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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Susan Negley, Floor Covering Institute Blog Editor

Susan Negley, Floor Covering Institute
Susan Negley is the editor of the Floor Covering Institute's Blog. Given her immersion in social media and content marketing, I thought you would appreciate her perspective on how the tools of social media - and in particular the blog - have benefited her organization, The Floor Covering Institute.

For the record, I am advisor, contributor and creator of the Floor Covering Institute Blog.

I'm also scheduled for an intense 1:1 Twitter session with Susan next week at Surfaces and I can't wait to witness the results!  [P.S.: if you want to follow the Surfaces related conversations on Twitter, use #Surfaces.]

C.B.: Susan, please tell me about yourself and your background.

The most consistent themes in my professional life have been writing and floor covering. Writing started as a kid and then I attended journalism school. Most of my life I’ve managed to incorporate that skill into what I was doing, whether it be editing newspapers, writing legal briefs or research and marketing.

I became associated with the flooring industry in 1980 and in a more direct way in 1992 as joint owner of two retail stores. That experience makes me appreciate the challenges of retail! I’ve  also worked for two large floor covering buying groups (Color Tile and CCA Global Partners) and a flooring distributor, primarily in the marketing and communications field for each.

Now I am part of a floor covering consulting group, The Floor Covering Institute, where I have the privilege to work with people who love the flooring industry and enjoy helping it grow and prosper.

C.B.: What is the Floor Covering Institute?

The Floor Covering Institute is an umbrella organization under which a group of flooring industry experts offer their combined and individual services to the floor covering industry.  It’s unique in that it’s the only independent consulting group of its kind in flooring; the consultants are all executives from within the industry.

The knowledge base is both deep and broad. If you add up the combined experience in the floor covering industry among our 10 members it’s something like 260 years.  Between what we know and who we know, there isn’t much that we can’t do for our clients.  We work with retailers, distributors, manufacturers, buying groups, logistics companies, providers of raw materials, governments and others.  Our industry is global and so are our clients and consultants. We work with single retail stores all the way to the world’s largest manufacturers and every type and size of business in between.  Each associated consultant has a focus area and an independent practice; we work together as teams when the clients’ needs call for it.

C.B.: What is your role at FCI? Or, perhaps I should ask 'What don't you do!"

I have a title  - communications director -  but frankly, like so many titles, it’s not that descriptive of what I do.  I’d say I’m a researcher, writer, editor, publisher, administrator and overall coordinator.  Besides the blog publishing schedule, I have a long list of articles to research and write for clients, I’m researching information on the life cycle analysis of wood flooring and the increase of LEED building in Asia, preparing a presentation for the United Nations to encourage more government/industry interaction during the International Year of Forests 2011,  working on the education program for the international Wood Flooring Forum (part of Asia’s floor covering trade show, Domotex, in Shanghai next March)  preparing marketing materials for a VIP tour of retail stores in Hannover, Germany in January (part of Europe’s floor covering tradeshow, Domotex),  developing an education presentation on various governmental regulations that affect our industry for Surfaces (the U.S. floor covering trade show) in January.  One of my continuing objectives is to keep the institute founder, Jim Gould, free from as many distracting chores as I can so he can focus on what he does best, which is solving problems and creating new opportunities for our clients.

C.B.: Susan, what about social media and the Floor Covering Institute?

I see that the potential is much greater than what we are doing now.  It’s a matter of hours in the day  that are left to learn about it and how to make the most of it.

I am “of an age” where social marketing does not come naturally. I can say that our blog (www.blog.floorcoveringinstitute.com) has really enhanced awareness of who we are in the world.  We have a Facebook Fan page and we use Twitter, but we don’t use either effectively and that’s a really sad commentary since I have access to you, the expert!

C.B.: The FCI Blog launched in September 2009. What other benefits has it brought to FCI?

