Today Reem Abeidoh looks at Corporate blogging and shares 13 Steps Fortune 500 companies take to Create a Blog.
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In order to maintain a competitive edge, corporations are increasingly looking for opportunities to make them stand out. Although traditional media serves as a solid medium that disperses company messaging to the world, the trends of information consumption are evolving. After some initial hesitancy, corporations are slowly starting to realize that it is important to jump on the virtual bandwagon of blogging. This medium represents the missing ingredient that traditional media lacks: the ability to directly connect a company to its customers.
As of February 2008, 54 companies listed on the Fortune 500 have corporate blogs (source). I had the great honor of interviewing the social media gurus behind three of the top companies with blogs: Michael Brito, Social Media Strategist at Intel, LaSandra Brill, Manager, Web & Social Media Marketing at Cisco, and Tac Anderson, Web 2.0 Strategic Lead at Hewlett Packard (HP).
Below is the information Intel, Cicso and HP have provided me regarding how their companies utilize blogging to connect with their customers.
Why is Blogging Crucial to Corporations?
What is the first image your mind conjures up when a brand is mentioned? Is it the logo, the jingle on the advertisement or the experience you previously had with the brand? Blogging allows current and potential consumers to associate the brand with a face and a personality. It bridges the distant gap that has existed between the “inaccessible” company and the “average” consumer. Brito said, “It’s a way for us to appear less corporate and put a human face when we interact online. We believe people relate more effectively to other people instead of a logo or corporate brand.”
Additionally, the blog is a representation of the company’s values, beliefs, philosophy and direction. If they are involved in a medium that encourages a two-way conversation, it shows their consumers that they care about their opinions. Brill noted, “Blogging lets us communicate with our customers in a more personal and direct way. But more importantly, blogging gives us a much needed way for customers to communicate with us. Customers are able to interact with comments and potentially provide valuable feedback or insight that can be brought back into the business.”
Although direct interaction with customers is an incredible incentive, there are many other benefits to blogging. It has the power to position employees as thought-leaders in their industry, to assist in reputation management during crises; to build brand awareness and loyalty; and to increase brand visibility, traffic and links.
Steps Fortune 500 companies take to Create a Blog
1. Determine if blogging is a good fit for your company
There are many corporations that are seduced by the concept of blogging. It is important to examine the target audience and if a blog is a good way to reach them. Research the socialsphere to learn what your audience generally does online.
2. Determine if your company is willing to invest in a blog
Although blogs can be built on free platforms, it is important that the company is willing to invest money into customizing the design of the blog, hiring experts for training, allocating manpower hours for blogging, and so on. Jeremy Wright, CEO of b5media, noted, “A bad blog is worse than no blog. A dead blog is worse than no blog. But an engaging blog is one of the best things in the world that you can do for your business.”
3. Create a strategy
After collecting all the essential data and having the approval necessary to proceed, it is important to write a strategy that defines the direction of the blog and its purpose. Brill said, “The strategy answered the basic questions of why we were entering the blogosphere, what our goals were and how we were going to measure the results.”
4. Ensure that everyone is on the same page
It is important for all the key players to be aware that the company is launching a blog that represents a specific component of the company. Providing them with the strategy document or an executive summary will increase their willingness to contribute to the blog. Brito said, “In the corporate environment, it is important to get everyone aligned internally (i.e. legal, privacy &security, marketing, product teams, customer support). They need to be aware of the blog not only because they may want to support it, but also for approvals.”
5. Determine the Involvement of PR
Many blogs have failed because they were used as a forum to share news releases, commercial information, and white papers. However, if the PR department is knowledgeable about blogging best practices, this should not be a problem. There are many different perspectives on this specific topic. When asked if a company’s PR department should manage the blog, Brito said that their involvement in blogging depends on their knowledge of the blogosphere. A PR department that has extensive writing experience that would be helpful in crafting interesting posts.
On the other hand, some companies regard the PR team a corporate policy enforcer and as an “in-case-of-emergency” liaison during challenging situations. Brill shared, “PR department should manage the blog policy and should be involved if a legal issue were to come up.”
However, the PR team should never be kept out of the blogging team altogether. The company needs to decide which role they will play depending on their goals and strategy. Anderson said, “PR should be involved and part of the team but not doing the blogging.”
