IBM On Using Blogs In Business

Andy Piper is a “social bridgebuilder” and consultant working for IBM. In today’s post, he provides insight into applications of corporate blogs in different types of businesses.

Balancing Corporate Blogs and Social Media

With the explosion of corporate interest in the wider world of social media (online video, microblogging, and social networks), what’s going on in the corporate blogging space? There may be a perception that corporate blogs as a useful medium are on the decline – so is it still important to have a presence in this space?

I believe there are a number of ways at looking at this issue. Let’s think about this in terms of what happens inside and outside the corporate firewall.First of all, some companies have tried setting up central, external corporate blogs and found them to be “poor performers” in terms of generating interest; or indeed that they have become lightning-rods for negative comment and have then chosen to close them down. In some cases, companies started off with the mindset that blogs were broadcast-only, providing space for another spin on the latest press release. Paul Boag’s excellent post 10 Harsh Truths About Corporate Blogging sums up the pitfalls of these approaches perfectly. In my opinion, a successful corporate blog takes commitment, openness, and a real willingness to have a dialogue with customers and the wider audience. This kind of approach can take a serious culture shift. If you’re new to the space and you’re planning a new blog, my own recommendation is Ted Demopoulos’ highly-readable What No One Ever Tells You About Blogging and Podcasting.

In my view, the utility of one central corporate blog will depend on the nature of a particular business. For companies like MOO (online printing) or Innocent (makers of healthy smoothies) their businesses are sufficiently focused that one blog makes a lot of sense… but for more highly-diversified organisations, perhaps also those with less of a consumer focus, a single central corporate blog may have less appeal. Google has both an official blog as well as a whole directory of others, with each product team sharing news about their offerings. All of them are useful sources of information – I often find myself following re-tweeted links to read about the latest innovations from different company blogs.

Now let’s take a step back behind the corporate firewall. Providing a social platform internally, and encouraging employees to have their own blogs, can benefit a company in a number of ways. It can help companies to share information between individuals and departments, breaking down organisational and geographical barriers. More importantly, having an internal platform can help employees to become comfortable with the process of blogging and sharing… this is how I started at IBM, with something like a journal of my day job, before colleagues encouraged me to take my opinions outside the firewall as well.

This brings us to the synthesis of the two ideas. When a company’s workforce is educated and confident through internal enablement, and the corporation trusts employees to transmit the brand and ideas outside the firewall, there’s the potential for any employee to blog externally. It requires guidelines, and a culture of trust and openness… but a variety of different voices sharing ideas and having conversations within the blogosphere (yes, such a thing does still exist) can produce real innovation and brand value.

Finally – what about the wider world of social media? Social networks like Facebook, video sites like YouTube, microsharing on Twitter? How do all of these things relate to your web presence and a corporate blog? Well, for one thing, without a way of drawing the branding together, there might be a danger that an organisation’s presence becomes too disparate. It’s also possible to use content from one site in another – for example a YouTube channel could provide a source of shareable, embeddable video snippets to enliven both the “official” corporate blog and those of others who are interested in the brand. Secondly, these sites often don’t provide the scope or reassurance of content ownership for a subject to be discussed in detail. In a nutshell, there’s absolutely still a place for a corporate blog or blogs, but as part of a wider socialised environment which spans different online spaces.

Andy Piper is a regular at conferences on social media – major speaking engagements have included the European Corporate Blogging Conference in 2007, and SOMESSO London in 2009. His views are his own and may not represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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