More and more companies are adding a blog to their marketing efforts. That's the good news. The bad news is, many of these companies aren't using their blogs as a tool to engage their customers, but rather as an extension of their Web site, as a way to simply promote their products and services.
Mack makes a good point here. If the "company blog" becomes the "company store," people are only going to visit when they want to buy something. No one will get in the habit of dropping by to hear what your company has to say if it's the same old, same old they can download in a pdf.
I work with a number of technology customers (mostly small companies), and only one - the least techie and most "youth oriented" - is into any sort of blogging at all.
What I do advise my customers when they ask about blogging is the following:
- If you're going to do it, you're going to have to commit resources to it. Most companies I know that commit to a quarterly newsletter are tearing their hair out by the time the third edition comes around. Blogging may require less formal content, but what it does require is frequency.
- If you're going to do it, you're going to have to commit resources to it. AND I REALLY MEAN IT. Responsibility for keeping the blog fresh and useful means that blog-master has to become a function equivalent to web-master. It's real, it's part (or all) of someone's job, and not an afterthought or "while you're at it." And being the blog-master doesn't just mean pumping content, it means searching for interesting topics to post on, commenting on other blogs, etc.
- Make sure the person blogging is knowledgeable. If you're providing technology to business users, the person blogging should be aware of what's going on in the users' business domain, as well as having understanding of your products and how they're used. Providing domain-relevant content is obviously easier if you're providing products in specific, more narrowly defined niches. For office productivity tools with broader scope and audience, the blogging will be more feature-focused.
- Make sure the person blogging is knowledgeable. AND I REALLY MEAN IT. If you're providing technology to technical users, you will have zero ("0") traffic and build zero ("0") interest if you, say, have most/all of the content coming from marketing. Techies want to hear from other techies - and not just about your products. They'll want to hear what your experts think about Linux, search engines, Microsoft...Tips, work arounds, etc. are always welcome - for your specific software or for companion products: utilities, OS, networks...
- Consider mixing it up a bit. If it's too much to ask one person to be your blogger, set up a regular schedule (and post it). Have Terry Tech post Mondays and Thursdays, Gary Geek on Tuesdays and Fridays, and maybe let Marky Marketing have the floor on Wednesday to introduce new features, post on customer successes (with useful tips).
- Line up customers to act as "guest bloggers", especially if they're done something interesting with your products, can attribute real value to them, etc.
- Use the blog as a forum for product suggestions. Have your product managers and engineers use the blog as a forum for laying out the product roadmap and solicit customer feedback. (Obviously you'd want to keep these sorts of sessions protected from the prying eyes of competitors. But have a regular "user group" meeting on your blog is a great idea.)
- Lay out ground rules (no strong language; no caustic comments about customers or partners, etc.), but don't filter your blog into a boring, canned, antiseptic, and predictable space. Let your bloggers develop a voice and personality. That's what will get your customers engaged.
If you're going to be blogging, you're going to be doing so to develop a relationship with your customers. As Mack writes, blogs work
...when you respect your customers enough to tailor your content so that it appeals to them. That builds readership, and loyalty.
And it gives those readers a reason to want to interact with the company through their blog. That's when a blog's true potential as a communication tool can begin to be realized. But that potential can't be reached until the company is willing to examine its blog from the reader's point of view.
Before much longer, company blogs will no longer be a "nice to have", they'll be a "must have." Even those companies who aren't testing the blogging waters quite yet will be doing so sooner or later. And it's never too early to start thinking about what your blog strategy should be.