Blogs are disrupting traditional media channels. They have the potential to make or break brands and reputations. Within two years, a blogging policy should be included in every organisation’s marketing strategy and content management system.

Contrary to popular opinion, your priority is not to start blogging in earnest. Instead you should ask, ‘how do we respond if somebody sets up an ‘I hate [insert your name here] blog?’ It’s an extreme case but will help you focus on what matters – listening to your customers and responding effectively. Lock manufacturer Kryptonite provides a great example of what can happen if you don’t act, as retold by The Global Blogging Effect (scroll down to the section titled ‘The Kryptonite Factor’). The short version: failing to respond cost Kyrptonite millions of dollars and the damage to their brand will take a generation to repair. Silence is not an option. A bad blog entry is like a red wine stain – ignore it and the stain becomes permanent, do the wrong thing and it will get worse, act quickly in the right way and you can fix it. But there is an upside to this effect. Blogs can give you feedback faster and richer than any other channel. Not convinced? Hugh MacLeod has shown how blogging helped double the sales of a certain brand of wine in just 12 months. If you are prepared to connect with, listen and respond to your audience, you will be rewarded. And this effect is not limited to external conversations. The nature of blogs make it a powerful medium for sharing knowledge internally.

So you’ve written your policy and you want your organisation to start blogging – what to do? Realise that blogs are just digital conversations and share similar characteristics with verbal conversations – they are optional and difficult to control. You cannot force someone to write or read a blog (well, you can, but it will be as useful as a statement in court). Similarly, you can’t force someone not to write a blog (well you can, but would you really want to do that? …Really?) And if you try to control the content, you risk faking it. L’Oreal did and learned the hard way (but they listened, responded quickly and made an incredible recovery – The Fall and Rise of Vichy retells the story). You need to decide what type of blog would benefit your organisation, identify who wants to be involved, create a policy, set up the tools and leave them to it. You have to trust them, accept that writing a blog isn’t a 5-minute activity and that mistakes will be made a long the way. But care is needed. A digital conversation has one characteristic that differs from verbal conversations – it is written down. That makes it a record, just like email and instant messaging. Yup, that means blogging activities will need to be considered part of your overall content management system and applicable to the same governance and regulations. And if your organisation could benefit from some email etiquette training, blogging will be no different.

The benefits (and disadvantages) of blogs will depend on how and why you want to connect with an audience. There are no hard and fast rules. In the technology industry, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft have both benefited from employees blogging. Apple prefers the secret squirrel approach but (just about) everyone still loves Apple. The media industry huffs and puffs at blogging but the house isn’t about to blow down and goodness knows why they want it to. The only media threatened by blogs is mediocre and badly written journalism. If you want to build a stronger relationship with your audience, be it employees, customers, suppliers, partners, existing, new and old, the chances are blogging can help. If you are in the middle of investing in some form of customer relationship management system, are you including blogs in that project? If not, why not? If you want to maintain strict control over content and communication then blogging probably isn’t for you. That doesn’t mean you can avoid including it in your marketing strategy – just because you aren’t blogging doesn’t stop people from blogging about you…

Blogging is not mandatory, it simply provides a channel where people can connect and converse, if they want to. Blogging is just one element emerging on the Internet that demonstrates what The Cluetrain Manifesto pondered back in 2000:

“What if the real power of the web lay not in the technology behind it, but in the profound changes it brings to the way people interact with business?”

That’s what blogging is really about and that’s why IT matters.

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