March 2008


Blogging Guidelines and Blogging PolicyEarlier this month, I wrote briefly about company blogging policy as part of my commentary on a piece covering the Blogging Guidelines issued by the IOC ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

Yesterday, I read a news story by Anne Broache at CNet News.com entitled Corporate employee blogs: Lawsuits waiting to happen? which looked at some legal issues that Cisco are currently experiencing regarding one of their managers who had been anonymously running a blog on patents where he had commented on cases regarding Cisco without revealing his connection with the company.

This particular case is quite specific but there are certainly some lessons to be learned from it which have a more general impact on companies, irrespective of their size, which are developing blogging guidelines of their own.

One element which Cisco has added to their own Blogging Guidelines following this case, covers the premise that where there is responsibility then there also needs to be clarity. This may be simply that the blogger works for the company in question or that they have a specific commercial role covering the subject area of their blog which means that their opinion is no longer objective. Their addition states:

“If you comment on any aspect of the company’s business or any policy issue the company is involved in where you have responsibility for Cisco’s engagement, you must clearly identify yourself as a Cisco employee in your postings or blog site(s) and include a disclaimer that the views are your own and not those of Cisco.”

To restate this in general terms, I’d normally advise that bloggers do not hide their identity and certainly not their business affiliations – they should also clearly state on their own blog that the views expressed are solely theirs and do not reflect those of their employer.

This is of course presuming that they are discussing subjects related to their work – if it is on a hobby or non work related topic then clearly there is no potential for professional bias coming into play and hopefully no conflict of interest. This is nicely summed up by Bob Pearson, VP at Dell who makes the comment:

“If someone is a fisherman and they want to talk about fly fishing outside of work, then that’s not our business, it’s personal. But if someone is going to talk about notebooks and anything related to Dell, they have to say they’re from Dell.”

The same is also true of leaving comments on other blogs, something which should also ideally be covered in a blogging policy. If it is a subject related to the company you work for then you would be wise to state your connection – in these matters transparency is everything and it can be potentially damaging if you are discovered trying to pull the wool over the eyes of others. You may remember the fall out from the “Walmarting across America” fake blog – if you are leaving ‘fake’ comments in a close knit community that you want to work with, then the impact on your company’s reputation can be equally damaging. So don’t!

For me, I think that in many respects the less formal take on it that Microsoft adopts is good, and focuses on the use of common sense. However, having said that, I have come across a noticeable absence of common sense from time to time, so their use of a list of FAQs which deals with how employees should apply existing company policies on confidentiality and other matters to the blogging world seems to be a sensible approach to take. When you create your own guidelines, do make sure that they are readable, accessible, understandable and applicable -then you won’t go far wrong.

If you are looking for help or guidance in creating a Blogging Policy or Blogging Guidelines then please get in touch. Alternatively, below you will find some links to documents which cover either internet or blogging policies from a range of companies that you may find useful as well:

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Optimising your BlogThis is the first of a 3 part series looking at blog optimisation. When people talk about how to optimise blogs, they are generally referring to Search Engine Optimisation while this is important, and something Ill be looking at in depth in part 2 of the series, its only part of what we should be thinking about when we optimise a blog.

First of all, I think that its important to look at optimising a blog for the people who really count – your readers! Its in your interest to make sure that their experience is as pleasant, productive and straightforward as possible. Why? Because these are the people that you want to connect with, the ones you want to talk to, the ones you want to work with and the ones that you want to recommend you to others. Be nice to them!

You need to make sure that you help them to find the information that they are looking for, point them in the direction of other subjects they might also find interesting and generally ensure that they stay around to concentrate on the content you are offering without struggling to find or use it.

So, in this respect, what are the areas that we should be looking at and how can we help our readers really benefit from what we write in our blog:

1. Write posts on topics which interest your readers
I know that we come back to content time and time again, but it really is so key that I’m afraid it’s worth repeating once more here. Write things that your readers will find useful, relevant and interesting! You already do? Great – then concentrate on the rest of this post and the other two in the series because they’ll support what you’re doing every step of the way. If you’re still looking for help then, when you’ve finished here, may I suggest checking out Brian Clark at Copyblogger – recommended. Seriously.

