Finding Influencers On Social Bookmark And Network Sites

In the first five parts of this series on finding online influencers , we focused on individuals. But our search isn’t complete until we’ve visited the sites where people share opinions about and vote on the best Web content. These are called social bookmarking and social news sites, and they can give you a glimpse into crowd psychology that no other online service can. As in our previous examples, we’ll pretend that our business is a resort in Quebec, Canada. isn’t the most functional social bookmarking site, but it’s the most popular. Here’s where people save links to web sites that they want to remember and also apply tags to describe them. Tags are a little-understood but very powerful method of describing information. A tag can be any combination of letters and numbers; the choice is up to the user. Many search engines give tags special treatment, meaning that content that has been labeled with a certain tag ranks higher in the results. Tags are very popular with photo sharing sites, but they can be applied to any kind of information.

Social bookmarking sites are kind of like search engines, only the results are selected by the members. The more people who’ve applied a certain tag to a bookmarked page, the more likely it is that that page is relevant to that term. If you search on tag:quebec tag:travel on, for example, you get more than 450 results. Some are obvious, like the official government tourism site. But others may be new, like, a blog about Quebec restaurants, or 1000 Islands, a beautiful photo blog. makes it possible for you to see that 1000 Islands has been bookmarked by more than 350 people, which is a good indicator of influence. The person who runs this site is someone you might want to invite for a photo weekend. Also note that these sites didn’t come up in our search results.

Your trip wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Facebook, the hottest social network of 2007. Facebook’s adult, professional membership has made it a favorite of marketers and it boasts thousands of groups of all sizes. One group called “Coups de Coeur pour découvrir le Québec” appears to focus on Quebec exclusively. Its membership is small, but it may be worth joining just to keep an eye on discussion topics. You might also want to submit a friend request to the group’s organizer and ask how you can become involved. If you don’t want to jump right in, lurk for a while and see what the members are talking about. When you do enter the conversation, be sure to fully disclose your affiliation. Social network users don’t mind engaging in discussions with marketers, but they don’t like to be deceived.

What’s Next
At this point, you may have spent an afternoon or even entire day navigating social media and accumulated a list of maybe 30 to 40 potential influencers. And you’ve barely scratched the surface. Travel sites like,, RealTraveler,,, Where Are You Now? and all provide gathering places for travelers to share ideas and experiences.

You also haven’t tapped the emerging class of people search engines such as and These tools can build remarkably rich profiles of people based solely on publicly available information. Professional networks like, and also make it possible to learn people’s professional affiliations and even personal contacts.

If you feel like your head is about to explode, don’t despair. The social media landscape is seemingly endless, and new sites launch all the time. No one can keep up with it, and no one should try. If you make it a goal to explore one new network or search engine every day and to identify a couple of new influencers that way, you will make steady progress. You can also give much of this work to junior staff, if you have any, once you learn the ropes. However, I recommend against outsourcing this task entirely. Marketers need to learn the ways and means of social networks if they are going to interact with them. Younger staff members actually may be more adapt at using the tools, but they are less able to think strategically about them.

Now that you’ve got a list in place, initiate the process of reaching out to these critical people. That will be the subject of our seventh and final article in this series next week.

How to Find Influencers on Photo and Video Sites

In the first four parts of this series on finding online influencers, we focused principally on blog search. However, a variety of other social media outlets can point us to people whose preferred medium is photos, video and the spoken word. These people can also be important influencers. It’s just that their chosen media isn’t text.

As in our previous examples, we’ll pretend we’re a mythical resort in Quebec, Canada that’s looking to promote itself through influencer marketing.

Start by heading over to Yahoo’s Flickr, which is one of the largest photo-sharing sites. Type Quebec resort into the search box and select “Tags only.” This returns 272 results. Scroll to the list of photos and look for the photographers whose names come up most often.

One of them is “ash2276,” who’s submitted more than 1,100 photos and who belongs to more than 100 groups. Look at a sample of ash2276’s photos and note the large number of comments. This is someone with a following. Look at the photos tagged “Quebec” (there are 98 of them) and click on some of them. Note the enthusiastic comments. Ash2276 is an accomplished photographer, the kind of person you might want to invite to your resort for a photo weekend.

