What’s your Story? The impact of blogging, social media and podcasts on the analog world of pencils
Last week I was listening to Johnny, Andy and Tim’s Erasable podcast with guest Brad Dowdy. This was the 11th episode in their new endeavor which I find quite interesting, even if I don’t always have time to sit through an entire episode. When I can, I check in on the Erasable Facebook group and even participate with a comment and it’s great to see the level of engagement the members have with their wood cased pencils and their developing community. This is a direct tribute to the power of social media and the leadership of these individuals and other pencil, pen and stationery enthusiasts, and it got me thinking about the role these social media technologies have had on the analog pencil industry.
Today marks the 9th anniversary of Pencil Revolution’s first ever pencil review back in 2005, which featured our Forest Choice Graphite pencils. To my knowledge, as the first and original “pencil blogger” Johnny’s post was the first ever blog review of any pencil on the internet. At least for a blog specifically focused on pencils, pens or stationery. Perhaps more research is needed to validate this claim, but for now I’m making it, and congratulating and thanking John for this accomplishment.
In honor of this anniversary and his selection of our product for that review, Pencils.com is offering a special 1 day only 25% discount on all ForestChoice pencils and notebooks, here. As it turns out we’ve made reasonable progress since those days using ForestChoice to promote FSC certification for wooden pencils. We’ve used this item as a driver product in our focus on providing high quality green school supplies http://gogreenschoolpencils.com/, at Pencils.com, and have even placed ForestChoice pencils in over 60,000 school supply kits this year with one key customer.
More importantly, today the vast majority of the wooden slats CalCedar sells to pencil manufacturers around the world are either FSC or PEFC certified. I like to think that that first Revolutionary post, along with our continued focus on providing such materials (not to mention the growing impact and awareness of environmental and sustainability issues enabled through blogs and social media) has certainly had an impact on the commitment the industry has shown to utilizing certified woods in pencils.
Johnny’s launch of Pencil Revolution a few weeks earlier and his communication with us asking for pencil samples came at a time when I myself was in the process of exploring how we might use blogging to further promote wood-cased pencils and California Cedar Products Company. In a sense, John’s serendipitous selection of our ForestChoice product, the first ever FSC certified pencil brand, provided the inspiration for me to initiate the Timberlines blog. The subsequent orders received and his response to trying out our original California Republic Palomino lead to me moving forward to launch online sales of our Palomino, GoldenBear, and Prospector range the following month. I’ve written about that previously here.
In checking in with Johnny this week about this anniversary and his role in influencing some of those early decisions he comments “I am very happy if I and/or my blog have/has had any impact at all on pencil making and marketing. But if Pencil Revolution played even a small part of the story that lead from the Palomino to the Blackwing, that’s fanfreakintastic!”
As it turns out, today also marks the 9th anniversary of my 1st post on this Timberlines blog. Though I have not been a very frequent publisher, I’ve used my posts over the years to share some of my personal thoughts on topics I have felt relevant to the wood cased pencil industry and other topics on forestry management, natural history, etc. (plus the occasional promotional pitch to support a new product introduction and our goals at California Cedar Products Company). There have been many good intentions to do more, but frankly the time I spend composing what I really want to say prohibits frequent posting given all my other commitments. Let’s just say I’ve never really developed the knack of brevity, but hope that my occasional in depth posts prove of interest to some readers.
Fortunately we have a great, committed team at CalCedar and, between our Pencils.com blog and our Blackwing602.com fan site, we’re producing some great creative content that supports the use and awareness of wood-cased pencils of all sorts as well as the creativity of end-users. And, it’s all promulgated with associated social media tools. In general I think we do good job and have been a leader within the pencil industry when it comes to internet marketing, communications and utilization of these tools to tell a story. There have been successes and mistakes along the way, but we’re always striving to improve and to make the most of these tools and honor the relationships and communities it allows us to develop and participate in with end consumers.
In fact I now describe CalCedar’s business as “enabling great pencil success stories from tree to final nub”. (Note: THe graphic above highlights some past successes and some in the works I used with our team to illustrate this updated vision of our business.) Fulfilling this objective requires operational excellence at many things, from technical and manufacturing knowhow to source raw materials, produce slats and support those industrial customers using our wood, to designing and sourcing unique and exciting products within our Palomino Brands unit that delight customers and dealers, to selecting the right products and improving customer service and e-commerce operations at Pencils.com that feature the wood-cased pencils and associated creative products. Ultimately many of these operational details cannot succeed without also telling these stories, engaging and listening to our customers and building new success stories. These social media tools have been the great enabler and have allowed our company to accomplish numerous successes so far with our Pencils.com store, and Palomino, Blackwing, and ForestChoice products, and to keep telling the great stories of our customers using our wood to make many of the best brands of pencils on the planet. Without a dedicated commitment to using these tools, and the ongoing support of people like Johnny, Andy, Tim, Brad and you, CalCedar would look like a much different (read older, more tired) company today. So, for us, these things have been a transformative process, yet we remain every bit as committed to our traditional slat customers today in providing great and competitive wooden slats.
Towards the end of the Erasable episode the crew talked about a recent article in the New York Times positing that pens and other writing instruments were dying product categories, given the continuing advancement of computing and communications technology. I was enthused to hear the gang vehemently disagree with the author and talk about subjects dear to my heart such as their feeling of connectedness to their writing tools and the textural, tactile sensation one gets when writing or drawing on paper with graphite, ink or other materials. It’s a sensory experience that just isn’t replicated well through all this new technology.
Perhaps this article was somewhat wishful thinking by the author, hoping for some company along the way, based on what’s been happening to newspaper circulation (which is an industry I’d suggest is much more clearly being disrupted by these technologies). While one may discount pencil bloggers and their followers by claiming that they are just small groups of obsessed people talking about their beloved pencils on the web, the reality is wood cased pencil production continues to grow globally at about the rate of world population growth. In my view, the wooden pencil remains the most affordable and efficient writing tool in the world and increasing levels of education in the developing world correlate with increased consumption. In more developed countries, yes new technology has some impact on use habits of writing instruments, but after a generation of commoditization and quality reduction by large mass retailers focused primarily on price, there are many people rediscovering the joys of writing and creating in graphite resulting from interesting product reviews and stories from the web. Frankly I think those are all some pretty good stories.
So what’s your pencil success story? We’re listening and hope to help you share it.
Johnny is one of my pencil heroes for sure, and an inspiration when I started digging around after starting my pencil blogging in 2007. I'm really pleased to call him a colleague and a friend!
Thanks for the kudos for the podcast and the Facebook group. It's amazing that such a supportive, passionate community was able to come together in just a matter of weeks. Every day, we have people posting photos of their purchases, their trades with each other (brought together by the group), questions, news sharing, et cetera. I'm so pleased we found them all!