With tens of millions of blogs online today, major corporations have started to recognize the value of a corporate blog for communicating with customers. However, corporate blogging is far different than the more traditional blogging that most of us encounter on a daily basis. Corporate blogging brings its own unique set of challenges and opportunities that must be considered and addressed by the company in order for its users to have a positive experience.
In this article we’ll examine the issues that face corporate blogs, we’ll observe some current trends, and we’ll look at a large sample of blogs from companies of various sizes in a wide variety of industries.
Purposes of Corporate Blogs
Probably the most significant reason for companies to manage a corporate blog is the communication benefits it can provide. As a higher percentage of the population uses the Internet for researching and buying products and services, companies can often benefit from having a more direct line of communication with customers and potential customers.
1. Communication with customers and the public
While websites in general provide plenty of opportunities for corporate communication, blogs can eliminate barriers and allow a company’s executives or employees to communicate directly with anyone who visits the blog. Those who read the blog will sense a much more personal message in what is generally a more relaxed environment than many other types of corporate communication.
Companies that place a priority on communicating with customers through a blog display a certain openness and responsiveness that today’s consumers appreciate. A blog is able to bring a company and its customers together through the open sharing of ideas, issues, announcements, events and feedback.
2. Demonstration of corporate responsibility
In some cases, corporate blogs are not used to directly promote the products and services of a company, but rather to demonstrate ways in which the company is giving back to the community or to show that the company is conducting its business responsibly. McDonald’s effectively uses its blog to do just that.
Corporate responsibility can also be demonstrated by using blogs as a medium for improving products and services and helping customers get more value out of them. A company that truly promotes open two-way communication through its blog is demonstrating to customers that it is committed to doing everything within its power to provide a quality product.
3. Reputation management
The issue of reputation management continues to grow in importance for businesses both large and small. With technology available that allows anyone to post damaging statements online to be seen by the world, blogs provide companies with a way to prevent problems before they happen or help improve situations when it is too late for prevention.
Because of the level of communication that can take place on a corporate blog, companies have greater control over the messages that the public receives about the company. They can quickly respond to any negative publicity and can help prevent such situations by adopting an open communication strategy that develops the trust of consumers.
4. Promotion of products and services
In very few cases, the primary purpose or goal of a corporate blog is to directly sell more products. In most cases, the blog is seen rather as a valuable tool that can indirectly assist the company to achieve more sales, but direct promotion is rarely the priority. However, some companies are able to find creative ways to promote their own products through blogs.
In some examples we’ll see throughout this article, companies are using their blogs to provide information or announcements about products, which of course can be done with the intent to boost sales. Some blogs provide content that shows readers new ways to use products or explains features that might not be commonly known. In other situations, products aren’t even mentioned in many of the blog posts but are most likely linked to in some area of the blog, frequently the sidebar.
5. Provide executives and/or employees the chance to communicate openly
One of the real advantages of a blog to a traditional company website (not to say that a blog should replace a traditional website) is the personal nature in which a writer and reader can communicate and interact. Even readers who do not participate in making comments likely notice that the post was written by an individual, and that individual may be the best way for the reader and potential customer to connect with the company.
Bloggers enjoy sharing their thoughts and information with readers, and readers enjoy being able to connect with the writer of the content. A corporate blog can add personality to the company in the eyes of readers, and employees can benefit by being able to express themselves and share with readers.
Potential Issues for Corporate Blogs
Although blogs provide all kinds of opportunities for companies, there are also several common struggles that can be experienced. In order for a company to have a positive experience with its blog and for the blog to be useful and relevant to readers, the company must consider these issues ahead of time and develop a plan to address and prevent them from happening.
1. Negative comments
While communication is the major benefit of corporate blogs, it can also work the other way. Not all communication that occurs through blogs is positive. The presence of negative comments may not be a big issue on smaller blogs run by individuals, but they can be a problem for corporate blogs. After all, the company’s reputation management isn’t being helped by a blog that includes a lot of negative comments from readers.
