Done right, creating and maintaining a corporate, executive, employee or product/service blog can offer several benefits to your brand. A blog can:
- Give your business the human touch
Created by real employees working on the front lines of your business, your blog will be the human face of your company. We humbly believe that Yodel Anecdotal is one of the most human corporate blogs around.
- Get your customers engaged
The best business blogs offer readers the ability to comment on posts. It shows that your company can take, and even host, criticism. And you can gather a lot of valuable information by paying close attention to your readers' comments. It's like having an always-on focus group.
- Offer a window into your brand culture
While most corporate communications tend to aspire to be all things to all people (read: bland), your blog can and should have a unique personality that reflects your brand's true culture; it's partly about who you are, partly about who you aspire to be. The Southwest Airlines blog Nuts About Southwest is a terrific example of this. In addition, your readers are probably curious about what transpires "behind the scenes." Every company has a story, and your blog is the best place to tell it. Check out this post on the del.icio.us blog and you'll see what I mean.
- Offer a complementary information and marketing channel
You're in business to sell, right? Well, mostly. Sometimes what you're selling is you: your brand and your image. Let's say you're in the consulting or analysis business. You work for your clients, but in your work you uncover data others can benefit from. Sharing some of that insight with the interested public (read: potential customers, media, academics etc.) can show your company's leadership in its field while gathering valuable potential sales leads. Forrester's "Groundswell" blog, by Charlene Li and Josh Bishoff, one of my favorites, is an excellent example of how this is done, and done well.
- Allow you to react to critical issues quickly
Let's face it. Things go wrong. When they do, the first thing your customers want is an answer. Blog posts can be written, vetted and posted rapidly in response to just about any issue. Even if you can't be specific about an internal issue, your blog is a great place to say, simply, "We know there's an issue and we're working on it."
Who writes what?
Corporate blogging is usually a team effort. Some companies allow individual employees to run their own blogs for people interested in their specific fields. Other companies are wary of this. That's understandable. You may want to consider putting in place a flexible editorial process that includes copy editing, PR and legal review. Whatever the case, you'll want to make sure that everyone has clear guidelines. Feel free to use Yahoo's guidelines, available on the web and tweak them to your own purposes as necessary.
Next: The rules
Here are seven to-dos (and a few do-nots) to consider when developing your brand or product blog.
Rule #1: Know your audience.
You'll want to do a little research to find out who your audience is. Based on your knowledge, gear your content to their needs and desires. There are any number of sources to draw from, including:
- Other blogs in your field
- Forums, newsgroups and other online communities
- The trade media
- Your customer service department (this can be your best source for determining your blog's voice and content)
Bear in mind that your audience will likely be far larger than just your customers. It may also include the trade and mainstream media, industry "influencers," such as popular bloggers, consultants and academics who study your industry. Your competition, of course, will also be watching.
Rule #2: Determine your voice.
After you've learned as much as you can about your audience, the next step is to determine your blog's overall voice. If your blog is about a software product whose customer base is made up largely of engineers, your voice will be different than if your audience consists of accountants. But in general, your blogging voice should be very different from your corporate voice. Never "speak with a wooden tongue." A few adjectives to describe your blogging voice might include:
- Casual & conversational
Conversely, your blog should never be:
That last point is vital, especially if you think your blog will be read by a wider audience than your immediate customer base. Speak in plain English whenever possible. Your blog isn't an "always-on, 24/7 reciprocal audience touch-point," but "a casual way to stay in touch with people." Finally, your blog's voice should not be monolithic. Your company is made up of individuals, not machines. If you have more than one person authoring your blog posts, let each express himself in his own way.
Rule #3: Create a unique design.
Your blog should have a unique look and feel all its own, albeit one that connects to your brand. The aforementioned Yodel Anecdotal and Southwest airlines blogs are two great examples.
Rule #4: Develop an editorial calendar.
Sit down with your product people, customer service folks, marketing department and execs and roughly figure out where you want to go eight or ten weeks in advance. Don't get locked into it; just use it as a kind of roadmap with a lot of options.
Rule #5: Be topical.
Go ahead and employ allusions to what's going on in popular culture, technology and the arts. You can even allude to history. Your readers are smart, and they'll get where you're coming from. (Here's a tip: For techie blogs, science fiction-related metaphors almost always draw attention.) Your content should always provide helpful tips and tricks, but it can also discuss emerging trends in your field.
Rule #6: Include outside voices.
Consider recruiting third-party experts, influencers or evangelists from your field to write special guest posts. They can really lend a lot of credibility. For example, search marketing influencers Rand Fishkin and Jen Slegg have helped me develop the tone of my own day-job blog.
Rule #7: Be bold!
Don't be shy about taking chances, making a statement or taking on issues that are important in your space. If you feel some legislation or piece of policy is putting the damper on your industry, hurting your sales, and going against the public's interest, then you, as a responsible business leader, have a duty to say so. Your blog is a great place to rant. The recent Internet Radio Day of Silence is a great example. Remember, the bolder you are, the more "linkbait" you're likely to get.
Rule #7.5: What not to blog about.
- Repurposed press releases. Unless you've got a new angle, don't be too PR-ish.
- Topics you wouldn't be willing to discuss outside of the company (policy issues, legal stuff and so forth).
- Financials, stock price, earnings, executive compensation and all that bean-counting stuff. Your audience wants to know what you are doing for them, not what you are doing for yourself.
- Stuff that's off-topic to your audience's interests.
If you're not sure about whether you should blog about a given topic, consult your legal department.
Remember what Captain Barbossa says to Elizabeth Swann in "Pirates of the Caribbean" about the Pirates' Code: "[They're] more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules." That's the way you should think about the 7.5 rules listed above. The first rule of corporate blogging is that there are no rules of corporate blogging, until you've talked to legal.
Michael Mattis is a marketing manager at Yahoo! Search Marketing. Read full bio.