Setting up your company blog? Here,s Everything you need to know.

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Companies often try out Web 2.0 and social media marketing by writing a blog or publishing a podcast or videocast. Corporate blogs can be the perfect introduction to the world of social media because they offer more control than any other social media tool. Think of a typical corporate blog as a literal soap box on a street corner. Even though passers-by — your readers — can talk back, corporate bloggers have an elevated position from which to speak. Plus, bloggers can choose not to publish certain comments or can turn off comments altogether! They’re in a position of power. The relationship of blogger to reader is more traditional, or top-down, and less democratic than in a number of more conversational and egalitarian online channels, like forums or social networks. Starting your own corporate blog also preps you for social media marketing activities to come. You develop the right mindset — hey, now you’re a blogger — and you improve your organization’s online credibility when it comes time to launch your first blogger outreach campaign.

You can find a bookshelf’s worth of how-to guides and hundreds of websites discussing how to start a blog. Here, however, are some answers to questions that our clients always ask when starting a blog for their organization.

How Do You Start?

Start with an internal-facing blog on your company’s intranet; this will only permit employees to read the blog. This approach ensures that

Neophyte bloggers can practice in a safe environment. They can come to grips with the time demands that their blog will require and make mistakes without any serious ramifications.

• The idea of outward-facing blogs can be gently introduced to the rest of the organization.

• Achieving company wide support for blogging when there’s a positive example available is easier.

• The IT and web teams can become familiar with a blogging platform.

If you want to take baby steps, you can subsequently run a private beta of your outward-facing blog. Open it up to a small external audience. This external soft launch should be targeted at an informed and sympathetic audience. A password-protected partners portal or premium support zone on your website is a natural spot for this limited public trial.

Use this soft launch to solicit feedback (directly on the blog, through comments, ideally) and introduce the company’s bloggers to a larger audience. Once you do this, however, the cat is out of the bag. You can ask your chosen readers to treat the blogs like a closed beta program, but anything that’s said could end up on other blogs or in the mainstream media.

Should You Build Your Own Blogging Software?

Web designers and developers seem to adore the challenge of crafting a blog platform or content management system from scratch. We urge you to give this some serious thought first. A plethora of popular, cheap (or free), and reliable blogging platforms are available for every scenario.

For instance, Blogger.com {http://www.blogger.com/) and WordPress. com ( http://www.wordpress.com/ ) offer the platform, domain name, and hosting for free, but the URL will usually be a combination of their URL plus the name of your blog. WordPress.org {http:// www.wordpress.org/) (confusingly, different from WordPress.com) offers the platform for free but not the hosting and domain name. Similarly, MoveableType {http://www.moveabletype.org/) charges a license fee for the platform, depending on the usage scenario, but doesn’t include the domain name and hosting. If you already use a content management system for your corporate website, like Drupal or Joomla, a blogging solution is probably already available as an add-on module.

Who Should Blog?

As a general rule, not the corporate communications people — that means you. Communications folks have typically been inculcated to be consistently “on message” and to speak in the safe, dry language of the press release. This approach is poison to a blog, which thrives on an authentic individual voice. Who writes the blog depends on why you’re starting a blog: Establishing industry expertise? Providing technical tips and tricks? Polishing the company’s image for recruiting? We’ve found that the best corporate bloggers are:

Informed about their area of expertise. They probably already participate in associations and online communities that relate to their profession.

Passionate about their work

• At least a little opinionated

• Good written communicators

Well-educated about the company’s position in the marketplace

• Already experienced personal bloggers

Pick the staff members who can deliver on your goals. We’ve found that employees who advocate for the customer — product managers, technical support staff, technical writers, and so forth — often make great corporate bloggers.

Starting with a group blog, where at least three or four people contribute, is a good idea. This distributes the burden and ensures the blog doesn’t go dry because someone goes on vacation. Additionally, you’ll likely find that one or two staffers discover a passion for blogging. They’ll inevitably write most of the posts, respond to comments on the site, and so forth. For group blogs, highlighting the individual bloggers is important. Readers want to get to know the people behind the blog, and so each blog post should prominently feature the blogger’s name and photo.

Why Should You Write a Blog?

