by: Josh Hawkins

A recent survey of
business reporters shows that over 80 percent say they use, or would
use, blogs as a primary or secondary source of information for news
stories. This is a pretty serious wakeup call for anyone doing B2B PR.
If you don't already have a social media program in place, it's time to
get started. But while the mechanics of launching a blog are
straightforward, there are a number of questions to ask and strategic
decisions you need to make in order to ensure a successful blog
initiative.

Blogs have now become a regular part of the communications mix for both small businesses and major corporations. There's even a Blog Council
that launched last week to promote best practices in corporate
blogging. Charter members include AccuQuote, Cisco Systems, The
Coca-Cola Company, Dell, Gemstar-TV Guide, General Motors, Kaiser
Permanente, Microsoft, Nokia, SAP, and Wells Fargo.

Corporate blogs come in many different flavors and typically vary
across a few dimensions: 1) the degree of legal / corp comm control,
oversight, and review associated with the blog posts; and 2) the level
of involvement from executives / employees. For example, will it focus
on C-level communication, like GM's Fastlane, or will it aim for a broader set of employee perspectives like HP Blogs or Microsoft's Channel 9? Where you fall on these dimensions depends on your organization, culture, resources and commitment to the initiative.

At the most basic level, adding a blog to your website provides an
outlet for distributing company news, but in a way that invites a
two-way conversation and deepens community engagement with your brand.
At a slightly broader level, the goals of corporate blogs can be to: 1)
provide a new venue for participating in broader industry dialog and
debate over key trends and innovations; 2) elevate the visibility of
key executives and bolster their thought leadership position; and 3)
encourage an authentic conversation with other "influentials" in the
space about market developments.

The mechanics of launching a blog are straightforward and there are
a number of on-demand services you can use to design and publish a blog
in a very short amount of time (e.g., Typepad, Blogger).
But each of these services comes with a wide array of community
features you can turn on or off that dictate the extent to which you
will enable public dialog and debate about your products and services.
The options you choose will require different levels of involvement and
attention across your organization. And here's where the heavy lifting
comes in. The hardest part of launching a blog is setting policy,
identifying resources, determining process and promotion.

I've put together a few notes based on questions I've received from
Splintered Channels readers. The recommendations below are by no means
comprehensive or exhaustive, but I think they provide some good
questions you should ask yourself before you get started with a new
blogging program.

Setting Policy

There are several questions you should ask yourself to help develop
a set of policies for your blog initiative. And don't feel like you
have to do all this on your own. The earlier you involve a broad set of
stakeholders in this planning, the more successful you will be in
mobilizing support for the initiative (e.g., HR, legal, corp comm, PR,
product marketing).

Transparency & Disclaimers: Whether you have a single corporate
blog or a series of employee blogs, whether the blog resides within a
corporate website or as a stand alone experience with its own identity
and domain, it's important that you be as upfront and transparent as
possible with your readers. Make sure to develop a standard disclaimer
you can display on your blog(s) which indicates the nature of the blog
- namely, who is writing the blog, does it provide official corporate
position, are comments moderated, do you allow trackbacks, will you
publicly respond to comments?

Code of Conduct: Employee blogs will naturally include a blend of
content with commentary and personal reflections, as well as industry
observations and references to various corporate developments. Given
the sensitivity associated with information available to employees and
the viral nature of communication in the blogosphere, it's important to
develop a simple code of conduct that employees agree to before
blogging. This list is not exhaustive, but it should include at least
the following: 1) avoid topics that might compromise trade secrets,
intellectual property, management issues and lawsuits; 2) disclose
conflicts of interest; 3) if blog posts include inaccuracies,
corrections should be posted in amendments or new blog entries, instead
of deleting prior comments, etc.; 4) cite appropriate references and
provide links to sources; 5) monitor comments and trackbacks on a
regular basis, respond and delete SPAM; 6) blogging should not
interfere with other job responsibilities.

