Three Solid Options for Business Blogging

Many people formed their impression of blogs in the early days of the medium, blogs were primarily as online diaries.That’s still a popular approach, but blogs have matured and changed.Blogs are simply a way to display information, and there are many ways you can choose to apply them. Here are some good options for businesses:

CEO blog — If your chief executive has the desire and discipline to maintain a personal blog, count yourself lucky. Very few CEOs use this tool, but those who do find it an excellent mechanism to connect with all kinds of constituents.For one thing, the media who cover the company become immediate subscribers.

Popular CEO bloggers include Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz, GoDaddy’s Bob Parsons, RedBalloonDays’ Naomi Simpson and Marriott International’s Bill Marriott. Many CEOs of small companies also blog.

A CEO usually doesn’t need much guidance in what to say, but he or she may need writing and editing help. It’s important that a CEO blog has a voice and style that is appropriate to the executive’s objectives.For example, a brusque or “strictly business” style may not work if the company is trying to soften its image.On the other hand, a style that’s too chatty or informal may confuse readers about whether the boss is serious enough about his work.

Marketing communications people should play a role in creating stylistic guidelines and supporting the CEO in writing and copy editing.They should also make sure that images and videos are available to illustrate the topics the CEO chooses to cover. But don’t try to be too heavy-handed.

Incidentally, a CEO blog is the one exception I’d make to the frequency guideline of one new posting a week. CEOs will get good readership regardless of when they write, so if they want to go a month between posts, so be it.

Group blog — This is an increasingly popular form of business blog because it’s the easiest to maintain. In a group blog, a select team of employees contributes to the site on a rotating basis.The schedule may be hard-coded or kept flexible. Some companies find a group blog to be so popular that employees actually bid for a turn at the keyboard.

Popular group blogs include Southwest Airlines’ Nuts about Southwest, the Google blog, the Chrysler blog and Benetton Talk. Eastman Kodak’s A Thousand Words blog takes the innovative step of actually including customer entries in the rotation. Bravo!

Marketing should take an active and visible role in a group blog.It’s important that everyone involved understand the objective, editorial profile and desired voice. It’s a good idea to launch the blog behind a firewall for a few weeks to get people comfortable with the process and it’s appropriate for marketing to approve entries until bloggers get their sea legs.Contributors need to know that they are speaking as authorized representatives of the company and that there’s a responsibility that comes with that. Otherwise, give people as much latitude as possible to tell stories in their own words and to convey enthusiasm for what they do.Marketing shouldn’t dictate content, but should watch out for potential problems.

Company blog platform — A few companies encourage employees to maintain their own blogs on a company-branded site.There may be just a few high-profile individuals (the PriceWaterhouseCoopers approach) or the platform may be thrown open to everyone (Microsoft has over 4,000 bloggers at last count). You can even start with the first model and move to the second over time. For example, HP launched its blogs with a few executive journals, but is rapidly expanding its roster of writers and topics. IBM has over 1,000 employee bloggers, but doesn’t provide a corporate platform for their work, preferring instead to issue a set of common-sense guidelines.

A company blog platform is a useful way to get the people who make and sell the products directly in touch with people who buy them.It’s also a way to show the world the talent that exists in your organization (but beware: Recruiters will be lurking).

You can’t possibly control or even monitor what everyone is saying in a companywide blog initiative, so don’t try.Use a good set of policies built on your existing nondisclosure guidelines (here’s a good article on that topic).Make sure employee bloggers signed a statement that outlines what’s expected of them. It’s perfectly all right to define topics that are considered off-limits.

Although the prospect of allowing employees to speak to a global audience whenever they want and without oversight may seem frightening at first, the reality is that there have been no publicized cases of legal or regulatory action that resulted from an employee blog. In fact, most employees welcome the opportunity to speak directly to the market and are only too happy to stay within company guidelines.

If you trust employees to do the right thing and want to improve openness and customer interaction, this is a great way to go.

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