Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Corporate

Recently, a friend and colleague of mine who works in public relations and social media south of the border posed a question: Do you still blog?

It's a very relevant question, simply because there are many virtual ghost towns strewn all along the Information Superhighway. They’re relics of that Gold Rush-era when corporate blog claims were de rigueur. Now they lie dormant and outdated; their content fading like weather-beaten signs exposed to the harsh reality of neglect.

According to blogging.org, 60 per cent of businesses have a corporate blog. But of those blogs, 65 per cent are dormant – respondents indicating that they haven’t updated it in a year or more.

I would hazard a guess that of the remaining 35 per cent, few are regularly updated. Of those, even fewer have good content. In all, you may be looking at a percentage in the single digits of corporate blogs that are regularly updated, have great content, and provide their customers with a reason to come back and read.

To me, that’s opportunity. But there’s a reason why a blog succeeds or fails – and it’s totally in the hands of its writer. So how do you prevent your corporate blog from becoming a Virtual Barkerville?

I’d like to say, “It’s easy! Here’s how.”  But that’s simply not the truth.

It takes effort, it takes dedication, and – most importantly – it takes talent. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: just because everyone can blog, doesn’t mean everyone should. And unless you have someone (or, even better, multiple people) who can write and has the inclination to do so, then a corporate blog may not be the route to go.

There are those who will say a corporate blog that’s never updated can damage your brand. I’m not one of those. While those who stumble upon it may be disappointed with the lack of updates, they’ll very quickly move on. Businesses do not lose credibility by not updating their blogs – but they lose an amazing opportunity to connect with their customers, employees, and prospects.

Can blogging be effective? HubSpot seems to think so. Their research indicates 81 per cent of businesses polled said their company blog was useful to critical for their business. Their results also show that 57 per cent of companies with a blog have acquired a customer from their efforts (that number rises to 92 per cent of those companies who blog multiple times).

Before anyone decides whether he or she should launch (or relaunch) a coporate blog, I’d encourage them to answer these six questions:

DO YOU LIKE TO WRITE? It may sound like an odd question, but if you don’t have a passion and inclination to write, the blog will become a chore. There’s a customer service adage that states that callers can “hear” a smile; I think the same can be said for writing – you can “feel” when a writer enjoys his or her craft. Passion can be read – and that’s what sets good blogs apart from those that just parrot the pre-defined marketing messages.

DO YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY? Inspiration can come from anywhere (see this post – inspired by a simple question from a friend), but it can be a challenge finding a topic. Think long-term: are your blogging efforts sustainable? I’m not a fan of pre-scheduling posts and topics, but I do believe that every corporate blogger should take some time to rough out a couple of dozen topics. After the initial rush of launching the blog wears off and you’ve burned through the first three or four great ideas you had, sourcing content is the key to sustaining your blog efforts.

DO YOU WANT A BLOG? OR DO YOU WANT A GOOD BLOG? If you want a Hall of Fame blog, you have to perform like a Hall of Fame athlete. Many people can burst out of the blocks at top speed or take a league by storm for a few games, but the athletes who carve out a special place in the fans’ hearts are the ones that can do it year after year. It’s the same for a blog: those first two or three blog posts may be gold-medal worthy, but what comes after that? What can you do a year later? Not every post will be a winner, but they all have to, at the very least, keep you in the game.

ARE YOU A GOOD WRITER? We all have egos. We all think that what we say is valuable and that people are just waiting to collect all those pearls of wisdom that we’ve accumulated. But some people just aren’t cut out for writing. That’s not a knock against anyone – we all have different skills. Just as you wouldn’t allow just anyone to helm your company’s accounting  department, nor should just anyone be at the fore of your branding efforts. Sometimes the best corporate blogger isn’t the CEO or President, but rather the customer service staffer who has a front-line view of the whole operation. If you have a CEO who is an effective communicator, that’s great, but if you don’t then you may want to look elsewhere.

ARE YOU WILLING TO SHARE? Which leads us to the next question – are you willing to share. Some of the most effective corporate blogs aren’t one-person operations. In larger corporations, you can have an assortment of VPs, managers, and employees in various departments – so why not benefit from their perspective and expertise? Share the wealth of your company’s knowledge with your customers and employees. If you can create a loose schedule (for example, each department is responsible for one blog every three months, on a rotating basis), it lessens the burden on each person.  And, for your readers, it gives them both a broader and deeper understanding of your company. Which leads us to the final question…

WHY ARE YOU BLOGGING? This is the toughest question of all to answer. If the answer is, “Because everyone else is,” or “Well, that’s what the best practices say to do,” then you may want to re-evaluate. Corporate blogs can be an effective way to reach out to your customers (and potential customers); they can also be a great way for your upper management to interact with employees and reinforce your corporate culture. But that’s only effective if you have something to say.

If all your blogs are just rehashing key corporate messaging or parroting marketing-speak, then your readers are quickly going to turn you out. A blog is supposed to be a personal expression of thoughts – your personal experiences with the company and/or products. It's your way to put a human face on the business -- and you have other advertising and corporate forums for the Biz Speak.

Remember, you’re competing with millions of voices out there (42 million on Wordpress.com alone; an estimated 31 million bloggers in the U.S. according to Blogging.org) -- you don’t need to be louder than all those voices, you need to be better. And the best way to do that is to give people interesting, honest, and engaging content. Whether they’re customers or employees, they’ve already engaged with your brand – that’s your ticket to the front of the blogging line. Now that you’ve got their attention, you’ll want to keep it.

A quality, regularly updated blog can help foster a vibrant and engaged community. But if you don’t have the time, inclination, or ability to do so, it’s better to not stake a blogging claim on that community at all.

If you can’t commit to a good blog, then it’s better to direct your customers to other waypoints along that Information Superhighway (your Web site, your social networks) than to build a virtual ghost town.

Questions Answered

Should my company have a blog?

Should the CEO blog?

How do I write a corporate blog?

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