The Power of Blogs

EN: The author is discussing how to set up a corporate blog in this section. Industry pundits are currently saying that this is passe, and generally does more harm than good because businesses jumped on the bandwagon without clear intentions or a long-range plan, so the well has been poisoned. I'll preserve his advice nonetheless, as it's still debatable whether corporate blogging is dead, or merely diseased, and because it applies to blogging in general.

Case Study: Bob Parsons

Bob Parsons, CEO of godaddy.com, credits his blog with giving customers a sense of having a direct relationship with him, and tells how his blog enables him to get the word out quickly, citing an instance where a blog entry he made was spread within an hour to a wide array of industry sites and even the mainstream media.

In once instance, he used his blog expressing some doubt over whether to air a super bowl ad - since the previous years' ads had been very popular, he expected the lack of an ad might lead people (customers, stockholders, etc.) to assume there was something "wrong" with the company. Since the company made no other efforts to announce the decision or mitigate the buzz that might result, the conclusion is that his blog, alone, helped prevent what could have been a significant PR crisis.

He also touts the benefits of being transparent: using his blog to share things that he's thinking about, options he decided against taking, discussing controversial issues frankly, even admitting when he made a mistake. He feels that it has bee instrumental ... "even if I write about something that is negative, business goes up."

Building Personal and Corporate Brands with Blogs

At the time the book was written, statistics suggest that 57 million Americans are already reading blogs on a regular basis, and the author suggests that it will eventually fro to one of the largest and most important online channels.

Benefits for Personal Brands

Most bloggers feel that the greatest benefit they get from blogging is interaction with their readers and feeling like a part of a community of bloggers.

Many blogs are personal - they discuss the goings-on in an individual's private life, intended for an audience of family and friends. This is considered OK, but the author recommends having a separate blog to build you professional persona online.

Your professional blog establishes your authority as a professional in the field, and enables you to network online with others in the same profession. A personal case-study is cited to assert that building a professional blog enables you to create a wide network of professional acquaintances, a lot more quickly than a personal web site or a social networking profile.

Also, your professional blog becomes your new resume, much more effective in making contacts and showcasing your credentials than your actual one on monster.com - and as many employers will Google job candidates, it gives you a site that speaks well of your enthusiasm and expertise in your industry to eclipse some of the less flattering information that may be out there.

(EN: A thought occurred to me: having a professional blog under your real name and a personal one under a pseudonym, such that the latter does not eclipse the former.)

Benefits for Companies

Corporate blogging is a method to reach stakeholders quickly, but informally, removing a lot of the red tape and corporate spin that slows down press releases and advertisements.

It also allows you to open up an informal dialog with customers: their comments on your blog provide useful insight, and enable you to address issues quickly and directly.

A word on negative comments (a woefully insufficient word, IMO) is not to delete them, but to see them as an opportunity to show your professionalism and transparency via a "great" response.

Finally, remember that the blog is there to provide value to its readers, not as another corporate propaganda-mill.

Choosing Your Blog Writing Style

The author suggests six different approaches to blog writing

The Individual Expert

This form of blog is best suited to individuals acting as private citizens rather than corporate employees, to build their own credentials in the industry. In most instances, the blog is married to an individual and follows them through their career, as the move from firm to firm.

While some companies have been supportive of expert blogging, they generally do not get involved directly, as this undermines the credibility of the author (they are perceived as a corporate mouthpiece).

However, be cautious about what you post in your blog: some employers are less-than-supportive of their employees' personal speech, and individuals have been fired for things that range from egregious breaches of discretion (posing sensitive information about their employees) or even relatively minor offenses (speaking honestly about something less than flattering to the company).

The problem is so widespread that the term "dooced" has been coined for being fired for your blog for a post you thought was inconsequential.

The Company Executive

The executive blog is one of the most effective approaches from an employer's perspective: the executive (typically the CEO) becomes a company spokesman.

The drawback is that this kind of blog dances on the edge of credibility: there is the perception that the CEO is not being authentic, and in many cases isn't' even writing his own blog, and that it is the product of the corporate marketing department.

There are many such "executive" blogs out there, which have been labeled "flogs" by the blogosphere (either for "fake blog" or the fact that they "flog" the company and its wares), and generally are poorly regarded.

