How to make your company blog connect like a personal blog

By Srinivas Rao, Contributing Writer

As director of social media for Flightster one of my very first assignments was to create and maintain our company blog.  When I researched other blogs in our industry and compared them with all of the personal blogs I read on a daily basis I was amazed at how bad they were. An individual could command an audience of over 10,000 people with hundreds of readers commenting on every post, while corporations with millions of dollars in resources behind them had blogs that seemed like digital graveyards. Most of them didn’t have a single comment.

It wasn’t long before I stopped reading those blogs. In fact the advice from my boss was:

“You know what our competitors have done? I want you to do the exact opposite. I don’t want another boring corporate blog.”

As a result I decided to model how people had built successful personal blogs instead of paying attention to how companies had done things. This is what I learned along the way.

Put a blogger in charge: One of the biggest advantages I had in the process of creating my company blog was that I had experience with my own bog and built a trusted personal network. On my BlogcastFM site, I’ve interviewed over 100 of the most successful content creators in the blogosphere. I also have a semi-successful personal development blog with a little over 1000 subscribers. To this day these experiences prove to be the greatest tools in my social media arsenal.  When the person in charge of social media at your company, doesn’t have a personal blog, it’s like putting a fry chef at Mcdonald’s in charge of brain surgery.

As a result of an extensive personal network, I could hand-pick the writers for the Flightster Blog. Prior to leveraging my personal network, I attempted to use job boards to recruit potential writers and the quality of submissions was mediocre.  Being a writer of my own blog gave me experience creating content that resonated with readers. This had a significant impact on how I approached content and recruited writers.

Choose Interesting Writers: While having outside writers may not be feasible for every single company, I do think there’s something to be said for finding people with interesting stories to write for your blog. Blogs are not just glorified marketing brochures. They give us an opportunity to share the human touch behind our organizations and we should embrace that opportunity. I believe that blogging is about people first and marketing second. I work in the travel industry, but rather than look for a travel writer or somebody to write about 10 touristy things to do in some city, I looked for people with interesting stories who happen to be traveling.  What separates most successful personal blogs from a typical corporate blog is the human touch. I’ve kept it my mission to maintain that human touch with the Flightster blog. Each writer has his or her own story and I’ve given each of them the freedom to share it.

Pay Writers Well: We pay each of our writers $100 per post which probably seems crazy to some people. But I can confidently say, you get what you pay for. The perception that content creators are slave labor really needs to end. These people work hard to produce content and the truth is they can often figure out a way to make money without the support of a company. Considering that many large companies have multimillion dollar advertising budgets, spending roughly $500 a week to have quality writers doesn’t seem like it should make much of a dent in the budget. If you have a smaller company, even one very good blogger can make a huge difference.

Look for People With Established Audiences: One thing that gave us tremendous leverage out of the gate was that every person we hired already had an established audience that loved them. I knew that people would tend to follow what they did, no matter where their content was published. If they shared it on Twitter, their current followers would read it. If they linked it on their own blog, we would get the referral traffic. Our team is staffed with five bloggers, and myself all of who have personal blogs with established audiences.

Supportive Editorial Policies: To say my editorial policy is loose would be putting it lightly. It’s almost non-existent. The reason I believe in this approach so strongly is because when you motivate people by freedom, they do their best work. Part of the reason I think individual blogs are so incredibly interesting is that they give somebody complete freedom of creative expression. To take that away just because they are writing for a company blog would defeat the purpose of hiring them in the first place.

Individuals have more leverage today than ever before. We’ve gone from the age of the corporation to the age of the individual. If companies really want get value out of their blogging efforts, then they’ll need to embrace the power of the individual.

Srinivas Rao is a contributing writer to {grow}. You can read more of his original writing at The Skool of Life blog or listen to his podcast at BlogcastFM. Follow him on Twitter at @skooloflife

Illustration courtesy of Toothpaste for Dinner

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  • I saw the title of this post and thought to my self “this ought to be good”. I have yet to see a company blog that is actually fun to read. They are also seldom educational, always boring and routinely self-serving.

    So your proposal is in line with what actually works lol…imagine that 🙂

    Get as far as possible from a corporate type blog and as close as possible to a personal blog. However, while I agree that is exactly what companies need to do, they will not heed your advice and I will tell you why.

