All Lithium customers have access to our blog product -- it's built into the platform. Flipping the switch enabling blogs takes a few minutes. It's a snap. What's not so easy, however, is how to set up and manage your company's blog program.
The hardest part is making sure your company is set up internally for successful blogging. "If you build it, they will come" doesn't apply to getting even the most enthusiast employees to blog on a consistent basis. Equally important is that the person or team managing the blog program runs the entire operation like a newspaper.
This post isn't aimed at finding or recruiting bloggers -- or even about WHO should blog in your organization. That's a topic for another day. (However, last year I did talk about the challenges recruiting your blog corps. You can read more about that topic here.)
Today I'm talking about the mindset that community managers tasked with building and managing blog programs need to succeed; that is, based upon what I've learned -- through much pain -- at what works and what doesn't work.
At Intuit, I was on the TurboTax online community team when they launched their blog -- but more as an observer. At Symantec, however, I was on point as community manager to build and manage the Symantec Technology Network (STN) -- an online community for that company's business customers, typically IT managers -- that included expert blogs.
But it wasn't until my stint at Cadence Design Systems that I uncovered the secret to corporate blogging success. That's where it dawned upon me: Your company's blog is your brand's "newspaper." And it has to be set up and managed accordingly.
As a former newspaper journalist and editor, I dusted off my "managing editor" hat and added it to the many I already had to wear as Cadence's senior "social media manager."
With this new way of looking at the task at hand (of building and managing a corporate blogging program from scratch for the second time), the road ahead was now clear: I was assembling an editorial team and starting a newspaper. And like all newspapers mine would have: sections (group blogs), an editorial calendar, weekly editorial meetings, reporters (bloggers) and a managing editor (me).
Rewind to a hard lesson learned.
At Symantec, blogs were just one component of the community: one I took for granted. I surmised that if I added blogs and then recruited the right folks around the company to contribute, the publishing would occur organically. I then focused my time at managing the production of white papers, expert videos -- and, most importantly -- the community's heart and soul: the peer-to-peer discussion forums.
Then I noticed something: most of the few dozen subject-matter experts who were so gung-ho to talk with their customers and peers stopped blogging after a couple weeks. Gaps in blog posts started to appear. Weeks, even months passed between posts. I was in reactive-panic mode.
At first I was polite. I'd give each blogger a call every few days to check in.
"Say, when are you going to update your blog?" I'd ask. "It's been a month since your last post..."
"Oh, sorry Tom! I've been slammed with this new (project, launch ... fill in the blank)," they'd say. "I'll get one out next week for sure."
But most never did. I'd have to track them down and pester them until (some at least) would finally relent and post something -- usually text copied and pasted from an existing datasheet, press release or some obscure marketing document.
Needless to say, the STN blogs never did get much of a following -- at least compared with the forums, which were tremendously successful right out of the gate.
So when I moved to Cadence, I did things differently. Instead of thinking of blogs as a self-governing body, I took command. With my managing editor cap planted firmly on my head, I did away with the notion of separate sections of the community for expert videos and white papers -- these could be part of the blog program: Eureka!
I could blather on all day (and would love to chat about it if you buy me a beer sometime), but in summary, here's what I learned that worked for me when creating and managing a successful blog program. (Scott Dodds and I also have a presentation that goes into much greater detail that we'd be happy to share with you and your teams. Just drop me a line to schedule a meeting.)
But here's the key stuff...
How to Succeed (in a nutshell) 1) Identify a blog program manager - your newspaper's managing editor (your blog program will fail without one).
2) Define your target audience and objectives (your newspaper's demographics and what you want them to learn).
3) Determine what topics and types of blogs to use (your newspaper's sections and its columnists).
4) Create and actively manage an editorial calendar (start with cannibalizing the PR calendar for events, product launches, etc.).
5) Develop guidelines on what to say and how to say it (for your bloggers). This should be part of a blog workshop (blogging 101) that kicks off a series of regular editorial meetings.
6) Streamline the approval process.
7) Recruit your blog corps. Start at least three months before you launch. Train them. Coach them. But DO NOT send their posts through PR or marketing for refinement. (And don't think of starting small. If 100 people show up to your first blog workshop, maybe five or 10 will blog on a consistent basis. Recruitment never ends.)
8) Promote your blogs and engage with other bloggers outside your organization.
9) Encourage the use of video, images and other creative ways to capture attention.
10) Be prepared with procedures to handle common issues (critical comments, mainly, but also posts that don't make the grade the first time round or are inappropriate).
Common mistakes 1) Ghostwritten blogs or seeded blog comments. 2) Using fictitious characters as blog authors. 3) Heavy-handed comment moderation. 4) Posts that are too formal and polished. 5) Regurgitating existing company collateral verbatim.
OK, I guess I'm not quite done yet. So here's a bit of parting advice...
Your organization's blog program is a newspaper. Newspapers have sections: Front page, International, Local, Business, Sports, Entertainment, etc. These are what I call "Group" blogs and have multiple authors. You need "bylines" on each entry. Newspapers also have columnists: the rock stars (individual blogs). You might have one or two if you're lucky -- but beware of the executive blog! Soon they'll be asking for "ghostwriters" and that's a big no-no.
Assign a dedicated blog program manager (managing editor) ... this is very important!
Build an editorial calendar. I suggest starting with your PR team's calendar: it has a wealth of information you can use for content ideas: product releases, industry events, etc. Partner with PR if you can. But don't let them run the show or "polish" posts. An editorial calendar mitigates gaps between posts and keep execs informed of what's on the horizon: they generally don't like surprises.
The bloggers are your reporters. Rookies need to attend a blogging boot camp (blogging/journalism 101). Bloggers must be managed with weekly editorial meetings where they can learn what's working, what's not, how to improve -- and those meetings are also the ideal place to brainstorm about building out that essential editorial calendar.
Hand out assignments at the editorial meetings but of course "spontaneous" (breaking news, etc.) posts are always encouraged.
Streamline the approval process (too many cooks...). If you have multiple VPs in the day-to-day approval process, you can pretty much give up. The managing editor should be trusted to approve posts. And when in doubt, he or she should have one go-to person in PR to make fast judgment calls.
(Attracting an audience -- that's a different conversation: if you have an active blog corps publishing regularly, and promote the blogs enough, that part works itself out. We can talk about that in another post.)