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July 28, 2008

Can You Be A Corporate Blogger Without Losing Yourself?

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One of the topics I discussed with my new BlogHer friends last weekend was the struggles that come with trying to maintain your own voice when you agree to blog for a corporation. Unless you’re an all out corporate drone, there will inevitably come a time when you and your organization have a difference of opinion on some issues. Should corporate bloggers be allowed to express views that don’t align with corporate thought or, as a corporate blogger, are you to follow company rhetoric at all costs?

I think there’s definitely a sweet spot in there where bloggers need to learn how to support the company they’re working for while still staying true to themselves. I’d like to think we do a pretty good job of it over here. I think people understand that I’m serious about search engine optimization ethics because I’m serious about it and not because Bruce Clay has its own Code of Ethics. I also think they know that if Bruce said something on a panel that I didn’t agree with that I would ever so carefully debate the issue here on the blog . ;) There’s a line that I think corporate bloggers have to walk.

Really, it’s an issue of authenticity. Are you going to speak up for issues you believe in and gain your readers’ trust or are you going to regurgitate corporate doctrine? I know that people don’t come here for straight search engine optimization advice. If you wanted SEO advice, you’d be reading our search engine optimization methodology, which has more information than you could possible handle in one sitting. You’re on the blog for real, genuine thought, so that’s what we strive to give.

I’ve been blogging for Bruce Clay, Inc. for almost two and a half years (zomg!) and over that time a couple of truths have become clear. I’ve learned that the only way I can be successful blogging for a company is if (a) I believe in the company I work for and (b) the company believes in me. Luckily, both of these factors are met with my current gig. I get to write about important SEO issues that both I and the company I’m working for believe in.

But not everyone I spoke to at BlogHer was in that situation.

I think a lot of the reasoning behind why corporations are afraid to let bloggers speak out on topics they may not agree with is because they’re afraid of portraying a fragmented voice. And while I get that, I think it’s a completely outdated way to look at things. I think we’re beyond the days of the “organizational stance” or “organization perspective”. Sure, as a company, you may strive for a certain way of doing things, but you’re blind if you can’t admit that there’s room for dissent. [Robert Scoble’s entire Microsoft tenure was based on precisely the idea that you can be a dissenting individual and a corporate voice at the same time.–Susan] Organizations are made up of people and people are different. We see things in a different way, we respond to things differently, and we want different things. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s beneficial for companies to show that they’re open to a diversity of views and opinions. I don’t for a second think it makes the company weaker.

Obviously there’s a line to be drawn. If you’re Bruce Clay, Inc., you don’t want a blogger advocating black hat search engine optimization because that violates the core of what you do. But I don’t see the harm in talking about different tactics. Maybe I want to write a post about using Twitter for your social media campaign, something Bruce may not be totally sold on just yet. I know that I have the freedom to do that. And if my post is strong, I know Bruce is open-minded enough that I may sway him, or at least open up the door for him to come and chat with me about it.

There’s no reason why you should have to leave your own personal voice and agenda at the door when you sign on to be a blogger for a large corporation. I don’t think you can leave those things behind otherwise, what are you giving people?

It’s tricky, this whole corporate blogging thing because at the end of the day it comes a balancing act of figuring out how to please your audience, your boss and yourself all at the same.

For me, it’s really important that I’m able to represent Bruce Clay, Inc. while still holding on to who I am. I’m not going to argue something or not argue it because it may contradict some of what we believe. I think there’s room for discussion in the search engine optimization industry. And while Bruce may respect that, I know that in some companies there are legal departments breathing down bloggers’ necks monitoring what they write, pushing industry jargon down their throats to help sell a product. If that’s the type of company you’re working for, quit. Just get out. You’re not going to be given the freedom to blog authentically. And without that, what’s the point?

[It’s a good lesson for corporations as well. If you aren’t hiring people who believe the same things you believe, who want the same things you want–or who are, at least, looking in the same direction–what sort of hiring are you doing? Success comes from having people you trust to do the things that are going to make you successful. Hiring a blogger and not letting her be a real person is the fastest way to create an inauthentic experience for customers.–Susan] Amen.

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7 responses to “Can You Be A Corporate Blogger Without Losing Yourself?”

  1. Michael D writes:

    “For me, it’s really important that I’m able to represent Bruce Clay, Inc. while still holding on to who I am.”

    Lisa, I believe you are of the few that have successfully shared your voice and personality online while maintaining representation of the company you work for.

    In fact, when I speak to health care audiences on the importance of blogging and being active online, I often refer to you as an example.

    While a personality like yours could potentially ruffle a corporate feather or two, my mind says Bruce Clay Inc. is a progressive company because they not only allow you your voice, it appears they have your back as well.

