Ten mistakes beginning business bloggers make

Since this is a very long post, I decided to reproduce the list here, but hope you’ll read on.

1. Not blogging often enough
2. Burying your blog on your corporate web site
3. Not understanding what constitutes ‘value add’ and not providing it
4. Not blogging strategically
5. Not having a clear vision of your audience when blogging
6. Being intimidated by the whole process
7. Hiding your blog by not listing it on Technorati
8. Not blogging because you’re not inspired
9. Not engaging with the blogosphere
10. Not writing well and not knowing – or following – journalistic rules and standards

1. Not blogging often enough

If you’re going to add a blog to your corporate web site, you need to commit to blogging. If you’re only going to blog once a month, perhaps you’d be better off doing an email (or actual) newsletter and pushing the info out to your contacts. The chances that people will happen to discover your blog and its wonderful content by pulling that info through repeated visits to your otherwise static web site are slim. No matter how good your first two blog posts are, people won’t subscribe to your blog feed or continue to visit your blog if there’s nothing new there 9/10 times they revisit the site.

2. Burying your blog on your corporate web site

Your business blog can be the most dynamic content portion of your corporate web site. Don’t make people work for it. Feature your blog on your web site and make it the first thing the reader’s eye rests on. Here’s how it works, apparently: for those of us who read from left to right, your eyes first focus on content on the left side of the page – and then very quickly skip to the right and rest there. So that’s where your blog link should be. Over there – to the right. —>

3. Not understanding what constitutes ‘value add’ and not providing it in your blog

You’re the expert on your business, field of endeavour, and your company – its values, philosophy, products, and services. One of the fundamental reasons to create a business blog is to establish your expertise. The way to do that is to share information with others who aren’t subject matter experts on the same subject as you. Think about the little recipe cards you can still find at the supermarket. That’s value add in action. So okay I’ve never made the breaded halibut. But I bet lots of people have. The folks involved in producing that recipe card (and there were a lot of them: the marketing/PR/advertising folks who thought up the idea for the client, probably a large food distributor or industry association or the supermarket chain itself, the chef, the photographer, the graphic designer, the printer) are doing what I call ‘giving in the hope of getting at some unspecified future moment.’ So tell your readers what’s happening not just within your company, but within the industry, the local market, the regional market, and talk about how local trends differ from the regional, national, and international ones. And while I may never make the breaded halibut recipe, whenever I come across it I’m reminded that I like halibut and it’s likely to prompt me to buy more fish, even if I’m not buying bread crumbs as well.

4. Not blogging strategically

Before you decide to add a blog to your corporate web site (and at the risk of flogging a horse that refuses to die), you actually need to do some strategic thinking about what purpose your blog is designed to serve, what you will blog about, and who will blog on behalf of your company. You also need to create a realistic blogging schedule. One way to ensure you stick to a schedule is to not make it too rigid. If you decide to blog once a week, you don’t also have to determine that it will be every Tuesday. Once a week is fine. Twice a week is better. More than once a day might be a tad compulsive unless you’re a pro blogger. Consider Twittering instead.

5. Not having a clear vision of your audience when blogging

It works for every form of public address: pick a person in the audience and address your remarks to them. This can be the unlucky individual who had to sit in the front row because all the other seats were taken, or it can be a composite portrait of who can best benefit from what you have to say. Trust me on this one: it makes the writing a whole lot easier if you can imagine who will benefit most from reading your pearls of wisdom, regardless of whether they read your post or not.

Related to this is what I can only call ‘not being sufficiently familiar with the medium and not allowing your own voice to emerge.’ Blogging is both a 1:1 medium and a 1:many medium. Remember that no matter how many diverse readers your blog may eventually acquire, it is being read one person at a time. By writing conversationally rather than formally, you avoid sounding both stiff and pretentious. List your credentials in the ‘about’ section of your blog, and let the voice of your expertise emerge untrammeled through the wealth of information you provide.

