Steven's Notebook

Look Ma - No Hands!

Knowledge, Marketing and Blogs, Oh My

It’s been a while since I last wrote about knowledge and the sharing thereof, but a few things have been bouncing around my mind recently. Jon Udell and Marty Collins were just discussing the relationship between blogs and technical marketing, and in there they talk about giving away knowledge to inform customers and help them use products and services more effectively – just the thing that makes so much sense to me but so often is met with overwhelming resistance.

Marty uses the “marketing” term, I come from the customer support side of things, but I think the two can work hand-in-hand. Who are you more likely to do business with next year – the company who sold you a product and then charged for support, or the company who’s employees gladly help you use the product you bought? Sure, you know it, and not only will you buy from the friendly and helpful company, you’ll rave about them to your friends and colleagues.

I saw that firsthand, back in the mid-to-late 90’s as I, with my manager’s blessing, “gave away” answers every day in usenet newsgroups and at user group meetings & symposia. Much of this was the same sort of information that we were selling via support contracts, and while I made sure that I wasn’t shorting our contract customers I was also able to keep a lot of other customers happy at the same time. Happy customers buy more products and services and pass along good recommendations to their peers as well.

Effective support can become “stealth” marketing, as long as it’s truly helpful and honest. It must be done with the main intent being to help, the goodwill and any word-of-mouth marketing’s got to be just a side effect. Otherwise it’ll feel dishonest and slimy and you don’t want slime passed around amongst (now former) customers.

Jon and Marty were also talking about transparency, meaning the use of blogs and other such tools. Obviously I’m all for that; the principle of transparency, “narrating your work” really resonates with me.

Combine blogs with another whole topic, that of tagging (and yes, I’m working on an article or two about tagging in general and the use of del.icio.us in particular) and there’s a huge opportunity for like-minded people to find the bits of niche knowledge that they need or want. As Isabel recently wrote, the combination of transparency, tagging and good search can open “opportunities for people who may be 99% unlike you to leverage your research on the 1% common ground you share.” In other words, helping more of us play in The Long Tail of knowledge.

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