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A Guide to Corporate Blogging

Today Reem Abeidoh looks at Corporate blogging and shares 13 Steps Fortune 500 companies take to Create a Blog.

Corporate-BloggingImage by iDream_in_Infrared

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?)”

10. Editing

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.

Reem Abeidoh writes on Social Media, Current Affairs, Marketing and More. Subscribe to her blog here.

Hiring a web consultant – Pros and Cons

The following post on the “Pros and Cons of hiring a web consultant” was written by Lara Kulpa.

There are pros and cons to hiring an outside web consultant.So you’ve got yourself a little start-up blog and you’ve earned some okay money. You spend 5-10 hours a week writing, commenting on other blogs, doing all the things that Darren tells you to do in order to increase your blog’s popularity, but you’re still not raking in the big bucks, or getting the traffic even to come close to that.

Sometimes you even look at your blog, with that free template on it that you downloaded somewhere after spending hours trying to figure out how to install your blog software and make small customizations like the color of your text links, and you think to yourself that you’d really like something more custom.

There are pros and cons to hiring an outside web consultant, an SEO “expert”, or a designer, that you should think about before you make that jump.

Pros

  • A good designer and developer knows what attracts and keeps the attention of your visitors. Research shows that you have less than 3 seconds to get someone to click deeper into your site, and having a good visual appeal is important. Just because you think that falling snowflakes and animated gifs are cute, doesn’t mean everyone does.
  • Search engine optimization is more than just meta tags and keywords. There’s research involved, and while your style of writing might be really good, a copywriter or SEO consultant could very well help make it fantastic as well as effective.
  • Marketing people need to be creative by the very nature of the world, and a consultant will help you come up with brilliant ideas for spreading the word about your site that you likely have never even thought of.
  • Especially if you’re still working a full-time job, have a family to attend to, and are trying to blog for money, you simply don’t have TIME to learn all the things you should know about marketing a website or blog. Hiring a blog consultant or paying for their services will save you an enormous amount of time.

Cons

  • Consultants cost money. Good consultants cost a lot of money, and you will get what you pay for. Phoning up your 11-year-old nephew to have him spam MySpace pages in return for minutes on his cellphone is going to get you nowhere. You need to spend money to make money. Expect to pay anywhere from $40-$200 per hour for quality work.
  • Hiring someone else to do the work for you keeps you in the need for hiring someone else to do the work for you. You don’t learn on your own, and you are forced to rely on someone else to help you succeed (which means trusting a stranger with your livelihood).
  • Anyone with a computer can throw up a website and call themselves an “expert”. You have to do some research on the person you’re looking to hire, and you HAVE to ask questions. Ask for examples, references, and definitely Google them and their company before you sign any contracts.
  • You need to be willing to not only be taught, but to actually put the time into learning and DOING what your consultant suggests you do. Otherwise you’re throwing good money after bad, and you’re going to wind up feeling broke and no further along than you were before. Consultants are there to consult you, and if you’re not willing to put an effort into it, you’re going to make them feel like their words are going in one ear and out the other. If you’re not ready to learn, then you’re going to spend MORE money, paying them to do it for you.

All that said, having a good working relationship with a consultant or company that offers consulting services can give you long-term results that will guarantee you more traffic, more attention, and yes, more money.

5 Prerequisites For Blogging Success

In the time that I have been blogging, I have noticed that there are a few things that “successful” blogs have in common. And I am defining “success” in every way — monetary terms, absolute traffic, but more importantly, in robust and continued growth. With 2007 here and many New Years Resolutions on the cusp, I thought we would start things off with what I believe are 5 things that are necessary to grow one’s blog.

1. Putting in the Time and Commitment.
One of the things that I didn’t fully appreciate is what a time commitment blogging is. I’m not including all the time it takes to literally set up a WordPress installation, or taking the time to tweak your theme just right, or even answering the buckets of email you may (or may not) have. What I am talking about is the time it takes to actually write.

If you’re a gifted writer, all the best to you. Skip the rest of this tip. For the rest of us who were not born with a pencil in their mouths, it literally takes time to write something really meaty, interesting, and worthy of your blog. The stuff that makes people fascinated and can’t wait to want more. It takes time to research stuff you don’t know about, to find a block of uninterrupted time to actually sit down and write the blasted piece, and then actually get it out in a form that you feel comfortable with.

And for people who have a semblance of a life — husband/wife, kids, a job, other Responsibilities — it can actually come as a bit of a shock, because in the blogging world no one really talks about how long it takes to actually create something you’re proud of.

For the literal minded (who have not yet started to blog), what this means is that at a post a day, it might require one extra hour of your life to produce that single post alone. Are you going to take that hour away from television time? Time with your family? Time to sleep? For most folks, their days are packed to the gills doing Stuff; taking the time to commit to blogging will often mean taking time away form something else.

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7 Steps to Better Business Blogging

Reader-Quick-TipsThe following reader quick tip was submitted by Ann Handley from Marketing Profs: Daily Fix.

One of the questions I often field comes from business owners who are thinking of launching a blog but are wondering, “What can I write about…?”

A recent post by Poynter contributor Vince Maher does an excellent job of giving some guidance on what businesses can write about, and, more importantly, how they can write it. All 11 tips are here but here are the seven points most critical for businesses:

  1. A blog entry is a stub for conversation. Think about creating posts that start conversations, have a point of view, and appeal to the interests of your readers. All writing must consider the audience, but for bloggers, it’s critical.
  2. Write tight headlines that pique interest. Think punchy, short, descriptive headlines that will pique a reader’s curiosity.
  3. Be scan-friendly. Bullet points (like these!) are easy to scan and have the useful by-product of lending structure to your thoughts.
  4. Link to the context. This is really important: if you write about something that other blogs are talking about in a post or conversation, offer links back to their conversations to give your post some context.
  5. Troll the blogosphere for secondary conversation. Tools like Google BlogSearch, Bloglines and Technorati will help you track what other bloggers are saying about your post. Try to update your blog with links to those conversations if they add or augment yours.
  6. Be active in your own conversations. Comment back to your readers. Social media is all about relationships.
  7. Create buzz everywhere. Include lots of relevant inbound links to your post. Via Technorati or other search tools, seek out other blogs that are discussing the same or similar issues, and participate in the conversation there.

