3 Steps to A Breakthrough Corporate Blog


By Stanford Smith, Contributing {grow} Columnist

There’s a peculiar paradox in the social media world.

Take a look around and you will see creative individuals kicking butt and taking names.  They are writing amazing content, organizing humanitarian aide, even toppling autocratic regimes.

These pioneers are accomplishing extraordinary objectives with very little resources.  They don’t have a multi-million dollar war-chests or legions of eager staff at the ready.

All they have is passion and a mission.

So, here is the peculiar question.

Why aren’t Corporate Blogs leading the way?

After all the corporate titans do have a multi-million dollar war chests.  Corporate CEOs can enlist the best and brightest to tackle any problem.  Gargantuan PR departments can spread their message to every corner of the globe.

For the most part, the social mouthpieces of these giants, their blogs, represent the worst blogging best practices.

I suspect that  “traditional advertising” is to blame for a corporate blog’s dismal performance.

Traditional advertising prioritizes speed, packaging, and efficiency over passion, culture, and voice.  As a result, most blog becomes a hollow placeholder for the marketing department, saddled with big logos, promotional advertising, and the ubiquitous zero comments counter.

Corporate Blogs Must Do Better

The road to readable and usable blogs is actually shorter than corporate chieftains may think. In fact, almost any corporate blog can benefit by taking these 3 Key Steps:

Step #1: Tell Product Experience Stories

Storytelling will always be the best way to communicate. Customers and prospects are hungry for simple stories that show why a product or service matters to them.

Mom wants to hear about other mothers who are trying to get their kids to brush their teeth.   The IT manager wants to know how a backup storage product protected important data after a catastrophic flood.  The overworked and time starved husband will take notice of a short story about how other husbands used technology to never miss an anniversary or school play.

Smart companies will search through their testimonials and customer service feedback to create and post these stories.

Step #2: Practice Bar Stool Writing

Most corporate blogs sound like a college term paper.  The passive, four paragraph, diatribe that dominates corporate Word documents has no place on a blog.

Instead, try what I call, “Barstool writing”.

Think back to the last time you shared a drink with your best friend.  During that conversation, you probably recommended a movie, a book, or new dance club. I’m sure your recommendation was straight-forward, benefit-focused, and conversational.

Write your blog posts with the same approach.

Speak directly to the reader by imagining that you had to read your post to them at the bar around drinks.  Delete anything that sounds unnatural, forced, or “corporate”.

Do this and your blog will instantly exude a deeper level of authenticity and relevance.

Step #3: Feature Real People

People make blogs work.  Stock art, logos, campy illustrations, and fancy typography corrode the blog’s voice and saps its passion.

Whenever possible, use real faces to complement your posts.  Customers want to see the people behind the corporate curtain. This may be difficult in traditional marketing cultures, but it’s essential for an effective blog.

Think about:

  1. Take a photo of your customer-service department and using it to write a post about your top 10 customer-service win’s.  Remember – use real stories that emphasize your product’s benefits. You can expand this technique to other departments too.
  2. View company events as opportunities to share your culture with your customers.  Include pictures and video to show off your people.
  3. Get your vendor’s and strategic partners into the act.  Consider letting them guest post on your company blog and insist that they include a photo or video of their team.
  4. Don’t isolate your CEO.  Your CEO is the standard-bearer for your culture and represents your voice in the community.  Model your effort after Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO, and encourage your CEO to write about your company’s values and vision.  Note: Seriously question having a blog, if your CEO isn’t willing to champion it.

What’s Standing In Your Way?

I’ve helped dozens of companies with their blogging efforts. Every one of them has expressed concern and outright fear about taking the mask off their corporate blog.  They are afraid that their customers would doubt their professionalism or quality.

In every situation, they were wrong.

Their sincerity, openness, and real-world authenticity separated them from their competitors.  Customers appreciated their no-spin approach.  Vendors and suppliers understood their brand on a deeper level.

