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to blog… or not to blog? 5 questions to ask before you do it…

September 30, 2008

Last week Technorati and ReadWriteWeb announced the results of the “State of Blogging”, and RWW argued that the  numbers showed that blogging is slowing, and becoming more niche. I thought about writing then about what this slowdown means for business bloggers, but I’m glad I waited, because this week there has been a flurry of conversation about this topic. B.L. Ochman stirred the pot with her article on “10 Reasons Your Company Shouldn’t Blog”, finally putting down on “paper” an argument I’ve been making with clients and prospects for some time now: blogging is NOT necessarily the right choice for every company, and it is not a cure-all for tackling a social media initiative!

That doesn’t mean that jumping into social media in some way isn’t an incredibly valuable and important part of your marketing strategy. In fact, Cone just completed a survey that shows 93% of Americans want companies to have a presence in social media, and more importantly, want to feel like they can have a conversation on these social media platforms with these companies. And given that I consult in the new media space, I’d be the first to argue that this aspect of your marketing program is incredibly important. 

But that does not mean that a blog is your only option, nor does it mean that blogging would help your company in any way. I think the first and most important thing to ask before starting a blog is “what do I hope to achieve with this blog?” If the answer is anything like “more traffic to my site” or “another place to post press releases” or “I don’t know, I just feel like everyone else is starting a blog, so I should have one too” (and don’t laugh, because I’ve been told this was the reason for starting the blog by more than one company), then chances are you haven’t got a blog strategy, and you shouldn’t go starting one until you do. 

So before you decide to start to jump into the fray, here are five questions to ask yourself before you start a corporate blog:

  • Who is going to write the blog? Blogging takes a lot of time. Let me repeat that. Blogging takes a lot of time. And commitment. I have trouble keeping up with my own blog. But the average blog should be posted to at least twice a week, and even if the post only takes 15-20 minutes to write, you still have to find a topic, do research, proofread, and get it posted. In all, even blogging only twice a week can take 2-4 hours a week. If you’re not ready for that kind of time commitment, think twice about a blog. 
  • What is the theme, what general topics are we going to blog about and why are they interesting? There are already plenty of hardly-read blogs out there, on mundane subjects hardly anyone cares about, chugging along with no love. If you had trouble convincing your CEO to blog in the first place, imagine how hard it will be when you aren’t getting any traffic or feedback! Make sure you have something to say before you start blogging, and recognize what your target audience is going to find compelling so you can shape posts accordingly. In addition, have a plan for driving traffic to the site, not just relying on the link from your front page. Have a strategy for going out to other industry blogs, getting involved (meaningfully, this does mean just spamming links to your blog on other sites, ok?!) in the conversation and bringing readers back to your site. 
  • Who is our target/targets for this blog? To follow up on the last bullet, know your audience. This will help you to hone posts down to a particular focus, style, length and format. It will also help you to hone your strategy. Becoming an industry thought leader involves a very different target audience than engaging current customers, soliciting feedback and building a community. Have these goals in ming BEFORE you start. 
  • What do we hope to gain from blogging? Do we want to be thought leaders, or provide a forum for customer feedback, or would we rather generate awareness about our product in a particular community, or increase our organic SEO? All of these goals are different, require a different kind of writing and different focus, and should be decided before you launch the blog.
  • How much time and money are we really willing to devote to this blog? This goes back to Ochman’s post, but it’s worth reiterating here. Starting a blog, even on a basic wordpress platform, takes a lot of time, and will cost you. Even if you have a free blog, you are still devoting paid work hours to the writing, editing and upkeep of this new part of your Web site. Make sure you are willing to devote resources to the blog before you start, or you will quickly find yourself with an empty blog with old posts. Better not to have a blog at all than to let stale content sit on your site. 

Then if you’re in any further doubt about the advice you’re getting on social media, you can refer to Alex Hillman’s post on “How to know if you should fire your social media consultant” and you should be all set! And for a post on another day, I’ll address some alternative options for companies that choose NOT to go the blog route. And if you’re looking for reason TO start a blog, Joseph Jaffe has some comments on Ochman’s posts here… which Ochman then follows up on here…

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