Thursday, October 02, 2008

Company Blog Checkup: Chronicle Books

When I arrived at Chronicle's blog, my initial thinking was that the blog should be positioned as being written by book-lovers, for book-lovers. And at the top right, the blog explains that it's about "What we're reading; what we're publishing; what makes us laugh; and what excites us." Ok, let's see how they do.

The most recent post details how members of Chronicle Books went to New Orleans on a recent project for Habitat for Humanity, to help finish a house in the area. This has nothing to do with books or the publishing industry, but I like posts like this, because it lets us see pictures of the company's employees, and makes it easier for us to connect with them. The blog also has many posts that talk about the inspiration behind certain books, such as this post. I like this approach because it promotes the product, but it does so in an indirect way, that makes it more interesting to the reader. Which is what good content is all about, being interesting and valuable.

The problem I see with the content is that for a book publisher, it can be a struggle to be consistently interesting. For example, if you love a good Southern cookbook, posts about other topics or types of books that you really don't care for, may struggle to hold your interest. I think a way to 'get around' this, is to focus on people. And here's a hint for blogging companies; your customers and employees are almost always more interesting than the product(s) you sell. So what might work would be more posts that talk to authors and tell us what motivated them to write/create the book that's being posted on. Or talk to customers about their love of books. As you pull back the curtain a bit and help us connect to real people, the blog content becomes much more interesting.

Now let's look at the comments. Most posts don't receive comments, and the few that do, only get 1-2 in most cases. A notable exception is this post, where the blog talks about its fall cookbook releases, and offers to give prizes to five readers that respond with their favorite fall dish. Contests such as this are a great way to get more comments from readers, but of the 15 comments that the readers left to this post, the bloggers themselves left zero. Which is a mistake, as I think the bloggers missed a great chance to engage readers, note that in many of the comments, readers are telling about their favorite fall dishes, and how they relate to their lives. Great chance to forge connections with readers, that was lost, IMO. The idea of having a contest to get more comments was good, but there needs to be better follow through. You want to approach it as giving readers a reason to comment, but then you need to react in a way that makes them want to KEEP commenting on other posts.

Next up, let's tackle the posting schedule. The posting schedule, at least recently, is pretty stout, with basically a new post up every weekday, with an occasional two posts in one day. I'm ok with double-posting on occasion, as long as there aren't other days with no posts. This doesn't appear to be happening, so the posting schedule looks just about perfect.

Finally, let's examine the sidebars. The first thing I always look for is, do I see pictures of the authors, and links to their bios? I do not, so that's a 5-point loss right there on the score for sidebars. This is vitally important because I need to see the people that are writing this blog. Because when I do, it makes it much easier for me as a reader to connect with them. Simply human nature at work.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, at the top of the blog there is a blue box that tells you why the blog is here, and that asks readers to leave a comment and 'join the conversation'. I like this. Moving down, we see most of the 'greatest hits' are there, such as search, subscriber button, categories, archives, etc. I like that Chronicle has a link to its Facebook page, and would like to see the section on Recent Comments moved up where the Categories section is. Always make every effort to put as much exposure as possible on your readers. There's also a modest blogroll (Blogs We Like), which could be a bit longer, but it's still a nice touch to have some non-company sites/blogs there.

Overall, I'm not sure how to take Chronicle's Book Blog. I think it's a decent blog, but it doesn't really excite me. I think the focus needs to be more on a love of books, or a blog that written 'by book-lovers, for book-lovers'. I think if there were more posts with the authors themselves, and a larger focus on the customers, that the blog would be far more interesting. And as silly as it might sound, having pics up of the bloggers and their bio is always a nice touch.

And now let's break down the scoring for the blog:

Content: 25 (Out of a possible 35) - Decent, but I think more 'what inspired this book?' type posts with writers, would help.

Comments: 9 (Out of a possible 35) - Some comments, but not many, and I think the bloggers could do a bit better job of engaging the readers that are commenting.

Posting Schedule: 15 (Out of a possible 15) - Very nice, looks to be a new post coming up every weekday. Just what you look for from a company blog.

Sidebars: 8 (Out of a possible 15) - As with most areas of the blog, decent, but not great. Adding pics/bios gets this score up to 13.

Total Score: 57 (Out of a possible 100)

This week I am going to try something different. In keeping with my earlier post about how those of us that are active in social media need to spend more time teaching, I am going to make Chronicle Books an offer. If Chronicle contacts me either here, or via email by next Thursday (October 9th), I will give them a free 30-minute consultation on their blog. We'll go over their blog, and I'll explain my suggestions for how the blog can be better positioned moving forward. All Chronicle has to do to get this free 30-minute phone consultation is respond either here, or by emailing me at I will later update this post and let everyone know whether or not Chronicle took me up on my offer.

If anyone from Chronicle Books wants to discuss this Company Blog Checkup with me, feel free to leave a comment here, or email me. If your company would like to hire me to do an extensive checkup of your blog, or if you want to launch your own blog, you can click here for more information on my blogging and social media consulting services.

Next week I'll profile another blogging company, and if anyone can think of a company blog that they want me to do a checkup on, feel free to email me! For a list of all the blog that have been profiled so far in the Company Blog Checkup series, click here.


Anonymous said...

Hey Mack,

These blog checkups you do are amazing. I've been working with a bunch of publishers lately and this issue of how to be relevant across reader interests is something all the larger ones with diverse titles are struggling with. Great advice!

Mack Collier said...

Thanks Sean!