Rules of Engagement: Another important policy to settle on before
launching a blog is how to engage with readers. There needs to be an
upfront commitment to monitor reader comments and trackbacks.
You will need to determine whether you will automatically accept and
publish comments and trackbacks, or if you will review and approve each
new submission before they included in your blog entries. Along with
reviewing comments and blogger trackbacks, a policy needs to be
established that makes readers aware that you reserve the right to not
publish comments or accept comments based on the appropriateness of the
content. These policies on comments, trackbacks and the right to refuse
to publish comments that include inappropriate, profane or defamatory
language, should be stated upfront along with any disclaimers.

Identify Resources

Launching and maintain a blog is no trivial undertaking. It requires
a dedicated and ongoing resource commitment to develop a blogging
program that can help achieve corporate communications objectives. The
level of commitment will obviously depend on the type of blog you're
launching and these map to your objectives. As described above, there
are a number of different kinds of blogs you can launch - e.g., an
outlet for distributing press announcements and corporate news, a way
to open a new line of communication enabling key business leaders to
participate in broader market dialog and debate, a means for the
organization to be more responsive to customers, a way to nurture
online communities and brand evangelists.

The type of blog initiative you undertake will determine the level
of commitment and involvement required of various parts of a business
organization. But regardless of the resources you tap for the blog
initiative, it is absolutely essential that there is a lead advocate
that can enlist support and command accountability associated with the
tasks needed to launch and maintain a blog. It's also important that
the advocate maintain a schedule for the delivery of blogging tasks.

If the blog is designed to be an additional distribution outlet for
press announcements, the responsibilities of maintenance, review and
comments should fall on the lap of the PR agency or corporate
communications desk in charge of traditional media and analyst
relations. If the blog is designed to be an outlet for executives to
bolster their thought leadership position, it also helpful to involve
your PR agency or corporate communications personnel, as well as get
buy-in from the legal department - in some cases this may require a
process that gives the legal team an opportunity to eyeball posts
before they are published.

If your blogging initiative is focused on growing an online
community of brand evangelists, it's a good idea to seek out
individuals from product marketing and direct customer service who
would be interested in participating. You should consider a process
whereby individuals rotate through responsibilities for posting to the
blog and responding to comments. Weekly or bi-weekly editorial meetings
with employee blogers can be helpful to brainstorm ideas and identify
who will be writing what for the week or month, depending on your
schedule.

Again, these responsibilities should be executed with the oversight
of an internal advocate, or lead, with a set timetable, expectations
and accountability, typically originating from the marketing
communications department.

Does having regimented resources and formalized process detract from
the authenticity or the social, interactive nature of blogging? Not
necessarily. Actually, being upfront about the "owners" - those
responsibility for delivery and execution - and the resources,
expectations and degree of interaction with your readers will all free
you up to be a better blogger and help you achieve corporate
communications objectives with this channel.

Determine Process

When identifying resources, you should go in with a set of
expectations with regard to process. Process is determined in large
part by the policies you settle on and the resources you identify. Once
these steps are completed, ask yourself 1) who will be posting to the
blog and when; 3) what kind of review will be required (if any) and how
will the parties in charge of the oversight execute their
responsibility; 4) who is the ultimate business owner for the
initiative?

While this may seem an unnecessary amount of formalism for a social
media initiative, settling on process before you get started will help
ensure a much smoother launch for your new blog initiative. That said,
it's also important to be flexible and adaptive, constantly striving to
make improvements to become more responsive and efficient.

From an editorial perspective, corporate blogs generate three broad
buckets of content: 1) news about the business; 2) reflections on
broader industry trends and developments; 3) aggregated links /
references from other industry sources, with some context and editorial
perspectives. The best corporate and employee blogs maintain a fairly
regular schedule. Blogs don't need to be updated every day or even
every week to generate a significant following. But there should be a
regular drumbeat of blog posts, whether that's weekly or monthly.

Nothing says the responsibilities associated with blogging need to
originate from one or two individuals. Actually, the most successful
blogs I have seen are actually the result of a distribution of labor.
Sometimes the labor is divided up between research, writing, and
posting. Other times, it's simply a matter of rotation among several
individuals who have their pulse of developments within the company as
well as a good sense for broader industry trends which provide for
editorial context that make corporate news interesting and relevant to
more people.