While our founder, Jim Gould, is well known in the industry, as are our consultants,  the Institute itself was formed only a few years ago and the consulting business was a start up. We’ve made the blog key to building the brand. It’s been running just over a year and now when I research the Internet for information about our industry the FCI blog invariably comes up at the top or near the top of the return. We hear often from people around the world who read it. Our readership is much greater than the number of our actual followers. That is partly due to more and more people linking to us.  We just received a request from McKinsey Consulting (one of the most well known firms in the world) who wants to consult with us on this industry and I am sure the blog played a part in that.

C.B.: What has been your biggest surprise[s] with the FCI blog?

Perhaps not so much a surprise, but a light bulb that went off some time ago - that what is posted on the blog is there forever for people to find, not just that week, but months and potentially years later. As editor I try to not leave too much unexplained or assumed.  As a consumer of information I find it frustrating when terms are unexplained and I have to leave a website to research their meaning. I encounter this often in social marketing blogs and websites, probably because I am a neophyte and need things explained in very basic terms.  I don’t think the webmasters desire me to have to leave their site for better explanations but it happens often.  I have to assume that others, especially retailers who are stand alone operators, also encounter this frustration.

C.B.: What about LinkedIn and Facebook? How are you using them?

We have a Facebook page and I direct our blog posts to it. I find it interesting that we have followers on Twitter, fans on Facebook and followers of the blog with not many duplications. The same content is offered through all three avenues and people consume it from the source that works best for them.   That’s one of the things I like best about social marketing, you can push information to people through their chosen channel rather than having them work to pull information from you. FCI doesn’t use LinkedIn much  but our consultants do individually. It’s not surprising to find that some are really good at it and some don’t bother. In that respect, we’re a microcosm of the flooring industry.

C.B.: What do you love most about the various digital tools you are using?

I like the information loop that social media creates.  For example, I’ve just figured out (now you’ll really see that I’m new at this) that the word length constraints of a blog post (trying to keep it short) does not have to limit the discussion. We can publish as  much detail as we want by simply linking back to our website where we can write in more detail on any topic.  For example, Mitch Dancik, (President of Dancik International) is one of our consultants and the quintessential expert on B2B in our industry. His updates on this topic should be augmented by much more in depth information placed on our website in a format that follows his blog post. And that page should link to his company website, and his company website should link back to our blog and his page on our site.  Not all of these loops are in place but the potential is obvious and he is just one example.

I still struggle to make good use of it really. I marvel at people such as yourself who get the 360 degree picture and don’t just understand the concept but have the technical skill to execute.   I’m still learning and time constraints seem to hold me back.  I’m most comfortable with the blog because of the familiar medium.

C.B.: What’s on the horizon for the Floor Covering Institute and the FCI Blog?

For the blog I am planning a series of interviews (similar to what you do here) with people in the floor covering industry.  I will select people from every tier (retail, distribution, logistics, exporters, importers, manufacturers, etc.). I  need to do some Asia/EU SEO so that we are easier to find. I am writing a series of articles on diverse industry topics to be published outside of the blog but some topics and am  spending a lot of time working together with Jim to create an international event in Shanghai in March 2011 for the floor covering industry. We are working with the United Nations to promote the International Year of Forests 2011 within our industry, and helping both Domotex Asia and Domotex Germany expand their education programs and make their shows more attractive to American attendees.  Like most of the FCI consultants, I am also working on an education seminar for the U.S. floor covering trade show, Surfaces.

C.B.: What's the best way to reach you and find the Floor Covering Institute online?

People can contact me through email at snegley@floorcoveringinstitute.com, visit our website at www.floorcoveringinstitute.com,  read our blog posts at www.blog.floorcoveringinstitute.com, follow us on Twitter @FloorcoveringIn, or become a fan [i.e., 'Like' us] on Facebook.

Thanks very much, Susan! All the best for Surfaces 2011. I look forward to seeing you there, and good luck with your projects. They sound intensely fascinating.

Comments, reactions, questions for Susan?

How have your blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, Twitter activity or other social media marketing activities benefited your business? Which work best for you?

I'd love to hear.
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