Ah, the corporate blog. Behold its inbound power, its ability to foster warm fuzzies with your leads, to propel your brand awareness to soaring new heights. In the last decade-plus as a writer, I’ve seen corporate blogs go from an emerging strategy to a pillar of corporate marketing. And over the years, when talking about my job, I always seem to get the same exact question: how do you write about something that you know virtually nothing about? (For the record, no offense taken… it’s a completely fair question.)
Technically, the real question should be less about the learning curve of the subject matter, and more about how to use writing to transform ideas into effective corporate marketing. But I digress. In reality, I’ve had quite a bit of time to reflect on this question, and refine my own set of golden rules when it comes to writing corporate blogs. Here are my top five favorites:
Rule #1: Accelerate your knowledge with a subject matter expert.
(Note: if no subject matter expert is available, default to Rule 2.)
In most cases, the corporate blog writer and subject matter expert are not (and should not be) one in the same. The real magic happens when the two come together. That’s where an interview comes in. I’m guessing all writers navigate this process a little differently – but I’ve found my sweet spot using two key steps.
Step one: I ask the subject matter expert to send me a brief outline before we talk. However rough it may be, the outline helps me digest the material and turn it into blog-friendly fare. Will this topic be served best by a list of insider tips? Common pitfalls to avoid? An expert Q&A session? Determining this ahead of time helps me better frame my interview questions.
Step two: Follow up the outline with a brief phone interview. Thirty minutes typically does the trick, and helps fill in any gaps from the outline. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification when necessary, or ask to have something explained using an example. Often times, I’ll repeat things back in my own words to make sure I’m drawing the right inferences. Be sure to record your interview sessions, too – it’s easier to listen and engage with your interviewee when you’re not scrambling to take notes.
Rule #2: Self-research a topic to become a subject matter expert.
If no single, dedicated resource is available to help you write your blog, it’s all about research. (Yes, this process harkens back to the days of college research papers.) It starts with scouring the Internet. Look for multiple, credible sources of information and establish consistencies and consensuses. (Be sure to filter your searches by date to show information that’s current.) Then jig-saw those ideas together into your own unique version. If there are gaps, you may have to get creative. Leverage your personal resources. Hit up your social contacts. Or try going “undercover” – in the past year, I’ve participated in machining forums, called bankers with questions on jumbo loans, initiated chat sessions with healthcare professionals… you get the idea.
Rule #3: Don’t make writing excellence your only focus.
There, I said it. For us Type-A writers, I realize these words are like nails down a chalkboard. But remember, your blog serves many critical marketing functions. It attracts people to your digital doorstep. Engages your readers with the topics you know they care about. Provides an entry point to other ways in which they can connect with you – and move them down the funnel. The list goes on and on.
Here’s what’s NOT on the list: Pulitzer-Prize-worthy writing. Yes, a blog should be professionally written. And yes, it should capture your audience and provide value to its reader. Yes, it should be conversational and credible. But a deep, provocative narrative your blog is not – and approaching it as such is simply not time- or cost-effective for you or your clients. A corporate blog is a marketing tool, not a novel. Let marketing goals lead the way – then follow them up with great writing.
Rule #4: Write for the scanner.
True, a good blog should follow a cohesive formula that ties all your points together. But what’s more important is that it caters to the scanner. Just think: when’s the last time you read something online, word-for-word, from start to finish? Digital readers are distracted, fickle. At all costs, avoid lengthy paragraphs of text. Instead, break up your blog with numbered steps, bullets, sub-headers, bolding – or any other visual cues that let your reader pick and choose which chunks of information are actually valuable.
Rule #5: Know that the nitty-gritty nuances matter.
Corporate blogs are about the reader. No exceptions. So when writing a blog, write it through your reader’s eyes. For starters, explain upfront how reading about your topic will benefit them. Also, use what you know about them to set the right tone. For this, it’s the little things that matter. Are you writing for an audience that’s well-versed in, say, computer tech? Then no need to define what an OS is. Are you addressing the most talked-about industry trend? It’s safe to assume they’ve already heard about it, so you’ll want to scale back on over-explaining. These nuances are small, but critical: your readers will drop off the second they feel that you’re telling them something they already know.
Of course, there are dozens of rules, strategies and best practices that make corporate blogs a smashing success for our clients – but in keeping with blog-friendly standards of length, I’ll leave it at these five (for now). Remember, there’s more strategies where these came from -- and you can call us at any time to get your own blog writing strategy on the right track.