Note: The following article was adapted by Mack Collier from the MarketingProfs How-To Guide "Your Template for Creative Blog Marketing."
Many companies are investigating the possibility of beginning a blog. The thinking often is that every company can blog if it so chooses. But simply wanting to blog may not be enough.
Every business, company, and organization is made of a unique group of people functioning in a unique culture. Accordingly, every group considering a blog must address a unique set of circumstances before it can determine whether a blog is feasible.
This article will walk you through five key considerations for launching a blog.
1. What Type of Blog You Will Have
Blogs come in all shapes and sizes; however, they generally fall into one of several categories: CEO blog, aggregate blog, staff blog, specialist blog, and customer-evangelist blog
Despite its name, the CEO blog can be authored by any senior-level executive. By virtue of his or her position, the author is considered a thought leader who can provide an unfiltered view of the company. When done well, a CEO blog can build rapport and trust, and tell customers what is happening within the company.
The General Motors FastLane Blog (https://fastlane.gmblogs.com) is a wonderful example of the CEO blog. GM uses this blog to announce new products, provide information for car enthusiasts, and offer a channel for customers to communicate with company executives.
CEO blogs can foster communication with current and potential customers if the author is able to write in a welcoming manner. Readers will be turned off if the author preaches or sermonizes to them. Likewise, they will probably not return if the blog is rife with corporate-speak.
Most CEO blogs fall into the category of thought leadership.
One of the reasons blogs have caught the interest of so many people is that they are fun to read. The author is generally passionate about the topic as well as an expert.
Aggregate blogs are authored by several people. By using different voices and perspectives, they can position a company itself as a thought leader. The FastLane Blog has become an aggregate blog, where different senior-level executives speak about their area of expertise within the company.
This type of blog is increasing in popularity. By allowing several voices to represent the company, it removes the burden of frequent posting from one person. It also allows the company to develop conversations on a broader range of subjects than might be possible if a single person authored the blog.
Aggregate blogs can also be used to gather information from the media and other blogs and to engage several different voices to create a message. The MarketingProfs Daily Fix (www.mpdailyfix.com) blog is a classic example of gathering thought leaders from various companies to communicate their marketing perspective.
Staff blogs allow companies to show their human side by letting employees speak honestly about their daily challenges and successes. Staff blogs empower employees to communicate directly with customers.
Much like the CEO blog, specialist blogs, which include marketing blogs, tend to provide a bigger picture than is typically found in staff blogs. Specialist blogs provide a venue for a company to develop conversations with customers about specific subjects. They create a space where customers can discuss what is important to them.
These are blogs written by your customers about your products. A classic example includes Starbucks (https://starbucksgossip.typepad.com). Many such blogs are driven by consumers rather than the company they support.
If your company discovers that some of your evangelists are blogging, you should do everything you can to reach out to these special customers, including linking to their blog and reading them and regularly commenting on their blogs.
These customers are making your life much easier, as they are promoting you to others. And, like it or not, the word of a friend or even a third party about a company will almost always be more influential than information that comes directly from the company—communication that is automatically viewed as advertising.
2. How You Will Handle Comments
If your goal is to establish a dialogue with your customers, and it definitely should be, you will probably want to give your readers the ability to leave comments on your blog.
In an ideal world, your customers would never have anything negative to say about your company or its products. The reality, however, is quite different. Before starting a blog, it is important to decide how you will handle comments.
Will you moderate comments? If so, that means they are reviewed before they are posted to the blog. If you choose this route, you will need a process (and a person or persons) to review the comments in a timely manner. What does this mean? To the person who has expressed a problem or a concern, 24 hours may be too long to wait for a response.
This leads to the question of how you will handle weekend coverage. Someone who has left a comment and does not see a response promptly will think that your company is not committed to having an open dialogue. It's guaranteed that this person will let others in the blogosphere know this. Most people will wait no more than two hours to see a response or acknowledgment before being turned off. For some, the timeframe will be even less.
Many companies such as General Motors monitor blog comments for obscenities and sexist or racist comments only. This can be done relatively quickly, and the comment is then added to the blog.
