The time has come: Blogging is a business requirement2009-01-28
About 18 or 19 years ago, scorn was heaped upon me when I insisted that pretty much every company would need to adopt email and provide employees with email addresses. I got the same reaction 12 or 13 years ago when I proclaimed all companies would require a presence on the World Wide Web. Today, email and a website are a de facto requirement for most businesses, large or small.
Today, I’m taking the same stand on corporate blogs (a reversal of my earlier position, which suggested that a corporate blog was a strategic decision):
By “authoritative and official,” I mean that content posted to the blog can be construed as statements of record.
I know that corporate blogs generally aren’t trusted. Some believe blogs have peaked and are being replaced by services like Twitter. (ometimes, you need more than 140 characters to say what you need to say. No more than about 7 million people are on Twitter, which means much of your corporate audience isn’t. Those who are may well miss your tweet if they’re not watching every second and don’t check the history of their friends stream. However, you can certainly take advantage of the service Twitterfeed to automatically alert those who are on Twitter that you have posted an item to your blog.) Others believe corporate blogs are legally risky and of questionable value. But the world of business communication has changed and the blog is the best tool available (when done right) to address the challenges of life in the 140-character news cycle.
Speed of response
While I don’t for a moment believe press releases no longer have value, they are no longer adequate in a crisis situation. Consider the September 2008 incident in which Bloomberg inadvertently issued a six-year-old news item announcing that United Airlines had filed for bankruptcy. If United had a blog (which its competitors Delta and Southwest do), the company could have corrected the misinformation in a matter of minutes instead of the hours it takes to distribute a press release.
MacNeil Laboratories, makers of Motrin, is another company that could have quieted a fast-growing controversy by opening a dialogue with customers on a blog.
This is not an indictment of press release distribution companies, but rather the internal process through which releases typically are subjected before they are ever forwarded to the PR Newswires and Business Wires of the world.
Bypass the press
The press gets something about your company wrong. One of your options is writing a letter to the editor, an exercise that can prove futile, as General Motors learned when responding to an assertion by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Alternatively, you can demand a retraction or correction, which will occupy four lines adjacent to a furniture ad on the bottom of page 37.
In the first instance, General Motors gave up trying to get the New York Times to run its letter and ran it—and more—on its FYI blog, prompting Friedman himself to acknowledge that organizations no longer need to rely on the press to tell their stories for them. As for seeking retractions and corrections, Thomas Nelson Publishers President and CEO Michael Hyatt simply uses his blog. As he noted in an interview for “Tactical Transparency,” the readership of his blog rivals that of the publication in question (Editor’s Weekly), and those who read his blog represent the audience he needed to reach with information correcting the publication’s mistake.
While there are still some troglodyte critics who believe the role of public relations is limited to answering press questions, the truth is that PR’s role is (in part) to get the company’s story out to its publics. You don’t need the press any longer to accomplish this goal. You do, however, need a blog. As Sun Microsystems President and CEO Jonathan Schwartz put it in an interview for the book, “Tactical Transparency,” “Part of the job of a CEO is to explain your mission and actions to the public. Why wouldn???t you use one of the greatest communication tools that exists (a blog) to do that?”
Reach the press
Readership of blogs is high among journalists, according to any number of studies. One 2008 study, from Brodeur & Partners (a PR agency) and Marketwire (a press release distribution firm), revealed that…
- Over 75% of reporters see blogs as helpful in giving them story ideas, story angles and insight into the tone of an issue.
- 70% of reporters check a blog list on a regular basis.
- 21% of reporters spend over an hour per day reading blogs.
- 57% of reporters read blogs at least two to three times a week.
Seventy percent of journalists responding to a SNCR study from Don Middleberg use blogs to assist in reporting.
It’s a no-brainer these days that a reporter who covers your company will read your corporate blog (even though they may not participate on Twitter or Facebook).
Search engine optimization
Done well, your corporate blog will generate tremendous results on Google and other search engines, driving more traffic to your site.
Corporate blogs done right
As I mentioned at the outset, most corporate blogs are bland and untrusted. This is not a reason to dismiss corporate blogs, but rather a clarion call to do them well.
There is no one way to do a corporate blog right. Among the good ones, some are penned by the CEO (examples: Marriott International, Sun Microsystems), some by a group of employee bloggers that sometimes includes the CEO (examples: Southwest Airlines, Rubbermaid), some by a group of employee bloggers without CEO involvement (example: Transportation Security Administration). You’re not limited to these models; in fact, you can employ any approach that meets your needs as long as you adhere to some basic guidelines:
- Be strategic. Don’t blog because you need a blog. The blog should be aligned with your core business objectives. Consider creating a mission statement for your blog, even if you’re the only one who ever sees it.
- Post regularly. Infrequent posts don’t create community or attract new readers.
- Address controversy and bad news head on.
- Don’t pitch products or engage in happy talk; it’s not why anyone would read your blog.
- Don’t use your blog as another channel for news release distribution. If you have news, the blog is a great venue to offer perspective to your audience not available in the press release.
- Know your audience. If the blog is focused on customers, address customer issues or problems. If your company or its product(s) has fans, skew your blog to those fans.
- Accept comments (based on a comment policy). Address comments that need addressing, either within the comments section or with follow-up blog posts.
- Use a genuine voice. Avoid corporatese.