Every company in western civilization seems to have a blog these days. But are they worth it, and why are so many terrible?
I have reached the conclusion that most organisations have a blog simply because they feel they should. Many marketing departments fail to ‘get’ blogging and have poorly visited blogs with few comments. Because their blog fails to perform they conclude that blogging is an ineffective marketing tool and either remove it entirely or leave it to languish.
However, it does not need to be this way. Corporate blogs can be a powerful communication tool that builds brand awareness and nurtures a sense of engagement. You only need to look at the vibrant community surrounding the 37Signals blog to know that corporate blogging can work.
This post asks the questions – why are most corporate blogs failing and why do the few succeed? To do this we need to face a few harsh truths.
1. A blog does not magically generate traffic
When companies first started launching corporate websites they perceived them as a marketing channel that would generate leads. They had a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality. Over time they realised that a website is more like a storefront. A few people might wander in off the street, but most of the time you need to advertise to attract trade.
Many marketing departments are making a similar mistake with corporate blogs. They perceive them as a way to generate new traffic, when that is not their primary role. Admittedly the keyword heavy nature of a blog will help your organic rankings, but that is a secondary benefit.
The real role of a blog is to generate repeat traffic which is considerably more likely to complete a call to action. A successful blog has a regular readership who is being constantly reminded of your brand and products.
Of course building up a readership takes time.
2. Blogging takes long term commitment
Building a readership is a long term commitment. It can take months for users to recognise your blog as a consistent source of useful information. Only then will they start visiting it regularly and recommending it to others.
It doesn’t just take time, it also takes commitment. That means posting regularly and to a schedule. Users are more likely to visit your blog if they know you release a post on a certain day each week.
Of course ultimately you want them to subscribe so they don’t need to continually check your site for new content.
3. Teaser feeds are a wasted opportunity
Users can subscribe in a couple of ways. They can either sign up to receive email notifications or subscribe to an RSS feed. This is a crucial step in engaging readers. That is because users are effectively giving you permission to remind them about your site and brand.
However, it is remarkable how many organisations fail to grasp this opportunity. Instead of using the chance to push content to users, they only provide a teaser of blog posts. This means users have to click through to view the whole post.
This practice is born out of a false belief that users need to see your site. They don’t. Unless your revenue is driven by site advertising, there is no need for users to click through to read your blog.
The purpose of most corporate blogs is to build and maintain brand awareness while motivating users to engage. None of that needs to happen on site. The blog post itself builds and maintains awareness, while requests for comments or calls to action motivates users to engage. Users do not need to see the rest of your site to respond to the copy of a blog post. Of course for that to be true, posts need to be engaging.
4. Your not ‘engaging’ anyone
The most successful blogs are more than a broadcast tool. They are a dialogue between the individuals within your organisation and your users. It is important to listen, as well as speak.
Unfortunately the majority of corporate blogs fail to engage. Instead they focus on telling readers how great their products and services are. Rarely do they ask for feedback or ask questions. In fact it is not unusual for companies to disable comments for fear of criticism.
Instead you should be encouraging users to contribute to your blog through comments and constructive criticism. It is a superb opportunity to get free feedback from your customers, something many organisations pay market researchers for.
Part of the problem is that most corporate blogs offer nothing more than rehashed press releases.
5. Press releases shouldn’t appear on a blog
Let’s set aside the debate over whether press releases have a role in today’s web centric world. Whether they do or don’t, you need to realise that a press release preforms a different role to that of corporate blog.
As the name implies a press releases is meant for professional journalists. It is designed to encourage journalists to write about your product or service. It is not designed for your customers.
A blog on the other hand is meant to be read by prospective and existing customers. It should be engaging, informative and helpful. When writing a blog post you should always have the end reader in mind. What will they learn? What insight will this give them into who we are? How will it help build our relationship with the reader? You should never simply copy and paste press releases or news stories.
The other problem with press releases is that they are corporate statements. A blog should have a more personal tone.
6. You sound like a faceless corporation
People don’t like interacting with organisations, corporations or machines. People like conversing with people. One of the things I have learnt about selling web design services is that once people have established that you offer a good service at a reasonable price, the next thing they care about is you. Do they like you? Do they trust you? Do they think they can work with you?
