If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 1,000 times: “your business should be blogging.”
But while everybody is quick to offer up that advice and even outline a hundred thousand good reasons why (a Google search for “Why your business should be blogging” yields about 1,420,000,000 results), fewer seem capable of tackling the trickiest question of all…
How do you make it happen?
I mean, a business blog is great in theory, but in practice it can become a different kind of four-letter word.
Left to their own devices, well-meaning businesses have tried various approaches to tackling this challenge. Sometimes, their ideas work and other times, great sounding strategies come with some unexpected results.
Here, I highlight three of the most common approaches that sound great on paper but don’t play out so well in reality. Use them as examples when forming your own blogging strategy. You might just see your own approach in the mix!
I’m also going to offer solutions to adjust these strategies and make them work much, much better.
But first, let’s set the stage with this short interlude.
1. “We’ll Make Everyone in the company a Blogger!”
Especially common with small businesses, this strategy attempts to turn inward for content by making everyone on the team a contributor. Typically, everyone is given a day of the week or a set number of posts to contribute. Someone is usually given the task of managing the blog and chasing down all the contributors to make sure they produce and get the content up on the website.
There are a lot of potential upsides to this approach:
- The cost savings of not having to hire a full-time or freelance writer.
- A diverse range of content from different people with different perspectives/experiences.
- Scaling the content creation workload; more content with less burden on just one person.
But there are also several unexpected drawbacks to this approach that can get in the way of success.
- No buy-in. A lot of companies treat blogging like a directive coming down from the top but never take the time to get their teams clued in as to why all of this writing is important. If they don’t buy in, they won’t follow through.
- A lack of talent. Your team might be brilliant leaders, hugely effective in their fields—but In the same way that not everyone can sing, not everyone can write. It’s a bit like forcing a fish to climb a tree.
- A lack of time. Whether you’re a 20-person team or a two-lawyer firm, your team has other tasks they need to accomplish. People prioritize their time and put it into the things they think are most important. Unless people want to blog, it will inevitably be relegated to last-minute bursts or ignored completely. When they do write, it’ll be rushed and won’t reflect their best effort.
- Frustration. When you tell someone to do something they’re not good at and then force them to give up their time to do it, it will inevitably lead to frustration—not just for the writer, but for the poor person you’ve put in charge of herding cats.
- Inconsistent voice. The approach of using multiple authors is great for variety, but a nightmare for brand tone and voice. If you don’t have someone handling QA or the documentation in place to guide contributors, you’ll wind up with a corporate blog that sounds like 20 different people wrote it—and not in a good way.
Collaboration. Bring your team together and discuss the blog and the possibility of contributing. Identify staff who actually want to contribute, and then make it easy for them! Invite them to be a part of the decision-making process on things like posting frequency, subject matter and the level of commitment necessary. Give them ownership of the idea.
As for the issues of talent, if someone is keen to be the editor and has the literary and organizational chops to pull it off, let them! But if not, keep in mind that a great editor can make mediocre writers into good writers and actually save you money in the long-run. Consider outsourcing to someone you can build a long-term relationship with and who can take the time to understand your brand, your objectives and your audience.
Lastly, document everything. Have a style guide that outlines tone and voice. Have a single point of contact for editing to enforce—and make sure there’s a process in place for giving people constructive feedback on their work (not just impromptu criticisms).
2. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Another really common strategy for businesses is to hire someone else who is prominent in your industry to write for you—almost always at a price. Just like our previous example, this can actually be a tremendously viable approach with a lot of upsides, including:
- Audience leeching. Influencers will bring with them a ready-built audience who knows and loves their content. Your brand can absorb some of this audience, giving you traction where you didn’t have any before.
- Social sharing. Often, prominent influencers have enormous networks that will share their content. You can earn a lot of buzz and links just by tapping into the writer’s own network.
- Credibility. If “X” person is willing to associate themselves with you, your company or product will look credible as a result.
But again, what sounds good in theory can quickly fall flat in real life:
- Brand hijacking. If someone is a really prominent personality, there’s a danger that he or she will actually start to commandeer your brand. People will tune in for these big personalities and their content, not for your brand, your offering or what you stand for, and their voice becomes your brand’s voice even if you never meant for it to.
