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Is corporate blogging worthwhile?

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

Blogging has stormed into our communication environment. Some observers are wildly enthusiastic about it while others say it is likely to be a temporary phenomenon.

Whatever your view, the fact is that more than 25% of Internet users read blogs. Blogs represent the transformation of the Web into a more participatory means of communication and a huge amount of user-generated content. 

Blogs are a new way to get closer to your target audiences. They also enjoy high search engine rankings because their content is constantly being refreshed with new material.

Bloggers shape brand perceptions because they reach the end reader/consumer without editors filtering out their words. Therefore genuine, unfettered comments reach other people. Some of these comments have created a big impact. Criticism from customers in blogs on some issues has spread like wildfire, causing huge repercussions for the company being discussed.

Blogs increase transparency. They let people see your organization close up for themselves; they can see your employees and corporate values and how you interact with the external environment. This is a two-edged sword. Perform well and you will have positive interactions with others leading to greater success in the marketplace; perform badly and bloggers will rip you to shreds.

The blogosphere is ruthless: unless the topic and the writing are interesting, and the blog is actively promoted, the audience remains small.

Corporate managers are gradually realizing the potential of blogs on their websites. A good corporate blog needs to be updated regularly, preferably a couple of times a week. The writing voice is authentic, friendly, conversational and grammatically correct. The blog needs to be credible, informative and tightly written. It needs to stay on topic. Generally write no more than 250 words per post or you will bore the pants off your readers.

You should accept feedback and allow it to remain visible on the blog page (unless it is defamatory or abusive, of course!). If people criticize your product or service, acknowledge the problem and show what is being done about it. People use your response to criticism to gauge your integrity and grace under pressure. Therefore treat criticism with courtesy.

Naturally, if a corporate blog is initiated, many people expect the CEO to be the person to speak on behalf of the organization because the CEO personifies the organization. Market research shows that the CEO represents half their organization’s reputation. That’s a powerful role! The audience expects the CEO to talk in a friendly and approachable way that reveals insights into their own character and outlook – and glimpses into the corporation’s psyche.

However, blogs take time and effort to write. As with newsletters, the stream of material to write about may start to dry up. Often the CEO is way too busy to write the words personally, and so other people (usually the PR department) may actually ghost write for the CEO. Such writing tends to be perceived for what it is because people are not fools, which makes the whole thing a bit counterproductive if not handled carefully.

Another option is for trusted staff to write the corporate blog in their own right. Corporations like Microsoft, Dell, Google, General Motors and Maytag have appointed a staff blogger. However, there are risks in appointing someone to do this because they become the spokesperson for the organization. Care needs to be taken that they don’t let slip confidential information or write words that fail to adhere to copyright, privacy and libel requirements. On the other hand, if the text has to be cleared by the lawyers, their dead hand is usually perceived in colorless, careful material.

When an employee becomes official blogger for the organization you need to set the guidelines, the subject matter and the overall content framework. Set up some house style rules and soft launch the blog for a month before making it accessible to the public. Write a ‘how-to blog’ guide and distribute it to the employees you want to contribute.

If you talk about your company and its products, the best person to write about it is an employee close to the action. Different people could write about different topics. Your PR agency is not the best place to look at for this sort of thing. However, if you cover industry issues, you could recruit a part-time writer to help with content creation.

In addition to the demands of writing new material in an interesting way, successful blogs are labor intensive in the way they require you to link and interact with others. You need to read other blogs to get a good idea of style and to create many links with other blogs and websites, research reports, news coverage and similar. Otherwise, you will have few readers. Link to others and they will link to you – and the search engines will love it too.

Blog visitors build up over time, like newsletters and websites, and you need to encourage this by actively marketing and promoting the blog.

Some PR firms have been exposed for setting up fake blogs and groups on behalf of clients. Edelman PR was caught out doing this with Working Families for Wal-Mart and its subsite, www.paidcritics.com. Similar exposés have revealed other large US PR firms and advertising agencies failing to understand their audience.

Start using search tools like PubSub, Feedster, BlogPulse and Technorati to monitor conversations about your organization and brands. Then engage with the people who have been motivated to write about you. It’s a real conversation that can be a real buzz.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.

 

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