A few months back I ran a panel on corporate blogging in which a number of top influencers and corporate bloggers shared their insights on this topic.
Recently, I finished an excellent book on the subject titled The New Influencers by Paul Gillin, a legend in technology journalism, which is incredibly well written and referenced, making it a must read for anyone thinking of blogging in general (especially if you want to make money) and particularly for any company considering this method of communication and marketing.
Paul, and others, have argued compellingly that this is the future of marketing. I'll end this post with why I disagree.
I'll try to summarize the key things I learned from both experiences.
Blogging Isn't for Everyone
The effort requires a substantial commitment, and that commitment speaks to disclosure, honesty, brevity, and maintaining a thick skin. Folks that anger easily, folks that run off at the mouth and don't say anything meaningful, and folks who think they can say anything they want need not apply.
Particularly from a corporate standpoint, this is a window into your company and your candor, clarity of vision, and, yes, humor. This is what made Microsoft an ideal company that many point to as successful at blogging and what made Apple the wrong company to even try this.
In the first instance, Microsoft, perhaps (at least as it is perceived by the outside world) uncharacteristically, was incredibly candid. And, given a history of sharing roadmaps and plans, this wasn't actually as strange as it seemed.
Apple is used to containing information, so its attempts looked like marketing collateral and probably were. Others have been identified as well as having done this, and it has never turned out well.
CEOs, as a class, are problematic given disclosure rules and risks, though Sun's CEO seems to do it very successfully and his efforts have humanized Sun and, I think, helped the company recover. In the end, if you can't or won't be candid, if you feel the need to have comments word-smithed or approved, blogging is not for you or your company. The effort will simply end badly.
Work Ethic and Quality
You have to blog a lot. Blogging once a month doesn't cut it because you won't build or hold an audience. Writing a lot isn't for everyone; those that do it often find it addictive and also find it can eat up a lot of their spare time. Those that can't write find it a chore and quickly find reasons to avoid doing it. In the end, if you really don't like to write, this isn't for you, and starting but failing to maintain a blog reflects badly on both you and the company. In effect, it communicates you can't meet commitments and, for any company, this isn't a good thing.
It also comes down to communication. If you aren't good at it, you may want to work on those skills prior to putting yourself out to the world. We've all seen speakers who don't seem to have or make a point, and if that is your problem you'll need to commit to addressing it. That's why many of us use editors -- it isn't to control content, it's to assure we appear professional and what we write actually makes sense.
Quality is important. If you don't like being corrected you'll really hate blogging as even if you don't have an editor you will find plenty of volunteers to correct everything from your sentence structure to your spelling, and some may even comment on how you dress.
People are not nice on the Web -- get used to it. If you wear your heart on your sleeve and are prone to anger, particularly if you can't find ways to creatively vent your anger, blogging could actually be dangerous to your health. This is something I had to learn the hard way myself, and finding creative ways to use a sense of humor that is often just a little twisted is the defense I've often used. But whatever your method, what you say is public record, and losing it on the Web is a quick way to gain a nasty reputation that may also reflect badly on your company.
Understand that you don't have to respond to every comment and that the nastiest generally reflect badly on the person making them. Sometimes the best revenge is saying nothing at all and letting a third party jump in and point out what an idiot the guy who posted the offensive remark is. I actually have written on bad Web behavior only to have folks write in and prove me right, which is caught by others, proving the point. Others have covered it better.
Another way of putting this is blogging should be fun. If suddenly it isn't and you are writing mad, stop, go do something else, and come back when your sense of humor has returned.
Read Blogs and Link Like Crazy
The more you link out the more people link in. This isn't intuitively obvious, but this advice has been consistent from every expert I've spoken to. The most successful blogs are those that aggressively link out to other content. In a way it reflects on the fact that blogging is a community activity rather than a solo activity, and the more you support the community the more it supports you.
This is also consistent with human behavior; generally a link is a compliment to the other guy, who then may feel much more inclined to return the compliment. If you want to know what people are reading, go to Technorati -- a great resource for seeing what is hot on the Web and a good guideline on general topics folks are searching on.
There are a number of high profile sites that regularly steal content from other sites. While common, it can reflect very badly on you and your work. Linking out or referencing with attribution is fine, but if you outright steal someone will eventually catch you and this could have both legal and social implications. This stuff remains a record for a long time and I could imagine it coming up in an employment review or as part of an investigation into your behavior as an employee. While it is tempting to just cut and paste, make sure you properly attribute and, even better, summarize and link to the content.
In my industry, if you plagiarize you get fired. I'm not aware of any exceptions, and I agree with this policy.
This Future is Our Present
This is increasingly the way companies are communicating with their customers, and the most successful companies have historically been those that maintained close customer relationships. It's called loyalty, and if you don't trust your people or customers enough to share with them, that is probably sending a message that is undoubtedly doing damage that you don't now see. Granted, not nearly as much damage as would result if you did this badly; but then when isn't that true?
Paul Gillin argues this is the future of marketing, I respectfully disagree; personally I think it's already the present.