- Promotion. All too often, brands take their hands off the wheel and start to RELY on the influencer’s network to promote their content. That frustrates content creators, who are looking for brands to promote their work and help expand their reach. If your business has scaled back the promotional effort because you think you can coast on someone else’s reputation, you’re bound to find yourself in trouble.
- Dependence. If your entire strategy rests on someone else speaking for you and that person decides to leave, you’ve got a huge, gaping hole to fill. It can be tough to scale your content when it all goes through just one or two people.
It’s perfectly acceptable to bring in some extra muscle—in fact, iAcquire is a perfect example of this strategy in action, with a team of great contributors who have helped to make this blog a go-to resource.
However, you need to have your own stuff goin’ on too. Your brand needs to be sending its own messages and fostering its own voice, not just trying to leap-frog over someone else’s. That’s why you see iAcquire investing in their own efforts, writers and ideas.
Look to foster in-house talent, and be sure that you are publishing branded content that is entirely your own. Keep relationships with the writers positive so that they’re willing to cross-promote and tie what they’re creating back into your company and your branding.
And never, ever wind down your promotional efforts. Keep them healthy, and keep them growing. Being a great promoter can actually help you attract even more great talent to your side when they see an opportunity to expand their personal reach. Great writers or prominent individuals are promotional band-aids, but when they leave, their audience will go with them if you haven’t been leveraging their content to grow your own.
3. Content Mills
Do you know the names of the people writing your content? It sounds like a silly question—but it isn’t.
Content mills (enormous teams of writers, like Ebyline, Odesk, WriterAccess and so on) have become a tremendously popular way to get content produced at scale. They can pump out a TON of content, usually very cheaply depending on where you go and the quality of work you’re looking for.
As with the others, there are some serious upsides to this approach:
- Cost. Unquestionably, this approach is cost-effective for people on a tight budget. In many cases, you can set the price of the piece instead of negotiating with a freelancer, and you also don’t need to burden internal people for their time.
- Scale. Want to publish 100 posts a month (for some misguided reason)? If you’ve got the budget, these places have the capacity to make that happen. Few other options allow you to turn the “Volume” knob all the way up to 11.
- Hands-off. In many cases, these sort of arrangements can put your blog on auto-pilot, which is sort of nice from a stress perspective … but perhaps dangerous, as we’re about to see.
With all of that positivity come some of the biggest drawbacks of any strategy out there:
- Quality. Content mills THRIVE on cheap talent, and in most cases, you get what you pay for. Without your knowledge or consent, pieces will be outsourced to people overseas, apathetic college kids and hobby writers who are just trying to crank out as many posts as they can to earn a reasonable wage.
- Branding and reputation. If you were giving an important speech, would you outsource that writing to the lowest bidder? Probably not, unless you want to have a speech that begins with “Hello Dear….” When you send your writing work to a huge batch of anonymous writers, they have very little connection to your business, your branding or your objectives. They’re just human typewriters, working for a word count.
- Effectiveness. If the quality isn’t great and the content was written by a stranger, how confident can you be that it will actually resonate with your audience? Hitting a keyword density or targeting a phrase is one thing, but just showing up is never going to be enough to earn a sale.
Instead of sourcing to an anonymous content mill, look for writers with real names. If you can build a long-term team of freelancers, you can get them familiar with who you are, what you care about and why. It takes a longer time to find great writing talent and can be a little pricier to keep them, but the dividends come when you’ve got a loyal team of writers who are writing like their reputations and careers depend on it instead of just another job in the cue of a thousand.
You could also bring on a smaller number of freelancers (or just one) and turn your attention to quality over quantity. Having a freelancer at your disposal not only helps to keep your brand’s voice consistent, but allows you to set up a predictable and stable relationship. You’re also helping writers grow their careers instead of just scrape by—but then, I’m a little biased on that point.
So yes, you should be blogging. just be wise about how you do it.
I’ve shown you three of the most common approaches and given you fair warning as to some challenges you might face with each one. Now, the onus is on you to put that information into action.
A blog is a deceptively simple thing. It needn’t be complicated or laborious, but it should always be planned for and managed actively.
Your reputation just might depend on it.