Flickr has over a half million groups, and while some are small or inactive, others are very large. Search for groups about Quebec and you get about 1,800 results. Most aren’t about Quebec specifically, but if you sort by group size and scroll down, you come across a group called “Canadian Beauty” with nearly 1,800 members, another called “Photo Quebec” with 144 members and a group titled simply “Quebec” with 483 members. Wade into the discussion forums and photo galleries for these groups and look for user names that appear frequently. These are also potential influencers.

Of course, there are plenty of other photo sharing sites on the Web, including Snapfish, Shutterfly, Photobucket and Kodak Gallery. They all have different features and nuances, but they all do basically enable people to categorize and share their photos.

Video and Audio Connections

We’re not done yet. Go to YouTube, the premier video-sharing site, and type Quebec resort into the search box. You’ll get 29 results. Looking at the user names, you note that “zenwaiter” has posted several videos. Click through to his profile and you read, “In the winter I travel all over Quebec…and I shoot video clips.” He even has a link to his website,

Remembering our earlier search techniques, we look up that URL on Technorati and find 131 posts linking to it. Some of these bloggers might be good targets for you. The activity certainly indicates that zenwaiter is a promising influencer.

While we’re looking at multimedia, let’s check out whether there are any good podcasts in this area. Podcasts are Internet audio and video programs that you can download and play on computers or portable media players.

The Who’s Who of podcasting is Apple’s iTunes. Searching on Canada travel podcast, we come up with 150 results, which iTunes lets you sort by popularity. The service will also tell you which programs are explicit or clean, which is something you want to know.

The trick with podcasts is to identify programs that are still active. Many series go dormant after just a few episodes but they aren’t removed from the iTunes directory. The only way to tell, unfortunately, is to click through to descriptions or websites and see when it was last updated.

Podcast Alley lists 200 results for the same query, but they’re in no particular order. You need to look for promising titles and click through to the details page, where Podcast Alley provides a nice summary of popularity and recent episodes.Beware: many podcasts are produced by businesses – even your competitors – and probably aren’t good targets for you. We do quickly find a couple of good candidates, though, including Travelrific and The Travel Advice Show. Most podcasts have accompanying websites, so it’s pretty easy to find contact information.

We’re almost through the process of identifying influencers. Next week, we’ll look at social networks and social bookmarking sites.

Putting Specialized Search Into Action

In my last issue , I introduced two useful blog search engines. Now let’s put them to use on our test case: a Quebec resort. You’ll find that these resources do a pretty good job of scoping out possible influencers, but they also demonstrate that the search engines alone aren’t enough.

We start at Technorati, where we go to advanced search and type Canada resort into the search bar. We then specify that we only want blogs that the authors have identified as being about travel. We get a list of “44 results for canada AND resort in blogs tagged travel.”

We see that the top results are all from a site called TravelPod, which describes itself as “The Web’s Original Travel Blog.” Going to the home page of this rich site, we type Quebec into the search box. Our top result is a traveler named “Cobi” who has posted more than 100 entries and whom the site identifies as a “Top pick.” We also see that 39 of those entries are about a Canadian trip. Even though Cobi lives in Great Britain, she could be a good candidate for a repeat visit. We bookmark her profile page, where we can send her a message later.

Our search yields another top pick named “kevandsian” who has traveled to over 21% of the world and logged over 190,000 views from visitors. We also bookmark this traveler’s profile.

Returning to Technorati, we see that the second page of search results lists Jaunted, The Pop Culture Travel Guide. Technorati assigns it an authority of 670, which is very high. This site has many contributors and there are quite a few articles about Québec, so we hunt for people who have written a lot about the topic. One of them is Alex Robertson, who describes himself as “Senior Features Editor at, as well as a freelance travel writer.” There’s a link to A Google search on alex robertson takes us directly to a staff listing and an e-mail address for Alex.

Not all our searches are as successful. points us to AndrewLog, a blog written by a Canadian which has several posts about travel. But how influential is Andrew? If we enter the blog’s URL into Technorati, we find no links and the link: command in Google turns up just five. This blogger probably isn’t a good target for us.