In the end, their blog became a strategic asset for their business rather than a marketing eyesore.  This new way of approaching their customers seemed peculiar at first but delivered results.

It will do the same for you.

Do you agree?  What are the challenges you face with injecting life into your corporate blog?

Stanford Smith is a hopelessly addicted angler, father of 3 hellions, and the wild-eyed muse behind PushingSocial.com. Follow him on Twitter to get his latest unorthodox tips for getting your blog noticed and promoted.

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  • Hi Mark,
    I completely agree with what you have to say here. Most corporate blogs and social media efforts for that matter are still based on an old way of thinking & operating where information is (as @garevee states) “pushed” to the consumer. Because blogs appear to leave a company vulnerable to public interaction (which by the way exists regardless of the blog), most large companies opt for the safe route and post boring, unoriginal and unauthentic content. Someone as knowledgeable as you would profit TREMENDOUSLY by creating an off-the-shelf/downloadable product/training program that showcases best practices and offers specific advice on corporate blog creation.

    This product could definitely be complemented by consulting work but at the very least, on its own, it could open the eyes to an audience who is unaware of what it doesn’t know. In other words, I can guarantee you that guys and gals who are posting this garbage out into the world are mostly unaware that their blogs plain suck. Thank you for sharing this point of view, one that needs to be shouted out louder into blogosphere. -Bernardo

  • ahhhh…I hate to be one of tose “great post” kinda guys but you pretty much nailed it. Even worse is when corps decide to “embrace” social media and put their CEOs on the front line. Think Pizza Hut with their “we’re learning and we’ll do better”…are you kidding me? If you havent figured out how to deliver pizza by now…or was that Dominos? See? …thats another problem..you cant distinguish one from the other…

    ANyways..how do we get this post in the hands of more corp bloggers?

  • I think there’s a disparity between the way personal blogs are viewed as personal and business blogs are perceived as overly corporate and sales orientated. For business blogs to break through it’s necessary for them to step away from shilling, business speak and anonymity.

    Featuring clients is good, but again often this technique is a shallow sales pitch.

    Genuine help, advice, tips, etc, are the kind of thing to win customers over. For example, if you sell photocopiers and make a video of Dave showing you how to do double-sided copies, and make these regular features you’ll help your audience find you on Google (“how to double-side copy on the XXX) and retain them.

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  • I think I should send this along to the bosses with a note attached “Please read me!” They need to read this. I told them about your blog, and my editor is still reading Harvard Business Review, which is great, but too…impersonal for me.

    Really, the only blogs I want to read are the ones where I feel talked to, not talked at. If I feel like a blogger is looking down his or her nose at me, I will never read their blog again.

    Personal stories and connecting with people on a real level are to me the best ways to go.

  • Your strategy is actually spot-on. Change has to come form the top, so keep providing a drip-drip-drip of communication and education. It doesn’t have to be in-your-face, but just consistent updates on changes and trends that will affect the business. That is a value-adding activity for everybody and will hopefully start to sink in! : ) Thanks for the insight!

  • First, of course Stanford Smith gets credit for this outstanding post, but of course I will take credit for having the good sense to feature his wisdom!

    You bring up a really interesting point. Are corporate bloggers even aware of the issue? i have no idea but my hunch is you’re probably correct. Srini Rao wrote awhile back about the importance of hiring bloggers who are actually bloggers. That seems like a smart move, doesn’t it? : )

    Thanks Bernardo!

  • Spread the word!!!

  • You are an authority on this topic for sure, Jon. Thanks so very much for adding your wisdom to this discussion!

  • Thanks Nancy for the comment. A conversational writing style is a real challenge for most businesses, but, as you mentioned, it’s an important ingredient for blogs that get read.

  • Amen. I like your example of creating a small instructional video showing a feature and a problem solved.

  • Dino – go ahead, I’ll take your “great post” comment any day!

