My earlier feature Growing your revenues – and reputation – with social software presented several “success stories” of companies that have accomplished incredible things with social media software – everything from improving interaction with customers and employees, to dramatically enhancing their corporate brand, from saving marketing costs, to boosting sales and revenues.
This article focuses on corporate blogging, arguably the most popular of the social media tools, among enterprises at least.
It offers an eight-step program for launching an effective corporate blog.
Both features are based on a seminar by communications expert Michael O’Connor Clarke at the IT360 event in Toronto – as well as other sources.
Step 1 – Define your goals
Every three-year-old’s favourite question is also one you should pose if your firm’s VP of marketing strolls in one morning and asks you to spearhead a corporate blog project.
In other words, “don’t do it unless there is a problem or an opportunity to address it,” is Clarke’s advice.
He – and other experts – submit that three fundamental questions must be satisfactorily answered before moving forward with a blog (or any social software) project.
• What business problem are you trying to solve?
• How will blogs – or other social media – help you address this problem?
• Who’s going to be driving the project?: Marketing, HR, C-Suite, Product management?
Step 2 – Get senior-level support
Ensure someone in the West wing knows what you’re doing and supports it, says Clarke. “I’ve seen too many social software implementations stall, completely collapse or backfire for want of executive sponsorship.”
Clarke shared how at his previous company he closed a deal to sell corporate blogging software to a very large database company.
“They wanted to do corporate blogs – emulating Sun Microsystems and IBM. The deal was done, legal seemed to be happy with it.”
But at the last minute, he said, the CFO of the database firm found out about the project and shot it down. “He basically said: ‘blogging is not for us.
That’s not what we do here.’ Ensure you don’t run into that problem.”
Step 3- Audit existing skills and knowledge
Identify and make a comprehensive list existing active communicators – whether employees, customers, Facebook junkies, Flickr fiends etc. – and engage them early on.
To get a feel for blogs and blogging, Clarke suggests visiting sites such as WordPress or Blogger.com start (now owned by Google). “You can set up a blog there in five minutes.”
A visit to Technorati.com is a must, he said, as it’s one of the best blog Search Engines out there.
“Do a search there for your company name. Find out who is blogging about you or pointing to you. You can do a “person” (name) search – and it will show you everybody who is writing about that person. You can then subscribe to those results in RSS – which means you’ll be notified every time someone else says something about you or your company.”
Step 4 – Assess vendor offerings
Several blogging, wiki and other social media tools are free, but for a corporate blogging implementation, Clarke recommends using one of the paid products.
“But because you can do it for free, when you talk to vendors, if they don’t offer you a free trial, walk away.”
The idea, he said, is to prove the business case with the free trial, and once you do that delve into the actual implementation.
He said factors you should review during the free trial are:
• The platform
• What admin tools are included
• The permissions structure – how granular is it?
• The mechanism for controlling comments – i.e. does the application include comment moderation tool; how does it work?
• How well does the blog application integrate with your content management and other systems?
Step 5 – Start small
Limit the exposure initially, is Clarke’s advice. “Don’t blow your brains out.”
He cited the example of a company that began very big, got it horribly wrong – and generated a lot of negative press. A senior executive ended up getting fired.
Bottom line: begin small, experiment, and learn as you go along.
Step 6 – Establish policies and procedures
Anything published online can remain on the Web forever.
So if your marketing folk or others in the company are going to start blogging, it makes sense to establish some internal policies, says Clarke. “One doesn’t have to be heavy handed about it, though.”
Corporate blogging policies run the gamut from several pages, to Sun Microsystems’ one-page policy. There is no easy answer to the question of what policies should be in place.
Much depends on the culture and mindset of your company, what general counsel are ready to accept, whether your company is publicly traded, and what regulatory environment you work in. In Canada it’s rather different than it is in the U.S.
Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li has assembled links to a sample list of corporate blogging policies (from organizations as diverse as Groove Networks, Harvard Law School, Sun Microsystems) that may be worth reviewing before drawing up your own.
Also check out Robert Scoble’s The Corporate Weblog Manifesto. It articulates some time-tested best practices from a very successful blogger.
Step 7 – Determine and plan for the workload
While blogging software is cheap or free, effective implementation requires a significant time investment. “Maintaining content, making sure it’s current and compelling, moderating comments, keeping the site up – all that takes much time and effort,” says Clarke.
He said haphazardly launching a blog without ensuring you have the people and resources for these tasks can backfire very badly.
He cited the example of MacDonald’s corporate social responsibility blog, intended to demonstrate that the fast food chain is giving a lot back to the environment and society.
“They launched it on a Thursday,” recalled Clarke. “Over the course of the Friday, comments started coming in. And then it went sour.”
He said the fast food chain was giving out toy Hummers with their Boy Happy Meals.
Including a toy model of a gas-guzzling Hummer with a kid’s meal was a practice many critics felt didn’t jibe with all the talk about