Harness the power of employee bloggers

Should a company hire a professional writer for its blog? No, according to Chris Baggott, CEO of Compendium Blogware.

In fact, he says, a company’s best bloggers already work there. They’re in customer service, accounts payable, human resources, shipping — you name it.

Moreover, he says, as many employees as possible should be blogging. The reason: to generate as much relevant content as possible aimed at getting the company turning up in search engine results.

“The biggest myth in blogging is the myth of the reader, or the idea that I’m blogging because I’ve got subscribers, or people paying attention, or people interested who are going to follow me,” he says. “The vast majority of blog visits are from first-time visitors and they come from two sources: search and referrals [a link from some other source].”

He adds: “Blogging is not a top-down endeavor anymore where the CEO blogs or hires a ghost blogger.” It’s freeing up your folks to talk about what they know.

Of course, you must have some sort of approval process to review employee blog posts before they go up. But once it’s in place, Baggott says, employees can be a source of some of the best sales and-customer service copy.

“The fact is, they’re generally reasonably smart people who like their jobs and care about the customer,” says Baggott. Another advantage of opening the blogging process across a company’s workforce is it doesn’t unduly burden one person or a few people, he says.

As for employees who don’t want to blog, Baggott says don’t force them. “Some people just aren’t good at it, but others want to feel empowered and they want to blog.” And with some light incentives, such as free lunch for the department that publishes the most posts, those who do want to blog should more than make up for those who don’t.

Debbie Weil, corporate blogging consultant and author of The Corporate Blogging Book, agrees with getting as many employees to blog as possible. But she argues that the days of the CEO blogger aren’t necessarily over.

It’s true that most CEOs are either too busy or don’t want to write, Weil says. “But the solution is easy: Have as many employees as possible blog, but have the CEO weigh in every once in a while.”

Another option is to do a 50- or 60-second interview with the CEO and put that on the blog. “At this point, a blog is really part of a next-generation Website,” Weil says. “It’s no longer daring. It’s no longer risky. It’s just a publishing platform.”

The product is the star

Merchants also have to understand what the company’s blog is not: a venue to build personal brand, Baggott says.

For a cataloger, “the star of the blog is not the author,” he says. “It’s the product, uses of the product and what problems it solves.” But if a company blogger stands out — for the right reasons, of course — he or she should not be discouraged from doing so, Baggott says.

Too often, corporate bloggers are simply anointed and end up being not very good at it. “But if you open it up to everybody, you’ll find people who love cardigan sweaters, are passionate about them, want to talk about them — and they end up doing a great job,” says Baggott.

At his own company, for example, several of the best bloggers are its software developers. “Half of those people don’t even speak when they’re in the office, and you don’t know they’re there, Baggott says. “But they’re deep thinkers on the subject and they write great stuff.”

Engage the reader

The biggest mistake companies make with blogs, according to Baggott, is using the volume of repeat readership as a measure of engagement.

“I’ve seen people in retailing and cataloging totally ignore the search element,” he says. “They say ‘70% of my blog traffic comes from search. Our program is a failure,’ and I say, ‘You are out of your mind.’”

If most of a corporate blog’s traffic is coming from search, it is not remotely a failed effort, says Baggott.

The second biggest mistake companies make with blogs is failing to allow readers to take the next step in engagement, such as signing up for a newsletter or clicking through to a relevant product page.

“You’re getting first-time visitors. What do you want those first-time visitors to do, follow you on Facebook?” says Baggott. “No, you want them to convert. You want them entered into your system.”

As a result, online retailers’ blog pages should be treated as landing pages, says Baggott. “It should be treated like a landing page in a pay-per-click campaign,” he says. “It should have the same responsibility for conversion as any Web property in your system.”

Compendium Blogware has seen companies build up their e-mail databases by winning searches with their blogs, he notes. “You’ve got to think about it not like a blog, but like an organic landing page.”

Speak their language

Another key element is making sure the employee blog posts are written in the same language as that likely to be used by customers and prospects when they search. Companies often refer to products and services internally in terms that the general public doesn’t use, Baggott says: “PVC floor covering,” as opposed to “rubber floor mats,” for example.

And this is another reason why low-level employees make better prospective bloggers than C-level executives.

“The person working in customer service is the one who understands the language of the customer best,” says Baggott. “They’re the ones who are talking to people.”

It’s important to foster a company culture that allows for creativity, Weil says. “If it’s the kind of place where you have to tip-toe around and can’t really say what’s on your mind, you’re probably not going to get a bunch of employees blogging. You need a company culture that encourages entrepreneurial behavior, because blogging is a creative outlet.”

Just keep in mind that corporate blogging is not journalism, Baggott adds. “It’s the thing you just sent out in an e-mail, or the telephone conversation you just had. Look at your Outlook account. You probably just sent 10 blog posts in e-mail today.”