Avoid Common Blogging Blunders, Part 1

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (26-Feb-2007)

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When we look at an organization's Web site, we know that its design and content have been painstakingly thought out, developed, and written. The site is carefully polished to provide users and potential clients with the organization's best face, describing who they are and what they do. Blogs, on the other hand, are a much more personal, informal, and intimate medium. But this doesn't mean that a professional blog doesn't require the same strategic approach. Professional blogs need the same forethought as a conventional Web site—and you can have a lot more fun with a blog.

If a conventional Web site is an organization's face, then a blog is its voice. And organizations need to use this voice carefully and responsibly by avoiding common blogging mistakes.

Using blogs as substitutes for conventional Web sites

Setting up a blog is so easy. Tools such as Wordpress and Blogger allow you to put a blog together in no time with very little design and development experience. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good when what you want is actually a blog; it's bad when what you want is actually a conventional Web site.

Conventional business Web sites require you to design something from scratch. Everything from site cosmetics to navigation to content structure must be decided. Blogs, on the other hand, provide you with an established template and tools for content posting, content organization, and calendar-based navigation.

But conventional Web sites and blogs serve different purposes. A blog is used to publish serial content, and it drives my batty when I see businesses use a blog as a substitute for a conventional Web site simply because they want to avoid confronting the issues associated with developing a conventional Web site. They end up putting static information about themselves and their business on their blog and then disappear for months at a time with no new content. Blogs should be used as an extension of a business's Web site, never as a substitute for it.

Not standing behind what you write

Blogs, unlike conventional Web sites, take on the voice, personality, and sometimes the opinion, of its author. It's with these that the overall tone of the blog, and the reputation of the blogger, is set. But bloggers need to understand that anything written in a public forum will be open to criticism. They have to have thick enough skin to handle this criticism and not take negative comments too personally.

If bloggers are timid and don't stand behind their words, allowing critical readers to get under their skin, they will lose their voice and begin to allow others to dictate what they write. Bloggers who back off every time they're confronted and challenged by a reader will lose all credibility and will reveal to the blogosphere that their backbone is softer than a wet noodle.

Posting anonymously

Bloggers who try to give their organization a face by hiding their own seems counterintuitive. Once you find your voice as a writer and a blogger, don't be afraid to let the blogosphere know who you are. A blogger/reader connection can't be formed when the reader doesn't even know who the blogger is. Bloggers should avoid posting as an anonymous entity or under the organization's name... How can an organization write a blog? Is it some giant collective hive mind thinking and speaking in unison? I don't think so.

Bloggers need to let people know who they are by providing information about themselves (not the organization in which they work), their background and expertise in the topics they're writing about, and even a picture so that readers can put a face to the words.

Lacking an authentic personal voice

Blogs are a great way to form a connection between author and reader. It also helps to humanize a business in a way that conventional Web sites can't. But I repeatedly encounter two misguided types of professional blogging voice: Overly formal and artificially enthusiastic.

There are some blogs so formal that they end up resembling a legal briefing written by a depressed mortician. William Zinsser—in the chapter on business writing—put it best in his book On Writing Well, "Whoever they are, they tend to be so afraid of writing that their sentences lack all humanity—and so do their institutions. It's hard to imagine that these are real places where real men and women come to work every morning." Zinsser goes on to explain, "But just because people work for an institution, they don't have to write like one. Institutions can be warmed up. Administrators can be turned into human beings. Information can be imparted clearly and without pomposity. You only have to remember that readers identify with people, not abstractions..."

At the other end of the extreme, you have those bloggers who feign enthusiasm to the point of sounding like college pep squad cheerleaders. These bloggers understand the uniqueness of a blog's tone over other Web content and go out of their way not to sound like an "institution". Unfortunately, these attempts to avoid sounding dry fall flat when they pepper their blog with gimmicky catch phrases and cheery Saturday morning cartoon talk.

With practice, bloggers will find their own natural voice, free of artificiality. Bloggers shouldn't have to try so hard to sound human because they already are.

Not focusing on your core topics

Professional blogs must have a primary focus or spin. If you want to talk medicine, talk medicine; if you want to talk IT, talk IT. It's perfectly fine for a personal blog to cover a wide range of topics—usually centered around bloggers' own interests and activities—but a professional blog needs to concentrate on a set of core topics.

People read particular blogs because they're interested in information or perspectives surrounding the blogger's area of expertise. But if every third or fourth posting has nothing to do with anything, readers will simply tire of the digressions and stop reading... Readers frequenting a content management blog might not be interested in alien abductions. If you want to change things up once in a while, do it sparingly. And if there other subjects you want to discuss on a regular basis, consider starting another blog catered to that specific audience, don't lump it all onto the same blog.

To be continued...

In part two—to be published in the latter half of March—I'll continue my look at common blogging blunders including infrequent posting, not syndicating your content, not organizing posts by context, and more.

Copyright © 2007 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
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