Imagine that it's Christmas morning.
The room smells of mulled cider mixed with pine and a touch of cedar from the fireplace – which is merrily crackling and lighting up the room.
Someone hands you a package and you shake it a bit. It says, “From Santa” on the tag. Now you are getting a little bit excited about what might be inside.
You carefully open the paper. You have written a letter to Santa asking him for a number of things, but you really want a new iPod.
You open the box lid and something falls out. It is a business card.
Underneath the tissue paper is a brochure that advertises Santa's new toy-making workshops, and gives a discount on the iPod and Electronics 101 seminar. There is also a catalog with a price list in the back for all of the components to “build your own iPod.”
Bummer. You were hoping to get some tunes in today.
You toss the box aside and dig into your other gifts, but you have lost all faith in Santa. You'll skip the letter next year you think.
The Problem with Corporate Blogs
Corporate blogs are often a lot like this hypothetical “gift” from Santa. Readers come looking to solve a problem or get practical and actionable information but get a tepid sales pitch instead.
The blog content should feel like a gift to the reader. It should inspire them to come back for more insight, more resources, more…whatever. It should also be rich enough to let them feel as if they are welcome into a community, if they so desire to do that. And it should also inspire them to want more, and possibly to buy, from you.
A blog needs an editorial mission that takes in account both the needs of the readers and the needs of the organization. Everything that goes on the blog should be looked at through this lens, and content should err on the side of the audience rather than the corporate needs.
This will become even more important to keep in mind as the current economic crisis will put more pressure on communication professionals, and probably the corporate blog, to contribute to sales. While I do believe that a well implemented blog can do this, we need to remember that sales should be accomplished by making the customer WANT to buy rather than by bullying them into buying something.
The balance between value and return is an form of art.
As an added thought, while I am talking about blogs here, you can lump in participation in social networks as well. Also, give a lot of thought to how you link your blogging efforts with your other social media efforts – they should work seamlessly together.
10 Ways to Improve Your Corporate Blog
The Insider. Give an insider's look at your company or one of its well-known employees, some people love to feel as if you are letting them in on a little-known secret
- The Trump Blog is one, but I am not convinced he writes it himself; Blog Marverick by Mark Cuban is another, and I am sure he writes his)
The Culture. Highlight your employees and their day-to-day experiences, share your culture outside of your firewall
- Nuts About Southwest highlights the day-to-day experiences of employees)
The Customer. Highlight your customers experiences, link to their blog posts or let them write for the blog.
- Graco Baby Blog uses a team of employee Moms and has ongoing relationships with its customers)
The Link. Cross link to other blogs that write about the things that matter to your organization to build goodwill and relationships with influencers
- GracoBaby and Direct2Dell are both good at this
- Tech Affect often writes about other blogs, bloggers and events, recommended by @ksafrey senior marketing manager at affect strategie
The Comment. Comment on other people's posts, even when they have nothing to do with you
- Direct2Dell uses its blog, social media properties and team to extend relationships well beyond the blog itself)
The Trend. Write about interesting trends in your industry
- ShopFloor, a B2B blog written by the National Association of Manufacturers that covers issues of interest to its membership and industry
The Crisis. Address “hot button” issues head on. If you can't talk about something say that, and explain why
- Graco product recall
- Dell Battery Recall
- Southwest: Wrapping Up the Skirt Issue
The Practical Use. Cover the innovative and practical ways that real people are using your products
- Rubbermaid: Adventures in Organization The employees at Rubbermaid set out to organize their friends and families closets and garages with their Extreme Makeover series, very fun
- Sharpie.Blog The blog has some artistic ways to use Sharpie markers and even has sharpie sightings (from comments)
The Solution. Find out what keeps your customers up at night and help them address these problems and/or interests
- Solutions Are Power by Network Solutions The blog is focused on helping small businesses help themselves (disclosure: client)
The Community. Participate in social networks where you customers gather, add value beyond your product or service.
- Comcast Cares They don't have a blog, but they use Twitter as a combo micro blog and customer service tool
It's important to get this right since a corporate blog is a big drain on resources. A recent Forrester study (must register to read article, read related article in MediaWeek) says that only 16 percent of online consumers who read corporate blogs trust them. Of course, trust is earned.
I wrote the above list of tips before I read the Forrester report, but Josh Bernoff, who wrote the report, has some extra tips (some of which are similar to mine). I recommend you read it.
I will finish with a Bernoff quote from the report that sums it up nicely:
If your strategy is to create a blog about your company and its products, give it up. You won’t get many followers for that kind of self-promotion, and as our data shows, the amount of trust you’ll earn will generally be low…If your blog generates leads, links, positive reviews, buzz, or PR, it’s probably worth keeping. If it doesn’t — or you can’t figure out how to measure its value — then it may be more cost-effective to shut it down.
In the same theme, Forrester blogger Jeremiah Owyang also had a health checkup list for corporate blogs today.
I would love to get some feedback in the comments of other corporate sites that are good in one or more of these categories and why you think so. Please disclose if they are a client of yours or if you are employed at the company.