It’s odd how good ideas take you by surprise. I was talking to Ian, our head of editorial, this week about a new executive blog we’re launching for a client, and I asked him how he thought we should handle the fact that the woman whose words we were tailoring was a native German speaker.
‘Not a problem,’ he said. ‘I’ve been a Spaniard in the morning, American in the afternoon and Israeli the same evening. What matters is whether we can find a voice for her.’
Somewhat more skilled at this than me, in the past Ian has juggled a whole range of management and director-level blogs for some very well-known international corporations. So he’s clearly the man to turn to for advice about what works and what doesn’t in the world of executive blogging.
‘If you just give people some basic guidelines and help them find their voice, the rest will follow,’ he said.
But when I asked him where these guidelines were written down, we both realized they were locked inside his head.
So today’s blog is about putting some of those key rules for successful business blogs down ‘on paper’.
Ian’s experience, I have found, is invaluable. He has run his own Right for the Web training courses for more than six years and he is a great non-fiction writer in his own right (he told me I must mention that his new book, Conspiracy! 49 Reasons to Doubt, 50 Reasons to Believe, has just been published on both sides of the Atlantic!). What Ian doesn’t know about hooking people in and getting them reading, I suspect, isn’t worth knowing.
How, then, does he recommend businesses go about planning, launching, and sustaining successful executive blogs? I asked him for some practical advice and he came up with six key rules, born of direct – and sometimes painful – experience.
Profit from Ian’s experience
- Decide who will write the blog. Will it be one person’s voice, or will it be a company blog, with contributions from three or four people who take it in turns or chip in when they have something especially new or valid to say? There are a lot of good arguments in favor of the multi-author approach, though most companies choose to go for a single voice.
- Do not let senior managers hand responsibility for the content of the blog over to marketing or farm it out to a PR agency. Readers want thought leadership, and that has to come from the named author. As a general rule, what makes good blogs more interesting than brochure copy or marketing messages is the confidence – sometimes even recklessness – that comes across when top people are talking about the subjects they are passionate about. Marketing and PR professionals work in a more disciplined framework. They can take care of the detailed wordsmithing, but they can’t go close to the edge like the top people can. Five minutes face to face or on the phone with the executive author will usually be enough to generate plenty of content for one posting, including ideas and opinions and a few key turns of phrase that will stamp the individual’s personality on the piece. The senior executive can then get on with other things while the blog is being drafted, but MUST take the time, at the end of the process, to give it the final sign-off.
- Choose a realistic schedule. Don’t make a rod for your own back. Don’t think you must commit to weekly postings because that seems to be the norm. Unless you are in a business where vital online services drag the same people back to your website every day or so, a new posting every two weeks is usually quite enough to keep your audience interested.
- Know what you are going to say – and check that it’s worth saying – before you begin. Line up at least five or six distinct and separate topics before you launch your blog. This will help you keep postings short and to the point, and stop you drifting sideways into talking about more or less the same range of issues every time. This problem – blog creep – is one of the reasons why the less successful business blogs tail off fast after the first few weeks.
- Be prepared to bounce off topical or seasonal events, even if they are apparently unconnected with your subject matter. If you can frame some of your blog entries around industry news, unusual weather, sporting highlights, political landmarks, or anything at all with a topical edge, it will help enormously. Keeping up a flow of pure, abstract ideas beyond the sixth or seventh blog is not at all easy.
- Above all, think of the blog as spoken, rather than written words. That is actually the big and generally unrecognized secret behind successful writing for websites and all online media. But it is particularly important in a blog. People have their own favorite expressions and turns of phrase, but these always tend to get ironed out in writing. Try not to let that happen. If you can keep the simple, direct sentences and the energy and bluntness of the spoken word, people will read and respond and come back for more. Write like you talk and people will hear it as a real voice.
To sum up: don’t launch a blog unless you have something important to say. Don’t underestimate the time and effort that will be needed, and don’t start unless you are prepared to keep going for a good long run.
Are we on target? The last thing we want is everyone agreeing with what goes into this blog. After all, if you don’t disagree with some of the points we’ve raised, we’ll be forced to be more and more provocative, and who knows where that will end? So let us have your thoughts. Do you think the research organizations are swayed by the amount people spend with them? Or do we get the assessments we deserve? Shoot us down and have your say.
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