Business blogging – what NOT to do!

There is loads of advice out there telling you how to blog successfully – there aren’t so many warning you of the pitfalls and advising how not to blog! The latest chapter of Naked Conversations is just such a guide.

The advice it offers is:

  1. Don’t do character blogs
  2. Listen to what the blogosphere says about you (and respond where appropriate) and
  3. Don’t be boring

For more, see below:

1. Don’t do character blogs – there are a number of examples cited as to why you shouldn’t use character blogs – the best known is the Vichy case:

Vichy developed a new anti-aging cream. As part of an integrated marketing launch program, Vichy’s ad agency sold them on the concept of a blog. From there, a series of missteps left Vichy with at least one foot in a bucket. The ad agency wrote the blog, starting with a fictitious author named Claire. This would prove to be a very bad idea. Claire blogged whiningly about needing more sleep so she could still party now that she was over age 35. An studio-produced photo showed Claire as an unwrinkled beauty gazing mystically into her hand mirror. Claire’s language was similar to the language in Vichy ads.

It took only a few hours for the blogosphere to react strongly to the negative. Comments began pouring in, declaring that this was not a blog, that the site had severely limited blog features, that people did not believe Claire was a real person and that Vichy was foisting a fraud on the public.

The difference is that in blogging, their audiences talk back to them sometimes in great numbers and with significant force… Blog visitors want authenticity. How can you have a real conversation with [a fictitious character]?

2. Listen to what the blogosphere says – this is a vital piece of advice. I advise all my clients to subscribe to searches (using Technorati, PubSub, MSN Search, etc.) on their names and/or their company names so they constantly hear what is being said and can react accordingly if something is said. In the case of Vichy – they quickly learned their lesson. They listened, changed their tack and were rewarded.

What’s important is that the blogosphere supports those who listen and change. Luminary bloggers like Bob Lutz, Richard Edelman and M.E. Leclerc all faced immediate criticism when they started blogs. All three listened to the people who visited them, people without the boardroom power that they each have, people without the focus group and marketing survey results in their hands—and each of them say that they have been enriched for the experience and we assume that helps their companies as well

Vichy reincarnated its blog as Journal de ma Peau. Their very first act on the new blog was to apologize for the old one. Then they declared Journal would serve customers by listening to them. Unlike the earlier version, Vichy’s new blog provided all the functionality that makes a blog more than a website. Vichy team members introduced themselves with a photo showing real people who looked more approachable than Claire. Very quickly, a dialog began building and the earlier irate comments were replaced by more supportive and constructive ones. Trust between company and its market began to build… customers asked questions the marketing team had not even imagined, such as: Could the cream be used at the same time as a sun screen, or for that matter—in sunlight. How about in conjunction with a facial mask? Answering such questions removed barriers to sales that would otherwise have remained undetected

Not listening to the blogosphere can have serious repercussions for your company – look at the example of Electronic Arts – a wife of an EA employee posted a blog entitled “Electronic Arts: The Human Story

Describing herself a “disgruntled significant other,� she wrote eloquently about unsavory company working conditions. To an untrained observer, it may have appeared to be an insignficant blog, with few links or pother indicators that the author had public influence. If it was even aware at first, Electronic Arts ignored the post when it came out. After all, who could possibly care about the lamentations of one developer’s wife? So EA just ignored it and went about their business. But, other bloggers noticed and pointed to it through links. As so often happens on the blogosphere, more-and-more people rapidly became aware and as they did, they spread the word further. The word-of-mouth process accelerated. Other people began confirming the allegations. The press caught wind and asked the company to comment. EA regurgitated the standard party line of “we don’t comment on employee relations issues.� So the press only could write the blogger side of the story. In July 2005, we went to Google and typed in “Electronic Arts + employees.� More than seven months after the original December posting, EA spouse was still the top-ranked item. EA Spouse herself was in the process of starting, a watchdog organization for the computer game industry overall. But EA will now have a venue in which it can respond. They now face two class action suits both charging employee abuses.

