Friday, 4 June 2010

Off-topic but on target

This week I chaired a Q&A session at Onepost’s Ask the Expert event. During the session, in a segment about social media, one of the delegates asked whether it was “acceptable” to blog about his personal hobbies and interests—such as posting poems, or favourite recipes—on his company’s blog. The consensus at the table was that he should steer clear of off-topic posts. After all, the amount of information all of us have to consume on a daily basis is so vast (according to one speaker, a week’s worth of New York Times content is more information than a person living in the 18th century would consume in his lifetime), that it is probably best to stick to what your audience, or rather potential audience, is expecting from you.

Nigel Cliffe of Cliffe Associates said potential customers could find it a turn off to read more personal blog posts. As the delegate was a director of a business-to-business company selling niche educational supplies, his customers were buying for business, rather than pleasure. Blogging about the founder’s daily life, therefore, may not be of interest to readers. If there are too many posts that appear irrelevant, Cliffe warned that readers eventually will tune out. They will miss the posts that are of interest; those that drive brand awareness and ultimately, sales.

On the train home (which was running late, so I had plenty of time to think it through) I began to wonder whether off-topic blog posts could work for that delegate’s business. Take Hush for example. The loungewear cataloguer has built its brand on recommending books, hotels, and even chocolate brownies in its enewsletter, catalogue, and customer magazine. According to founder Mandy Watkins, this tactic works. She sees an uplift in sales after each email broadcast and at the trade fairs she exhibits, customer feedback usually centres on how much they love Hush’s newsletter because it offers them something different.

Another business is Joules. This cataloguer/retailer, which has its roots in the equestrian market, has built its brand around the strapline “Living the good life”. Its blog is full of stories of pancake races and updates from the Joules vegetable patch. These editorial features have seemingly little to do with selling clothes, but here and there you’ll find news of store openings, and dates for upcoming shows where customers can meet the Joules team face-to-face.

Then of course, there’s Boden. A brand built around the founder’s personality. But all of these examples are from consumer catalogues, not business-to-business merchants. The trick, as always, is knowing your audience. For the delegate at yesterday’s event a more personal approach could work, if done right. He is a former teacher and now sells supplies to special-needs teachers; posting a poem that is a play on words for example, could then be used as a classroom teaching aid. Or posting a recipe, provided that it is child-friendly, could be used by a teacher overseeing an after-school club. In short, off-topic posts may not be as random as they first appear.

In order to get the balance right between off-topic and more directly sales-oriented, all the experts recommend testing. If you are a b-to-b cataloguer, your customers probably signed up to receive your enewsletters or RSS feeds of your blog posts because what you are saying is directly relevant to their businesses. They want good deals, latest product news, and updates about the sector they are working in. They might not want to hear about your daughter’s recent violin recital, or your son’s winning goal at the weekend’s under-11s football match. Check your stats to see which posts or enewsletters are getting the most visitors, or what your customers are searching for on your website and provide more of what they are looking for. If you are still not fulfilled by only writing a personal blog once in a blue moon, perhaps you should set up a personal account and say whatever you like.—MT

1 comment:

  1. Hi Miri, you make some very good points, but I would add that the key difference is that the brands you site were already very well established before twitter emerged. By virtue of the position the posters found themselves in they would have the respect of an existing client base/audience to carry off such a personality-driven strategy. In the case of the example given, and an inexperienced 'twitterer' to boot, this would not be a recommended strategy to attract an already busy education market. Teachers in particular want relevant resources in the place they expect to find them.

    Having said this, there are no hard and fast rules about a strategy. What works for some will not work for others. There are a lot of variables.

    The point to note here is the importance of the need to have a strategy and stick to it. Changing the persona of your twitter presence will only serve to confuse, particularly for a new user.

    Great discussion and happy to debate!