    There is no denying the passion you express for the industry you work in and that’s an exceptional quality to have.

  2. Stephen Ward writes:

    Blogs are a conversational medium. The question is, then, when I read your corporate blog, do I want to talk to a person or a corporation?
    It’s a complex question, and I think the answer isn’t entirely one or the other. As a blogger, people value communicating with you because of your personal voice. The fact of the matter, though, is that they may only be approaching you in the first place because you’re a spokesperson for a company.
    In your case, Lisa, your audience is probably a mix. I know I respond because I like the content here; I’m not responding out of an interest in Bruce Clay, Inc. For other corporate bloggers, however, the fact that they’re tied to their companies may have a lot to do with their readership.
    I’d say, then, that breaking from company voice is a matter of what kind of readers your blog attracts. If they’re reading because you’re the voice of your company, it may pay to understand and reinforce the company doctrine. If, on the other hand, they read because of your content without regard to your company, dissention isn’t as damaging.
    Are your readers customers? Are your customers readers? The clearer the split between the two, I think, the more company doctrine can take a back seat.

  3. Craig Tomlin writes:

    Interesting subject. I’ve always felt you make it look very easy Lisa, much easier than it really is to represent a company while at the same time expressing your opinions.

    I suspect the company culture and size has a great deal to do with a writer’s ability as a blogger to express herself or himself. In my last company, a major corporation in the mortgage industry, I launched a blog on a microsite in which the goal was to share helpful information for home loan shoppers and people interested in credit.

    Our blog writer unfortunately had little (ok, no) ability to express herself, because the Corporate policy was to only allow our Public Relations area to represent the voice of our corporation, including any written communications (such as our little blog) that were made available to the public at large. The concern was there was a whole slew of Federal, State and local legislation our company had to comply with, and thus the sensitivity over public information. All of our material for the blog had to be written in advance, pre-approved by several legal areas as well as our PR department, prior to being posted. Helpful information? Hopefully! Free expression? No!

    Clearly, a corporate culture will impact a writer’s ability for free expression and opinions. I’m just glad that Bruce Clay Inc. allows your personality to have a place with Bruce’s, shall we say um, Large personality.

  4. Michael E. Rubin, Blog Council writes:

    Lisa,
    Well said. But there’s one thing that struck me as I read your post. You wrote:
    “I’ve learned that the only way I can be successful blogging for a company is if (a) I believe in the company I work for and (b) the company believes in me.”
    I would respectfully add:
    C) My customers/clients believe in me.
    Craig:
    Legal doesn’t have to be an adversary. It’s been a wonderful process talking with Blog Council members and seeing how they’ve dealt with that situation. To be successful, almost all mention that they got Legal on board from the beginning with education, training, and a lot of communication.
    Let’s be frank — the issues involved aren’t trivial to a billion dollar corporation. But they also aren’t extraordinarily difficult to resolve, either. Disclosure, for example, seems difficult at first, but it is actually easy to do well.
    Cheers,
    Michael
    —-
    michael@blogcouncil.org
    312-932-9000
    I am a Blog Council employee and this is my personal opinion.

  5. Chris Miller writes:

    “Maybe I want to write a post about using Twitter for your social media campaign, something Bruce may not be totally sold on just yet”.

    That’s my problem with individual first, company second blogging. From a customer’s perspective, what kind of SEO would Bruce Clay do for my site? If I’m a fan of the blog, I want whatever Lisa would do, but is that the same thing Bruce would do? Or is Bruce Clay really a black hat? I don’t know, because I’m talking to an individual vs a company voice.

    Personally, I don’t like reading, and subscribe to very few company first individual second blogs – but when I’m looking for solid information I can trust about a product or service, I want to know what the company has to say, officially.

  6. Dan Perry writes:

    In my little piece of the world, I don’t know if I would label you as a corporate blogger.
    When I think of corporate, I think of (probably) a public company, with at least a thousand employees, etc. I think you’re a great blogger for a business, but corporate blogging (again, IMO) is much different.
    Some of my corporate friends say that posts need to go through Marketing, PR, etc., before they even go online. That’s very different than what you do. In some of those cases (probably most of them), I think it’s almost impossible NOT to lose yourself.

  7. seoman writes:

    “Obviously there’s a line to be drawn. If you’re Bruce Clay, Inc., you don’t want a blogger advocating black hat search engine optimization because that violates the core of what you do. But I don’t see the harm in talking about different tactics.”

    you dont see the harm in talking about differnt tactics” yet you got all mad because there were some blackhat tactics at smx advanced. pretty hipocritical



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