A blog is a blog… or is it more than that?
Blogs still embody the spirit of the Internet: vibrant, humane, a tool for connecting and growing ideas. Why do so many corporate blogs miss that spirit?
A blog is a lively and agile media format, made to permanently evolve and open by design: from an editorial perspective, the blog is often a minimum viable product for testing ideas and themes.
This is why, since the 2010s, blogs have also been in vogue among companies. However, corporate blogs are often treated as content repositories: Pages filled with announcements, press releases, copied-and-pasted corporate material, and self-referential discourse.
What can you do to fill your next corporate blog with heart, passion, and some strategy, too? A lean guide.
The blog, like e-mail and chat, has not only survived the evolution of the Internet but is now in the midst of a new golden age. Even this platform, Substack, is a newsletter and a blogging platform: now with the introduction of chats, on a journey to become a community-building tool. Those who thought that the blog would disappear in favor of social platforms have been proven wrong by the facts: In the face of growing dissatisfaction with the big platforms, "owned media" is fighting back 💪.
For its part, the blog as a media format had the good fortune to be driven by WordPress: in many people's minds, WordPress is virtually synonymous with blogging. The ease of developing blogs has a downside: the easier things look, the less you think about them. More often than not, blogs are ships without compasses and sails, drifting in the sea of the internet. Corporate blogs are a striking example of that.
We need a place where to put our stuff: how many corporate blog projects start like this?
I love blogs, overall. I love personal blogs, even when they are 'just' collections of thoughts: some of them contain gems just waiting to be read. I love blogs, with a few exceptions. The so-called corporate blogs stay on top of my blog “hall of shame”.
The problem starts with the `corporate blog´ nature: a digital territory where each department pretends to take its slice, whereas the strategy is summarised as “we need a place to put our stuff”. The blog is often seen as a content repository: the death of content strategy.
For a content architect, the corporate blog is often the worst-case scenario of media development.
Lots of stakeholders, each with a different goal in mind. On your desk, is a legacy of hundred pieces of older content, published somewhere else, to accommodate in the new blog: different, inconsistent, written for different purposes and with different audiences in mind. Or, on the opposite, almost nothing to start. And no documented content strategy, obviously. At the end of the day, a blog is just a blog, right?
No reason to be afraid, though. You can still instill a soul in your corporate blog. And a customer-centric view, too. Focus on a few elements to start.
1. The blog's main navigation.
With smart global navigation, you can keep a customer-centric focus while still making room for everything.
Global navigation should be always drawn by applying many perspectives: UX, information architecture, communication needs, editorial setup, and editorial positioning.
That is a principle still valid for everything digital experience, but when it comes to blogs it is often overcome by WordPress thinking: global NAV equals a list of CATEGORIES. This is not true.
From a UX designer's point of view, global navigation means two things: 1. usability and 2. guided user attention.
Usability: how a menu works (by design) and what the menu says (labeling). For a corporate blog, labeling is crucial: and it must be plain and clear, first and foremost, even if it looks repetitive. Take the IBM Cloud blog as an example. The whole blog revolves around the cloud, but from different angles and for different audiences:
/ Cloud explained: what, why, where… the starting point for non-technical audiences
/ Cloud in business: case histories and business contexts
/ Cloud tutorials: how-to for more technical audiences
Different audiences understand immediately what section is meant to each of them. It is still about the Cloud, but with different content. ❗ Sometimes you are allowed to be repetitive (cloud, cloud, cloud) for the purpose of clarity.
Guided user attention refers to a cognitive aspect that many developers ignore, but for a corporate blog can be decisive: the so-called serial-position effect, which makes the first and the last position of a menu the most important to drive and retain users´ attention.
In order to explain the serial-position effect, we need to consider two cognitive biases:
The primacy effect of psychology suggests that individuals are more likely to remember the first item in a list.
The recency effect suggests that items, ideas, or arguments that came last are remembered more clearly than those that came before.
For main navigation it means:
the number of items matters (the shorter the better),
but so does the order of those items.
Anything put at the beginning or end of our navigation becomes more prominent. It is pretty interesting what the Google Cloud blog puts at the beginning and at the end of its global NAV:
/ What´s new is a live-blog-like experience, an article updated week by week with the latest from the world of Google Cloud, summarised in bullet points with links to docs and posts
/ Transformation Leaders is the less functional, more suggestive item on the menu: a showcase of success stories made to inspire.
❗The flexible nature of a blog, WordPress or not, makes it possible to use the last item to make experiments: that is, you can feature different collections of posts over time and check which performs better.
