Digital Thoughts – Blogging in the Corporate World – The Company Blog
In my inbox last week, I saw a MediaPost article titled, “Execs Mull Pitfalls Of Corporate Blogs.” It stemmed from the author attending a panel at OMMA Hollywood in which the participants discussed blogging as the new CRM. The topic – corporate blogging – might not have the Tech 2.0 appeal of podcasting or building buzz in the video sharing world, but it can and in some ways already does impact your business. This series of articles address blogging in the corporate realm, and in particular, looks at two very different but equally important areas of corporate blogging – the company blog and employees who blog. The basis of this text comes from a workshop I did on “Harnessing the Blogoshphere: Corporate Blogs and Employee Bloggers.”
Blogs did not become so popular or so powerful because of the technology behind them. Their real innovation was standardizing personal expression. This fueled initially their widespread adoption by users, but we’ve reached a point where blogs have proven themselves as no longer just a tool for citizen journalists. They are for companies too and they offer more than the ability to connect to current and potential customers. Blogs provide a means for thought leadership and market dominance. Your customers are already shaping the perception of your brand online; blogging provides you a chance to join and shape the conversation in a quick, inexpensive, and accepted manner. With respect to reaching and influencing your audience, blogs carry another benefit. They come pre-wired for one of the more important innovations in this Web 2.0 era, syndication. With syndication (RSS) users can automatically receive your updates in a 100% spam free manner, one that won’t clutter their inboxes.
Before we dive into the topic of company blogs – who does it and how – it’s worth mentioning why this article distinguishes between company blogs and employees who blog. They are at their core very different animals and must be treated separately. A company blog is a controlled environment, the official say of the company; an employee blog on the other hand is more like peer-to-peer software; it’s a decentralized and distributed means for the company to achieve thought leadership. Both the company blog and employee’s blogs can and do exist independent of one another; and, engaging the blogosphere does not mean choosing between the two. It means understanding each because while it seems best to control what gets said, the world does not work that way. The rules of blogging existed before the companies that may choose to join the dialogue, and to be respected means to observe them.
So, which corporations can count themselves among the bloggers? The answer is more than it might seem. From Google to Wal-Mart, companies new and old have a corporate blog. We almost expect the five person Web 2.0 company to blog, but today you will see the fifty-thousand person one doing it as well. While company blogs have gained in popularity and use, not all companies have or will adopt them. GE, Citibank, and even the movie studios do not have a public facing blog. McDonalds and several other Fortune 500 companies have blogs that act like intranets but have yet to create one for the general populace to consume.
Of the company blogs in existence, they appear to fall into three categories – 1) a main company blog, 2) a product specific blog, and 3) unofficial company blogs. Main company blogs can be built on internal or external technology (e.g. WordPress, iUpload). The URL that the blog resides on does not matter – it can be blog.companyname.com, companynameblog.com, or even somethingunrelated.com. Regardless of the technology and the URL, a company blog is not for the thin-skinned. Once you become part of the broader context, you will most likely attract criticism along with praise, and there is nothing you could or should try to do about it.
Product Blogs are the second type of company blog. They are not for the blogging beginner as each only increases the amount of overhead. They can help companies who have diverse product lines, each with a distinct customer base. Google is a great example. They have product blogs for almost everything they make, and for many it makes sense. Those who have an interest in their AdWords API most likely differ from those wanting to know more about the Google Reader or Blogger. They have so many products, many so different, that trying to cover them all on their main company blog would most likely satisfy the needs of none. Yahoo, too, uses product blogs, and only product blogs. They have YSearchblog.com and YMusicblog.com but no main company blog. Overall, use product blogs when needing to speak to different audiences in a focused and substantive manner.
The third implementation of the company blog comes not from the company but from fans, critics, even ex-employees. These blogs fall into the unofficial company blog category. These blogs discuss rumors, news, product updates, and whatever else they can find. Don’t expect company blogs for every company blog. Only the larger companies will tend to have them created. Examples include the Google Rumors Blog, Google Earth Blog, Wake-Up Wal-Mart, The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), and Wal-Mart Watch Blog. Companies should not see the unofficial blogs as a threat but a chance to understand their audience. Netflix is one company that understood this as seen through their treatment of the unofficial site, Hacking Netflix. The blog’s name is anything but an inspiring name for a blog, conjuring up ideas of a site dedicated to ripping off the company; yet, as reported by the site’s founder, "“When I first contacted them two years ago they really didn't know what to do with me, but they've since been very accommodating to my requests for information and accuracy and have never asked me to pull a story from the site.” Notice that Netflix has been “accommodating” and “never asked…to pull a story.”
Pros of running a company blog
- Excellent communication and positioning vehicle – the format allows for clear, organized display of thought.
