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The Secrets of Corporate Blogging
Web logs, popularly known as blogs, have become one of the hottest communication tools on the Web. Offering the opportunity for anyone to create their own free Web site, encouraging opinions and interaction, blogs provide forums for individuals to create their own highly personal presentations to the Web audience, and for consortia of all types to experience the sort of online community feeling that was pioneered by early newsgroups and by the phenomenal success of AOL in the 1990s.
Blogs have reached into the corporate and government sectors as well. A prominent federal magazine suggests that some company employees spend more time blogging than on personal e-mail, an average of over an hour a day. What started out as an outlet for teenage expression and grassroots journalism has turned into a lucrative communications tool for small and large businesses alike.
General Motors' Vice Chairman, Bob Lutz, turned to the company's blog when rumors surfaced about the discontinuation of the Pontiac and Buick brands. It became a means for a direct response, a way to talk to their consumers unfiltered.
Other companies such as Sun Microsystems and Microsoft are also recognizing the impact of blogging in their relationships with their customers and employees. In an article dated June 5, 2005, The Washington Post proposed that there were more than 100 official corporate blogs in existence, with hundreds more on the horizon.
Although the a major newspaper called blogging "ephemeral, fast-paced and scathingly opinionated," blogs continue to grow steadily in the corporate world and companies are realizing their value.
Corporate Blogging refers to a company producing or supporting a blog that it uses to accomplish business objectives. A blog can serve many purposes in a corporate setting. Internally, a blog can be a forum for discussion about work-related issues. The informal atmosphere is encouraging to internal corporate communication. From small-scale discussions to virtual "town meetings," in which employees at all levels feel that they can be heard, blogs promote collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Blogging can help establish a company or employee as an expert in their field. By posting information about a certain topic, a person exhibits their knowledge of the subject matter, setting himself up as an authority. People will come to equate the site and the author with that topic. This reputation for subject mastery and expertise can boost your sales and consumer opinion.
A blog can be an interactive addition to an intranet or e-mail newsletters. Since automatic update notification is possible on blogs, people are more likely to stay on top of the latest postings.
Blogs can be used to communicate to prospects, clients, employees and the media. Press releases and project updates can be posted, as well as job opportunities or information that the company wants to distribute outside of the normal news channels.
A blog can strengthen the bonds between the company and its customers. When a company presents itself honestly and transparently, it not only builds trust, but instills loyalty as well. Customers are more likely to work with a company they feel they know better than another. Blogs allow for that informal communication. They create good word-of-mouth among customers who don't read the trade magazines or business pages. The nature of a blog fosters that image of transparency and openness for a company. Most people prefer companies who are honest in their dealings and frank about their issues. As seen in the media with the Dan Rather case, a blog can illuminate the truth through encouraging people to share what they know.
Blogging also reflects forward thinking. By staying current with the technological trends, you give your company a fresh image.
A blog can serve as a recruiting method. Interested job seekers can examine the company by reading its blog.
When testing a new product or service, a blog is an excellent place to give more detailed instructions or receive feedback.
Although, comments can be negative. Not everyone will agree with what is said on a blog. Instead of preventing them, welcome the constructive criticism and edit comments only to remove profanity and personal attacks.
The Down Side
There are some drawbacks to blogging. It is not a magic solution to your business needs. Many people feel that blogging popularity is much like the Internet in the 90's, a promise of money, but not necessarily delivery.
Blogging can lead to legal issues as well. Companies have real concerns about liability, exclusions and limitations, and indemnity. Although there are laws that protect against libel, misappropriations and other injuries suffered as a result of posts on the Web, companies can be held vicariously responsible for statements made by employees that are harmful to others.
In any medium where an employee is sharing information, there is the possibility of leaking trade secrets or financial information. Former Google employee Mark Jen was famously fired for gabbing about life at the company on his personal blog, not sanctioned by Google.
Like all essentially unfiltered communication, blogs can get personal. Many bloggers feel the need to discuss their personal lives as well as their professional ones. Companies must be careful not to stifle communications by keeping personal lives out of the workplace. By doing this, they risk closing down the lines of communication entirely.
