Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Ian Greenleigh, the Social Media Manager for Bazaarvoice.

I’ve written a lot about what makes a corporate blog successful and why most fail miserably. Infrequent posts. Content inconsistency. Lazy editors. Buried calls-to-action. Take your pick—these mistakes are all symptomatic of impending blog disaster, but none alone are a death sentence. So what is?

The curse of company-centric content

Blogging for Cats
Image by Vicki’s Pics via Flickr

Nearly all of the ghost town blogs I’ve evaluated share a common focus: themselves. And yet, I’d be willing to wager that none of their corporate owners would blink before telling you that their company was customer-centric. This is the dire disconnect that keeps a blog from delivering value to its readers, and few companies seem to realize the hypocrisy of investing millions in marketing campaigns to convince customers that they care while simultaneously blogging almost exclusively about themselves.

This problem originates with a fundamental misperception about the ideal role of the company blog. Too many see it as nothing more than a place to plaster press releases, company updates, event promotions and product information. When is the last time you saw a tweet from someone you follow that led you to a “content dump” like this? The blogs that end up thriving focus intensely on serving their current and prospective customers.  They address common pain points, explore fascinating ideas, share unique perspectives and generate spirited discussions about things their customers care about. These blogs tell stories in which they are not the main character.

Don’t burn the press releases

An informal, anonymous survey of our blog readers found that only 3% are interested in seeing posts that offer “info on our products and services,” while only 10% want to see “updates about Bazaarvoice” on the blog. The rest were interested in strategy, thought leadership, how-to guides and other externally-focused content. Think about it: Do you like people that only talk about themselves? Why would customers feel any differently about companies?

So, should you just burn all the press releases, product updates and event promotions you’ve queued up? Of course not. These content types are useful when they live in the right places. Keep the press releases in the press section, and so on. If you’re worried that some blog visitors are actually looking for this content, simply make sure it’s easy to find through clear navigation to other areas of your site. Alternatively, establish separate blogs for product- and company-centric posts (Radian6 is a perfect example of how this split can work; see their distinct Social Strategy and Radian6 Platform blogs).

A different type of conversion

There’s always the possibility that company-centric content can be converted into customer-centric content. For instance, announcing an award win, by itself, is the type of chest-beating that you typically won’t see on the most successful corporate blogs. But there’s more to the story than that, isn’t there? What went in to your award win that others might find helpful? What lessons are applicable to your larger audience? Frame the post like this, and you’ve converted a self-congratulatory “we won” piece into something that adds value. Now you’ve got content worth sharing.

Who are you serving?

Content that appears as though it’s self-serving will actually serve neither company nor customer in the long run. You want SEO value? Blog about the problems your customers are Googling.  Thought leadership? Say something new about ideas that are larger than your brand. Conversions?  Give them something valuable before you ask them for anything.

A customer-centric blog does not need to be about customers, but it does need to serve them. You could, in fact, never mention your current customers by name and maintain customer-centricity. As long as you’re taking the focus off yourself and placing it on the world outside your offices, you’re practicing what you preach.

Your blog is your brand. If your company is truly customer-centric, your blog needs to be, too.

Ian Greenleigh is Social Media Manager for Bazaarvoice, the industry leader in social commerce solutions that increase revenue. Find more of his writing on The Social Commerce Blog and Dare to Comment, and follow his tweets from @be3d and @bazaarvoice.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • ahanelly

    Brilliant post, Ian. A corporate blog should truly be customer service. And customer service, obviously, actually serves the customer. I think your points are spot on here.

    It sort of reminds me of the “networker” who goes to events with a stack of business cards and hands them out like free samples outside of Panda Express. Is he/she really there to network? Or is it thinly veiled self-service.

    Self-service is the opposite of customer service (hey, that makes a nice blog title, maybe I'll piggyback of you here, if you don't mind). Anyway, great post. Especially for a Saturday!

    • http://twitter.com/be3d Ian Greenleigh

      You get extra points for working in a Panda Express reference. As I mention in the post, companies may think they're servicing themselves (which sounds kind of dirty, BTW), but they're actually shooting themselves in the foot. Piggyback away!

  • Jenna Cerruti

    This is a great post. I think that too often companies are using blogs to just “dump” information on its target publics. While blogs can be useful tools to broadcast information to customers, they also offer a valuable connection to the customer directly. Companies should use blogs to actively listen to what customers are saying about them and engage with customers to better understand what they want (and expect) from your company.

    • http://twitter.com/be3d Ian Greenleigh

      Exactly, Jenna. Companies often don't realize what kind of an asset they're sitting on. At the same time, I'd argue that “something” is not better than “nothing” when it comes to blogging. Approaching a blog from the wrong direction entirely can make a company seem incredibly disconnected from its customers. Thanks for stopping by!

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  • Teresa Basich

    Ian! Fantastic post, and one that I hope sincerely more corporate blog editors and managers land on. I'm not sure how, exactly, the company blog became the home of press releases, but I'd imagine it stemmed somewhere from the depths of We Don't Have Time To Maintain a Blog But We Need One land.

    This doesn't mean you can't talk about your products or services. As you noted in your post, we've created two separate blogs: one to discuss product-agnostic, industry-focused topics, and one to talk about our platform in more depth. We didn't do this, though, so we'd have a chance to talk more about ourselves — we created the Platform blog because our platform is deep enough that customers and prospects would benefit from learning more about it. It's not about *us*.

    If you start a company blog from that perspective, the one that makes your blog *not about you*, then you'll probably head in the right direction.

    Thanks for a great post, and for giving our blogs a bit of kudos. We really appreciate it. :-)

    Cheers,
    Teresa

    —-

    Teresa Basich
    Community Manager, Radian6

    • http://twitter.com/be3d Ian Greenleigh

      Hi Teresa,

      I think the blog became a content dump because no one clearly guarded it, it was easy to update, and it wasn't getting a lot of visibility in the first place. Thanks for being good enough to make my post.

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