The corporate blogosphere is still small, but is growing rapidly. According to eMarketer, about 43% of US companies will use blogs for marketing purposes by 2012.
There are several reasons that I believe could be attributed towards this growth of corporate blogs:
- Firms are starting to recognize that connecting knowledge workers with the external audience can help generate awareness, build customer relationship, generate leads, develop relationships and bring value to the firm.
- Corporate blog policies are better fleshed out now, so firms are becoming comfortable with letting their employees participate (within reason) and express their individual opinions without the threat of a lawsuit.
- Audience trust in general around corporate blogs has risen. In a 2008 Forrester Survey, corporate blogs were rated the lowest among the series of information sources that user’s trust (See http://forrester.typepad.com/groundswell/2008/12/people-dont-tru.html). I believe that this trend has started to reverse as the wider audience realizes that corporate blogs can be a good source of useful, valuable information and have an independent voice (and in some cases, may not necessarily reflect the views of the company).
Given the rising importance and relevance of blogs to connect with the customer, outlined below are a number of best practices and considerations for corporate blog sites.
Understand target personas: In order to market the blog to the right audience, it will be important to understand the details around users and their experience level with blogs: Do they visit blogs regularly or only occasionally? Are they familiar with blog terminology? Have they used a feed reader before? What is the information in the blog that is highly relevant to them? How did the current users find the blog?
Many of these answers can be uncovered through effective user research and the creation of design personas. These personas can help create a shared understanding of your users among blog managers, authors, and the blog design/development team to develop highly targeted and relevant structure/content for the end-user.
In many cases, if personas have already been created for a main corporate site, some of them may be transferable to the blog site as well. However, there may be additional nuances about the user that may be relevant to understand for the blog site.
Customize the user experience to fit the corporate brand and users' needs: Most corporate blogs can be challenging to navigate due to confusing terminology and poor structure which may hinder mainstream user adoption and regular readership. In order to maximize the effectiveness of blogs, it is important to ensure a good user experience all through on the blog and which in turn can help with the “findability” of the blog. Evaluating the overall blog design can be a way to ensure good usability and facilitate greater readership.
- Many corporate blogs offer a relatively vanilla look-and-feel, and tend to utilize a standard blog software (e.g. WordPress) layout. This may not lead to a particularly stand-out user experience for the target user who may be used to stronger web site experiences in general. A strong title and brand for the blog to communicate the overall purpose is very important. For instance, Ayantek’s blog called “Digital Voices” has a unique brand that builds on the corporate brand and reflects the overall intent around the expected content.
- Including standard blog monikers & features such as RSS/XML buttons in addition to providing inexperienced users with Help/How To information on using Feed readers
- Integrating and leveraging blog articles across other sites and assets, including featured blog articles on the homepage, will increase the richness of your content and drive users driven deeper.
- While corporations spend sometimes millions of dollars to maximize the effectiveness of their brand on a corporate web site, it is equally important to build a fantastic user experience on the blog.
- Incorporate standard search engines optimization techniques so search crawlers can easily index the content and help drive page relevancy rankings.
- Building a usable navigation is critical, especially considering that many users may bypass the main blog page and could arrive directly at an article page from an external search. Just like Web sites, blogs need clear navigational constructs to help users move around and explore the blog. Primary Navigation can provide an effective means to easily traverse the site, breadcrumbs can be used to highlight the user's current location within the blog.
- If your organization has multiple blogs some of which have related content, an overall corporate blog strategy may be helpful. For instance, classifying blogs and blog content by topics may help users find more relevant content.
Invest in traditional marketing practices: Like corporate websites, blogs needs to be marketed and promoted in order gain popularity and increased viewership. Traditional digital marketing practices such as Display advertising, SEM, SEO, email marketing, trade journals, advertisements in popular technology websites and magazines etc. should be undertaken to increase awareness and reach a broader audience base. Ultimately, the quality of content on the blog will determine whether it holds the user’s interest and keeps them coming back regularly for more.