Venturing into the blogosphere may improve communication and offer new marketing inroads, but uncontrolled content could damage your business…
Corporate blogging, or ‘clogging’, is a hot topic at the moment, with many companies urging staff to use corporate weblogs to communicate directly with both clients and customers. And the burgeoning commercial value of the so-called blogosphere (apparently there’s a new blog created every second) was etched into the collective corporate consciousness following online giant AOL’s recent purchase of Santa Monica based Weblogs Inc.
Furthermore, soaring numbers of consumers are turning to online weblogs as an alternative source of news and product information, so it’s no wonder that so many companies are investigating the business benefits of blogging. These include measurable returns on investment, tangible brand awareness growth and burgeoning levels of sales and new business thanks to marketing and sales gains.
Nevertheless, now that all the technological novelty and fun has cooled, warning bells are starting to sound, and companies should make themselves fully aware of all the potential pitfalls before entering the blogosphere. Although weblogs may offer businesses an ideal marketing opportunity, they can also prove a costly minefield if the terrain isn’t navigated with a savvy strategy.
Beware the blog rush
Businesses rushing to take advantage of blogging culture are often failing to give the information they publish the same attention as other forms of business communication, leaving themselves open to litigation, poor language and brand damage. Weblog authors are often unspecialised members of staff who don’t have enough corporate knowledge or experience to write effective marketing documents.
Intriguingly, Emphasis Training, leading a drive to improve written communication in business, has already found that Britain’s increasing digital dependency is annually costing large companies £10,000 per person, on average, just for reading and writing emails. And, worryingly, it believes the perceived informality and poor use of English marring business emails is likely to affect commercial blogging to an even greater extent.
Blogs provide corporate users with a powerful means of marketing their products, but there is also a downside – detractors can also make their presence felt. Companies that have all of their ducks in a row when it comes to engaging with traditional media are also going to have to think about responding pro-actively and taking part in blog discussions about themselves and their brands, since discussions will take place whether they respond or not.
Corporate blogging – the legal quagmire
Bloggers writing anything negative or defamatory about their company could be leaving themselves (and the company itself) open to legal action, as David Carr, a partner at London-based consulting firm The Big Blog Company, explains.
‘There are both external and internal issues that you as a small business owner need to worry about. All the laws that apply to print media apply to online media. In fact they apply even more so, since you can read blogs outside of the UK, whereas you might not be able to read some print media overseas.’
Carr continues – ‘if people are blogging on behalf of your company, you need to concern yourself about libel and trade libel, and you should also worry about hate speech and anti-discrimination laws, as well as anything that could be construed as threatening, abusive, or inciting religious hatred.’ Corporate blogs that skirt around legal proceedings are also to be avoided at all costs, since ‘you could find yourself in contempt of court if it’s a criminal matter.’
Other ‘internal’ issues to bear in mind include breaching the privacy of your customers, of any contracts that you have signed, or even the privacy of your fellow colleagues. Posting pictures of colleagues drunk at the Christmas party is an absolute no. And ‘you have to be careful about saying anything about colleagues that could be interpreted as harassment, since protection against email harassment is now well established in law.’
Captains of industry in the small quoted arena should also remember that ‘your corporate blogs must never disclose price- sensitive information or trade secrets.
Overall, I think it is good for a company to have blogs,’ surmises Carr, ‘but make sure that there is a corporate policy in place regarding what subjects should and shouldn’t be blogged about, and that there is somebody in an editorship role.’
Simon Crisp is chief executive of Adwalker, the AIM-listed specialist in ‘wearable media’ solutions that already ‘blogs’ between its Irish, UK and US offices to assist as a sales tool. The company is also about to launch an external blog in order to school people in the merits of ‘experiential’ media.
‘We are operating in a relatively unheard of sector, and there are very few people writing about experiential media right now,’ says Crisp. ‘We are going to send it to our clients and to our investors in order to build confidence in Adwalker and the sector.’
Crisp is also adamant that the right blog controls are in place. ‘We don’t ever talk about or gossip about the opposition in our blogs, and though all external blog ideas will be gratefully received, there will only be one owner.’