The discussion this morning at the PMM in an Always-On World wandered over some interesting topics. A few of the people there were from the promotional products area, and they were talking in particular about trade shows for a while. Apparently there’s been a lot of buzz in that industry over one organization trying to buy out the other, and when unsuccessful then attempting to launch a competing trade show at right about the same time. So there was some general discussion about trade shows and how they fit into the overall scheme of marketing and communications. One idea that we talked about, and the one I think I agree with the most, is that trade shows are one of the few places where you can get into a conversation with a company. It might certainly be true that the people with real purchasing decision power aren’t at the shows, but it’s a chance for your customers (and potential partners, and press, and resellers or licensees, etc.) to come and talk to your people. And it’s also a chance for your people to gather information from the people out walking around on the floor. I don’t see them as a chance really to meet all that many new leads, but to maintain relationships, exchange information, and discuss.

This is starting to change I think. Like Steve Blank recommends for new products and companies, companies are starting to dissolve the barriers between their employees and their customers. The blogging phenomenon provides a medium that’s particularly well suited to the out in the open iterative model of engaging with customers for the purpose of refining a product or service. If dialog across the organizational boundary is going on online already, that certainly changes the role that the trade shows will have. We also talked about blogs replacing the more traditional means of marketing, which is something that I don’t think will happen any time soon. Being engaged in blogging as an organization means that the roles of those traditionial activities are changed, they start to serve a different purpose. Press releases probably start to mean something completely different after a company starts blogging than they did before. Is the press release an invitation to start a discussion online or something issued after the discussion has been going on and a solid message has formed? That’s hard to say, and might be different for different organizational styles and methods of interacting with the public. There was someone there who does HR and asked if screening for people who would make good bloggers might be something that employers would want to consider. I think that’s definitely true. We’ve seen plenty of job shifts because of blogs, either people getting fired (Joyce Park was fired allegedly for content on her blog about her former employer Friendster) or people getting hired (Russell Beattie was hired by Yahoo! at least in part because of his blog about mobility, generally considered a must-read by people in the industry). And I do think that employers will be increasingly interested in the voice that their employees can hold out online for them. I don’t see this is a major change however, just a bit of a refocusing of attention into a new channel.

So how can a company go about getting involved in blogging? I generally don’t think it’s a good idea to have someone outside your company blog for you. It might be a workable situation in some cases, but the real benefits to having a blog are discussion across the organizational boundary. If that discussion happens with someone outside and gets translated into your group by someone else you lose some of the benefits. Also, keep the discussion honest and open. There are going to be people who show up pissed off and acting nasty. For the most part everyone understands that those people exist, and it’s not their presence that you’ll be judged by, but your dealings with them that will be key. People pointed out that it takes a lot of time to consume and emit blog info. That’s definitely true, but even if you aren’t participating in these conversations they’re going to be going on. Even if you aren’t reading the information being written about you in blogs, people who use and buy your products probably are. And increasingly, journalists and analysts who cover your sector are almost definitely reading that information. Do you need to stop everything from your traditional marketing plan and just get everyone reading and writing blogs? No, although I suspect there are worse things that could be done. But it is something to be factored into the overall plan. The information you get out of interaction on blogs will most likely help you shape the rest of your campaigns. Possibly even helping you trim them down while making them more effective. This is one of those things that with a bit of investment, if you pay attention to the results, should have no problem paying for itself in terms of cost savings down the line.

I’m going to include a specific disclaimer in this one, cause it is so highly Feedster related. My opinions in this article have nothing to do with the official position of Feedster. Everyone there might agree, they might disagree. If they have something in particular to say I’m sure there’ll be something on our corporate blog or Rafer’s blog or Johnson’s blog. See how that works? Multiple people, with opinions, and an official corporate voice for the whole so that people can speak their mind on their own. It’s a good thing, believe me.