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"You talking to me?" Getting value from corporate blogs

28th Apr 2008
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Blogging may have become en vogue in the retail environment but Verity Gough argues that businesses need to ensure they have something worth saying before jumping on the bandwagon.

By Verity Gough, staff writer

The humble blog has quickly become part of the tech zeitgeist, rooting itself firmly in the modern marketing mix. Yet, while they are a great way to wax lyrical about the issues affecting an organisation, they can offer so much more.

Despite widespread popularity, many people still retain a simplistic view of blogging as merely another marketing tool. But they are missing the potential to combine it with other online customer service activities to provide a means of gathering consumer data and allow brands to engage with customers. They give a personality to an otherwise faceless organisation.

Whatever a company wants to achieve with its blog, planning, dedication and relevant and interesting content is paramount. According to business blog consultant Mark White, this is where many corporate blogs fall short and, worse still, end up wasting money. “The most common reason for a blog failing is that it never gets traction,” he says. “But if you know what you are trying to achieve or what the readers want, then you can really make it work. If not, you risk alienating customers with PR puff and marketing speak.”

Be passionate

One of the main criticisms of many corporate blogs is the lack of passion. Today’s consumers are smart and know when they are being sold to. By allowing various employees such as the product manager or the CEO to write blog postings, it helps to keep content fresh and diverse.

“The top corporate blogs are written by very senior people, not marketing managers.”

Finlay Clark, Bigmouthmedia

“Maintaining consistency and showing personality is everything,” says Finlay Clark, senior retail strategist at digital marketing agency bigmouthmedia, and creator of industry blog Retail Right Now. “The top corporate blogs are written by very senior people, not marketing managers. This allows readers to see the passion behind the people and shows they have their finger on the pulse, which can also be a great motivator for staff.”

One company that has embraced this concept is Penguin Books, which created its corporate blog on the back of the success of its pod cast. The idea behind it was two-fold: It wanted to dispel the misconceptions about publishing as an archaic and mysterious industry by providing an authentic, insider view into its world, as well as offering readers the first look at any new initiatives in the pipeline.

“We've tried hard to ensure our blog doesn't get used to regurgitate press releases and that the individual and diverse voices within Penguin have been allowed to be heard,” explains digital publisher, Jeremy Ettinghausen. “We have control over direct feedback from consumers and, through referrals and linking, see where we are being talked about and what people are saying.”

Stand out from the competition

With an ever-growing number of blogs appearing on corporate sites, it seems that originality is one way of setting yourself apart from others. Organic smoothie company, Innocent Drinks, has taken this concept a step further with its blog. Rather than driving traffic from its main site, it only told subscribers to its weekly newsletter about the blog – and like most good things, word soon spread.

“Stick to your guidelines, be consistent and, above all, listen to your customers.”

Mark White, Better Business Blogging

“We kept asking readers what we should post and from that we found out what they were interested in,” says Hannah Cameron, PR specialist and one of Innocent’s most prolific bloggers. “Now we post up to five times a day and listen to our readers. If they make suggestions about ingredients we can add to our drinks and enough people ask, we’re going to do something about it.”

However, while its unmoderated approach to posting may be in keeping with Innocent’s open-door ethos, is not necessarily suitable for all corporate blogs. “It’s about transparency,” reflects Cameron. “If we were to start moderating comments and taking down things that we didn’t like the look of, there wouldn’t be any point in doing it.”

Large firms may well have the corporate blog all sewn up but Tinbasher, the award-winning blog of Butler Sheetmetal, a small family-run sheet metal shop in Lancashire, has proved that it isn’t the size that counts, it’s what you do with it. “We offer an honest, transparent, and a humorous inside-look behind the scenes of the business,” says web-master and chief blogger Paul Woodhouse.

But, he adds that for his company, the reasons for creating the blog were quite different to other companies. “I started it as nothing more than an experiment,” he says, “I won’t claim the reason Butler Sheetmetal has doubled its workforce, is expanding its workspace and has trebled turnover since integrating a blog into its web presence, is entirely due to the blog, but it has definitely been an extremely vital part of the overall growth of the business. Essentially, the blog is the engine room to our footprint on the web.”

Blog smart

Clark believes people will be talking about brands more than ever on the web, so by having a blog, you are allowing your company to participate in this discussion. He also predicts the next generation of blogs will incorporate more video content along with any new technology that surfaces. “We will also be seeing more synergy,” he says. “Retail blogs are already starting to cross-link from their blog to the main site.”

A successful example of this is, which runs ‘Fashion Fix Fridays’ and ‘Must Have Mondays’ on the blog. “It’s not just about promoting their products,” adds Clark, “They report from industry events like London Fashion Week, commenting on celebrity styles and trends, and have begun investing quite heavily on getting people to blog for them. This is bound to be reflected in their sales figures.”

There is a great deal of mileage to be had from corporate blogs and the growing numbers are testament to this. You only have to look at the expert ramblings of Microsoft’s Robert Scoble or Lego’s hand-picked ambassadors feeding back the new product ideas to see that a blog can be anything a company wants it to be. As Microsoft says: ‘blog smart’.

“That’s the bottom line,” says White. “Stick to your guidelines, be consistent and, above all, listen to your customers.”


Top corporate blogs

Executives: - Jonathan’s blog
Popular ramblings of Sun Microsystems’ President, Jonathan Schwartz.

Book lovers: - Penguin
Penguin’s take on publishing and more.

Hotels: - Marriot’s corporate blog
Written by chairman and CEO Bill Marriott

Fashion: -
Successful fashion blog

Award-winning: - Tin Basher
Butler Sheetmetal’s blog

Blogging: - Better Business Blogging
Tips and advice on how to maximise your corporate blog



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