First, consider why you’re launching a corporate blog. These are some common objectives:

Foster customer relationships

Customers crave timely, candid dialogue with a company. They want greater access to and more information about your organization’s activities. Blogs can increase goodwill among customers toward your company. They’re also an excellent place to educate customers informally about new concepts and industry trends.

Learn how to drive customer retention by employing an effective customer service system here.

Solicit user feedback

Here’s an old Internet truism: If you don’t give your customers a place to talk about your products and services, they’ll find their own place. Wise companies enable public discourse with their customers, ensuring that they can “own” or oversee as much of the online conversation as possible.

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Establish expertise

Blogs are an excellent means of promoting particular staff members as experts or pundits in a given industry sector or niche.

Research the market

Blogs provide an ideal venue to try out new ideas and pitch new features to your most passionate supporters (they’re the likeliest blog readers). You’ll get immediate, generally informed feedback — blogs can be a focus group without the room rental and doughnuts.

Provide technical support

Blogs can become another channel for your support staff to communicate with users.

Connect with journalists, analysts, and industry bloggers

Journalists and analysts were some of the earliest consumers of weblogs and RSS. Additionally, many bloggers have become defacto journalists in their area of expertise.

Deploy damage control

For companies of all sizes, blogs make quick and dirty tools for damage control. This is partially due to their one-button publishing model but also because of the transparency and authenticity blogs tend to foster.

Improve interdepartmental communication

When various teams are blogging for a company, you foster a natural exchange of information and a better awareness of other company projects.

Increase staff profile

Blogs can help the stars inside your company shine and make them feel recognized for their contributions. Recruit new employees

A company’s blogs should reflect its culture. Blogs written by passionate employees help possible new hires get an inside look at your organization.

What Should You Write About?

Companies often make a mistake when writing blogs and website content: They write about their company from their own perspective. This trap is an easy one to fall into. Instead, corporate blogs should focus on clear communication and delivering value to the customer. Value doesn’t only mean discounts and deals — it means content that’s compelling, entertaining, and possibly helpful. Stonyfield Farms runs the Baby Babble blog. The company rarely discuss its products but instead uses this blog to provide infant health information for readers. The blog doesn’t directly sell dairy products, but it does establish Stonyfield Farms as an expert in the field and engender positive feelings in customers.

Popular topics include company news, product tips and tricks, your take on the industry and your competition, and what we call corporate dark matter. Dark matter is all the compelling stuff about your company that doesn’t make it onto your website or into high- level marketing messages. Sales and tech support are good depart- ments to mine for dark matter content, such as email messages explaining product features in plain English, or answers to commonly asked support questions.

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Also, emulate others. Take your content and style cues from a blog or podcast you like.

How Often Should You Blog?

Ideally, three times a week. If you have a team of four bloggers, then each blogger can write three blog posts a month (though, as we mentioned, that will shift over time). Three blog posts a week makes the site feel healthfully alive without overwhelming readers. If you can’t reliably blog at least once a week, you should reconsider whether a blog is the right fit for your organization.

How Will You Manage All the Feedback?

This question is the one we hear most frequently. We can assure you, as a new blogger, you won’t be buried in comments and feedback. Consider this data point. General Motors’ Fastlane Blog was the one of the early examples of corporate blogging done right. On the blog, senior GM executives offer opinions on corporate and industry news. For American car enthusiasts and industry workers, the blog is a compelling read. It’s made more compelling these days by the site’s frank discussion of GM’s bankruptcy filing. The site claimed roughly 5,000 daily visitors. Yet the average post on this well-promoted (and recently controversial) blog for a Fortune 500 brand received about 15 to 20 comments per post.

The so-called 1 percent rule of the online community applies here. The 1 percent rule says that, out of any 100 online users, only one person will create content; the rest will be lurkers, or site visitors who only read without interacting. The relationship obviously varies from site to site, but our experience confirms that you’ll be lucky to get 1 comment for every 100 visitors on a corporate blog. If you plan for this ratio, you’ll be in good shape. And remember, when you launch a new blog, you always start with a readership of zero (or one, if you’re counting your mom). Too many comments is a nice problem to have — and a rare one. Lots of comments mean your readers are truly engaged with what you’re writing.

