Avoiding business blogging blunders

15 May 2008

Establishing a successful business presence on the web can be tricky but when you fake it, the online community is unforgiving

And of course, what goes online stays online – blogging blunders are forever so a business should think carefully before it engages with customers on a blog, says Martin Murray (pictured), CEO of Interactive Return, a Dublin firm that helps clients with their online marketing strategy.

The worst case of business blogging gone wrong is the fake blog, otherwise known as a flog, where a business poses as an individual or organisation claiming to independently support the product or service.

High-profile flogs in the past have included Coca-Cola, Sony PlayStation Portable and Wal-Mart. All of these companies hired a PR agency to create a blog that looked like an enthusiastic individual who loved talking up their favourite product.

In the case of Coca-Cola, the company launched The Zero Movement blog. What was meant to look like the musings of a hip, young guy was in fact a blatant plug for the new Coke Zero drink, a rebranded Diet Coke aimed at men.

The content, which lacked authenticity, was soon rumbled as a Coca-Cola creation.

“If you are trying to lie or deceive people on purpose, you are going to get taken out. This is a two-way world that is (verbally) violent if people get caught lying,” says Robert Scoble, prominent Silicon Valley blogger, who was hired in the past by Microsoft to evangelise its brand online.

“I would never recommend a client to lie on a blog. The audience is too connected and too smart to get away with this and they love finding out if you have done something wrong!”

Murray acknowledges that some companies will feel they do not have the know-how or experience to write an interesting blog that will engage their target audience, but points out how easy it can be – write what you know.

“Rarely or never would I suggest an outsider does the blogging on behalf of a business; a blog doesn’t have to be written by the CEO – it can be by anyone as long as they are writing content they are expert on within the organisation.”

Simply put, ghost blogging doesn’t work, says Piaras Kelly, long-time blogger and account manager with the Dublin office of PR firm Edelman.

“If I was a company and was looking to begin a blog, it wouldn’t make sense to outsource the writing because they are not close enough to be passionate about the product or service you are selling.”

Giving your expert opinion on a specialised topic is a great way to contribute to a niche area, no matter how small, of a given sector and can establish your business as a thought leader, says Murray.

“There are so many areas here in the Irish market which haven’t been colonised yet that are crying out for somebody to take a thought leadership position on.”

Murray says currently there are no businesses in the consumer financial services, travel and accommodation, entertainment or public services sector in Ireland making themselves heard in the blogosphere, or blogging community.

Misguided marketing attempts aside, companies have created blogs for other not so wholesome reasons, says Murray.

Interactive Return specialises in search engine marketing (SEO), the science of getting seen on the web and says some companies will create a blog with the express purpose of getting the brand noticed in a search engine ranking.

“Sometimes the raison d’etre for getting a blog might be simply to build links to your own website and that is not reason enough to have a blog.

“You should be doing it because your company has something unique to say and you want to get it out there, not to get a higher ranking on Google,” adds Murray.

However, forewarned is forearmed and a business manager should not be afraid to have his or her say online, as long as it’s useful.

“The biggest thing is that you don’t want to fill it up with propaganda because nobody will be interested in reading that,” says regular blogger and director of Murphy’s Ice cream, Kieran Murphy.

“A blog on why your company is so great would make for a boring read but talking about what your company has been doing lately wouldn’t be.”

The second biggest no-no is to fail to engage, says Murphy: “It would not be in a business’s interest to ignore or simply delete a comment on its blog which it felt was negative. It should be addressed.

“If readers are using your blog to tell you how much they hate a product or service, you would do well to listen. One comment might be the work of a crank but 60 or 70 people expressing dissatisfaction is a wake-up call and a free marketing tool to boot.”

However, there are people who will visit your blog with the express purpose of making abusive or insulting comments in order to get attention, and these people are known as trolls.

Social media consultant, Damien Mulley, says this shouldn’t be off-putting or convince a business to ban readers from commenting or interacting, after all interaction is what builds a community around your brand or product.

“To begin with, choose five or six prominent bloggers, even the contrary ones, and tell them you are setting up a blog and would like their feedback.

“I always tell companies that they need a while to get used to that writing style, so to keep the blog private for a while and use the feedback until they are ready to launch publicly,” says Mulley.

When entering the blogging world for the first time as a corporate outside, you can feel like you have turned up at a party, you know nobody and don’t know who to introduce yourself to.

“This preparation means you have five or six allies who can vouch for you straight away and do the introductions for you.”

Another essential tip for the business blogger is to play it straight. Piaras Kelly from Edelman says there is always a need for moderation on a blog, be it for stopping spam comments or perhaps foul language.

“Depending on the company, there are instances where you will have a reason for moderating but you have to be transparent about that. It is fair enough as long as you are upfront and have a disclaimer saying ‘This is what we deem appropriate’.

On the other hand, social media consultant Mulley feels all moderation is bad and comments from readers, negative or otherwise, must be addressed.

“There may only be two comments on your blog post but there could be hundreds of readers and there will be more readers tomorrow, next week and even next year.

“The important thing to realise is that you are not just responding to that blogger, you are defending your product or service to all readers.”

Why blogging can just be the sweetest thing

For those who dismiss blogging as a waste of time, there are always a few shining examples of the business benefits of engaging with an online community.

One such company is Ice Cream Ireland, a lively blog run by Kieran Murphy, director of Killarney-based Murphy’s Ice Cream.

What started out as a platform to try out some of his new ice cream and dessert recipes landed the company a book deal with Mercier Press for Murphy’s Book of Sweet Things.

“The important thing for a business blog is simply to give the reader something they want. Nobody is interested in me writing: ‘Today I mopped the floor and after that I scooped some ice cream’.

“For most readers that something is knowledge: in my case, it is my recipes as well as insights into what’s happening in and around Killarney.

This in turn creates an intimacy with the reader, putting a human face on the business which is really the main motivation behind Murphy’s entry into the world of blogging.

“Sometimes it’s hard for a business to project an intimacy with the customer. A company website can be extremely corporate, so it is very important for a blog to allow personal interaction.

A large or even medium-sized business might not feel that a blog has a place in their online strategy, but Murphy says consumers are often fascinated to know what goes on in the head of the CEO.

“If someone like Michael O’Leary had a blog talking about travel hotspots, I’m sure it would be extraordinarily popular. Besides, a bigger company has an edge because it has a larger customer base.”

By Marie Boran