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How to be a better blogger — and still keep your day job

Take these tips from top corporate bloggers

By David Strom – ComputerWorld
May 29, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld – Blogs are everywhere these days, to be sure. So when I posted on Computerworld’s blog a request for tips from the pros, I got flooded with information and plenty of tips — not unlike what happens in the real world with blogs themselves.

“[It] is a new media, and we are all pioneers in this corporate/social experiment,” said Y.F. Juan, director of product marketing at Accellion Inc., a computer vendor. How true.

“Blogs have the power to introduce new voices into the mix,” said former IBM executive John Patrick. “Say you’re a CIO who wants to develop some thought leadership around the need to rethink the company’s approach to mobile workforce strategies. Blogs can give you access to the grass roots and to your peers that you might not otherwise have had.” Patrick compared the precision and value of blogs to the free-for-all corporate intranet by labeling intranets as “the data dumpster — everything is there, but you can’t find what you want.”

So while there are still no hard and fast rules, there is some general consensus on what to do and what not to do. Let’s hear from the best corporate bloggers and what they’ve learned.

First, tell the truth

The first rule about blogging is that you need to be upfront and honest about all things good and bad. Search engines never forget. “If you make a mistake, admit it, learn from it, vow to do better next time, move on and keep on blogging,” said one corporate blogger.

Part of being honest is how you talk about your competitors. Don’t dis the competition, but don’t be afraid to link to them if and when it is appropriate. Demonstrate that you are aware of the world around you and that you don’t live in a bubble.

Another part of honesty is how you respond to attacks. “[A] company that can accept public criticism with grace and dignity looks good to current customers and prospects,” said Peter Cervieri of ScribeStudio, a computer services vendor. “Be prepared for negativity. Develop a thick skin, be prepared to respond to attacks and help to clarify the root issue and corporate commitment to resolving issues — do so quickly and sincerely,” said Jeremiah Owyang, who writes a blog about corporate marketing called Jeremiah the Web Prophet.

Second, find your voice and stick to it

All of our bloggers agreed that they stay current by reading plenty of blogs themselves, and some even have the time to go to blogging conferences to meet with their peers. But it all starts with the written word.

The best-written blogs — on any subject — are compelling because the writers have a clear voice, can express themselves and can be engaging. Most corporate bloggers say to write in the first person: “Don’t try to pass yourself off as ‘the company’ and address yourself in the third person,” says one blogger. Better yet: “No fake names,” says Martin Focazio, a software developer at ScribeStudio. “[Our] blog is genuinely giving us a corporate voice — and it is revealing that we’re actually human beings, working just like our customers, and we think and feel about things other than what we do to make money. It’s refreshing.” Reveal in that honesty and create a dialogue around it!

If you don’t have the skills or the voice, then seek help or find someone who does and is willing to blog. “Find a champion if your voice is not loud, or a coach to sharpen your voice,” Owyang said.

Above all, be professional at all times

It is OK to have a personality, but remember that you are representing your company.

Allow comments and read and respond to them carefully.

Most blogging tools have the ability to turn on reader comments, and the advice is universal that these comments are the heart and soul of the best blogs. “Blogs require interaction,” said IT consultant Amy Wohl.

That doesn’t mean that you have to post every comment that you receive, and you should be careful when dealing with people who will drag you into controversial areas.

“If you are transparent and the negativity is unwarranted, your readers will stand up for you, too. If you deserve the criticism, or [if] it is a misunderstanding, you will have a chance to clear it up,” said Kami Huyse, principal at My PR Pro in San Antonio, who writes the Communications Overtones blog.

Craft your corporate blogging policy now

Some companies don’t have any policies and let their employees post what and when they want. Others have more formal procedures, such as not posting about future financial performance for publicly traded companies. If you have a policy, make sure it covers both what is posted on the company-owned blog as well as what your staff posts across the Internet. Any potential blogger should “ask what is acceptable and stick with that. Don’t violate any laws or standards,” Huyse said. “Your employees are probably already blogging or participating in social networking sites like MySpace at a personal level. So if you are concerned about that, you should have a clear policy that spells out what will be tolerated.”

Part of crafting the right policy is feeling out your boss on blogging, and getting his or her approval before creating that first post. And think about your future bosses as well. Meryl K. Evans, who is a blogger and professional writer and editor, asked: “When you go on that job interview, do you want the interviewee to have read the [blog] entry?”

Finally, understand the mechanics and know your tools

Part of being a better blogger isn’t just about posting the right content, but working the Web and understanding the blogging ecosystem. Make sure you get the right URL and pick a catchy blog name. Promote your blog on Technorati and make use of RSS feeds with services such as FeedBurner so that others can find your blog. Mention the blog’s URL in various corporate publications, in your e-mail signature and in discussions with other bloggers. Look to see who is linking to your posts and what they are saying. Most blogging tools have a “trackback” feature that reports on this automatically. Have links to your blog or blogs on your corporate home page to drive traffic to them.

Above all, don’t reinvent the wheel and be tempted to write your own blogging software. There are too many great products already out there. “[Don’t] even think of building the blogging platform yourselves. It’s a waste of time and money. Use open-source software like WordPress.org or license Movable Type and customize it to your heart’s content,” said Debbie Weil, author of the forthcoming The Corporate Blogging Book: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know to Get It Right and a fellow of the Society for New Communications Research. She also likes content management systems that have blog templates, such as Lotus Domino, and licensing software from Sun Microsystems Inc., SocialText and iUpload.

Steve Nelson, executive vice president and co-founder of Clear Ink, an Internet marketing and professional services firm, said writing blogs made him better informed and and gives him a stake in creating cyberspace mind share. “If you have specific expertise or interests that you track, your [blog] posts and commentary on that subject become available to those who don’t track that topic closely.” And correspondingly, your own decisions become better informed as well.

David Strom is a writer, editor, public speaker, blogging coach and consultant. He is a former editor in chief of Network Computing and Tom’s Hardware and has his own blog at http://strominator.com. He can be reached at [email][email protected][/email].