Corporate blogging rules of the road (and bonus podcast)

Let’s talk about what makes for a successful corporate blog and how you can assemble one of your own. Blogs are an essential element of any corporate marketing strategy, and should be the linchpin of creating an integrated digital marketing campaign that includes email newsletters, social media posts, and other kinds of content. But if you don’t have a strong blog, you will have a difficult time executing any solid marketing campaign.

I have written about corporate blogging for more than 13 years, including this story that ran in Computerworld, and contributed to dozens of different corporate blogs (in addition to running some websites that could be considered blogs if they were created in the modern era). Jeremiah Owyang once said that you shouldn’t accept blogging advice from people that are not bloggers. Given that he has blogged for as long (if not longer) than I have, he is worth paying attention to. I am writing about this again thanks to being inspired by a recent article about Autodesk and its 200-some corporate blogs.

Autodesk is the company behind AutoCAD and some 170 other products that are based on that industry segment. When you first see how many blogs they have, you think: that can’t possibly be the right strategy for them. But the more you look into what they are doing, the more you understand that this is actually brilliant. These different blogs (some of which you can see in the screen capture here) show something more than just quantity. For example, each Autodesk product and blog has its own dedicated marketing team, so it’s up to each to decide how to structure its operation and tell it’s own story. So as you are examining what Autodesk is doing, here are a few pointers.

First is understanding the key elements in assembling your team that will staff and run a blog. It is more akin to running a publication (something that I have done numerous times over my career in both print and online), but you may not have editorial and production people in-house. That is why it could make sense to outsource part of these back or front office functions of the blog to operations such as Skyword or Contently. While you pay a premium for these services, they can deliver benefits if you don’t have the time, skills or staff to handle these functions. Another part of successful blogging is creating an editorial calendar and planning what you will cover in the next quarter (or longer if you can), posting regularly and selecting the right topics. This makes it easier to assign posts and organize your campaigns.

Next, you need to understand your audience focus and define what the overall purpose of the blog or blogs will be, as well as adjusting to the appropriate level of knowledge for a particular readership. This is something that you want to do up front, before you start creating any posts.

It is also important to take the long view about your blog or blogs; on the Internet, content is eternal and many corporate marketers often make the mistake of having a blog stand up for just a particular campaign. I often get inquiries from something that I posted ten years ago. Many of the blogs and pubs that I have written for have taken down their content. Newsflash: storage and domain services are cheap these days.

Part of any successful blog is also figuring out what your metrics for success are, and that should involve more than just counting simple page views. While we all watch that particular statistic, it doesn’t tell the entire story, such as how engaged our readers are and how many of them convert to trial product versions or refer others who become customers. Figure out how you can track these things effectively.

Finally, make sure you pay your external writers quickly and without a lot of paperwork, otherwise they will migrate elsewhere. (That is where the outsourced back office providers can help.) I know this sounds somewhat self-serving, but I have seen many fine pubs lose talented writers who get frustrated when payments stretch out for months.

If you haven’t had enough suggestions, or if you want to send these suggestions to someone who is a more auditory learner, you can listen to a 20 minute podcast that Paul Gillin and I put together for our FIR B2B episode this week here.
https://firpodcastnetwork.com/?powerpress_embed=9139-podcast&powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio

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FIR B2B #94 podcast: Panera Dread

Panera Bread’s reaction to a breach of its customer records is a classic example of what not to do on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start. Officials lied to reporters about the nature and extent of the breach, treated the security experts that knew what actually happened with disdain, took months to recognize the existence of the breach only after others revealed it to the public, told people that the leak was fixed when it wasn’t and glossed over the real issue: a major IT flaw in its application program interface specs that caused the breach to begin with (as well as another this week at P.F. Chang’s). It didn’t help matters that the chief information security officer at Panera came there from a similar job at Equifax in 2013.

The reaction from Ragan is a good summary of what happened and how the situation was mis-handled, and if you want more specifics from the security researcher that first found out about the flaw last August, can read this post on Medium. That latter link reproduces the email messages that showed how the company ignored the researcher’s notification. Firms need to hold themselves to better accountability, have breach plans in place, and make it easier for security researchers to submit vulnerability disclosures in a non-threatening and simple way.