    If the company has one MBA (one bad apple is usually enough to spoil the whole damn bunch), then that company will attempt to procedurize, codify, and systematize the blogging process; so that the blogger in charge can be easily replaced with another.

    In other words, companies dont want to be reliant on master craftsmen. They need assembly line workers. Unfortunately for companies, assembly line workers produce a boring corporate blog that looks like an abandoned warehouse.

    I hope they listen to you and I hope Im wrong, but only time will tell.

    Great post dude…really enjoyed reading it and I even enjoyed ranting about it 🙂

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  • I’m with you 100% on this one but convincing the client of this is extremely difficult, especially if they’re new to corporate blogging.

    My experience has been that some businesses – especially larger organizations – are restricted by the draconian communication policies they have in place. Particularly if you’re working with a government agency.

    I’ve got to the stage where I’m advising one client that the blog will fail if they don’t loosen up a lot. Even though the project manager gets this, the bosses don’t.

    So how do you get around an issue like this?

  • I find it very hard to balance our blog. I’d love to get more personal and write really in-depth articles but there’s a pull from the company just to write about our core topic which is what we’re selling. I think we should consider a broader approach, bringing people to the blog for fantastic content, even if it’s slightly off topic. Forget about SEO, we’ll get more people buying product by entertaining them. I think a great example of this is the Mint.com blog (http://www.mint.com/blog/) that uses loads of infographics and ‘different’ articles to draw readers.

  • What a helpful & clear synopsis of blogging matters today, punctuated with terrific good advice. You and your call to action is something I will share with my audience, reframing as: Is Your Hotel Blog a Digital Graveyard?

    Indeed, I believe quality content should be compensated for; and hope to see a shift is that direction. The “freemium” model gets a bit exhausting. And, to your point, in the big picture of things, what’s a few hundred dollars in the overall marketing budget for a company that is serious about building a strong online presence and seeking engagement with their customers?

    Re: my own practice. I regret not taking the advice of someone a few years back when I was building the Hotel Advantage company website. They suggested, instead of a website, why not create a blog? That seemed radical to me at the time, but now I am knocking myself over the head for not doing so. In 2011, as I transition my online platform to a blog, I know following you will help me.

    Thank you Srinivas! Ann

  • Companies using the personal touch to blog makes sense. Connecting at a personal level is challenging for most corporations. It’s not how they’re hardwired.

  • I’m an experienced copywriter and word nerd, but all I can think to say is AMEN!! Great post.

  • This is exceedingly difficult. As part of my teaching and consulting I am studying this a lot and think Srini has a good start here but it really gets down to this — politics and organizational dynamics. Is your company built to blog?

    Srini received great support from his company and THAT was the catalyst for success. He never could have made progress if he worked for a company that required detailed legal reviews!

  • Wait….I’m supposed to tip at Build A Bear? Oh bother.

  • Charlotte — You are correct and heading in the right direction. If you have to pick a battle at your company, that is probably the right one! If you want people to read it, you have to cut through the clutter and inform, delight and entertain! Thank you!

  • You have identified THE core issue — culture. There is no way around that elephant in the short term. You can’t be effective just wishing for what might be — you have to deal with what IS and approach it rationally. The main thing is, you want to create a blog or social media strategy that will take a positive step forward within the culture as it exists today and then hope for incremental improvements over time. I don’t think there is another option. There is no such thing as a grassroots cultural change in a company. It has to come from the top and it usually takes time.

    Thanks for the keen observation!

  • I have an MBA. Does this mean you hate me : ) I will go sulk in the corner now.

    I agree with you that interesting corporate blogs are very rare. I did find 10 that I highlighted here: https://www.businessesgrow.com/2011/01/05/the-10-best-corporate-blogs-in-the-world/

    Some very good content, although most still lack that personal touch.

    A fascinating topic that we will be exploring for some time I’m afraid! Thanks for the insights today Dino!

  • Anonymous

    William,

    I do think it’s incredibly challenging. I think that one major advantage I had is working in the travel industry, which lends itself well to creating interesting blog content since there are so many people traveling and doing really interesting things with their blogs. That being said, if companies would be willing to take a chance and be a bit more personal I think they would see a drastically different result from their blogs.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Sharon. Coming from somebody with your background, I”ll take that as a compliment 🙂

  • Learn something every day, huh? : )

  • Anonymous

    Hi Ann,

    So great to hear that. Are you going to be at the Eye4Travel conference that’s coming up in San Francisco? If so I’d love to meet in person.