2. Consider the layout of your posts
Try not to have great swaths of text which create an often impenetrable barrier between your readers and the ideas you wish to communicate. Make sure that you break it up, have areas of white space and use subheadings to highlight your points – where appropriate, use bullet points as well and generally make sure that the layout supports your content rather than hides it.

3. Good Navigation
Good navigation should be consistent, easy to find and easy to follow. When your readers are on your blog, the last thing you want is for them to be floundering around trying to find other posts or searching unsuccessfully for them. Why not? Because they wont keep searching – they will have already left and gone to find it elsewhere.

Try to keep the main navigation menus in the same place on each page and if you use the general blog conventions such as the home page link being in the header, then remember that you are also looking to attract non blog readers who will be looking for a ‘home’ button. Bottom line, make navigation as intuitive as possible for everyone and let them concentrate on your content.

4. Easy Subscriptions
Whatever you may be using for subscription forms, make sure that it is easy for your readers to sign up for – this goes for both your RSS feed and any newsletter sign up you might have. For your RSS feed, offer an RSS via email option (and link to a quick overview of what RSS is and its use to your readers) and for your newsletter sign up, include it on all pages, reassure about your privacy policy and perhaps include a giveaway as a sign up sweetener too.

5. Help them to read more
If someone has been interested in what you have written then make sure they can find other posts on your blog which might cover the same or closely related topics. Either in your sidebar or following the individual posts, give them a list of the most popular, frequently read or other related posts which they would be interested in. Any element of this type, well placed, will help to direct them to other related posts helping, in turn, to keep your blog “sticky”.

6. Use Descriptive Categories
Blogs in general offer you a wonderful automatic filing system in the form of categories and archives – WordPress also offers you the option of using tags as well to help classify your posts. When it comes to naming your categories and selecting your main tags, choose them carefully and make them descriptive as they will provide another method for your readers to find relevant posts which will be of interest. If the category names also contain your key words then there will be additional Search Engine value as we will see in part 2. As they will also act as a type of secondary navigation for your readers, try to keep them consistent.

7. Search
The Search function is another element which needs to be on every page if someone has arrived at your blog for the first time and is looking for something specific, then the search box is likely to be their first port of call. So make it visible … and make sure it works!

8. Don’t forget to link out
Although conventional wisdom on normal websites says that linking out equates to losing a potential customer, this is not so on a blog. Links out are of great benefit to your readers because it takes them to sites that you deem to be worthwhile to read, hence developing further the trust they have in you and your recommendations. So when you write posts, dont forget to link out where applicable either to support your arguments or to direct your readers to other valuable resources.

9. Make Commenting easy
Comments should really be the lifeblood of blogs which enable you to develop interaction with your readers and ultimately a community feel, so make sure that you make it as easy as possible for your readers to leave them. At the same time you do need to safeguard your blog against spammers so what would be the best solution? Making your readers sign up or log in to leave a comment is likely to dissuade all but the keenest commenters and especially first timers. So do your comment moderation behind the scenes and use spam filtering software such as Akismet.

10. Can they contact you?
Try to ensure that you are as easily accessible as possible. I know a number of bloggers who are reticent to do this, but in a business blog it is imperative that your contact details can be easily found, ideally on a specific contact page. You should also have a Profile page so that people can get a little more background on you and what you do which again should contain contact details. It might well be to your benefit!!

As a final check, if you are able to make sure that your readers dont have to jump through hoops when they want to do something on your blog, then incorporate it. What do I mean? Well, look at it from your readers point of view as a test, go onto any blog or website and any time that you hesitate or arent sure what to do next on it, try to think why and then make sure that situation doesnt happen on your own blog.

To paraphrase the well used phrase – “they hesitate, you lose”. So make sure that your readers dont have to hesitate but can find their way around your blog and around the information it contains.

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Start or set up a blog: Key question 3This is part of a 3 part mini-series looking at the planning phase of setting up and starting your business blog.

Each post will focus on one of the 3 key questions that you should have clear answers for as you set up your blog before you start to write it.

