One thing I started noticing about Microsoft blogs (and yes, there are expectations) is that we do a pretty good job of giving customers our information, but not as good a job of highlighting good customer contributions. The result is that it feels like a one way street and less of a conversation with our customers.
Part of the problem, IMO, is that a lot of people tend to post and respond in their own space, but don't branch out beyond that. I sent this around internally a while ago. I'm not sure how many people listened, but I felt it had a positive response. I think the practices below apply to anyone blogging for or on behalf of a company. Let me know if I missed anything. I also distributed it with an OPML of all the “customer blogs” that I read on a daily basis.
Excuse the “Internal MS Tone” here. Pretend I'm just using MS as a case study. 🙂
If you think the number of Microsoft people getting on board the blog train is big, just imaging the explosion of blogs created by all of our customers. Your customers are out there posting opinions for everyone to see about your features, decisions made, releases issued, and strategies taken. If you are not already… you should be listening. This contains information and general tips for people who want to form a deeper connection with our customers than simply reading and responding in newsgroup land.
How to Listen to Blogs
Being a relatively new standard there is not yet a default blog reader installed with your copy of windows. L Sure, you can read most blogs on the web, but if you want to read more than 2-3 of them in an efficient way you should install a blog reading client so you can take advantage of all those “RSS” xml feeds:
- If you are someone who lives and breaths Outlook then you’ll probably want to give NewsGator the free trial.
- I’ve also seen some people use sharpreader, which is another free/donation supported standalone app.
- If you don’t like installing software and insist on a web browser then you should subscribe and read feeds from an aggregation site like bloglines.
Finding More Customer Feeds
Now that you have a blog reader installed it’s time to subscribe to feeds. Sure you can keep up with the latest happenings from Microsoft by subscribing to your team mates blogs and the general blogs.msdn.com (RSS) site, but it would be more interesting to listen to customers right?
Weblogs.asp.net (RSS) hosts around 400 customer blogs. There are several C#, VB, and C++ bloggers there as well. I subscribe to this, scan the headlines for posts that interest me (fun to do while waiting for a build to install right?), and if a particular blogger interests me I subscribe directly to their feed so I don’t lose their stuff in the noise. Don’t be fooled, they are not all talking about Asp
I’m personally subscribed to over 500 customers. With RSS bandit it only takes me about 30 minutes a day to scan and read interesting posts. Feel free to be more selective an focused in your reading than my shotgun approach. 🙂 I’ve found a lot of the customer feeds I subscribe to by tracking who is reading and commenting in my blog and the blogs I already read from the sources above.
What are bloggers saying about my feature?
Let’s pretend I want to know what the blog world is saying about VSIP. Neither google, nor Microsoft offer a blog specific search yet. But there are still some great options.
- Go to http://www.feedster.com and search for VSIP. You could just click on the search results, but then you’d be missing out on the best part…
- Click on the “2.0 RSS” button at the top of the results.
- Take this URL (sample) and subscribe to it as a feed in your favorite blog reader
- Now you’ll know whenever there is a new blog written about VSIP!!! (The feedster index is large, but not all encompassing.)
- NOTE: You can use the preferences tab to increase the result set to 99.
Another good blog specific search engine that can arrange blogs by “authority”. With this you can find out what “Important” web loggers are saying about your features. You can subscribe to three sets of search results here for free if you sign up.
While google doesn’t yet offer cool subscription based searches or blog specific searches it does pretty well searching the blog world if you simply add “blog” to your query. You get some good results if you search for “VSIP Blog” for example.
Now that I’ve found some good customer feeds…
Read, learn from, link to, and respond to your customers if you’d like to offer comments on their views or feel they had something constructive to say about what you work on.
If you are already “blog smart” and I missed something cool feel free to let me know. If you have any questions about the information here feel free to ask.