Back at Ask, though, we stumble across, a Canadian site that features deals and discounts for Canadian consumers, including travelers. There’s a page of editor profiles here, too. A Google link: search turns up 113 citations. That isn’t bad. It’s probably worth offering some kind of coupon or other incentive.

As you can see, there’s nothing fast or easy about identifying influencers. Even though a clutch of services has emerged to handle some of the dirty work, it’s still up to human beings to assess whether an influencer deserves attention.

Our task doesn’t begin and end with search, though. There are elements on each site that may lead us to other influencers. Blogrolls, for example, are links to sites that bloggers find useful. This can be a quick way to discover new resources. You should also look at the profiles of the authors themselves. Frequently they list other sites to which they contribute, and you can often find other enthusiasts there.

That takes care of blog search, but there’s a whole new world of social networks that still need to be mined. Next week, we’ll continue the hunt through a few of those.

Use Specialized Search to Find Influencers that Other Engines Miss

Search engines do an excellent job of mining the Web as a whole, but if you want to focus on social media, you need to tap into one of the specialized search engines mentioned in the first issue of this newsletter series. You can find all the back issues here.

For blogs, the two most popular engines are Technorati and BlogPulse.You can perform searches with these sites the same way you would with Google or Yahoo, but the results will look very different.For one thing, both sites make an effort to index only social media sources, which they do with reasonable success. Both also take a stab at assessing the authority level of the blogs that they index.

Authority figures

Technorati does this with an authority ranking based upon the number of blogs linking to a web site in the last six months.There’s also a ranking metric that assesses the relative authority of a blog relative to all of the two million-plus blogs in Technorati’s database.

BlogPulse links to a profile page that lists a blogger’s recent activity, links from other blogs, posting activity and other bloggers that have similar interests.You can also track conversation threads for posts that generate a lot of activity.BlogPulse’s “Neighborhood” feature is one of its most interesting services.It attempts to identify authors who have similar interests based upon the words they use and where they link.Click the “Tools Overview” link to learn about these distinctive features.

Technorati indexes many more blogs then BlogPulse and includes photo and video results.Many bloggers also register themselves on Technorati and provide profiles and photos (BlogPulse doesn’t have this capability).This makes it easier to put a name with a face, which is useful information to have at hand when making contact with an influencer.

Technorati also offers the option of viewing search results by authority level. Use this option to screen out spam and occasionally updated blogs. This can save you time. Going back to our example of the Quebec resort looking for travel-related influencers, we search on Quebec travel and find over 10,000 mentions on sites that Technorati says have “any authority.” However, there are less than 4,000 results on sites that are classified as having “a lot of authority.” Both services also offer the option of tracking mentions over time, which is useful in identifying topics that generate swirls of activity.

Tags add human element

Many blog search engines also track tags, which are keywords that authors associate with their content. Tags are useful to marketers because they are a sort of human-powered description engine. This can greatly narrow the list of results. For example, searching on Québec travel in Technorati delivers nearly 4,000 results. However, searching on Québec travel in blogs that describe themselves as being about travel turns up just 111 results. We’ll take a closer look at tags in a future issue.

As noted in the first article in this series, Technorati and BlogPulse aren’t your only options. There are dozens of blog-specific search engines that each have unique features. Subscriber Ed Vielmetti just introduced a new one to me this week, in fact. BoardReader indexes only message boards and discussion groups, which other search engines sometimes miss. Using Boardreader, I actually found a review of my book that I had never seen before!
Why not make it a goal to learn one new search engine every week? It won’t be a big time investment, and you’ll be amazed at the capabilities you’ll unlock.

Smart Searching Saves Time and Frustration

In the last issue I talked about choosing a search engine to help you monitor online conversations. You choice of search engines doesn’t matter much if you don’t ask the right questions, and here’s where it pays to know the advanced options that are available to you and how to be creative with search terms.

Let’s continue to assume that you’re marketing a resort destination in Quebec, Canada. Of course, you’ll want to start by searching for your own resort in the various engines I’ve outlined. Then you’ll probably want to find people who are talking about your industry but who perhaps aren’t familiar with your business. They can help build awareness.

