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    Successful Corporate BlogsI’m currently writing a series called “The Diary of a Business Blog” (you can find part 2 here) which looks at an imaginary business owner going through the process of setting up and developing a blog for his business. One of the questions that the first couple of posts has elicited from BBB readers (thanks, by the way!) is “what makes a successful blog?” and I guess that this is probably a key question for any organisation looking to create their own business or corporate blog.

    My answer: a successful business blog is one which fulfils the purpose and achieves the results that it was created for.

    Now that may sound like a bit of a cop out on my part and I suppose that, in one way, it is. However, there is a good reason why.

    There’s more than ONE type of blog

    The issue is that there are so many different types of business blog, it’s simply not possible to give a single definitive definition of what success would look like or indeed a blueprint for creating one.

    To give a couple of examples: if we look at a CEO Blog (such as Jonathan Schwartz at Sun or Richard Edelman’s 6am blog) then the writing style, format and content are going to be very different from one designed as a product blog. So too will be its aims. Likewise a corporate blog which brings together a community of users and developers for market research or product development, will have a very different definition of “successful” from an “expert blog” written by a consultant or legal professional looking to directly improve his/her profile and reputation.

    However, what they will have in common is likely to be a clear set of objectives, albeit all different, which they are focused on achieving. These objectives would have been identified as part of the planning process and should always be in the back of your mind (or written on a postit in front of you!) when writing and promoting your business blog. [Aside: I’ll be looking at some possible objectives and metrics to measure them in a post next week.]

    Some pointers for your Business Blog

    However, having ducked the question once, I’ll try to make amends now. If I had to make some suggestions to organisations starting a blog that would help to achieve the goals that they have set for it, then I would recommend the following:
    • Don’t try to be everything to everyone: the best type of business blog will often be very targeted in nature. It will have identified the people that it wants to appeal to and should be written in such a way that it attracts, retains and develops that audience;

    • Plan, focus and stay true to your goals: you planned your objectives when you started, so try not to be distracted from them. If those are what you want to achieve, then make certain that you concentrate on them and don’t get pulled off in different directions;

    • Write interesting, compelling, focused content: you know the audience you wish to attract and hopefully you also know what will interest them. So try to present them with that information in a way which is authentic and which communicates the passion that you have for the subject;

    • Make it visually appealing: that doesn’t just mean images, although they certainly play a major role, but also break the text up with sub headings, use a header which supports and shows off your brand and ensure that above all it is easy on the eye. Don’t distract your readers from your content or make it difficult to take in;

    • Launch it properly: Plan the launch and make sure that you use all of the means at your disposal to tell people about it. Get your Foundation posts in place, use your mailing list, pre-announce it if applicable, create online press releases to support it and ensure that you put some weight behind the activities. If you believe it’s worth reading (and let’s hope you do!) then tell people and enthuse about it;

    • Vary the style of posts: while the content should be targetted, there are different ways in which you can present it from “expert pieces” to lists and from news stories to links to other key sources. Make sure that you break it up and present the information in different ways – it’ll help get across the points you are looking to communicate. [Some ideas on blog posts here might be of use];

    • Market it religiously: there is no point in having a blog and just letting it sit there – tell people about it. Use all the methods available both online and offline, generic and blog specific and then use all of them again! While your writing will hopefully attract readers over time, you should still “spread the word” at every opportunity.

    Ultimately, the person best placed to judge whether the blog you are running has been a success is … you! However, don’t make it hard for yourself – know what you want to achieve with it and then going all out to make it happen.

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    Mindmaps for planning business blogsAs you may well have gathered, I’m a great advocate of planning your business blog before you set out and actually write it. It’s also good to keep that development going so that you can keep track of the different subject strands you are working with and allow you to expand them further.

    Previously, I’d always done this with pen and paper but have recently started to try something again that I first dabbled with a number of years ago as a student – and no, this is not going to be a politician-like cannabis related admission!

