The 7 Fundamentals of Starting a Company Blog

It’s more than ideas. It’s more than marketing. Starting a corporate blog is a commitment and should be carefully thought-through before executing.

{grow} community member Tabatha Bourguignon told me she is starting a blog for her company, Sandy Bay Networks, and asked me about the steps to take to get started. Let’s all help her out, shall we?

The technology part of it — the right look, functionality and widgets — is not that big of deal when it comes to long-term success. You can make technology do anything you want, iterate and add widgets over time. However, you can’t make HUMANS do anything you want, and that is the most-overlooked  — and also the most important — aspect of starting a company blog from scratch. Let’s look at the practical political realties of building a company blog.

1) Assess the culture — Even if starting a blog is the RIGHT thing to do, it might not be the WISE thing to do if your company can’t sustain it. Are you built to blog?  I was working with a company that definitely could have used a blog and other social media tools to stand out, but the culture of the company (usually dictated by the person at the top) didn’t support it.  You and I are in the job of creating success with the cards we’re dealt, not wishing for another hand to play, so I moved on to other ideas. It is disastrous to try to implement plans that your company either can’t, or won’t, support at the top. If you have a resistant culutre, you need to re-trench and begin an education process, not dive into a kamikaze mission.

Another consideration is that company culture will set the tone of your blog. If you are buttoned-up and conservative, your blog will be too. If you’re customer-focused and passionate about your product, that will show through. So have a realistic expectation about the tone of the blog before going into it.

2) Align with strategy Blogging is a marketing function. There. I said it. Before all the PR folks jump down my throat (where did that phrase come from any way?) let me explain the rationale. Assuming you didn’t get a government bailout, companies must take money from customers to exist. There will be no media relations, no press releases, no employee newsletters if the money doesn’t flow. Marketing is responsible for bringing in more money, from more people, more often. Everything in the company directly, or indirectly, supports that. Including the blog. A blog is just another way to influence people to do something. What is that? What is the ultimate call to action? What is that blog driving for over time? If you can explain that, it will help you determine how you will …

3) Measure what you treasure — Well, you ARE going to measure aren’t you?  Of course you are. Without a measure of success, how would you know if you are doing better or worse? Or if you should spend more or less money on blogging? Or if you have the right people doing the blogging? Or if you are covering the right topics? Most important, when the budget axe falls some day in the future (and it will), and some outside cost-cutter visits your department and asks “what do you do?” you better have some charts to show how you are adding to stakeholder value on a daily basis.

4) Assess your resources— It’s time to get real.  You know all those people who are telling you they’re going to help you with the blog?  Don’t count on it! It sounds like a good idea but when it comes time to put pen to paper, many people can’t, or simply don’t deliver. What happens if key bloggers get too busy or don’t follow-through? What counter-measure do you have in place? If it’s not a compensated part of their job, it may not be reliable. How will you sustain the blog?

Also in the category of resources is assessing existing content that can be re-purposed. Get more bang for your marketing buck by using speeches, videos, slide presentations and marketing materials in your blog.

5) Look at the outside world. Talk to your customers and ask them what they would like to see on your blog. Just makes sense, but usually overlooked. What do your competitors offer? How are you going to be different?

6) Who’s in charge — The dreaded approval process is part of company life. Don’t fight it. Just make sure it is well understood before you start. You don’t want to start blogging and then have a whole new set of rules thrown at you.

7) Create a plan, then abandon it — Plot out your first 25 blog posts.  How does it align with strategy? Meet customer needs? Blend with management expectations? It’s a good idea to have some sort of a plan before you start, but don’t become too wedded to it. Don’t miss what is going on all around you and all the great story ideas flying at you every day!

Whew. That’s a lot to think about, isn’t it?  And I probably missed a bunch of ideas. Will you help make this a better post for everyone and all of eternity by adding your suggestions in the comment section? Thanks!

Thanks for the question Tabatha! Tabatha Bourguignon blogs at www.bantameant.blogspot.com and submitted this question through the recent B2B blogging webinar I provided through MLT Creative.

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  • Great Article! It is a commitment! Amen! Be an export on the topics you post on! People like experts and will come. Do not get caught up in comment numbers when you first start, remember blogging also takes time for results to occur. I really like this article! Great Job Mark!

  • Great post, Mark.

    I agree that culture drives the success of a blog. If no one values it, it will be a tough slog putting something out every day. Our main blog at Eloqua just turned 1 yesterday. When I joined up in November, there was no set rule for frequency of posts. That changed organically since my coming on board meant that someone was overseeing it daily. We now post at least once per weekday, if not more.

    There are a couple of things I would add to your list of tips.

    One, I would stress the importance of good writing and research skills. Anyone can write something, but not everyone can write well. If you want your blog to stand out, you should probably have someone who is a skilled and trained writer overseeing the blog. As an addendum to that, be prepared to do a lot of editing. I spend probably just much time, if not more, editing material than writing it at this point. It’s a critical skill and one that is often overlooked.

