One of my favorite bloggers is Jeremiah Owyang. If you don’t read his blog, Web Strategy by Jeremiah, you should!
Jeremiah wrote a post recently asking for thoughts on The Many Challenges of Corporate Blogging. Since this is something that I have spent the past 16 months working on at a $1.2 billion company, I feel that I can add some perspective. Let’s take a look at these challenges one at a time:
1. Most (blogs) don’t receive a lot of traffic:
Yes, this is true, but its not as important as the Traditionals might think. New Media is about the power of the small audience. I’d rather have 200 regular readers who are passionate about my product or service than 10,000 looky-loos driven to my site by a contest to win a free MacBook Air. It’s all about the RSS subscriber. If someone has gone out of their way to subscribe to your corporate blogger’s feed, they are making a statement that they trust the blogger. Don’t you want to be known as the company with the most trusted and respected employees in your industry?
2. May require a lot of time:
For some reason, there seems to be this notion that corporate blogging is a full-time job. This does not match my experience. My two most popular corporate bloggers write one post per-week and one post every-other-week respectively. As for time commitment, each says that it takes them between 1 and 2 hours per post.
I’ve found that there are two things that are much more important than time:
- Corporate bloggers need to be passionate about their subjects and LOVE to write. By far the most successful of my bloggers are driven internally to create their content. My less successful bloggers see it as a chore.
- Corporate Bloggers need to release blog posts on a consistent basis. If every other week is consistent, then so be it.
3. Being conversational is unnatural:
Being conversational is unnatural in business communications because we’ve been taught NOT to do it. Communication specialists are used to writing “Press Releases” and marketing web pages. The good news is that outside of work, employees are very good conversationalists, so they already know how to do it, they just need to break some of their Old Media habits. Training works very well in this area. Lastly, companies cannot forget the most important ingredient of a corporate blog — transparency. Corporate blogs are conversational and transparent, and therefore should NEVER be used to spew traditional marcom drivel.
4. Often, no ending date:
Traditional marketers have these weird war analogies to describe their work. They “launch” “campaigns” and “initiatives.” They “target” markets and “blast” emails. Old Media content has a very short shelf-life, which is understandable if your corporate communications are built around “news.” Stories are only “newsworthy,” for a finite amount of time.
A corporate blogger on the other hand is “married” to their blog. Their posts become part of a searchable database for readers, both new and old, to use for present and future reference. The Long Tail is one of the frequently overlooked powers of a blog — a fact that has caused more than one brain aneurysm to a Traditional with a “fire and forget” communications methodology.
5. As employee bloggers become popular, brands get concerned:
I see this challenge more as a Human Resources problem than as a “brand” issue. Corporate bloggers can become “Industry Rock Stars,” causing their influence to go up, both externally and internally. On one hand, the corporate blogger can be seen as ripe pickings for a competitor who seeks to cash-in on the audience that will probably follow the blogger. That’s why companies need to think-through how to keep these folks happy. On the other hand, I’ve also seen some internal craziness due to the Rock Star syndrome. Influence is power and some will see this power as a threat. If a Rock Star blogger has an opinion on a future product that doesn’t agree with the Traditional whose “officially” in charge of that product, tensions will rise, and quickly.
6. Legal has hangups:
First of all, it is Legal’s job to have hangups! Second, I believe that this challenge should top the list. The very first thing that I did at my former company was to create a Corporate Social Media Policy — blessed by both Human Resources and Legal. The policy states, in non-legalese, what is acceptable and unacceptable Social Media behavior.
Jeremiah also asks the following question: “…how do we react to colleagues that may look like they are making promises on behalf of the company?”
I’ve found this point to be less of a challenge and more of an opportunity. It’s what I call the “Dick Cheney Principle,” the fact that the Vice President is always tasked with being a lightning rod for the President. Corporate Bloggers can do the same thing. Recently, one of my corporate bloggers was quoted in an article. The journalist made a point to say that this was the blogger’s opinion, not necessarily corporate policy. It all comes down to how your business describes the role of its bloggers. If we’re talking the “Official Google Policy Blog,” then so be it. If on the other hand we’re quoting from “Elmo’s Stochastic Methods of Widget Simulation using ACME products,” you may have the opportunity to set Elmo loose!
7. Our employees don’t represent our brand:
I’m always amazed at how little faith the Traditionals have in their own employees. Who are they hiring, anyways? The truth is that not everyone can be a corporate blogger. Some people are much better suited to the task than others, and therefore, it is important to choose the right people. I suggest that companies hire a “blogging coach” who will not only help find and groom corporate bloggers, but will also help coach them.
And lastly, as for concerns about personal MySpace or Facebook accounts, these issues should be handled in the corporate Social Media Policy.
8. Hard to measure success:
The best part of blogging is that there are lots of measurements. The hard part is to extract business meaning from them. If all you care about is “traffic,” you’re already dead in the water. Blogging has less to do with traffic and everything to do with influence. The key is to have someone dedicated to measuring everything. Gather and plot RSS Subscribers, unique visitors, incoming links, and mentions in the press.
The next step is analysis, where someone (perhaps your blogging coach?) analyzes those measurements. For example, is it possible to calculate ROI? Yes.
For example, I know that my blogger writes every other week, spends one to two hours per post, and has some results based on his efforts. He has a growing readership of RSS subscribers, he’s has been mentioned in the press Y amount of times,has started Z amount of industry memes. If I know the fully-burdened cost of his salary, I now have everything that I need to calculate ROI. It’s not rocket science.
Lastly, don’t overlook “softer” measurements. Some of the best stories of influence come from my bloggers who’ll say something like, “Hey, you’ll never guess what happened because of my blog this week.”
I’d like to thank Jeremiah for publishing this list. It looks like there are lots of responses to his post and I recommend that you go and read them all. This stuff is so new, we’re all learning.