Friday, February 4, 2011

Smart Corporate Blogging for Smart Companies

A major topic of conversation in business circles right now is the worth versus the risk of having a corporate blog.

There are several competing perceptions about the use of a corporate blog.

Consumers want to feel that a company they support is reasonably transparent, that their decisions are made in the best interests of the consumers and the global community, as well as stakeholders.

Bad corporate blogging sets consumers' teeth on edge, because it actually gives them the opposite of what they need. Attempts at humor can fall flat or be seen as incredibly insensitive. Lack of depth means that no one but lazy industry journalists can use the information provided.

On the corporate side, executives are often severely hampered in how they can address the public and what they can say when they do.  Even outgoing, accessible thought leaders can feel hurt, puzzled or plain, old pissed off when they are criticized publicly.  Even when they want to be transparent, industry regulations might keep them from talking about anything real.

I've worked with small, middle and large (Fortune 100) companies, and I can honestly say that size is not a contributing factor to excellence in corporate blogging. In fact, the company I worked at with the best grasp of and use of Social Media was one of the largest. The difference between this company and all the others was that someone positioned at a high level "got" Social Media and really carried it through all levels. This included corporate blogging by the CEO - for both internal and external readers. Within the company, the CEO was perceived as a forward-thinker and his use of Social Media meant that there were many company advocates who were engaged both internally and externally.

How did this work? What were the factors that allowed this multi-national company to embrace corporate blogging where so many other companies in the same industry lagged?

There are three key points for creating a culture that adopts and thrives in Social Media:

1) Someone at the top has to "get" it.

If that isn't there, then nothing else will ever work. It'll all be rendered into marketing speak and fake bonhomie that will probably make the company look more asshatish, than if they just didn't do anything. No one likes to be talked down to - neither employees nor consumers will respond to an insincere or superficial effort at connection.

Social Media has to have someone at the executive level setting the bar for use, or it is likely to become a mockable attempt at communication.


2) A culture of sharing.

This is harder than it sounds. If people are glued to their desks and never talk to one another in real life, it's gonna be a bitch to get them to talk online. In one of the worst cultures I ever was part of, everyone used Social Media - to talk to their friends. There was no internal group, no one actually talked with one another.  And despite the fact that the company was supposedly focused on Social Media, their blog doesn't allow comments.


3) Clear directives.

It's all nice and fine to say, "we should be more engaged" but if employees don't have very clear, very explicit guidelines on what can and can't be talked about on the corporate blog, there will be confusion, even if they are given freedom to post. In a regulated industry, that confusion can have repercussions for many years.

Without these three qualities, any corporate blog will immediately become another means for publishing press releases. The blog will fail to support the corporate communications strategy, or the business, and will be completely ignored by the consumers.

With these three key points, a corporate blog, whether internal or external, will survive and thrive.
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