My 14 min. podcast with Paul Gillin can be played here.https://firpodcastnetwork.com/?powerpress_embed=9051-podcast&powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio

FIR B2B podcast #93: Is privacy finally a thing for B2B marketers?

With the #DeleteFacebook meme taking hold, this could be a turning point for privacy, or certainly is a major moment of reflection about what the role of marketing is in this debate. Marketers have certainly been dazzled by the potential of big data for targeting and personalization. Maybe they need to exercise more caution in the future, or at least respect the need for better privacy controls.

With my partner Paul Gillin, I discuss a few thoughts about the changing nature of privacy and what the revelations of the past week mean for marketers.

Reactions to the Facebook disclosures have been negative. The Internet Society has posted an op/ed saying that “Mark Zuckerberg’s apology is a first step, but it’s not enough.” Certainly, many people and businesses (SpaceX and Tesla are two corporate examples) are deleting their Facebook pages, but do they really understand that this data persists for quite some time? The EFF has this handy guide for individual privacy, and Wired has posted a more comprehensive series of suggestions here. We suspect that some corporate users will also get smarter about how their data is consumed by social platforms of the future.  Hopefully, some solid regulation will come of this movement, and a better appreciation of our customers’ privacy too.

On a related note, in perhaps the worst timed news yet, Slack has changed their privacy policy. Now business owners can download entire workspaces, where these conversations are recorded for posterity. We knew that our expectations around workplace privacy were low, but our IM chats too?

There’s also a new academic study on web tracking tools that shows that the threat of misbehaving third-party applications trampling on private data is huge. Thousands of these tracking tools are used by online advertisers, and many are good at evading ad blockers.

The notion of privacy by design has been around for more than a decade; perhaps marketers should take a moment to review some of its precepts.

Listen to our 12 minute podcast here.

https://firpodcastnetwork.com/?powerpress_embed=8959-podcast&powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio

GregoryFCA blog: Stop sucking your thumb and start getting your people in the media 

Ever wonder why some cyber security firms are constantly in the news? Do they offer a better solution? Know more than their competition? Do the heavy-lifting research that differentiates and substantiates their spokespeople in the minds of the media? Could be.

Or it could be that your spokespeople simply aren’t savvy enough to win media interest. In cyber security, expertise means a lot. But so does the ability to deliver powerful and memorable sound bites on breaking or trending news while empathizing with the interviewer to give the media what it wants (without a sales pitch!).

The process begins with carefully selecting your spokesperson and then educating and grooming them to deliver a message that simultaneously entices coverage while still reflecting favorably on the reputation and expertise of your company.

Start with the audience. Are you shooting for general business media or the technical, vertical media? If you’re looking for coverage in the New York Times or on CNN, then you want a spokesperson who can speak at a 30,000-foot level about how an attack or topic impacts a business, family, or person.

The trades? Well, they want someone who can get into the weeds and explain the precise technical shortcomings or trap doors that a hacker or fraudster is exploiting.

Who in your organization could speak to one or both sides of the coin? Make the call and then train them to understand: 

1. Media coverage is not about sales or lead gen. Rather, it’s about leveraging third-party credibility to establish thought leadership. Great spokespeople know how to quickly size up the direction of an interview and give the reporter new insights or understandings, information they can’t get elsewhere to propel their stories forward and get them filed and into print.

2. Reporters and producers want interviewees who understand the media rules of engagement. A great interview is a bit like jujitsu. A reporter comes at you from a position or angle. You need to be ready to take the barrage or use the momentum to deflect and disarm. It’s a learned skill, and one that will never be mastered without preparation and training.

3. Media interviews don’t waste time, they leverage it. Thought leaders lead by sharing and engaging with a community. There’s no more powerful way to share and engage than in leveraging the reach and credibility of the media. Building a media presence doesn’t take away from a thought leader’s job. Rather it advances it, along with the goals and objectives of their employer.

4. Charisma counts and it can be learned. Not by our spokespeople, you say? They are too nerdy, too techie. Ironically, there’s nothing wrong with getting your tech on if you’re speaking to the right audience and understand some of the rules of engagement espoused here. A 23-year old nerdy ex-hacker often conveys more authenticity than some slick, paid corporate spokesperson. The key is to harness that nerd-dom and put it work educating and engaging with the media in a real and compelling manner.

