Archive for the 'Changing leadership' Category

Killer Content for Your Business Blog

Many corporate blogs are neglected, dull, and unimaginative while filled with press release content, marketing fluff, and old content. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Corporate blogs can be interesting and useful with a little focus and time devoted to it. Here are a few tips to help turn your boring corporate blog into something successful.

Content Roadmap

Most companies should create and maintain some type of content roadmap. The content roadmap will usually map out the next 4 weeks of blog posts with an author identified for each post. This helps to ensure that the blog topics are strategically aligned with corporate goals, varied across topics and types of content, and frequent enough to keep the blog active. The person responsible for the blog can work with authors to help identify topics and then make sure that the author has access to everything needed to complete the post (data, technical assistance, etc.)

Spontaneous Posts

Now that you have a content roadmap, you should also diverge from it frequently to allow for serendipitous blogging on hot topics or new ideas that people are passionate enough about to want to talk about them immediately. Monitor popular blogs, news sources, and events in your industry and respond to what others are saying. Join the conversation without waiting for the topic to come up on the content roadmap.

Thought Leadership

The best blogs have content that focuses on thought leadership. Blog about the things in your industry where your employees have expertise that can be shared with the world. Don’t just talk about your products; focus on your entire industry. Get people to discuss a variety of topics and new ideas. Don’t get stuck in a rut where all of your posts have essentially the same or similar content. You are not a thought leader if all of your posts are simply variations on a single idea. Chime in with your thoughts on a variety of topics across your industry.

Conversations

Always monitor and respond to comments on your blog. People get frustrated with blogs where people ask questions or provide feedback in the comments without any response or acknowledgment. Even worse are those companies that moderate every comment and delete anything that they do not agree with. Let people comment and disagree with your ideas. Some of the most interesting conversations happen in the comments of a blog post. You should also monitor what people are saying about you on other blogs, forums, Twitter, etc. and respond where appropriate.

Blogs are Fun

Have fun with your blog, and don’t be so serious all of the time. You can include interesting things that are happening within your company that aren’t necessarily work related (photos from a company ski trip). Admit it; you would rather read a blog post with great content and some humor mixed in, instead of something with great content that drones on and on like an old, boring college lecture. Make the content interesting and fun enough that people will look forward to reading your posts.

Corporate Blogging Tips

One of my earlier posts focused on why companies should have a blog, so let’s move past the question of should we blog and on to the discussion of how to write more effective corporate blogs.

Guiding Principles

At this point, I suggest reading my Social Media and Social Networking Best Practices for Business post. Specifically, I covered these guiding principles, which apply not just to blogging, but to other forms of social media as well:

  • Be sincere
  • Focus on the individuals
  • Not all about you
  • Be part of the community
  • Everyone’s a peer

Each of these 5 guiding principles has already been described in detail in my other post, so I won’t spend much more time on them here, but they are important for corporate bloggers to keep in mind.

Strategy and Vision

Blogs are still just another piece of the corporate communications puzzle (although an increasingly important piece), so spending some quality time thinking about what you want to achieve with your overall communication strategy and how blogging fits into that strategy is a good place for companies to start. You don’t want to use your blog to just pimp your products or talk about press releases. A blog can be used for so much more. Think about the areas where you want to lead the industry and the topics that you want people to think about when they think of your company. Use your blog to become a thought leader in the industry by sharing your expertise on those broad topics that are important and relevant to your company.

Think about who should be blogging on your corporate blog. It is easy to pick your top 5 executives, and give them access to the blog. In some cases, they might be the perfect people, but they aren’t always the best choice when it comes to accomplishing your goals for the blog. Go back to your discussion about your strategy for the blog and the topics that you want people to think about when they think of your company or your products. Who in your company has expertise in those areas? Do you have someone with great ideas? Are there any evangelists or other employees passionate about those topics? If so, recruit those people to contribute to your blogs. Someone passionate and smart, but outside of the senior management ranks probably has more time to spend on the blog and might just come up with some innovative and interesting ideas.

