30
Aug
10

week 7 – Business and Corporate Blogging

Businesses run corporate blogs and microblogs for a variety of reasons, from using it as a new customer service channel to showcasing their industry expertise.

Developing authority

The simplest way to use blogging is to write about what you know: your industry. “How to” articles, book reviews, opinion pieces on relevant current news or lists of resources are all easy, useful content that your existing clients, prospects, colleagues and potential employees would likely appreciate. Some local examples are blogs by Bluewire Media (web strategists) and Reload Media (SEO & SEM), which regularly explain industry concepts, how to do things, review books or show interviews with industry figures.

This sort of blogging creates credibility – it cements your place as a knowledge authority in your field, a reliable expert and somebody to trust. Trust is, of course, a major part of the sales process!

Sharing knowledge with and educating others can also be a powerful marketing tool, as Jason Fried from 37 Signals will expound. Readers won’t compete against you with information you put out, just like they don’t compete with Jamie Oliver after buying his recipe book. Instead, they will trust you more (and buy your saucepans!) when you can show them that you know what you’re talking about.

Customer service & product assistance

There are two other ways your blog can help customers and potential customers, before, during and after the sales process. In particular, this is where microblogging can shine!

Depending on your company, a blog can be a useful way to educate people about your products: tips for using them, how to get started, examples and case studies, new versions, add-ons or options etc. 37 Signals run a product blog with just this kind of information to provide easy support for their clients. These posts are also a great way for potential buyers to learn more about what owning or using your products or services is really like.

Most importantly, though, blogging can be used to manage customer service. Twitter is a very popular way to publically spray companies who have “done people wrong” but it’s actually very easy to monitor for this, contact complainants and start working towards solutions quickly and, where appropriate, publically. (If somebody has complained about you publically, it’s probably worth initiating the solution with them publically too, so there’s no denying that you were on top of the issue quickly.)

Telecommunications companies are good examples of companies who run a lot of customer service through Twitter. In particular, it’s interesting to compare the accounts of Optus and Telstra, both of whom try to offer “live” service to people who tweet at their accounts. It quickly becomes clear that Optus is more effective because their employees running the account have a lot more power to fix problems than Telstra’s staff. Telstra’s renowned habit of passing customers from department to department also comes through in their Twitter account, which makes it a lot less useful.

For anecdotal proof that this sort of customer service management creates raving fans, one active writer blogged about her experience: Experience with Optus Twitter customer service.

Company culture

Some companies use their blogs to show just how cool they are. It might be to show potential employees how much fun it is to work there or potential customers how easy it is to shop, but the goal is to communicate their culture.

Zappos (a US shoe company) gets their employees to blog about what it’s like to work at Zappos, current fashions, home-brewed videos, product information and more. The company is also renowned for its customer service and amazing culture, so showcasing this through grass-roots-driven blogging is a natural next step. Their posts are short, casual, filled with pictures and videos, and written to show the fun they have at work and how helpful they can be.

37 Signals’ “Signals vs Noise” design and usability blog is a similar mishmash of opinion pieces, seemingly aimed at generating commentary, controversy and a view of the company as interesting and on-top of current industry events. The odd “bullshit” dropped throughout posts also indicates a fairly lax social media policy! Their blog contains everything from web development tips, to business thoughts, to commentary on Facebook’s recent multibillion dollar valuation. Considering the business book they’ve released, I believe the aim of this blog is to generate respect for them as an opinionated but expert company, with real employees, and a fun, though-provoking potential employer.

However, many companies are afraid to get involved with blogging – and maybe they have good reason!

Companies can incite negative comments through their blog’s content or how they’ve used the media. Writing the wrong thing the wrong way, however misunderstood, can result in widespread backlash in social media that can end up reflected in sales!

Likewise, misusing a medium can have the same effect. In 2009, UK retailer Habitat “spammed” popular hash tags on Twitter to get their promotional message seen by the huge number of users watching Tweets about Apple or the issues happening in Iran at the time. The negative response was tremendous and Habitat quickly deleted the offending Tweets. But nothing truly dies on the internet and a search for “habitat uk store” today still brings up a BBC article about the incident on the first page of results.

Easy lesson: Watch and learn for a while to get used to a new medium to make sure you don’t offend anyone and understand how it works. Double-check blog posts for where they can possibly be misconstrued.

As we know, the easiest way to keep a regular blog is to spread the load among employees, but a significant fear for many companies is that their employees will give a bad impression, write unsupported, negative or false comments, or even leak sensitive information! And it does happen.

However, as Oracle and Microsoft have shown, employee blogging can be very successful if employees are educated and trained about appropriate material and the company’s social media policy (you do have a social media policy, right?).

Microsoft developers run their own blogs on MSDN and any Oracle employee (which includes Sun & Java employees) can start a blog on the Oracle blog space.

Easy lesson: Set expectations, standards and policies around employee blogging and make sure everyone’s aware of them. Provide standard blogging platforms and be proactive in helping employees get their voice heard, rather than waiting for them to use an uncontrollable 3rd party system.

In general, though, corporate blogging, whether run from the top-down or employee-driven, can be a great opportunity to showcase a company’s expertise and knowledge, manage image and complaints, quickly provide their opinions and standings on current events, educate about their products or industry, and highlight their company culture.

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