5. Sound bites matter. It’s not spin. It’s not hyperbole. The media love short, pitchy sound bites that they can use to convey meaning in a few words instead of paragraphs. “It’s ridiculous that 140 million Americans had their data stolen because a single person failed to install a patch.” You get the point. Develop those sound bites for your spokespeople before each interview and you will dramatically increase the impact of your media coverage.

Some people are naturals at speaking to the media. Most aren’t. But it is a skill your spokespeople can learn and practice before they ever talk to a reporter. The PRCoach website has a bunch of clips illustrating common interview mistakes, and has other helpful resources too. And this document lists the mistakes spokespersons make with consumer media, such as not staying on topic or losing control over the interview, or taking too long to make your point and not speaking in sound bites.

Use these five points as the backbone of their training as you shape them into go-to media sources. And maybe you can develop your own version of such security rockstars as Troy Hunt, Tavis Ormandy (who is from Google), Cris Neckar of Divergent Security and Chris Vickery that are often breaking news and being quoted by the security trade press.

FIR B2B podcast #92: TechTarget CMO John Steinert on the science of ‘intent marketing’

John Steinert joined TechTarget as CMO two years ago after a decades-long career in B2B technology at companies that included Pitney Bowes and SAP. So why join a tech publisher? Steinert actually doesn’t see TechTarget as a publisher, and in this recent piece he explained why he was so excited about the opportunity: product, purpose, people and potential. In this interview we discuss the differences between publishing and content marketing, how intent marketing can help provide insights into impending technology purchase decisions and how marketers can make their content more effective and targeted. 

TechTarget’s not-so-secret weapon is its lead generation and tracking mechanisms, which permit the company to see exactly what kinds of content is crucial for their visitors. Steinert describes what data is collected — with visitors’ permissions of course — and how it can be used by their advertisers and sponsors. He also distinguishes between visitors who are just looking to snack on information versus binge consumers, who are likely closer to purchase.

This all makes a difference in what kind of content is created and how keywords are chosen to bring in the right visitors. “You have to have strong SEO, people have to find your stuff and it has to be cross-linked and judged popular and valuable,” he says 

TechTarget’s distinction has always been its portfolio of microsites focused on technologies products or categories — such as SearchWindowsServer.com. But you’d be hard-pressed to find the names of those sites on the company’s home page today. That’s deliberate. Far from being a publisher, TechTarget is today a data company.

Incidentally, both Paul and myself have had a long connection with TechTarget: Paul was the company’s sixth employee and I have been a regular freelancer for numerous websites of theirs.

There is a lot of wisdom in what Steinert says, and he is worth a careful listen to our 25 min. podcast here. https://firpodcastnetwork.com/?powerpress_embed=8920-podcast&powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio

FIR B2B podcast #91: All About Influencer Marketing with Marshall Kirkpatrick

Marshall Kirkpatrick leads influencer marketing at Sprinklr.  He and I worked together at ReadWrite long ago, and he subsequently started Little Bird, an influncer marketing platform that was acquired by Sprinklr in 2016. Since then, he has helped augment the combined platforms for the enterprise.

Marshall has been active in understanding how social media influence is acquired and measured for more than a decade, and likes to talk about this pyramid, in which influence is just one of several steps toward providing real insights into how a brand is understood in various media forms. While our discussion on this podcast is mostly about Twitter and measuring its influence and effects on marketing B2B brands, we also talk about how to find people within an organization that are more inclined to tell your story.

One key data point is to look at when someone started using social media networks: the earlier they did, the more potentially influential that person could be. It isn’t just about counting raw numbers of followers, Marshall says; an influencer has to be picky about who they follow. There are ways to suss this out. Social media is more about finding quality than quantity. 

You can listen to Paul Gillin and I talk about this here.

https://firpodcastnetwork.com/?powerpress_embed=8860-podcast&powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio

When to think about a cyber security do-over

This is a piece that I co-authored with Greg Matusky and Mike Lizun of Gregory FCA. 

Imagine you’re on the precipice of greatness, some victory that will define you or your enterprise for eternity. Something important, game-changing, like going public, executing a merger, or something even bigger, like winning your first ever Super Bowl after 50 years of frustration.

And then it’s all lost. Stolen in the dark of night by someone who hacks your system and steals the secret sauce. Maybe it’s your IP or some market advantage. Or maybe it was simply the plays you plan to call that now will be used against your organization. ​

A lot of football fans, players, and coaches believe that is exactly what happened in 2005 when the New England Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.

