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Should a marketer simply start blogging or wait instead until all of the blogging policies and procedures are established before beginning?

Last Tuesday, Day 2 of the inaugural MarketingProfs Business-To-Business Forum in Chicago started out with a discussion between MarketingProfs President Roy Young and Forrester Research Senior Analyst Laura Ramos. They examined "What's New for B2B Marketers."

No surprise, Laura mentioned Web 2.0 marketing, representing the growing trend of customer advocacy marketing. Think blogs, podcasts and videos—all tools able to capture the perspective of the customer.

However, Laura's take on corporate blogging—that it should only take place after a corporation has its policies in place—sparked an interesting question: Should a marketer simply start blogging—or wait instead until all of the blogging policies and procedures are established before beginning?

Although the absolute answer is that it depends on the organization, the industry, the product or service, I suggest strongly that the blog come before the policy. Here's why:

  • Social media—tools like blogging, podcasting, tags, wikis, and online networks that defy marketing tradition and rely on immediacy, authenticity, and community—cannot be delegated to an agency. You might get outside guidance, but ultimately the responsibility resides within, requiring that you build your own, internal expertise.
  • Social media must be experienced firsthand and then perfected over time. It has to be figured out.
  • Social media doesn't get turned on and off. Rather, it requires slow and consistent building over time—adding content, developing credibility, strengthening voice, and maintaining presence over time.
  • Social media takes personal commitment. It takes an individual to champion the regular posting of content, to channel the passion, to develop a voice—individual or corporate, to establish credibility.
  • Social media is not for every organization.

Blogging before establishing policy allows an organization to test the waters, in the most risk-averse manner possible. Let me clarify. It allows the individual—who senses the potential for releasing the passion captured within an organization—to test the waters, and ever so gently try out a role that he or she will hold for the foreseeable future.

Blogging prior to policy allows that individual to determine whether to scale up to a corporate scenario, to remain an individual business blogger, or to simply fade into the blogosphere never to be heard from again.

That's right. The beauty of blogging is that you have the opportunity to test, to experiment, to figure things out without embarrassing yourself in front of many people, since it will definitely take you time—months—to build up a following. That's assuming you're good. If you're lousy, then you have even more time to flounder.

The scene changes dramatically when you scale the blogging experience to the corporate level. At that level, the testing and experimentation take place in a more public arena. Press releases quickly announce to the world the foray into a new communication medium. Curiosity and interest ensue, quickly fizzling if the blogging resembles traditional marketing speak—properly and boringly bound by policy and procedure.

Blogging without experimentation represents time wasted. Blogging without actively participating in the give and take of the online conversations—otherwise known as listening to what other bloggers have to say and offering comments—isn't really blogging. Blogging without appreciating those nuances is as effective as posting your brochure onto a Web page: flat, static, boring, ineffective.

So wait to develop the policies. Wait to create the barriers to finding an organization's voice. Instead, encourage low-risk forays into this new medium. Offer guidelines, support, and words of wisdom, but don't focus immediately on too rigid an infrastructure. Identify and nurture those who can take the magic of your organization to a new level and spread that vision and passion across the blogosphere to touch the many.

Help those with curiosity and enthusiasm take part in this brave new medium. Once they've developed those blogging muscles—and you are ready to seriously take on blogging—consider establishing policies to extend those efforts across a larger organization.

You'll be grateful. After all, organizations tend to be more risk-averse than individuals. Imagine how much easier it is to experiment with Web 2.0 tools at the individual level before deciding the appropriateness for and relevance to the larger organization.

Two interesting examples emerged from the MarketingProfs Business-To-Business Forum concurrent sessions.

From Josh Hallett's "Bringing B2B Blogging to the New Level," Deborah Franke, e-Marketing Manager for Emerson Process Management, described her three-year path to launching Emerson's external blogs.

Her case illustrates the more conservative approach that Ramos advocates: beginning with key corporate stakeholders (e.g., legal, HR, and executives) to establish policy. Interestingly, although not part of the initial strategy, Franke found that the launch of an internal blog wound up demonstrating—more effectively than a year's worth of education, presentations, and policy setting—the value of blogs. That led quickly to the launch of the first external blog, Emerson Process Experts.

From David Armano's "Social Media in a B2B World," Todd Andrlik, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Leopardo Companies, Inc., shared with us the powerful and vibrant newsroom (see Leopardo Construction News) that he created using a blogging platform.

Certainly not a traditional approach, but it absolutely injects freshness and true newsworthiness. It even includes a window onto a Leopardo channel offering easy access to company videos; and, this summer, it made RSS available to visitors. That level of creativity comes from a willingness to experiment and explore, something that a policy-first focus often discourages.

So, tell me, which you do think comes first: the blog or the policy? Comment on this article at the Daily Fix—here.

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Christine B. Whittemore is director of In-Store Innovation for Solutia Inc.'s Wear-Dated carpet fiber division. Her passion for nontraditional marketing, marketing to women, and the retail experience led her to launch her blog Flooring The Consumer ( in June 2006. She also writes for the MarketingProfs Daily Fix (