Above all else, you should make every effort to encourage your blog's readers to leave comments. Comments are the lifeblood of your blog, and the more feedback you receive from your readers via comments the greater impact it can have on your business. That feedback can be applied to your company's marketing to make it more effective and efficient. Which also results in a decrease in marketing costs.
Many companies that either blog or are considering blogging are worried about letting their customers have a voice or the ability to leave feedback on their blog. This fear must be overcome if you want to have a successful blog.
3. How You Will Handle Feedback
First, you should make every effort to respond to all feedback left for your blog, good and bad.
To make the most out of positive feedback, it is important to do say more than "Thank you." This is an opportunity to turn a happy customer into an evangelist for your company, product, or brand. This customer is already on your side and can tell his or her friends and colleagues with just a little help from you. Responding to the comment helps foster a positive customer experience and further solidify the customer relationship.
Negative comments should always be addressed. Someone who is unhappy about the way he or she has been treated by your company is more likely to tell his or her friends and colleagues about the experience. This is your opportunity to change the person's attitude by building on the relationship. The fact that the person has taken the time to write a negative comment means that he or she wants dialogue. This person wants to feel that his or her position has been heard and validated.
Negative comments should be handled very quickly. If getting all the details to enable you to respond will take time, make sure to post something within 24 hours so that the person knows that someone at the company is taking his or her complaint seriously. If handled promptly and correctly, a negative comment can turn into a positive endorsement if the commenter feels that you are taking the complaint seriously and making an honest attempt to solve the problem. Other readers, too, will be impressed.
Decide whether you want rules for comments. For example, many companies frown on the use of obscene language and do not allow such language in comments. If this is a guideline, be certain that it is prominently displayed rather than hidden in FAQs.
Don't forget that your company and its products are being discussed on other blogs as well as your own. Monitor the blogosphere and respond to those comments as well. Linking to the response on your own blog can greatly enhance communication. Plus, it is a visible sign to those who read the blog that your company takes all comments seriously.
4. Selecting a Blogger
The first decision to make is whether you want one voice representing your company or several. This may depend on the type of blog you have or the number of people who are willing to devote the time and energy into creating blog posts on a regular basis.
Some companies hire professional bloggers to write for them. Although that's not recommended by most experts, if there is no one on your staff who can assume the role of corporate blogger it is an avenue to consider. After a period of time, these bloggers can hand off the writing duties to writers on your staff as they become more comfortable with the blogging process.
Also, if you choose to use current employees as blog writers, make sure to pick people who have good writing skills. This seems obvious, but keep in mind that these people and the language they use will be representing your company. Also, choose writers who have a passion for your company. Readers are drawn to bloggers who are passionate about the topic they are writing about. If your bloggers view writing for your blog as a chore, it will come across to your readers; passion, however, is infectious.
Finally, look for writers who are even-tempered. You never know when a reader might leave a particularly snippy or baiting comment on your blog. If your writers don't handle that comment correctly, it could escalate into a PR nightmare.
5. Pitfalls to Avoid—Pitching Products
Blogs should be used to relay information, not make sales pitches. Although you may announce a new product, readers will not read a blog that they see as nothing more than a glorified sales piece.
Posting without reviewing what you write
Although blogs involve frequent postings, this does not obviate the need to think before hitting enter. Remember, what you have posted will be picked up by other bloggers. Post in haste and you may live to regret it. A cautionary phrase you may hear is "Google never forgets."
Breaking news that is not yours to announce
Do not break news that should be coming from a different place within your organization. Do not leak financial results before they are posted, or talk about product developments in which you are not involved.
But as a news story is developing in the media, your blog's readers will, in most cases, expect a quick reply on your blog. If you respond quickly and appropriately, a potential crisis situation can be defused and your company can reap the praise of your customers in the blogosphere.
* * *
Companies that want to blog must realize what an enormous commitment they are considering. Blogs, with careful planning beforehand, can be amazing communication tools that can literally transform a company positively, from the ground up. But that's possible only if a company can be truthful with itself and honestly examine whether it can launch and maintain a blog.
Blogs are not campaigns, they do not have an expiration date. They require a commitment, and one that cannot be taken lightly.
The areas covered in this article will help you accurately measure whether your company is ready to integrate a blog into its marketing communications.
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