Weblogs (Part 1)

A blog, short for weblog, is a Web site with regular entries on any topic imaginable, an online journal. But who needs any explanation anymore these days? The more important questions for organizations are “how does our organization connect with bloggers?” and “why should our organization blog?

But first, Cameron Marlow at the MIT Media Laboratory explains “what distinguishes weblogging from previous web media is the extent to which it is social, and one can say that the medium came into existence when the set of web journal writers recognized themselves as a community.”

He lists several features of blogging that are important in creating these communities:

  • Blogrolls (a list of other weblogs that the author reads regularly);
  • Permalinks (a link referring to a specific post instead of an entire weblog; allowing authors to have a concentrated, controlled conversation);
  • Comments (a reader-contributed reply to a specific post within the site);
  • Trackback (an automatic communication that occurs when one weblog references another)

iCrossing’s “What is Social Media?” e-book lists other defining features of blogging:

  • Voice (who is writing? Personal or professional voice? Authority?);
  • Topic (most blogs define their scope; an industry example, from general classical music to a double bass blog);
  • Subscription (readers don’t need to look for content; content is delivered to readers)

How does our organization connect with blogs and their authors?

Ponder this: how did your organization connect with your hometown newspaper and local journalists? There are many similarities, but also some important differences. Connecting with bloggers generally consists of the following steps (sources: here and here):

  • Read (know who is writing and what they are writing);
  • Participate (comment first, pitch later);
  • Build relationships (provide the same level of service you would provide a journalist);
  • Adapt materials (if you think journalists are weary of press releases… blogging is even more personal than mainstream journalism; personalize your pitch and remember you are working with a multi-media outlet)

The best start in the blogosphere is simply reading. As mentioned above, one of the defining features of blogs is subscription. RSS (Really Simple Syndication—Web syndication) feeds are the standard method of distributing dynamic content to subscribers.

Many people on the Internet use a service to pull together a collection of RSS feeds, which is known as aggregation. A news aggregator, or feed reader, is software or a service on the Internet that uses RSS feeds to retrieve syndicated content from a Web site, every time content is updated. There are Web-based services, such as Bloglines or Google Reader, and software-based services, including options in Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer.

You can find blogs through specialized search engines like Technorati or Google Blog Search. Try typing in “classical music” in one of these engines and you will find an abundance of sources. Many, if not most, of these results might not be relevant to your organization and many, if not most, of these results are blogs with little or no reach or authority. Technorati offers an “authority rating” of each blog, which is one example of a tool to determine its relative (to other blogs) influence.

That is not to say you can’t learn from blogs with little authority. A good way to keep an eye on what’s being said about your organization is Google Alerts. This service not only picks up news from mainstream media, it also picks up blog mentions. Many of the results are blogs with little authority or influence, people’s personal online journals, but they often describe concert experiences, from first-time classical music patrons to long-time subscribers. Pay attention to what’s being said and you can learn—an unscientific focus group—about costumer service, artistic programming and general concert experiences.

Once you’re familiar with relevant blogs in your industry, participate. As an organization, make sure you have a solid blogging and commenting policy in place; do not limit an employee’s freedom to participate in online discussions, but make sure they understand your rules. As an employee, make sure you understand there are limitations to what you can or should say about your employer and understand your employer’s policy. Know that, even though you do not speak for them, you are always connected to your employer, willingly or not, and do not hide your identity; always participate in full transparency, under your real name.

As a general rule, as Darren Rowse writes, “comment first, pitch later.” He adds: “be genuine in these interactions, add value to the conversation happening on the blog and show that you’re not just there to ‘take’ but to ‘give’.”

Participation will build relationships, but as Drew McManus notes “be careful to distinguish active participation from direct pitches.” Once you do pitch, these direct pitches will only work if you provide the blogger the same level of service you would provide a journalist. A well-read blog can garner more readers than a small circulation newspaper, so do not be afraid to offer a blogger an interview once you have established a relationship and determined the blog’s authority, reach and found it to be credible.

A blogger’s needs are different than the traditional journalist’s needs. If you think journalists are weary of dull press releases, you should keep in mind that blogging is even more personal than mainstream journalism. Personalize your pitch and remember you are working with a multi-media outlet. Video, audio and images can really liven up a story and make the pitch much more attractive. Outside sources too, can add another perspective.

If you provide content, make utilization and attribution easy. Of course sound files of complete symphonies are copyright protected, but consider providing sound samples, interviews, videos and images under a Creative Commons license, which covers the spectrum between full copyright and the public domain and uses “private rights to create public goods: creative works set free for certain uses.”

More about adapting press materials later. And stay tuned for Weblogs (Part 2).

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