Corporate Blogging Survey 2005

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May 2, 2006

How Do You Build A Community With A Corporate Blog?

How do you build a community with a corporate blog?

This week we met with a client who asked a simple question, "How do you build a community with a blog?" I thought I'd attempt to answer the question in this post.

An online community is a group of individuals who come together to talk about a particular topic. For a company starting a blog, a blog community for their industry may already exist. For such companies the process of building a community is less about evangelizing blogging, and more about attracting the existing community to your blog. If a company is the first to blog, lack of blogger conversations may not mean a lack of readers.

To attract bloggers and readers you have to conduct effective blogging. Blogging effectively is less about promoting your company and products, and more about using strategies that attract readers.

Internet marketing and organic search engine optimization use the same strategy to attract customers to a website, and in part public relations uses some of the same techniques. Though I'd say that organic SEO might in some way be considered purer, when compared to PR, in the profession's efforts to attract readers. Mostly some part of a PR campaign will typically involve PR professionals pitching a story directly to a journalist. Organic SEO professionals do pitch their websites to other webmasters, but the process of begging for a link rarely works in today's busy world. You'd have to have a pitch email and make sure you have some great content that complements the target website.

To build a website that has top rankings on search engines requires that you build a relevant content rich website that contains content that your customers would be willing to read. Gain links from other related websites and have a search engine spider accessible website.

The process of building an online blogging community has a lot to do with the tactics of SEO but the way you achieve the goal of building a community does not necessarily have anything to do with writing about your company and products. Stonyfield Farms is a great illustration of this model. The company sells Yogurt yet Stonyfield runs two blogs, one about healthy kids and the other about organic farming. Both blogs have little to do with eating or buying Yogurt. Yet the content strategy of providing content to their audience that meets their psychographics does more to demonstrate Stonyfields commitment to organic farming, and how customers can use Yogurt to build healthy kids. The Stonyfield blogs are successful because their products are associated with content that is good for the Stonyfield brand.

Content is critical, but more still is conducting outreach to other bloggers. Commenting on other blogs, writing articles about other blogger's ideas and sending trackbacks. Try interviewing other bloggers.

Effective blogging is not media relations; the process of pitching ideas and products is not what effective blogging is about. Really blogging is developing a content and outreach strategy that will produce readership and links through the context of your conversation with readers and bloggers online. Someone comments or links because your text and ideas are relevant to them.

You can still use traditional media tactics, but leave that to the PR department, your corporate blogger should concentrate on relevant content and outreach that's helps to propel a community's conversation forward.

Building that blogging community quickly will depend upon the existence of an existing blogger community and potential readership. Either way dialogue is what blogging is about and the most effective way to build a community online.

Posted by johncass at May 2, 2006 5:50 PM

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John: I really enjoy your blog but I am insulted by the line: "You can still use traditional media tactics, but leave that to the PR department..." which implies that PR just has an understanding about MSM. Since when is "relevant content" not part of a PR professional's job? Since when is driving conversations and buildung an audience (or call it community) not part of a PR pro's job? If you look at the many PR bloggers you'll see that PR is indeed embracing social media. And why all the conversations about how PR should adapt to the changing media world. We all need to work together in the future - the blog & social media consultant, measurement firms, SEO providers and yes, also the PR people. Count them in - not out!

Posted by: Tina Lang-Stuart at May 3, 2006 3:54 PM

Tina, thanks for the comment. My meaning on the sentence "leave that to the PR department," was leave media relations to the experts - PR professionals.

That does not mean I think that PR professionals cannot provide good advice and can not work as effective bloggers for their company, rather I think the opposite and PR professionals can be very well equipped to work in this new social media environment.

However, a PR professional is often not the best person to blog for their company. If you run a large automobile company, you probably want a car designer to blog. If you run an airline, you probably want an airline attendant to blog. It all depends upon the strategy of the company, and their audience. But I'd guess I'd prefer to read the blog posts of someone whose day job is working inside a particular company rather than conducting the PR. After all in a traditional media article which includes an interview with a company employee. How often do you hear the PR professional referenced, it's going to be the CEO, departmental manager or expert who speaks on behalf of the company because he or she can speak with domain expertise.

Now if you are running a PR agency, it makes perfect sense to me that you'd have a PR professional write the blog posts. I want to learn about their expertise in PR or even the new medium of social media. In fact I think the PR bloggers is one blog community that is really pushing the envelope when it comes to thinking about how to use blogging as a communications tool.

In addition, there are quite a few corporate blogs run by PR consultants who write in public for their customers. And those blogs are successful, sometimes the professional have a lot of expertise in an industry sometimes not.

You will recall the rest of my paragraph stated, "your corporate blogger should concentrate on relevant content and outreach that's helps to propel a community's conversation forward."

What I mean by that is the person who is the corporate blogger. That blogger might be a PR professional. But the tactics the blogger uses to be an effective blogger are blogger relations tactics not media relations tactics.

Here I use my definition of blogger relations, the process of using blogging to conduct a dialogue with your audience rather than pitching other bloggers directly to review or mention your company or product. The term blogger relations can also be defined as the process of pitching bloggers.

You raised the issue that it's the PR professional job to drive conversations and build an audience. You're right PR is the one profession whose primary goal was to drive conversations and the goal is the same today with blogging, yet the strategy to achieve the goal is different.

I distinguish between the tactics of pitching a story to a blogger, and how an effective blogger relations strategy can be conducted. There are certainly elements of an effective public relations campaign that resemble effective blogging. But it's the intent of a blogger relations strategy that distinguishes it from a media relations campaign. An effective blogger would not pitch other bloggers necessarily on a story. And yes, I've pitched bloggers in the past but to me that's PR. Rather an effective blogger comments on other blogs, and writes articles about other blog posts. It's a subtle difference but to me an important one to distinguish between the new profession of blogger relations and old line public relations.

I think it's important to describe the difference because many new people to the world of social media assume that blogger relations and blogging uses existing media relations tactics to be successful. You can use some of those tactics effectively within the realm of blogging. I've talked about Andy Abramson's successful Nokia blogger relations program before and how he has combined PR and BR together. But to run an effective blogger relations campaign you have to use some different tactics from PR.

I don't think that the new profession of blogger relations solely lies within the field of public relations, but borrows elements from PR, SEO, product marketing, customer service and normal conversations to create something new and that by explaining the differences I hope to demonstrate how a company can be an effective blogger.

Posted by: John Cass at May 3, 2006 5:20 PM

Thanks for taking the time to respond! Let me just throw out one more tidbit about the changing role of the PR professional. Jeff Jarvis's advice for PR people in the blogosphere included the following:

"Yes, PR people are trained to stay in the background. Get over it."

In my mind - that's exactly what we have to do! We can't control the message anymore thanks to CGM but we can step out of the shadow and add all kinds of new strategies and tactics to our profession - way beyond the art of pitching.

Posted by: Tina Lang-Stuart at May 4, 2006 9:17 AM

Tina, great quote, and makes a lot of sense to me. I think CGM will mean that PR professionals will get to do more interesting work for their clients. And in the process use every tool in the PR toolkit beyond the realm of media relations.

Posted by: John Cass at May 4, 2006 10:12 AM

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