One thing I’ve been focusing on lately is new blog development. I’m a big fan of ensuring those who count on me for social media counsel have a mechanism to distribute content, whether it be via a standard corporate blog or even a news release-type content system managed by a blog engine.

Blog PlanSo you (or your boss/client) want to start a blog. You can just whip something up at Blogger.com or WordPress.com and there you have it, right? Well, yes, but just going through the motions and having a place to jot your daily notions isn’t all there is to building a business blog. You wouldn’t just take out an ad before you had a message and some images to go in it would you? You wouldn’t book yourself to speak at a luncheon without having notes or a speech prepared.

Think of starting a blog like asking an investor for money.

You shouldn’t even make an appointment with a potential investor or small business loan officer without a solid business plan and some well-though scenarios on funding, marketing, competition and the like. Right? Why then would you want to open an online home for conversations with your customers without a script for success?

Here are just a few of the things you need to know before you even go looking for blog software:

1. Why are you blogging?

If your answer is, “Because everyone else is and I think it will be cool,” you probably should hold off on putting your business out on that limb. Go start a personal blog somewhere to practice and play. In fact, that’s a nice place to learn the mechanism of blogging while you’re answering all these questions.

The first questions I pose to clients who tell me they want to blog are 1. Who are you talking to? And 2. What is it you want to say to them? If you don’t have a clear definition of those two answers, you’ll need them before proceeding. Successful blogging isn’t done with a shot gun. It’s done with an arrow.

2. Do you know the rules of the road?

The worst thing that can happen to a business blog is for its authors to not understand the online community and the societal norms that exist here. Ask Wal-Mart and Sony what they think about knowing blogging ethics if you need a deeper dive.

In general, corporate blogs are successful when they follow The Four I’s Of Blogging:

  1. Imperative: Honesty – If you feel comfortable fudging the numbers or facts in the way you represent your company, you won’t last long here. The Internet is not only full of people who love filtering out untruths, but ones who have platforms (blogs) to tell the world about your lies.
  2. Insist on Transparency – Many people are nervous about blog comments because of the potential for negative ones. A blog without comments is a bully pulpit. One without negative comments falls immediately to the “not credible” category in the mind of the online community.
  3. Initiate Credibility – Dealing with negatives in the open starts this process, but you want to be proactive in creating an aura of credibility around your blog. What this means is that blogging isn’t the only activity you’ll need to find time for. Credibility in the online space is earned through meaningful participation in that space. You’ll need to find similar blogs and comment on them. Participate in the greater discussion elsewhere to attract some of that discussion to your site. Otherwise, it’s like you’re giving your best sales pitch to your receptionist … and maybe the UPS guy who happens by.
  4. Influence Responsibly – Once you have established your blog with the honesty and transparency the online community insists upon, and established a level of credibility as a blogger, you are in a position of influence. You have an audience willing to listen to what you have to say. The marketer in your business (or the back of your mind) will say something along the lines of, “Now we’ve got them where we want them.” That is the wrong attitude to have. The moment you cross the lines of appropriate behavior, you risk losing all the credibility and influence you have built.

3. Who owns the responsibility of the blog?

This is often the hardest thing for an organization to decide. The CEO is not normally going to have either the time or the technical acumen to run a blog him or herself. Is it the public relations or corporate communications folks’ per view? What about the digital marketing or interactive department? Info tech? Marketing?

The bottom line is that you need to know from the start who will actually build the blog, who will be in charge of updating it – which can and often is different from the actual author – and, perhaps most importantly, who will be in charge of establishing the editorial content and calendar of the blog. You can broadly say what you’ll blog about, but someone has to watch the real calendar, incorporate industry events and the like to ensure your topics are fresh, timely and relevant. You don’t just wake up on April 15 and write a thoughtful, relevant blog post about the implications of income tax day on your business. Each post takes some degree of planning and, because engaging your audience is a key element of successful blogging, someone needs to continually plan and think of how you can do that on a regular basis.

Other editorial answers you should address before you ever start include:

  1. Who will actually author the content? (CEO only, senior management, communications staff, department heads?)
  2. Who will monitor and/or moderate comments?
  3. How often will we post something/What is the longest lapse between posts we’re comfortable with?
  4. Are there any restricted topics?
  5. Who will we link to?
  6. Beyond our RSS feeds, how will we distribute or promote our new posts?
  7. How will we handle images and/or video content? (Do we need a Flickr feed? YouTube? Other?)

4. How will we launch and promote the blog?

Anyone can start a blog and post entries. But it takes some thought and energy to attract readers to those entries. Launching a blog can be like launching a new product. You’ll want the appropriate communications plan in place to make sure the readers you want to go there know it exists.

Whether it’s an email blast to your current customer base or even a press release and appropriate media communications, organic growth without a little encouragement is slow. And while the marketing folks will think promoting your blog through traditional advertising might be an easy way to get the word out, there’s something just wrong about saying, “HEY! GO SEE OUR BLOG WHERE WE PROMISE NOT TO SHOUT AT YOU LIKE THIS!”

You may want to consider starting the blog off with a contest, call to action for user-generated content or, if your marketing and creative folks just HAVE to get their fingers on it, have them create a funny video or something that might grow some viral legs and drive people there.

But That’s Not All …

Answering all of the above questions will give you a clear vision of what your blog will be at the onset, but blogging, like many aspects of business, is fluid. Continual assessment of how you’re doing, what you’re doing well, what can improve and so on, is a necessary addition to your monthly or quarterly reviews. If, after six months of blogging, you post your first video and your traffic suddenly spikes … do more video. (Or at least figure out why the sudden influx of interest.)

Finally, there are literally thousands of fantastic resources out there on blogging. Some of them can be found in the other posts links you’ll find below. My list of planning questions may vary from theirs a bit, but the main points are all going to be similar. If you find, or are a blogging expert and know of, some additional thoughts to put toward a blogging plan, please share them in the comments. Adding a few more questions to the worksheet can’t hurt. As noted novelist and poet Don Williams Jr., once said, “Despair is most often the offspring of ill-preparedness.”

Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:

  1. How To Give Your New Blog The Upper Hand
  2. Starting A New Blog? Start With A Mind Map
  3. Now Is Gone: Market Your Blog As A Company Would
  4. How To Succeed In Business Blogging Without Trying
  5. Why You Need A (Multi-Talented) Blog Editor

[tags]blogging, blog planning, strategic planning, business blogging, CEO blogs, starting a blog[/tags]

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. 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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