Corporate bloggers are faced with a unique challenge. They must simultaneously speak the voice (and the message) of the organization while also "fitting in" with a community of real people. How can you stay authentically human in an online environment that can be highly rewarding and highly political?
The most effective corporate blogs brave the delicate balance, build a community, and most of all, let the blogger come across as smart without getting called into the boss's office (for the wrong reasons). There is ongoing tension between what the organization wants:
- make a profit
- find new customers (increasingly also cross sell to existing customers)
- build brand (messages)
And the community, which in addition to employees is made of customers/prospects, special interest groups and partners. They are looking to:
- satisfy a want or need to be heard
- find new meaning
- gain a sense of identity
If you notice a parallel in the goals I outlined it’s because there is one. That can be a starting point for the corporate blogger. But we have a web site, you might say, why do I need a blog? The challenge of web sites today is that they:
- have stagnant content
- allow little or no interaction
- they are about the company and not (or rarely) about the customer
They are mostly a collection of marketing messages on company capabilities - and often a poor one at that. Enter blogs and social media. They represent an opportunity to:
- refresh the content frequently
- provide enough information for commerce - this is so that customers can buy better, they still dislike being sold to
- create interaction and thus engagement
If you're still not sure of why a company would have a blog, think about the ability you'd have to learn more of what your customers want, give a face (and personality) to the business, and bring the conversation back inside the organization. Part of the appeal of blogs to customers is the direct path to a live human being. After years of phone system hell, we are looking for an actual person to talk with.
Which brings me to the profile of a corporate blogger. They need to be able to:
- communicate (editor) - able to articulate the company story
- facilitate (community builder) - able to connect (listen and respond)
- negotiate (marketer) - able to navigate the exchange of value
Plus, there is a need to balance intellect with emotion - to educate (left brain) and illuminate (right brain).
Hence the characteristics of a good corporate blogger are:
- active listener - these are the qualities of intuition and empathy
- advocate (in some cases devil’s advocate) - in support of the community (in spirit at least)
- ambassador - a representative of the company with knowledge about its values as translated into offerings. At times, particularly in sticky situations, this also means with the power to act on behalf of the organization.
The bottom line is that people don’t have to like you to buy your products/services. They do need to respect you to talk with you - to have a conversation. We discussed it before, the conversational index is reputation-driven.
How can you be humanly authentic? (as corporate blogger)
It's useful when the company knows itself and you can use that as a guideline as to the personality of the business. There needs to be internal/external alignment so that there will be less dissonance between internal and external conversations. The company's culture is the platform for passion about your business, products and services to shine through. Remember that honesty is the basis for truth.
The company brand will go from one interaction many times (integrated ads, direct response, etc.) to many interactions one time (comments, forum discussions, etc.).
Each interaction has the potential to be:
Remember that your most vocal customers are the ones who care enough to tell you how you’re doing. Some examples of those interactions are Frank Eliason from Comcast on Twitter and the Dell team on blogs and Twitter.
Before getting started:
- add listening to your to-dos (active)
- do a sanity check on the content you are producing
- align behind the effort internally
Ask yourself: what is the worst that could happen? Figure out how you would respond. I talked about the conversation steps to dip your toes in social media in another post. The important thing to remember is that your customers now have the ability to organize (Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky) and some will have the desire to talk about your brand (Citizen Marketers, McConnell/Huba).
Social media and blogging create the potential to (1) go from B2B and B2C to P2P (peer to peer); (2) talk to entire groups (niche or otherwise); (3) learn to present content that is appealing to customers.
How do you empower your community? By enabling comments and trackbacks - we discussed here how showing customer reviews on your site is a good thing. Tags allow people to assign meaning to your content. The ability to link to additional information is another benefit to and from the community.
Examples of companies that are doing the right thing are numerous. SAP Communities under discussions, there is the coffee corner where developers have the ability to document dissatisfaction at the company site. SAP also has a blog topic called ranting.
However there are also companies that are still learning. A large global medical technology company - used one of my images without attribution. When I pointed it out, the blogger deleted my comment and the image, calling me antisocial off line and justifying the action by saying that she is “just” an employee. This kind of attitude is not connective.
One great example of how a community can self organize and affect positive change is the Frozen Pea Fund - from Twitter to the check ooVoo representative Scott Monty was able to present to Susan Reynold's family in March of this year.
Community is a balancing act. For example, recently someone who was on the Marketing 2.0 community left the group because of too many peer broadcasts.
This is uncharted territory. It might help to navigate it with people who are in your same predicament - working for a company. That is why I value so my membership to the Blog Council. Corporate bloggers (and companies that utilize social media) have a support mechanism for sharing best practices and learnings and brainstorm issues.
So is it about content? Is it about interaction? Or is it about commerce? Regardless of what *you* think, it’s about how blogging and social media - executed well - create a personal connection. Once you open that door, there is no turning back.