  • It’s all about the people – it’s all about the humans. I love this, Stanford, great post.

    People buy from who they like. And they typically don’t like a logo or a faceless corporation, they like “Fred” from “Whatever Company.” Your blog should reflect your people because that’s what people are buying from you, really.

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  • Stanford,

    I think it’s safe to say you know my feelings about this considering I told an entire industry that I thought their blogs were like digital graveyards and of all industries (travel), they have no excuse for lousy content. I think you’ve touched on the key elements that make any corporate blog click. It’s all about people. It’s about showcasing the humanity behind an organization and telling the story. Bar stool writing and real people are the way to go. When I wrote my original article here Mark had some great discussion points around it too. We’re faced with one dilemma and that is that for this to really work well, there has to be a cultural shift in organizations. Many of the larger organizations are so caught up in red tape that it takes 3 weeks just to get approval from a legal department to publish a blog post. Until we see that kind of a shift, I think personal blogs will continue to outshine company blogs (at least in large organizations). Small businesses on te other hand are in a perfect position to take advantage of this kind of forward thinking. As Mark once said “social media amplifies competitive advantage”

  • Nice piece. This is a big issue. I spent over a year at Hewlett Packard fighting this battle, and several other big companies the last few years, and have written about it the last couple of months. The problem is simple: most of the people we’re trying to force to blog aren’t bloggers/writers. They have little time or inclination in most cases, so you provide education, tactics, etc until the cows come home,and still end up with weak results. I’m not arguing for hiring a ghost blogger for every blog-small co’s couldn’t afford-but there needs to be editorial support and hand-holding (along with education, and tactics)-an editorial framework. I outlined this recently on my ION blog and have test driven the system on several companies with good results (yes, it’s not free or easy..but better than the alternative).

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  • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. So many businesses refuse to let their brand have a voice. Social media has revolutionized the way people see businesses; fans and complainers are forcing business into social media, but so many are still doing so only in a reactive way. Blogs are proactive tools where showing a little personality is a good thing and posting a press release is not. Thanks again. Great article.

  • I love that Andrew. It’s all about relationships … even blogging! : )

  • The organizational issue is something near and dear to my heart. Really quite overlooked. Companies need to rationally assess their ability to blog in the context of the culture of the organization. Quite often overlooked and what happens? Disappointment, crushed expectations and a blog that has not been updated since 2009.

    Thanks Srini!

  • Mark I LOVE this perspective. “Forcing” people to blog! wow. Like a death march I’ll bet.

    I am encouraged by some signs that companies are realizing a need to invest in content and the skilled resources needed to produce it. Ironically, I think high tech is doing a pretty good job with corporate blogs. Would you agree? For example, Oracle, IBM and SAP are doing decent jobs by unleashing people who like to write.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with the community Mark!

  • Problems I faced in promoting a corporate blog is encouraging different authors to contribute. I think corporate blog should have mix of authors. Not just two or three.
    Pushing blog culture internally is equally big challenge.

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  • Anonymous

    Great article and some good advice here BUT one of the biggest barriers I see for businesses to start blogging is this slavish idea that a company blog has to be written by the CEO – I assume that what’s you meant when you said ‘champion.’

    Every comms person knows that just like with traditional media opportunities the CEO is not necessarily the best person to communicate the company’s vision, it’s about finding the best communicator in the business – that could be the product manager, COO, marketing executive, or a mix. Scott Monty, Steve Rubel, Robert Scoble all being a case in point.


  • Agree, some of the tech companies are doing a good job “unleashing” people who like to write..the problem is finding them in many of these companies and, if needed, getting senior support and $$ to set up a support system to help facilitate. In the ideal world you don’t need it, but most of my experiences have not been in the ideal world…bottom line-progress made, but lot still needs to be done..

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  •  SO nice article!! really love it.

  • Corporate blog is just like a corporate brand. So i think blog management is a like with brand management

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