In order to avoid potential issues with negative comments, all comments should be moderated for approval before appearing on the blog. This way, unreasonably harsh or profane comments can be deleted without ever being posted to the blog. Some blogs also require users to create an account in order to post a comment.
2. Consistent and frequent posting
Blogs in general, not just corporate blogs, often suffer from abandonment or long periods of inactivity. While it may be acceptable for an individual to be inconsistent with a blog, corporations could possibly do more harm than good with a blog that doesn’t get much attention. When visitors arrive and see that nothing new has been posted in a long time, it sends the message that the blog is not important to the company and that it doesn’t take this form of communication with customers very seriously.
Corporate blogs have a wide variety of posting schedules. Some are very active, with multiple posts each day, while others have posts much more infrequently. Before launching a blog, or when evaluating an existing one, the company should consider what type of posting schedule would allow for the blog to be used as an effective tool for itself and its customers.
3. Usefulness of posts
Another major issue facing corporate blogs is the challenge of providing interesting content that is useful in some way to readers. Of course, the blog needs to benefit the company in some way as well, so content development can often be a struggle. Although a blog is intended to bring some type of benefit to the company, simply creating posts that promote products or services will draw little interest from readers and will have poor results.
Typical content for corporate blogs includes discussion of issues that are relevant to the company or industry, press releases, information to help readers use the company’s products more effectively, and other specific types of content that appeal to the company’s target market.
When examining various corporate blogs, you will notice a great variety in the types of content being published and their usefulness to readers. Some companies do an excellent job of adding value for readers, while others are little more than another form of advertisement. Not surprisingly, the ones that have creative solutions to this challenge are usually the most effective.
4. Who is going to write the content?
Although corporate blogs typically include some sort of disclaimer that the information and opinions provided do not necessarily represent those of the company, the reality is that a blog is a direct reflection of the company in the eyes of visitors. Some corporate executives handle blogging responsibilities, but these people are obviously extremely busy with other work, and these blogs are rarely very active.
Most companies have employees who would enjoy being able to share their insights through a blog, but the company has to weigh the pros and cons of doing so. A corporate blog is useless without content, so the company does need to consider who will be responsible for providing it.
5. Promoting open communication without damaging the company
Because of the openness of blogs and because they connect with readers on a personal level, the chance exists that the communication being done through a blog will damage the company. In most cases, companies are careful about who is allowed to publish content, and those individuals may be given restrictions as to what they can say.
Some companies have a corporate culture that is more open and are willing to let employees participate in blogging activities, and other companies are more restrictive. Companies face the challenge of embracing the nature of blogging without also bringing some of the baggage that may come as a result of poor choices.
6. Lack of focus
Simply having a corporate blog isn’t enough. In order to make it effective for the company and for readers, there must be some sort of focus or plan for using the blog to everyone’s benefit. Companies should consider who will be writing the content, how frequently new posts will be published, what types of content will be published and how the content will help the company and readers.
Many corporate blogs suffer from poor direction or a lack of focus. If the blog is nothing more than a place to publish press releases, it is unlikely to ever draw much interest from readers, because it really serves no purpose for them. The most successful corporate blogs have a clear focus, and those involved in running the blog understand how they can help readers and the company through their efforts.
7. Converting traffic into something useful
Blogs may be able to attract visitors and regular readers, but the company still needs to convert that into something of significance. The strategy here depends on the focus and priorities of the blog. If the company’s goal with the blog is strictly to present the company in a positive light and to increase exposure of its actions in the community, then it wouldn’t be necessary to attempt to convert visits to the blog into product sales.
Trends in Corporate Blogs
Like other kinds of blogs, corporate blogs often follow their own unique trends. Of course, this isn’t to say that all corporate blogs have these things in common, but many do.
1. Simple layout, with a lack of visual appeal
Although many companies involved in corporate blogging spend huge sums of money to promote themselves to customers and potential customers, their blog designs are typically very simple. While content is the primary element of a blog, one would think that major companies might not want a blog design that looks so basic.
