Launching or revamping an original content campaign? Start with these corporate blogging guidelines.
Anytime you press “PUBLISH” on your business blog’s CMS, there exists the potential for everything from minor issues to catastrophic events. Mistakes, inaccuracies, and typos happen, of course. Links could get broken. Omissions or clumsy phrasing can bruise egos and hurt feelings. With a really bad post, demons might shoot out of your computer, Ghostbusters-style. More disturbingly, you could get fired or have to fire someone.
We don’t mean to be a drag here. The upside of business blogging – attracting an audience and converting them into clients or customers – far outweighs the perils. Ridiculous levels of unbridled lucrativeness are on the table, but that’s a story for another post.
There are a lot of do’s and don’ts down below, but we’re not discouraging you from starting or recommitting to your business blog. Far from it! Instead, we hope that these corporate blogging guidelines will give you some flexibility and freedom when it comes time to start creating content. But do err on the side of discretion and caution. Above all, contributors to your business blog have a responsibility to your brand. If you’re giving them the keys, you’d better have some rules of the road.
10 Corporate Blogging Guidelines That Will Protect Your Job
1. Assemble a Style Guide
Really, we could distill this list and stop here, because blog style guides, in their ideal form, are the Alpha and Omega of your own corporate blogging guidelines, from basic grammar and punctuation to best practices.
But if you need a quick primer – or refresher – highlighted with some key points, please do read on: We recommend that all of the following be incorporated into your existing or planned blog style guide.
2. Don’t Libel People or Companies
Libel is a complex legal matter centering on defamation and intent, most familiar to the staffs of newspapers and magazines. A key phrase when considering it is “reckless disregard for the truth.” In other words, minor mistakes don’t make the cut for litigation; however, deliberately publishing – in words, images, or other media – falsehoods that damage someone’s reputation and harm their standing in the community will likely do even more damage and harm to your business.
Libel isn’t something you want to deal with, and its vagaries and interpretations are thorny. If you’re tackling controversial issues on your blog, we recommend hiring trained contributors, diligent editors, and super-anal fact-checkers. It also might be a good idea to retain and consult legal representation.
[Tweet “TS Eliot said “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal,” but your blog can afford neither.”]
3. Don’t Plagiarize
This one is a no-brainer, but it’s astounding how many people still do it. T.S. Eliot said “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal,” but your blog is the place for neither immature nor mature poets. Cite your sources or suffer the consequences!
4. Don’t Manipulate or Distort Data
So, I left out part of Eliot’s quote, as a lot of people do. Here’s the rest: ” … bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” So that makes a little more sense, rather than straight-up praising thieves, right? Taking things out of context isn’t fair to your sources or to your readers. My bad, T.S.
There are a lot of marketing numbers out there just crying out to be force-fitted into theses on a tight deadline, twisted to further an agenda.
Insist that your writers make their best effort to wring the truth out of “facts and figures” – and to avoid fly-by-night studies. In fact, we recommend instituting a vetting mechanism within your staff and corporate blogging guidelines to make sure your content has integrity.
5. Don’t Go All Payola on Us
Record studios used to pay radio stations to play tracks from their label stable. They got busted. You will, too, in the long run. The rules are different for most businesses, of course: Law enforcement isn’t going to come after you for writing about a product just because the company threw you a few bucks – in fact, that’s how a lot of people make a living online these days, for better or worse.
Some businesses out there have a few extra promotional dollars laying around and are ready to spend it on a willing blog. But any chance those blogs have of developing a real, loyal audience will take a significant hit once readers find out how they’re bankrolled. And may the old gods and the new help all of them if the Internet comes under FCC-style regulation. If something is an ad, or someone paid you to write about them – say so (see No. 8).
6. Don’t Feed the Trolls – and Don’t Engage in Flame Wars
Comment sections are a hot topic in publishing – namely, how to improve them. It’s an uphill battle, because, as you’ve probably noticed, there are some mean-spirited mofos online! Some commenters will helpfully direct you to mistakes, which you can then correct and thank them for. Others will unhelpfully direct you to do something else entirely.
Here’s a tip: Ignore them.
Unless their language violates your policy or libels anyone, leave them be. “Retort” is an ugly word for a reason. If you spend a ton of time on a post and then some turd trashes it for no good reason, always remember the Rule of Moms: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Moms are pretty brilliant. You can’t go wrong with that rule, unless it involves hitting on a married person or …
7. Stay Aligned With Your Brand
Collegiality and goodwill in any industry is important, but contributors to your blog could cost you business if they’re bending over backward to point out all of the great things a competitor is up to. On the other hand, they shouldn’t be out seeking and destroying, either. Get them to keep on your message. Get them to do their own research and come up with their own ideas.
No blinders necessary; no censorship, either: just common sense in your corporate blogging guidelines. We profile companies we admire all of the time – including, on occasion, companies in or around our field – but if too many content marketing un-agencies started popping up in our coverage, it would probably be time to hang up our laptops and call it a day.
[Tweet “The “Rule of Moms” is big in #contentmarketing, but don’t go overboard.”]
8. Disclaim Conflicts of Interest
This is important for the purposes of transparency. If you have a business – or personal, for that matter – relationship with the subject of a post at the time it’s written, you must let your readers know. Most of them are choosing your content earnestly, and would feel betrayed if they found out you’re vested somehow.
If the editor of a newspaper is dating a city council member, most would agree that subscribers should be made aware of that when reading a column on an upcoming vote. This isn’t to say you can’t write the post; rather, your audience deserves the respect of full disclosure. In return, you’ll earn their trust.
9. Contribute to the Discussion
Often, B2B and content marketing blogs can seem like an echo chamber, with data and best practices being rehashed and watered down wherever you look. Producing posts on a regular schedule is important, but be sure that you’re offering articles that advance the conversation.
The groundwork and research that goes into finding angles capable of sustaining worthy content takes time – more time than writing the content itself, in some cases! But it’s worth it, and will strengthen your audience development.
10. Get Permission for Artwork
Better yet, hire your own illustrators. The art leading this post, for instance, was done by the great Fahren Feingold. But we can’t always commission original work. On quick-turnaround pieces, we use PhotoDune.
Few would flat out steal graphics, but be sure to practice extreme due diligence when obtaining visuals from around the web. Fair use is one thing; copyright infringement is another altogether.
OK, what are the major corporate blogging guidelines we forgot? Please let us know in the comments, and we’ll add them to our own blog style guide!