Think like a customer. Experiment with combinations of words that describe not only the destination but also what people expect to do there. For example, Québec resorts fishing, Québec resorts skiing, Québec lodging winter, Québec luxury hotel, Québec resorts recommended and Quebec hotel best all deliver different result sets. Substituting Canada for Quebec will also give you different results.

One powerful timesaver is to narrow your results using quotations. This will deliver pages that have words in the exact sequence that you specify between the quotation marks. This can make a huge difference in the size of the results domain. For example, “best Quebec hotels” returns only seven results on Google while best Quebec hotels returns nearly 2.3 million! You can also combine quoted and unquoted search terms in interesting ways: Quebec luxury hotel and Quebec “luxury hotel” actually return somewhat different results, with the latter query identifying specific hotels on the first results page that don’t show up from the first query.

Use Advanced Search

Most search engines allow you to narrow your search using quotes. However, not all do. Use the advanced search page in that case. You can also use advanced search to narrow your query terms. For example, you can specify that search results may not contain the word Montreal. Advanced search is also where you can specify whether words appear in the title, text, page name or other locations. This is another way of winnowing down your result set to a more manageable number. For example, it’s a safe bet that a page that mentions Quebec luxury hotels in the headline is going to be more specific to that topic than one that doesn’t.

You can even use advanced search to specify results for a single site. This is useful in assessing influence because it quickly shows you the level of activity about a particular topic on any site. For example, the query “quebec luxury” delivers a small number of articles from the site that specifically mention the keywords. This filtering is useful if you discovered a site that seems relevant to your area of interest and want to find out how active it’s been.

Another useful filter is the “link:” command. This quickly shows you a list of all other pages linking to a site or page you specify. It’s a quick way of assessing influence. For example, if you want to find out the popularity of The Informed Traveler blog, you’d type and immediately learn that 649 pages link to this site. You could visit a sampling of those pages to see how valid those links are.

That takes care of the general-purpose search engines, but did you know there are sites that search only blogs and social networks? In the next installment, we’ll take a look at those.

Use Online Tools To Find Influencers

One of the most common questions I hear is how to identify social media influencers. In particular, people want to figure out who are the most important sources of influence in a given market. So over the next few issues, I’ll outline some tactics you can use to do this.

These are strategies that work for me, but they are by no means the only ones you can use. Please let me know what works for you by posting your comments on this article’s permanent page. I’ll include your recommendations in the conversation as we go along.

For the purposes of demonstration, let’s assume that you’re marketing a resort destination in Quebec, Canada. You need to identify people who are interested in Canadian travel and who have an audience of regular readers or viewers. These people may turn up several different venues, including blogs, video- or photo-sharing sites and social networks like Facebook. Let’s start with the bloggers, and specifically with blog search.

Advanced search is your friend

Most people go to Google when they want to find something on the Internet, but there are plenty of other options to consider. In addition, there are capabilities buried within Google and other search engines that most people don’t know about. These can save you lots of time. For example, you can cut down the time you spend waiting for results pages to load simply by registering with a search engine and specifying in your preferences that you want to display 50 or 100 results per page instead of 10.

Don’t forget about the vast universe of search engines that aren’t Google. Wikipedia has a pretty good list of these. One of my favorites is Dogpile, which is a meta search engine. Meta search aggregates results from multiple search engines. Many search engines use Google, Ask, MSN or Yahoo! as their core technology, adding value on top. The results you get from these engines won’t differ appreciably from those of their technology providers, but the added features can be useful.

You should also know about the power of advanced search. Most search engines have an option to specify all kinds of search conditions and results options. Google’s advanced search page, for example, lets you specify sites that originate in a particular region or pages that were first found within the past day, week, month and so on.

This latter capability is particularly useful because you often want to strike while the iron is hot. If you can identify someone who is writing frequently about a topic, chances are that person or organization will be more interested in hearing from you.

There are gems buried in other search engines, too. Excite advanced search, for example, lets you specify a date range for when a Web page first appeared. Yahoo has Search Assist, which suggests alternative search terms that might get you closer to what you’re looking for. has a similar feature and can also give you thumbnail previews right in the search results.