    Secondly, find a way to get staffed involved. A good company blog benefits from a multiple voices. The tough part is getting people to write for you. After all, the majority of the company is not paid to blog, but to carry out their day job. Nevertheless, in most companies there are a few people who understand the value of content and will raise their hands to help out. If you can get a few of these early adopters on board, it can spread throughout the organization.

    Finally, map out your strategies for getting posts noticed. You can write a killer article, but if no one reads it what does it matter? Coming up with a plan for reaching an audience (through social channels or emails, etc.) before you start the blog is highly valuable but too often an afterthought.

    Thanks again for all the great posts.

    Jesse
    Corporate Reporter
    Eloqua

  • deciding how you are going to promote the blog can be a sticky wicket too. When I first started blogging, and through about my first 6 months or so, I only would tweet out my post once. That was it. If it caught, great. If it didn’t, done.

    I’m not sure that’s the best idea – I was comfortable with it at the time, but discovering a method of promotion that you and your company’s culture are happy with is super duper important. And it doesn’t have to just be Twitter. Use your blog on Facebook, in your e-newsletter – heck, maybe find a way to use it in an unconventional way!

    Great post!

  • Wait didn’t you and Mitch go at it over this subject last summer 😉

    Great tips Mark. I think the blog can be an incredible showcase of your businesses know how, strategy view points, and moxie. When I see client case studies because I am analytical they often just show the rosie stuff and often kind of fib. Like the ‘We increased sales by 20%’ Without proving it was due to your efforts. I can read a blog and get a feel for if these people know something.

    And all your tips are right on. I am on my second blog and kept the first in tact because it was data heavy and I still reference it. But it was worth changing to a new one because I needed to fit No. 1 and 2 more and of course I should of listened to 7 and done it much sooner 8)

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Excellent additions. Wait … can I start the blog post over???

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Well said. Extremely good points and can’t add much more to that : )

    Thank you for your terrific comment.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Maybe I should wtie another post called starting a comapny blog part 2. This comment would be the lead paragraph. Well done! Thank you!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I don’t know. Did I cover this with Mitch? My memory is not all that good. Plus, nobody listens to me the first time any way. : )

    Need to hear more about this second blog of yours!

  • Thanks, Mark. 🙂

  • Culture seems to be the biggest stumbling block I’ve seen for larger companies. However I think companies like HubSpot have shown that you can create a lot of content (albeit at a certain level), connect with a lot of people, offer a lot of value, and not be giving away the house by sharing trade secrets.

    Time is another issue. If you have a larger staff there are more people to do the blogging. Put the guidelines in place and let them get to work.

    And yes, blogging is a marketing function – no doubt about that.

  • I would love to see a corporate blog that rocks. Ive seen many…none have rocked me so far. Tho they keep trying, I’ll give them that.

    Instead of trying to blog, I think corporations should focus on fostering relationships with personality bloggers like yourself Mark. There is this amazing talent out there thats starving and there is this corporation that has the bread but no talent.

    WHy cant we all just get along? lol

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  • Mark has been reading my mind again! This is just what I need to read, and as I continue to write content for the company blog. I hope and pray that we can get this launched and that I can write what I want to read. i shared your post “Stop Writing For An Audience” with the bosses, but don’t know if they took it to heart.

    I plan on writing for myself. For example I wrote something that my boss has not looked at yet that is about SpongeBob and business lessons we can learn from him. I also wrote one about how I am doing LinkedIn wrong, and what can be done to correct it.

    I have been doing the things listed in this post, and this is an excellent one for me to share with them and hopefully get more content up so I can begin Tweeting my posts. Thanks again for this great post.

  • I agree Robert. Seems like well-managed companies do a lot of things well. You can almost predict which ones will succeed at social media and blogging.

    Time is an extraordinary issue! Companies have to make a rational assessment of where their customers are spending time and then be there. And of course there are so many other benefits of blogging besides just direct marketing.

    Thanks for the great comment!

  • I’m with you on this one Robert. If you’re on the inside you’ve got time and opportunity to change the culture if you’re met with a brick wall. If you’re an external agency or consultant it’s much harder in a single pitch to come in and convince senior managers of the value of blogging.

    Yes, Hubspot are great in this industry but where is the blog that’s helping sell milk or cheese? So many of us in digital marketing have drunk our own kool-aid; however, it’s getting the message through to other sectors that’s the tough thing.

    I believe in discussing actionable tactics to achieve realistic goals. This seems to encourage folks to listen, but the word “blog” is something I try and sneak in at the end of the process. In business a lot of folks still associate the word with online diaries – at least here in Sweden.

  • Great post – honestly, great list for anyone wanting to kick it off with the blessings of the executive offices. Serious time needs to be given to #2 and #3, biggest pitfalls I’ve seen.