So is this a blip, or are their long-last implications to the company? Let’s fast-forward a few years. If you are a young, genius game developer, would this company be your first pick for employment? Where do you think recruiters looking for talent for other companies will go to raid accomplished games developers? If you are an investor, and for over a year, you keep reading about unhappy employees, litigation and see the company remaining mute, how secure would you consider an investment to be? If you are a fund manager, would you include the company in your portfolio?

EA are not alone in making this mistake – Kryptonite, the lock maker responded late to a blog and it cost them

Engadget, one of the most heavily trafficked of all blogsites, who posted a video showing how a BIC opened a Kryptonite lock. The company remained mute for a full week, at which time they served up a tepid statement that their locks remained a deterrent, but the company was working on a better one to be released at a later un specified date. The response expressed neither sympathy nor remedy for the hundreds of thousands of customers who had given the company money for a lock that was supposed to protect their property but did not. Bloggers verbally assaulted Kryptonite, spread commentary and dispatching heavy traffic to the Engadget video. Engadget ‘s owner Jason Calacanis estimated the video was seen by about 1.8 million visitors. Ten days after the original incident, the company equivocated, announcing it would replace 100,000 Bic-pickable locks at a cost to them of $10 million.

Most observers agreed that had the company jumped in earlier, showing that they cared about the security of their customers, the story would not have spread so rapidly and the financial damage to them would not have been so great

While another lock maker, Kensington, still hasn’t responded to a blog about them and are still feeling the hurt

in April 2005, Darren Barefoot, a Canadian blogger released a video on his site of someone using scissors, duct tape and a toilet paper role to disable a Kensington notebook computer lock in about two minutes. We’re not certain exactly where it originated, but from him the story quickly spread, soon reaching Boing Boing and Gizmodo, two of blogging’s most heavily trafficked sites. Kensington, whose notebook computer lock product slogan is, “If your notebook’s unlocked, your network is too,� chose to lock itself out of the blogging network. They remained silent even when matters got worse. Peter Rojas, then working for Engadget, jumped in with a new angle—a photo of someone picking a Kensington steering wheel lock. As far as we know, the company still has not responded. Given the fact that a similar crisis had just cost another lock maker $10 million, it’s seems to us Kensington’s course was obvious: Join the conversation fast. Say you are shocked to learn of this problem that your best engineers will study and solve the problem. Apologize to your customers, then make good on your commitment.

Don’t take this to mean that the only reason you should blog or monitor the blogosphere is to knock bad publicity on the head

Six Apart EVP Anil Dash who placed a comment on Barefoot’s Kensington post: “I don’t disagree with any of your [Barefoot] points, but boy, I hate that lesson of: Monitor the blogosphere or, sooner or later, you’re going to get burned. It sounds like the reason corporations should engage the weblog medium is because we’ll extort them if they don’t. The real reason … is because there’s tremendous opportunity for them here. For every lock that gets picked, there are a thousand new customers that could be reached, endless amounts of free market research available and creative new suggestions.â€?

3. Don’t be boring – boring blogs, like boring anything else, turn people off.

For a global corporation Boeing began early with blogs in 2004. They read like corporate brochures, containing all the drama and conflict of an out-of-date train schedule. We thought this a shame because Boeing is a company of tremendous strategic importance and is embroiled in a clash-filled competition with the French Airbus. But you wouldn’t have known that from their earlier blogs. They seem to have paid attention to feedback, however, and more recent efforts have improved. Its newest blog, Flight Test Journal is often downright thrilling as decribes what it takes to sufficiently test a new aircraft, in this case the 777-200. The company has also made innovative efforts to join the blogosphere. It recently invited a squadron of bloggers to go up in a 777 test flight, if they would blog about the experience

Good blogs, as we’ve mentioned, go far to boost employee morale. Adam Phillabaum, who recently joined the aeronautical giant after getting his computer science degree from the University of Idaho, told us,“I happen to work for a company that *had* a blog that basically everyone thought was lame. Boeing is freaking huge, and sometimes it may be hard to change something in a company this large. But as soon as they heard from the blogosphere that they were lame, it was fixed right-quick. I always thought that was really cool.�

Probably the most important advice if you are embarking on a business blog is research blogging first – find a few blogs you like (not necessarily in your own area) and ask yourself, what aspect of this blog do I like! It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many companies don’t do this and who therefore get it wrong when they first embark on a blogging project.