping up to date on other blog feeds, mailing lists, conferences and resource sites.
His original content came directly from his experiences in the field, consulting to clients. James was constantly on the look out for client issues or approaches that might have broader appeal. Many of these got written in the articles that he wrote (2-3 a month), with the rest going into blog entries. In this way, his blog was part of a whole "communications plan", with each communications medium playing a part:
- KM Column articles: detailed step-by-step guides to approaching an issue or tackling a problem.
- CM Briefings: one page articles that discuss a single concept or approach at a high level.
- Blog entries: personal opinions or challenges to the status quo. This is where he can speak in his own voice, and present opinions without having to take a necessarily neutral perspective.
James sits at the intersection of quite a few different fields: knowledge management, content management, intranets, usability, information architecture, XML, change management. As a "boundary spanner,” he hoped to expose people to information and ideas that they wouldn't have otherwise come across. This was, he thought, the main reason why people read his blog. He pulled together an interesting mix of articles and resources that helped them to do their job at least a little better. Basically, James did the hard work of "filtering" the huge amount of information on the web for his readers, sparing them the effort. Within the areas in which he works, he puts a lot of effort into keeping his "finger on the pulse", and generally having at least a vague idea of everything that is going on.
James benefited from reading other blogs. As a consultant, and occasional "guru", he is expected to know everything that's going on. While this is clearly impossible, he does like to "know a little about a lot", and blogs are the single best way of keeping track of activities and opinions from across the globe. Without blogs, there would be no way to keep track of what is happening in the 4-5 professional disciplines that he works in.
In 2005 James tracked almost 90 blogs in his news aggregator. These covered a wide range of topics, and include both "link" blogs and blogs that publish commentary and essays. He found them all useful, and with a news aggregator it's easy to lose sight of which information is coming from which blog. James found that some of the most valuable blogs are those written by the practitioners in the field, rather than the gurus or the vendors. At their best, these blogs convey the real-life experiences of what works, and more importantly, what doesn't work. This really helps him to feel part of a community of practitioners, even if most of these people are located thousands of miles away.
Since this interview I have met James in person at several conferences. His blog laid the foundation for a richer connection when this occured.