How do I find the “voice” on my company blog?

I received this great question from Josh Cantrell, a B2B blogger …

Who is my audience? Is it the people I want to sell to, or the people that will regularly follow our blog? How do I determine the blog’s “voice”? My writing style/personality may be different than the corporation’s. Do I do my own thing and just be myself or do I try write AS the business would?

Whether you have a personal blog or a corporate blog, your tone and voice will change over time, primarily as your knowledge and confidence grows. When you get right down to it, your “voice” is the key differentiator for your blog — it probably makes the difference on whether somebody even reads your blog or not.

I would define “voice” as the personality and style of your writing. Are you witty or buttoned up? Flowery or factual? A story-teller or a reporter? There is no good or bad way to be, as long as you are connecting with your audience.

In the business world, your audience must be defined as the people you are trying to influence. Your company blog should be aligned with your marketing and business strategies, otherwise … why do it?

A business normally has many audiences. Obviously customers … but also suppliers, employees, people in the community, even competitors!  One emerging best practice is to have multiple blogs for your differing audiences. This is impractical for many businesses so you should probably focus on customers — yes, the people you want to sell to.

Aligning your “voice” with the company’s can be difficult, but not impossible. I’ve worked with blog-start-ups at several companies and here are the phases I see most companies going through:

1) Uptight – At first, the company is tentative about becoming a publisher. Writing is tightly controlled, wedded to a schedule, and perhaps even approved by legal.

2) Disenchantment — “What?? We don’t have comments on our blog?? What are we doing wrong?” Also in this phase you realize all those people who said they would contribute blog posts were big fat liars.

3) Re-alignment – Expectations come more into line, and a more realistic view of the long-term contributions of a blog emerges. Maybe you even have a small win — “Hey a customer mentioned our blog today.”

4) Relaxation — Company begins to trust the content developers and the process. Content begins to be incorporated strategically into sales and marketing efforts. Maybe you even get a comment! The blog becomes cool.

So a voice does evolve and hopefully over time it will become less press release-like and more human, accessible and friendly.

In the short-term, if there is a disconnect between how you write and how they WANT you to write, you have to live with it. Change takes time and let’s face it, if the company is paying you, they can ask you to write any damn thing they want, even if it sucks.

Here is another remote possibility. Your company might be right.  Most companies are run by experienced, well-meaning people who want to do good work and care about you too. As I look back at my own career, when I was 25 I didn’t know half as much as you do Josh.  Worse, I didn’t know it at the time! Thankfully I had patient bosses.

Hang in there. Most companies do get to that relaxation stage. And besides, I LIKE your blog Josh!

I would love to hear stories from the rest of the blog community.  Are you finding your voice on your blog?  Is it matching what your company wants you to say?

Josh Cantrell submitted this great question through MLT Creative’s blogging seminar and is a marketing coordinator and blogger behind Cloud 9, a very entertaining B2B blog at Claris Networks, a cloud computing provider in Knoxville, TN.

Silence and the Perfect Leadership Moment

I’ve worked with many wonderful leaders over the years but there was one moment that, for me, represented a perfect example of what leadership is all about.

I spent much of my career at Alcoa, a Fortune 100 metals and mining company.  Alcoa was a principled company. Values like safety, environmental stewardship, and community involvement were not just slogans, they were sincerely lived out every day, and demonstrated actively by the leaders of the company.

Having an employee killed in an industrial accident is heart-breaking, but it is even more tragic when it is YOUR employee.

That’s what happened to my friend Joe. Joe was one of many extraordinary leaders at Alcoa. He was a mountain of a man in both size and heart and he had worked his way up the company ladder to a VP position with a style that was tough yet thoroughly authentic.

Many years ago, a female hourly employee — and one of Joe’s friends from his days in operations — was crushed by a piece of conveying equipment. The weekend accident defied any rational explanation. She was an experienced employee who actually was on the safety committee that wrote the rules for the safe operation of the machine. The conveyor was moving at such a slow speed she easily could have stepped aside to get out of the way. She had crossed strong steel barriers, violating safety protocol, to even get to a place where the accident could have occurred.

And yet, it had happened.  She was gone.  A single mother of three, and a long-time friend of Joe’s, had died on our shop floor.

On Monday morning, an expanded staff meeting had been called to talk about the accident and investigation.

The room was jammed with about 75 employees when Joe entered the room.  He stood in front of the shocked room with his head bowed. The room was so full of tension at that moment.  Finally, Joe spoke.

“I don’t know what to say right now,” he said.  “I think … we … just need to pray for a moment.”

The room fell silent. Many wept.

For me, this was one of the most unexpected and beautiful examples of leadership I have witnessed.  Asking employees to pray?  This was the ultimate gift and gesture, because nothing COULD be said at that moment.  We all felt like crying .  We all needed to be quiet for a minute and pray about this woman and her children in our own way, whatever that meant. We didn’t want to see those pictures. We didn’t want to think about investigations and safety reports.  We needed that one moment to be human and grieve for a life.

To me, this was the most authentic, perfect moment of leadership, even though it was carried out in complete silence. In a world of constant content and chatter, quiet can be stunningly powerful.

Sometimes we are most effective when we are most human. Don’t you agree?