The practice is so widespread that many pundits have suggested that the well has been poisoned: there's little chance that people will regard an executive blog as being authentic, even if it actually is.

The Company Team Blog

Another form of corporate blog is written by the rank-and-file employees as a team. Generally, the company provides them with access to blog directly and interacts with people who comment on the site.

In most instances, the team blog is published through an editor, who acts as a filter (reviewing posts submitted by people within the company) as well as a whip (chasing down people to get them to create posts and respond to comments).

As with the executive blog, it can be a difficult balance to control the content of a company blog to ensure that it reflects well on the company without crossing the line into "flog" territory.

The Crisis Blog

A crisis blog is a special propose blog that is created in reaction to a very specific event (and emergency) as a method for providing timely information and communicating bilaterally with the field.

The author suggests that "many companies are guarded when it comes to discussing them [crisis blogs]" so he can't provide much additional information.

My sense is that this is an idea that's not been widely used, and he's including it as a suggestion of what you might do, rather than what has actually been done in more than a few incidents.

The Internal Blog

It has been suggested that an "internal" blog can be created to communicate information to the employees and spark an internal dialogue.

Again, the author seems to be speaking hypothetically, as it's not possible to view most internal blogs, so it cant' really be proven whether it's a widespread practice or how they're being used.

In my own personal experience, internal blogs tend to be a flop - they are widely ignored because the announcements they provide are just another top-down communication (and generally, less important ones are relegated to the blog) and those who "comment" or "respond" are generally sycophants.

Building Your Corporate Blog

Some how-to advice is presented - much of it a bit too verbose, so I'll consolidate, update, and augment.

Choosing a Platform

Various options are available in terms of blog software: there are commercial solutions that you can buy and host yourself as well as developer-hosted applications that are available for free.

The author suggests evaluating which software has the features and capabilities that best meet your needs, etc. etc. - but anymore, the choice is pretty clear: use Blogger, as it is the most popular and has many features that help other users find your blogs. Set it up to host the files on your own server rather than theirs so you can control them better and create back-ups as needed.

If you want to have an internal blog and can't use blogger, then go about investigating the various self-hosted solutions as you would any other software application.

Choosing a Location

Hosting a site on a provider's server (someblog.blogger.com) is acceptable for a personal site, but it is generally better for a company's blog to be hosted under a company-specific domain.

A subdirectory blog (www.company.com/blog) gives the blog greater authority and makes it easier for your existing user base to find it.

A subdomain blog (blog.company.com) makes it more visible to search engines and bloggers, and is more effective at reaching an audience of people who aren't already familiar with your site.

Finally, you could set up a special URL for the blog (www.CEOname.com, www.companyblog.com, etc.)

The author seems indifferent. I suggest going for the second option.

Make It Findable

To accommodate search engines, choose a meaningful name for the blog, consider the use of keywords is post titles, and avoid posting duplicate blog content or having a blog composed mostly of third-party materials.

Make It Usable

In addition to visiting your blog proper, individuals are going to want to subscribe by RSS or e-mail, and share your blog entries via their own blogs. Where possible, use technology to accommodate this.

Blogger has many standard tools to bookmark a post, e-mail to a friend, subscribe via RSS, etc. Use them.

Make it Sticky

"Stickiness" means that the blog encourages repeat visits, and encourages visitors to view more than just the current article. The author doesn't say how, just that it's important.

Some of his other advice hints at this, but he does a pretty rotten job of it just now.

Encourage Comments

Allowing the unwashed hordes to post comments to your blog is uncomfortable to the old guard, but it's essential to being transparent and to building a lasting audience. Most experienced bloggers know the rules of engagement (there's an established etiquette), and chances are you won't be deluged with negative comments if you've done nothing to draw them.

Be liberal in moderation: there are some things it's acceptable to moderate for (offensive language, off-topic rants, competitor sabotage, spam), but if you apply too heavy a hand and eliminate all negative remarks, even the fair ones, you'll lose credibility. A good way to communicate this is via a comment policy, that spells out to readers what you feel is acceptable and what you'll filter out.