You should also branch out a little into the realm of unofficial / personal blogs. Encourage your employees to have their own blogs where they talk about their areas of expertise. I have blogged on various corporate blogs for companies and non-profit organizations that I am associated with, but I also continue to blog at Fast Wonder on various topics related to social media, online communities, and other technology topics. Having a personal blog has a number of benefits, including giving us an excuse to learn and research new ideas. Quite a few employees have similar blogs, and I like to believe that some people think that we have interesting things to say, and our companies benefit from having smart people discussing their expertise outside of official work channels. There is also a caution to go along with this. You don’t want to create a personal blog that is too focused on your company. If all you talk about is your company and you cover all of the same topics as your official blog, it just looks forced and insincere. You need to branch out and cover additional topics; show that you are a real person and not just a corporate shill.

Making it Happen

After the initial excitement wears off, it is easy for companies to neglect the corporate blog. We just forget to blog, and before long, no one has posted in a month (or two or three …) In some companies this isn’t a problem. If you already have a bunch of prolific bloggers neglect may not be an issue, but for the rest of you, and you know who you are, it really helps to have someone “in charge” of the blog. This person isn’t responsible for writing all of the content, but they can responsible for herding and nagging in addition to making sure that some specific strategic topics are being addressed on the blog. The role is part strategist and part mother hen (it isn’t all that different from managing communities), so you have to find someone who can think strategically about your industry and the right topics while they follow up obsessively to make sure people are actually posting to the blog.

Corporate blogging is a complex topic, and there will never be one magic formula that applies to all companies. Hopefully, these tips will help a few people make their corporate blogs even better. Keep in mind that you will make mistakes along the way. Learn from them, keep writing, and continue to make incremental improvements.

More Tips To Identify The Best Corporate Blogs

Two weeks ago, Alex identified ways that you can go about finding the best in corporate blogging.

This is a splendid idea, but what if you need to find the best corporate blogs in a certain category? Alltop, like Alex wrote, rocks, but there are several more ways:

1. Delicious

Think of Delicious as a curated version of Google. Sure, a general purpose search engine may work for finding resources most of the time, but when you’re trying to identify the best blogs in the field, a better metric that you can look at is how many other people like it?

2. Blog Directories: Technorati, BlogCatalog, IceRocket, Blogged

Much like how Yahoo! Yellow Pages function to businesses and individuals, blog directories serve to feature and list notable blogs in every categories. Some are more extensive than others, others are human curated, but all of them have a rating that compare blogs based on its frequency of posts, number of comments, and many other qualities. These ratings start your research in a fairly good place.

3. RSS Listing: BlogBridge Topic Guides

Another way to identify great blogs is by having industry experts who are keyed into the market trends and landscape do it for you. BlogBridge is a powerful RSS reader, but behind it lies a system of RSS feeds that they call “Topic Guide.”

Topic Guide allows you to not only see the top blogs in every category, from Dresses and Sewing to Drugs and Chemistry, but also subscribe to all of the blogs inside it in one click. See the blue button with the circle icon? Clicking one of those will give you an OPML file, which is a collection of RSS feeds that you can readily subscribe to inside your favorite reader.

4. Old School: Blogroll

So far, we’ve analyzed ways to measure popularity of blogs by how much other people rate them. But when all is said and done, my trustiest research tool is one that I get to find and modify myself. This is where the good ’ol Blogroll comes into play. Open almost any blog, and you’ll see a headline labeled exactly this on the sidebar. A blogroll is nothing more than a list of blogs that the author enjoys visiting. They can be extremely relevant to casual, but visiting them may yield places that you may not know exist before.

Community Management Skills

In my previous blog post, Community Managers: What Exactly Do They Do?, I provided some thoughts about online community managers careers. I promised to follow it up with another post about the skills it takes to manage communities.

What skills do I think it takes to manage a community?

