You’ve heard the mantra “every company is a media company.”
While it’s true that thanks to the internet every company can fling digital information to the outside world, that doesn’t mean anyone pays attention.
That’s why I reached out to Lena Hedén, content and communications manager at Axis Communications and one of our clients in Europe. She’s championed and spearheaded a corporate blog to which people do pay attention. The Holmes Report recently recognized the Axis publishing effort with a SABRE Award for best company blog.
Axis specializes in network cameras (and a growing number of associated technologies), which may not seem at first glance the most glamorous market segment. But that’s the case for many B2B tech brands, and precisely why I asked Lena to share her insights and lessons learned.
Q) Obviously, a significant investment goes into building and cultivating a blog. Tell me about the process to gain management sign-off for a corporate blog. Was there a specific event in the company that prompted exploration of a blog?
Our communication specialists at our HQ in Lund, Sweden, and regions around the world saw an opportunity for a channel where experts from the company and even the broader industry could have a say about what is happening in the sector. In many cases, this was already being communicated in various publications, but we saw an opportunity to create a hub where this information could be easily found. Sure, we wanted to help the users and buyers of security solutions, but equally important, we wanted to position Axis as an industry thought leader. We had also been following competitors’ blogs and saw an opportunity to fill what we saw as a gap.
So no, it wasn’t a specific event. The company had matured, communication specialists and subject matter experts saw an opportunity for an Axis platform that could fill a gap for users in the security industry to find information — not about Axis per se, but about key issues across the industry. By building a case for the blog, with readers as top of mind and how it connects with the company, I don’t recall management buy-in being difficult.
Q) I suspect management asked you to quantify the ROI for a corporate blog. How did you do this?
The early adopters led the way. We started to measure in the classical way — the number of blog posts and most-read articles — as well as collecting examples of best practices, such as when readers contacted authors for more information. Soon we added trackback links to see which other channels visitors were coming from and adding the blog as one part of the user’s digital journey. The blog is not run in isolation. It is one piece in a digital channel puzzle.
Although thought leadership is the main purpose of the blog, we also want to create interest in the company. To succeed, the posts obviously need to be discovered. We do that by sharing them on the company social media accounts and our eNewsletters, in addition to ensuring that each post is optimized for SEO. It’s also important that our colleagues use their own social networks. The author of this blog post
shared the post on her own LinkedIn and got quite a lot of likes, re-shares and comments. One comment actually led to a company visit. The interested party came to the company focusing on one specific solution, and left impressed by the whole product portfolio. That’s just one anecdotal example, but it shows how the blog can open different doors to people entering the customer journey.
Q) Knowing what you know now, would you handle the process of gaining management buy-in differently, and if yes, how?
OK, even if the management buy-in wasn’t particularly difficult, it took some time to get prioritized by our hard-working IT colleagues, whose input is essential to creating compelling content. Axis has enjoyed a steady growth for more than 15 years, last year by 19%. That is fantastic, but it also comes with challenges to both deliver what’s promised, and continue to innovate and build for the future. The concept of the blog started about four years ago. Today we have a more structured process for both decision-making and implementation.
Q) You’ve organized a group of 14 contributors plus guest authors to write the blog content. How did you “sell” them on devoting time to the blog?
A strong argument is to show practical results. We demonstrated best practices and the impact from the early adopters, which encouraged more people to contribute. Axis has devoted and highly motivated employees who are eager to share their knowledge, so the primary challenge is to help them find the time, and to allow them to contribute in the most efficient way. For this reason, we in the marketing and communication teams, both internal and external agencies like yours, have to make the content creation process easy by offering support in finding the angle, writing and editing post drafts, and managing the blog as a whole.
Q) When you think back on the blog’s journey, which will be three years in November — I know time flies when you’re having fun — what challenge or challenges most surprised you?
It wasn’t until we started to include trackback links in our “reach channels” — including social media and eNewsletters — that we could actually see the amount of traffic we got from them. Maybe it’s not a surprise, but things take time. Time for colleagues to consider the blog as a thought leadership platform. Time to implement new processes. Time to make the blog one part of our users’ journey. I can’t stress enough the importance of treating the blog in the context of overall marketing, not as a stand-alone vehicle.