Inevitably, a disgruntled employee may use this as an opportunity to badmouth the company. This is not limited to blogs, since an unhappy employee has a variety of mediums through which to vent his disapproval. Blogs just make it easy.
The content may not have enough substance to warrant or hold an audience. Some companies fill their blog with marketing fluff. People can see right through this and will most likely ignore the site. Blogs should be used for transparency, not shameless self-promotion.
Fine Print. Since there are so many legal issues surrounding blogs, it is imperative that the site has some sort of disclaimer and limitation of liability.
Know What You're Doing. Senior management should be educated by the corporate communications and legal department about what blogs are and how they might affect business.
Create blogging policies. A company should have a list of policies regarding blogging to ensure that trade secrets are kept secret and personal lives do not become public. Policies may include keeping financial information from being posted, as well as severe consequences for anyone using the blog for negative publicity.
Avoid the Marketing Blog. Making your blog into a blatant marketing campaign is a bad idea. Customers are looking for real answers and honest opinions. They will pick up on insincerity instantly.
Keep It Fresh. Make content relevant and timely. Update the blog as often as possible with the most worthwhile news. This will encourage people to come back.
Reinforce the company's core values. Then, make sure the content fits these values and supports the business strategy.
Encourage employees to use it, but remind them of the ramifications of their actions.
Free versus Paid Products
When creating a blog, there are hundreds of services and software from which to choose. The first decision to make is whether to go with a free service or pay for one.
For paid services, the cost varies depending on the features used. The basic hosting fee for a domain is anywhere from $5 to $15 a month. The domain name will need to be registered yearly, which can cost $5 to $35. This does not include the software, which may also have to be purchased.
While free services offer the basic necessities of blogging, paid services are usually more desirable since they have more to offer.
With a free service, the company offers a free site, but it may contain advertisements to offset the cost of maintenance. A paid site will not have any advertisements.
Most free services have a variety of templates to choose from for the look of the site, but paid services offer highly customizable designs.
In addition to the basic functions, paid blogs offer the ability to upload photos and images and tailor links on the site. They also offer better security and allow the creator to censor or control comments. Paid sites normally lead to a higher search engine ranking. They enable the creator to configure search output and there are fewer restrictions placed on paid sites.
Paid news aggregators will often keep a list of recently updated blogs and will rank them, showing new sites and newly added photo albums.
For a simple blog, any free service will do, but to get a truly customized and highly functioning product, it will take paying something for it.
With the rising popularity of blogs, it has become increasingly time-consuming to keep track of ones that are of interest. No one has time to check each and every favorite blog every day to search for new content. RSS feeds have become the solution.
RSS feeds are small XML files that contain a headline, date/time and description and link to information published on a blog. When used along with a feed reader, or news aggregator, they give an update on the newest content that has been added to a blogging site to a subscribed user.
RSS was developed in several different versions, each with a different meaning. RSS can stand for Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summary or RDF Site Summary, depending on the version used. All versions do the same thing, though. They provide a summary of information. They send a blog's highlights to subscribers instantly upon publication. RSS feeds save the user from having to visit the site for updates.
To receive RSS feed, a user must have a feed reader, also commonly referred to as a news aggregator. This can be software, a Web-based service, extension or built into a browser. It essentially takes the XML code and translates it into readable information. When the "update" button on the feed reader is clicked, it searches all of the subscribed sites' RSS feed for new information.
Having a RSS feed greatly increases the traffic to a blogging site because it provides an easy way to keep an audience abreast of the latest developments. Once someone is a subscriber, he will continue to be involved in the site. RSS also makes it easier for someone to add a site as a link onto their own site.
Blogging inherently encourages communication and the transfer of ideas. Blogging lets businesses extend their reach and strengthen consumer loyalty, as well as get people talking about their product. It's a matter of perception, encouraging integrity and strengthing relationships in the corporate world. Blogging has become the trademark of forward thinking companies, willing to suffer a few stings in order to get to the benefits it has to offer.
About the author:
Karoline White is a Content Developer at Brook Group, a Web site design firm near Washington, DC. For more articles, visit http://www.usabilityandbranding.com. For more information about the author, visit http://www.brookgroup.com.