6. Being intimidated by the whole process

This is a tricky one. For many people contemplating adding a business blog to their web site, their first impulse is to start researching how to do it. Unfortunately, the information you tend to find first comes from mega bloggers: people who make a living blogging or whose blogs are a major component of their social media consulting practices. This is not you. Remember that your core business is not blogging. Instead of reading a book or spending a lot of time reading what professional bloggers have to say about blogging, search for blogs already in existence in your subject area, subscribe to their feeds by email or Google Reader, and develop your own list of the good, the bad and the ugly blogging practices.

Do this for a month (or even two, or three) before you start your own blog. Also look for some blogs that deal with topics of personal interest to you. It may be easier for you to develop best blogging practices for your corporate blog if you’ve followed blogs that deal with your outside-the-workplace passions: photography, quilting, miniature trains, golf….

7. Hiding your blog by not listing it on Technorati

Technorati tracks, lists and ranks blogs. It’s just another tool in your arsenal so people can find your blog. Use it. It’s really easy. All you need to set up an account is an email address and a password.

8. Not blogging because you’re not inspired [on Wednesday, November 19, 2008, at 10:23AM PST and because your office is a mess]

Who cares about the state of your office? We’re talking about blogging – your readers can’t see the stack of papers threatening the structural integrity of your credenza. Just don’t film the YouTube video till you’ve tidied up.

Seriously though, by creating an article bank – whether it’s just a list of things you’d like to blog about or five to 10 blog posts written but not posted – you can maintain the regular blogging schedule you’ve set up (see 4. Not blogging strategically). You’ll not only ensure dynamic web content for your site, you’ll maintain your readers’ interest by continuing to post. And if you don’t feel like blogging when you’ve set aside the time to do so, just make a list of future blog posts and blog when you’re ready to – or ask someone else in your company to write a first draft for you. It’s a lot easier to react than to act. The acts of reading and editing can be inspirational.

9. Not engaging with the blogosphere

When you’re preparing to create your own corporate blog (see 6. Being intimidated by the whole process), you should be reading other blogs. You should also be subscribing to them via email or feed, and you should be commenting on the blogs you read. If you’re new to the online world, there are a few things you should keep top of mind when commenting. First and foremost is tone: text is a ‘flat’ medium. Sarcasm doesn’t translate well because tone is missing when we read rather than speak. Be careful.

Remember too, that in the words of the brilliant statesman Disraeli, ‘It is easier to be critical than correct.’ If you want to showcase your expertise, it should be on your own blog, not in the comment section of someone else’s. A tip for starting conversations rather than arguments: pose a question rather than emphatically state a ‘fact.’ Here’s an example: ‘Great post. Have you read what so-and-so has to say on this subject [link to web site, other blog post]?’ You know – as opposed to, ‘What a stupid thing to say. Everyone else who actually knows something about this subject disagrees with you. Where did you get your degree, out of a Cracker Jack box?’ While it’s fine to disagree with what someone else has posted, try to phrase things gently, make it clear that you’re expressing your opinion and that you’ve got some expertise/experience which may equal (in the case of expertise) or differ (your experience) from the blogger’s. Play nice.

Once you’ve started your own blog, add the blogs you’ve benefited from reading to your blog roll. And continue commenting on others’ blogs. If you want to start a series of conversations on your own blog (and that should be one of your primary goals), don’t turn it into a game of chicken. You’re the newbie – you be the one to go first.

10. Not writing well and not knowing – or following – journalistic rules and standards

The good news about writing is that it’s a skill you can continue to hone and polish your entire life. Unlike many other activities, you don’t necessarily plateau in terms of your writing skills and you don’t get slower at it as you age, although you may have to concede that you’re more alert and focused early in the morning than you are in mid- or late afternoon – I know I have.

Remember though that judging writing is highly subjective and that popularity doesn’t have a direct correlation to quality. I, for instance, have learned not to argue with Stephen King fans about what makes him such a very very bad writer, agree instead that he is highly imaginative, has sold a lot of books and they sure make good movies, don’t they? and – well – then I change the subject as quickly as possible. Oh look – there’s a baby T. Rex – dinosaurs aren’t really extinct – quick, does your cellphone take photos?

