Corporate Blogging: Five Rules for Success in the Blogosophere
I was digging in the Oberkirch podcast archives and found a thought-provoking podcast on corporate blogging (dated July 2006). In this podcast, Brian Oberkirch talks with Shel Israel about Dell's foray into the corporate blogging world. In Dell's initial blogging phase, their blog took a downturn when they failed to address user concerns. Dell simply wasn't building relationships with users.
Israel says Jeff Jarvis was one of many frustrated users. Jarvis wrote a blog post saying
The subtitle is “direct conversations with Dell” but this is as much a conversation as yelling at a brick wall. There is not one link there. It's filled with promotions for Dell's wonderfulness. The top post today from the global director of e-commerce, Manish Mehta, saying:
"It is hard for me to believe that it has been 10 years for www.dell.com."
Yes, I think I spent about 10 years on hold with you guys.
But seriously, folks, the first step in blogging is not writing them but reading them. The conversation is already happening out there without you. Join in that conversation. Dell continues to believe that it can control the conversation. That horse is out of the barn, over the horizon, dead, and buried.
A reader informs me Dell has since turned their blog around and now has a much better customer focus and response. Many companies first stumble when they enter the blogosphere, but they learn quickly and make corrections.
Five Rules for Companies Starting Blogs
Just having a company blog doesn't mean you'll build relationships with users. Having a poor company blog, where the conversation is one-way and where user concerns are filtered or not responded to, probably does more harm than good. If you're a company starting a blog, consider these five rules:
- Allow users to comment, and honestly respond to those comments. Blogs are dialogs and conversations. Blogs that are monologues fail.
- Don't copy and paste from your marketing brochures. Blogs have an authentic, real voice. You can write passionately about your products (such as providing tips, upcoming enhancements, or insider scoops), but don't try to sell your wares to your users.
- Be transparent. This is the most difficult quality to achieve, because most companies have strict legal departments that filter what product evangelists can say. If you tie the hands of your bloggers, their content will be vanilla. Users want to know what's going on behind the scenes. They want to see the personal voice. Blogs are personal voices, not corporate speak.
- Read other blogs. Scoble emphasizes that companies must read blogs to understand how to blog. When you read blogs and leave comments, you show users you are listening. How cool it would be to get a comment from a company whose tools I use.
- Ask for input from users. One of the main benefits to having a blog is to gather information from users. What do they like, dislike, hate/love about your product? Recognize that receiving criticism is a great way to enhance your product.
Compelling Reasons for Companies to Blog
Israel says companies are often slow to embrace corporate blogging, but when they do, they often take it to a level beyond what we can imagine. Alan Weinkrantz offers the most thorough reasons for companies to blog. His list shows some of the potential of corporate blogs:
- Blogging is informal and conversational. It gets beyond marketing hype and formula-driven communication.
- Blogging is two-way or many-way. It creates a level playing field for technology users, management, developers, salespersons, corporate leadership, and anyone else who wishes to weigh-in.
- Blogging creates a melting pot for ideas, implementations, applications, and discoveries.
- Blogging respects your customers, invites them to provide feedback and input, and engages them in future-casting and decision-making.
- Blogging empowers employees. It helps them create products customers want and solve problems customers have. By blogging, employees can help shape a positive image for the company and its products and present the human face and contact customers crave.
- Blogging may not be free, from a corporate perspective, but it is a low-cost way to develop an entirely new, fresh, effective marketing, communication, and support channel using existing resources.
- By blogging, you are speaking the language of the most influential industry analysts active today. Savvy customers read savvy analysts' blogs. And savvy analysts pay attention to the blogs of savvy industry technology leaders.
- Blogging is immediate, provocative, reactive, responsive, and dynamic. It's what's happening now.
- Industry weeklies and magazines bring you old news. If it's important, it's in a blog today. Isn't that where your news should be?
One company blog I was perusing lately was SnagIt's Visual Lounge blog. The blogger seemed to enjoy writing posts, and was often using the product to demonstrate its potential.
If you know of company blogs you enjoy, please share them with me.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation if you're looking for more info about that. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me. Finally, note that the opinions I express on my blog are my own points of view, not that of my employer.