How to persuade a business to blog

Jun 17, 2005

At the business blogging panel tonight, I did my usual speed-talking history of weblogs.

Afterward, Diane Kuehn and I were chatting about ways she can help her business clients incorporate weblogs into their communication and marketing strategies. Reflecting on my own experience at my new job, where I waited three months to explain how a weblog, along with a magazine, would be a great way to share loads of interesting and useful information that our own employees are clamoring for and our funding agency demands, I suggested this exercise for how a business, or a consultant advising a business, should approach blogs:

Don’t say the word ‘blog’. Don’t even mention the concept of how a frequently updated website is good practice. You’ll get your chance later. Just hold on.

Identify a reporter. Choose a mid-level employee, or if you’re a consultant, hire a freelance journalist. Give the person a notebook and pen and these instructions: Over the next week, I want you to write down all of the interesting, useful or newsworthy facts, stories or tidbits about our company that you hear or read. Go about your normal routine and attend your regular meetings. And, in your coffee room or hallway conversations, try to learn something new about the backgrounds and interests of your colleagues.

After a week, meet your reporter. Ask him or her to tell you about what’s in the notebook. Have a conversation about what was interesting, what was informative and what was useful. Ask about the most intriguing or surprising detail he or she learned about a colleague. Make a copy of the notes, and give the notebook back to the employee-reporter with this encouragement: Great work. This helps me understand the life of the company. Please do this for another week.

Analyze the notes. Categorize the information as company, client/customer or industry. Count how many names the reporter collected or mentioned. Determine how many notes could be linked to a website or other online resource. Find out if the interesting background items of the reporter’s colleagues relate to that person’s job. Compare how the reporter wrote about an item and how she or he talked about an item.

Create a schedule. Pretend you want to share these items in a memo covering a 5-day work week. Spread the items over the schedule. Balance the items about the company with references to clients and customers with news of the industry. Fill out the schedule with short profiles or mentions of the talents of the company’s employees. Throw in a mention of a competitor or two. Same for a few of the customer comments the Customer Service department received in the last week.

Expand your schedule into a narrative. Write the story of the company over that week. Add in some of the conversational language the reporter used when telling you about his or her notes. Put all names in boldface, and indicate which words could be linked to a website.

What do you have? Meet with the CEO or the head of the marketing department and say this: I asked one of the employees to tell me about all the interesting things that happened at the company this week. Look what she found! This is great information, and we could really use this to reach some new customers. It’s fresh and useful information, with a conversational tone, and it really gives a glimpse into the life of our company. And I really like how the talents of our employees can give a human element to our business. You know, this would make a great weblog on our company website.

There, you said it. Congratulations. Wasn’t that more effective than saying ‘blog’ at the beginning and having to explain a foreign concept to a skeptical executive? In this case, it’s better to show than to tell. If after a week of reporting you don’t have enough to fill out a weblog—with at least one entry per day—recruit one or two more empoyee-reporters. If after a month of reporting by a few employees you still don’t have anything interesting to share about the company or its employees, the company’s got bigger problems and a blog isn’t going to solve them.

Back to me. I’m using this very approach. Of course, I’ve done it over three months and had the benefit of a week-long all-staff retreat. Regardless, not a day goes by that I don’t come up with something interesting. Today I learned that my colleague A. is one of the top 800 birders in the world, ranked by number of birds he’s observed. That’s interesting, and when put in context that Alan’s had an illustrious career consulting with ministries of health all over Africa, something our organization might want to share on a weblog.

Anton Zuiker

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