6. Select Bloggers
Before identifying the bloggers, it is important to decide if this blog will have a single voice or will have multiple authors. Cisco, HP, and Intel have multi-authored blogs. If the company has many products and services in its portfolio, then having many subject matter experts blog is a good idea. Brill said, “We chose a heterogeneous team of experts to make sure we had coverage in all of the areas our customers might be interested in.”
However, it is important to note that mutli-authored blogs aren’t the only direction corporations should take. Companies can select a specific employee as the sole blogger who communicates product-related updates, company news and industry views. Also, this is a good time to determine if the company wants the CEO to blog. Brito encourages top executives of smaller-sized companies to be the voice of the blog. Anderson added, “It depends on the goal of the blog.”
7. Train the Bloggers
It is true that anyone can blog, only a few can blog well. It is important to train the selected authors on blogging best practices, writing tips, and promotion. This is also an excellent time to share the corporate blog policies in place to avoid any problems in the future.
8. Writing Posts
There are some companies that work with their team to create an editorial calendar that makes it easier for bloggers to author a post without having to work on digging up an idea. Additionally, it establishes blogging frequency, which is crucial for reader retention. Other companies like Intel list out all upcoming events, product launches and post ideas. It is important to avoid including press releases and white papers on the blog. Brito says, “We are talking to real people with real personalities, wants, desires and passions; and it’s important that we treat them that way by paying attention to them. We show them the love and in hopes that they will love us back; and tell people about it too.”
9. Realize that the Blog doesn’t need a tone
When you have a variety of bloggers, the uniqueness of each voice will make the blog more interesting. Brito notes, “Everyone is different and one of our goals for the blog is to be real and personal: real people, real personalities and different points of view. Besides who would want to go to a party where everyone is the same (same tone, same conversation?)”
The company needs to determine if they will implement an editing process. Cisco and Intel do not require their bloggers to send their posts for editing before publishing. They are available if a blogger needs it reviewed or has questions. At HP, Anderson helps with editing, optimizing and formatting the posts. Depending on the sensitivity of the subject, try to avoid an editing process that is convoluted and time-consuming.
Possible Editing Processes:
Blogger > Editor > Blogger > Editor > Publish
Blogger > Editor > Publish
Blogger > Publish
11. Establish a Comment Policy
Blogs aren’t supposed to serve as company megaphones that push corporate messages out to the consumers. The purpose of blogs is to serve as a two-way conversation between the company and the customer. It is important to allow the readers to share their opinion on the blog. Circumventing that will lose readers. Additionally, bloggers and employees should be encouraged to post and respond to comments. This will keep the dialogue going.
At the same time, companies may have a strict policy against foul language and spam. The community typically understands when such comments are deleted. Cisco, Intel and HP allow positive and negative comments. In dealing with negative comments, Brill shares, “Most comments are published within a couple hours including negative comments. Negative comments are handled on a case by case basis- sometimes it is best to sit back and let the others in the community chime in and sometimes clarification maybe needed to set the facts straight. In other cases we engage the commenter directly to understand the negativity.”
12. Develop a Promotion Strategy
The blog might have incredible content, but it will not gain traction unless it is promoted. The target audience needs to know that the blog exists for them to visit it. Brito said, “It’s about equipping and training the bloggers to participate in the conversations that are happening of the corporate domain. Are they on Twitter, Friendfeed, MyBlogLog, and Facebook? Are they spending considerable amount of time building community within these channels and responding to relevant comments? And, are these tools talking to each other and pulling in feeds?” During the pre-launch phase, bloggers can begin establishing profiles, developing a presence, and building a network.
13. Establish a Measurement program
In order to show the success of the blog, the blogging team should establish key metrics that are important to the company. This may include views, comments, backlinks, RSS subscriptions, etc. Brito cautions, “Its common knowledge that 1:1 ration of posts to comments is a good benchmark for corporate blogs. While this may seem a bit low, it may be a good start.”
An additional step to consider is creating a monthly report that shows the level of success the blog is experiencing. The numbers can show key insights into what content worked well, the keywords used to find the blog, and the promotional efforts that drew in the most people. These learnings can be turned into monthly recommendations to the extended blogging team.