Saturday, September 25, 2004

BizBlogs Ideas


http://www.stonyfield.com/weblog
http://channel9.msdn.com
http://scoble.weblogs.com
www.vastlyimportant.com

This is one of most Favorite Personal blogs on Culture,

http://www.lao-ocean.com

Used by Stonyfield Farm



Stonyfield Farm Yogurt

Organic Communication
Blogging enters the business world


by Jason Imber
From Portals Magazine August 2004



The story of stonyfield farm is the stuff of legend for the entrepreneurial set. In 1983, friends and activists Gary Hirshberg and Samuel Kaymen decided to start an organic yogurt company in Wilton, NH. The idea behind the company was that it should have a dual purpose: to revitalize New England's dairy industry while capitalizing on the growing health concerns of the baby boomers. CEO Hirshberg has been widely quoted as saying the two started out with a yogurt recipe, seven cows, and a dream. Today, Stonyfield Farm generates more than $150 million in annual sales, produces upwards of 350,000 cases of yogurt a week, and distributes its products in all 50 states.

What looked like a business on the fringes 21 years ago is now mainstream. The same can be said of a technology combination that Stonyfield and other companies are increasingly turning to: portals and blogs. Once the arena of technology purists who used the tool as a way to quickly share new ideas and solicit feedback and angst-ridden teens whose posting ambitions were confined to true confessions, blogs are coming to be accepted by businesses for everything from external marketing to low-cost content management systems that can power employee intranets or portals (see "Big-Time Blogging" on p. 32 for more information on how blogging technology works).

In the case of Stonyfield, blogging tools are being used to create tighter relationships with its customers, and with consumers who have not yet been converted. Taking inspiration from the now-defunct Howard Dean presidential campaign, as well as tutorials from some of Dean's own bloggers, Hirshberg became convinced that blogs could be used to effectively reach out to the company's dedicated customer base.

As the third-largest yogurt distributor in the United States, Stonyfield is always looking for innovative ways to get its message across that don't require multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns. The company has several active email newsletters with more than 500,000 subscribers, and it regularly places messages and promotes causes it believes in on the lids of the yogurt cups. The lids (about five million a month) will be used to promote the blogs starting this summer.

"It is all about our relationship to our consumer. It is all opt-in--people are choosing to read it or not. We're not forcing you to buy more yogurt," says Cathleen Toomey, Stonyfield's vice president of communications. "The more you know about our company and the way we operate in the world, the more loyal we think you will be."

Available directly from the Stonyfield portal, the five Stonyfield blogs each play a distinct role. The Dairy Planet focuses on environmental issues; Strong Women Daily News provides information and updates on the Strong Women partners program; the Bovine Bugle explains how an organic dairy farm operates; the Daily Scoop features details from inside the factory; and Creating Healthy Kids provides information about the company's healthy food in schools program. All of these blogs are XML-enabled, using RSS feeds, so that a reader can subscribe to the content and automatically receive it online whenever new material becomes available. New content is posted to each of the blogs once a day, five days a week.

While each blog features unique content, it is all produced by a single in-house writer hired exclusively for this purpose. The writer, Christine Halverson, has a background in journalism and new media. Prior to joining Stonyfield, she had never blogged before, but she likens the task to a daily news beat.

In many respects, the blogs reflect the values and interests that Hirshberg brings to the company. According to Toomey, during the first month, Halverson met with Hirshberg every day to "get inside his head and hear how he says things, learning his expressions and how to represent him." Even now, Hirshberg reads every post before it goes up on the site to ensure that the content is on target.

At this stage, aside from Halverson's salary, the investment for Stonyfield has been minimal. The sites are maintained using Movable Type software, and only two of the five blogs have a budget for graphic design. The concept is a work in progress, but it is also a chance to experiment; Halverson has recently begun playing with the addition of audio posts on some of the blogs. "I hope that over time people will use the blogs as a way to talk to each other and have a relationship with one another," she says. This should lead to a lasting relationship with the company, its vision, and, of course, its products.

TECH BLOG

Though among the first, Stonyfield is not the only company looking for ways to use the portal-blog combination to its advantage. This past spring, at Microsoft's CEO Summit, Bill Gates espoused the value of blogs as a solution to the drawbacks inherent in the use of either email or a portal on its own, bringing together the best of both in a single tool.

There are already plenty of well-known examples among Microsoft employees who are actively and publicly blogging. The company's developer's forum, known as Channel 9, is a group blog that has been wildly successful. It has thousands of regular visitors who go there to learn about and collaborate on more effective application-development techniques. In addition to active posts listed in a reverse-chronological order, which is standard formatting and style for blogs, Channel 9 also features photo and video posts, as well as a wiki, which is the rough equivalent of an online whiteboarding application. Channel 9's wiki is open to contributions and changes that are made directly by the end users.

Another Microsoft example comes from Robert Scoble, a self-described "evangelist" on the Windows team. His Scobleizer blog offers the combination of an insider's view of life at Microsoft and a very personal writing style. However, it also includes links to technical information for developers and those interested in both the Windows operating system and applications.

PERSONAL BUSINESS

In the case of a business-sponsored blog or an employee blogging on behalf of that business, there are likely to be liability or risk-management considerations. For instance, Scoble's blog includes a disclaimer noting that the contents represent his personal opinion, and that it "is not read or approved before it is posted."

Similarly, Phil Libin, the president of technology company CoreStreet, maintains a personal blog that often discusses and promotes the work of his company but is not intended to be a mouthpiece for the business. Since the beginning of the year Libin has been blogging once a day, three to four times a week. He says he does most of his writing during non-business hours and typically spends an hour or so on it per day.

Libin's blog was originally used to promote a freeware download developed by CoreStreet called Spoofstick, which is an anti-phishing tool. "The blog was a perfect way to start talking about it," Libin says. By posting information about the beta release on his blog, he was able to generate interest among other bloggers, who linked to his post. Within a few weeks the software was ready for its official launch. (This was a tool that CoreStreet was giving away as a public service; it is not his company's primary product offering.) Word-of-blog created an unanticipated viral marketing opportunity that was good for CoreStreet and also served to heighten the credibility of Libin's opinions. Today, the blog is also a calling card for Libin, where clients or potential customers can learn about him prior to meeting him.

While he freely admits that his blog doesn't have legions of fans, Libin wants it to be a place "where people go to read original content." Rather than jotting a burst of short entries, he uses the blog to "articulate a thought about something important to the industry that could stand on its own." He offers insights and perspective about the technology industry while also trying to show that he has a sense of humor for the work itself. After all, his blog is called Vastly Important Notes. The costs are minimal; Libin reports that he spends approximately $14 per month for the software and Web hosting, both of which are provided by TypePad.

Whether purely personal, purely professional, or a combination of the two, blogs are becoming yet another tool in a company's collaborative kit. As with many collaborative software applications, blogs may not be particularly compelling when taken alone. However, the combination of blogs, portals, and the appropriate uses of those technologies has the potential to open the door to new ways of working with customers, partners, and colleagues.

Jason Imber is a freelance writer in New York.

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