“What we need is a blog”. The six words calculated to strike doom into my heart.
As web managers worry increasingly about not being ‘2.0 enough’, I hear this more and more…
Do you really though? Do you need a blog? More importantly, does your business need a blog?
How will this blog help achieve commercial objectives? Who’s going to write it and maintain it?
Who will respond to questions or criticisms raised by commentators on it? Who will ensure copy is optimised? Is there sufficient resource and budget to put behind the writing of the blog (because decent corporate blogs need to be funded)?
Do you have corporate blogging guidelines in place? Libel training? Copywriting training? And all this, before the biggest question of all - do you have anything to say worth reading? Not just once a month, but every day, even twice or three times a day?
The response to these critical questions really depends on a client’s approach to corporate blogging.
I’m beginning to think people fall firmly into one of three camps...
The first camp? Blog purists. To them, the blog is sacred. They believe blogs should be personal, unedited and raw. No editing, no guidelines, no toeing the corporate line and certainly no spell-checking.
Any knock-on positive effect for the company they work for should be purely accidental. They speak of ‘authenticity’ and ‘trust issues’. They’re convinced anything less than genuine stream of consciousness rambling will be instantly flame-bombed out of the blogosphere.
Unfortunately these often tend to be the same people whose fingers can’t keep up with their mouths and so their copy swiftly decends into unscannable, cringe-making, self-indulgent nonsense (‘At last!!! Pix of my daughter being born!!!!!!’).
The second camp contains the blog traffikers. They don’t feel particularly strongly about their blog contents – they’re all about the Google ranking.
At least that’s the ones who are into search. A large subset of the traffikers camp is the reluctant bloggers. They’ve been bullied by the search geeks into starting a blog and it quickly becomes a chore. It’s all about volume over substance. There’s little strategy to the content – just that it’s posted regularly, with lots and lots of links in it.
Traffikers end up being glorified aggregators of other people’s blogs and chief perpetrators of the belief that to blog badly is better than not to blog at all. As a digital copy editor, of course this group offends me the most.
While a noble few do manage to balance their SEO objectives with some kind of editorial integrity, most are responsible for filling the internet with swathes of meaningless, low energy, unrevealing content.
It’s the blog equivalent of attending an expensive seminar and realising at the end of the day you paid to hear eight people churn out the dodgy powerpoint they wrote last night.
The third camp contains those who want to take a strategic approach to blogging. These are the clients I love the most.
My approach to blogging is that there is no single definition of an external corporate blog, no single ‘right way’ to do it. I’d describe blogging more as a specific platform, a particular way of communicating online, than an editorial genre.
And like most methods of corporate communication, it will work best if it’s part of an overall marcoms plan, rather than a knee jerk response to the nonsense that is web 2.0.
And like most copy-driven media, it will largely succeed if and when it merits the reader’s attention.
The advantages of communicating corporate messages through the blogging platform are many – organic search rankings of course, and the speed with which you can get information out, or respond to customer comments.
But successful corporate blogging is all about knowing what your objectives are for the blog and planning content which helps achieve them.
This may (or may not) include some highly controversial activities, such as pre-setting a seasonal content schedule, getting your blog ghost-written by a professional, agreeing language guidelines, optimising the copy and (gasp) putting copy through sub-editing and proofing and compliance.
Many of the blogs we write on behalf of clients, we’d have simply called newsfeeds ten years ago. It’s just the ability to comment and respond that’s really the difference.
It says a lot that I’m almost afraid to put in writing my view that there is an awful lot to be said for an official corporate blog that has clearly been planned, edited and controlled internally.
If it’s decent, useful content, it’s valid. As long as there is no attempt to obscure its provenance. By and large, it’s the platform itself that users appreciate - the speed, the frequency and the interactive nature of the communication.
But hang on a minute, I’ve just sped past the difficult bit - 'if it’s decent, useful content'. So easy to aim for and so hard to achieve.
If your content gives customers some learning, some expert information, some insight, some practical help or tools, or anything of real value to them, rather than to you, then it builds your equity as a customer-facing ‘generous brand’.
And this kind of content is more likely to appear on a planned, edited, expertly-written blog post than something tossed off by a seething employee in their lunch hour.
Catherine Toole is the MD of Sticky Content Limited .