What also makes this menu, in its apparent simplicity, very instructive is that it manages to be both compact (five menu items) and very agile.
Everything that appears in the submenu is meant to grow: the subcategories may not even exist at first. Then, as new entries appear, new subcategories are added one after another, without disturbing the main NAV.
A navigation menu is functional, but it is also a promise. What you say there has declarative power.
Are you creating a new corporate blog to talk about yourself or something you care about? To give space to interesting voices in your company that your customers can relate to, or to republish your press releases?
Remember that any blog, even the most technical, is an editorial product. Therefore, for better or worse, it will contribute to saying something about you and your brand. It is about positioning.
Let me venture out of blogging to explain the declarative power of the main NAV. This is El Pais (Madrid), the only newspaper on the European continent that succeeded in establishing a global footprint. The first tab of its global navigation is INTERNACIONAL, not SPAIN.
This is also Spanish: El Mundo, whose top menu item is Spain. The main navigation of the two newspapers is a positioning statement. El Pais talks to the world. El Mundo talks to its Spanish readers first.
What you put on your menu, especially on the first tab, says something about you.
Blog navigation as a mission statement: Miro Blog.
The navigation menu of the Miro blog focuses on the product mission: to empower teams to work agile, design better experiences, and build products. Product updates and customer stories come later:
This a clever way to show customer-centricity and demonstrate you know what is your job to be done. So, before developing your corporate blog menu as a list of products or business units, think about your readers. What really matters to them?
2. A blog needs bloggers, not a newsroom.
A blog may not be as clean as a brand magazine, but it is (and must be) lively, even eclectic, an expression of the real human voices of your company. It should never be outsourced to agencies. And never be managed as an extension of pure PR. That's why your biggest problem at the beginning will be where to recruit authors.
So where to start to make a good debut? With a conspiracy!
Gather around a (virtual) desk the five or six talents who feel like writing, who are already doing it elsewhere, and with whom you can share ideas as they come. How many? Five to six, you do not need more.
A squad of volunteers, champions, and evangelists.
The idea of starting with massive crowdsourcing within the company (“Hey, do you wanna write on our new shining blog?”) looks good on paper, but it won't work in the early days. The blog has to take shape first. Once it is up and running, new talent will come forward: either because they are inspired by the bloggers-evangelists, or because they want to leave a mark. That's OK.
In with the original voices, out with the PR!
3. Freedom, formatted.
Freedom for all ideas, templates for all content.
Here the content architect's task becomes tricky, but interesting: how to balance freedom with editorial consistency? All editorial blog projects start with a list of "content types", which in a few lines outline what will go into the blog: comments, customer stories, deep dives, and the (ubiquitous) thought leadership.
You may not know what and how many content types there will be at the beginning of your corporate blog's life.
Instead of developing a comprehensive list of content types, it is much better to develop formats (templates) that define how this content is to be produced, authored, and metadata-enabled. Examples need to accompany the template:
examples of a new original piece created using that format,
examples of content taken and adapted to that format (before/after).
To encourage the crowdsourcing of content and ideas within your company, provide examples and step-by-step instructions. Help. Make aspiring bloggers feel safe. Most of them crave guidance.
Provide practical guidance, not theoretical guidelines.
Once you've recruited your mini squad of brave captains (the corporate blog pioneers), the first work to do is coaching: write the first dozen posts together. Co-write. Have discussions. Co-create.
A blog may be just a blog, but the best editorial products are born this way: writing pilot pieces with four, six, and twelve hands.
Go out, now, and make your corporate blog shine!
I did not mention how to give a name to your blog, and there is a reason for that. A blog “brand name”, for corporates, is a very political topic. You run the risk to see your blog killed before being born if too many cooks are in the blog naming kitchen. However, brilliant examples of blog names are abundant starting from these too:
“The Keyword” is called the Google marketing blog (back to the roots, so to say)
“Work Life” is Atlassian´s blog (very inspiring, it captures what Atlassian stands for: enabling people to work better together, and have more time for the thing that matter most: life, work or not)
Media archeology: know the past, shape the future
“HISTORY OF BLOGGING”, March 2028, Notre Dame of Maryland University.
Blogs as collections of thoughts: the oldest and the newest
SETH GODIN´S BLOG, since more than 20 years online, thought after thought.
Marc Andreessen Substack, one that always takes a stand, live since Feb 28th
The Webby Awards / Business Blog, Corp Websites, and Mobile Sites
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