I was privileged to moderate the BtoB magazine Social Media Awards Breakfast in New York this week. There I got a chance to meet some remarkable people who took chances on social marketing before it was fashionable and won. I first noticed Jim Cahill’s blog four years ago, so it was a particular pleasure to meet him and hear his story.
It took two years for Jim Cahill and Deb Franke to convince the management at Emerson Process Management that a blog was a good idea. Their reticence was understandable. It was 2005, and blogs were widely perceived to be the domain of teenage diarists and scandal-mongers. Why would anyone want to get mixed up with that? And why would they want to read about equipment that manages large industrial plants?
They persevered. Some technology copies were creeping into the blogosphere at the time and clearly enjoying good results. Cahill and Franke eventually overcame objections by arguing that, as communications people, they understood the pitfalls and how to manage them. Emerson Process Experts was born.
Four years and a more than 500 entries later, Cahill is enjoying a new job as head of social media at Emerson Process Management. Process Experts was named Best Corporate Blog by BtoB magazine in 2010 and Cahill is now leading the company’s charge into Twitter and Facebook while institutionalizing best practices among all the Emerson Process Management divisions.
The blog has brought numerous business opportunities into Emerson, including an invitation to bid on a large, new plant that could total hundreds of millions of dollars. “I have the e-mail from that company on my wall next to a sign that asks ‘Is there any value in blogging?’” he laughs.
Even after four years, Emerson Process Experts remains an enigma in a heavy industry that has done little with social media. Topics like “Sensing Liquid Levels with Vibrating Fork Technology” may cause the average visitor’s eyes to cross, but the elite engineers who run giant process control systems can’t get enough of this kind of technical wisdom.
And for a blog this specialized, the traffic is pretty impressive. About 2,000 visitors stop by on an average business day and 15 to 20 messages land in Cahill’s inbox every week. While most are routine, a few gems inquire about business opportunities. After replying with a thank you message, Cahill forwards them on to the sales team.
Search Engine Magic
One reason is the search engine magic that blogs deliver. Search on “process control” or “process management” and Emerson ranks in the top five results. Even rarely used terms like “compressor surge control” deliver Emerson on Google’s first page. The secret is the lack of competition. As an established presence in a community with few other bloggers, Cahill is a big fish in a small pond. And as we know, Google loves blogs.
Cahill approaches his job with a reporter’s eye. He isn’t an engineer, but with more than 20 years at the company, he understands the lingo and is able to write in the customer’s language. “When I pass people in the hall, I’ll ask if they had any recent customer interactions that were interesting,” he says. “I’ll dig into those stories and use the language that the experts used to solve the problem. Those stories are rich in the keywords that customers use.”
His advice to prospective b-to-b bloggers: “Be prepared to stick with it for a while; it takes a couple of years to build up your presence. Listening is a key skill. Blogging isn’t just pushing out information, it’s responding to the interests of your market.”
Thanks, also, to my other panelists: Kirsten Watson of Kinaxis, Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly of American Express OPEN and Petra Neiger, whose team at Cisco Systems created the wonderful My PlanNet simulation game for network managers.