I have also found that the best corporate and employee blogs, which
develop a following, tend to have personality. The editorial content
doesn't have to be snarky or confrontational, but some voice, tone and
style needs to shine through. I believe this needs to be part of the
"process" you identify for your blog initiative because you can
establish a rotation of formal business news, personal reflection,
anecdotes and passing observations, which may or may not directly align
with corporate communications objective, but nonetheless introduce
readers to perspectives that make the dialog more human.

Promotion

When launching a new blog program, I recommend not focusing too much
on "promotion" as much as on the quality of the content and developing
a process that produces a regular rotation of new blog posts. Building
a following and generating new traffic is a fairly organic process and
it takes time. You should set expectations on the order of at least
four to six months for generating traffic. That said, if you follow
some basic guidelines, you will have a good shot at building a
significant volume of new and return traffic.

If your blog is primarily designed to be an channel for
communicating with businesses reporters, it should be prominently
featured in the corporate news area of your website (the same survey
referenced above also indicates that 74% of business reporters look to
corporate websites for story ideas).

Reporters are also likely to enter your company's name into search
engine queries. And, as you're well aware, your corporate website will
not be the only hit in the search results page. You should make it a
practice to check in on your website's search performance. Luckily,
social media channels, like blogs, are fantastic optimizers when it
comes to search engine results. They embody all the key characteristics
that determine ranking in search results. 1) blog posts are saturated
with relevant keywords, 2) they include links to and from relevant
sources; and 3) blogs include frequently updated content.

When you think about promotional strategies, think about your
audience in terms of niche communities (e.g., reporters, analysts,
industry leaders, prospects and customers - even subsegments within
your customer base). Think about the vernacular used by these
communities - what's the language used to describe relevant products
and services? These considerations should dictate the topics of your
blog posts and the terms and phrases that make their way into your blog
posts.

Aside from promoting your blog through your corporate website and
through search engines, the single best way to gain readers is to
participate and engage in a dialog with other bloggers, news sites, and
online communities that are similarly focused on your industry and
relevant market trends. Specifically, develop a "blog roll," a list of
favorite blogs and sites that your read on a regular basis. But don't
just read these blogs. You need to post comments to these sites with
perspective and context that brings value and insights to the online
community that has grown around these outlets. Feel free to reference
your blog in these comments, but avoid blatant self promotion. Keep
your eye on the ball and make sure you're focused on the conversation
and broader market dialog. Are you adding something valuable to the
conversation?

If you decide to base a blog on a post or news item you have read at another site, sometimes you can take advantage of a trackback,
which is a feature of blogs that enables you to add a link to your blog
from a post on another site you're referencing. Again, use the feature
judiciously and make sure you're adding something to the conversation
and bringing something to the table for the online community.

When members of various niche communities read the comments to blog
posts that you have submitted, or when they follow a trackback from a
popular blog back to a post you have added to your blog, you will begin
to generate traffic. If your blog has high-quality, relevant content,
you will generate return readers - readers who may also submit comments
to your blog posts or trackbacks to your blog based on their reactions
to your commentary and perspectives.

Eric Schwartzman, of Schwartzman & Associates,
says that everything you need to know about blogging etiquette you
learned in preschool. And I completely agree. If you want people to
play nice with you, you need to play nice with them. Again, the best
way to generate readers for your own blog is to read other blogs,
contribute, engage, and interact with the online community.

You can also take advantage of blog search engines, like Technorati (and notification services like Pingomatic), as well as social bookmarks, like del.icio.us, to flag your content for relevant communities. And it's also critical you make it easy for people to subscribe to your blog's RSS feed using built in features of your blog platform (e.g., Typepad) or services like Feedburner.
But these are all really secondary to the primary and most effective
promotional tool at your disposal - participation and engagement in the
online community.

If you're going to put all this up front work into your new blog
initiative, you'll obviously want people to read it, especially the
business reporters you're targeting to get the word out about your
products and services. Blogs are all about authenticity and dialog. The
social media landscape, however, necessitates a strategic perspective.
For marketing professionals new to blogging, I hope some of these notes
are helpful as you embark on new social media programs.

Original Post: http://splinteredchannels.blogs.com/weblog/2008/01/b2b-public-rela.html

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