    In regards to compensating for quality content, I think there’s this misperception that bloggers are cheap labor slave labor. I see ads on craigslist everyday saying “come build our blog for us, there’s no pay.” I read the other day that a certain online travel company has a marketing budget of 3 Billion dollars, so a few hundred would be a drop in the bucket for them. I’m looking forward to seeing how you move forward with the Hotel Advantage Blog.

  • Anonymous

    Charlotte,

    I think Mint is one of the best company blogs around and I think you’re headed in the right direction if you are modeling them. There’s so many things you could do in addition to writing about what you’re selling. If you’re in a B2C environment you could use your blog to tell stories about your customers and profile them. That would go far beyond just writing about what you’re selling in my opinion. You could involve your customers in the creation of your content should you chose to. I think some of the best blogs are the ones that are willing to go a bit off topic and see what happens.

  • Anonymous

    Jon,

    I get where you’re coming from with the large businesses. The fact that I was in a fairly lean environment with close to zero bureacracy has made the whole process much easier. I spoke to a woman at a large company recently who said that she would need to get legal approval to put out a tweet. I thought that was ridiculous. Maybe I’ll have to write a post about “why small companies may have the edge when it comes to social media.

    To Mark’s point below, dealing with the cultural issues is a tough one. Maybe you could suggest a once week experimental post where the the person in charge of the blog is able to write a bit more freely and see what the response is. I don’t think there’s any “right” answer per se.

  • Anonymous

    HAHA. I have an MBA and I tell people “If you get an MBA you’ll get 2 things: a piece of paper with 3 letters and a bill for $150k.” All joking aside you hit the nail on the head. If people who run corporate blogs ever intend to play on the same level as personal blogs, their best bet would be to model what actually works. But if they chose to go the factory wrote, then they’ll produce quality of content is not on par with a master craftsmen and the blog will turn into a digital graveyard.

    Trust me I could rant about my issues with company blogs till the end of time, but I’ll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for the comments and insights.

  • Srinivas, thanks for the post, I was JUST thinking the same thing yesterday. I was reviewing blogs for a client’s competitors and they were really lacking. They had the right idea – to have a blog – but they were missing the mark by treating the blog like another one-way broadcast vehicle rather than a two-way street with readers. My recommendation to the client was exactly as you said – to inject some personality into it and start ENGAGING. Thanks for the great thoughts.

  • This is an insightful valuable post Srini — you just can’t ignore the value of the ‘human connection’ element with your blogging efforts and that is precisely why there are so many corporate blogs out there with no conversations – there’s nobody connecting…

    They treat their blogs like a news outlet or an advertising platform that pretty much doesn’t connect with anyone. They either don’t get it, or don’t want to have an effective blog community – pretty much a waste of time.

    Cheers you on this post bro!

  • Anonymous

    Mark,

    I think you really hit the nail on the head with the human connection component. The human connection is where it’s really at. I think if we write the way we speak it sometimes makes it much easier to get that human connection. That’s why I find it best to model the blogging strategies of individuals rather than of corporations, because they really seem to get it.

  • “We’ve gone from the age of the corporation to the age of the individual. If companies really want get value out of their blogging efforts, then they’ll need to embrace the power of the individual.” How true. To Mark’s point about culture anyone working in this space needs to also realize that technology is still overwhelming to large segments of corporate hierarchies, even those that are sophisticated. You may need to do some work with management to get them comfortable with the idea so you can get buy in (a form of internal sale). One thing we did was to create an internal “wiki” which served the purpose of getting people in the corporation comfortable with contributing. You can also accomplish something similar in the form of an internal company blog. Management will have to realize that the content may be sent out externally, but it gives managers a way of getting used to writing without it really being for public consumption. Flightster appears to be very consumer based and not a large organization so this approach probably isn’t as important but for very large corporate orgs (including John’s point above about government agencies) it’s worth exploring a two phased approach – 1) start with getting the organization comfortable with technology and using it internally, and then 2) moving it to a public format when senior management is completely bought in.

