When it gets official

Updated: Mar 16 2008, 05:15am hrs
Kamla Bhatt, is a researcher and a technology trend watcher. She is also the host of a popular Internet radio show: http://kamlabhattshow.com

There are millions and millions of blogs out there but just a few of them belong to the corporate blogs category. And, yes there is a difference between personal and corporate blogging. "Corporate blogging is when any sort of business sets up an official, branded blog. It could be a team of people blogging, a high-level executive, an employee who's an expert in social media like a community evangelist, or anyone else internally," says David Berkowitz, director of Emerging Media and Client Strategy, 360i, a New York-based search marketing company (www.360i.com). "Corporate blogs are company-sponsored sites that are conversational, organised by time and transparently written by employees, executives and/or customers," points out Steve Rubel, senior vice-president, director of insights, Edelman Digital (http://www.edelmandigital.com). Rubel provides strategic advice to Edelman clients like Unilever and Microsoft.

There are many good reasons to have corporate blogs. These include a new, untapped channel to create brand awareness, connect with customers and end-users, recruitment, media relations or simply to put a human face to a faceless corporation. A great example of a company that succeeded in putting a human face to itself was Microsoft when Robert Scoble was part of their corporate blogging imitative. Scoble succeeded in breaking down some key misconceptions and barriers among Microsoft's large user community.

Corporate blogs have been slow to evolve when compared to personal blogs and one reason could be that companies are unsure about how to craft their corporate blogging strategy combined with how much restraint or freedom they need to exhibit when sharing information with the public. But, perhaps the biggest reason is the poor return on investment. As one VP of product management of a New York-based interactive marketing company pointed out, How do I carve out the time from my busy schedule to plan and write the blog Plus, how do I measure my return on investment on the blog

But, even those companies that have corporate blogs appear to have stumbled upon their strategy and learnt from their mistakes. "The biggest mistake companies make is simply using it as a publishing platform. Most don't use their blogs as a platform for collaborative action with stakeholders around shared desired outcomes," says Rubel. Berkowitz agrees with Rubel and adds, "businesses may also overlook the commitment that blogging requires. There should be someone who monitors the blog daily, monitors other mentions of it in the blogosphere, and has full permission to respond to people on the fly, including commenting on others' blogs and really playing a role in the community. That kind of approach will create a groundswell of respect for that company." Engaging with the audience and monitoring feedback from them are some key recommendations for corporate blogs.

In spite of the reluctance and mistakes, the good news is that corporate blogging has made steady progress. Quite a few IT and tech companies, and many startups, have successful corporate blogs. Examples of successful corporate blogs include Dell, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and HP among others. Companies like IBM and others have outlined clear blogging guidelines (http://www.ibm. com/blogs /zz/en/ guidelines.html) to help foster the blogging culture. Some companies like Google (http://googleblog. blogspot.com/) have dozens of blogs. Rubel says, "Virtually every product team (in Google) has one. They have multiple contributors and they are used to disseminate news. More importantly they provide helpful tips and they occasionally respond to the community." Rubel also draws attention to a new and growing trend where companies that don't have their own blogs have their PR agencies or specific individuals working with bloggers. This trend clearly underscores the fact that many businesses have recognised the huge benefit of harnessing the power of blogging, which in many ways is yet another avatar of word-of-mouth marketing.

Besides IT and tech companies, there are retail giants like Wal-mart that have developed a successful blog in spite of some initial hiccups. Recently Wal-mart introduced a new corporate blog called Check Out (checkoutblog.com) that appears to have struck a chord with its customers. According to The New York Times, Wal-mart's new corporate blog has turned the traditional model on its head by allowing little-known buyers to write without editing. Wal-mart's strategy of not having polished pieces is somewhat similar to the various Google blogs where real people tend to share and write in their own voice and that maybe the key to success for corporate bloggers. Companies need to realise that at the end of the day they are doing business with their customers, and anything they can do to reach and stay engaged with their user-base is to their advantage.

(This is a two-part series on corporate blogs. In part two, we will look at corporate blogs in India.)

Kamla Bhatt can be reached at kamla@kamlabhattshow.com