WITH journalist blogs becoming a major force for newspaper websites, I’m starting to wonder if blogs will finally start to take root in the corporate world?
That’s usually how it seems to work. As audiences become accustomed to a format on their favorite websites, corporations pick up on it, work to influence it, and maybe even adopt it for themselves.
However, this is a bit different. Blogs aren’t for the corporate feint of heart. They require honesty and believability and a willingness to abide by the rules. That’s scary stuff for some companies, and it probably will continue to keep them away.
Few corporate blogs outside of tech industry
And they sure seem to be staying away right now. Looking around corporate blogs the other day, I was thoroughly underwhelmed. I must have looked at 25 “official” corporate blogs in two hours and I remember seeing dormant blogs, a couple of single person blogs representing entire corporations, and a few half-decent blog programs mostly confined to the technology industry.
Overall, though, it was disappointing to see so few corporate blogs in non-technology industries.
News site readers obviously like the format
The numbers newspapers are seeing from blogs are impressive. Newspaper blogs are booming and helping to drive traffic to newspaper sites. People really seem to like the approach.
Nielsen/NetRatings reported yesterday that traffic to blogs on the top 10 US newspaper sites grew 210% over the past year. Here are some of the figures as reported by Reuters:
Unique visitors to blog sites affiliated with the largest Internet newspapers rose to 3.8 million in December 2006 from 1.2 million viewers a year earlier, tracking firm Nielsen//NetRatings said.
Blog pages accounted for 13 percent of overall visits to newspaper sites in that month, up from 4 percent a year earlier. Total visitors to the top newspaper sites rose 9 percent to 29.9 million.
Performance like this could help to persuade more companies to take this new form of communication seriously. The numbers are also likely to propel other media to jump on the blogging bandwagon, meaning that blogging will become even more mainstream.
Two main ways companies are approaching blogs
The big questions now for corporations are whether they should join in, and if so how. I think you should join. You will have to eventually.
It’s the how that’s proving the tricky bit. I see two approaches clearly emerging:
1. Influencing. This is a popular approach with marketing and media relations people who want to help you get bloggers to write about your company’s products, preferably in a positive way. They’ll pitch your story to bloggers and give you advice on how to navigate this new territory.
Sometimes — I’d say too often — they’ll stoop to stupid and ethically questionable tactics like giving expensive laptops to bloggers as gifts, or setting up fake blogs. These tactics tend to backfire, however, and cause significant grief for companies.
There is value in trying to pitch stories to journalist bloggers and non-journalist bloggers. Not all companies and stories are equally well known, so some pitching is fair. However, even if you do manage to get attention, your company will have more credibility if it also is pursuing the second approach.
2. Joining. It’s as simple as that. If you truly want to influence or at least have a voice in the “blogosphere,” you’re best off to join in. This will give you a way to contribute in a meaningful way to the discourse between the media, blogs and readers.
Of course, just having a voice in the conversation doesn’t mean your voice will be credible. That’s something you have to work at. You also will need to monitor the conversation to identify what’s being said about your company and the issues your company cares about.
But it’s all good if you understand the rules. The best way to start is by reading and monitoring blogs yourself. I’d recommend the Techmeme website as a good jumping off point for following what blogs are writing about.
IR departments specifically should look at blogs inside their company as complementing what they already do to build understanding of their company’s story. The benefits outweigh the risks, which should be managed with clear corporate blogging policies.
To be successful in the blogosphere, you have to use both approaches, but with a light touch on Influencing and a heavy emphasis on Joining in.
Of course, you could still argue that it’s still too early to tell if blogs are just a fad or something more permanent. I think 3.8 million readers at just the top 10 newspaper sites and 13% of the overall audience to these sites is fairly convincing.