Going against the trend:
Nike is one of the few companies that have put more emphasis on the look of the blog.
Although layouts and designs in corporate blogs are usually unremarkable, most companies clearly attach their business to the blog by branding elements in the design. Most corporate blogs include logos or standard branding that would appear in other places, such as the main portion of a company’s website. Additionally, corporate colors are typically used for the blog design to promote consistency in branding.
3. Multiple authors
Most corporate blogs include a number of different writers who work together as a team to provide content to readers. Because these people typically have jobs outside of running the blog, it’s difficult to get a significant amount of content from one individual. In most cases, if the company wants an active blog that includes regular posts, multiple authors may be a more realistic option.
How blogs handle multiple authors can vary. Many corporate blogs include a small picture of the author in posts, which can help readers connect with the writer — and, as a result, with the company, too. Some companies have different writers who cover different topics on the same blog, and others separate topics into a few different corporate blogs.
4. Networks of blogs
When companies want to cover a wide variety of content in their blogs and employ many different writers, they will often have a small network of blogs rather than one all-encompassing blog. In these cases, the blogs will be separated according to topic, or sometimes each writer will have his or her own blog. This allows the company to publish more content and be more specific with content so that it can truly be of value to readers — plus, it helps readers get only the content that interests them.
5. Few comments
Although blogging is intended to be two-way communication between companies and readers, many corporate blogs attract very few comments to their posts. This seems to be in part due to the type of content that is presented. Companies that publish typical blog content that isn’t focused on their products or themselves tend to draw more comments than those that publish corporate announcements or posts that are mainly intended to promote a product.
6. No ads except for internal ads
The only ads that are typically found on a corporate blog are for the company’s own products and services. This is not surprising, but it is a drastic difference when compared to blogs in general. Because of the specific purposes and intent of corporate blogs, ad revenue is inconsequential, and ads would be a distraction to readers and a hindrance to the company’s goals for the blog.
Monster uses a large banner ad on its blog for its own services, but no outside advertisements.
7. Links to the company’s home page as well as products and services
Every corporate blog will at some point link back at least to the company’s home page, and sometimes to specific products as well. Sidebars in corporate blogs are frequently used to direct visitors to other parts of the company website and provide brief information about products with links to specific pages or sections of the website. Without advertisements in the sidebar, there is plenty of space to do some internal promotion.
8. Separate domains
It’s not uncommon for a corporate blog to be kept on a separate domain than the company’s website. There is a good deal of variety in practices with this, and it certainly isn’t the case with every corporate blog, but many companies have chosen to use a separate domain.
Gallery of Corporate Blogs
Here, we’ll take a look at more than 40 corporate blogs. To start, we’ll point out some that have particular items of interest, and other will simply include links and screenshots.
American Express has one of the more impressive corporate blogs. Its blog is part of OpenForum.com and provides information and resources to business owners. The blog at Open Forum is nicely designed and laid out. The sidebar on the left is used to promote some of the company’s products as well as for general navigation. Take a look at the posts and you may recognize some of the writers, including Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin. With the Open Forum blog, American Express attempts to provide valuable information that will help its target market of small business owners, rather than directly promote its own products.
McDonald’s Corporate Responsibility Blog provides content exclusively on just that. You won’t find content here about McDonald’s food or current deals, just information on what the company is doing around the world. This blog is a good example of one that has a specific focus and purpose. The design and layout is very simple, but it does include some McDonald’s branding, and it clearly shows visitors that McDonald’s takes corporate responsibility very seriously.
Best Buy has a few different blogs. The Holiday Rituals Blog provides short posts that give information on specific popular products or recommended Christmas gifts. Because the posts cover specific products, it’s puzzling why the product descriptions are not linked back to the main Best Buy website, where those products can be purchased. Nevertheless, the blog has a nice colorful, winter-inspired design.
