Weblogs and the Corporation

Dwight Silverman asks how blogs can be used for business.

Blogs are more than press releases. Nobody will read or link to posts that are rah-rah for products. Without harping too much on criticism, a blog that at least acknowledges criticism and negative feedback might have a better chance of gaining a following over the longterm.

Linking to positive press might be a good idea, but so would responding to bad press. More important is producing information useful to readers. People who read the weblog should get an idea of what’s on the mind of other users/consumers, not the company’s Board of Directors.

Companies need to ask whether blogging is really the solution to the customer service problem they want to fix. In many instances, user forums can be more appropriate for addressing customer/technical service concerns. That way, users can post their complaints in a way that’s not on center stage. However, a good blogger can select the most interesting threads and try to address them.

One thing PR departments need to watch over is a blog that is too carefully managed and controlled. Blogging is by definition informal communication. My company has a blog that posts every two or three weeks, and only after presumably two or three managers have vetted it for approval. That truly misses the point of creating an informal channels of communication. If a post comes off sounding wrong or opposed to the company’s strategy, you can always change/remove/update it later on. Essentially you have to pick bloggers you can trust to write grammatically, accurately and clearly. On the other hand, it’s easy to fall into the trap of letting only senior staff blog. They may be most trustworthy (from the company’s point of view), but less inclined to see problems at ground level.

Another thing about style. Don’t be afraid to let the blogger speak in first person and occasionally veer off into tangents. You want the blog to have personality. People don’t go out of their way to read press releases. But if they come across a business blog that seems witty, unconventional, self-deprecating and willing to admit their company’s product isn’t the greatest thing since the lightbulb, you might possibly win a few readers.

Another practical suggestion: make it a group weblog consisting of 3 or 4 contributors. That way, you share the burden of posting among several people; plus if a company becomes unhappy with one of the contributors, that person could quietly leave the blog without disrupting the weblog itself. Inevitably, some participants won’t fall naturally into the weblogging role, or the company might feel uncomfortable making one member of the blogging team. One suggestion is to create blog teams of three or four people: 1 or 2 from the communications team, 1 technical specialist and 1 manager. The diversity of voices will definitely add to the weblog itself and allow a dialogue among contributors to take place.

Is it better to have a fulltime weblogger take over the blogging duties? Or is it better to add this task to the job description of other workers? My guess is that corporate budgets won’t be amenable to creating fulltime positions, but that doesn’t mean blogging couldn’t be added to the job description of several existing workers.

Will blogs replace the traditional “links to press release” pages on corporate sites? Probably not, although the easy availability of weblog content management systems might render moot the difference between these two kinds of web pages. Press releases are carefully-crafted statements of policy and new business strategies (which investors and business journalists pay attention to). In contrasts, blogs are simply trying to relate the company’s strategies into something the individual consumer can learn from.

Before embarking on a major weblog initiative, you should first ask whether your customers are actually avid weblog readers in the first place. In the high tech industries, that may certainly be the case, but in other industries that may be true at all.



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