For mining the blogosphere, the options expand. There are dozens of blog-specific search engines (you can find a good list here), but the most popular ones are Technorati, Google Blog Search, IceRocket, Blogdigger, Blogpulse and Bloglines. Zuula is a new meta search engine that just does blog search.

These alternative engines each have unique features. Blogdigger, for example, can organize results by date and has an option to find only multimedia results like video and podcasts. IceRocket searches Opinmind has a “Sentimeter” that calculates a rating baseded upon the relative number of positive and negative opinions it finds. It’s limited, but can be useful if you have a big brand.

So we’re at the end of our first chapter and we haven’t even entered a search term yet! We’ll get to that next week. In the meantime, please post your own suggestions at this article’s permanent address here.

Innovation Flourishes When You Give Up Control

I recently attended a fascinating presentation by George Faulkner, Advanced Communications Professional at IBM and de facto leader of the company’s internal podcasting initiative. George Faulkner, IBMPodcasting has succeeded within IBM largely because the workforce is so distributed; some 40% of IBM’s 400,000 employees work primarily outside of an office. The initiative was launched much more recently than the company’s blogging campaign, but it has raced ahead of blogs in popularity. Podcasts are now second only to wikis as a tool for internal communications.

IBM’s internal podcast program has more than 100,000 unique members and 12,000 files. The medium’s popularity has grown despite some rather onerous regulatory requirements. For example, IBM must transcribe the contents of any executive interview. No matter: Thanks to individual initiative and a corporate hands-off policy, it’s the employees who are spreading the good word.

One of the first successful podcasts at IBM had no ROI at all. It was a battle of the bands, featuring groups composed of IBM employees. The show ran for 35 weeks and IBMers lobbied for an opportunity to be featured. “That was the moment I realized this wasn’t about knowledge-sharing; it was about community-building,” said Faulkner, who produced the program.

IBM’s story has some important insights about how new technology can be effectively spread throughout an organization. In this case, the company never demanded that its employees use podcasting. Instead, officials sanctioned the project and simply allowed anyone who was interested to start playing.

It’s the “playing” part of the equation that’s so important. Many of the most productive technology innovations of the last 20 years have come about because business professionals were allowed to experiment, even if their activities didn’t have any apparent business benefit. The popularity of the Internet itself came about in large part because executives saw their kids playing with AOL and recognized applications to the business.

This phenomenon is happening right now with social media inside many organizations. Employees use the tools to share their individual interests and areas of expertise. Corporate marketers watch and cherry-pick the best ideas to promote to the outside world. Once executives give up on the idea that they have the monopoly on innovation, innovation truly flourishes. That’s when we find the business value.

Faulkner cited the example of one executive who used to hold a weekly conference call with 500 people spread across the globe. A live call of that scale is simply impractical, and no-shows were a problem. So the exec switched from a phone conference to a weekly podcast. The move doubled listenership. Now road warriors and people in distant time zones can tune in at their leisure.

IBM now routinely podcasts news for investors and periodically uses the medium to showcase customers and executive perspectives on developing trends. Many of the sessions from the 2007 Lotusphere conference are available as podcasts.

For businesses that are still treading carefully with social media, these internal experiments can be a great way to get the ball rolling.

Click here to read George Faulkner’s prepared remarks.

Three More Business Blogging Options

Let’s look at three other emerging approaches to business blogging:

Executive blog – A company that wants to showcase the talent of its management team can handpick a number of senior managers and set up their own personal spaces on a company website. Good examples of this are PriceWaterhouseCoopers UK, Hewlett-Packard (which is greatly expanding its blog presence) and the public relations firm Edelman. The trick here is to make sure that the executives have the will and time to write regularly. These are busy people, and it’s easy for early enthusiasm to give way to scheduling reality. It’s usually a good idea to choose topics over people. That’s because it’s likely that channel relationships, for example, are more critical for you to publicize than the executive who oversees them. Also, turnover may play havoc with your carefully chosen lineup. Have a backup in reserve to pick up the ball in case an executive leaves the company or is reassigned.

