This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.
In a world where small businesses with corporate blogs receive 55 percent more traffic than small businesses that don’t blog, companies should be taking note on how to improve their blogs, attract more readers and get more results.
But still, a lot of companies with corporate blogs seem to be bogged down in uniformed policies and simply aren’t thinking outside the box. Afraid to take on colorful personalities or step a bit outside of their company’s happenings, many corporate blogs employ an official tone announcing the play-by-play updates of company news. This is just one mistake that businesses are making in the blogging world.
There is a laundry list of issues that need to be addressed when it comes to improving corporate blogs, but here we’ve narrowed down the key elements that companies should focus on. Here are 10 tips for corporate bloggers hoping to make a positive splash in their communities.
1. Establish a Content Theme and Editorial Guidelines
When creating a product or service, you must be able to define the value that it’s bringing to consumers. In the case of a blog, you need to clearly define the focused theme that your team will follow. Choose a blog name and theme that fits well with your company’s expertise, but don’t be afraid to branch out into a larger space. Your blog should provide pertinent information for consumers interested in your area of business.
Once you’ve chosen an area to cover, create a set of editorial guidelines that your bloggers will follow. Guidelines can include appropriate verticals and topics to cover, as well as how and when posts should be written.
A clear goal and theme for your blog will make it easier for users to know what to expect. For example, Dogstuff, an online shop for canine gifts, toys and supplies, hosts a blog called Dog Blog. The blog is simple and to the point, and it’s more than evident that the blog is about dogs. The theme is specific enough for readers to understand what they may find, but it is such a broad topic, that almost limitless posts are possible.
2. Choose a Blogging Team and Process
Choose a team of core bloggers to begin your blogging adventure. Select individuals that are knowledgeable and comfortable writing about the areas you would like to cover. Also, it’s key to choose people who write well and have a great online presence.
Train your bloggers on the editorial guidelines and decide what type of writing and editing process you would like to put in place. Some companies prefer to elect an editor or group of editors to have a final look at all blog posts, while other companies allow their bloggers to publish directly. Figure out the level of comfort you have with your blogging, editing and publishing process and implement a procedure that works well for your team.
3. Humanize Your Company
A company blog is an opportune place to let down your hair and get to know your customers. Think of it as a conversation between people, not between a brand and one person. In order to have a conversation, you need two people — a blogger and a reader.
Give your corporate bloggers the freedom to be themselves. Encourage them to have their own personalities and writing styles. This type of diversity is more representative of your company than any monotonous tone that you could manufacture on your own.
Always keep in mind that your blog is about people connecting and conversing with people, not a corporation. Throw away that ‘corporate’ concept, and you’ll be ahead of most.
4. Avoid PR and Marketing
If maintained correctly, your blog will act as a repository of real analysis and opinions provided by your company’s fine employees. The type of insight and expertise that a blog can demonstrate is far more useful than any PR pitch that you could post. Stay away from trying to sell your readers. There are appropriate venues for that, and your blog shouldn’t be one of them.
Continue to add to the conversation, adding value for your readers. Your opinions will be priceless. And for the times that you don’t have an opinion on an important topic, gauge your community’s opinion by taking a poll or interviewing key people.
Lululemon Athletica, a yoga-inspired athletic apparel company, constantly adds value to its community through its blog by providing posts on topics that their core followers would appreciate. Some of the most recent posts were on how to do a handstand, protect the lower back, and explore a new city.
Readers will get a taste of the massive knowledge bank available at your company. Take your mind off of marketing, and you’ll find that the analysis that you provide sells your company better than a press release ever could.
5. Welcome Criticism
Oftentimes, corporations shy away from opening up their websites and blogs for commenting and interaction, because they are afraid of the harm that criticisms may cause. Make it a policy to welcome criticism, thinking of it as an opportunity for feedback and improvement. There are lots of ways to deal with negative feedback, so don’t be afraid to open up to your community.
6. Outline a Comment Policy
Be aware that if you open up your blog for full feedback (which you should), you will get a variety of comments — constructive, complimentary, hateful, and spam. Be prepared for everything. Create a comment policy that your team can follow, and make sure everyone is on same page. Outline the types of comments that should be responded to, deleted or passed along for follow-up.
7. Get Social
Make sure your blog is open for comments and utilizes share tools, such as Facebook, Twitter and Digg. Share tools allow your users to pass along your content. Why not allow your readers to promote your work?
Put forth an effort to respond to comments or forward them on when a specific employee could offer the best expertise in that area. Make sure each employee maintains a personable tone when responding to comments, so that readers know that your bloggers are genuine.
Lastly, if you haven’t done so already, implement a social media strategy for your blog, creating the appropriate profiles across social networks that your readers and customers are active on. Usually, Facebook and Twitter are a good start, and YouTube is a must for video-sharing. When you post on your blog, announce the new post on your social networks and ask for your readers’ opinions on the subject.
Promote your social presence on your blog, by implementing links, buttons and widgets that link to your social profiles. This will enable readers to stay connected with you across platforms. Whole Foods’ blog, Whole Story, for example, displays its social links prominently at the top of the blog.
8. Promote Your Blog
Just as you would promote any other company initiative, get the word out about your blog. Share the URL on your website, social networks, business cards, e-mails, and advertisements.
Without promotion, building an audience can be difficult. Get behind the quality work that your team is putting into the blog and promote away.
9. Monitor Mentions and Feedback
One way to get a pulse on your blog and its effects on the community is to monitor mentions and feedback. Set up Google Alerts for your brand, blog name and any keywords that might be relevant. Search on Technorati and Twitter for those set terms.
To make things easier with Twitter, set up custom search columns in a Twitter client, such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or CoTweet. The columns will update in real time, keeping you up-to-date on brand and blog mentions at all times.
Getting more sophisticated, you should look into social media brand management tools, such as Radian6, for monitoring keywords across social sites.
10. Track Everything
You’re probably accustomed to tracking everything, and your blog is no different. If your blog is a page on your website, make sure your current web analytics tools are set to track all the same data that it monitors on your website. If you don’t currently have a web analytics tool, check out Google Analytics, a free analytics tool with an easy-to-use interface.
At the minimum, make sure you’re tracking site traffic, where referrals are coming from, and traffic-wise which posts are doing best. Learn from the data and adjust your blogging guidelines accordingly.