Even during that game, Philadelphia coaches knew something was amiss and tried to change set play calls. Every time the Eagles’ defensive coach blitzed, Tom Brady knew it and made a quick outlet pass. Two years later, the Patriots were fined $250,000 and draft picks for getting caught videotaping and the stealing the play calls from the New York Jets. A U.S. senator opened an investigation and found New England had been wrongly videotaping and stealing opponent play calls since 2000.

This year, after the Eagles beat New England, there’s been a lot of scuttlebutt about secret security measures the Eagles deployed to thwart any and all intrusions. One story holds that Philadelphia ran a fake practice the Saturday before the game, running plays and using a play call system they had no intention of using. Whether it happened or not, you gotta believe the Eagles weren’t going to be robbed again. Something did work. New England didn’t have a clue as to what the Eagles were doing on offense. They didn’t know about their calls and the result was Philadelphia putting up 538 total yards of offense.

Not every business gets to have a do-over like the Eagles. And in most cases, when it comes to cyber security and data breaches, hindsight is always 20-20. As an example, look at this recent Ponemon survey of 1,200 IT professionals. It found that the majority of them aren’t satisfied with cyber threat sharing tools in terms of timeliness, accuracy, and the poor quality of actionable information. Some of this has to do with a johnny-come-lately realization that threat intel could have been used to prevent a previous attack. Even UK-based telecom provider BT is now sharing its threat intel with its competitors, to try to stem attackers. So maybe the tide is changing.

There are lots of other cybersec lessons that could be learned from the latest Super Bowl matchup and what organizations can do when they get a second chance at defending their networks. They involve the role that revenge can play in motivating ex-employees, deliberate attempts to confuse attackers, and using specific traps to flush out intruders and confuse adversaries.

First, let’s look at revenge attacks.

These happen when insiders or former insiders get motivated by something that they experienced, and want to take out their frustration on their former employer.

The classic insider revenge scenario dates back to 1999, when Vitek Boden was applying for a job for the Maroochy county sewer district in Australia. He was a contractor for the district and the county decided not to hire him. To seek revenge, he caused thousands of gallons of raw sewage to be dumped into the local waterways, using a series of radio commands. He was eventually caught by a police officer with various RF equipment. What is important to note is that Boden had all this insider knowledge, yet never worked for the agency that he attacked. He was able to disguise his actions and avoid immediate detection by the agency IT department, which never had any security policies or procedures in place for disgruntled employees.

Ofer Amitai, the CEO of Portnox, has a more modern revenge tale. One of his customers is a big food company that didn’t pay attention to who was connected to its WiFi network. It had one employee who was fired, and came back to the vicinity of the plant with his own laptop. He changed temperatures on the refrigerators and destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars of merchandize in revenge.

From these two examples, you can see it pays to be careful, even if a former employee never steps foot on your property or even if you never hired your potential attacker. Certainly, you should better screen insiders to prevent data leaks or willful destruction. And businesses should always monitor their wireless networks, especially as it is simple for an intruder to connect a rogue access point to your network and access data through it.

What about ways to obfuscate attackers?

Like in the Super Bowl, teams are now more careful about how they call plays during the game and practice times. Teams now use an array of sideline ruses to confuse prying eyes, everything from placards with pictures of Homer Simpson to using as many as three decoy sideline play callers.

That’s not too dissimilar to planting special “honeynets” on networks. Typically, they consist of a web server and a stripped-down operating system with tracking software that registers when a hacker tries to compromise the system. These servers don’t contain any actual data, but appear to be a target to a potential attacker and can trap them into revealing their location, sources, or methods that can help network defenders strengthen their security. Honeynets have been around for more than a decade and have an active development community to make them more life-like to confound attackers.

“There will always be timely weaknesses during such events that hackers can exploit,” says Dudu Mimran, the CTO of Telekom Innovation Laboratories in Israel. “Public events such as the Super Bowl present an opportunity because many people will be using digital devices and posting pictures and opening emails around the event. Defenders need to understand the expected sequence of actions around these events and create pinpoint defenses and guidelines to reduce the expected risks. There needs to be a series of layered defenses coupled with user education and better awareness too.”

Good luck with your own do-overs.