Executives need support in this effort. Many have come up through the ranks in disciplines where writing skills were not important. They need coaching and editing to make sure they get their points across. Don’t be heavy-handed; remember that this is a medium of personal expression. Let their personality come through and encourage them to go off the business topic occasionally and write about personal experiences, even those outside of the office.

Advice blog — This is one of my favorite approaches to business blogging, and I can’t understand why more companies don’t do it. An advice blog connects with customers about topics that are mutually interesting. Its purpose is to offer practical information that helps readers be more successful and productive, thereby associating the sponsor with that expertise. A great example of this is Extended Stay Hotels’ Road Warrior Tips, which is full of useful advice for frequent business travelers. Clutter Control Freak is a new blog from Stacks and Stacks, a retailer of storage and organization accessories. It’s been online only four months, but is already getting 1,500 visitors per day. GlaxoSmithKline has a new blog called AlliConnect that’s all about weight loss.

Advice blogs are relatively easy to maintain because they can be written by multiple contributors and they do well on search engines because they pertain to keywords that people frequently use when searching. You can also mix practical advice with references to new company products and services, a subtle but effective marketing tactic. As long as you don’t overdo that, you’ll be fine.

If all this choice looks overwhelming, my Social Media Crash Course provides a quick half-day or full-day introduction and interactive training on concepts, terminology and applications. Contact me if you’re interested.

Advocacy blog – This relatively rare blog addresses a specific public policy or legislative agenda upon which the company wants to make its position known. It’s most effective when the topic is controversial and the company wants to burnish its reputation as a thought leader or activist. Examples include the McDonald’s Corporate Responsibility Blog and the National Association of Manufacturers’ However, companies like General Motors, Benetton and Chrysler frequently use their corporate blogs for this purpose.

Advocacy blogs can gain significant visibility in the media and with legislators and can become powerful platforms to head off attacks from critics. However, if you decide to launch an advocacy blog, do so with your eyes open. Your readers are likely to include the people who are most critical of you and they may try to turn your words against you. You need a thick skin to do this well, and it pays to take the high road. By acknowledging and responding constructively to criticism, you can keep the conversation civil.

For a constantly updated list of corporate blogs, see this list on my website. Debbie Weil’s BlogWrite for CEOs is also an excellent resource.

Three Solid Options for Business Blogging

Many people formed their impression of blogs in the early days of the medium, blogs were primarily as online diaries.That’s still a popular approach, but blogs have matured and changed.Blogs are simply a way to display information, and there are many ways you can choose to apply them. Here are some good options for businesses:

CEO blog — If your chief executive has the desire and discipline to maintain a personal blog, count yourself lucky. Very few CEOs use this tool, but those who do find it an excellent mechanism to connect with all kinds of constituents.For one thing, the media who cover the company become immediate subscribers.

Popular CEO bloggers include Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz, GoDaddy’s Bob Parsons, RedBalloonDays’ Naomi Simpson and Marriott International’s Bill Marriott. Many CEOs of small companies also blog.

A CEO usually doesn’t need much guidance in what to say, but he or she may need writing and editing help. It’s important that a CEO blog has a voice and style that is appropriate to the executive’s objectives.For example, a brusque or “strictly business” style may not work if the company is trying to soften its image.On the other hand, a style that’s too chatty or informal may confuse readers about whether the boss is serious enough about his work.

Marketing communications people should play a role in creating stylistic guidelines and supporting the CEO in writing and copy editing.They should also make sure that images and videos are available to illustrate the topics the CEO chooses to cover. But don’t try to be too heavy-handed.

Incidentally, a CEO blog is the one exception I’d make to the frequency guideline of one new posting a week. CEOs will get good readership regardless of when they write, so if they want to go a month between posts, so be it.

Group blog — This is an increasingly popular form of business blog because it’s the easiest to maintain. In a group blog, a select team of employees contributes to the site on a rotating basis.The schedule may be hard-coded or kept flexible. Some companies find a group blog to be so popular that employees actually bid for a turn at the keyboard.