So what do you think? Did I miss anything or can you expand on any of these guidelines?

Business Blogging 101

I’ve had an increasing amount of readers writing to me over the past few weeks asking questions on the topic of how to develop a business blog as opposed to a commercial or entrepreneurial blog.

Here’s one reader’s question to help flesh this out a little:

“Hi Darren, can I ask you a question that I can’t find an answer to anywhere?

I have just been hired by XXXXX (ed – a well known company) to develop a blog for them. I’ve had both a personal and a more commercial (advertising and affiliate programs) blog before but haven’t ever written on a business blog. The more I look into it the more I realize that many of the things I’ve learned about blogging previously are just not relevant to this new venture. Can you give me any tips?”

This question is typical of a number of emails that I’ve had over the past month. It seems that businesses are catching onto the power of blogs (or at least are perceiving them to be powerful) but both they and some of the bloggers they are hiring are unclear on how a business should use blogs.

Disclaimer – I’ve never written a ‘business blog’ and am not really sure I’m the person to be asking these questions as any expertise I might have is more in the type of blogging that earns income from ad or affiliate programs. As a result I’m looking forward to the opinions of readers who have more direct experience with business blogging – please feel free to share what you know in comments.

However having being asked the question numerous times – let me attempt to shed some light on the topic from my perspective….

Get Objectives Clear – the advice that I find myself giving to bloggers of all types is to think ahead of time about a blog’s goals and objectives. If I was being hired by a company to develop a blog I would work very hard at finding that company’s expectations for the blog out before starting it (actually – I’d find them out before accepting such a position).

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RSS: Blog’s Friend or Foe?

Is RSS is the downfall of building relationships and commerce on blogs? First, let’s set the record straight. I’ve drunk the kool aid. I get it. I love RSS and that new orange icon is pretty cute too. The ability to read huge amounts of information in one place, receive it at the second it’s published and not worry about email spam is awesome.

When Darren asked if I would help “blog-sit” ProBlogger I couldn’t say no. Last time I guest blogged here I met the talented Peter Flaschner from the BlogStudio. It led to a great bloggy relationship with Peter redesigning the skin of Diva Marketing. However, as creative as the design is, it doesn’t matter squat if the content of the blog is read in a reader. Nor do your ads or affiliate links show you the money if your readers never click through to your site.

Oh sure partial feeds may entice click throughs and not having live links in your feeds is another (spammy) way to go. Visitors coming in from the search engines might click on a link or two but it’s the folks who know and trust you who are most likely to click and convert…and that’s what makes the cash register ring or new sign-ups for your newsletter or site visits that go deeper into your blog. Keep in mind that comments and trackbacks are useless features without click-throughs to your blog.

What’s the solution? Should we kill off RSS? No way Jose! RSS is a valuable tool. Who wants to remember to click on Favorites on a daily basis?

The challenge is ours, as bloggers, to encourage those click-thoughts to the blog by creating -

1) enjoyable on-blog experience: look and feel, navigation, layout
2) providing information that can only be obtained by clicking through to your blog: podcasts, articles, photos, videos, terrific blogroll, archive links
3) including cues in your posts that talk about value-added content on your blog: new podcast tells how to go beyond the ProBlogger status to zillionarie!

Blogger achieves 5000% ROI from Blogging

Debbie Weil writes that Charlene Li has apparently brought in close to one million dollars in business to her employer, Forrester, in the last year – all through her blogging.

That’s a 5000% Return on Investment!

‘That’s based on her calculation that her $14.95 / month account with TypePad triggered $1 million in new business for Forrester last year.’

If that’s not the best argument for business blogging going around at the moment then I don’t know what is!

Blogonomics Blog Cruise

 Content Images Port Port Sequence Carib Carib Caw Fll 42C977F LgThe last few years have seen quite a few blog conferences but here’s one with a twist – Blogonomics – the world’s first floating blog conference!

I’ve been hearing about this one for a little while now and it’s just gone public – they’re actually running a Blog Cruise which takes off from Fort Lauderdale in Florida and sails to Mexico!

Confirmed speakers so far include Jeremy Wright, Jim Turner, Scott Goldblatt, Tris Hussey and B.L Ochman all of whom are great value bloggers.

The overall focus of the conference is Business blogging and the more details sub-topics include:

* Choosing and Developing Content
* Blog Metrics
* Return on Investment (ROI)
* Blog Marketing
* Using a Blog for a specific campaign
* Business Applications and RSS
* Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Monetization
* A Study in Real Life Business Blog Success

Sounds like a fun few days!

Yahoo offers Movable Type for business bloggers

Six Apart and Yahoo have announced a partnership as Yahoo will use MovableType as to provide small businesses with websites through it’s existing small business web site management service:

‘Yahoo will effectively act as the preferred provider of Movable Type for small business users, taking advantage of its scale and efficiency, Anil Dash, vice president of professional products for San Francisco-based Six Apart, said in a phone interview.

“This is going to be our recommended (sales) channel for small business,” he said.

Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo said it will offer commercial blogs based on Movable Type as part of its existing small business Web-site management service.

Yahoo provides customers with a unique Web address, blogging tools and business-class e-mail services with spam and virus protections for less than $12 a month.’

Congratulations to Anil and the team at MT.

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