By Michael Sebastian
Ranging from who should write your blog to the value of images, here are 10 lessons from business blogs that have flourished...
Why reinvent the wheel, or in this case, the blog?
Countless companies have launched blogs, and while many have failed, others have flourished. You can learn from the best blogs. Here are 10 lessons and related tips for blogging from 10 top business blogs.
Lesson #1: Never underestimate your audience
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the people who make you remove your shoes at the airport, write a blog called Evolution of Security. Individual posts have attracted hundreds of comments—many of them critical of the TSA.
No one would take this site seriously enough to leave even a blistering comment if Evolution of Security didn’t respect its readers.
For instance, one post begins: “Throughout the ages, there have been many unanswered questions that continue to baffle the human race. Who built Stonehenge? Is there life on other planets? Why does the TSA make me place my liquids in a clear sealable baggie?”
What? TSA knows it’s annoying? It has a sense of humor? Audiences appreciate that wink and nod—the knowledge that everyone is in on the joke. It makes the message more palatable.
Tip: Think about something your company does that might irk customers and employees and write about it—or at least mention it. Your audience will appreciate it.
Lesson #2: Your blog should ooze voice
The award-winning blog written by Southwest Airlines employees, Nuts About Southwest, is as irreverent and humorous as the airline’s frontline employees.
How does Southwest do it? They pick bloggers from across the company.
Paula Berg, the director of emerging media at Southwest, told SearchEngineWorld the airline began the blog with a team of 20 people, “who represented a mix of all Southwest employees, frontline and behind-the-scenes.”
She continued, “We selected people that just oozed Southwest; that just know our company and love it and have been here for a while.”
Like Nuts About Southwest, your blog should ooze voice.
Tip: Think your company is too dull to create a blog that oozes voice? Nonsense. Tell your bloggers to get their creative juices pumping by tying the theme or plot from one of their favorite movies or TV shows into a business objective. For instance, the déjà vu-themed movie Groundhog Day could provide material for a blog post about spicing up meetings.
Lesson #3: Feature passionate employees
Chipmaker Intel has a niche blog about one topic, corporate social responsibility efforts at the company. It is titled CSR@Intel. Like Southwest, the blog features numerous authors from across the company. Most, if not all, of these bloggers are passionate about the topic.
Take, for example, this post from Intel blogger Raju Doshi about a science project by Portland, Ore., teenager Michael Loy that could increase the life of concrete and steel. The outcome would be both lower infrastructure costs for companies and fewer waste materials.
“Michael’s work is to be published in two international journals and he is only 18—how amazing is that!” Doshi blogged excitedly
Whether or not that topic intrigues you, the blogger’s enthusiasm is palpable. Intel selected employees passionate about CSR. Readers can see that.
Tip: Reach out to every department to find your passionate employees.
Lesson #4: Tackle the tough stuff
If bad news descends on your company and the blog ignores it, then that blog will lose credibility among readers.
Randy’s Journal, a blog by Boeing’s vice president of marketing, Randy Tinseth, has confronted tough times at the company. In January, Boeing announced layoffs and Randy discussed them in a February blog post.
“I started at Boeing in 1981—just before what turned out to be one of the biggest downturns we’ve seen in this industry,” he blogged. “I’ll never forget going through the process of watching many friends and colleagues—some who’d just started working at Boeing, and many with whom I’d developed strong relationships in the work environment—having to change jobs or go on to other things outside the company. It makes a strong impression on you.”
If your blog avoids these tough topics the employees will find it gutless, boring and not trustworthy—more company propaganda.
Tip: If your company has had layoffs, blog about them once everyone inside the company has learned about the news. The blog should provide more information on the layoffs than the initial company message.
Lesson #5: Join the community
Unbreakable Bonds, the blog from Kryptonite Locks, understands its niche audience of cyclists. In 2004, that audience burned Kryptonite after word spread among bloggers that someone could pick these locks with only a pen cap.
In Unbreakable Bonds, Kryptonite employees reach out to cycling enthusiasts and engage them with posts that tackle issues specific to their communities. For instance, one post discussed bike sharing programs at the Rhode Island School of Design. It was a targeted, and timely (given the recession), topic.
Identify your blog’s online community. Then, if you want to feel your community’s embrace, tailor content for the audience.
Tip: Find 10 blogs that are part of your industry or community and make sure you link to them and comment on their posts.
Lesson #6: Your blog should have a method
Ever wonder what happens behind-the-scenes at a blog? For instance, how do posts from the internal blog at Dow Chemical, Access Andrew, by CEO Andrew Liveris, go from his head to the screen?
Liveris writes the posts and then sends them to his communications team. The communicators run the content past the legal department; attorneys do not copyedit the material. Communicators then copyedit the post and publish it to Access Andrew.
Whether you’re the sole author of the blog or part of an enormous corporate hierarchy, you should determine exactly what the process is for getting the content posted.
Tip: If your CEO thinks blogging will eat up too much time, volunteer to type it and post it.
Lesson #7: It doesn’t have to be your blog
Sometimes your company doesn’t need a blog to join the blogosphere.
Ford Motor Company doesn’t have a blog, but its director of new media, Scott Monty, has one—The Social Media Marketing Blog. It precedes Monty’s tenure at Ford, which means it has an audience and a solid reputation.
On occasion, The Social Media Marketing Blog addresses issues at Ford. It spreads news about the company and the CEO, and provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life in Ford’s communications department.
Consider finding a trusted employee at your organization to dedicate posts about your company to his or her personal blog.
Tip: Make sure any blogger who writes for your company indicates clearly, somewhere on the blog, that his opinion is his or her own and not that of the company.
Lesson #8: Embrace photography
As you might imagine, Kodak’s blog, A Thousand Words, is all about photographs. Each post features pictures from employees and customers that are based around various themes.
Like Kodak, your blog should embrace photography: post pictures of employees, your workspace — you name it. Pictures will help break up text and beautify a blog’s layout.
Remember, the rules of good photography apply to photos posted on the Web.
Tip: Start a weekly or monthly photo contest or photo caption contest on your blog for employees or customers.
Lesson #9: Provide readers with useful and relevant news
LinkedIn, the professional networking service, has an employee-penned blog that offers readers practical advice on how to best use LinkedIn.
For instance, one post explained how someone can display his or her professional network on other Web sites, while another post offered three ways to leverage a professional network while job hunting.
Your blog should provide relevant and useful information for it readers.
Tip: Pay attention to which topics attract the most views. You can track your blog’s page views, and other stats, through Google Analytics.
Lesson #10: Start a Twitter feed instead
If you want Web 2.0, but don’t want to commit to a blog, consider Twitter. This service allows you to write messages 140 characters long that people who elect to follow them can read. Twitter is like “Blogging Lite.”
Countless companies already use Twitter. For instance, Home Depot and Bank of America each have Twitter accounts for customer service issues.
Tip: Even if you don’t want to use a Twitter feed, go to the site to check if your company’s name is available. If it is available, grab it—even if you’re not going to use it. The last thing you need is for someone to hijack your company’s name and send erroneous updates attached to it.
[@donblake.com note: NEA does have a twitter name in reserve: NatEdAssoc. Unfortunately, NEA was already taken. The feed currently has over 80 followers. The account remains unused until we establish purpose and objectives for its use.]