Not dead yet: Misadventures in consulting-company blogging

not_dead_yet

Just in case you missed the memo, keeping a corporate blog alive and well is hard. It’s hard for the company managing the blog because companies aren’t used to having conversations. It’s hard for the authors writing for it, because they want to find a compelling voice, have fun writing, and still keep their job.

Many social media experts have shared elements of success for companies trying to blog (e.g., Chris Brogan’s Basic Business Blogging suggestions). Unfortunately, these suggestions are only recipes, and can’t guarantee success any more than the French Laundry Cookbook can turn you into Thomas Keller. Not only that, but they might even lull you into a false sense of security, overlooking the truth that even good cooks burn things, and all learn by repetition and making mistakes.

And so it goes with consulting-company blogging. You have to make mistakes to get anywhere. Take our experiences at Sequence as an example.

Ups and downs
We kicked off the Sequence blog in November 2007 with the enthusiasm and excitement of a bright-eyed kid going off to college, ready to change the world. We set goals, we fired people up, got would-be bloggers on board, talked about all the great stuff we would write. It was awesome.

After two months, our blog was dead on the vine.

Not easily discouraged, we decided to try to resurrect it after a year of lying fallow. We thought we had learned from our mistakes, listened to lessons from people trying to do the same thing, and plotted a new course to a brighter blogging future. Things would be different this time. Really.

Four months later, while not an epic disaster, it’s still pretty much a #fail.

So what’s wrong?
A few things happened to us that weren’t on Jeremiah Owyang’s list (or they just escaped our radar). We’re not sure which is the most important, but some combination of these things has created additional challenges for us (beyond just not making time to write):

  • It’s impossible to have a shared point of view on everything: As a consulting services company, we provide our clients with strategic and tactical advice on business and experience design issues. As such, we offer points of view (POV) on problems in our engagements. Given the problem-solving nature of our business, it seemed like the blog should also offer a POV, but which one? The problem is that in most cases, company-sanctioned POVs aren’t that well defined; the list of topics on which one could have an opinion is simply too long. We could never create a shared POV on everything. However, as individuals, we certainly have our points of view. This gap left Sequence bloggers stymied; we self-censored because we were sensitive to misrepresenting the company with views that might not be shared.
  • Editors can either be a benefit or a hazard: The way you approach the role of blog editor is key, as is finding the right person to fill the job. We defined the role of editor-in-chief as that of helping authors with relevance and voice, and also spurring ideation. Unfortunately, this created some challenges and differing points of view, very much related to the POV issue described above. Our editor (me) wound up feeling like a bit of a roadblock to sharing ideas. In short, the bar needs to be low for writers, and the editor needs to be a help, not a hindrance.
  • Group ideation for topics is great, but hard to organize: Some people’s creative juices get flowing through interaction, and some people on our blogging team wanted to get ideas for posts from group discussions. We tried to set up brainstorming sessions, but gathering a quorum always seemed impossible given our busy schedules, which meant some people didn’t get ideas and thus didn’t write.
  • Little barriers with tools add up: You need tools to blog, and with tools come problems. In our case, we’ve got lots of internal tools. We use WordPress to blog; we use Basecamp to hold our blog guidelines, post ideas, and keep our calendar; we have an extranet and an internal operations tool. Every single one of these things has a login and URL, and it can be easy to forget which is which. On top of that, many people haven’t used WordPress. These little barriers add up. They probably haven’t stopped people entirely, but they make it harder for something that’s already hard.

And now, for something completely different…
We’re going to try again. We’re changing our approach in an effort to address some of the concerns I’ve outlined above:

  • Authors use their own point of view, and topics are writer’s choice: The team of contributors we’ve lined up are senior enough that we believe more freedom is better. People are free to write what they want, even if it’s provocative; more writing is better than less. If people within the company have differing views, then that’s a dialogue that might be interesting to expose.
  • Editors are optional: If people want to ask the advice of their editor, they can, but it’s not required. Publish at will, no permission required.
  • Generate more ideas as a group: When we can make time to meet together, make it more about idea generation and less about traffic, data, calendar, and mechanics of the blog. All of the latter are important, but they can be shared in email.

So there you have it. Our effort to overcome some of the perils of consutling-company blogging. We’ll see how it goes. If you’ve got stories to share or opinions of your own about what works and what doesn’t, we’d love to hear them.

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4 Responses to Not dead yet: Misadventures in consulting-company blogging

  1. elaine says:

    thanks for being so transparent about your struggles. hopefully it will help other companies facing similar issues. glad to see the blog is back, and i’m looking forward to your future posts! best of luck.

  2. Karen Wickre says:

    This is a great report from the corporate blogging trenches, where the writing, the POV and the topics must be shared among colleagues. In the early days, purists said a blog could only be by one person. We know better now – a blog is a terrifically efficient publishing tool, period. Companies, consultancies and agencies all benefit from sharing their experiences and opinions (of all kinds) with their readers. Thanks for illuminating good practices, and what it might take to get there.

  3. As a contributor to a thriving team-blog, a little-read corporate blog, a flailing team-blog, and another that I haven’t bothered to write for (oh, but they’re waiting on me), may I also suggest an editorial calendar as a means for organizing everyone. Put my name next to a deadline (with or without topic) and voila, I will write!

  4. Ryan says:

    Thanks for the comments, Elaine, Karen and Heather!

    Regarding an editorial calendar, we thought it was a great idea, too. We set our calendar up in Basecamp, and it dutifully sent out email reminders to all contributors. Unfortunately, the time/motivation just wasn’t there for some folks, and the calendar and reminders didn’t improve the situation. Given our new approach, we’re going to let folks write when the mood strikes, with more periodic meetings to generate ideas, encourage writing, and try to keep momentum. We’ll see how it goes. :-)

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