Why Product Managers Should Blog

soap_blog

The title of this post is probably a bit too specific. It should really say “why all people who build and work on web and software based products should blog”, but that’s a mouthful. In a recent post,  I alluded to some of the reasons I’ll discuss below:

…it behooves me to have a well organized site where I can not only express ideas, but where I can tinker, experiment, and otherwise play with whatever social media or web detritus I might want to understand.  A blog these days can be very technically sophisticated, and with all of the plug-ins, social media integration, and SEO capabilities now available…

I felt like it was an interesting enough nugget to pursue and expand upon.  The main purpose of my post isn’t to point out what I consider to be the “obvious” reasons for blogging, and these are, in my view:  sharing ideas, communicating with people in your profession, increasing your professional profile, scratching a creative itch, doing something productive while drinking, etc.  I’m sure there are many eloquent articles and posts out there espousing these benefits. My interest was in how blogging helps people in the “Product Management” world better at their jobs.

A lot of Product Managers DO blog about their profession and share useful information, and my blogroll has a lot of links that are worth checking out, but here are a few: Adaptive Path, Jeff Lash’s Blog, Silicon Valley Product Group, Derek Morrison’s Blog, and many more… I’m always on the lookout for new stuff.  Back to the task at hand, though — here are some reasons why I think Product Managers should blog.

You get to do it all.

As the blogger, you are a combined microcosm of all the departments and functions that you normally coordinate with.  You are forced to make cross-functional decisions across marketing, content, engineering, and product. This kind of authoritarian power is actually humbling, as you start to recognize your weak areas.  It offers great perspective on your “day job”, and it creates feelings of empathy for your design and engineering co-workers.  I also believe that it hones your ability to see forests and trees all at the same time. Also, for some of us, getting your hands dirty is fun.

Social Media Bootcamp

Creating, updating, and promoting a blog is, IMO, an amazing way to really get in deep and understand how the social web really works.  You get to see interrelationships and integration options that you probably never knew existed, since your regular work is typically focused on a few areas at a time.  I remember that a lot of people were confused about  @replies, early on , on Twitter, but the hardcore blogger weren’t … they saw them as trackbacks/pingbacks for micro-blog posts, which is, pretty much what they are.  Recently, I read a post in Dave Winer’s Blog, where he pointed out:

Meanwhile, TechCrunch has caught onto the idea I borrowed from Steve Rubel, almost. They noted that WordPress was growing while Twitter’s growth has (perhaps temporarily) stalled.  The phenomenon is not, as some have said, the “death” of blogging (I hate that word!) — rather huge growth in blogging at the low-end as NBBs discover its joys through Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps very few of them will want more, but even a few is a lot! Expect a huge surge in medium-range and high-end blogging in the coming years, with products like Tumblr and Posterous and WordPress perfectly poised to capture the growth.

I agree with him, and once you start to head down the rabbit hole of how you can integrate your blog across the social web and how you can intertwine your blog with all of your web identities and application, you become blown away by the sheer number of options, but also the abundance of quality solutions that are really effective and cool.  I was recently working for almost two months straight on social integration to an e-commerce site, and I did a ton of research and testing.  I probably learned just as much from tinkering with my blog.  Which leads to my next reason…

Tinkering

I’ll admit that I like tinkering with my blog maybe as much as I do writing for it.  Our world is now full of multi-platform capable, socially integrated, SEO’d, API using, user interacting products. With even a semi-sophisticated blog, there are a lot of interesting decisions youneed to make about what app, plug-in, widget, social aggregation service, RSS feed, or whatever is right for what you want to accomplish… and that’s after you figure out what you are trying to accomplish with is half the battle.  Since its just your blog, you probably aren’t going to go through the hand-ringing process of MRD/PRD/ Cost Analysis stuff… you are just gonna tinker and see what works best, which is a great exercise for those of us who are sort of paid to do all of that hand wringing, its liberating and enlightening to not have to. From a research perspective,  its really interesting to see how different plug-in developers, who all properly identify a particular need, develop so many different solutions to the problem that add value in different ways.  All of that tinkering really helps you to get grounded really see what the web is, how the software functions, and where is all comes together in the user experience.

Product Marketing

Blog promotion is a great exercise in Product Marketing. Your blog is the sum of all of its parts, and your users may be coming to your blog for a lot of different reasons.  Sometimes its other bloggers just checking out how you’ve done something, sometimes its someone searching for information you’ve covered, and sometimes its someone interested in you.  Your “mix” of advice giving, commenting on other blogs and articles, personal anecdotes, and everything else that can be slapped on a web page is all up to you.  You have to think about your “brand” and how your product choices affect the brand.  Believe me – – as soon as more than a couple of people check out your blog, you are thinking about it. If you are someone like me who is typically being hired for how I think perhaps more than anything, your blog might be more important that your resume to some people.

It provides freedom to look “outside” for inspiration and answers.

It would be pretty hard, and frankly, pretty pretentious  to casually mention that Locke’s Social Contract theory may have something to do a confusing user behavior being analyzed in a meeting; however, looking at other disciplines is really useful.  My personal “fetish” is economics.  This is partially because it was my major in college and I’ve stayed interested in the field, but its also because the more I think through economic theories (mostly micro)  that explain  people’s behaviors, the more it becomes relevant to my work.  When I can think through and view a problem from a different perspective that is grounded in an established theory, it can often yield really sound insight. I’ll be working on a post soon about how I think that Vincent and Eleanor Ostrom’s theories of rational choice might help explain why digital media piracy “seems ok” in the minds of piraters.  Not exactly something you want to throw out in a strategy meeting, but its useful for me to think about, since a lot of my career has been trying to figure out how to get people to pay for stuff they can easily steal.

There are lot of other benefits, but the downside is the time-suck, and this is where the discipline part comes in.  That’s good for you too.