Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fifteen Rules for Starting and Managing a Corporate Blog

There has been a good deal of talk about corporate blogs in the last few years – first hype, then a media backlash – but still, there are relatively few Fortune 500s with blogs.

As I was spending last weekend finishing up a chapter on blogging for my forthcoming book on B2B internet marketing, I thought I’d share a draft of a list I've created of "rules" or lessons learned for developing and launching corporate blogs or a corporate blogging program . I came up with the list based on a combination of my own eleven years of online marketing management experience and (including creating a Fortune 500 blogging program) and the insights and experiences gleaned from conversations I've had with marketers from companies that have led the way. Over the years, there’s been a good deal to learn from these efforts – from smart moves to very public missteps.

In true blogosphere spirit, I invite you to comment on this list – add, agree, disagree – it’s all welcome. By the time I need to deliver the final manuscript in a few months, I’ll, no doubt, do some refining, but I wanted to put out this first draft and get reaction. I did try to make this into ten rules, but soon realized that wouldn’t really do this topic justice.

Fifteen Rules for Developing a Corporate Blog Program:

1. Don’t treat corporate blogs like another corporate communications or marketing communications device, it’s significantly different.
While a great corporate blog benefits the brand, a corporate blog should not be treated as if it is just another corporate communications or marketing communications vehicle. Blogs are not ads, corporate web pages or press releases – in fact, they have more in common with personal letters than these promotional vehicles. Blogs require a level of personality, sincerity and sense of respect for the community that is best kept real, and not turned over to a ghost writer.

2. Don’t blog without a solid, compelling case and proper resources.
Don’t blog merely because of the blogging bandwagon leads you to believe you should. Blogging requires a serious commitment of time and resources and entails taking on new risks. Start by having solid, compelling objectives to launch a blog, not because of ego or “me too” reasons. You are better off being slow to the blogosphere than going in without a reason or plan. Blogging is a radical shift from the monologues with which marketing and public relations professionals are familiar. The public will now be talking back to you on your own turf and may have very hard criticism that requires a prompt response. It’s a brave new frontier, so don’t expect the same old approaches to apply.

3. Have solid executive backing before you blog.
Make sure you’ve made a good case with the CEO before you embark on corporate blogging. It’s better for the CEO to understand the benefits and risks of blogging long before s/he reads that the media has picked up on customer dissent on one of your blogs. Have a good corporate blogging policy. Developing a corporate blogging policy is no small feat, it should address official employee blogging and – depending on the advice of your legal department – employees blogging activity on their own time. That means involving multiple departments including: marketing, public relations, internal communications, human resources and legal. IBM’s blog policy can be found at: "
http://www-03.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/jasnell?entry=blogging_ibm'>http://www-03.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/jasnell?entry=blogging_ibm">http://www-03.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/jasnell?entry=blogging_ibm, some other good Charlene Li of Forrester has a good post on the topic at: http://forrester.typepad.com/charleneli/2004/11/blogging_policy.html.

4. Choose your bloggers carefully.
Allowing all your employees bloggers sounds very democratic. It’s also the online equivalent of telling your employees that anytime they spot a news crew they should jump in front of the camera, grab the microphone and begin talking, representing the company without media training, talking points – just winging it. And when they’re finished, make sure they remember to grab a passer by and ask her to provide a critical rebuttal for everything they just said – after all, that’s what corporate blogs do. Smart corporate bloggers need to be trained, re-trained, and encouraged. And it’s a lot more than what’s required for media training. Finding an employee who has influence, something compelling to say that benefits the brand, has a style and views that align with brand objectives, knows how to write, is prolific, is well-tempered and has the time to regularly blog is a tall task. IBM, Microsoft and Novell all have policies allowing all their employees to blog. For companies who have, for example, a large amount of employee developers and make products that target software developers, it can make a decent case to enable these employees to blog. However, even so, I think companies will benefit from having a blogger certification program. While making all your employees bloggers is neat in a human, democratic sense – and I like it as an individual – as a marketer, I find it creates a situation with a lot of brand noise where it’s very difficult to locate and quickly discern between those voices worth listening to from those that are just chattering. Even more, journalists are usually going to look for the most controversial voices.

5. Authenticity is critical.
Don’t make blogs a marketing or PR mouthpiece and don’t ghost write. Blog readers connect with people, the flesh and blood of a brand. The blogosphere is rightfully cynical of corporate blogs. While all blogs need to align with and benefit the brand and objectives, companies should spend time finding employees whose style is a match with the brand and objectives and allow the blogger’s true personality and style to shine through. Influence is more important than rank on an org chart.

6. Thoroughly train your bloggers and require an internal blogging test period before a blogger is “certified.”
All of your bloggers should go through thorough training that covers blogosphere 101 (I believe all bloggers should spend at least a few months getting immersed in the blogosphere before launching a blog of their own), blog etiquette, blog writing basics, dealing with intellectual property leak concerns.

7. Assign a blog approver for each blog who has some degree of subject matter expertise, knowledge of company policies and public relations.
Require each blog post to first be reviewed prior to posting. Let’s face it, bloggers (including some very well-known ones) sometimes write things they shouldn’t. Sometimes they blog when they’re having a bad day, a nasty reaction to something…Other times they make poor choices or are unaware that something they’ve written includes information that is proprietary. Having a second set of eyes review posts prior to publication can stop these posts from going out in the first place. The reviewer should be knowledgeable on the subject matter and company policies so that she can spot potential problems. Have an editorial calendar for your bloggers to keep them on track. Work with each blogger to develop an editorial calendar that keeps him or her on track and aligns with company events, releases, industry happenings, etc.

