One of the people I met with while doing business in Paris last week was Elizabeth Albrycht of CorporatePR. It was nice to meet up with a fellow Yank and to trade notes on our respective lives as “modern nomads,” as Elizabeth put it.
Over our lunch at La Robe et Le Palais, Elizabeth related to me some of the challenges she had encountered in getting various companies to blog. Let’s face it: If it was easy to do, then tBBC would not have a business model and would not have any clients. This is what we do for a living. Even those who may be longtime bloggers themselves will generally be at a loss when it comes to helping a company to blog successfully.
I see now that Elizabeth has made some of her experiences accessible at The Kitchen. Reading through, several points jump out at me - points that are worth making to those who are trying to champion blogs for businesses.
First of all, I am a huge proponent of blogging for corporations, associations and other types of organizations.
Right off the bat, it is imperative that the right corporations, associations and other types of organisations blog. Not every company should have a blog, point blank. If you try to impose blogging on a group for whom it is inappropriate, the results will not be pretty. As a blogging champion, don’t make a rod for your own back by trying to force blogging on a company that will never be able to do it well.
One of the biggest challenges for corporate blogs (true also for personal blogs) is the amount of time required to do it. In response to this, I say, “Talking to your customers has to be a company’s number one priority. A blog is a powerful channel for communicating to this audience. How can you tell me you don’t have time to do this?”
This has always struck me as a rather curious objection to blogging - that it takes time. Indeed, I remember once talking to a potential client - a highly technical company, where the man hours involved in everything from doing documentation to walking between desk and coffee machine are carefully calculated and tracked - about this issue, and they understood immediately and without breaking a sweat that professional blogging is at least partially about taking your employees’ competence and making it tangible and accessible to the rest of the world. And staying informed and on the cutting edge of their industry and area(s) of expertise is something that employees should be doing anyway - it is already part of their job. Blogging is not an ‘extra,’ but a much more efficient and valuable way of doing what they should be doing in the first place.
If a company cannot see the value in establishing and maintaining thought leadership with its customers, potential markets and industry peers, then they don’t understand blogging at all. (See above note on which companies should and should not blog.) The companies that do get this will find it much easier to blog successfully, and the life of the person who is helping them to do so will be much less stressful, too.
In my example, for a high tech start-up, we had the following blog team: the CEO, a couple of people from marketing, the CTO, and the sales director. It worked relatively well. We set up a series of guidelines in advance, delineating the types of topics each person would write about.
Coming up with ideas for possible topics or areas of discussion is no bad thing, but I would warn strongly against attempting to exercise too much control here. Sometimes the very best content comes from unexpected people, writing on unexpected subjects. Suffocate that, and the blog and bloggers will be all the poorer for it.
Elizabeth then discusses how she has helped new bloggers along by editing their posts for clarity, writing:
There is nothing wrong in seeking help from a professional communicator to help make sure that someone reading a post will understand what you [sic] writing about.
Elizabeth’s mistake illustrates a good point: Even “professional communicators” get it wrong sometimes, and as such their editing skills should not be relied upon to turn someone from an unclear communicator into a good blogger. Choosing the right people to blog is essential.
And of course there is a role for someone to help new bloggers along - that is why tBBC trains all our clients’ employee bloggers. Our background and experience in running incredibly successful group blogs for several years means that we have the expertise and knowledge to do so; it is because doing so is so difficult, as Elizabeth has found, that we have a business in the first place.
So there is something to be said for helpfulness, by someone who genuinely knows how to train bloggers and help them to blog successfully. That helpfulness should not extend to strict editorial control.
In discussing conference blogs, Elizabeth goes into some detail describing how she tried - and failed - to turn a group of people into bloggers.
I prepared a step-by-step guide to blogging, using the software I chose. I set up a sandbox blog where they could play. I kept in touch, asking them if they had questions. I worked with PR people and administrative assistants to make sure they were ready. And in the end, none of this worked. Not one guest author tried out the sandbox. None of them posted appropriately to the blog. They were supposed to post once a day for a week; each posted only once. They received no comments, and the effort was a failure.
From this, Elizabeth concludes:
Their attempt was a victim of time.
Actually, their attempt was a victim of trying to impose, from the top-down, a new technology and way of communication, without any consideration for the benefit to the individuals involved.
This is probably the thing that PR and marketing people ignore most about blogging: the importance of the individual. Show them what is in it for them, and believe me, they will have more than enough incentive to make the time to blog. Connect them to the blogosphere, and they will be even more keen. To refer back to something I wrote a few months ago:
[T]he intrinsic motivation of individuals flourishes when three key human needs are satisfied: competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
People feel competent when they get feedback on what they say and do, and when they are able to respond effectively to challenges they face.
People feel they have autonomy when they feel they are trusted - “empowered,” even (it is a word that has been abused by far too many, but it is still appropriate) - to take initiative, to learn and develop their own skills and talents, and to explore and expand their horizons.
People feel relatedness when they can tell that others are sitting up and taking notice of the fact that they are doing good work and thinking interesting, clever thoughts.
Now, exactly how much competence in blogging can a person feel when it is being dictated to them what they may and may not blog about? (If the person does not have the nous to work out what is inappropriate content, keep them away from the blog!) How much autonomy in blogging can a person feel when they have not been shown that big blogosphere out there and all it has to offer them in terms of learning and developing, exploring and expanding horizons? (Not to mention how autonomous the blogging experience can ever be if his or her posts are vetted by PR before publication.) And if, in trying to become a successful blogger, the person is not given an introduction and education on the interconnectivity of the network, how much relatedness are they going to feel when it comes to their blogging efforts?
In short, these blogs fail not because of a lack of time but a lack of motivation and fulfilment resulting from a lack of proper training and education. As Elizabeth herself says (in a sentence that lacks clarity, albeit):
I remain optimistic about conference blogs, but I think that a pragmatic approach that offers a variety of options beyond, “Here is your user ID.”
Yes, there is a word or two missing from that quotation, but I believe the point is, turning people into good bloggers should not be an afterthought.
I cannot emphasise the following strongly enough: Do not focus solely on the blog. It is crucial to focus on the individuals involved. Without doing so, you end up with failures like the one described in Elizabeth’s post.
Further, I would add that it is equally important to really know what you are doing when it comes to this stuff. If you do not have the expertise and experience in training successful bloggers and creating successful blogs, do not expect a miracle to happen when you try to do so professionally. Failing to deliver for a client the necessary training and expertise to facilitate a successful blog is just bad business. And the fault does not lie with blogs or the blogosphere or imagined problems intrinsic to them (such as time being the thing that kills blogs instead of inadequate preparation and education).
No, blogging will not die because a bunch of people who don’t really know what they are doing are getting their hands on it and failing. But what is the business logic in not doing it the right way, with professionals who have the competence and seasoning to have done it multiple times?
As they might say in France, savoir-faire is not a minor detail.