  • Ray

    Please do.
    One of the points I use to convince my clients on the necessity of having a company blog is that it is a hub for both incoming and outgoing traffic.
    Syndication and promotion of the blog is a bit tricky as we want the blog to be more than just a corporate newsletter.
    Unfortunately, the newsletter format is the most familiar and comfortable. What isn’t comfortable (and this is true of social media in general) is the format that is written with the goal of encouraging feedback and dialogue. That’s a much tougher sell.

  • Its my Space Agency Notes which fits my business better than the one prior which was just Marketing Notes. But I kept the old one because of your advice Mark.

    Of course I still have to work on my tone. And hope on the occasion like today when I went off on a company I could truly help pretty much everything about their business vs just marketing/advertising I probably burned that chance up in smoke with truthful but blunt words and humor. 8) But to have that happen with me it usually has to be earned.

  • I especially like Creating a Plan and Abandoning it. I did what you suggested with coming up with several blogging topics, and I’ve already gone off the road based upon events that struck me throughout the day. My last two blogs were Down By The River and Herding Cats, and I assure you they were not on my original list :). I agree on the Assess your Resources, also. Everybody wants to chip in until you ask for the commitment.

  • Mark

    Again, a great post from you. You sorted out the elementary points on which to decide if or if not begin a company blog.

    I had the impression, sometimes it makes more sense for a company to open a customer discussion forum to get customers to engage. It is less work and is more informal than a blog.

    On the other hand, it is more difficult to bring messages to the customers.

    What is you opinion on that?

    Kind regards from Germany

    Hansjörg

  • I would think that the most difficult one to cultivate is culture, especially for companies that has been around for awhile that are happy in their comfort zone. Just as you said, blogging may seem like THE thing to do but because of their existing culture, it is difficult to spare some time off to blog. Because of that some also find it difficult to identify ‘bloggable’ materials.

    One interesting observation is that some companies do not trust their employees in managing the blog. Worst still, using the blog as a sales page.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Jon, to get over the mental obstacle around blogs, I ask people if they can write one 500 word essay a month. Everybody seems to be able to do that! : )

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I actually think that is a big idea I have been proposing myself Dino. Makes all the sense in the world. BTW, here are some blogs that rock: The 10 Best Corporate Blogs in the World http://bit.ly/fObyhZ

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Your bosses are lucky to have you. You obviously care enough about them and your company to passionately want to keep improving and do your best. Helping to patiently educate them is the right thing to do!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Thanks Rick!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Well done Brian! Way to be reactive : ) Thank you very much for taking the time to comment today!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    You make a very important point,Hansjörg. I think you should do what is absolutely the best and easiest thing to do for your customers and what works in this part of the world may not work in yours. Go where the customers want to go. Here is an example that combines the forum you are suggesting WITH blogging. Check out this link and look at what Caterpillar is doing. Look around their site. They are engaging customers with new ideas, questions, content and problem-solving! Might give you some ideas. http://bit.ly/fObyhZ

  • Mark W Schaefer

    For a young guy, you sure have a lot of wisdom! I worked in a company whose culture was largely dictated by an event that happened 55 years ago! Yes, culture is extremely complex and painfully difficult to change. For this reason, I think you have to look at creating something actionable NOW, and then chip away at the culture. Well done Jan!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    As consultants, we can only offer our honest advice and clients can shoose what to do with it.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    You’re absolutely correct Ray. i thnk expectations are way out of whack on comments for most companies. See here for an article that might help you: Wait a minute. It’s not about engagement after all! http://bit.ly/ah8RS7

  • Mark

    thx for the link. Very interesting examples. As I am working mostly with financial services, this is still a social media desert in Germany. How do you think, this is in the US?

    Kind regards from Germany

    Hansjörg

  • It’s a mixed bag here. Some financial institutions have clamped down on social media, some have embraced it. There are even some agencies who are specializing in this area. Europe in general has been slower to adopt but I think you’re doing the right thing by watching what is happening here and then figuring out how it might work for your organization and regional culture. I will write a blog post for you on this topic.

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  • Hey thats sounds great.

    I hardly could await it.

    Kind regards and a sunny sunday

    Hansjörg

  • Hey thats sounds great.

    I hardly could await it.

    Kind regards and a sunny sunday

    Hansjörg

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  • Excellent post.  Great us for us looking to start out.

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  • These fundamentals of starting a company blog is highly helpful in promoting your business. 

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  • Great post Mark.., I wish I read this one when it was posted and not a year after. But still…
    I also must complement the quality of the comments, they add tremendous value to an already valuable post.

    And yes, I have to agree on the culture issue and the willingness. A lot of people nod in approval, yet few actually participate.., then again.., we have to give it some time.
    I will save this post for later reference.

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    Existenzgründung Münster Says..

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