A few months ago I read somewhere (and I desperately wish I could remember where it was), that journalists create the first draft of history. Take as many tips as you can from the best and the brightest in this field. Try to be objective when you’re blogging and, if you’re blogging about a controversial issue, at least refer to those whose point of view is opposite to yours. Cite your sources – always. Do not plagiarize, either directly or indirectly.* This is immoral, illegal, and completely unethical. I’m hoping that’s not the kind of company you’re running. Links to your sources or to those you’re commenting on are the Web 2.0 version of the academic footnote. Test them after you’ve posted and fix them if they don’t work.

Disclose your own biases and affiliations. If you received a review copy, a free pass, or some other financial consideration that is motivating the blog post, make it clear you’ve done so. If you’re talking about a client directly, disclose that fact. If you’re not talking about one of your own clients but about someone else’s, make sure you disclose the fact that this is not one of your clients, this is merely your (hopefully highly informed) opinion and the advice you would give if the person or corporation was one of your clients.

Make it easy for your readers by providing links to other sources of information to which you’ve referred in your post or that will help them by providing more information. And do follow the generally accepted rules of journalistic convention. You know the way the ingredients on food packaging are listed in decreasing order by amount contained in the product (Cheerios: whole grain oat, modified corn starch, corn starch, sugar, salt…)? When referring to populations by ethnic or religious delineators, list them in order of most to least: Sudan’s population comprises Muslims, animists, and Christians. (Population breakdown of Sudan by religion: 55% Muslim, 45% animist, 5% Christian).

The Canadian Press Stylebook was long considered the ‘bible’ for Canadian journalists but I prefer the Globe and Mail Style Book. The CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices are among the most stringent in Canada. It’s also still one of the best newsgathering organizations in the world.

If you’re correcting information on your blog, only the tiniest of changes (correcting spelling and punctuation errors) should be done wordlessly. If you’re making substantive changes based on new information, either use strikeover mode so people can see what you initially wrote and how you’ve changed it, or add a segment either at the end of your post or in the appropriate place on the post that’s clearly marked ‘Edit: Since first posting, I’ve learned that the sky is not always blue, but can also appear to be pink, yellow, gray, black, or white.’

Don’t forget to specifically date/time your posts in your text references – this is the single most common writing mistake I see amongst bloggers. Yes, by looking at the date posted we can figure out that when you said ‘last year’ you meant 2007 because the blog entry is dated sometime in 2008. Don’t make your readers work that hard – it’s distracting when you have to interrupt your reading to do basic arithmetic.

If you don’t write well, either find someone else within your company you can engage by enlisting them as your corporate blogger, hire someone to write your blog posts for you, or hire a consultant who can work with you to massage, tweak, edit, and polish the information you provide. [Disclosure: I am available for consultation.]

* By plagiarizing indirectly, I don’t mean refraining from posting just because others have posted on the same topic. But in writing this post, for instance, the only ‘new’ research I did was to search for the links to the stylebooks, the CBC standards, and the Disraeli entry. I didn’t do a Google search on ‘top 10 mistakes beginning business bloggers make’ and then compile my own list. I just started writing, based on all the research and reading and blogging and public relations and corporate communications experience I’ve acquired over the years.

Finally, take a look at this blog, which is one of the best I’ve ever seen and which I’ve been reading avidly for the past month. [Disclosure: I would love to work with clients in the nanotechnology sector.] All joking aside, Andrew Maynard’s blog is a rich source of information about nanotechnology, he writes beautifully, manages to avoid all the mistakes I’ve listed in this post, and his charm, wit, and humour clearly emerge in posts like this one. But perhaps he’s not a beginning blogger – I’m not sure.

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About ruthseeley

Ottawa born, Toronto educated, lived in the Lower Mainland and southern AB for more than a decade. Geographically, I get around a bit (at least within Canada). Passionate about community, democracy, and good books. Fond of the Oxford comma.
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