Question 3:
What do you want to achieve?

Unsurprisingly, what we want to achieve with our blog is linked inextricably to how we intend to use it and who we are trying to appeal to – the first 2 key questions. If you want your blog to help raise your profile and demonstrate your expertise in your field, then you might be looking to build up references (and hence inbound links) or potential business contacts; on the other hand, if it forms part of your customer service offering, then you will want to see an improved customer satisfaction and reduced customer care calls.

In both of these cases, though, to get the best results from the blog, we need to both write and develop the blog with a clear focus and goal in mind. It not only gives us direction but also gives us a yardstick to measure each decision about our blog against, whether that’s what topic to post about, changes to blog design, positioning of services etc. If it doesn’t help us to achieve the goal, then perhaps we should be rethinking it. It sounds harsh, but ultimately our business blog is an element of our business and therefore needs to be contributing to it.

What we need to know clearly at the start is what we want to achieve with the blog and this, combined with the answers to questions 1 and 2, will help us to decide how the blog should look, where key elements need to be located, what to write, how to market it and so on.

But, what criteria should we be using to see how successful the blog is? Ideally they will be in line with the main objective that you set out for your blog but its necessary to have some way of measuring this. Here are some possible ones to consider:

  • You might consider that it is the number of new or repeat visitors to your blog;

  • It could be the number of comments that you receive on your posts which can indicate the level of interaction you are achieving;

  • Number of subscribers to your RSS feed may be important because you feel this shows active interest;

  • Number of blogs and websites which link to your blog or refer to your articles via trackbacks;

  • Quantity of new customers who get in contact through the contact form on your Blog or specifically the sales generated by the blog either directly or indirectly;

  • Number of sign ups to a newsletter which you have as a marketing call to action

  • Reduction in support or care calls if you are running your blog as part of your technical support or customer service function

  • Number of additional book copies sold if you are using it as part of your book promotion activities

  • Comments and suggestions if your blog is being used as a market research tool or product development support

  • Press contacts or offline articles generated directly as a result of your

Because the possible uses of a blog are so wide, so are the possible goals you can have and ways to measure them – it’s simply a case of deciding which is the most appropriate for you in accordance with the aims you have for the blog and your business. Bringing them all together should give us a feel for the overall Return on Investment (ROI), at least to a certain extent.

Above all, have your objectives and goals in mind will help your blog fulfil its potential and deliver the results you want. As the refrain goes, “when you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will do” – so keep a careful eye on what you want to achieve and you’ll make sure you’re on the right road from day one.

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Better Business Blogging - Quick Bloggers GuideOne of the key characteristics of a blog is the ability for people to comment on what you have posted there are some people who will even argue that it is not really a blog without them! Having this capability gives the blog its interactive element, opens up the opportunities for communications and can help forge the start of a real business connections.

Hopefully, when looking at how to approach the question of comments, you won’t be deciding whether to allow them or not, but rather how to elicit comments and how to handle the ones you receive. As you are doing so, here are some points that you might want to bear in mind:

a) How to allow comments
Just because you open up your blog to comments doesnt mean that have to let anything and everything appear on your blog. You have control over comments which appear and, on most blog platforms, there are a range of options open to you these can range from readers having to be approved and logged in before they can comment at one end of the scale, through to an open policy of no moderation at the other. For most, the right approach lies somewhere in the middle and depends on you, your companys requirements and the aims of your blog. As a good default position, I recommend starting with a level of moderation (ie. you approve comments before they appear) and then develop it from there.

b) Make sure you respond
When people have taken the trouble to leave a comment on your blog then make sure you respond where appropriate – remember, in most cases, you are looking to engage with the people who leave comments, so if they respond and ask a question then make sure that you reply to it. This gives you the opportunity to develop the conversation and work towards establishing and then building on a connection with your readers.

c) Consider a Comments Policy
Not just appropriate for corporates, any business blog whether its run by an individual or a company can benefit from openly stating what their policy on comments is. If you moderate them, then let people know that there comments wont appear immediately – at the same time, if you are clear about what is acceptable on your business blog and therefore what is not, you can cut down the comments which contravene them.