8. Don’t hide from the tough stuff. Be willing to admit mistakes.
The blogosphere expects a company joining the blogosphere should be honest about shortcomings, failings and issues. Members of the blogosphere are also willing to forgive companies when they admit their mistakes.

9. Create a blog crisis communications plan.
When your company has a problem – and especially a big one – your blog readers will expect relevant company blogs to address it and may attack if you do not. Making mistakes on corporate blogs aren’t unheard of. When HP removed a blog comment from an HP customer describing numerous poor customer service problems, the blogosphere and the media (right up to the WSJ) picked up on it. The best time to plan for these scenarios is long before they happen and then, after you realize the danger, put together a plan to avoid these situations all together.

10. Moderate blog comments.
One of the worst mistakes a corporate blog can do is to post than remove a critical comment on a blog. It smacks of censorship, which is antithetical to core blogosphere values – permitting honest, two-day dialogue. Again, recall the HP blog fiasco when they removed a blog comment. Had they instead contacted the commenter about the problem described in his comment, helped him to resolve the problem and then asked if he wanted the post published the commenter might have said no. If he still wanted the comment published, he would probably end up putting another post praising HP for how they corrected his customer service issue.

11. Make your blog part of a communications plan – not the whole of it.
A blog should not be the center-piece of your marketing communications plan. If you are focused on building or maintaining your brand’s position as a thought leader, a blog should be one component which includes white papers, speaking engagements, citations in the media as an expert, etc.

12. Monitor your corporate blogs.
Considering the potential for mistakes, abandoning blogs and bloggers going off and engaging in brand damaging behavior that might gain media attention, it’s a wise idea to have a plan to regularly monitor blogs. Now, I’m not suggesting a blogging CIA here, in fact, I believe if you find bloggers who are engaged in activities that aren’t helpful, your first course of action should be to work with the blogger. Consider that you want to nurture blogging talent, not stifle it.

13. Determine measures of effectiveness up front.
Before embarking on corporate blogging, you need to determine how you will measure blog effectiveness. This should largely be dependent on your objectives. However, some areas that are worthy of consideration include: - Positive media mentions - Positive mentions in other blogs - Traffic to the blog – unique visitors, click-throughs, length of visit - Incoming links to the blog - Increases in brand, product or program awareness and sales that can be attributed to the blog - Increased attendance at company events that can be attributed to the blog

14. Consider that the blogosphere expects your blogs to be a marketing and PR mouthpiece. Always keep this in mind and prove them wrong.
There is a real sense of community in the blogosphere. It’s a bad place to be overtly self-serving or self-promotional. Corporate blogs, while undoubtedly should benefit the brand, they should never do this like a press release or promotional web page. Instead, corporate blogs should avoid being only focused on the company’s products being great and be infused with some level of concern for the industry and customers overall and show a level of unselfishness. Your readers know you want people to buy your wares, so skip the hard core sales talk, and instead get into things like the passions for excellence, concern for customers, product development, etc.

15. Manage your brand online: Monitor what people are saying about your brand online.
The most important choice you make in the blogosphere might not be your choice to launch corporate blogs but to monitor what’s being said about your brand by customers, prospects, vendors, employees, former employees and other stakeholders.

Some additional thoughts on the topic worth reading:

-Blog Rules
http://www.informationweek.com/management/compliance/57300091
- Robert Scobler's (Microsoft blogger) Corporate Weblog Manifesto:
http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/2003/02/26.html
- James Snell of IBM on IBM’s blog policy:
http://www-03.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/jasnell?entry=blogging_ibm
- 7 Rules for Corporate Blogging:
http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2006/03/seven_rules_for.php

7 comments:

Scott said...

Another great post, Peter. I think you've managed to cover a lot of ground with these 15 rules. I've linked to your article on the Social Media Marketing Blog, where I added #16: If you're going to start a corporate blog, be ready to stick it out - stay in it for the long haul and be patient in waiting for results.

Easton Ellsworth said...

Fine list, Peter!

jim Monroe said...

I am currently compiling an online course. I would like to reference future students to your 15 rules for blogging in a way that would make it temporarily permanent.

Can I talk to you about permission to reprint this article for this course? With attribution of course.
Jim Monroe
jim@jcmonroe.com

AFI said...

An excellent post. I arrived at your website through my online University. I am impressed at the neat way you designed the post around this Blogger template and also with your quality content.

I look forward to reading more of your work.

AFI

Key Project said...

We're just starting up a new blog for our small non-profit out here in Hawai'i, and we'll keep these points in mind.

Certainly some of the points are less relevant to our more manageable NPO of about ten employees, but still, we'll make sure to play things right.

Aloha

Key Project said...

We're just starting up a blog for our small non-profit out here in Hawai'i, and we'll keep these tips in mind.

Certainly some of them are less relevant to our more manageable group of ten employees, we'll take steps to play things right regardless.

Aloha

Sandy said...

Such a great article which Blogging requires a serious commitment of time and resources and entails taking on new risks. In which While a great corporate blog benefits the brand, a corporate blog should not be treated as if it is just another corporate communications or marketing communications vehicle. Thanks for sharing this article.