    What I’m actually referring to are mindmaps. They work really well in helping to develop different subject areas as well as extending the boundaries of what your blog could be doing for you – all without losing track of the key elements that you want to concentrate on and that your audience is looking for.

    Granted they are not for everyone but for someone like myself, who is very visually focused, they are an excellent way to visually represent ideas that you have for your blog and help you to develop them in different directions. And since business blogs need to be focused on and around the main subjects that you want to address, then using this method will allow you take your main subject areas and develop them naturally into adjacent areas. This is turn will help give your coverage of the topic even more scope and breadth.

    The mindmap of course does not need to be a static representation of your blog – by its very nature, it’s perfect to be developed as necessary. So as the needs and requirements of your readers expand (or even change) then so can the mindmap and your planning to reflect the additional elements that you need to be considering.

    As an example, I’m working through a new series for this blog at the moment on Blog Marketing and using a MindMap to help develop the different strands it should cover (still work in progress of course)

    This particular one was created using MindMeister which has an excellent free option as well as the upgrade to their premium and team services. However, even the free version gives you the chance to collaborate with others so if you have multiple authors on your blog then it would be an ideal tool to help co-ordinate input from all of the them and develop ideas for new posts and future direction.

    There are a number of online mindmap systems which you could use and a good start point for information is would seem to be MindMapping.org which lists a whole range of these elements as well as a range of other mindmap related resources – well worth checking out.

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    Successful Corporate BlogsI guess that this is probably the key question for any organisation looking to create their own corporate blog. My answer: one which fulfils the purpose that it was created for.

    This may sound evasive – a “cop out” if you like – and I suppose that, in a sense, it is. However, with so many different types of corporate blog, it’s simply not possible to give a single definitive blueprint for creating one.

    For example, the style and goals for a so-called CEO blog are going to be very different from one designed as a product blog. Likewise a corporate blog which brings together a community of users and developers for market research or product development, will have a very different definition of successful from an “expert blog” written by a specialist lawyer looking to directly improve his/her profile and reputation.

    However, what they will have in common is likely to be a clear set of objectives, albeit all different, which they are focused on achieving. These objectives would have been identified as part of the planning process and should always be in the back of your mind when writing and promoting your corporate blog.

    What might your objectives be?

    Ideally, aim for specific objectives and where possible ones that you can measure – attempting to quantify the ROI of a blog may seem a long way down the line when you start but believe me you will be asked the question at some point! However, in reality, you are more likely to have a mix with a number of general objectives and some specific targets thrown in.

    In most cases, people start with general objectives such as increased branding, improved reputation or a greater level of recognition. But, if you can add in areas where measurable results are possible, then this will help determine whether the blog meets those objectives and hence “qualifies” as a success.

    Some possible metrics that you could consider, include:

    • Increased enquiries generated through the blog using specific email addresses or forms

    • Incremental sales which can be tracked back to the blog

    • Sign ups either to your newsletter, white papers or other sources of information

    • RSS subscribers to the blog or individual categories within the blog if the level of content warrants it

    • Inbound links generated by the blog when others reference and link through to the content

    • Better Search Engine positioning because of the blog’s regularly updated content, internal structure and inbound links

    • New products identified and developed through the market research or product development carried out on the blog

    • Customer queries answered leading to reduced customer service or technical support calls

    Of course, not all of these will be relevant to you so use specific criteria which focus on the reasons for establishing the blog in the first place. In some cases, there will be a single overriding criterion which will be the sole indicator of a blog’s success or failure.