  • Anonymous

    I think culture is probably one of the biggest challenges to overcome when it comes to blogging and social media. I think that could be a blog post for a book in and of itself. I really like the idea you brought up for large organizations. Launching an internal company blog or wiki is a great way for people to get a sense for the process. I also think that an internal blog or wiki would give people freedom to operate.

    I think that most B2C brands have a much easier task when it comes to creating interesting blog content. I think making a blog for government organization interesting would be really challenging, but I don’t think it’s impossible. When it comes to all of this, a willingness to take risks is key.

  • Anonymous

    I know what you mean. I come across far too many blogs that treat the blog as a one way brodcasting tool. They’re really lacking the human touch and if they would just let their personalities shine I think they would be so much better at blogging.

  • Wow, $100 per blog post is a lot? What happened to paying writers $1 per word? Or does this rule of thumb no longer apply to blogging?

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  • Srinirao,

    Would have to agree with you. Of all the blog content, the travel industry ranks high for being personal. In addition to creating colorful, interesting blogs, that particular industry’s personal touch is a fine example of connecting.

  • Politics and organizational dynamics either give you the freedom to create or hinder that personal blog previously mentioned. This depends on the organization.

    Mark, I’d worked for a company that said they wanted a personal touch to their blog, but their actions spoke louder than their words. Srini was lucky enough for the support.

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  • Wow. Where do I get that job????

    One of the things I struggle with is the expectation of “free” on the social web and actually have a couple of blog posts working on that idea. It’s a two-edged sword. Certainly the free sharing of information is a wonderful thing, but I also see many people simply ripping off my blog posts verbatim to promote their own businesses. It’s totally out of control.

    Then there’s this idea of compensation for content. There is also this crazy expectation of “free” content just because you’re a blogger. Every single day I get requests to provide free content through a written word or perhaps a webinar. As a consultant who only makes money through billable hours, every one of these requests not only provides money — they cost me money. So I’m dramatically curtailing free contributions in 2011. I have no choice.

    It’s not just posts, It’s the distribution of art, music, software, literature. The web economic model is broken. Sorry to get on my soap box. More to come on this!!

  • Anonymous

    1$ Per Word? That would mean people would get paid up to $700 per blog post :). As Mark said, where do we get that job? The whole free content thing is one that drives me crazy. I see ads every day on Craigslist asking for free contributors to some site in exchange for exposure or something. I had an agency that asked me to intern for free when I graduate from business school because three other people from my class were working there for free. My reply was “why would I work and help you build your brand for free when I can work on my own brand for free.” I think there’s a perception of bloggers as slave labor or cheap labor that needs to be put to rest. There are many cases where brands need the bloggers more than bloggers need brands. Anyways this is something I have some strong opinions about in case you can’t tell :).

  • To clarify on $1/word, that’s what we pay to case study/PR writers – so much more research is required; interviewing sources (end-customers, integrators); etc.

    We currently do not pay for posts on a corporate blog – I write them. So it seemed that $100 was low 🙂

  • Rob

    The idea that you should use professional writers on corporate blogs – and writers who can craft fascinating stories – is a terrific idea. But I have one big problem with your arguments. You say “pay writers well,” and then explain that you pay your writers $100 per post. If the posts are 100 words, this is at least base level pay (at a freelance rate of $1 per word). But if the posts are anything beyond 100 words, you’re cheaping out, doing exactly what you warn people not to do. Even $1 a word isn’t a great rate in today’s marketplace for professional writers. I’m a professional writer (with about 25 years experience), a blogger and journalist. Earning $1 a word just allows you to make a decent living if your work is well researched and thoughtfully and carefully written.

    rob
    http://cancrime.com

  • In 2010, I wrote about 240 blog posts. I wrote another 40 guest posts. Between my blog and other blogs, I probably contributed 4,000 comments. My blog posts were syndicated through five other channels, appearing for thousands of readers. My posts were also picked up by for-profit companies like ragan.com and displayed in their editorial pages for tens of thousands of people to see. Posts from {grow} were also routinely used by other marketers to promote their own paid services through aggregated content.

    I was not paid one cent for any of this content. Zip. Rob, that is the way of the world right now. This is deep problem that should not be a surprise to you. The economics of the Internet are terribly, terribly broken, not just for writers but for all content providers such as musicians and artists.

    By Internet standards, Srini’s plan is very generous.

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