Q) I’m impressed that you and your team have established the blog as a thought leadership platform, addressing industry topics as opposed to promoting Axis products. A perfect example of this is a recent post on the future of the oil industry and automation. Was there resistance in the company to this approach in the early going? Do you sometimes have to ask a contributor to start over because the post is too promotional?
Of course, we’ve had many discussions about the tonality of the blog. You need to have strong editors to approve posts and make sure they stick to the guidelines (and a clear set of guidelines detailing the role of the blog, the key audiences and tone is essential). That is built into our process. We learn as we go and update and improve the guidelines and processes as needed. We offer other channels for communication that are purely promotional, so we as an editorial team can be clear and firm with colleagues that the blog isn’t there for overt promotion.
Q) Can you pick one post that you’re particularly proud of and share why? If it’s too hard to pick one, how about three?
The one I’m most proud of is also the most popular! Perhaps that is no coincidence … We craft an annual technology trends piece with our CTO. Before we had the blog, we produced trend articles for different industry publications, which was also our most successful type of content. So, when launching the blog, we knew from the start that we wanted to continue to share the CTO’s thoughts on trends that are affecting the security industry. What we have added are infographics, films for social media channels and supporting presentation material for speaking opportunities. Apart from being the most-read article, it is also an interesting topic to get input on and put together.
Another post worth mentioning is from one of our guest authors. Sometimes we reach out to subject matter experts outside of the company for topics we know will interest readers in the security industry. For example, last year readers were very drawn to GDPR. A colleague in the Czech Republic asked a member of the Working Group for the personal data protection legislation at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic about how GDPR will affect video surveillance. That post is also one of the most read blog posts and a proof that the blog is valuable also outside the English-speaking countries. It’s also one of the best performing blog posts from a search perspective, ranking second only to the European Parliament’s own advice on the issue.
Q) Reviewing a cross-section of posts today, I often see a journalist-like style of writing that reflects fun with language. For example, the recent post on radar detection starts with the seemingly incongruent headline, “Surveillance technology that’s as blind as a bat” and goes on to dispel the myth that bats have poor eyesight (I confess to believing the myth). How do you cultivate this type of writing?
We have to dare to try! By attending marketing training sessions and seminars and reading best practices, we get ideas of what might be working. We know we are competing with clumsy cats and cute puppies …
It is a balance. We need to be relevant for the audience and accurate for the topic, but also attract attention. Another example is this post, “What the heck is a smart city?” It nails down what people are talking about, is attention-grabbing and has turned out to be one of the most-read posts. Sometimes we do step outside that invisible border and need to change, often due to cultural interpretations. One example of that was a post headline along the lines of “Who touched my package?” when talking about secure logistics. We changed that!
Q) Fast-forwarding to today, how do you know that the blog is working? Can you share any metrics?
Three of the main success criteria we measure are content repurpose, unique page views and average session duration. The unique page views are increasing: in May 2019 we had about 10,000 visitors, two years ago it was less than half that, and the session duration is also on the rise. We’re starting to see how the blog is an integrated part of the customer journey. In general, the best-performing traffic sources to the blog are, apart from search, LinkedIn and our eNewsletters. From a content repurposing perspective, the blog has now become a foundation for content that finds its way into industry publications, either through our proactive activity or, increasingly, through media taking content straight from the blog for publication. That’s a great endorsement of the quality of content we’re creating.
Q) Last question I promise — What’s in the future for “Secure Insights?” How do you plan to improve the blog over the next year or two?
With more data and knowledge of the readers’ behavior, we are improving the user experience. We’re achieving this by improving the usage of tags, the setup for finding related posts, more effective calls to action, and adding subscription possibilities. Today, Secure Insights is available in seven languages (adapted to each market, so not just translated), and I’m sure it will be available in more in two years’ time. And as stated before, we see the blog as an essential piece of the puzzle in our digital user experience, so by strengthening the blog experience, we will have greater effect on the company’s success.
The B2B blog is alive and well.
It turns out that internal communications — helping all the different stakeholders understand the value of the blog and ongoing updates on successes — is one critical success factor.
While Lena is too humble to say this, it also helps to have one passionate individual who made the leap of faith to champion the blog.