Blogging Strategy

Approach your blog with a game plan: know what you intend to accomplish and have a sense of how you're going to do that. Know what kind of persona you want to project, and what your practices will be. The worst you can do is to start a blog just to have one.

In addition to strategic objectives, you should have guidelines for daily practices. He borrows a list from another source, and suggests it's a good starting point:

  1. Always be honest - In some cases, the truth can hurt your reputation. Attempting to lie about it or sweep it under the rug will make it infinitely worse
  2. Be straightforward - Be honest and up-front about your identity and your intentions
  3. If you make a mistake, admit it - Editing a previous post to correct a factual error is expected, but you are also expected to be up-front about having made the correction
  4. Never delete a blog post - Once you publish, leave it out there. Forever. Deleting a post is seen as an attempt to cover up the past.
  5. Never delete a comment without reason - Be explicit about content that is acceptable, and do not delete another person's comment unless it is patently inacceptable. Even then, post a comment to indicate the reason it was removed.
  6. Take Time To Review - For both blog entries and comment responses, take the time to compose a well-crafted message (in terms of content, tone, and mechanics). Do not be slapdash or sloppy.
  7. Take Time to Respond - Where appropriate, respond to users' comments on the blog. You don't' have to post a personal response to every commenter, but failure to acknowledge comments at all is bad etiquette, and will discourage future comments
  8. Be respectful - Even when someone acts like a complete idiot, getting personal with them can harm your reputation
  9. Link to original sources - If you share information from another source, a link to the original is necessary as a matter of etiquette, both to readers who wish to confirm (or learn more) and the publisher whose content you're using
  10. Disclose conflicts of interest - If having something "discovered" by another person would be detrimental to you, admit it up-front.

Involving PR and Legal Departments

Much ahs been said about the harm that marketing and legal can do to a blog if they get a firm grip on the reins. However, that's not to say that you should shut them out completely: ignoring their advice entirely could be harmful to your other marketing efforts, or even land you in court.

Do not give them signatory authority over what goes online via the blog, or establish an approval process that requires their approval before a post can go online. This will ensure that your blog will NOT be timely.

Do not give them the opportunity to edit blog content. They will work it to death, picking apart every word, and turning a casual blog post into a polished advertising pitch with a bevy of legal disclaimers.

Instead, the author suggests that you solicit guidelines from then that will keep you from getting into trouble, and following them -and then sending them a copy of anything you post to the blog in arrears.

Determine who is ultimately responsible for the content of the corporate blog, and give them the authority to do the job without being bogged down by other authorities.

Five Rules for Radically Transparent Bloggers

The author suggests five specific tips to developing a blog that will establish and support your online reputation.

1. Ensure your blog supports your brand

Blogs tend to be casual and chatty, and you may be inclined to be a lot more casual about your blog than you are about your Web site. While it is acceptable (and expected) for a blog to be more personable, be careful you don't cross the line and harm your brand.

2. Be first to break the news

Being a thought leader means being out in front of the pack, not following it. With that in mind, it's important to be the first to release information.

This is especially true when bad news breaks. Anecdotal evidence is presented that suggests that companies who get their side of the story out before the media jumps on it tend to suffer less, and have a faster recovery, from bad public relations incidents. Do not wait to react.

Especially in these circumstances, you need to have a free hand. When bad news break, marketing and legal will be aching to clamp down the blog and take control - which will ensure that your posting will lag other sources.

3. Adopt a giving attitude

It's important to be willing to acknowledge your peers. It is easier for an individual to show respect for other industry experts than it is for a company to speak positively about its competitors - but being candid about such matters helps build your credibility (EN: it also gets the names of the competition into your blog, enabling you to catch the attention of people who may have been looking for their sites.)

A "giving attitude" also means being forthcoming with information that had previously been kept behind closed doors. For the most part, "corporate secrets" do not exist anymore, and nothing that you do will take your competitors by surprise - so why hide it?

On the individual level, there is some reluctance to give away information about their own specialized expertise, for fear of losing their competitive edge. Likewise, it is unlikely anything you have though t of hasn't occurred to someone else - and even if it is truly unique, it is to your credit. Rather than your detriment, to disclose the knowledge that makes you unique in your field.

