Up Front and Personal
A while back, Internet aficionados started keeping diaries online, often just personal commentaries, about what was going on around them. The journals were called weblogs.
That was in the late 1990s, pretty much the Stone Age in Web time. Since then, the term has been shortened to “blog,” the writers are called bloggers, the action is blogging, the universe is the blogosphere, and companies are joining in left and right.
The casual nature of blogging can result in employees inadvertently giving out confidential information, breaking the law, or embarrassing your company. To help avoid problems, set up guidelines on appropriate content. Here are some tips:
Consult with your legal counsel to ensure that your guidelines don’t violate laws.
Blogging has protocols. Here’s a list of mistakes to avoid:
No RSS feed. Many readers access blogs through RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds rather than actually visiting the blog. This is standard procedure and is important in picking up more regular readers.
Comment space. If you don’t let readers leave comments, you send the message that you aren’t interested in their opinions.
Infrequent updating. This not only keeps the search engines away, it can bore readers and cause them not to come back.
No links. Blogging is about sharing and communicating. Linking shows you are involved in the community and gives your readers a chance to read content you like.
No contact information. Readers may not want to leave a comment on your blog, but they may want to contact you. Leave an e-mail address or set up a contact page.
Businesses are drawn to blogging because it’s a quick and inexpensive way to reach new customers, expand mature markets, and build loyalty.
Canada’s business blogosphere includes, but is not limited to, bankruptcy, investing, taxation, finance, personal finance, entrepreneurship and real estate. The blogs are written by consultants, lawyers, accountants, bankruptcy trustees, real estate brokers and others.
Companies maintain blogs for various reasons, including:
Visibility – Search engines target blogs because they are updated frequently and search engines always need new information. Your blog could wind up on Google or Yahoo in a matter of hours and be listed among the top results. This increased visibility can drive traffic to your Web site and translate into sales.
Alternative Media – You can bypass traditional media and present your side of a story or issue.
Broader Reach – Your company can potentially reach more people with a blog than with traditional marketing and public relations techniques. More people are likely to read a blog than will hear your speech at an industry gathering or meeting. And you can reach people who might not be in the habit of scanning business pages or trade magazines.
Customer Loyalty – Starting two-way, online chats with customers and others can generate buzz, build brand loyalty, and even generate ideas for your business.
Competition – If your competitors are blogging, you risk losing customers because the competition is reaching them faster and more efficiently.
If you are considering joining the corporate blogosphere, be prepared. Know what you want to achieve, particularly if you plan to invite comments and the blog is written by rank-and-file employees. Which employees have the talent to write in a casual, personal style? Blogs that sound like dull, dry press releases won’t win readers.
Here are eight other tips that can help your business be successful at blogging:
1. Check the facts. If you send out inaccurate information and readers accept it at face value, they may in turn blog the data on their own sites. Before you know it, thousands of people have taken inaccurate information as truth and it can be traced back to your company blog. This is what happened when one blogger erroneously wrote that a major technology company was planning to buy a phone company.
2. Be honest. Readers want frankness and if they find you have been less than straightforward, they will likely let other bloggers know. That can hurt your credibility.
3. Show sincerity. Blogs are meant to show transparency, so don’t post entries that are simply press releases. That tactic will backfire. That’s not to say you can’t get suggestions from your PR professional or let them edit your blogs lightly. But be sure that the words and thoughts belong to you or whoever is actually writing the entries.
4. Deliver high-value content. Include information about your company, its products or services, the latest efforts, your expertise, or your thoughts on an industry development. The key is to provide information that goes beyond what readers already know.
5. Accept criticism. You must be willing to cope with some negative comments. Criticism can help shift your business’s perceptions of its customers and your responses to it can help change public perception of your company. Comments should generally not be edited other than to remove profanity or personal attacks.
6. Respond to comments. You may lose customers if you ignore their questions and comments. Giving them answers lets them know you care, help build community and loyalty, and makes the blog more dynamic.
7. Update often. Stale blogs drive readers away and give the impression no one is paying attention at your company. Fans may check in every day looking for fresh information. This brings up a problem: Writing new blog entries, finding links, and responding to reader comments can be time-consuming. Don’t commit to blogging unless you are willing to put in the time to maintain and manage a blog that will add lustre to your company’s reputation.
8. Watch comments. Bloggers may unwittingly violate trademark, and copyright law, break securities regulations, leak proprietary secrets or libel employees, customers or competitors. Even if you post a disclaimer, it may not hold up in court. If you plan to have rank-and-file employees add to your blog, or they set up personal blogs related to the company, establish guidelines that help prevent legal liability and protect rights.