  • Patience. The community manager should not be the one responding to all of the questions. She needs to hold back and let others within the community participate. This is especially true when someone in the community is being particularly difficult. It can be easy to fire off an angry response that might be regretted later, but waiting until the emotions cool a bit can make the response more thoughtful and constructive. This includes patience with newbie community members. She may have heard the question a million times from other newbies, but this is probably the first time this particular person has asked the question. Taking a little time to welcome new community members while pointing them to a list of helpful resources (nicely) can go a long way toward helping to grow your community.
  • Networking. The best community managers are the ones who seem to know everyone and have a large group of colleagues who can help in various ways. These people do not typically acquire large networks by accident; they have good networking skills and are constantly meeting new people and growing their network.
  • Communication. Community managers should be great communicators. In some communities where the interactions are primarily online, good writing skills are essential. Public speaking skills can also be required for those community managers who also spend time organizing community events, evangelizing, and speaking at conferences on topics related to the community.
  • Facilitation. I spend a fair amount of time making sure that the right people are involved and engaged in the community. No one person can (or should) respond to every question or comment, so the community manager is frequently in the position of facilitating the discussions.
  • Technical Skills. Having at least a basic understanding of the technologies used in your community are important. This varies widely depending on the community. Not all community managers need to be highly technical. It certainly helps to be able to do some things yourself, but in my case, I do what I can and rely on others for some of the trickier pieces.
  • Marketing. The community manager needs to be able to promote community activities, solicit new members, and in general get the word out about the community.
  • Self Motivation. In most cases, no one will be looking over the community manager’s shoulder telling him what to do. He needs to be self motivated to do whatever it takes to keep the community active and healthy without much direction from others.
  • Workaholic Tendencies. I do not mean that the community manager must work all the time; however, most communities do not exist in the 9-5 work hour schedule. People from all time zones participate at all hours of the day. Community managers probably want to at least check in on the community outside of business hours and respond to any hot topics or heated debates. This ties into the self motivation skills described above.
  • Organization. Community managers should also be organized. Keeping track of loose ends, making sure that questions are answered, being able to organize events, etc. all require good organizational skills and attention to detail.

I have no doubt that there are more skills required for community managers, and the skills required depend on the type of online community being managed, but I think this is a pretty good start.

Leadership, Responsibility and Transparency

Leadership is relatively easy when times are good.  People give leaders credit for success regardless of how much that leader actually had to do with that success.  The inverse is true when times are tough.  Leaders can be sure they will get the lion’s share of the blame, regardless of whether he/she personally earned it.  While this may seem unfair to some, it feels right to me.

Leaders become so by willing to take control of a situation and move it forward. Regardless of whether that situation is a war, a ship or a start-up, leaders are the ones who take charge.  Leading is tough gig.  You have to shoulder responsibility, dodge slings and arrows and motivate followers even when you feel disheartened.  Leaders tend to lack peers because organizations can really only have one person at the top, even in a flat hierarchical structure.  The buck needs to stop with someone.  So all of this burden is shouldered with minimal access to people who can help you refine your ideas, offer advice or even sympathy.

The good news for newly-emerging leaders is that the blogosphere is beginning to lighten the leadership burden.  A transparent leader who communicates the rationale and reasons for his/her decisions tends to get much more support.  Even people who disagree with the ultimate decision can be more supportive when they are able to understand how and why decisions were made.

As with everything else in life, there is a risk to being transparent.  Once a weakness is revealed, it is subject to exploitation.  Intellectual property needs to be protected and no one wants to give their competitors an unreasonable advantage.  But, we all have weaknesses and revealing them reminds everyone that leaders are human.  IP has value, but we tend to underestimate how much of that value is inherent in the person from whose intellect the property has emerged.  Just as extracting a single constituent component of a plant often is less effective than using the whole plant.  And working with, rather than against, competitors allows all of the businesses to define their own niche and devote the energy that they once spent hoarding information into actually growing the business.

The nature of leadership is changing.  The hierarchical dictators who hoard information are being left behind and responsible leaders who value transparency are taking over the helm.  Doubt my theory?  Just listen to how the nature and content of water-cooler conversations have changed in the last couple of weeks.