Corporate Blogging — Expert Series: Interview with Lou Hoffman. Part 2
While many companies have corporate blogs, few do them well. My goal is to share conversations with those doing interesting things in the world blogging and resources that will help you build a business blog that translates words in to sales, and taking it from good enough to great.
My interview with Lou Hoffman
We dig a little deeper in how to grow a successful corporate blogging program. Here is more from my chat with Silicon Valley communications legend Lou Hoffman. He has extensive experience educating corporations to help them build effective corporate blogs.
What are the steps to creating a team of internal bloggers?
Before jumping into the question, I like the way you used the word “bloggers” plural.
Tag-team blogging can work effectively and it obviously lessens the time burden on a single individual. It’s been our experience that team blogging works with up to four individuals. In such a scenario, if each blogger pens two posts per month, you’ve got eight posts to spread across a given month for consistency.
The first step starts with the company’s management team. Do they believe that blogging will advance the company’s business? In short, the executives beyond the marketing function need to support the blogging initiative.
This is basic politics 101; i.e., it’s easier to recruit talent for activities supported by management.
Next comes to the recruitment phase. You can do analysis on potential blog directions until sundry farm animals come home and it isn’t going to make a difference without the right people to deliver the content.
I know there are some who believe you figure out the direction of the blog first, then find the people with the expertise that aligns with the direction. But this approach misses out on leveraging the collective brainpower to explore blog directions as well as making those who will ultimately write the posts feel part of the process. Plus, you want bloggers who feel passionate about the subject matter.
Working with your potential bloggers, you can then brainstorm the direction of the blog or blogs. Here, you’re striving to establish a digital property that brings something fresh to market. Even a unique wrinkle can be a separator if not a full-blown differentiator.
Companies often shy away from too narrow of a focus but the more general the blog, the more likely it will blend into the blogosphere morass.
And just because a blog carries a certain theme doesn’t mean you can’t address bigger issues as they surface. If you’re Brother Hilton and decide to blog on the life of Paris, you can still post on general issues like the economics of the paparazzi business.
Once you’ve got the direction of the blog or blogs and the talent to generate the content, you want to train the bloggers on the basics of the craft and depending on the skill set, even writing techniques.
I’ve always liked the proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
You want your bloggers to be as self sufficient as possible. Otherwise, the demands on the communications department become too great and you can’t scale the activity.
These four steps – management support, recruit the talent, create the direction of the blog(s), and education – get you to the starting line.
What advice would you offer to effectively manage an internal blogging program?
It takes time to develop an effective blog.
It takes time for bloggers to find their voice.
In addition, consider the education of management as a never-ending process.
It’s not a bad idea to coach management on the need to have thick skin. Inevitably, there will be people who don’t like what you have to say and even publicly criticize you.
Opinions by definition have a polarizing effect on people. A company’s culture and the vibe from above – particularly from the CEO – determine the appetite for risk and how far corporate bloggers can push the envelope without triggering the career-limiting lecture.
On the topic of education, don’t forget the managers of the bloggers. They need be in the loop and supportive.
Whoever manages the program should view his or her role as part editor, part publisher.
We’ve found that creating an editorial calendar that establishes a few post topics each month in combination with what the bloggers come up with brings helpful structure to the process. Ideas for engagement – perhaps there’s a customer who’s active in social media and can be highlighted in a post – is definitely useful because this part of blogging is not intuitive to most outside of the communications arena and even some who call themselves communicators.
On the content side, we suggest striving for a 67% – 33% split between industry topics and company-centric topics. This ensures the blog tilts toward thought leadership.
Back to the big picture, it’s important to define what constitutes success for the blog, again in the context of the overall communications effort. It’s not about volume of readers and monetizing Google AdSense. This is a quality game.
If the blog in a given month can attract 400 of the right readers, produce one piece of content repurposed in another communications activity, and facilitate dialog with a couple customers, partners, or potential customers/partners, that could be a winning performance.
Finally, have a fun. There’s a reason the economic models of the publishing industry have cratered and people still keep investing in this business. It’s satisfying to put out a product that shapes the perspectives of others and prompts interactions.
How do you develop a blogging strategy?
A company’s blogging strategy needs to be developed in the context of the overall communications effort.
When we’re consulting to companies, we often start with the brand, breaking down the brand attributes and how the company currently strives to build equity in each one. This leads to a healthy discussion on what’s working and what’s not working as well as what’s being emphasized and why.
With this as a backdrop, you can discuss how blogging can make a strategic contribution to the big picture.
For example, if a company wants to a highlight a distinctive personality, a blog lends itself to supporting this type of objective. Depending on the personality traits, it might mean leveraging video on a consistent basis.
Another approach involves the company reviewing its communications over a given period of time in which it scrutinizes various activities and the effectiveness of these activities in reaching the target audience. What amounts to a gap analysis will reveal areas that can be bolstered by blogging.
For those looking for a short cut, you can take your news releases over a 12-month period and grade each one on a scale of 1 to 10 in reaching the target audience. By simply identifying the releases that fall below a five or a six, you can get a pretty good idea on areas where a blog could add value. No doubt, many of these will be product news releases but what are the macro issues that would deliver air cover for the products? The answer can guide a company’s blogging strategy.
About Lou HoffmanLou Hoffman is the President and CEO of The Hoffman Agency. It is an international communications agency with offices in Europe, Asia Pacific, and North America. You can follow Lou on Twitter at @louhoffman, become a client here The Hoffman Agency, and subscribe to his blog about the art of storytelling in business communications at Ishmael’s Corner. And here for more information on The Hoffman Agency’s A Workshop on Corporate Blogging.