Blogging can establish your business as a thought leader in an industry. It can showcase company innovations and develop a friendly, on-line community to give valuable feedback and positive word of mouth. It can also increase your company's visibility. But, because of its immediacy and permanency, it also poses some risks that can be minimized through careful planning and forethought.
Before even considering your goals for a blog, consider your resources:
- Is there enough to say about your company or industry to sustain a blog's voracious appetite for fresh and compelling content? Many blogs are updated multiple times each day. Even the quietest must update a couple of times a week to maintain readership.
- Blogging is time-consuming. Although individual posts can be quite succinct, they must be relevant, engaging and, to at least some extent, in touch with the overall conversation on the Web about the topic. The latter, in particular, takes time.
- Blogs require clarity and brevity, and a sense of humor doesn't hurt. Since the "voice" of the blog strongly affects perceptions of your company's personality, your business cannot afford a boring or obtuse blogger, even if it's the CEO. On the other hand, the casual nature of blogs can lead to potential problems for a company if the writer is a loose cannon.
No medium or technology should be introduced at a company without clear policies and procedures in place. For public companies, the stakes are particularly high, as information disclosed in a blog may have serious securities law implications. Once you decide to proceed with a blog, set parameters for its content:
- Write a simple mission statement that includes the topics for the focus of your blog and stick to that focus.
- An internal policy on acceptable and unacceptable blogging is essential. It might address topics such as posts about competitors or whether personal or political topics are permitted. Many companies also establish policies for the personal blogs of their employees, to avoid misunderstandings or employment issues. A company does not want its employees to claim to be speaking on its behalf unless that employee actually is authorized to do so. It also doesn't want to be negatively portrayed. Be aware of protected speech by employees in your state.
- Be sure your writers understand the basics of copyright and libel law, so as to violate neither. In other words, everything is NOT "fair use."
- It's also a good time to double-check that confidential information at your company is clearly identified as such and remains confidential.
- Determine whether your writers will be able to post directly to the Web or whether someone within the company should review the posts first. Timeliness is key, so a built-in review is less desirable, unless, for example, you have a talented writer who, unfortunately, cannot spell.
- If you'll use your blog to hint at company innovations, consider a meeting to discuss which details will be revealed and when. A blog is considered a publication, and the trade secret status of information will be lost if posted in a blog.
In addition to setting limits for your writers, you'll want to determine how readers will interact with your blog. Comments are the most common way that blogs connect with readers. They allow bloggers to further a conversation, test the waters with new ideas and clarify points. Unfortunately, they also open the door to spam, vulgarity and possibly libelous or copyright-infringing content.
- Requiring commentors to register as users can eliminate comment spam, but it may deter some users. A "CAPTCHA" box that requires a user to duplicate a series of letters or numbers is an alternative to screen out "spambots."
- Establish a clear company policy about how you will handle vulgar or unlawful comments to your blog.
- Add a policy to your Web site that states exactly what sorts of postings will be removed. Your writers should be prepared to briefly but openly address any specific complaints about comments that were removed, citing the policy.
- Consider whether you want to allow HTML code in your comments. Links are an essential part of the nature of the Web, but allowing HTML may also allow the introduction of objectionable images or even malicious code. Some blogging software will let you specify which HTML "tags" you'd like to allow.
Once you have a clear sense of how you want your site, not to mention your writers, to behave, choose software that will facilitate those behaviors, and get started. A number of free or low-cost options exist. A few final words about the nature and culture of blogging: Nature abhors a vacuum, and bloggers abhor a phony. Make sure your writers:
- Avoid "spin" in favor of clear communication about the benefits of company products and policies.
- Correct errors quickly and transparently.
- Cite and link sources.
- Thank people who provide good ideas and other helpful information.
Although a posting on a blog may seem shortlived, archive sites make the posts eternal. Thus, the same rules should apply to blogs that apply to content posted on a company's Web site. Plan carefully to ensure success and mitigate risk.