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Marketing Challenge: When It's Best NOT to Blog

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Blogging is ubiquitous. Marketing experts, the media and the influx of books on business blogging give the impression that we should all do it, or be thinking about doing it.

But should all businesses blog? Is it always a wise use of resources and an asset?

As with every business decision, a business needs to research the topic and decide whether a blog is worth its time and resources. The responses that follow provide clear guidelines on when not to blog.

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Who shouldn't blog?

Many experts in blogging do a formidable job explaining why businesses should blog and how to go about it. But few talk about when you shouldn't blog. What situations or businesses would not be best for blogging?

—Bob, Business Manager

Those without scruples, brainpower or writing abilities should refrain

In their book on business blogging, Naked Conversations, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel say that bad guys like Saddam Hussein shouldn't blog. But Hussein's simply being a bad guy is not the only reason why they don't recommend he blog. They write, "Saddam has always been a command-and-control freak. He prefers monologue to dialogue even in face-to-face meetings."

The authors hit upon an important point. A person who wants to have a one-sided conversation and maintain control is most likely not going to succeed as a blogger. Scoble and Israel also suggest a few types of employees who wouldn't do well because they would struggle with an "open employee-blogging policy."

Since the focus is on open and transparent communications, those in the intelligence field, as in the FBI and CIA, aren't seen as potentially successful bloggers for reasons of risking exposure. When a blogger is limited in what he or she can say, then the blog's chances of thriving go down. Ted Demopoulos, co-author of the upcoming Blogging for Business, says, "Companies always have confidential information such as product plans, release dates, etc. Some people have trouble keeping anything secret, whether blogging or not. Such folks shouldn't blog."

Scoble and Israel also say the "dull" shouldn't blog simply because their blog will reflect that dullness. They make another good point—people who can't handle criticism will have a hard time as a blogger. The blogosphere (world of blogs) is up front and honest and has no trouble speaking its mind.

Demopoulos disagrees with the comment that dull people shouldn't blog:

Who's dull and who has the right to determine this? Only potential readers—for themselves. I know people I consider dull, but labeling them "dull to the world" is a somewhat silly. My wife hates fish, but can she say fish is horrible and no one can eat it? Of course not!

Demopoulos points to Screenshots, which says the self-proclaimed Dullest Blog in the World gets thousands of visitors per month.

Although dull blogs may succeed, a blog won't be read if the writer can't get the message across clearly. Blog writing isn't like the writing many of us learned in school. While formal and stiff writing might work fine in a business environment, it'll scare away potential readers. Demopoulos shares an experience:

One gentleman I've been working with is so accustomed to writing in a formal business style that it's taken about three months of coaching and coaxing to loosen up his "stiff and formal" writing style. He's finally learned—he writes a formal draft and then quickly goes back and edits it to be less formal and more conversational (perhaps a bizarre method, but it works for him).

Blog readers smell marketing a mile away

Debbie Weil, author of upcoming book, The Corporate Blogging Book, gives an excellent example of what not to do when blogging. Notice that she says one of the problems is that a blog can become "a mini press release." Treat an entire blog like one and count on few visitors and maybe even blogosphere backlash.

You may have seen this article from HBS Working Knowledge, which made the Internet rounds a few times. It gives a great a reason why a company shouldn't blog: "Advises Pete Blackshaw of Intelliseek, a marketing intelligence firm: 'If your legal department requires three weeks' review time before you turn around a posting for your blog, you are not a candidate for blogging.'"

Inspired by this quote, Susan Weiner, CFA of Investment Writing, thinks blogging will be difficult for companies whose communications are highly regulated. Weiner says, "I'm thinking specifically of financial services or investment management companies, where any public communication may get bogged down waiting for a compliance department to approve the communication."

Blogging takes time

In most cases, when a blog isn't regularly updated, it loses readers because they don't want to continuously check to see whether there's an updated entry. Many top-notch blogs are updated three times a week or more, so why clutter your blog reading list with an infrequent one? A business that can't make the commitment to three entries a week is a business that doesn't need a blog.

Gerry McGovern cautions businesses that even if they allot enough time for a blog, their efforts may be futile without a clear message. "I have often found that the people who have most time to write have least to say, and the people who have most to say don't have enough time to write it. Thus, the real expertise within the organization lays hidden, as you get drowned in trivia."

Sure, there's probably a few exception to the aforementioned rules, but they're rare. While a blog may be a productive use of time for your organization, your business may benefit better from other methods for reaching customers, such as email newsletters, conferences, networking events and direct mail. If they're working, why waste time and energy on a blog when it's not the best fit?

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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

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