Where Should the Blog Live?

Should your blog function as part of your corporate website, or should it live at its own domain name? Most of the time, hosting the blog as part of your main website is to your advantage. Companies just add an extra item — Blog, typically — to their main site navigation, and the blog’s home page (with the most recent entries) becomes just another page on the website. What are the advantages of this approach? You can generate instant readership by encouraging site visitors to read and subscribe to the blog.

Blogs are an excellent tool for improving your site’s search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines love blogs for their frequently updated content. Nearly every business owner we know, regardless of size, recognizes the importance of SEO to his or her company’s websites success.

The blog helps to reinforce, in an informal way, your corporate messaging. Mountain Equipment Co-op is one of Canada’s largest retailers of outdoors equipment, a cooperative, and a boisterous advocate of corporate social responsibility. They ran an ethical sourcing blog at https://blog. me. ca/, the goal of which is “to encourage an informed dialogue on what’s happening in factories everywhere and what the root causes are.”

Why would you launch a blog at its own discrete domain?

One reason is shelf life. Maybe you’re running a short-term blog as part of a micro site for a marketing campaign. Credit union VanCity launched a community blog at the aspirational URL http://www.ChangeEverything.ca/. The credit union initially launched the site to reaffirm its brand as a bank that truly cares about community. The distance between this site and the corporate site meant that if Change Everything didn’t catch on, or if things didn’t go well, VanCity could quietly shut it down. Instead, the site was a success, so they kept it running for a while.

Another reason to run an offsite blog is if you want to provide some measure of independence from your corporate site.

A Few Blogging Don’ts

Hundreds of corporate blogs are launched every day. As such, we see lots of the same mistakes repeated time and again. In this section, we point out some practices to avoid. Corporate Blogs to Emulate

Here are some great examples of well-written, engaging corporate blogs:

Coca Cola Unbottled

Walmart

AllState

Whole Foods

Don’t Fake It with a Character Blog

You don’t have to watch a cheesy TV or movie marathon of Roxanne, Shrek, or Shakespeare in Love to recognize that pretending to be someone you’re not is folly. Similarly, you can kill a social media campaign by bungling a character blog. A character blog is written by a fictitious character — human, animal, or mascot. Character blogs sound like a fun, catchy campaign idea, but they are hard to get right. Some have hit home runs. For example, the Dwight Schrute character blog for NBC’s The Office has had over a million views. But for every success, you can find plenty of fizzled attempts: the defunct Captain’s Blog written by rum magnate Captain Morgan, McDonald’s terrible Lincoln Fry blog, and the mundane Moosetopia blog from Moose Tracks ice cream.

Now, if Ronald McDonald divulged what his hamburgers and fries were really made of, that’d be some compelling reading. The final blow for character blogs is that they run contrary to what online communities are trying to achieve. Fictionalized blogs are not about real conversations or authenticity. We support marketing guru Steve Rubel’s verdict that where marketing is concerned, “Character blogs are a complete waste of time.”

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Incidentally, the same advice goes for Facebook. Facebook administrators have consistently and aggressively deleted fictional or non- human profiles. The site has specific language about fake profiles in its terms of use.

Don’t Give In to Flame Wars

If you’re writing about controversial or contestable topics, expect disagreement from blog readers. When the ensuing debate is civil, it’s terrific. You earn readers who are passionate enough to leave detailed comments challenging your views. Assuming they’re not just trouble-makers trying to rustle your feathers, you should always — respectfully and professionally — engage with commenters.

That said, beware the flame war (we also like the term nerd fight). The Web’s anonymity fosters a certain cocky confidence in online debates, and civil discussion can quickly devolve into name- calling. Getting caught up in the moment and saying something you’ll subsequently regret is easy. Here’s our best piece of blogging advice when you’re neck-deep in a heated online debate: Never blog or comment in anger. If you find you’re getting upset, step away from the blog for a few hours, or even a day or two. The blog isn’t going anywhere, and you’ll get a fresh perspective after a little break from the flame war.

Don’t Obsess over Perfection

The natural voice of the blog post is informal and conversational. Part of the appeal of reading a blog is watching the blogger work through an idea in a kind of real-time improvisation. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little and make a few mistakes along the way.

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