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Why Is Corporate Blogging So Hard?

by Tom Johnson on Jun 21, 2011
categories: blogging technical-writingwriting

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 And if there is an "I", do I no longer represent the company or organization that I'm writing on behalf of (because I am myself now)?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.


Image from Flickr

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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