My biggest editing soapbox right now is to encourage brevity. We’re so used to writing white papers, brochures and magazine articles that the concept of throwing down 200 words on a topic from your day is a very foreign exercise. -
Alison Bolen Editor-in-Chief sascom
Here is an interview with Alison Bolen the editor-in-chief of SAScom , online magazaine of the SAS Institute. Alison talks of the challenges in maintaining several of the topmost expertise blogs on SAS ,Business Analytics and Business Intelligence.
Ajay- Describe your career in the technology writing and publishing area. What advice would you give to young Web publishers and content producers just entering the job market in this recession? Describe your journey within SAS.
Alison- I started at SAS in 1999 as a summer student working as a contributing editor for SAS Communications magazine. Before the end of the year, I came on full time and soon transitioned to writing and editing for the Web. At that time, we were just developing the strategy for the customer support site and e-newsletters. As the first editor for the SAS Tech Report, I led marketing efforts that brought in 15,000 opt-in subscribers within six months. A year later, I switched to writing and editing customer success stories, which I enjoyed doing until I took on the role of Editor-in-Chief for sascom® magazine in 2006. We started our blogging program in 2007, and I’ve been actively involved in coaching SAS bloggers for the past two years.
Outside of SAS, I’ve written for Southwest Hydrology Magazine, the Arizona Daily Star and other regional papers. My bachelor’s degree is in magazine journalism and my master’s degree is in technical and business communications.
If you’re just beginning your career as a writer, start a blog and stick with it. There’s no better way to get daily writing practice, learn the basics of search engine optimization and start to understand what works online.
Ajay www.SAS.com/Blogs has many, many blogs by experts, RSS feeds and even covers the annual SAS conference with video content. In terms of social media adaptation, what prompts you to stay ahead of the competition in ensuring marketing and technical communications for brand awareness?
What do you think are the basics of setting up a social media presence for a company, regardless of size?
Alison- Social media excites me because you can cut through the clutter and be real. Our new business forecasting blog by Michael Gilliland is a good example. Teaching people how to forecast better is his top priority, not selling software. Our overarching goal for the blogging program is similar: to share and develop expertise.
We’re big advocates of aligning your social media presence with existing marketing goals. We have a few grass-roots teams interested in social media, and we have a director-level Marketing 2.0 Council that our Social Media Manager Dave Thomas leads to determine broad guidelines and strategies. But the overarching concept is to look at the goals of your individual marketing campaigns first, and then determine which social media channels might help you reach those goals.
Most of all, take off your marketing hat when you enter the blog, network or forum. Social media consists of individuals, for the most part, and not companies, so be sure to offer value as a colleague and build relationships.
Ajay- I noticed that SAS.com/ Blogs are almost ad free – even of SAS products – apart from a simple banner of the company. Was this a deliberate decision, and if so, why?
Alison- Yes, most of the SAS blogs were intentionally created to help establish the individual blogger’s expertise – not to promote SAS products or services. One positive side effect is that SAS – by extension – builds credibility as well. But we really do see the blogs as a place to discuss concepts and ideas more than products and tools.
Ajay- What distinguishes good writers on blogs from bad writers on blogs? How about some tips for technical blog writing and especially editing (since many writers need editors more than they realize)?
Alison- The best blog writers know how to simplify and explain even the most mundane, everyday processes. This is true of personal and technical blog writing. If you can look at your life or your work and see what piece of it others would find interesting or want to know more about – and then know how to describe that sliver of yourself clearly – you have what it takes to be a good blogger. Chris Hemedinger does this well on The SAS Dummy blog.
My biggest editing soapbox right now is to encourage brevity. We’re so used to writing white papers, brochures and magazine articles at SAS that the concept of throwing down 200 words on a random topic from your day is a very foreign exercise. You have to learn how to edit your day – not just your writing – to find those topics and distill those thoughts into quick snippets that keep readers interested. And don’t forget it’s okay to have fun!
Ajay- I balance one blog, small consulting assignments and being a stay-at-home dad for an 18-month old. How easy is it for you to balance being editor of sascom, given the huge content your sites create, and three kids? Does working for SAS and its employee-friendly reputation help you do so?
Alison- I couldn’t balance work and kids without a whole lot of help from friends and family, that’s for sure. And the employee-friendly benefits help too. The biggest benefit is the cultural mindset, though, not any individual policy. My boss and my boss’ boss are both working mothers, and they’re balancing the same types of schedules. There’s an understanding about finding a healthy work-life balance that permeates SAS from top to bottom.
Ajay- As a social media consultant it is a weekly struggle for me to convince companies to discontinue registration for normal content (but keep it for special events), use a lot more video tutorials and share content freely across the Web. Above all, convincing busy senior managers to start writing a blog or an article is an exercise in diplomacy itself. How do you convince senior managers to devote time to content creation?
Alison- In a lot of areas, the content is already being created for analyst presentations, press interviews and consulting briefs. It’s really a matter of understanding how to take those existing materials and re-present them in a more personal voice. Not everyone can – or should – do it. You have to decide if you have the voice for it and whether or not it will bring you value beyond what you’re getting through your existing channels.
Ajay- Any plans to visit India and have a SAS India blogathon?
Alison- Alas, not this year.
Maybe I will visit Cary,NC then :)
Alison Bolen is the Editor of sascom magazine and the sascom voices blog, where SAS experts publish their thoughts on popular and emerging business and technology trends worldwide. Since starting at SAS in 1999, Alison has edited print publications, Web sites, e-newsletters, customer success stories and blogs.
Alison holds a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from Ohio University and a master’s degree in technical writing from North Carolina State University.