Blogging: Why the Basics are Eluding Many Marketers

In the stampede to social media marketing, many companies are getting trampled. They assign someone to write a blog or set up a Facebook community, then use it as another soapbox to megaphone their standard marketing messages. As they yell, they wonder why audience members lose interest and wander away.

A recent study underlines the fact that most corporate social media marketing campaigns aren’t working. Only 16% of consumers trust corporate blogs, reported Forrester Research in “Time to Rethink Your Corporate Blogging Ideas,” a study published in December 2008. What marketers and PR departments are missing is that social media can’t be used as a venue for traditional, unilateral advertising. Social media is about building trust and relationships – and people typically only stay in relationships that are mutually beneficial.

Blogs are often the first step corporate brands take into the social media world, so it is important to make a positive first impression. The key to doing this is to remember that blogs work when offering an authentic and knowledgeable voice, as opposed to canned corporate messaging. As Debbie Weil, author of The Corporate Blogging Book, says: “A great blog sells without selling.”

A successful corporate blog has to provide the reader something valuable: industry news, answers to questions, something funny, a place for feedback or to connect with other users. A blog should also be the human face and authentic voice of the company. Blogs can answer questions like; What’s it like to work for this company? What’s the CEO’s typical day like?  They can also spotlight an interesting company project or process that reveals some of the company’s inner workings. Quality content is a must for corporate blogs; without it, you will be unable to build or sustain a following.

Many companies do manage to blog well. Britain’s BBC news has reporters and editors blog about the stories behind the news reporting. Adobe has a group of employees blog about product development, tips and tutorials. Southwest Airlines’ Nuts About Southwest has employees writing about various angles of airline work.

Because of the casual nature of the conversation, many companies seriously underestimate the strategy that goes into successful blogs. Publishing posts is just the beginning. Making sure that the content offered is substantive and engaging requires preparation. You’ll need to create an “editorial calendar” which maps out in advance what topics you will explore. From there, you can make decisions about which internal resources must be tapped to provide or augment planned content. Remember to plan your content strategy with your target audience in mind, and don’t be afraid to add to the calendar as your audience uncovers interesting topics with the potential for further exploration. Once a solid base of posts has been published, corporate blogs should follow the same rules as any other blogs in terms of linking to and commenting on others in the blogosphere. Rather than assuming the company name will engage people, blog writers should be looking for ways to connect with readers. The whole point is to converse, not lecture.

Social media marketing can go beyond blogging, providing platforms for consumer/user feedback and discussion. Starbucks, for example, offers the online suggestion box at My Starbucks Idea. A customer request for “locally sourced organic baked goods” prompted 62 comments; a request for “no-strings-attached WiFi access” prompted 82 comments. Not a bad way to get discussion going and figure out what customers are thinking.

This brings up another key point: many marketers assume that exposing yourself to criticism is counter-productive. However, successful corporate blogs are successful in large part because they allow for two-way, uncensored communication with their readers. A blog gives the company an opportunity to address criticism and respond with improvements, and you gain credibility and trust with readers when they see you are not afraid to engage with them openly and honestly.

More recently, the social media stampede has turned toward Twitter, and companies are getting trampled there, too. The same “anti-marketing” strategy that applies to blogging should be applied here. There’s no point spamming people with your company message – you might as well be a telemarketer. If you use Twitter to throw out canned corporate messages, you will be tuned out. Conversely, if you use it to communicate substantively, trust is established, and you’ll find that this is a valuable tool for engaging with your customers. Twitter is another lesson in the value of trust in social media; it doesn’t work without it. Using Twitter effectively comes down to the basic principles of good conversation and networking. You have to show interest in and help others first, and you can’t expect to sell anyone on anything before building a relationship. Some of the most successful corporate Twitter strategies are successful because they are being used as de-facto online help desks. As with blogs, open, honest communication with your followers will pay big dividends for your brand. 

The good news for social media marketers is that all these tools provide a great opportunity for unfiltered contact and conversation with target markets. But these markets don’t want to be marketed to. They want to see that companies have a human side, and are willing to interact on a human level.