- Inexpensive with 100% delivery – there is no spam, that is unless you write useless, self-promotional content
- Participatory – the blog format encourages users to dialogue about specific topics
- Enables thought leadership (ex: Reprise Media’s Search Views) – imagine the power of having people look to what you say in addition to the typical media outlets. A well done blog can position the company as a place to turn to for industry information, and that has serious power.
Cons of running a company blog
- Takes time and a commitment – blogging might be a hobby for individuals but companies will flounder if they approach it with the same attitude.
- Doing it half-ass is worse than not at all – along the lines of blogging requiring time and commitment, if you can’t give it the time, do not do it at all. You will lose credibility and respect, which are two key currencies in the world of blogs.
- Not a vehicle for press releases – want to still lose credibility, trust, and respect; just post truly corporate pieces instead of original content.
- Less quantifiable return on investment – you will spend time and effort, all of which will yield perhaps nothing tangible. Most companies though do see a return on investment in lower customer service costs, more inbound leads, and more qualified leads of those that do contact.
- Blog frequently – it’s part of the commitment and a way to earn trust and respect; be frequent (once per day or perhaps three times per week) but also consistent. Don’t blog five times one day then not publish for a week.
- Syndicate, and Enable email subscription – this is critical; you don’t need a blog to syndicate; think of this as, if you have content that changes that people want to know about – new home listings, top dvd rentals for the week, then you want to let your consumers keep up with that without having to go to your site.
- Make your blog(s) searchable – blogs are linear and time based, but once you start to have a lot of content on there, you want to make it easy for people to find.
- Have an author with a real personality – much like companies hiring spokespeople for commercials. Blogs are by nature more personal and informal than almost all other forms of corporate communication. It’s essential that yours follow this convention, which is best done by using real people and their style – people that represent the company and culture well.
- Be active – reply to comments and encourage comments; blogging is not one-way nor should it be; you want more comments than posts.
- Address problems right away both on your blog and on the blogosphere, manage bad news truthfully and quickly. This is a point that Charlene Lis makes, and it’s an important one.
- Don’t just post press releases – this is a point that was made earlier; there is a reason that companies have news sections of their site, and one of them is as a home for such releases. The blog is not that home.
- Make sure your writers read other blog – you want the keepers of your blog to be part of the broader context and abreast of the landscape; they will write better, connect better, and you will have a greater chance and success if they do.
- Remember, the rules of blogging came before companies that adopted them – this is also point that was worth stating again, especially if you didn’t read Part 1. You don’t play a sport without knowing the rules, go to a country without learning their customs. The same hold true of blogs and the blogosphere.
Key Takeaways from the discussion on company blogs
- Consumers are shaping brand perception online; blogging enables you to join and shape the conversation – this is to remind you that first and foremost blogs represent a chance for you to take part in the dialogue that is already taking place; by serving your customers and the overall industry you can influence and own your identity.
- A blog is a part of a “complex ecosystem that customers, employees, and executives use to communicate with each other” – Charlene Li’s quote serves as reminder that you will be entering a world of many readers, stakeholders, and perception holders. You can’t control it, only participate in it.
- The Blogosphere is highly democratic - good content is good content regardless of who writes it, even if the author is your competitor; A prime example of blogging running counter to normal business is in its democracy. Look at Google’s blog, Yahoo’s, and you see them linking to each other. As a member of the blogosphere your duty is really to it and that means acknowledging your competitors blogs if your customers will find them helpful. Being insular will only insure that you cut yourself off from the broader dialogue.
- Blogs consist of linear communication, but each post has the potential to turn into its own dialogue – check back on your entries. Loyal readers will follow your posts as your publish, but very often people will come to your blog after performing a search on an engine or from a link on another site. When they do, they treat the topic and conversation as fresh even though to you it might not be. You will want to monitor new comments and what visitors read if you plan on keeping them and continuing to attract new readers / customers. Unlike the Showtime Rotisserie Oven, with blogs you don’t’ set it and forget it.
This entire discussion perhaps leads up this question, “Is blogging right for your company?” You can definitely succeed without blogs – companies prove this daily, but having one could help you become a step above in the ever crowded marketplace. If you:
- Have frequent contact with customers (as a group), e.g. product updates
- Have a newsletter
- Have found times when being able to communicate more often and less structured would help
- Are judged on your knowledge of an area or industry
- Have customers technologically savvy and expect the same with you
- Answered yes to any of the above… Then, consider starting a company blog. Yes, it’s a complex area, but overall, it’s actually easier than you think. And, you’d be surprised at how accommodating the blogosphere is at helping you get started. Or, you can always contact us and we’ll point you in the right direction too.