    Some pointers for your Corporate Blog

    If I had to make some suggestions as you start a corporate blog, which I believe will help it to achieve the goals that you have set for it, then I would recommend:
    • Don’t try to be everything to all people: the best type of corporate blog will identify the people it wishes to appeal to and will be written in such a way that it attracts, retains and develops that audience;

    • Plan, focus and stay true to your goals: you planned your objectives when you started, so try not to be distracted from them. If those are what you want to achieve, then make certain that you concentrate on them and don’t get pulled off in different directions;

    • Write interesting, compelling, focused content: you know the audience you wish to attract and hopefully you also know what will interest them. So try to present them with that information in a way which is authentic and which communicates the passion that you have for the subject;

    • Launch it properly: Plan the launch and make sure that you use all of the means at your disposal to tell people about it. Get your Foundation posts in place, use your mailing list, pre-announce it if applicable, create online press releases to support it and ensure that you put some weight behind the activities. If you believe it’s worth reading (and let’s hope you do!) then tell people and enthuse about it;

    • Market it religiously: there is no point in having a blog and just letting it sit there – tell people about it. Use all the methods available both online and offline, generic and blog specific and then use all of them again! While your writing will hopefully attract readers over time, you should still “spread the word” at every opportunity.

    Ultimately, the person best placed to judge whether the corporate blog you are running has been a success is … you! So give yourself the best chance to make it a success by knowing what you want to achieve with it and then going all out to make it happen.

    If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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    Sony BlogsWell the last time I looked at a Sony blog, it was with mouth open wide in disbelief as the ill conceived and executed ‘All I want for Xmas is a PSP’ fake blog hit the blogosphere and was in turn hit by it.

    Things have moved on and, over the past two months, Sony has launched two new blogs for different parts of their business:

    • one is the Sony Playstation blog aimed fairly and squarely at game players and developers of the Playstation product range;
    • the second is the Sony Electronics blog from that arm of the company which intends to focus on “Electronics-related activities, products and customers in the U.S.”.
    Two very different blogs, aimed at different audiences and done in very different ways but both ostensively Sony corporate blogs.

    Sony blogs: Sony Playstation blogSony Playstation Blog
    The Sony Playstation Blog is run by Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) and is a highly stylised blog built on a WordPress platform which is being written by a host of authors across a range of different departments within the PlayStation division. Development was carried out externally by Josh Hallett together with marketing firm Clark/Nikdel/Powell according to The Ledger.

    Posting is both regular and frequent as you would expect with the number of authors (though that takes a real level of organisation, I can assure you), but that is no more than the readers would expect in this market sector. The content is generally good with a mix of games information, firmware details and a more strategic view in some posts from “the top”. Good use of imagery and linking as well.

    The blogs colour scheme uses a black / dark grey background with the white text and the colours from the Playstation logo featuring on top. Altogether, very slick and supports the overall branding really well – though a slight concern that the colour scheme might prove difficult on mobile devices due to the smaller screen size, something that might be relevant considering the blog’s target audience.

    Even in its structure, the blog has been nicely put together with friendly permalinks, judicious use of categories and emphasis in the sidebar highlighting the comments that the posts are attracting a nice way to both encourage and emphasise them.

    Sony Electronics BlogSony Blogs: Sony Electronics Blog
    The Sony Electronic Blog has a totally different feel to it, not only in look (obviously!) but in the way that it is put together and presented. This would be fine it has a totally different target audience after all but there are aspects which struggle in its current state.

    Like the Playstation blog, this is also built on WordPress and while visually clean, the overall look and feel is relatively standard and uninspiring. It also gives the feeling of not yet being finished with:

    • the URL as part of news.sel.sony.com rather than its own domain;
    • calling it the “SEL External News Blog” in the Title Tag rather than using any specific Sony branding;
    • no link back to the blog homepage on the blog itself;
    • and, indeed no real homepage but instead going directly into the latest posts.
    Reinforcing the lack of posts with a (current brief) Recent posts box at the top of the sidebar is probably not the most sensible move either.

    In this start up period, there is a single writer who is Rick Clancy, the head of Corporate Communications for Sony Electronics. While clearly someone skilled in writing and who has both the ability and the authority to speak openly all good characteristics for a corporate blogger he is currently writing alone and the resulting weekly post is probably not sufficient for the sort of blog that this is trying to be.

