Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Managing Multi-Authored Corporate Blogs

A couple of weeks ago some of my students at Harvard Extension got me thinking about the benefits and challenges of handling multi-authored corporate blogs. We were looking at the Direct2Dell blog, which I’ve written about previously. I made the offhand statement that you simply have to have an editor to make a corporate blog like it--which gives voice to many different executives on many different subjects—work as a positive communications tool. Students asked, “Why?,” and that started me thinking.

One of the students followed up with a post on our class blog that referenced an interview with the person who (in 2006) managed 38 corporate blogs for Google. As I started looking a bit more, I found multiple people identified as an editor on the Direct2Dell blog. So that’s two models already.

I looked around Debbie Weil’s site; she’s one of the most prolific writers on corporate blogging. She focuses mostly on CEO blogs. They can be highly useful, but they’re not the kind planned multiple authorship I’m talking about. I’m also thinking about blogs targeted to external audiences, not internal blogs as useful as they can be.

I’ve been involved in a couple of multi-authored blogs lately (the class ones don’t count; students are assigned to make posts and comments on those!), and I’d like to contribute a few words of wisdom.

An editor is essential. The editor motivates contributors, manages the flow of posts, and does all the back-end work like monitoring comments. If the blog is actively marketed, that task probably falls to the editor also.

A plan is essential. A blog is a marketing communications program and it requires the same kind of planning as other programs. I’ve used a simple strategy brief (agencies are more likely to call it a creative brief) to state the basics in a page or two.

Which comes first—the editor or the plan? The usual marketing answer,”It Depends!” If the internal champion (and there has to be one or we wouldn’t be having this discussion) wants to edit the blog, that person might prepare the plan. If the intent is to hire an external editor, that person will need guidance on what the blog is meant to accomplish and how it fits into the overall communications program. The external editor needs to understand who will contribute and how they are to be motivated or incented.

Give the editor the necessary tools and make the person accountable for achieving communications objectives. That means that one thing the editor will be doing is studying the blog metrics (constantly) and reporting to responsible executives (regularly).

The internal blog champion will probably have to be the person who navigates issues of corporate policy and legal requirements. Those issues need to be understood before the blog is launched because the last thing you want is for posts to be held up for endless checking and approval. Unless your blog is timely and fresh it’s going to do more harm than good—assuming anyone reads it at all! And remember that there’s lots of competition for the reader’s time, so it’s going to have to be not only good, but also relevant to the audience’s needs and interests.

The responsible executives should have RSS feeds for the blog to motivate them to keep up with what’s being said. It’s important for contributors to know the blog is being read internally as well as reaching the external audience. Executives should consider commenting occasionally on items of special expertise. That’s highly motivational.

Does all of this sound like it’s terribly time consuming? It absolutely is. That’s a strong part of the argument about careful planning for a corporate blog. You probably don’t have an internal person who is currently underworked and can take it on easily. Can you identify and are you willing to pay for an external person with the necessary skills and ability to work with your organization? Those are not small questions.

Here’s an interesting list I found—Fortune’s wiki listing blogs by the “500” firms. It’s a good place to see what some large organizations are doing and think about how it might apply to your situation.

While I don’t want anyone to think it’s easy, I’d recommend serious consideration of blogs as a corporate communication tool. If the goal is to get close to your customers, to interact with them instead of just talking in their general direction, a blog may be the way to go. And, in time, it may lead in other interesting social media directions.
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