4. Engage Your Readers

Blogging is not a one-way publishing venue, but an interactive one. Consider it being similar to a forum or news group where you post the topics, and others appear to chime in.

Responding to comments is also expected. If there are a lot of them, you don't necessarily need to respond to each one, individually, but do not ignore them altogether. An active reader will either go away, or take offense, as a result of being ignored - and attracting an audience of active readers is the core purpose of a blog.

5. All Or Nothing

Do not make a half-hearted attempt at blogging. Either jump in with both feet, or don't do it at all until you can dedicate the time and resources to doing it well. And you'll have to muscle through the times when the value of the blog is questioned or resources to support it grow thin.

Unless you're a celebrity or a Fortune 500, it will take a few months for your blog to garner much attention. Be patient. There are some things you can do to attract traffic, but if you're too obvious or heavy-handed in pimping your blog, it will draw a negative reaction.

It is suggested that "once you start [blogging], there's no going back." If you stop blogging, people will wonder why, and assume the worst. (EN: this sounds like cheerleading - there are probably techniques for making a graceful exit.)

Measuring Success

Many of the benefits of a blog are soft and indirect, and it's difficult to justify a blog based on traditional metrics and hard numbers. The author suggests how some metrics can be applied:

Monitoring the number of visitors can give you a sense of the traffic patterns to your blog: the trend over time, and "spikes" from specific events. The author recommends Google analytics for personal blogs, which provides an array of metrics.

Separate from the number of blog visits is the count of RSS subscribers (as these individuals do not visit the site). He doesn't mention the difference between RSS metrics and Web page metrics, but it is significant.

It is also possible to count the number of sites/pages that link to your blog, though the author is a little clumsy in his explanation of this.

You should also be able to track the number of visitors who clicked from your blog to another one of your own sites, as a measure of how much traffic the blog is driving. If your blog links to an online storefront, you can also measure its direct impact on sales.

The author also suggests counting citations: the number of times your blog is cited (quoted, excerpted) in other blogs or media online, as well as mentions of your blog in other media. He doesn't suggest a method for measuring either.

In the end, he doesn't suggest what any of these measurements mean, just that they are things taht can be measured.

Alternatives to Publishing a Blog

If you decide, for whatever reason, not to publish your own blog, you can still leverage the power of other blogs.

Guest Blogging

Some blogs invite others to post individual entries. A good example is an industry association that maintains one or more blogs for which their members are invited to post. Many of these are quite content-hungry and are glad of submissions.

When doing this, you have to carefully evaluate the blog to which you submit a post Chances are, it is not designed to help you build your own reputation, but is it harmful for you to be associated with the blog in question?

Employee Blogs

A company may find itself mentioned in the blogs of employees, for better or for worse. Since the activity is gaining popularity, corporations may already have a multitude of employees who blog, and may speak of their employer.

The author advises setting policies about employee blogging. Suggested policies are:

EN: The author discusses this very causally, but it's a serious matter. While the behavior of employees as private citizens can reflect on their employer, an employer has limited rights to infringe upon employees' private lives . And so, it may be coming down hard on an employee (especially one who speaks to the public already) can be a PR fiasco, or even a civil rights case. Do not be caviler about it.

EN: The author also treats employee blogs as a threat only. Seems to me that if you maintain good relations with your employees, their blogs will speak well of you, and you would want that known. Such employees can be helpful in establishing your reputation as an employer, and that in turn is important to many customers.

Sponsoring Blogs

Another method for leveraging the blogosphere is by sponsoring existing blogs. The author speaks of advertising, especially leveraging blogging networks to get your company name on a wide range of blogs.

EN: This is really rotten advice, as you don't control which blogs your ad will appear on, hence which blogs your company will be associated with, or what other companies' ads will appear alongside yours.

The author also mentions direct sponsorship: entering into an exclusive agreement with an industry blog (such as Audi's sponsorship of the industry blog "Jalopnik" in 2004).

EN: the difficulty with sponsorship is in the control it applies. You need to find a blog that is a good match, such that you don't feel the need to attach a lot of conditions to your sponsorship, avoid attempting to control their editorial control, and manage the relationship carefully. If things go awry, the divorce can be very damaging.