Best Buy also has a blog at AskABlueShirt.net that provides information on the upcoming digital TV transition. This blog has a lot of Best Buy branding in the design, including the colors, the logo, and the picture of the worker in the blue Best Buy shirt.
The Nike Basketball Blog obviously places more importance on the look and visual appeal of the website than other blogs. The background is a large image of a basketball court, and a big picture of Kobe Bryant is currently in the header. Each post has its own header image, and some include pictures of NBA players who are sponsored by Nike. The content of the blog is primarily focused on drawing attention to athletes who are affiliated with Nike, which would ultimately lead to more shoe and apparel sales, because the players have a lot of influence on sales.
Wal-Mart’s blog is located on a separate domain, and even Wal-Mart’s branding may be missed at first glance. The content is mostly related to information about products that can be bought at Wal-Mart. Unlike Best Buy, Wal-Mart does link to pages on its own main website, and the Sam’s Club website, where specific products can be purchased.
The Cisco blog, The Platform, is used primarily to publish company news. There are some informational posts that don’t have to do with the company, but most are Cisco-related. The Platform uses a three-column layout that includes common blog elements, such as a tag cloud in the right sidebar.
Like Dell, Lenovo also uses multiple blogs for different topics. Its blog network’s front page contains links to all of the various blogs, plus it includes elements typical of traditional blogs, such as a Flickr photostream and recent Delicious bookmarks.
Possibly of interest to Smashing Magazine readers is Lenovo’s Design Matters blog.
Monster’s blog also has a design that fits well with the design and color scheme of the main website. Most of the content is geared to job searchers and those interested in career-related information. The header of the blog includes a banner ad for Monster’s resume-writing services.
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson’s blog, JNJ BTW, includes a variety of content, including information on health, social action that the company is involved in and even a recent post that is an apology for an advertisement that some people found offensive.
Yahoo! has several different blogs, including Yodel Anecdotal, on which Jerry Yang recently posted a copy of an email he sent to all Yahoo! employees about current layoffs. Yodel Anecdotal has a colorful design and includes content relevant to various aspects of Yahoo’s business.
The Yahoo! Search Blog is specifically focused on search-related content.
The Yahoo! Developer Network also has its own blog.
Southwest tries to distinguish itself as a company that has a more fun and laid-back corporate culture than other major airlines. The Southwest blog also takes that approach with its design.
Quicken takes a unique approach with its blog, What’s the Diff? Content is rarely relevant to the company itself but is rather diverse, with a lot of different subjects covered. The blog includes some advertisements for Quicken’s mortgages.
The LinkedIn blog has a design that fits well with the rest of the website. The content is focused on providing LinkedIn users with information that can help them get more value out of the main website, which draws more comments than the content on many other corporate blogs. Like some of the other blogs featured here, LinkedIn includes a Flickr photostream.
37signals also has a separate Product Blog that focuses on the company and its products.
Aviary’s blog includes content that is actually relevant and useful to users of its products, rather than just posts about company news and information. The design of the blog features a colorful and attractive header, which is appropriate because the company offers browser-based tools for designers.
Best Western – On the Go with Amy
On the Go with Amy isn’t a typical corporate blog like many others featured here, but it is affiliated with Best Western. Amy writes about her travels and provides tips to readers for their own travels. The blog uses a fun and colorful design with an illustrated header.
Additional resources on corporate blogging:
- The Blog Council – “a community of senior executives in charge of social media at the largest corporations in the world.”
- 40+ Topics for Corporate Bloggers
- 35+ Examples of Corporate Social Media in Action
- 15 Companies That Really Get Corporate Blogging
- 5 Reasons Why Business Blogs Fail
- The Corporate Blog’s Dying Off
- Corporate Blogs on Alltop
- Most Corporate Blogs are Unimaginative Failures
You may be interested in the following related posts:
- 10 Harsh Truths About Corporate Blogging
- Colors In Corporate Branding And Design
- Corporate Identity Manuals and Guides