Friday, June 17, 2005

Using blogs for corporate PR

There is nothing scary about a blog. Blogs are not a super-virus that will destroy everything on the planet. They're not like the engine of a 747 where all anyone lacking years of education and on the job experience can do is stand back and jiggle the wires. Blogs are just another tool.

So why are so many companies afraid of starting blogs viewable by the general public? As a recent Fortune article pointed out, not one of the Fortune 1000 CEOs or chairpeople are blogging right now. Is it that they just don't get it or are they afraid of the legal and business ramifications of what they might say?

So here are some (admittedly off-the-cuff) tips for corporate blogging that anyone can use.

  1. Do not copy and paste press releases. Do you really think people want to read self-congratulatory spin? I don't. If you've got a new product/service then post an item about it in the same way you would in an e-mail to your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend.
  2. Have someone lower down the corporate food-chain also write for that blog or a sister blog. The CEO is rightfully the voice of the company but a worker bee can contribute a valuable and unique perspective, especially if he or she has been in on the development of a specific product.
  3. Building on that point, invite others from within the company to post occasionally. Launching a new web application? Have the IT director write something. Working on a new, more efficient air conditioner? Bring in an engineer who has had their hands in the guts of the machine for a post or two.
  4. Don't say anything on a blog you wouldn't to a reporter. That includes keeping in mind any and all Securities and Exchanges Commission guidelines on financial disclosures and such. There's nothing wrong with a free exchange of information but don't be stupid about it.
  5. Allow comments. Yes, what some people say about you won't be nice. It's been a long time since grade school, though, and we all should have thicker skins than we did then. If someone is openly being insulting, research how to have them banned from commenting. There's nothing wrong with that and is, in general, not seen as overt censorship. It's seen as content management. But be aware of what people are saying about you and use it to make sure your company is treating customers in a way that ensures they'll stick around for a while.
  6. Use trackbacks. A great deal of the conversation you start or engage in on your blog will continue on other blogs. Hopefully those blogs will link back to yours, either to the main blog or to a specific post. Make sure you track that so you're aware of the entire conversation. You know how you feel when you chime in at a meeting with an opinion you think is great but which was discussed by two people who forgot to include you on an email? That's how silly you'll look if you blog about something you don't know the whole story on.
  7. Enable RSS syndication in a variety of easily clickable formats. There are a number of sites I use to visit regularly in the pre-RSS days that, honestly, I only visit about once every two weeks now. Why? They don't have RSS available. 98% of my web-surfing now involves reading my RSS subscriptions. If you don't have RSS you're missing my traffic and who nows how much more.
  8. Track your visitor traffic. It's relatively easy to do and there a number of free services out there that can at least give you some rough numbers. If your IT department is worth it's salt they should be able to give you a better picture of who is visiting your site, how they got there, what pages they visited and how long they stuck around. Use this data to enhance the experience of visitors.
  9. Make a blog part of your regular website. If people don't know about it how exactly are you thinking you'll get visitors?
  10. Direct new customers there. In fact, direct all customers there on a regular basis. Have employees make a link to it part of their company e-mail signature. That way when they're answering a question from a client that client is also seeing the blog address as a way to get additional information.
  11. Get input from people interacting with clients. If the people working the phones are seeing an issue come up time and time again than it's a perfect issue to address on a blog. That way there's one corporate message going out and any confusion can be cleared up.

Any more anyone can think of? I may be back with more later if something occurs to me.

--Chris