I often hear from companies that want to "be social" or "hire a blogger." Usually, there hasn't been any effort put into the question of what they'd like to accomplish from the effort, so I send out the following. Now, you can call me to talk when you have an answer to this critical question in mind....
The following goals for blogging are for your consideration in making a resource and time decision about how to use the tools available to achieve the impact your company desires. They may be combined or phased in over time, but it is essential that the company understand what it wants out of a blog or a community grown around its site. Simply “hiring a blogger” does not lead to success, because the blog must be an expression not just of the company’s marketing message but, in order to reach any of the higher levels of engagement possible, of its people and their personalities. Readers or, better, customers, don't want to interact with a scripted person, they want to feel like they are conversing with people.
As your company aims higher in this hierarchy of engagement, you will find the investment rises. You can do the least possible and get picked up by blog search engines. Building a must-visit site for your industry is exponentially more expensive. Making your corporate blogger a star whose wide-ranging interests become somehow interesting to people who otherwise would not encounter your company's Web presence is exponentially more expensive than launching a blog to republish your press releases.
1.) Marketing channel. Simply repost marketing material and press releases in blog format with RSS feeds. Not really blogging, just a use of the tools to make press access easier, since journalists can subscribe to an RSS feed. The benefit is that your press materials are treated by many search engines as blogs, personal postings often end up right next to dull press releases. This doesn't do much for your brand, but lots of marketers like to see their Google Page Rank rise or the number of one-time hits on a site rise.
2.) Industry news aggregator. This is the simplest "real" blogging approach, combining some search technology and a blogger’s regular effort to synthesize news and trends makes your site the 2008 version of a 1990 trade journal—without all the messy objectivity and editorial independence. The outcome is that the blog will be linked to and potentially become a hub in the industry’s discussions. It can be combined with the marketing postings, as well, but you're likely only to reach people who are monitoring your industry. Interestingly, many of these sites become a kind of echo chamber of contending views on an industry without any real customer engagement. Why? Because customers are not creating search alerts for your product or service, but for the product or service they make or deliver. Industry news exists to be available at the time a purchase decision is contemplated and to reinforce customers' professional insider knowledge. But, seriously, outside a very narrow band of your industry's most active buyers, no one cares about incremental upgrades and minor features that bloggers love to debate.
3.) Influencer engagement. This requires more outbound engagement with other bloggers in the industry and complementary industries (such as marketing bloggers) in order to bring greater traffic to the site through influential sites’ linking to, and debating with, postings on the your blog. This approach to the market demands well composed thought leadership postings on a regular basis, not to mention a skilled influencer of your own, because the egos in this arena are huge. However, the gamesmanship among "influencers" is eminently manageable, if you have the right person working for you, because the social economy is still fairly basic—traffic, links and kudos are the currency of this environment. Someday, soon I hope, real wit, tact and intelligence will rise above the noise we think defines markets today.
4.) Team reputation building. More than one team-member from your company must participate to make the site (or a collection of personal sites related to the company) both a thought-leadership hub and a nexus of information about the company and its people. The blog postings can include personal and business related postings—the result is a personally engaging site that engages readers with the people at your company, their talent and what they are building. This kind of blog is a form of investment not just in your company, but also in your people, who get to be the stars. The Blogosphere is chock full of engineers, product managers and marketers who emerged from within the walls of their company to engage customers and the rest of the market. When everyone is pulling together for your company, this can be the most powerful approach to blogging. Then, again, it can turn sour fast if a problem within your company becomes a public fire fight.
5.) [Your Company Name Here] Media. Think of this as media about your company and its market. You would need to hire a host and get them to cover the industry using text, audio and video to provide the market a unique view of itself. Your host would interview not only employees of your company, but your customers and other thought leaders, including complementer and competitor companies, about everything that impacts the direction the market is going to take. With this approach, you can redefine the market by being the most vocal and authoritative voice; you could also be just plain loud. This requires real judgment and a judicious approach to issues that could easily become distractions to your company's goals if they are blown out of proportion to the customer's realities. Such a wide-ranging channel, that is because it would be disseminated in a variety of formats through many different sites in order to engage the largest audience, can make your company a kind of "household name" with all the pros and cons that might come with that distinction.
There are, of course, other hues of blogging that might fit into this hierarchy, but for purposes of making a resource allocation decision I believe this is comprehensive. Getting "social" or "bloggy" with your company's marketing is a serious investment, not a latched-on addition to your "normal" media mix. Ultimately, you are opening the wall over which you've been throwing media to the masses (whether in the form of press releases, ads or TV spots) so that every action can have an unequal and opposite reaction. Most companies see the risks of this strategy first and fail to recognize the benefits, but the rising tide of noise in media almost demands that your seriously consider engagement with your market in order to retain some of your customers' attention.
Think about what you want to achieve, then start exploring how to "hire a blogger" or to use social media. The priorities you set will help you eliminate many options, as well as give you a sound approach to testing the waters and staging a more complex approach to engagement with the market and customers.