d) Encourage comments
Dont sit back and just rely on the comments simply appearing actively encourage them! This could be in the way you write your posts or by posing open questions as a closing line in your blog inviting opinions from your readers or simply by asking for them. And if your template just says No comments when a posts is still waiting for its first reply, then why not change it to something like Come on – be the first to comment! You never know!

e) “Reward” comments
In most blog software, the comments just appear on the individual posts, so why not highlight the people who are commenting and encourage other readers to join them by displaying a Latest Comments list in the sidebar of your main pages which will give both them and you additional visibility. For WordPress users, the Get Recent Comments plugin makes this easy to do.

f) Don’t simply block negative comments
Dont simply delete critical comments which come in. At least on your blog you have the chance to respond to them, while elsewhere they will go unchallenged and unanswered. You will find that by allowing and responding to them, you are more likely to gain greater respect by handling objections with grace and tact in the eyes of other readers of your blog. Also, if you are able to answer their points and solve the issue they have, then you have the opportunity not only to keep them as a customer but also perhaps turn them into an supporter for your company again.

g) Avoiding spam comments
Youll find that you do attract spam comments but there are ways to avoid them appearing as well as taking up your valuable time. You could use CAPTCHA methods or registration but, for me, the method that has least impact on your readers will be to use specialist software. In my opinion, the leader in this respect is Akismet which identifies the comments that it believes are spam and impounds them – free of charge, except for commercial use and very good.

h) Help people follow the conversation
Using a plugin such as Subscribe to Comments, you can allow your readers to sign up for an email notification of when any further comments have been left on the post. It’s a good way to help keep the conversation bubbling away and of course encouraging people to participate more. You could also encourage them to use comment tracking services such as CoComment, Co.mments and Commentful.

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corporate Blogging and the olympicsBefore anything else, I’d like to apologise to those of you who follow the blog. As you will be only too aware, I have taken a sabbatical from this blog over the last month which should have been better announced and pre-announced to you. I am, however, back and I hope writing posts which will prove to be full of interesting news and tips which I can share with you.

While I have been off, I have of course continued to follow the news and a story which caught my eye recently was about the guidelines which are being put in place for the athletes wanting to write their own blog at the Beijing Olympics. The very fact that the Internetional Olympic Committee (IOC) even feel the need to put guidelines like these in place demonstrates the unique position that blogs hold at the crossroads of journalism, business, corporate marketing and personal expression, particularly when they overlap in such a visible way.

Whether they are the right and appropriate guidelines or indeed whether they are enforceable is not something I want to debate here (that’s for another time) – the thing that struck me most is that the IOC had issued them at all and I applaud them for that. What they have done is make it clear what their position is and what they expect from the athletes. In doing so, they have also given themselves the opportunity to stop those who are stepping over the mark.

Businesses would do well to follow their example. Whether they take the route of a full blogging policy or, more likely, incorporating a section into their HR policies on both blogging and social networking, they will have stated and communicated their position and so be able to enforce it where necessary. Without it, they are in a much weaker position and employees may overstep the mark without even realising it.

Here are some elements to consider as you look at developing a corporate blogging policy or guidelines:

  • Deal not only how to write on the company blog but also what approach employees should take if they write about the company on their own personal blogs.

  • Ensure that they are clear about the companys confidentiality policy and that they also respect the companys stakeholders (ie. the company itself, employees, customers, partners, suppliers etc.)

  • Have someone who is ultimately responsible for your companys blog ideally this will be an internal person, though they could be external

  • Ensure that there is a stated person whom the blogger can ask if they have doubts about what would be appropriate to include in their blog

  • Try to set an agreed tone and editorial policy for the company blog and also ensure that you have a stated policy on how to deal with comments left on it

  • Take the time to educate your bloggers on how to get the best from the blog, what its benefits are and also what the risks could be and how to avoid them

  • Make sure that you monitor your own blog as well as what it being said about it and your company on other blogs

Whatever is actually in it, the most important thing is that there is one in place which is easily accessible and represents the way that the company wishes to approach the question of blogs, blogging and other social media.

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