Popular group blogs include Southwest Airlines’ Nuts about Southwest, the Google blog, the Chrysler blog and Benetton Talk. Eastman Kodak’s A Thousand Words blog takes the innovative step of actually including customer entries in the rotation. Bravo!

Marketing should take an active and visible role in a group blog.It’s important that everyone involved understand the objective, editorial profile and desired voice. It’s a good idea to launch the blog behind a firewall for a few weeks to get people comfortable with the process and it’s appropriate for marketing to approve entries until bloggers get their sea legs.Contributors need to know that they are speaking as authorized representatives of the company and that there’s a responsibility that comes with that. Otherwise, give people as much latitude as possible to tell stories in their own words and to convey enthusiasm for what they do.Marketing shouldn’t dictate content, but should watch out for potential problems.

Company blog platform — A few companies encourage employees to maintain their own blogs on a company-branded site.There may be just a few high-profile individuals (the PriceWaterhouseCoopers approach) or the platform may be thrown open to everyone (Microsoft has over 4,000 bloggers at last count). You can even start with the first model and move to the second over time. For example, HP launched its blogs with a few executive journals, but is rapidly expanding its roster of writers and topics. IBM has over 1,000 employee bloggers, but doesn’t provide a corporate platform for their work, preferring instead to issue a set of common-sense guidelines.

A company blog platform is a useful way to get the people who make and sell the products directly in touch with people who buy them.It’s also a way to show the world the talent that exists in your organization (but beware: Recruiters will be lurking).

You can’t possibly control or even monitor what everyone is saying in a companywide blog initiative, so don’t try.Use a good set of policies built on your existing nondisclosure guidelines (here’s a good article on that topic).Make sure employee bloggers signed a statement that outlines what’s expected of them. It’s perfectly all right to define topics that are considered off-limits.

Although the prospect of allowing employees to speak to a global audience whenever they want and without oversight may seem frightening at first, the reality is that there have been no publicized cases of legal or regulatory action that resulted from an employee blog. In fact, most employees welcome the opportunity to speak directly to the market and are only too happy to stay within company guidelines.

If you trust employees to do the right thing and want to improve openness and customer interaction, this is a great way to go.

Five Fearless Predictions for 2008

It’s been a wild year on the Internet as social media has taken the Web by storm. Some people say this is a bubble waiting to burst, but I think we’re in for another year of innovation, turmoil and strategic posturing. Here are five fearless predictions for 2008:

The year of social search – Google’s great, but it isn’t perfect. Its inherent weaknesses (the inability to search by date, for example) and the explosion of new online content spark interest in a new class of search engines that incorporate user recommendations. Projects like Mahalo and WikiaSearch are early proofs of concept, and new players pile on as prototypes show promise.

A social network privacy backlash – A scandal erupts in 2008 as news headlines tell of people being harassed, stalked and fired because of information revealed in their Facebook accounts. The lurid details are shocking, and politicians quickly move to call for government limitations on social network disclosure policies. The furor prompts Facebook, which is preparing for an IPO, to scramble to revamp its service and tighten its policies. The incident becomes the first great crisis of the Web 2.0 era.

Facebook‘s IPO – Facebook weathers the privacy crisis and stages a successful public offering that values the company at $25 billion and positions it as the number one suitor to Google’s market crown. A power struggle ensues as Facebook immediately leverages its market capital to buy up rivals and solidify its position as the most comprehensive social network. Google continues its acquisition binge (see below).

Blogosphere bustTechnorati reports that worldwide blogging activity is declining for the first time. This sparks a predictable round of tongue-clucking by people who said the whole thing was a fad all along. In fact, the blogosphere is simply entering a normal cycle of maturation in which early tire-kickers fall away. Meanwhile, more corporations launch blogs in 2008 than in any previous year.

Google buys Skype and Second LifeeBay has had enough of Skype and it sells the Internet phone service to Google for a bargain basement price of $750 million. Google is more than happy to make the purchase. It has new technology that delivers ads based upon words spoken in phone conversations. Google also moves to snap up Second Life, which has struggled to find a mission and a business model. Google immediately announces its intention to open up the Second Life program interfaces to support third-party applications and to integrate virtual worlds with its Google Earth and Google Maps products.