Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Social Media Mavens - An Interview with HomeGoods' Cathy Mortensen and Kristie Rogers

If you're a fan of my Company Blog Checkup series, you know that one of the top-rated blogs in that series is HomeGoods' Open House blog (which I reviewed here). Since HomeGoods does such a great job with the Open House blog, I wanted to reach out to them and have them walk us through what goes into creating and maintaining an excellent company blog. Cathy Mortensen, who is one of the bloggers at Open House, and Kristie Rogers, who is Home Goods' Marketing Manager, both agreed to answer my questions about the blog:

MC - How does HomeGoods track and measure the effectiveness of the OpenHouse blog?

Kristie - A variety of different metrics go into evaluating the success of HG Openhouse. Since we consider HG Openhouse to be like a sisterhood of customers who love their home, we want to make sure we deliver on that promise. We evaluate the following metrics:

- Content: # of posts
- Traffic: Visits
- Engagement: comments / post & time spent

There are also secondary user behavior metrics that we look at to help optimize our blog experience such as links into the blog, where are they clicking within the blog, and why are they leaving.

MC - One of the things I love about how the OpenHouse bloggers handle comments is that they always refer to the commenter by their first name. I love this as it makes the interaction much more conversational. Was there a conscious plan in place to do that, or was it just something that the bloggers decided to start doing themselves?

Kristie - It was a conscious plan to keep the blog as organic as possible. We wanted to make it inviting just as if you were having guests over to your home. We give a lot of autonomy to the bloggers. There are very little restrictions. Referring to “commenters” by their first name makes it more of a dialog. We like to think of HG Openhouse as a sisterhood - girlfriends having a conversation with one another.

Cathy - We love to interact with the “commenters”. Whether its friendly chit chat or discussing ideas and solutions, they all feel like your long lost friends. Dialog is sincere, comfortable and engaging. Additionally, with the wide variety of bloggers, “home”-centered professions, it makes professional advice accessible to anyone free of charge. We all learn and are inspired by each other.

MC - How do the bloggers handle the posting schedule? Do you just get a post up whenever you can, or does each blogger have their own quota for how many posts they need to write during a certain time frame? (X number of posts a week/month?)

Kristie - We do like to have a post a day to keep the content fresh which is how we have arranged it with the bloggers. However, if inspiration strikes on any given day, we say go for it. Post away!

MC - Crafting compelling content for a blog is an issue that many companies struggle mightily with. In the case of the Open House blog, the content is crafted around home decorating, instead of directly promoting HomeGoods' products. I think that makes the blog much more valuable to its readers, and ultimately does a better job of promoting HomeGoods. I'm curious as to what the thought process was for picking this approach? Did you do research beforehand to see how the content should be positioned, or did you just make a 'gut' decision in this regard?

Kristie - The strategy for HG Openhouse is for our most passionate customers to talk to other customers about the love for their homes and surroundings whether that is in the form of decorating, entertaining, organizing, gifting, etc. We want the bloggers to talk about what inspires them and how they make their home their happy place.

Cathy - We are allowed artistic/literary license when we post. We’re not told what to post. We do not promote HomeGoods per se, sometimes we just can’t help ourselves and accolades escape. But HomeGoods wanted authentic and genuine dialog for the blog to be a forum for anyone who loved to talk about home related subjects. In that respect, it reflects positively for HomeGoods which ultimately promotes and values the brand.

I think the success of the blog can be contributed, by enlisting ordinary people to talk about their passions with a passion. Many have the same compelling interests, and love to exchange ideas, perspectives and experiences without being “sold” something. It’s friendship, not salesmanship that people remember and trust.

Thanks Cathy and Kristie! Great insights into how HomeGoods structures the Open House blog and I love that they wanted to give the blog to their most passionate customers! Definitely make SURE you check out the Open House blog!

And if your company would like to be considered for a future interview in the Social Media Mavens series, please email me. Look for the next interview in this series in two weeks!


Susan @ Your home, only better. said...

Great interview!

As a HG Openhouse blogger, I have to agree with Cathy that we really do have artistic license and thoroughly enjoy interacting with the readers, much like we do when shopping the aisles.


Joan @ HG Openhouse said...

Mack, great post here on the HG Openhouse blog. I was a reader of the blog before I started blogging for them and I agree that they have done an excellent job in the creation and ongoing maintenance of their blog. It's a fun and informative blog to read and a fun blog to write for too!