Is the corporate blog a dying breed?
As the content marketing field matures, the debate around the value of corporate blogging gets hotter and hotter.
Is it really worth the effort?
Social media is where the customers are, and it involves so much less investment than running a blog. Anyone can fire off a tweet in a second, a decent blog post can take hours and requires real expertise.
Should we pull investment out of blogging and push it into social?
Many organisations have taken this view.
In 2010, 50% of companies had a blog. In 2011 this had dropped to only 37%, and only 23% of the Fortune 500 had blogs.
These numbers apply to the US and come from the much-quoted University of Massachusetts Dartmouth report on the future of professional blogging.
They argue that it's mainly about resources, it's much easier and quicker to tweet or update a Facebook timeline with a "call to action" deal than than craft a content-heavy well-researched blog post. In the absence of solid metrics which prove a direct tangible impact, the blog is left looking clumsy and old-fashioned next to the fleet-footed social media alternatives.
Their research suggests that professional blogging will decline to become a niche activity rather than a corporate must-have.
But I think this is a positive thing.
I don't mean to say blogging doesn't have value, quite the opposite. A good quality blog is a hugely valuable resource to both the readers and the organisation. Social media may be as lithe as a hare, but it's the solid dependable substance of the tortoise that wins in the end.
That's the problem with blogging. It's not the speedy sexy magic bullet many people assumed it would be.
It's hard work.
It's really difficult to do it well, the blogs that are winning are those that offer original well-written content that readers value, within a fairly tightly-focussed area of interest or expertise.
In a world of limited audience time, low attention span, plentiful competition, and metric-driven business cases demanding a tangible ROI, there is neither the market for an infinite number of successful company blogs, nor the resources to provide sufficient quality content.
Just look at the list from Technocrati of the world's Top 100 blogs based on audience size.
I counted just 8 which were attached to corporations.
These blogs depend on four key success factors:
- The design and brand of the blog site
- The knowledge, skill and effort of its individual contributors
- The editing and curation of the site
- Promotion and marketing
The business model depends on the ability of these four factors to drive audience to advertising.
It is a familiar model: curated content focussed on what readers value. Ironic that the industry that many thought would kill the traditional newspaper is relying on the newspaper business model to succeed.
The important point is, can being attached to a corporate brand deliver competitive advantage to the blog?
I think not ... at least not in most cases.
There are exceptions, such as Hubspot, but in general a blog being attached to a company loses credibility by sacrificing impartiality and by publishing posts which are designed to produce sales or leads by sticking a call to action on the bottom of everything.
Despite this, most of the advice about blogging and content marketing is about how to create great expert content linked to calls-to-action.
I believe that this is why they are in decline.
This model for the corporate blog just doesn't work for the majority of companies, the independent specialist blogs do it so much better.
So what is the model for a successful corporate blog?
This post by Mark Schaeffer on Social Media Today describes most company blogs as:
"Blah, Blah and Double Blah!"
I think that's what I was trying to say.
Schaeffer picks out a top ten list of the best corporate blogs, which, not surprisingly, doesn't include a single blog on the Technocrati top 100 list (although he excludes technical blogs). This list is based on his subjective opinion rather than an objective measure of ability to drive conversion, but it's useful for companies looking to try a different approach to blogging rather than just jacking it all in because Facebook is easier.
The two most common objectives of these blogs, consistent across nearly all were:
- Build customer loyalty through engagement.
- Branding and brand awareness.
Only three of the top ten blogs have sales as an objective of the blog, and then it is an indirect objective.
I think the future of the corporate blog will be not be a one size fits all, but will be for each company creatively to find its own way to deliver on objectives like the ones above ... and here is the opportunity for bloggers!
How do you turn these objectives into something unique that works for your organisation?
The answer to that is for a future post, because the advice about not writing long blog posts still applies ...