Why Is Corporate Blogging So Hard?

Why is corporate blogging so hard?I’m not sure entirely why, but corporate blogging can be quite difficult. On my professional blog, I can post several times a week in the spare moments of my days, sitting down for 30 minutes here or an hour there and have some substantial content to show for it. But at work, I can spin my wheels on full throttle for hours and only have 1 or 2 posts all week — not really interesting ones — to show for it. Why is that?

One difference is knowledge. On my professional blog, I already have the knowledge I need to write the post. I can pull from my own experience, or from books I’m reading, techniques I’m trying, documentation I’m writing, etc., as I craft a post. I have ideas brewing in my head all day, and in the back of my mind I’m always thinking of the next post.

On the corporate blog, though, I can’t always pull from my own experience. I don’t know the details of what I should write, because I’m not the subject matter expert. I have to track down the experts, and then ask them the right questions. I have to hunt around for the story; I have to locate the information.

In addition to gathering information from external sources, on the corporate blog I also have to stay away from controversy. Every story ends positively. I can’t go for the jugular, so to speak, and enter controversial territory with an open-mind like I can on an independent blog. Instead, the end is usually written from the beginning. Things turn out well for the company.

Another problem with corporate blogs is the lack of voice. Is there really an “I”? Or is it a fake “I”? If there is no true “I” behind the posts, how can the blog ever move beyond marketing material and corporate communications? And if there is an “I”, do I no longer represent the company or organization that I’m writing on behalf of (because I am myself now)? How do I both represent myself and my employer?

Most importantly, why don’t the words just flow? Is it because they aren’t my words? Is the perspective just not my perspective? Are the points I make not not the points I would make? Can such a writing situation ever be successful?

An Attempt and New Effort

After reflecting on why corporate blogging is sometimes so hard, I decided to go about it as if I were writing a post on my own blog. I remembered a discussion I had with a colleague about the difficulty of getting volunteers to produce work. This turns out to be one of the central questions in working with a volunteer community and is an inherent obstacle in nearly every open source effort. I decided to focus on this somewhat controversial issue and write about it.

In thinking about this issue, instead of brainstorming privately, as I would do on my personal blog, I decided to brainstorm collectively. After all, I have 5,000 people in my organization. I can call them all and get various viewpoints. Most of them are just sitting at their desks, in their cubes.

I made a few phone calls. Some weren’t there; others were. They had a lot to say. Suddenly the whole topic started to come alive. I collected viewpoints here and there, and broadened my initial understanding of the topic.

This led to a small epiphany: Whereas on my personal blog, I mainly do the research myself, either by reading or thinking, in a corporate setting I have access to dozens of subject matter experts who can point me in the direction of all kinds of interesting ideas. Perhaps corporate blogging, then, is a bit easier?

By doing about an hour’s worth of research, I had all the information I needed to draft the article. At this point, it became easy. I knew how to structure the information, to divide it with subheadings. I knew just the right length for paragraphs and for the article as a whole. I knew how to weave in other voices, perspectives, and links. All this came natural since I approached it in the same way as a personal blog post.

Do I have any strong personal opinions in the article? Am I putting forward any controversial perspectives? Not really. But I think those dangers are less likely to happen with the community topics I’m writing about, and so they’re not an issue. I might have used “I” and drawn upon personal experiences if appropriate, but it didn’t fit this topic. Yet the article still aligns with what I myself would say.

If you would like to read a draft of the article I wrote (which is still in progress), you can view it here.


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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication, API documentation, information architecture, web publishing, JavaScript, front-end design, content strategy, Jekyll, and more. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

  • http://seapegasus.org R.K.

    One tech writer I know does it like this: He always has several conversations going on in parallel with several developers via Skype, email, or in person. He also reports from trainings, and keeps track of everything he learns in blog drafts. (Usecase scenarios, code samples, configurations, optimizations, etc.) None of these conversations is resolved in a day, but in an average week, five stories come to a conclusion. This way he is able to blog once a day. He does speak about the company’s product in a positive way (e.g. for every problem he mentions a workaround), but he manages to never sound “fake”. No marketing blah, he just reports facts as a tech writer would, “My colleague X solved problem Y using code snippet Z, hurray!”

  • Laura Mahalel

    Thanks for another useful piece. I liked your draft on Best Practices for Increasing Volunteer Productivity too.

    RE: the corporate “voice”, surely you heard the This American Life podcast on treating corporations -under the law- as individuals with rights and such.

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Thanks for the note about the article. I think I missed that podcast, but I’ll add it to my list of podcasts to listen to.

  • http://degyes.wordpress.com/ Dave Egyes

    Kudos, Tom, that you took the initiative here and stayed in the game when faced with discouraging stats. I’ve been promoting corporate blogs in my company in some form or another since ’05 and your story very much hits close to home for me.

    Since I don’t know much about the environment at Church of LDS, I’ll refrain from slipping into my advisory tone, and stick to a few general tips gleaned from hard-knocks personal experience.

    Holding regular formal as well as informal meetings where engineers are encouraged to share technical stories—site issues, how-to’s, lessons learned, best practices—can result in a goldmine of material for ultimate development into articles. Serving food and/or drink at these meetings can be a great way of helping the SME’s find their voices. Over time, and if well-run, these sessions can evolve into traditions and frameworks where knowledge is shared. When an author is an integral part of that process, the discussion can evolve into technical content and good articles. Identifying one or two allies or catalysts among those SMEs can go a long way in fostering KS as an imitative behavior in the organization.

    I’ve found that assuming the role of technical journalist can be helpful in gaining the necessary perspective needed for pounding the corridors, offices, kitchenettes, printer rooms, and phone lines in search of material.

    One big challenge is getting the SMEs to feel a sense of ownership of knowledge sharing in the organization. As you achieve that—and it can take time—you’ll find that people start sharing proactively because they see the added value in KS and modify their behaviors accordingly; that is, they’re not just tossing a bone to “Tom’s blog.” Beyond that, they’ve developed a sense of trust where they know that what they share will reflect well on them and their team; at the very least, it will embarrass no one.
    After a recent local seminar on organizational blogging, a consultant whom I very much respect suggested convincing my hierarchy to hold a contest where we’d offer an iPad to the engineer who provided the most technical articles for the main knowledge sharing blog. Although I initially looked somewhat askance at her suggestion, and probably won’t end up doing it, I have to admit the idea has merit!

  • http://www.joomlaoscommerce.com/ joomlaoscommerce

    Thanks for the note about the article. I think I missed that podcast, but I’ll add it to my list of podcasts to listen to.