When you’re talking about yourself, your brand or your organization, you may have first-person credibility… but you also have a pretty obvious conflict of interest. Add that to the growing distrust of advertising and public relations – in fact, of institutional communications generally – and you have a challenge.
These days, your audience is putting much more trust in their personal networks: their friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. When they hear a personal message from someone they know, it punches through in a way that organizational communications can’t.
Blogging can help connect you to the power of those personal networks. It gives you a vehicle for bringing content to your audience in a way that makes it easy – sometimes even irresistible – to pass along to the people they know.
But here’s the thing: they often don’t just pass your message along. Your readers aren’t automatons; they’re active participants in a conversation, and they’ll transform your content – sometimes in ways you never anticipated.
And you don’t get to pick which messages get disseminated and which don’t; a blog’s audience chooses those for themselves. The content that gets sent around is the stuff they find compelling – the message they’re motivated to run with.
If you think that sounds like you’re giving up a lot of control, you aren’t wrong. But what you lose in control, you gain in power and reach. The unexpected twists that can drive a traditionally-minded brand manager wingy are exactly what lend the weight of personal authenticity – and engagement – to the results.
Here’s how to enable your readers to be effective, motivated messengers on your behalf:
- The readers who are most likely to bring your message (or, rather, their take on it) into the world are the ones who feel some level of personal investment in your organization or brand. It won’t be hard to recognize them; on your blog and on others, they’ll be the ones sticking up for and encouraging others to check you out. Build relationships with them.
- Your critics are also worth talking to, at least the reasonable ones, and not just to keep them from saying “That organization wouldn’t even reply to me.” Whether they have good-faith complaints about you, or their beef with you comes from a misunderstanding, talking with them can be the first step toward building a positive relationship.
- Don’t waste too much time trying to offer content that will “go viral” – that is, turn into one of those memes that flashes across the web like a wildfire across dry prairie. Instead, concentrate on offering great content: engaging stories, unique perspectives, entertainment or practical information.
- Make it easy for your readers to tell your story. Include logos, photos and video and audio clips… along with permission to not just reuse, but remix them as they please; the Creative Commons Non-Commercial Attribution license is your friend. Even easier, adding a single snippet of code to your blog template will generate one-click links that let users share your posts with every major content-sharing site on the web. (Here’s an alternate service for the same kind of one-click sharing.)
- Offer full-text news feeds (aka RSS feeds) from your site, so your readers can get whole blog posts in their newsreaders. Many of them, especially power users, have set up workflows to let them quickly share posts in Google Reader or similar services with their friends.
- There may come a time when you wouldn’t just like your readers to pass your content along – you need it. Go right ahead and ask them; be transparent about what you’re hoping to achieve, and suggest ways they can most effectively deliver the goods. Just be sure your tone makes it clear that you’re asking for help and making suggestions, not giving orders.
- Be ready for unexpected, even hostile uses of your content (especially if you work in a contentious or competitive arena). Greet them graciously as part of the conversation without making a huge deal about them, and they likely won’t overshadow your message.
- Choose messages and content that people will want to convey. News releases, talking points and marketing-speak won’t work with any but your most dyed-in-the-wool supporters (and you should in fact have a separate strategy for working with them). You’ll get a lot more traction with engaging, compelling content that gives readers and their friends some kind of value.
- Include calls to action in your content – the kind you can track, like a landing page with an URL keyed to a particular blog post. The results will give you clear metrics… and if you’ve chosen a call to action with tangible value, a simple way to calculate ROI.
- Measure your reach by tracking searches on Google, Technorati, Twitter and other services. Get a baseline for the metrics that count for you, and then monitor what’s working and what isn’t. Experiment, watch and learn, and you’ll find your viral reach growing.
You’ll know you’re getting value when:
- You see your content reinforcing your brand and messages – not on your site, but in the blogs and social media streams of your readers.
- You see that content being reproduced by people you weren’t aware of before.