People don’t like, trust or want to work with corporations. We associated those feelings with individuals, not companies. It is therefore important that a corporate blog is about the people within your organisation, not the organisation itself. Your blog should focus on different people and the role they perform with your company. They should be able to demonstrate some of their personality as well as share their expertise.
A blog is a place to let readers see behind the marketing spin and glimpse the real people within your organisation.
7. You need to show the warts and all
If you are a marketeer this may all sound a little scary. Its hard to control ‘the message’ when you are blogging. You have multiple bloggers from across your organisation who are effectively becoming corporate spokespeople, and you are allowing users to publicly criticise you on your own blog. This is a long way from traditional marketing.
However today’s consumers are very savvy. They are distrustful of traditional marketing and can sense when they are being sold at. A softer approach is required, one that is more ‘real’ and less managed. One part of that is admitting when you make mistakes.
Dell constantly ignored criticism they received about poor customer service. They ignored the voice that the web provided their customers, until eventually a single disgruntled user stirred up a major PR nightmare with a single post entitled ‘Dell lies. Dell sucks.‘
Contrast this with the ‘warts and all’ approach adopted by photo sharing site Flickr. When faced with community criticism over the poor performance of their website they wrote a post on their blog entitled ‘Sometimes we suck.’ They acknowledged the problem and laid out a plan for correcting it. This non traditional approach to their brand image allowed Flickr to quickly defuse a situation that could have grown out of control.
Perhaps when it comes to corporate blogging, marketing is not always best equipped to handle the task.
8. Marketeers often make bad bloggers
Let me be clear. I am not saying that all marketeers should be banned from blogging. What I am saying is that traditional marketing skills are not always best suited to the medium. Because blogging should be personal, transparent and not shy away from an organisations flaws, it can seem an uncomfortable communication tool for some marketeers. Also the traditional writing style of many marketeers does not fit well with the informal style of a successful blog.
If you are a marketeer responsible for the corporate blog, look for ways to encourage others within your organisation to blog. Think of yourself as an editor rather than an author. Target people who are particularly knowledgeable or already act as spokespeople for your organisation. Encourage them to blog and act as a copy editor tweaking and refining what they write.
You may find it hard to encourage others to blog. If that is the case try interviewing them instead. You can then turn those interviews into blog posts and hopefully encourage them to respond to comments. But remember, whether you are posting an interview or an article, do not expect too much from your readers.
9. You expect too much from your readers
Most of the corporate blog posts I have read are long, text heavy and boring. They take considerable commitment to wade through. In short, they ask too much from readers.
With so many blogs online you need to make your posts stand out from the crowd. Always ensure users can get the gist of what you are saying by just scanning the post. This can be achieved using a number of techniques…
- Summarise a post at the beginning and in the title. Don’t leave users guessing what the subject is.
- Be controversial to grab users attention.
- Use headings as a way of grabbing attention and summarising content.
- Use images to break up the copy and communicate key points.
Do not feel all of your posts need to be an essay. Short posts that propose a question or draw the readers attention to another site are just as engaging. Anything that is of value to the user is worth posting.
Finally, remember that not all blog posts need to be textual. Consider buying a flipcam and recording some video interviews with people around the company. Record an audio interview or post some photographs of corporate events. Just don’t expect users to read lots of copy. The only people who do that are your competition.
10. Your competitors will read your blog – Get over it!
I am amazed at how many organisations will sensor their corporate blogs because they are worried their competition will read it and rip off their expertise and ideas. Although it is true that your competition will do exactly this, what is the alternative? One the primary opportunities a blog provides is the chance to demonstrate your expertise. People will be motivated to buy from you because they understand you ‘know your stuff.’ However, if you don’t talk about your expertise, how will they know? You might be the best in your field but if nobody knows it then what is the point?
I write about my knowledge of web design all the time. I know that many of those who read my posts are competitors and learn from what I share. However, I know a lot of prospective clients read the content too. Should I silence myself for fear of being copied or should I prove to my clients that I know what I am talking about? I think the answer is clear.
Many organisations are still finding their voice online and corporate blogging is one way they can achieve this. It is not surprising that they are still making mistakes. The secret to success is accepting that a blog is not a traditional marketing tool. In my opinion, it has more in common with a customer services. Once you realise that and release it from the shackles of press releases and corporate news, it will begin to generate return on investment.