Blogs should be conversations. At least, that is how we think about blogging at Mediafin, Belgium’s leading publisher of business newspapers and websites. This last week, I have been busy reorganizing our major financial blog, Bear&Bull, adding FriendFeed widgets in hopes of encouraging more audience interaction. The results have been surprising — although the audience has been slow to react, the changes have motivated many of my normally technophobic colleagues to start using video, pictures and live-blogging techniques.

Adding More Content to the Blog

We embedded a FriendFeed widget on our (Typepad) blog while also creating a Bear&Bull Room on FriendFeed. In that room, we added services like Flickr so we could add pictures, YouTube so we could add videos, Seesmic so we could hold video conversations, Delicious so we could include social bookmarks, and Google Reader so we could share blog posts. The room also enables us to write short texts.

All the documents and media we share in the FriendFeed room automatically appear on the Bear&Bull blog.

The new feed makes it possible to rapidly add content to the blog. For example, while saving a bookmark, we just add some comment while tagging and saving the bookmark in Delicious. This automatically creates a new entry on the blog. The same applies for the other services. Since every time we add a social bookmark, picture and video automatically creates a new entry, blog productivity has increased dramatically.

The ease of use helps convince journalists to use services like Delicious or Google Reader (many of my colleagues did not use these services until now).

Journalists tend to give more live comment, adding short texts or brief comments in the FriendFeed stream. This could develop into financial live-blogging, which would complement other live work we do on the blog, such as conference call live-blogging or chat sessions with experts or fellow journalists.

Previously, we published maybe one or two entries a day on Bear&Bull. Now we have about five entries a day in the FriendFeed stream in addition to the one or two longer, traditional blog posts.

Of course, if a journalist wants to use Flickr or YouTube, it is more fun to upload your own stills or videos rather than just using others’ content. So as soon as we added that possibility to the blog, some colleagues had the audacity to take their own pictures and shoot their own video. Many text-journalists were encouraged to experiment after finding how simple the process was to upload, edit and publish pictures and videos.

What about the numbers? I am under the impression that the number of unique visitors per day is on the rise, but, because we premiered the reorganized blog on a holiday week in Belgium, it is too early to tell exactly what the trend will be.

The holiday also means that the number of journalists actively involved so far has been rather limited. However, at least three colleagues have begun to use the aforementioned social media services since discovering them through the reorganized blog. Another colleague, who is more experienced in using social media, has just used the services in the Bear&Bull context for the first time. Several other colleagues have expressed interest to start participating in the coming days and weeks — an encouraging sign!

The Audience Doesn’t Join In

Unlike my fellow journalists, the community has been slower to take full advantage of the new features. So far, community members seem generally positive about the changes, but have been reluctant to comment on the new FriendFeed stream. Five days after the reorganization, community members continue to comment on the traditional, longer blog posts while apparently ignoring FriendFeed entries.

One can read and watch the stream without signing up to FriendFeed or any other social media service, but registration is required to comment. Are people not signing up because of the language difference — FriendFeed is in English while our community speaks Dutch? Or is it simply because FriendFeed is new and unfamiliar? I have yet to find out.

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Roland does a chat with CoverItLive on Bull&Bear blog

The same applies for Seesmic. I used Seesmic to invite people to an event — some community members asked for “real life meetings” and invited the audience to use Seesmic to react and comment, but this seems to be a bridge too far. I also used Seesmic for quick and dirty video interviews, but as yet no audience members have commented on them.

In summary, it seems that using FriendFeed and the connected social services can increase production and convince some fellow journalists to give social media a try, but as yet it does not increase audience interactivity.

Planning for the Future

Part of the problem may be that social media are not very intuitive and may need some explaining, especially for an older audience not very focused on new technology. So I will use the weekly market chat session to explain what we are doing and call attention to FriendFeed possibilities. We may consider holding regular “office hours meetings” where the community can make suggestions about how to run the blog and where we can explain again why and how to use social media beyond the traditional blogs and chatboxes.

Of course, as I said, this is a special week because of the holidays, so things may change once the regular traffic builds up again. I will keep you posted! If you have experimented with social media streams on blogs for a non-tech audience, please let me know what insights and suggestions you have in the comments below.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L’Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.