When Steve Goldstein, CEO of Alacra, began blogging in 2004, the intent was to see how easy and robust the technique would be. "Our goal," he says, "was to find ways to communicate more regularly with customers than we could through email and brochures." Goldstein quickly learned that the blog was an ideal medium through which to communicate product enhancements that were not considered "press-release-worthy" and to enhance the company’s thought leadership profile, as he blogged about conferences and news events important to Alacra’s customers. In a companion blog, Alacra VP of product management Barry Graubart ruminates on the convergence of content and technology.
As one of the first regular CEO bloggers in the financial services space, Goldstein now thinks that companies that don’t have a blog set up are making a big mistake. "The AlacraBlog has been great from a marketing standpoint. It helps with search engine optimization simply because there are more pages about Alacra on the web." The AlacraBlog has become a critical channel for enhancing customer communication. Goldstein says, "Because our users are in the financial industry they don’t like to post, though I wish they would. They prefer to stay anonymous to other readers of the blog. But they have no problem calling me up to comment on something I’ve written, and that conversation wouldn’t happen otherwise."
A year after launching the AlacraBlog, the company introduced the AlacraWiki, a free online resource for business and financial content that includes profiles of industries and financial databases and that allows users to generate content. In the case of both the blog and the wiki, part of their success can be attributed to the fact that Alacra focuses on a clearly defined topic important to its users—online financial content. It probably makes the task of blogging easier. As Goldstein admits, "When I read CEO bloggers who are posting all the time on lots of different subjects, I wonder where their time comes from."
Jeff Brainard, a product manager at Socialtext, a company that provides enterprise wiki solutions, says that one of the keys to a successful wiki deployment is defining its scope in advance. "You have to define a use case for the wiki, and provide a structure for people to contribute to it" so that the content isn’t all over the map. Along with having a corporate champion for the new tool, he believes that the best chance for success comes with launching around an issue that is pressing to customers. "For instance, you could set up a wiki around an upcoming conference. The marketing team can use it ahead of time to share information and set up a directory, and afterwards it becomes an archival resource for attendees," says Brainard.
Angel.com is a Socialtext customer providing interactive voice response (IVR) and call center solutions to enterprises. It uses a Socialtext-hosted wiki around the topic of IVR for its customers, partners, and others "who may want to join in the conversation." The site includes release notes, discussion forums, and links to the company’s knowledgebase, all meeting the needs of Angel.com customers working with IVR technology.
Sometimes the concept of focus involves choosing a subset of customers for whom new digital media is a fit, while keeping in mind that traditional marketing methods may work better for other "buyer personas," to paraphrase Scott. Barry Solomon, VP of client services at LexisNexis who took on a leadership role in enhancing the interactive web presence of its subsidiary Martindale-Hubbell, encountered this situation when rolling out an overhauled version of the company’s website in November 2007. "We had been publishing the Martindale directories for more than a hundred years, and we knew that our customers engaged in offline social networking. It was an opportunity to marry up both sides and provide content-rich social networking opportunities," says Solomon.
The company introduced a blog and "My Martindale Network" functionality that enables corporate counsel and buyers of legal services to score their preferred providers. While Martindale has been pleased with customer response to the new site and plans to continue building upon it, Solomon says, "It’s an old profession and while some lawyers are great with new technologies, others simply prefer to use the directories that they’re used to."
Scott agrees that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for dipping your toe into the interactive marketing waters. "What tools do I like? I like the tools your buyers are using," he says. "Do they watch YouTube? You should be there. Audio content is great for reaching salespeople who are constantly on the road and have downtime while driving or waiting in airports. It’s not about the next cool application, it’s about understanding your buyers better."