    In short there needs to be more content though the quality of what is there looks to be good and certainly has managed to elicit responses and indeed readers leaving detailed comments, appraisals and criticisms. It’s difficult to know whether there is a follow up which is going on off blog to answer the comments but that would probably be sensible – perhaps some additional resource required? In any case, they are certainly throwing up topics which warrant posts focusing on the areas being asked about, thereby allowing Sony to put their side of the story.

    Summary
    I should start by saying that it’s great to see Sony using blogging to communicate with its customers and developers – for a company which is not known for its openness, this is a great move and one that I hope we will see others following.

    However, in looking at the two blogs, you will have no doubt gathered that, as they stand, I consider that the Sony Playstation Blog to be an excellent example of a well constructed blog while the Sony Electronics blog has had a less auspicious launch.

    And yet, which has the greatest potential? Well, this time my vote goes to the Sony Electronics blog and not just because of the relative position it is starting from. Its Playstation neighbour is vibrant but may find it difficult to create a real central personality because of the large number of authors and the nature of the gaming industry.

    Conversely, I get the feeling that the SE Blog has a potentially important role to play in the Electronics side of Sony’s business and presents a huge opportunity. The type of comments coming in show the areas which are most of interest to the readership and are giving Sony the chance to address these concerns for a whole raft of their customer base – what an opportunity and the ideal mouthpiece to achieve it through at their disposal! Let’s hope they grab this opportunity with both hands!

    As it stands: Sony Playstation Blog, a straight A grade. Sony Electronics blog, a C but with signs of real future potential if handled correctly.

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    Measuring the results of your blogPlanning a blog and then spending both time and effort on creating and developing it is all well and good but, as a business, we are looking to see results which warrant this outlay.

    Effectively, we have a business and marketing tool which has a focus, a target audience and a business aim it also has costs attached to it, often principally in terms of time, which need to be justified. Like all marketing activity, we are looking for a return on our investment and to calculate this, we need to measure how successful our blog has been for us.

    This is turn raises the question of what criteria we should be using to determine this. There are a number of people who have written on the subject, perhaps the most prominent of which is Charlene Li at Forrester with their report at the start of the year but here we are probably looking above and beyond the methods generally available to most organisations. There are also a number of intangibles that could be considered such as branding and profile development, but they are perhaps less relevant to a small business and even harder to measure effectively.

    However, that doesn’t mean that there is no way of identifying the results of a blog. On the contrary. However, first we need to decide what we are going to measure – here the criteria should reflect the main objectives that we set out for the blog.

    Some of the potential methods to evaluate these are:

    • Visitors: you might consider that it is the number of new or repeat visitors to your blog because this displays the attractiveness of the blog in terms of content and will develop the community element;

    • Comments: it could be the number of comments that you receive on your posts because you are looking to achieve a certain level of interaction with readers and develop more 2 way conversations;

    • Subscribers: the number of subscribers to your RSS feed may be important because you feel this best shows active interest from your readers and allows you to start to tacitly market to them;

    • Links: the number of blogs and websites which link to your blog or refer to your articles via trackbacks because the interest levels of other bloggers is important from a viral marketing perspective ;

    • Sign-ups: the number of sign ups to a newsletter which you may have as your main marketing call to action on the blog and which will allow you to develop in terms of a subscriber list;

    • Prospects: the number of new potential customers who get in contact through the contact form on your Blog (or special links) because you are looking for new client introductions;

    • Clients and Sales: while not a direct sales tool, the blog’s end goal is often to generate additional business, either as a direct or as an indirect result of our efforts. So measure it where possible;

    • Reduced Marketing Spend: the reduction in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) spend because of the search engine benefits that a blog brings.

    As you can see, there are a number of different methods we can use and so it is a case of deciding which is the most appropriate according to the aims we had for the blog. This is likely to be a mix of a number of the ones mentioned above but a suitable combination will give an appropriate idea of the level of results that the blog has achieved.

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